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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview with Leon Panetta; Ex-Playmate & Actress Describe Similar Affairs with Trump; First Lady Speaks At Women's Event After Ex Playmate Apologizes For Sleeping With Trump; Melania, Pres. Trump Leave WH Separately For Florida Trip; Students To Rally Nationwide Against Gun Violence Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 23, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


LEON PANETTA, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Well, I -- you know, I'm not sure I know where President Trump stands on anything to be truthful.

[16:30:01] I mean, I -- you know, he did come in on the basis of kind of retrenchment, falling back from leadership in the world, not getting involved in wars in the world. And yet at the same time he is somebody who talked stuff about war in Iran or we talked tough to North Korea as well. So, it is -- it's very difficult to understand where he's coming from. It is clear that in his National Security Council, we are now seeing a move to the right, to a hawkish and more militaristic viewpoint, both with Bolton, Pompeo is a hawk as well.

And so, Jim Mattis is the one who's got his hands full trying to see if he can provide some common sense with regards to the decisions that this president makes.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The president has now replaced almost half of his senior staff since taking office 14 months ago. It's unprecedented in modern politics. What do you make of all this and as somebody who was once a chief of staff, as well as holding several positions in several administrations, is this any way to run a railroad?

Well, you know, every precedent that I've worked with at both on the outside, as well as on the inside, president seeks stability for the nation. They seek stability for their White House operations. I don't know of a president who likes chaos in the past, but this president likes chaos. And so, that's what we've got.

We've got a staff that is turned over, what, almost 45 percent? It's constantly changing. People are not sure whether they're going to be there the next day. It creates an atmosphere in which the staff finds it very difficult then to know whether or not they're going to be supported by the president and what indeed should they be doing in terms of presenting policies to this president.

This president likes to operate on his own. He basically thinks he's the smartest guy in the room. But in terms of dealing with the complex issues of foreign policy, let me tell you, every president that I know has found out very quickly that they need to know more in terms of the decisions they make.

TAPPER: All right. Secretary Leon Panetta, it's always good to see you. Have a great weekend. Thanks so much.

PANETTA: Thanks very much, Jake.

TAPPER: The playmates and the porn star, did their Donald Trump timelines match up?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY PLAYMATE: My first thought was how could she have been with him when I was with him?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, Stormy Daniels' lawyer is dropping hints about what evidence they have of an affair. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:53] TAPPER: More on our politics lead now. Whether or not President Trump, his lawyers and his allies are using various tactics, including intimidation to silence women with whom he allegedly had affairs will soon be decided by judges and courts, the president has been uncharacteristically silent as porn star Stormy Daniels and 1998 Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal both file cases.

Let's bring in CNN's Sara Sidner.

And, Sara, how much did Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels have in common in terms of their stories?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's incredible. We noticed many, many, many similarities from the two women who say they had affairs with Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): The parallels are unmistakable between these two women. Porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal who say they were silenced about their alleged affairs with Donald Trump. The similarities are important because they show a pattern of alleged behavior, including intimidation, payoffs and media influenced by Trump's allies as he ran for president.

Both say the relationships happened between 2006 and 2007, and both describes similar sexual experiences with Donald Trump.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Did he ever use protection?

MCDOUGAL: No.

SIDNER: This happening around the time Melania Trump had her son, in March of 2006. Both these women say Trump offered them an apartment in New York which they refused. McDougal says she was well into the relationship when they both

attended a Lake Tahoe golf tournament.

MCDOUGAL: He came in one day and said, there are a bunch of porn stars out there.

SIDNER: One of those porn stars, Daniels, who still has this memento.

MCDOUGAL: I knew he talked to ladies, but I didn't know there was anything else. I didn't know he was intimate with other ladies.

SIDNER: Except for his wife Melania, of course.

MCDOUGAL: The only regret I have about their relationship that I had with Donald was the fact that he was married.

SIDNER: McDougal even met the now first lady, but told Anderson Cooper she purposely kept her distance from Mrs. Trump. McDougal also attended Trump's vodka release party in Hollywood in 2007. Also at the party, Stormy Daniels, friends say Trump invited her.

Their parallels continued just before the 2016 presidential election, when the two women decided they wanted to tell their stories and somehow ended up with the same attorney, Keith Davidson. He brokered the deal for Daniels with Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen to pay $130,000 as part of this confidentiality agreement. According to McDougal's lawsuit, she had no idea Davidson was also informing Cohen about her deal to sell her story involving Donald Trump to the "National Enquirer" which it never published. And both women say they were later intimidated to keep them from talking.

COOPER: AMI put out a statement saying that you can talk to the media that you're free.

MCDOUGAL: Yes, I saw that statement, too.

[16:40:00] But according to their attorney, I can't. There'll be financial ruin.

SIDNER: Trump, Cohen and the parent company of the "National Enquirer", AMI, have all disputed various claims. Cohen says Trump denies the affairs ever took place and knew nothing of the deals. He says he doesn't remember any emails coming from AMI to him, in McDougal's case, and denies intimidating anyone.

AMI denies any coordinated campaign to convince McDougal that she would be sued or that her reputation would be besmirched if she told the truth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now, Keith Davidson, the lawyer for both store me at one time and the lawyer for McDougal at one time has put out a statement saying that he has reviewed the lawsuit where his name appears -- that is McDougal's lawsuit -- and that he would like to talk but he cannot talk because of attorney-client privilege -- Jake. TAPPER: All right. Sara Sidner, thank you so much.

What did the first lady have to say at her first public appearance since Karen McDougal's interview? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:28] TAPPER For this moments ago, President Trump departed the White House. His ultimate destination is Mar-a-Lago. He was not accompanied by his wife, Melania Trump, on his way to Air Force One. She is, however, expected to join the president for the weekend. This all comes not coincidentally, perhaps, just hours after a former Playboy Playmate of the year apologized to the first lady in prime time for what she claimed was an affair that she had with Donald Trump.

The first lady spoke not long ago here in Washington in event honoring women of courage. Questions, of course, are swirling about her reaction to these claims from Karen McDougal. The first lady has, of course, in the past sent various subtle but unmistakably public signals about her discontent with the situation. Ever since the Stormy Daniels story broke in January. CNN's Kate Bennett, joins me now. And Kate, I can't help but think it must be terrible to have to go appear in public and in front of cameras this hours after another woman goes on T.V. and says, she had an affair with your husband and they both professed their love to one another.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, I think your right, Jake. I think that the issue at the end of the last night was just how sort of gut punched it fell. That was -- it was words like love, it was knowing that perhaps, she was on the apartment, that there was a picture of them together.

This has been a busy week for Melania Trump, she's had three events which is rare for her. Three speaking engagements, one was today where she was supposed to speak at the Women of Courage award at the State Department on Wednesday, but the snowstorm push it to today. The irony of bit, of the speech there, she's spoke about courage and the definition of courage, and women of courage. And we can hear her for a second about what she talked about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Courage is the quality most needed in this world. Yet it is often the hardest to find. It takes courage not only to see wrong but strive to right it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT: Well, even though the speech was written days beforehand, it feels a little more telling today, as I always say, there's no Melania Trump coincidences. And now we're seeing her once again, not make the walk across the south lawn to Marine One with the president. She's instead, meeting him at Andrews. I've reached out from the first lady's office for comment, I have not heard a response as to why she is headed to Mar-a-Lago where she will stay for the remainder of the week.

The president supposed to come back, but she will stay on as the family has spring break plans down there. But again, this is a difficult time. I mean, these headlines broke with Stormy Daniels back in January. So, here we are, almost in April, and she's had to deal with this. We'll finding her footing and -- you know, still getting a lot of criticism about being not as vocal first lady, sort of feeling more independent, and not hearing a lot from her. She's different, and this isn't necessarily what she signed up for. If that strange job with no salary and no defined role. Here she is thrust in the middle of all this headline.

TAPPER: You've spoken to a lot of people close to her. Any reaction at all to the Karen McDougal, interview last night? And has she had a chance to see a preview of the Stormy Daniels' interview coming up Sunday night?

BENNETT: So, we just don't know the answer to that. She has remained remarkably quiet throughout this whole thing. Her office is very small, she has a small staff. They're incredibly loyal to her. So we have not necessarily heard anything yet. However, she's been sticking to the plan, she's been going business as usual. She posted a picture yesterday at her Twitter, of her and the president standing on the Truman Balcony in the snow. So -- you know, business as usual. She's not really batting an eye. So, I guess we'll have to see after Sunday night.

TAPPER: Although, again, one of these subtle signals, not walking across the lawn with the president. Kate Bennett, thank you so much.

BENNETT: Thank you.

TAPPER: They've been everywhere from the CNN town hall to a Time magazine cover. And in just hours, they'll going to be leading a march in Washington. But, will that be enough? Two of the Stoneman Douglas students join me next, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:53:36] TAPPER: We're back with some sad news in our "NATIONAL LEAD". 16 year old, Jaelynn Willey has died after being taken off life support. Her mother said she was shot on Tuesday by an armed classmate at Great Mills High School in Maryland.

One other student was shot in the leg during the incident. That student has been released from the hospital. The school resource officer managed to get to the gunman before he could injure anyone else. Willey's family said she loved the beach, the snow and was a role model to her eight siblings.

Five weeks after another deadly school shootings, students from Parkland, Florida are still working to make sure that the gun violence they witnessed on February 14th is not visited upon any other schools in the future. This weekend, they and thousands of others are converging on Washington, D.C. and another cities for the March For Our Lives. And hopes of persuading lawmakers to take action. Parkland students and organizers of the march, Emma Gonzalez, and Alex Wind, join me now. Thanks for being here. Good to see you guys again.

EMMA GONZALEZ, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: So, let me just start with, how are you? How are you doing?

GONZALES: I mean, after hearing this news, it's never easy.

TAPPER: The news about Jay -- about the girl in Maryland. Yes, I know, it's awful. You're going to be marching on the national mall, in front of the White House and the Capitol Building. Congress and President Trump are not going to be there. Is that discouraging to you, or does it matter? Alex.

ALEX WIND, STUDENT ORGANIZER, MARCH FOR OUR LIVES: I mean, the thing is this that it doesn't matter who is going to be there. What matters is that our presence is known and matters that we'll going to be there. And I think it's more powerful that they're not going to be there because it shows that -- you know, if they're not going to be there, we're just still going to march. We're still going to make our voices heard because no matter what, we're going to be there.

And honestly, they haven't been there in the past. Congress has remained incumbent on this issue for years now and we've seen it with all the past shootings. And now, we're showing that it's time for a change.

[16:55:23] TAPPER: So, the president just tweeted moments ago, and I don't know if this is an anticipation of the march or not. But, he wrote, "The Obama administrations legalized bump stocks, bad idea. As I promised today, the Department of Justice will issue the rule banning bump stocks with a mandated comment, period. We will ban all devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns."

Obviously, the bump stock issue is one that have to do with the Las Vegas shooting, not with the Parkland, Florida shooting but it is a step in the right direction, I imagine you would think.

GONZALES: Yes, definitely, that's a very important step. Bump stocks could have made the situation very bad and I know that he was confronted with someone who said like, here's a way to get a free bump stock and that could have been us.

TAPPER: So it could have been worse. Here you on -- so let's show you on the Time magazine cover because it's a pretty remarkable picture. There's two of you with three of your classmates. Do you ever, do you still feel like a high school student here or junior, Alex? I mean, this is -- you know, going on CNN and talking about a horrific experience and laws changing is not normally what kids go through. Are you still able to be a kid?

WIND: I mean, the thing about it is, before this, I was the same person. It just feels like I'm in a different -- I have a different brain. It just feels like, you know, my personality and my body is all the same. It's just everything now is hard wired differently. Not only because of what we went through but because of now, we're looking -- I'm looking at a completely different goal. I'm looking at a completely different future. Everything on February 14th completely changed who I am.

TAPPER: And Emma, you were maybe -- you and David Hogg, are may be the most recognizable of your classmates. And I've seen you two specifically attacked more including by people running for office than I've seen other kids or even other politicians. Is that -- I know, look, I'm 49, and it's not easy to be attacked one way or the other. How is that for an 18 year old?

GONZALEZ: I mean, we're kids. We live in high school that's bullying central. We know how to at least -- we know how to deal with that stuff. You know, that like, I'm able to laugh it off because that's how I was raised. Does not to take that stuff seriously. The best way to incapacitate someone's opposing argument based on like who you are as a person is to laugh at it and say, I'm the first to admit that I am -- you know, bald.

So, it doesn't really matter to me whether or not you call me a name because like, as I mentioned before, being called a lesbian is not a bad thing. But also, like, that person doesn't know me. And that person got their come-up pins.

TAPPER: You're talking about the politician --

GONZALEZ: Yes, that's how is just exactly. But, I don't want to say karma is going to get you. But like, be kind. I guess it's just as simple as that.

WIND: Yes, I think it also shows -- you know, how much our generation has changed from past generations. We, as mostly its adults are showing hate to us when the kids are supporting us and teenagers are supporting us. It just shows that -- you know, there's such a generation divide, but obviously, there still support from the older generations and some hate from the younger generations. But it's really mainly adults that are attacking us.

TAPPER: What do you make of some of the criticism from your conservative classmates that this conversation has shut them out and their point of view?

GONZALEZ: They're getting a platform of their own. I know, that a lot of them they've been talking on Twitter, they've been talking a politicians. You know, we support if you're going to make your voice heard, then do it by all means. That's not like when we're fighting for -- you know, that our five main points are banning the use of --

WIND: Banning the use of assault rifles.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

WIND: Amending the Dickey Amendment, making sure that the ATF is able to digitize gun sales, as well as expensive and universal background checks. GONZALEZ: And high capacity magazines, it's the one that I always forget, thank you.

TAPPER: Yes, and those are the five points that you're pushing.

WIND: Yes, the thing is this that to us this is not a partisan issue. It's an issue of life or death because really, in the end of it, everyone has their own idea of how this needs to change but I think, we all agree that this needs to change. The mass shootings epidemic we have in this country is terrible. We're really the only country that has as epidemic of it. Yet, every other country has -- you know, mental health issues and violent video games and violent movies. So, what is -- what are we doing wrong as a country where this keeps happening?

TAPPER: Well, it's special to have you here. I hope -- I hope you guys enjoy Washington and help it goes swimmingly, peacefully, and well.

GONZALEZ: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: And best of luck to both of you. You in college and you still gone another year of high school young man. All right, thanks so much for being here, appreciate. Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning for CNN "STATE OF THE UNION". My guest will be Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. We'll cover the march and much more. It's all starts Sunday morning 9:00 a.m. and noon. That is it for THE LEAD, I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer, in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Have a great peaceful weekend.