Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's lead lawyer in Russia investigation quits; Dow sinks as Trump's China tariff sparks trade war fears; Trump and Biden suggest they'd beat each other in fistfight. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 22, 2018 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. We're live here in Washington DC today. We've got breaking news for you this hour in the Russia investigation and what could be a major setback for the president.

His lead lawyer, John Dowd, has just quit. So, this is a possible signal of a change of strategy on how the president will deal with Special Counsel Bob Mueller. Mueller's team has been talking to Dowd and, of course, the other Trump lawyers about conducting an interview with the president.

But moments ago, the president repeated that, yes, he would, indeed, like to still talk to the special counsel. I want you to listen closely because it happens fast.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like to testify to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller?



BALDWIN: I would like to, I would like to, he says, as he's walking out the door. Dowd's departure today comes just 11 days after this tweet from the president, complimentary tweet. "The Failing "New York Times" purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong," he says. "I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job and..."

Let's go straight to the White House to our reporter there, Kaitlan Collins. And so, as far as the why, why now, we know a source says Dowd's decision to leave was mutual. What got them to this point?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, it certainly comes at a very crucial moment. But I'm told by sources inside the White House that the president simply grew frustrated with John Dowd in recent days and had been complaining about him, questioning his ability to lead the legal team as they deal with this response to the special counsel's investigation.

But this isn't just about John Dowd. What this speaks to is a larger frustration from the president with his legal team and the way that they've been responding to this. And that's been evident despite the president publicly saying that he's perfectly happy with his legal team.

We see John Dowd resign today. We know there's been outreach to other lawyers about coming on. Some of them including Ted Olson, that very high-profile lawyer who turned them down, and then hired Joe diGenova as well to join the team.

So, clearly, there is a reshuffling happening here with the president's legal team despite him saying that there isn't. And this really speaks to a larger strategy of how they're going to deal with the special counsel's investigation.

And, clearly, the president is signaling here, Brooke, that he wants to take a more aggressive, more controlling approach and he's really taking the reins here for the way that he's going to respond to this.

But, Brooke, what's clear here is there's no lawyer that is going to make the president happy with this unless they can get him out of this special counsel's investigation. That just doesn't seem to be a feasible point right now.

BALDWIN: Right. Right. Kaitlan, thank you for the setup. Let's have a bigger conversation on all of what you just outlined. Michael Zeldin is with me, CNN legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former special assistant over at the Department of Justice, and Pamela Brown, our senior White House correspondent.

So, Pam, just to you first, so from what I'm hearing, part of the rationale of the Dowd departure, A, he didn't want to be co-counsel with Joe diGenova; and, B, it sounds like, despite maybe clicking with Trump early on, the relationship strained.

But remind everyone - I mean, this was the guy on the legal team who is the point person in dealing with team Mueller.

PAMELA BROWN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, he was the one really interfacing with team Mueller. He was the lead attorney. He was selected to be part of the president's legal team because of his ongoing, long-time relationship with Robert Mueller.

He had the relationship with Mueller. And so, it was viewed as best for him to continue with that and be the person, the point person at the in-person meeting. They just had an in-person meeting last week, Brooke. Last Monday. It was John Dowd who was taking the lead in that meeting with Robert Mueller's team.

And so, I think that there's a feeling now, at this crucial time, when they're trying to figure out whether to allow the president to do an interview that now their lead attorney is sort of leaving them high and dry as someone told my colleague, Gloria Borger. Just kind of the analogy that now he's taking his ball and going home.

And now, they're sort of like, OK, what do we do now at this crucial point in this investigation?

BALDWIN: How do you think Mueller's team views this news today, the Dowd departure?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it actually is not good news for Mueller because I think they were making progress with Dowd.

BALDWIN: Used to dealing with him.

ZELDIN: Used to dealing with him. They were cooperating with one another. They were working on the parameters of an interview. And now, if Mueller gets a new attorney who is a flame thrower, who is not going to cooperate, does it mean Mueller has to go back to the drawing board, decide whether they're going to issue grand jury subpoenas themselves, step up the pressure.

So, I don't think this is good for Mueller. Certainly, it's not good for the president.

BALDWIN: Wasn't it John Dowd - I mean, just put yourself - if you think about the president just as a client, right, and he's hired these lawyers, and this lawyer in particular is the guy who is saying to him last year, all right, we're going to wrap this investigation, sir, we'll have it finished by Thanksgiving. Nope. Just kidding. We'll have it finished by Christmas and on and on.

[14:05:05] And now, it's March and documents at the Trump Organization were recently subpoenaed. Conversations have intensified between team Mueller and team Trump.

On Trump's behalf, you can understand, in part, the frustration.

ZELDIN: If that's what they were telling him privately. They may well have been saying to him -

BROWN: I can tell you that. It is what they were telling him privately.

ZELDIN: Then maybe he is his own worst enemy. If you have a client who you can't speak honestly to - because there was no honesty to the notion that this was going to end in November or December or January.

And if they felt that the only way they could continue to serve as counsel was to tell the client what the client wants to hear, shame on the client.

BALDWIN: But you're saying that's exactly what they told him?

BROWN: Yes. I mean, exactly. Shame on the lawyer. I can just tell you from my standpoint, we knew what they were telling him privately late last year, and we were thinking, wait a second, there's no indication this probe is going to wrap up soon. What about in a few months from now when it's very clear that's not the case. And here we are, Brooke. And now, the lead attorney is leaving and it is a mutual decision. BALDWIN: But at the same time, shame on the client because this is a person, the president - how do you deal with a client who does not listen, who directly attacks by name on Twitter the lead investigator here, Bob Mueller, who dismisses counsel's advice?

ZELDIN: You don't take that client as a client. Which is why you saw all of those famous named attorneys declining this representation.

BALDWIN: Thanks, but no thanks?

ZELDIN: John Dowd did the best he could. And I believe, Pam, that you're right. Except I do believe that they said to him, Mr. President, under best circumstances, this is the way we go because I don't think that these guys would say it's foregone, we're done in Thanksgiving.

BALDWIN: Maybe they emphasized best case scenario.

ZELDIN: Maybe.

BALDWIN: Maybe they did.

BROWN: I can tell you, though - even publicly, though, they were saying, look, everything is wrapping up. The interviews are wrapping up. This is going to be done soon.

It's fascinating, like you point out. Someone told my colleague, Gloria Borger, a source familiar with all of this, when she asked, so who is going to lead the legal strategy now at this crucial time and that person said, well, the president is.

ZELDIN: Well, that's right. And that is the problem. The old adage of a person who represents themselves has a fool for a client now appears to apply here.

And we don't know who it is that is left to be the outside lawyer because Sekulow is not a criminal attorney. Joe diGenova is really more there for his PR communication strategies.

BALDWIN: He's a Pitbull, right?

ZELDIN: Well, even if he wasn't a Pitbull, he's not the roll up your sleeves, file motions in court lawyer. He's there for communications purposes.

So, there really is no one left in charge that is a practicing lawyer. And they've got to figure out who is that going to be.

And if they bring back Kasowitz, then they're back in the same position that they were to begin with, which is Katy, bar the door, this is a relationship that will not work and that may mean that Mueller and Weissmann and his team says, you know what, enough with you guys, here's our grand jury subpoena, we'll meet you on May 12th -

BALDWIN: No kidding!

ZELDIN: And we'll battle it out in court if you think that you're not able to attend.

BALDWIN: No kidding! So, that's a potential scenario that we could be talking about down the road in the not-too-distant future.

Pam Brown, thank you so much. Michael Zeldin, good to see you.

Breaking news now, President Trump announcing new tariffs against China. Is this a sign we're heading into a global trade war? How might China retaliate? What does this mean to an everyday American?

Also, this escalating war of words, President Trump responding to the former Vice President Joe Biden. Both sides essentially, you have two grown men threatening violence against one another. This is absurd. What's this about and is Biden perhaps setting the stage for taking on Trump in 2020?

Also, breaking today, Stormy Daniels' attorney demanding the Trump Organization preserve documents and e-mails relating to her payment to stay quiet. This is happening as CNN has new insight into what Stormy Daniels is telling her closest friends about what she is in the middle of, calling it a bleeping nightmare.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:13:32] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Major developments today that hit all sides of your wallet. Tax dollars, spending. The Dow is deep in the red as President Trump just launched new tariffs, specifically targeting China.


TRUMP: This is number one, but this is the first of many.


BALDWIN: Critics call it the next salvo advancing the US tour to trade war with the Asian powerhouse. This happened as the House just did its part to avoid a government shutdown ahead of the deadline tomorrow.

It approved, and is now sending on to the Senate, this whopping 2300- page bill that outlines how $1.3 trillion - public dollars - should be spent. But not included in this massive bill, which only lasts through September, any protections for DREAMers or help with healthcare subsidies.

So, let me bring in my money expert, CNN political commentator Catherine Rampell, is also a columnist for "The Washington Post". And Rick Newman is a columnist for "Yahoo! Finance". So, great to see both of you today.

And, Catherine, just to you first, on the tariff side, we saw the president - so he's slapping $50 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese imports. But for people watching, they see the news, how does it impact everyday Americans?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first and foremost, if these tariffs come to pass - the announcement today was basically an announcement to look into putting on tariffs on a host of Chinese imports.

[14:15:04] But if they actually materialize, it would be bad for consumers, right? Because the tariff is a tax. It will raise the cost of things that American consumers buy. There's no way around that. It may shield some jobs in the United States and that could help some Americans.

But the overall impact of that, just these tariffs alone, is likely to raise prices. And if things escalate, if you have retaliation, as China has said it wants to do, you could see major losses of jobs down the line and major increases in prices on other kinds of products as well.

BALDWIN: That's what I want to hone in on. You said the retaliation word. Rick, keeping in mind if this happens, this on the heels of the White House's steel and aluminum tariffs that we talked about not too long ago, what are potential retaliation tactics from China?

RICK NEUMAN, "YAHOO! FINANCE" COLUMNIST: Well, they could put tariffs on US products and we do export some things to China. A lot of people probably don't realize that. We export some agricultural products, soy beans, cotton, sorghum. Boeing sells aircraft to China. So, those are some of the things that China might target.

But I think it's really important to wait for the details here because you mentioned those steel and aluminum tariffs, those are turning out to be not much because a lot of the big importers are now finding that they're exempt from the tariffs. And this is ongoing. So, it sounded more draconian at the beginning. Those are turning out to be sort of toothless tariffs. And it's possible the same thing has happened here.

I mean, we all know Trump wants to basically be able to declare victory, to say, look, this is something I promised when I was campaigning. I did it. So, how much teeth will these really have? I think that's what we don't really know yet.

BALDWIN: Toothless tariffs. The fact is, though - and you point out how the president has talked about this since the campaign trail. Catherine, you have economists on both sides of the issue who have agreed that China has been stealing from the US for decades.

So, why now do you have a lot of people coming out and criticizing the move?

RAMPELL: Look, there's no way around it. China has been misbehaving. The United States has complained about it. Our allies have complained about it. But there are smart ways to deal with these problems. There's some intellectual property or other ways of putting China's thumb on the scale to help Chinese companies (INAUDIBLE). There are smart ways to deal with it and there are dumb ways to deal with it. The smart way would be things like getting together with our allies and saying, we're going to come together and create a trade pact that contains China's influence or that otherwise tries to push back against some of this bad behavior from China.

For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership which we signed a couple of years ago and that Trump pulled us out of, that would be a smart way to go about doing this.

The dumb way to go about doing this would be (INAUDIBLE) tariffs. And the reason why you have economists coming out against them, the US Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups coming out against them is because precisely that. This is not the way to contain China, especially if we're doing it unilaterally, because of the retaliation, because of the fact that it's likely to raise costs for US consumers.

There are all of these unintended consequences that happen when you try to address the very legitimate gripes that the United States has through these very ham-handed remedies.

BALDWIN: What about even - China, President Xi, I think, Rick, I remember back to the president's swing through Asia last fall. And he was the first foreign leader to dine in the Forbidden City since the founding of modern China. It was a big deal.

Trump seemed smitten by Xi and touts their friendship. So, what, if anything, would this do to their relationship?

NEUMAN: Well, the question is, what are they talking about between themselves on the side? I mean, Trump may be talking to President Xi through back channels through all this and saying, look, I promised tariffs, I got to do with these tariffs, just put up with this for a little while. If you need to put on your own tariffs, I understand. Let's try to minimize the damage, so we can at least be talking the talk we need to talk to our own domestic audiences. I think that's possible.

One thing I think is important to go back to here is, with the steel and aluminum tariffs, Trump sort of invented a problem that nobody else really sees. With regard to China, I mean, the intellectual property theft that is happening in China is really staggering. And this is a - there is bipartisan agreement on this.

So, there are instances - and I'm no Trump fan generally, but there are instances where Trump sort of - he correctly identifies the problem. He was right about all the voters in the heartland, for instance, who feel left behind by globalization.

I think the question is, is his remedy - is this the right way to address it? Without a doubt, there's a lot of dissension on that. I think if this remains fairly limited, I'm not sure this is such a bad thing. It's $50 billion in imports, but the tariff itself, I think, is going to be 25 percent on that $50 billion if that ends up being the final number. [14:20:04] So, it's not 50 billion. It's more like 12 billion. Our

trade with China is around $700 billion per year, I think. That's not that much of the whole economic relationship if it stays there. It could escalate.

Got it. Got it. Rick and Catherine, thank you very much.

Coming up next here, Biden versus Trump. The president hits back, but this is more than just words. Is the vice president setting the stage to take on Trump in 2020?

Also, she is one of the legal thorns in the president's side, but new CNN reporting reveals Stormy Daniels may actually not be enjoying the attention after all. What she is telling her close friends behind the scenes.


[14:25:11] BALDWIN: Political infighting has spiraled into schoolyard taunts. In an official statement, President Trump called former Vice President Joe Biden weak both mentally and physically, tweeting that if he had a fight with Joe Biden, Biden would go down hard, "crying all the way."

Got to have both sides of this. Biden started it, claiming he could beat up Trump.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When a guy who ended up becoming our national leader said I can grab a woman anywhere and she likes it and then I made a - I didn't make a mistake, but they asked me would I like to debate this gentleman.

I said no. I said if we were in high school, I'd take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.

I have been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life, a pretty good athlete. Any guy who talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest SOB in the room.


BALDWIN: April Ryan is with me, CNN political analyst and, of course, correspondent at American Urban Networks over at the White House and Amanda Carpenter, a CNN political commentator.

Ladies. Ladies, ladies. Ladies, you have two grown men talking about beating one another up. It's crazy.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If you added a love triangle, you'd have grumpy old men come to Washington.

But on a serious note, are the Democrats more interested in trying to draw a contrast with President Trump or trying to out-Trump Trump? I would kindly suggest they look at what Marco Rubio did during the Republican primary, during that Florida debate where they got into a fight over the size of Donald Trump's hands.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The president kept talking about that. Well, he wasn't president at the time. And you made an interesting point where you talk about size matters. This isn't about politics. This has now become very streetish. A street fight.

And it's not right on either side.

BALDWIN: By the way, Biden said this.

RYAN: Biden started it.

CARPENTER: (INAUDIBLE) talk about the locker room he has been in. Is he talking about the Senate locker room?

RYAN: Yes, possibly.

CARPENTER: Does that count?

RYAN: Hold on. Hold on. Biden was trying to defend the honor of women, OK? And it didn't bode well for him to say, a 70-year-old man, he would fight another 70-year-old man. He was vice president. This is the president. I mean, we don't want to see that.

But it's gotten so streetish. But who invoked the streetism? Who invoked the gutter tactics? If you really want to look, it was this president. And the only thing this president understands is when you play his game the way he plays it, not the way traditional Washington plays it.

And, I mean, that came out today with Rex Tillerson when he said this is a mean-spirited town.

CARPENTER: That was a much better approach.

RYAN: But he was making an indirect reference emotionally about this president who fired him on Twitter over a week ago.

CARPENTER: But just to round out the point of the Republican primary when they got into that fight, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, Donald Trump loved it. After Rubio dropped out, he said he went Don Rickles and I will play Don Rickles times ten.

When you play gutter ball at Trump, he will go above and beyond, below, sideways, do whatever he wants. And so, I just don't think -

BALDWIN: OK. OK. But it's obvious that Biden is one-half of this whole thing. And I'm wondering with this advisory committee, advisory board today, is he laying the groundwork seriously to take him on, to take Trump on in 2020? What do you think?

RYAN: I'm going to say this. I saw him last summer up close. Both of us received an honorary doctorate on the same stage at Morgan State University.

BALDWIN: Congratulations. RYAN: Thank you. Over the summer. But he stood for each and every student, 700 students, shook their hands as they crossed the stage and took selfies with them and even showed them how.

Now, if you're not thinking about the possibility of a run, you wouldn't do that. And he loved it.

So, I said, it could possibly be.

BALDWIN: I mean, I went to his Christmas party a couple of years ago and he took selfies with all of us.

RYAN: He's out of the political realm, so to speak. And he stood with 700 students.

BALDWIN: I got you.

RYAN: And shook their hands, made a personal connection and took selfies. That said something to me.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me hit pause on this. Let me bring in MJ Lee who has some breaking developments on all things Stormy Daniels.

And, MJ, you have been in touch with some of her friends. And I want to hear about that first. But Stormy Daniels' attorney is now demanding that Trump Organization preserve documents related to her nondisclosure agreement. What do you know about that?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, what Michael Avenatti is doing right now is essentially building the case for their lawsuit. And this is a significant development because this letter was sent to the Trump Organization and he says that he plans to subpoena the company because he sees that there are unmistakable links between the company and the entire Stormy Daniels' saga.

Now, just to remind you, this is referring to the fact that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal lawyer, wrote an e-mail related to all of this from - using his company email address.