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U.S. and Other Countries Expel Russian Diplomats; Stormy Daniels Gives Interview on Alleged Affair with Donald Trump. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- suing the president's personal lawyer for defamation. This comes as a source tells CNN that President Trump is still talking to Rob Porter. He was the former White House aide who resigned amid allegations that he physically abused his two former wives. Let's begin all of our coverage with CNN's Michelle Kosinski. She has our top story. Hi, Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. So we're not hearing yet from Vladimir Putin himself on this, but the Russian ambassador has already warned that the U.S. is going to come to realize that this move was a grave mistake. In return, the Trump administration is warning right back that if Russia does expel U.S. diplomats, as we expect them to do, then the U.S. could well take some additional action.

But look at the scope of this. This is the biggest mass expulsion of Russian diplomats in history. It now involves 25 countries. In the U.S. it looks like this -- 60 Russian diplomats are given seven days to pack their bags and get out. Twelve of them are coming from the U.N. here in New York. The other 48 are spread across the U.S. The U.S. is closing down the consulate in Seattle entirely. And this constitutes 13 percent of the entire Russian delegation in the U.S. And this administration isn't even calling them diplomats at this point. They're flat out calling them spies, aggressive collectors of intelligence.

Somebody else that we're not hearing from quite yet, though, is President Trump. It was only days ago in a phone call with Putin he congratulated him on his election win, he didn't bring up the poisonings in the U.K. However, this move is seen as significant and many are hoping that it's going to lead to something more, maybe a tougher stance overall on Russia. Alisyn and Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, appreciate the reporting and the perspective. Thank you, Michelle.

So how will Russia respond to this coordinated retaliation? Let's discuss with CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian, and president and Eurasia Group and editor at large at Time Ian Bremmer. Ian, first question, will they definitely respond, and if so, what is the sense as to how?

IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: They'll definitely respond. It's tit for tat. We've seen it before. This is a particularly large expulsion, larger than what Obama did, as you remember, in response to the hacks as well as harassing a bunch of American diplomats in Moscow. They will close an American consulate in Russia, I'm virtually certain, and we'll see probably roughly the same number of American diplomats/intelligence officers, in Russia many of whom will probably just be diplomats.

But this does certainly mean the worst U.S.-Russia relationship we've seen in decades. And to be clear, Trump absolutely was pushed to make this decision by advisers around him. He didn't have to. So I do think it reflects a change from what we've seen from President Trump so far.

CAMEROTA: So another question, Ian. So when this happens, so when they respond tit for tat and they expel our diplomats, then what? What happens next?

BREMMER: What's interesting is that if you look at the Russian ambassador in Washington, people around him, they're really not meeting with Americans right now. Some of those relations have been cut. Some of them are just scared, they're gun shy because there's so much coverage, there's so much concern.

So it's not just that we have bad relations with Russia. We actually have non-functional relations with Russia. It's one thing to be talking to each other and disagreeing. It's another when you lack that engagement and things are going badly. You know that in Syria, a number of Russian informal troops attacked an American base. We went back and killed quite a few. This was about a month ago. There hasn't been diplomacy between the Americas and the Russians on the back of that. That's a problem. They're attacking us in cyber, critical infrastructure. We just put out a big report on that last week. We haven't been talking about it. That's a problem.

As this gets worse, if there's a non-functional relationship between the two leaders and the only thing we have to go on is Trump saying, hey, maybe I'll meet with Putin. He said maybe I'll meet with Kim Jong-un too. I don't necessarily want that to be our failsafe in this relationship.

CUOMO: Karoun, the thing that's missing from an other size strong show of retaliation are the words from the president himself. Is that relevant?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's definitely significant. It is significant that the United States, the Trump administration decided to join with so many European nations to make this move. I think that is a real answer to the concerns that were out there about whether Trump would actually be in lockstep with Europe and NATO when it comes to these matters of looking at what's coming from Moscow.

But we have not seen the president actually change his personal tune. And this is not the first time there's a disjointed nature between what Trump is saying and what his administration is doing. If you go back to the questions of Russian meddling, the president still hasn't really said this is the bottom line of what happened even though everybody else in his administration has. And now you've got a situation where he's taking a pretty significant step with these expulsions of these Russian officials in the United States, but still the most recent thing that we have directly coming out of him is him flouting his national security advisers and deciding to call and congratulate Putin on his election.

So it's a bit of a mismatch. You could say in the one sense maybe Trump can read how to charm Putin but also how to strike because he has an appreciation for the strong man leader type. But nothing happens in a vacuum.

[08:05:05] So you can't take anything that's happening with Russia unfortunately outside of the realm of the fact that the president is under investigation and that Mueller is looking into any potential Russia ties, and what his moves are personally have to be taken in that context as well.

CAMEROTA: Ian, as you pointed out, one of the things the president has been completely consistent on since the election, if not before, was that he thought that his administration might be able to have better relation with Russia and that would be a good thing for the United States. Putin doesn't seem to be on board as much with this. So what do you think happens now? Is it possible for President Trump to get his vision?

BREMMER: No, it really is. In part this is a Russia problem. It's the fact that they really believe -- Putin believes that the United States is his issue. He has to go after, undermine the Americans, try to divide the Americans from the Europeans. He's had some success on the ground doing this in Europe.

Long-term Russia's big problem is really China. That dominates the economy in Central Asia which is Russia's sort of deep underbelly, in Siberia as well. There's a lot of anti-Chinese racism in Russia. But they're not focusing on that strategically because it's all about the United States.

And it certainly is true that Trump continues to be the one person who doesn't want to hit Trump hard among those in his administration -- Putin hard. But at the same time, it is a little different. He didn't call immediately and say you did such a great job, congratulations. Trump was one of the later world leaders to call Putin. Many congratulated Putin in stronger terms than Trump actually did. He did bring up the arms race and say this has to be stopped.

I still recognize that there is a question that needs to be answered as to why it is that Trump feels the need to be so unwilling to criticize Putin directly when everyone else is on board. There are lots of potential answers for that. But anyone objectively looking at the situation has to see the beginnings of a turn not just in real policy, which obviously matters the most, but also in rhetoric from President Trump himself.

CUOMO: That's the check on your reckoning, although you play the momentum right. Obviously actions speak, and we see this is different than what we've seen in the past. But Karoun, to you, whether it's Michael Hayden or other experts in this area, they'll say whether it's the turnover at the top in the State Department and the NSA, the national security adviser, rather, that we don't know what the strategy is versus Russia, that they don't have a cohesive strategy that would make the relationship better. They're not following a game plan. Do you hear that, and what's the relevance if so?

DEMIRJIAN: I think that's been the criticism and the concern for the first year of his presidency. And it seems like actually this latest move is more in keeping with what strategy many of his advisers were advocating.

President Trump is not the first president to come into office and have an evolution on his Russia stance. That's happened under the Obama administration. A lot of presidents have come in thinking we can improve this and then learn, actually, no, it doesn't necessarily work that cleanly that way because of who is in power in Moscow and the way that Russia is looking at the United States.

The difference here is that the president comes in at a point in which the relations with Russia are actually objectively speaking pretty much at a low. You have had the war in Ukraine, you've had the face- off with backing different people on the ground in Syria. And also you have this -- the questions about the alleged ties between the president and various Russian officials there. That's what makes a different situation. Also you've got a more chaotic situation happening in the Trump White House because of the departures, because of these tensions with the secretary of state and the national security adviser who are now gone. And just add to this this idea of you can't be this behind the eight ball when you're dealing with Russia at a moment like this.

But as Ian was pointing out, this does seem to be the start of a shift. I think what a lot of people are looking for next, at least from the Capitol Hill, at least from the Democratic Party as well, is that they want to see this followed up with more stringent sanctions measures. And of course that's going to be into the realm of things that will actually hurt a lot of the Russian power players where they live but also start to get into questions of can you do that without having any sort of a backlash effect in the United States or with European allies.

CAMEROTA: So here, Ian are some poll numbers to show how Americas are feeling about this. Regarding Russia, President Trump is too easy on Russia, 47 percent, too tough on Russia, four percent, about right, 41 percent. So enter John Bolton. So now what? He feels completely differently about Russia than President Trump as far as we can tell. So now what happens?

BREMMER: By the way, I think that if you had those numbers on Obama at the end of his administration, they would have been about the same. Most people saying he was too easy, some of his supporters saying about right, because it's hard no know exactly how to hit. I'm hearing a lot of people right now saying what we really need to do is tighten those sanctions against the oligarchs, make it impossible for them to hold money here. You know what, that also plays into Putin's hands. [08:10:00] Putin has been trying to get them to bring money, repatriate back to Russia for a long time. And if the Americans do that, this actually makes him seem like more of a patriot in Russia, so we have to be a little bit careful.

CUOMO: He's very popular there, and a big reason that he is popular is because Russia is back on the map as a player. And the metric that seems to be a fair argument ignored during the Obama administration, or not aggressively pursued, and we'll see, open question now, is what do you do in the places where Russia is being actively inimical to the cause of democracy in America? For the Obama administration, it was Ukraine. That was a big bright line. They went in there, annexed Crimea, whatever you want to call it. They took Crimea. They seeded that problem that's going on in Donetsk in parts of east Ukraine.

BREMMER: And now it's Syria.

CUOMO: And we didn't do anything. This current administration is giving them arms, but it's Syria. What do you do in those places? That will be the measure. We'll have to see.

CAMEROTA: OK, on that note, Ian Bremmer, thank you, Karoun Demirjian, thank you very much for that conversation.

So the White House on defense. It's insisting that President Trump is still denying having an affair with Stormy Daniels and saying that they don't believe she was ever threatened to keep quiet about the non-existent affair. Meanwhile, Daniels is suing Mr. Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, for defamation. It's complicated. Thank goodness we have CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House. What's the latest, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. President Trump really is not one to hold back on Twitter when it comes to people that he's willing to attack. But when it comes to Stormy Daniels, he has been uncharacteristically restrained.


PHILLIP: President Trump, a self-declared counterpuncher, remaining uncharacteristically quiet about his alleged affair with Stormy Daniels and the purported effort to go cover up the story.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You had sex with him?


COOPER: You were 27. He was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?


PHILLIP: But behind the scenes, the "Washington Post" reports the president has attacked Daniels, asking confidantes if the episode is hurting his poll numbers, and even griping that Daniels is not the type of woman he finds attractive. "The Post" also reporting that the president watched Daniels' "60 Minutes" interview, didn't think Daniels appeared credible, and has been asking aides what they thought.

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to get into what he saw. There were clips of it playing all over in the morning snus shows.

PHILLIP: Sources tell CNN that Mr. Trump knows the stakes and is resisting commenting to avoid making the controversy worse. The president leaving his defense to White House staff.

SHAH: The president strongly, clearly, and has consistently denied these underlying claims. The only person who has been inconsistent is the one making the claims. The president doesn't believe that any of the claims that Ms. Daniels made last night in the interview were accurate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't believe she was threatened?

SHAH: No, he does not.

PHILLIP: The White House continuing to insist that the president was unaware of the $130,000 paid to Daniels days before the election by Mr. Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen.

SHAH: False charged are settled out of court all the time. This is nothing outside the ordinary.

PHILLIP: Daniels' lawyer filing suit against Cohen on Monday for defamation.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS ATTORNEY: He made some statements earlier this year whereby he basically said that the affair never happened, in not so many words, and made my client out to be a liar.

PHILLIP: This as CNN learns the president has kept in touch with the subject of a different controversy, former White House staff secretary Rob Porter. Porter resigned last month amid allegations that he physically abused both of his ex-wives. The "New York Times" reports that the president has told some of his advisers that he hopes Porter returns to work in the West Wing, although he acknowledges that he probably can't bring him back.


PHILLIP: Despite all of the controversy swirling around this White House, and there are a lot, we are actually seeing some interesting movement in President Trump's approval ratings. According to a new CNN poll, it has actually gone up about seven points in the last several weeks. These numbers, 42 percent approval, is close to where President Trump was when he first came into office. That's typically when presidents have their highest approval rating numbers. And one of the reasons why it could be this, the economy. The president seems to get his highest ratings from voters on his handling of the economy, 48 percent approved compared to 45 percent that disapprove. And then on a lot of other issues, he's much further behind. About 10

points behind are foreign affairs, foreign trade, and at the bottom, gun policy, an issue that was at the forefront this weekend with the March for Our Lives. President Trump has often in the last week recently been touting the economy as one of his signature pieces of his tenure so far. And you can see why, clearly voters giving high marks for that, but on other issues, Chris and Alisyn, the president is pretty far behind.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely, Abby. We'll get into some of that coming up. Thank you very much.

So President Trump so far holding back on talking about Stormy Daniels. We'll talk about the president pulling his punches and what this scandal is doing to his approval ratings.



RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: 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.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, HOST: Okay, that's the White House pushing back on allegations that President Trump had an affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels after millions of people tuned in to see her interview on 60 Minutes this past weekend.

President Trump, so far, remains silent on the issue. So let's talk about all of this now with CNN political commentator Ana Navarro and Amy Kremer. She's the co-chair of the Women Vote Trump organization.

Great to have both of you, and your perspectives, here with us.

Okay, so let's talk about what's happened with President Trump's poll numbers. In just the past month, they have seen an uptick, a spike of seven points. He's now at 42 percent approval rating, and 54 percent disapprove, but it is notable what's happened in the last month.

However, Amy, I'll start with you. With women he's quite underwater. So Trump approval rating among women 34 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove. Do you think the Stormy Daniels talk, and the scandal and the interviews are having an effect on his approval rating?

AMY KREMER, CO-CHAIR, WOMEN VOTE TRUMP: I think they are having an effect on the approval ratings because it's negative all the time. I would say these approval ratings increasing are in spite of all the negative press that we're hearing.

And it's not just this, it's Russia, it's all this stuff. The constant turn-over in the White House - it's a bunch of tabloid journalism, a lot of it is. And I think that ... (CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: You don't believe - just - just that - just because you're accusing us of tabloid journalism. A lot of it is. And I think that it is (ph)...

CAMEROTA: Amy, (ph) you don't believe -- just -- just because you're accusing us of tabloid journalism (ph)...


KREMER: I'm not -- I don't want to say I'm accusing you of tabloid -- but all this stuff about these women -- I mean, none of it's really relevant other than the legal ramifications of it. The FEC stuff, and the lawsuits that have been filed. If so ...

CAMEROTA: So you don't think that it's relevant -- just to -- to drill down on that. You don't think that it's relevant, sort of, the president's morality? You don't think that...

KREMER: He -- he was not elected to be a moral leader. I mean, nobody in Washington is a moral leader. I mean, that's preposterous.

CAMEROTA: But have you given up on the President of the United States being a moral leader?

KREMER: I didn't elect him to be my preacher or my pastor or even my husband. I elected him to be the -- the President of the United States, to -- about national security, to make sure our nation is secured, to get our economy back on track. And I think that's why he was elected, and the approval numbers show that in spite of all of the negative press.

CAMEROTA: And did you give Bill Clinton the same pass?

KREMER: Well honestly, I wasn't really involved in politics at that time, but...

CAMEROTA: But -- well, how did you feel personally?

KREMER: I mean, I was a single mom raising a young daughter at that time, so I wasn't...

CAMEROTA: Were you offended by Bill Clinton?

KREMER: I mean, you know, when a man is unfaithful, that is between him and his wife and his god. That is not between you and I and all of the -- all Americans out there. But...

CAMEROTA: And you felt that way then, too?

KREMER: I -- I do feel that way. And -- but I do think -- I want to say, there is a difference in the way the things were being reported under Bill Clinton and the way that they're being reported now.

CAMEROTA: Yes. KREMER: I mean, there's -- there's absolutely a difference.

CAMEROTA: OK. Ana, how do you see it?

NAVARRO: What can I tell you? Look, it's a -- it's frankly painful to hear folks say -- and I'm not picking on Amy, because, you know, I mean it's not about Amy, it's really a much larger swath of people -- saying that the folks in Washington are not moral leaders, that they don't -- they're not elected to be moral leaders.

They used to be. They used to be. And I think that what you're seeing happen is a normalization of what is not normal. A -- an effort, you know, twisting yourself into all sorts of shapes in order to justify and rationalize and explain what is inexplicable. And what is cringe-inducing. And I do think people care. That's why 22 million people tuned in to watch the CBS 60 Minutes interview with Anderson. Because people do care.

You know, to me, Alisyn, I think part of it is that we have become numb to all of this. There's just so much scandal -- there is so much going on around Donald Trump, it's been so many accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault, it's been the Access Hollywood tapes, it's been the things that we've seen and heard him say throughout the years, one after the other, and so I think people have numbed themselves.

And I am making a call to America to resist that urge to numb yourselves to lowering and cheapening the Presidency of the United States to a level where we don't expect any level of moral compass from the leader of the Free World. That is unacceptable in America, and that's how I think Donald Trump has changed the presidency, changed the Religious Right, and changed America.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Amy.

KREMER: I want to say that, you know, this stuff has been going on since the beginning of time, that -- I mean, you look back to Kennedy -- many, many presidents have had this scandal. I think what is different here is that, with the 24-hour news cycle, non-stop news cycle, with social media, Twitter, Facebook -- it's driven all the time. Those tools to drive the message is -- were not around back then.

And so that's a big difference from now and in past. It's not like all of a sudden we have a president that has --we, you know, find out he's been unfaithful. We knew who this man was when we elected him.

CAMEROTA: And so...

KREMER: We know he likes the ladies. I mean, there's no secret to that.

CAMEROTA: Right. And so do you -- just to Ana put (ph) -- do you have to sort of put that aside in your -- do you compartmentalize that when you -- if you accept that he has had these affairs, do you put those aside and say, "But I like what he's doing for the country"? So you just -- do you sort of put a blinder on to that?

KREMER: Yes, I mean, I am an American. I want my country to be successful. That means our president needs to be successful. I don't care where you are on the political spectrum, you should want America to succeed. And if our president succeeds, we succeed. And so, am I going to support him? Absolutely. He is doing what I elected him to do, and I -- and that is what makes a difference to me.

CAMEROTA: And do you ever long for the days of George W. Bush or Barack Obama, when you didn't have to worry about any philandering?

KREMER: I don't worry about it now. Why -- I mean, I don't worry about it. That's not what I'm worried about. I mean, we've had other presidents doing it while they're in the White House. So far, we don't know that that's happening in this White House.

CAMEROTA: So that's a bar, for you? If in the White House is different than previous to the White House?

KREMER: I wouldn't say it's a bar. I want us to be successful. Look, I didn't support Barack Obama on his ideology, but I wanted him to be successful because I wanted America to be successful.


KREMER: And I think that that's important.

CAMEROTA: OK. And -- Ana (ph) we hear this a lot. I mean, look, it's about the policies. It's about whether or not America's going to be successful. The rest of it is sort of noise.

NAVARRO: Look, I -- and I think there's, you know, there's a large swath of people who believe that. I think there's also a large swath of people like me who say, you know, we can't get to a real policy discussion when you have a President of the United States who lies, cheats, changes positions, is unreliable, is a philanderer, has no moral compass, is a bully on Twitter, attacks people; when you have those things going on day, after day, after day, this level of chaos, this level of disorganization, the -- you know, being unreliable in the Oval Office day after day, it's very hard to get into a serious policy discussion.

Because, also, how are you going to get into a serious policy discussion about, I don't know, guns or immigration when the guy goes on t.v., gives a spectacle of a meeting on live t.v. and then 20 hours later is changing positions like if he was a yoga instructor; which he does over and over again.

KREMER: But, you know, I would ask you -- I would ask you, do you not want him to be successful? Do you not want his presidency to be successful? Can you tell me one thing that you agree with him that he's done well?

NAVARRO: Yes, I like the naming of Neil Gorsuch. I thought that was a good naming. I think that's something that he promised to do during the trail and I think that's something he did. I do not want a president to redefine what we find acceptable in America from the President of the United States. And I am not willing to look the other way just because he is a Republican and because he's throwing policy bones here and there, and keeping us clapping like a bunch of trained seals at sea parks. No, that's not what I'm willing to do. And let me tell you ...

CAMEROTA: Quickly.

NAVARRO: ... when -- when Bill Clinton did his, you know, very inappropriate, horrific act he was impeached. He was investigated thoroughly. We have a Republican Congress who very possibly we are looking at here with this entire Stormy Daniels issue, with FEC violations and a Republican Congress who remains silent and pretends that this is not on their radar screen instead of doing a full investigation. And I think that's why you are seeing Republicans losing election after election federally, state and local because people are fed up with the complicity, the silence, and the willingness to look the other way and ignore the blatant, obvious things that are going on in Washington from this president.

CAMEROTA: OK, (inaudible). OK, last word. It's great to get both of your perspectives as Republican women and pundits, thank you very much.

KREMER: Thank you.

NAVARRO: Thank you (ph).

CAMEROTA: To (ph) Chris.

CUOMO: All right, President Trump ordering the largest ever expulsion of Russian diplomats after that poison attack on British soil. Is it enough? Is it worth it? Republican Congressman Charlie Dent joins us for that and news of day, next.