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Trump Silent about Stormy Daniels Scandal; CNN: Trump Using Ex- Aide Rob Porter as Sounding Board; CNN Poll: 42 Percent Approve of Trump, Highest Rating in 11 Months. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2018 - 10:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: But he's said nothing about Stormy Daniels. The closest he's gotten to responding to her interview on "60 Minutes" was a tweet he had about fake news. But nothing publicly, but we do know he has been discussing this in private, asking people if they think he should respond to these allegations publicly. Something he has been advised against because they think it will just further embroil him in this and bring him into the headlines even more. But we know that privately, the president has been talking about this at length, complaining about what he says is that wall to wall coverage on cable news.

And even according to "The Washington Post," the president has been telling people that Stormy Daniels is not his type. But the question now, John, is how long this uncharacteristic silence can last from the president, because essentially Stormy Daniels and her lawyer, her lawyer Michael Avenatti, have been taunting the president, encouraging him to basically respond. And, of course, television is his favorite medium. It is not just Stormy Daniels, but also Karen McDougal, that other playmate, who says she also had an affair with the president, that had been going on television telling their stories, their accounts of their relationships with the president, but publicly he has not responded yet, but the question now is how much longer can that silence last, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, Kaitlan, Rob Porter, the former staff secretary at the White House, he was pushed out after the reports of domestic abuse surfaced. But now the president's calling him. Why?

COLLINS: That's right. Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" is reporting that the president has actually stayed in touch with Rob Porter since he left in a very nasty departure here at the White House. One that was focused not only on those allegation made against Rob Porter but also the way that the Chief of Staff John Kelly and several other people inside this White House handled that departure. But we have now learned from "The New York Times" that the president has stayed in touch with him and has even suggested to others that he hopes that Porter comes back to work in the White House one day, which is certainly something that would stun other people in the White House.

I should note a word of caution that does not seem likely to happen. Obviously Porter was dismissed because he could not get a security clearance, something that was required for the job he had. But it goes to speak to the level of closeness that existed between Porter and the president because as we reported when he left, Porter was actually up for a promotion. He was someone who spent a lot of time with the president, and it goes to show just how close he and the president truly were. And this comes as we were seeing the president's inner circle here in the West Wing shrink more and more. Porter was certainly part of that. Johnny McEntee, the personal aide who was fired in recent weeks. And Hope Hicks who is expected to leave the White House any day now.

BERMAN: The subject of the inner circle, you know, the president needs people around him to help on many fronts. One of them is the Russia investigation. Keeps on trying to bring on new lawyers and keeps on failing at that, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. That's true. It's like no one is joining this White House legal team at this time, even though there have been a lot - there has been a lot of outreaches. This is the fifth major firm that has been reached out to about the idea of joining the president's legal team. And now we have learned that two more lawyers have declined to join the president's legal team. That's from a Chicago- based law firm, Dan Webb and Tom Buchanan, who say they are not joining the president's legal team.

They put out a statement saying, quote, "They were unable to take on the representation due to business conflicts. However, they consider the opportunity to represent the president to be the highest honor and they sincerely regret they cannot do so."

Now this comes -- these aren't the only two. There are several other lawyers that the president has met with lately, including Emmet Flood and several others that have turned down a chance to represent the president, normally something that most lawyers would be jumping at, that opportunity. We should point out this comes as John Dowd, the president's lead lawyer, resigned last week. So we're seeing a shrinking legal team as well here at the White House, John. And it is important to remember that this comes at a very crucial time for the president, as they are discussing whether or not he should sit down for an interview with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House. Kaitlan thank you very much.

Joining me now, CNN legal analyst, trial attorney, Paul Callan.

Paul, the president, obviously having a hard time finding someone who will say yes. One issue might be, you note, that what he wants in a lawyer, specifically who he wants in a lawyer, isn't possible to find because that lawyer has been dead for 30 years.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's right. And I'm talking about Roy Cohen. You know that Roy Cohen was counsel to the infamous, notorious McCarthy committee in the 1950s. And Cohen was one of the most vicious players in the legal system in New York after he left government. And he became a confidant of Donald Trump, a very young Donald Trump, represented Trump in some of his early lawsuits. He was vicious in terms of his ability to go up against all comers and represent Donald Trump. Trump was recently quoted in "The New York Times" as saying, where is -- my Roy Cohen? That's who he's looking for, I think. Someone like Roy Cohen and he's not finding it.

[10:05:00] BERMAN: By the way, doesn't always play by the rules, which would get him in big trouble in -

CALLAN: Cohen was in fact disbarred for dishonesty.

BERMAN: That's a problem. As an attorney, from one of these big firms that the president has been meeting with, why would they say no? What don't they like about this case, just the client or the fact pattern?

CALLAN: I think it is several things, John. You know they're hearing that there are conflicts of interest in these big firms representing a lot of clients, so there are conflicts. I don't think it is that at all. Normally it is a great honor to represent the president of the United States, and these big law firm lawyers would jump in.

But Mr. Trump has a reputation for being an impossible client to deal with. He doesn't listen to his lawyers. This preceded his election as president. He had that same reputation as being a very, very difficult client in private practice. But I think the second thing is, these big law firms have huge client bases. And he's been such a controversial president, representing him might cause lawyers to lose clients, not gain clients. And it is more trouble than it is worth.

BERMAN: All right. On the subject of lawyering, Michael Avenatti, who is representing Stormy Daniels, has filed a new suit, attached a new name to a suit, a defamation claim now against Michael Cohen. Jeffrey Toobin was on with us and thinks this is all an effort from the Stormy Daniels team, to get a deposition with the president basically, to have a case where they can ask the president questions under oath. Do you see it like that?

CALLAN: I think that's possible. But I think the bigger issue is lawsuits and negotiating lawsuits is all about leverage. And the leverage that they have in this case is the threat of putting the president under oath to ask him about this affair with Stormy Daniels and other women, whether other women have been paid off. And it seems to me the president of the United States would not want that publicly revealed and would be likely to back off and settle with Stormy Daniels rather than to be deposed. So this is all about negotiating leverage.

BERMAN: Stormy Davis, good pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Stormy Daniels, in this case, right -

CALLAN: Apologies.

BERMAN: If you're looking for a common thread though between the Stormy Daniels thing and Russia, it is the idea of putting the president under oath, which lawyers on both sides think could be problematic. Paul Callan, great to have you with us -

CALLAN: Thank you, John. BERMAN: Appreciate it.

Joining me now, Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and CNN political commentators, Patti Solis Doyle and Amanda Carpenter.

And Patti, the president - sorry I'm going to put this to Jackie first. Patti, promise I'm coming to you right away. Jackie, the president has been silent on Stormy Daniels, you know, has been silent altogether for four days. How much longer can this go on? One might think that his first public appearance, our friends at the White House press corps, they're going to be shouting questions.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLTIICAL ANALYST: Well, he's ignored questions in the past though about this, over the previous week. So that's no guarantee either. But, you know I've learned not to predict when the president is finally going to blow his top about something. It is unusual, though, as you said, that he has not weighed in on this, except for that tweet yesterday about just generally, you know, the volume of fake news that is out there.

"The Washington Post" reports that behind the scenes, the president is talking about Stormy Daniels, is polling his advisers to see how they're viewing it. But if his poll numbers aren't dropping because of this, which it doesn't look like they are at this point, he might stay quiet altogether. But again, that's an open question.

BERMAN: Well, let's talk about the poll numbers right now. Let's talk about his overall approval rating, if we put that number up first here, it is at 42 percent, Patti Solis Doyle, which isn't good. But it is better. I mean it is better than what it was. Several points higher than what it was and as far as we can tell there is not any sign within the polling that he's being dragged down by the Stormy Daniels situation. Why the rise?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you're right. It is getting better, but it is still not good. I mean for any modern president, during this time, these numbers are historically low. But the number that really intrigues me in this poll is the number of women who believed Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. I think in a climate of MeToo, remember, we didn't have the me too climate in 2016 where even after the "Access Hollywood" tape he was elected. Now we're living through a very different climate. And, you know, 63 percent of women believe these Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. And to me that says, you know I think it is a strong indication of women over performing in November. We saw it in Virginia. We saw it in Pennsylvania. We saw it in New Jersey. I think it can be a very strong indication that that trend will continue and also perhaps intensify.

BERMAN: Interesting, Amanda. I can hear you remarking right there. 63 percent is not just women, by the way, who believe Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal here, 63 percent of voters. So men are involved in that also. A vast majority of people believe their story. I was looking at the -- internal numbers yesterday, more Evangelical voters actually believe the women. Everyone seems to believe them over the president. What does that tell you? [10:10:11] AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think to analyze the situation correctly you almost have to take the sex out of it because if this is just a sex scandal, then President Trump survives it very easily because people knew about the problems he had with women. But what this scandal really is about is secrets and lies and the way that President Trump does business. The purpose of these agreements, the hush agreements, is to keep a secret from the public. And a lot of people question these women, well, why are they shopping the story now? Why now? Look at what happened.

These secrets were exposed in the press. As a result of these agreements, Trump and his allies demanded that these women keep the lie up to the public. To me there is a difference between a hush agreement, which prohibits you from talking about a story, and when a reporter starts knocking on your door saying this happened, and in both cases the women say, we didn't want to lie, we didn't want to deny the truth. And yet that is what the president and his allies insisted that the women did.

So that is why it is a scandal. Trump, we know, has problems with women. But how does this translate to him as a president? Well, there have been reports in the press that he's required his White House staff to also sign nondisclosure agreements. So what do we do four years from now, when reporters start knocking on the doors that what those White House employees wanting to know the truth about what happened in that White House? Will they lie as a result of another NDA with some $10 million penalty or will we ever find out the truth about the way President Trump does business and conducts himself in the White House? That's why this matters.

BERMAN: One of the things -- go ahead.

KUCINICH: I just want to say, the good news is for any White House staffer that was forced to sign one of these NDAs, it is a pretty toothless. There are federal laws and whistle-blower laws that protect federal employees, which White House employees are. So if there is a silver lining into what Amanda just outlined, that might be it.

BERMAN: You know, it is interesting -

CARPENTER: I agree with you. They are toothless, but it does remind me very much of the loyalty pledge that Republican former presidential candidates were asked to take during the Republican primary, which was also toothless, but still managed to yield a great amount of power over them in terms of questioning their loyalty to the party and their ethics as personal, you know, members of the party. So even though this agreement may be toothless, it is still threatening and it still has power.

BERMAN: Patti, I want to read you something that we just got from the attorney for Stormy Daniels. Michael Avenatti. He put this out on Twitter. He says, "To address the rumor, we do not have a "Monica Lewinsky type" dress. Thus, there is no dress to be tested for DNA. But we are making progress on the assault/stalking that occurred around the same time that Mr. Cohen threatened "In Touch Weekly Magazine" in May 2011." Hashtag coverup. Hashtag basta here. Look, I don't think we need to analyze this - forensically analyze that tweet, but - Patti - hang on - but I am curious what you think of the lawyering and the politicking now that Michael Avenatti is doing. Do you think he's pushing this admirably or do you think he's going too far here, Patti?

DOYLE: You know, through all of this, and I saw that interview last night, Anderson Cooper did with the two lawyers and poor Jeffrey Toobin stuck in the middle. Through all of it, my heart goes out to Melania. You know having worked for the first lady Hillary Clinton during the '90s, during the Clinton scandals, it is very, very difficult, I know, to get up every day, put a smile on your face, and face the cameras, face reporters, face constituencies, when you're under public humiliation.

And so my heart goes out to her, my heart goes out to her young son. This is very difficult. It is I'm sure, difficult for the president on a personal level, thereby making it difficult for the staff. I remember back in the '90s, you know, Hillary wasn't talking to her husband, so the two Clintons communicated to each other through staff. It's just a very difficult time. And so my heart goes out to her.

BERMAN: Amanda, I'm sorry I cut you off.

CARPENTER: No, that's all right. So Avenatti, he keeps teasing they have some kind of evidence and then yesterday Stormy Daniels' friend, which the president says she knows that Stormy has a blue dress. And so, they're sort of losing control over this story. He keeps teasing that he has evidence. He posted the picture of the DVD. So when are you going to come out with it? I think once you tease it, you sort of have to produce it or you're going to get called on the carpet because all the people, you know, supporting Trump now are calling him to produce it. And so, where are the goods?

BERMAN: It is interesting, Jackie, because you guys have all been sort of alluding to whether or not there could be a greater issue here. The "Wall Street Journal," which us a Rupert Murdoch owned paper, I might add, has an editorial today that says this should be taken seriously.

"The Stormy Daniels case is typical of Mr. Trump's pre-presidential behavior in thinking he can, with enough threats and dissembling, get away with anything. He's never understood that a president can't behave that way, and this may be the cause of his downfall." Jackie?

[10:15:08] KUCINICH: Well, this is -- this does matter. It matters that the president is lying. It matters if the president was condoning intimidation, a woman who, you know, who has a -- women who have these allegations. It matters that, I mean, I know it is a -- this might be a little inside the beltway, but it does matter if Michael Cohen violated FEC rules as a result of this. That it does matter. And they're right. So as Amanda said, taking the sex out of this. I think does provide a lot of clarity because a lot of that was baked in.

But also, you know, if Trump supporters, I don't know that any amount of evidence is going to turn Trump supporters, where you could see erosion is with women voters in the coming midterms who are just sick of looking at this and sick of hearing about this kind of stuff.

BERMAN: Jackie Kucinich, Patti Solis Doyle, Amanda Carpenters, author of the future book "Gaslighting America,," I might add, Amanda, thank you very much. Appreciate you all being here.

Still to come, Russian retaliation, how the Kremlin will respond after the U.S. and other countries expel Russian diplomats.

Plus, reports that President Trump oust the V.A. Secretary David Shulkin. A growing list of veterans organizations are coming to the secretary's defense.

And a mystery train in China, inside highly likely it was Kim Jong-un. What was he doing there?


[10:20:34] BERMAN: The Russian government is warning this morning it will retaliate after more than 100 Russian diplomats were expelled from countries all around the world. More than two dozen countries kicked those diplomats out after the nerve agent poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter in the United Kingdom.

Joining me now is Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. Do these expulsions in the United States, 60 diplomats kicked out of the United States, does it go far enough?

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think it is a good start. It's a good display of solidarity with the UK and it's about time the western world woke up to what Russia has been doing. I mean they have been poisoning people for years going back to Litvinenko a few years ago.

BERMAN: Good start. What else does the president need to do?

ROONEY: Well, if it were me, I'd continue to try to raise the price that Russia has got to pay for aggression. For example, we just sold javelin missiles to the Ukraine. They put the missiles in Poland and Romania. If it were up to me, I think I would move NATO to Poland or Lithuania or somewhere put them right on Russia's back door. That's not going to happen, but it would be a good idea.

BERMAN: Does the president actually need to say something about this? We heard from the State Department, from White House statement, we heard from the United Nations ambassador. But the president himself hasn't said anything about this. Does he need to speak?

ROONEY: I think he probably should speak. He should probably denounce Russia's aggression, and the poisoning of people, and he ought to make it clear as Ronald Reagan did in 1986 when he kicked out 55 Russians that we will not tolerate people trying to undermine our systems in the United States.

BERMAN: Why do you think he's holding back? Why do you think he hasn't said that?

ROONEY: I couldn't answer about what the president -- what he -- why he hasn't done anything yet. But I do think that it is incumbent upon all elements of our government and the western world to speak clearly against Putin.

BERMAN: Congressman, last time you were on, we had an uncomfortable conversation about the Stormy Daniels situation. I know it is something you don't relish discussing, don't think any member of Congress relishes discussing this from either party right now. 63 percent of people in our poll said that they believe the women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, who say they had these relationships with the president, were paid hush money to keep quiet about it. Do you believe the women?

ROONEY: Yes, I haven't heard anything -- what they said. I think that it is unfortunate that during a campaign took measures to try to execute an agreement. Probably would have been better off just leaving well enough alone or bad enough alone. You need we've had a lot of presidents that were certainly no boy scouts.

BERMAN: That's very true. You said they would have been better off to leave well enough alone. You think it was unfortunate they executed an agreement to be silent, you're talking about, you know, the hush money payments, the nondisclosure agreements, $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. - Go ahead.

ROONEY: Right. I think the discussion now is about the propriety of the agreement to try to keep information from the public, rather than just leave it well enough alone. I mean, you know, you just mentioned about Bill Clinton here a while ago.

BERMAN: Yes. Did the public have a right to know about what was going on?

ROONEY: Sure, why not? Public has a right to know about everything. It would have been helpful for the public had the right to know about some of the previous indiscretions of other people, had the right to know about Bill Clinton's.

BERMAN: Right. I understand what you're saying here, the timing in this case is certainly suspect. The president hasn't spoken about this at all. Hasn't spoken about anything in four days, no public appearances. Does he need to address some of the issues that were raised specifically, the idea that Stormy Daniels says she was threatened physically among other things.

ROONEY: I don't know. I think he probably should say we might have been better off not trying to cover anything up and we really weren't trying to cover anything up. We just signed an agreement to protect ourselves financially or something. But really what we need to do is pay attention to Putin.

BERMAN: And we had a good discussion about that, Congressman. Mark Amodei, a Republican congressman from the state of Nevada, caused some waves yesterday. He went on the radio and he said that he thinks that Paul Ryan is going to resign the speakership and Steve Scalise is going to take over. Speaker Ryan's office denied this whole heartedly. Do you think it would be a loss if Speaker Ryan step aside?

ROONEY: Yes, I do. I asked the speaker about this, and he said he was going to not -- that was an unfounded rumor. I think he's provided a lot of stability in the House, the House -- the Republican conference is a very disparate group of individuals, you know you've got Freedom Caucus on one side, Tuesday Group on another and by and large I think the speaker has done a good job of keeping things together. We got tax cuts done. We got the AHCA done.

[10:25:15] BERMAN: It was interesting, you were so concerned, though, that you did reach out to Speaker Ryan just to make sure?

ROONEY: I did. I was visiting with him about the efforts I'm undertaking to get offshore drilling banned in the eastern gulf. By the way, I heard this rumor, what's up? He said no, it is just a rumor.

BERMAN: One of the news we just got. Our chief business correspondent, my friend, Christine Romans just told me something I was not aware of. She said that the United States needs to take out $300 billion in loans this week. It is the largest amount the United States has asked for since 2008, since the financial crisis back in 2008. And it is largely because of the short falls from the tax cuts. Are you concerned about what could be a ballooning deficit here?

ROONEY: Well, I'm very concerned about our deficit and our spending. You know our deficit doubled under George Bush, doubled under Obama, and now it is going to be up a couple of trillion dollars more. Someday our kids and grandkids are going to pay a terrible price for this.

BERMAN: Is part of the reason for it the tax cut?

ROONEY: Part of it is. But at least with the tax cut we'll probably get stimulated economic growth that should at the end if it works like Reagan's create some net tax receipts to offset it. But the other stuff is just flat spending.

BERMAN: Congressman Francis Rooney from Florida, thank you so much for being with us. Have a Happy Easter if I don't get a chance to see you before then.

ROONEY: Have a great Easter, John. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Happening now, the family of a man shot and killed by Baton Rouge police meeting with officials. Alton Sterling's death sparks major protests nationwide. In minutes, we'll hear whether the two officers will be charged in this case.