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Report: More Star Lawyers Refuse to Join Trump Legal Team; Trump Floats Idea That Pentagon Pay for The Border Wall; Facebook CEO to Testify Before Congress; Trump Silent on Daniels Case. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired March 27, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Wolf, will take it. Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Live pictures inside the briefing room. That should begin momentarily.

Here is the headline this afternoon. The President needs a lawyer or two and he needs them as soon as possible. Two more attorneys essentially said thanks but no thanks to offers for joining team Trump. Their firm, the fifth to decline so far, said the two attorneys, quote, were unable to take on the representation due to business conflicts, end quote. With the last week's departure of Trump's lead lawyer John Dowd, the President's personal legal team has essentially become an army of one, this longtime conservative commentator Jay Sekulow.

Special Counsel Robert Muller has seen at least 17 seasoned prosecutors. This is happening as one of the most disgraced aides to leave the White House still has the president's ear. A source tells CNN that the President has spoken with Rob Porter multiple times, essentially using him as a sounding board. Porter, who never obtained his full security clearance when he was working at the White House, was pushed out a couple of months ago after reports of domestic abuse involving not just one but both of his ex-wives. But, according to some reports, the President may want him back.

And growing questions today around the President's tweets. Ridiculing his critics, typically a mainstay of his feed. Noticeably absent, any mention whatsoever of this woman, Stormy Daniels. CNN has new reporting that the President knows he must handle the topic with more care than he does other matters and he, quote, unquote, knows the stakes. Let's start with senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, who is waiting for that to begin. Jeff, first just on this thanks but no thanks from more lawyers to join team Trump. Why are they having such a tough time?

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, good afternoon. You certainly teed up many of the topics here on the agenda, the questions likely that will come up here. But as for those lawyers, this is a recurring story. Yet again, a major high-profile and powerful lawyers are saying we cannot represent the world's most powerful man in the Russia investigation. Citing conflicts of interest.

Of course, this is pretty late on in the investigation. A lot of these lawyers from these law firms already involved in this. But it's also something more. It simply is not good for business for a lot of these major law firms to be involved in this. Certainly, this comes as the White House is looking for more representation for the President as he leads up to the biggest question of all. Will he testify or not before the Special Counsel?

So, all of that is happening. Brooke, I can tell you it is unusually silent around here at the White House today. It is the second day in a role we've not seen the president in public. He does not have any public events on his schedule. Certainly, is keeping a lower profile. The White House does not want him to be asked directly about any of these allegations. All of this is coming as we are just learning this afternoon, our Jim Acosta and Jeremy Diamond are reporting that the President was also considering paying for the border wall through the Pentagon budget, something that the President spoke last week to House Speaker Paul Ryan. So certainly, that didn't happen, or it hasn't happened but many, many questions on a Tuesday at the White House. -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right. Jeff, thank you. We'll see you momentarily in that briefing. Let's talk this over with Nia-Malika Henderson, she is our CNN senior political reporter and David Chalian our political director. So, David Charlie and first to you, what we just heard from Acosta and Jeremy Diamond that the Pentagon paying for the border wall?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: This, to me, is an indication of what we had heard last week with the spending bill, that the President is quite displeased with the fact that he is not been able to get the full funding of that border wall in place as he had hoped he would be able to do by this point. We all remember it was the big applause line on the campaign trail. This is one big, huge promise that he has not yet delivered on. And the number was not at all attractive to him that was in the spending bill that was passed last week, the omnibus.

So clearly looking for every possible avenue for how to get this paid for, floating it from the Pentagon I can't imagine that nervous Republicans already sort of not bought into fully the idea of this wall, are all of a sudden going to be like, yes, that's what we should do with Pentagon money, build something that none of us really want to fully fund to begin with.

BALDWIN: Sarcasm much?


BALDWIN: No, I got you through the camera. Nia to you. On the legal team in disarray. To accept the job as an attorney for the President of the United States, no matter who, what, when, that's a major resume builder, to be serving the highest office in this country. Why is the Trump team having such a tough time finding skilled statements? Might this Stormy swirl, in addition to Russia and everything else, have something to do with it?

[14:05:00] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, in some ways the reason he can't attract high-profile lawyers to his team is the same reason he can't attract top talent to his White House. It is this swirl, it is this chaos. I mean there is a kind of secondary issue here, if you're a lawyer thinking about joining the team, there are conflicts, right. If you look at him trying to hire the husband and wife team, Joe diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, they had conflicts.

Also, apparently there were personality conflicts with the President, not just sort of legal conflicts they had with other clients. There is all of that. And there is the fact that if you were a lawyer, you would probably want predictability, you would want some focus, you would want some discipline from your client. You wouldn't necessarily want a client who thinks he is the top lawyer on his team.

Somebody who wants to tweet about Bob Mueller who was somebody that is not listening to his team at this point in terms of whether or not he should sit down with Bob Mueller. Dowd apparently didn't want him to sit down with Bob Mueller. Trump apparently saying he wants to. So, I think that is the whole kind of chaos around this White House, I think, is really impeding their search to add folks to this team at a very crucial time of in this investigation.

BALDWIN: OK. Standby the two of you. We're going to get a quick break in. We're waiting for this briefing it will begin at a moment how. And of course, this comes speaking of Stormy Daniels, the Stormy team is now suing the President's personal lawyer. We will see what the White House says about that. Stay with me you are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: We are back on a Tuesday afternoon. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We'll get you to the White House briefing when it begins in just a second.

But to Facebook, after mounting public pressure, CNN has now exclusively learned that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has decided to testify before Congress. This comes after all the those reports that the data firm linked to the Trump campaign harvested the personal information of more than 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge. That company Cambridge Analytica is now accused of using the data to target voters in the 2016 Presidential election. Dylan Byers is our senior reporter who broke the story, so this is a huge deal that he will be testify. Tell me more about what you know. Any idea as to when?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Sure. What Facebook it is doing right now is they're coming up with a plan for Mark Zuckerberg's testimony. The feeling worse of the pressure became so huge, pressure from the public, from the media and certainly from lawmakers. So, the question is when Senator Chuck Grassley called for a hearing on April 10th, it is now looking like there will be multiple hearings around that time, somewhere between April 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th. We're waiting for the full details which should be coming from Facebook later today. But again, so much public pressure. Such a disastrous affect on

Facebook stock right now, down another 3 percent today. Down 70 percent overall since this scandal first broke. It is a serious existential crisis for Facebook. They know sending anyone other than Mark Zuckerberg to Congress will just not do.

BALDWIN: So, what does this move mean for other tech giants, Google, Twitter?

BYERS: It's a great question. So now that Zuckerberg is going to the hill, it puts the pressure on other companies that use and rely on user data. Those CEOs are probably going to have to come forward as well. We're talking about the CEOs of Google, Twitter. Any social media company, any digital platform that harvests user data. It's time to step up and put their CEOs forward as well.

BALDWIN: Dylan Byers with the scoop. Dylan, thank you so much from Los Angeles for us this afternoon. Make sure you check out Dylan's new newsletter, "Pacific." Covers what's happening in the worlds of tech, media and innovation. Go to for more. Thank you.

Again, just a reminder, we'll flash the live picture up of the briefing. Any moment now we should see Sarah Sanders behind the podium. Couple of headlines. No, star lawyers say, no thank you to joining Trump's legal team and Stormy Daniels sues the President's personal lawyer. How will they respond to that?

Also, the provocative idea by a conservative retired Supreme Court Justice that's sparking all kinds of debate today when it comes to the second amendment. And instead of changing gun laws he suggests repealing the second amendment. His argument and could it ever happen again? We'll discuss. We'll be right back.



MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: Why hasn't Michael Cohen sat down, forget two hours, I will take 20 minutes, how about 10 minutes, and answer the question? Instead, he sends you. You're not even involved in the case.

DAVID SCHWARTZ, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY: Michael Cohen just wants you to keep running your mouth and your client running because every time you do that, it's going to cost your client another $1 million.

AVENATTI: Your friend is a thug. He's a thug

SCHWARTZ: Thank you, that's $1 million.

AVENATTI: Thug, thug, thug, thug.


BALDWIN: Oh, my goodness. Lawyers representing Stormy Daniels and the President's personal lawyer duking it out over their legal predicament. This as the porn star sues Michael Cohen for defamation. Nia and David are back to me. Nia, to you adding on the defamation suit is yet potentially another opportunity -- I say opportunity when you're thinking the Avenatti side, to be deposed. Do you think this is -- with all these different cases swirling, does this get the President even closer to seeing the inside of a courtroom?

HENDERSON: Possibly. And that's the great fear I think if you were this White House, if you were this President, if you were a supporter too.

[14:20:00] And one of the things that you hear that this kind of swirl around these women that are suing the President, trying to get out of these agreements. Summer Zervos is essentially saying the President defamed her, another opportunity or chance for the president to be in court. You worry even maybe more about that at this point than the Russia investigation, which is pretty hard to believe and hard to think that he might be more of a -- kind of in peril because of the Stormy swirl than Russia.

But it's also because it is so easy to understand, right? It's sex. It's hush money. It's a porn star in the case of stormy Daniels. So, yes, the President obviously reaching out to people in his inner circle. What should he do? Them telling him to stay quiet and so far, taking that advice. We'll see how long that lasts with these lawsuits, the most recent one being against Michael Cohen.

BALDWIN: How much longer, David Chalian, can President sit on his Twitter fingers over saying anything about Stormy?

CHALIAN: I cannot believe it's been this long. I'm shocked it is a remarkable amount of discipline being displayed by a President where discipline is not really one of the character traits you associate with him. And the notion that he is the king of the counterpunching and this issue, just silence. Yesterday, Brooke, he had that vague tweet about fake news, but nothing specific.

There's nothing vague about Donald Trump on Twitter. Subtlety is not his calling card. Yet here he is, just -- he seems paralyzed in some way from being able to speak. He has taken more advice, I guess, to stay quiet on this than he has from his lawyers on the Russia matter.

BALDWIN: Almost like what do Stormy Daniels and Vladimir Putin have in common? Oh, the President hasn't criticized either of them in this entire time we've been talking about these investigations swirling. Were going to get a quick break and I do want to ask you the two of you about Rob Porter, the ousted staff secretary alleged to have been involved -- or committed domestic violence involving his former wives. The fact that we're now learning today that the President has been calling him up, using him as a sounding board. Maybe wants him back in the west wing. Let's talk about that on the other side of the break.


BALDWIN: We're back. We're waiting for the White House press briefing to begin. David Chalian, Nia-Malika Henderson are with me. And I teased before the break we want to talk about the news today that the rumblings, David Chalian, around the White House, that the President -- and he had spent a lot of time with him, the former staff secretary Rob Porter, who had been accused of domestic violence by both his ex-wives, never had that full clearance. He has been gone a couple of months. News is that the President has been in touch with him and that there are rumblings that the President is even talking about considering bringing him back.

So, to you, A, how real do you think the consideration of that would be given the brouhaha surrounding his ousting and, B, are you surprised that the President is still in touch with him?

CHALIAN: I'll take the second question first, Brooke. I'm not that surprised. First of all, when you're in Trump's orbit in a close-in ring like that, you don't really leave, even if you're physically moved to a different building. So, I'm not at all surprised to hear that he's reaching out to somebody that he spent a ton of time with. I don't know that there were many more west wing aides that spent as much time with the President in his first year of his presidency as the staff secretary.

It's not just handing you a piece of paper to sign. You're just in and around a ton of meetings, constantly interacting. It doesn't surprise me that this President, who loves to pick up the phone and gut check with friends and aides would do the same here, even to somebody was dispatched from the White House in these really troubling circumstances you describe. Whether or not the coming back to the White House, I'm a little skeptical of that, A, he doesn't have the security clearance. And that was the whole issue.

Rob Porter broke open that whole notion, sort of a direct line as to why Jared Kushner no longer has the security clearance he once had. I'm not sure you're going to bring somebody back who the President would want to be around but wouldn't be able to do all the things that he was doing before because of that security clearance issue. And, remember, this was a big cloud over John Kelly, the Chief of Staff, and the handling of this and so I'm not sure bringing him back is going to do much except to sort of undercut a Chief of Staff. And I'm not sure that's what the President wants to do right now either.

BALDWIN: Nia, do you agree?

HENDERSON: I think that's right. It would bring back that whole cloud that we all reported on and saw with John Kelly, having to explain why Rob Porter had been in that position so long and what he knew and when he knew about these allegations. Very troubling allegations launched by not one former wife but two former wives about domestic violence, emotional and physical abuse.

[14:30:00] And you wonder, a President who is dealing with a pretty low approval rating among women, I think his approval rating is something like 34 percent, something like that in these last polls, this again I think would underscore why he had such trouble. And it seems like again the President obviously has a right to: reach out to people he wants to reach out to and seek counsel. But in terms of bringing him back in it seems like it's unlikely. This is the President likes to free wheel all sorts of ideas and freelance ideas. In kind of news with people about all sorts of ideas. And that seems like that's what this is just kind of a musing.

BALDWIN: OK. Stand by. We wait for the White House press briefing to begin momentarily. As we learn the President has floated the idea by the way of the Pentagon paying for his border wall. Also, the mystery deepens. Did North Korea's Kim Jong-un just make a secret visit to China on this train? What we learned about this historic bulletproof slow-moving train spotted in Beijing.