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Far Right Targets High School Students Advocating For Gun Control; Trump Administration Expels Russian Intelligence Officials; White House Pushes Back on Stormy Daniels. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2018 - 15:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: She was scared.

But, just moments ago at the White House press briefing, Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah delivering the strongest denial to date in response to those allegations.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I can speak for only the White House, and I can say categorically that obviously the White House didn't engage in any wrongdoing.

The campaign or Mr. Cohen -- yes, the campaign or Mr. Cohen can address anything with respect to their actions. With respect to that interview, I will say the president strongly, clearly and has consistently denied these underlying claims.

And the only person who's been inconsistent is the one making the claims.


SCIUTTO: For more now on this, let's bring in CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

So, Gloria, really, a full-frontal attack on Stormy Daniels there from the White House podium, one, saying the president doesn't believe her, two, saying there's nothing to corroborate her claim, so going after her credibility, also saying that she's been inconsistent, inconsistent in her story, in effect.

A pretty aggressive tack from the White House in defending the president.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Look, they have no choice, I guess, at this point.

He said the White House didn't engage in any -- well, of course, they didn't because this occurred before Donald Trump was president.

SCIUTTO: That part was actually notable to me, because in addition to the strong denial, they did say, oh, by the way, though, as far as we know. There was that qualifier.


BORGER: Right, the White House, OK, and that the president doesn't believe that her claims are accurate. We know that, so there's no real information there. The president said all along this never happened.

But now you have these two women who tell pretty consistent stories. I mean, the details of their stories are interestingly similar, you know, the president mentioning his daughter in both of these things, going to this hotel.

And, you know, so you have a president of the United States who is cheating on his wife and also cheating on his mistress at the same time. And this is going to have to play out in court.

And, of course, the larger question here is, were there any illegalities involved in campaign finance law, et cetera. And the other question is, this was kind of on a low boil for quite some time. Now you have Stormy Daniels out there. You have Karen McDougal out there.

And you have all these other women who will now continue to tell their stories about the president and, at some point, I think he's got to -- I think he's got to respond.

SCIUTTO: And it's a point we just made, is that the president himself has not responded.


SCIUTTO: He does it through the White House. He does it through his lawyer. We always ask this question about multiple things. When does this become a real problem for the president?

BORGER: Well, look, I think we have all said over the last week or so that, for his base of support, this notion has already been cooked, baked. It's done.

They kind of assume this about him and move on. And that -- you know, by the way, that also happened with Bill Clinton.


BORGER: His supporters knew that he was kind of a rakish guy and they said he was a good president and so that was fine. And I think that's what Trump supporters are doing.

SCIUTTO: You know what's funny about the Bill Clinton comparisons, though, because that's one you will often hear him, and I'm sure you hear them as well from Republicans, saying, well, Bill Clinton did this.

But, remember, that got him all the way to impeachment.


BORGER: That's right.

SCIUTTO: It's not the best dismissal.


BORGER: Lying to the grand jury got him to impeachment.

SCIUTTO: And lying can still happen in relation to this, and particularly if you go down a campaign finance path, because then it becomes not just a tabloid issue. It becomes a legal -- potential legal issue.

BORGER: Right. And also if there's a deposition in the legal case, which now goes to federal court, if it gets -- if it gets that far and the president were to get deposed.

So you have a president right now who's fighting the battle on Russia, and now he's fighting a legal battle on Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, et cetera. And so you can understand this president, as we're reporting today, being very upset about this, but yet hasn't tweeted on it. My question that I have is, when are we going to be diverted onto another story and will he do that?

SCIUTTO: Yes, no question. As you as you look at the answers so far from the White House, do you see an attempt here -- I mean, you speak to people in the White House frequently, people close to the president, people who talk to him.

What's his level of nervousness about this issue?

BORGER: Well, I think he's unhappy about it, and he's maintaining that these women are lying.

And yet he feels -- and we know this from our reporting -- on all the other issues that he's emboldened to kind of take charge of his White House. So whether he fires the head of the VA today or not, he's gotten rid of McMaster, he feels like he finally understands how to be president.

He wants to do what he wants to do, so he imposes the tariffs last week, for example. So he's doing what he wants to do as president. He regards this stuff as sort of old news getting in the way.


I think it's a real personal problem for him, however. Don't discount the fact that Melania Trump is the first lady, with a young child, who is sitting there watching all of this play out. And maybe she knew about these things and maybe she didn't, but it's hard to understand how these things play out in public when you're president of the United States and you're married to the president.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And we have heard her spokesperson say that very thing, that there's a minor involved here, whether -- through none of his own wrongdoing, certainly.

BORGER: So, add that to Trump's list of problems.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. Gloria Borger, thanks very much.

In that interview, Stormy Daniels and her attorney hinted at the possibility that she has some evidence, perhaps electronic evidence, of their affair. Have a listen.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You don't want to say one way or the other if you have text messages or other items?

STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM STAR: My attorney has recommended that I don't discuss those things.

COOPER: You seem to be saying that she has some sort of text message, or video, or -- or photographs. Or you could just be bluffing.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR DANIELS: You should ask some of the other people in my career when they've bet on me bluffing.


SCIUTTO: Well, he also tweeted an image of a C.D., threatening that they do in fact have something.

With me now is Michael Smerconish. He is host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."

Michael, I want to first get your take on the interview itself. Big picture, did this help or hurt Stormy Daniels' case?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hurt. I would say that it hurt it

SCIUTTO: How so?

SMERCONISH: Because, well, such was the hype in anticipation of the interview. And, believe me, I was ready for that Kansas-Duke game to end, even though it was in overtime, just because I was so eager to see, what is she really going to say?

But I felt like I knew the whole story. Even the story of the threat had leaked out before the airing of the broadcast. So the combination of the anticipation, the tweet that you just referenced with the disc that we still haven't seen, at some point, I think the public is going to run out of patience with Stormy Daniels unless there's more and she's forthcoming.

And, Jim, I would also point out...


SCIUTTO: To be fair, Michael, you had a woman there speaking about something sensitive. She talked about a personal threat while her young child was present there, the threat in the parking lot, telling her story in length and detail that I imagine many Americans -- there were some 21 million Americans who tuned in last night.

I imagine to many of them a lot of that story, a lot of those details were new to them.

SMERCONISH: I don't know. Maybe I'm just too read in on this. I wonder how many of those who watched -- and I know the numbers were off the chart. But I wonder how many of them at the end of the interview, with no disrespect to Anderson, because I think he did a hell of a job, but I wonder how many of them at the end of the indeed said, geez, I think I really knew all of that going into it?

SCIUTTO: Listen, I hear you. A lot of this is an expectations game.


SCIUTTO: When you listen to her story here, and I was just talking about Gloria Borger, talking about the political impact, there's really a political impact, but there's also a potential legal question. You're a former lawyer as well, how the money was paid, whether the money came out of campaign funds, which would raise a legal issue.

As you look at where a possible legal case stands, do you see any substance there?

SMERCONISH: There might be some substance relative to Michael Cohen. He might have an issue with the FCC, given that some will say, and you heard a former FCC commissioner say last night as that broadcast unfolded, that if in fact this was an in-kind contribution and it wasn't disclosed, then he will have some exposure in that regard.

I'm paying close attention to the president's response, mindful of the fact, as you just pointed out with Gloria, that he's not tweeted about Stormy Daniels and how he seems remarkably behaved, at least for President Trump, in this regard, in that he is not engaging her.

I was surprised that Raj Shah went as far as he did in the White House briefing today, because the Bill Clinton lesson is that the underlying conduct might not get you in trouble to the extent that the aftermath will. That's the Watergate lesson.

And I think that's president is trying very, very hard not to say something that will draw him in and maybe subject him to a defamation action.

But one other observation, if I might. To the extent there's evidence that she has not yet handed over, a la that disc, the plain language of the settlement agreement that she signed, she had an obligation to do that at the time that she received the $130,000, so that's not so clean either.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this now. Of course, the Trump team has now sent this cease-and-desist letter. We frequently have seen both before his election and since then that the president will often threaten lawsuits against people, and those lawsuits against -- people or organizations, those lawsuits do not happen.

Since such an action would require a presidential deposition, do you believe it's an empty threat?


SMERCONISH: I do believe it's an empty threat. I think that the kind of letter that you're referring to that was sent last night -- and, by the way, it was sent on behalf of Michael Cohen. It was not sent on behalf of President Trump, unless there's another letter out there I'm unaware of.

SCIUTTO: No, you're right.

SMERCONISH: But I saw that as an empty threat.

If you believe that something was done in that broadcast last night that gives you a claim, you file that claim. You stop already with the threats.

I don't think the president wants any piece of this. I think what the president would like to do -- and it's a tough needle for him to thread -- is to argue through counsel that he had nothing to do with Michael Cohen's negotiation. However, it is a valid agreement and he'd like to see it enforced.

And that's what he's trying to do through federal court upholding the arbitration. Whether he will be successful remains to be seen.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this final question and take advantage of your legal and your political knowledge. Degree of danger for the president, in light of these allegations from a Stormy Daniels, from Karen McDougal, with similar details, as well as other women out there who claim similar relationships? Level of danger today to this president as a result of this?


Level of danger on the home front, code red, a 10 out of 10. Level of political danger relative to each of these women, a one or a two.


Michael Smerconish, I know you are going to keep following it. We will too. Thanks very much.

SMERCONISH: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: You can catch Michael on Saturdays, 9:00 in the morning Eastern time and 6:00 in the evening Eastern time. Thanks very much, Michael. We will talk to you again soon.

Coming up next, the toughest action yet on Russia. President Trump expels 60 Russian intelligence officials after a nerve agent attack on British soil. We're going to discuss the impact of those expulsions. Plus, debunking conspiracy theories and Photoshopped images. Students

who survived a massacre at their high school now turn into villains in the far-right-wing media.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

We continue to cover the breaking news on Russia.

Today, President Trump sending a powerful message to Moscow, the president expelling some 60 Russian diplomats, giving them just days to get out of the U.S. He's also closing the Russian Consulate in Seattle, the dismissals a surprising rebuke for the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter on British soil, as well as the poisoning of dozens of others, bystanders there.

Moscow has been blamed for this nerve gas attack by the U.K., the president taking this action in coordination with Canada and European allies -- that's all of them there -- to punish Russia, a joint message from those allies. So far, more than a dozen E.U. countries expelling Russian diplomats.

Just moments ago, the White House saying they will not close the doors on the president sanctioning Russia further.


SHAH: With these steps, the U.S. and our allies and partners around the world made clear to Russia that actions have consequences.

We stand ready to cooperate, to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government's behavior.


SCIUTTO: For more on this, let's bring in CNN senior diplomatic editor Nic Robertson.

Nic, how are these expulsions playing with U.S. allies? I know that, in the past, they have expressed some frustration with the presidents' moves, the administration's moves, and a couple comments regarding Russia.

Are they satisfied with what they're seeing today?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, the United States has made the biggest contribution in backing Britain. More than 18 countries, including the United States, have expelled diplomats, Russian diplomats, who are in effect undercover Russian intelligence operatives, more than 100 around the world.

This is the biggest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence operatives ever. So the support that Britain feels it's getting from the United States and the Europeans feel that collectively there is here is very strong right now. And it's an indication that the narrative is the same, that this has been to punish Russia for -- for its destabilizing activities.

I sat down just yesterday with a former KGB operative who had a warning three weeks before this poisoning that he may be a target and the man who was the target, Sergei Skripal, were going to be a target of some kind of action. He said this goes back to the top, to Putin in Russia.


ROBERTSON: So do you believe Sergei Skripal's poisoning would have been something that Putin was aware of in advance?


ROBERTSON: So he could have stopped it?


ROBERTSON: And he didn't?


ROBERTSON: What you're saying is that the state has a system of disposing of its enemies...


ROBERTSON: ... by murder overseas.


ROBERTSON: And can that possibly be without Putin, do you believe?

KARPICHKOV: It's not Putin. It's about system.

ROBERTSON: So, then is he not responsible for the system?

KARPICHKOV: He is responsible. He is head of system.


ROBERTSON: So what he also said was that the communication that he had that was warning of an attack against him and an attack against Skripal -- and he has been poisoned before in the past, he believes, by Russian agents -- came from an FSB, a Russian intelligence operative, still undercover, still active in Europe.

So he believed that -- he now believes that was a very real threat. He also says the expulsion of diplomats will have a limited effect. Russia will replace those intelligence operatives and it will be harder to know who they are -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Nic Robertson there, thanks very much.

I want to bring in now Lisa Monaco, who is a CNN senior national security analyst, of course was also in the Obama administration.

I'm curious what your reaction is here, because you have criticized the president, as have many Obama administration officials, for him slow-footing or soft-pedaling his response to a whole range of Russian activities, including election interference.

Are you impressed by this move? Do you think it represents a change?



And I think it's a significant step. And I think it's significant for two reasons, Jim. First, it is a very forceful message to send that there will be consequences for Russian aggression. That's very, very important.

The second reason I think it's very important and significant is because of the coordination that went on here. This was a coordinated effort by the United States government, working with some 14 of our European allies and counterparts from NATO and the U.K. and others.

That's incredibly important, to show that solidarity that we're going to stand with our allies, because it's important to push back on what Russia wants to do here, what Putin wants to do here, which is to divide us and to drive a wedge between us and our allies, so this squarely pushes back against this.

And I the administration should be commended for taking this step.

SCIUTTO: So, the -- we say they're diplomats. In fact, they are spies right under diplomatic cover here. So, you have 60 coming out of the U.S., all told, dozens around the world.


SCIUTTO: How much does this hurt Russia in terms of intelligence gathering in the West?

MONACO: Well, look, I think it's significant, and 60 is a big number, but we also should be clear that I'm sure that the administration has baked in to taking this step the fact that there will most assuredly be a tit-for-tat response from Russia. So we're likely to see, I would expect, the same type of move by the Russians against our folks in Moscow.

SCIUTTO: So they lose, we lose.

MONACO: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: In that sense.

Do you think that this is the thing, though, that will change Russian behavior on this? Because, oftentimes, what you will hear is, hit them in the pocketbook, right?

For instance, even the U.K. got some criticism that they did not take steps, because London, of course, there's a lot of Russian money in London and a lot of Russians buying property there and so on. To have a real change, would this have had to have been financial penalties?

MONACO: Look, I don't think that this is going to deter. These steps are not going to deter Russian aggression, but we have to take this step to show that there will be costs for the aggression that Russia shows.

Now, I do think it probably would have more of an impact to impose more targeted sanctions, travel sanctions, putting out information about Putin's own wealth and where that comes from.

All of that, I think, would be other -- other steps that would have perhaps a greater impact. And so this ought to be a start. This is an important step the administration has taken today, but it ought to be a start of a number of other steps that the United States does.

SCIUTTO: Now, despite the step, the president himself has not made a strong public comment either in announcing these sanctions or even when he had an opportunity direct on the phone to speak to Vladimir Putin last week. He did not raise this poisoning.

We heard from, it was interesting, from the deputy press secretary. I couldn't keep track of how many times he said, we want to work with Russia, really still leaving a door open here.

You advised President Obama. Would you advise a president in these circumstances to say, yes, it's smart, send this message, impose this penalty, but keep the door open to interaction, cooperation in other ways?

MONACO: Look, there are areas where we need to work with Russia, on counterterrorism issues, on very real threats we share an interest in pushing back against.

So we need to be clear about that. And we should keep that door open, but the timing and the toughness is going to be key. So any subsequent meeting that the president may have with Putin, that ought to be really gauged by the timing. I would not reward Putin very quickly with a meeting with the president.

And whenever that meeting does take place, it's very important that it be a tough one. And so we will see if that's possible.

SCIUTTO: Lisa Monaco, thanks very much.

MONACO: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: More on our breaking news, including the White House saying the president flat-out does not believe Stormy Daniels' story. I'm going to speak live with the journalist who first interviewed the adult film star about her alleged affair with the president. Plus, they marched for gun reform, but now they are the targets of the

far right. I also might mention they're children. Why fake pictures like this one of Parkland survivors are spreading online.




DANIELS: It was just, "Talking about yourself normally work?"

And I was like,"Someone should take that magazine and spank you with it."


DANIELS: And I will never forget the look on his face. He was like...

COOPER: What -- what was his look?

DANIELS: Just -- I don't think anyone's ever spoken to him like that.


SCIUTTO: Well, that's just one of many revelations that Stormy Daniels made in a tell-all interview, breaking her nondisclosure agreement.

My next guest first interviewed the porn star back in 2011 about the alleged affair before the hush money was paid and before Donald Trump, of course, was president.

Jordi Lippe-McGraw, thanks for joining us very -- now.

The interview last night, did it jibe with what Stormy Daniels told you seven years ago when she first gave you this account?

JORDI LIPPE-MCGRAW, REPORTER: Yes, it was actually almost a lot of the same questions that I had asked her. So the account that she gave on TV was almost identical to the account that she gave to me, which just shows that after, seven years, she's still telling the same story.

SCIUTTO: As you're aware, her attorney has repeatedly hinted about the existence of texts, or pictures, video, proof of the relationship.

And just in the last hour I talked to a friend of hers who mentioned not just that possibility, but she said that she kept a dress. Have a listen to how she told this part.


ALANA EVANS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: I am unaware about text messages or pictures or any type of evidence she might have that would fit on a disc.

All I know is that Stormy still has the dress that she wore from that night.

SCIUTTO: And she kept that for what reason?

EVANS: Maybe a keepsake. Maybe it's because it's actual proof. I can only speculate the things that may be on that dress, especially if it's never been washed.