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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Stormy Wants Trump to Testify Under Oath; Did Trump Lawyer Float Presidential Pardons in Russia Probe?; Chinese President Meets With Kim Jong-un. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired March 28, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Though he has not revealed any details and says his team is still vetting those stories, so there could be more to come -- Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Athena Jones, thanks very much.
My political panel here now with us to discuss all this.
Gloria, even "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, interestingly, says that the Stormy Daniels case could be the most dangerous to President Trump, even more so, say, Than the Mueller investigation. Does that make sense to you?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It does, in the sense that the president may not testify in the Mueller investigation. His lawyers don't want him to testify. They could take that to the Supreme Court. They could lose there.
But if he is forced to testify here, don't forget, Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones case testified, lied about Monica Lewinsky in that, and that got him into a whole heap of trouble later on.
So, if that is the precedent here, then that really could be a problem, because he's on the record with all these women, this never happened, they're liars, et cetera, et cetera.
SCIUTTO: It's a lying issue, Hilary, but it's also the money issue. The payment and the campaign finance laws that would prohibit that.
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Right.
When your lawyer a few days before the election pays somebody off to stay quiet, that's in effect trying to affect the election. That's what campaign finance experts have said across the board for the last several weeks.
So there is more to this than just a sordid affair for one night, which, by the way, the Karen McDougal story, where it was a year-long affair of lying, is so much more interesting on that score.
SCIUTTO: And there's many commonalities, frankly, with the way it played out. ROSEN: Right.
If eight more really women come forward, then we have a whole pile of women who had a consensual relationship with Donald Trump and a whole pile of women who have been harassed by Donald Trump.
When this ultimately matters in terms of the American people, I don't really know the answer to, but it is just so unseemly. It is -- the only place you can really go with it are sort of the legal issues.
SCIUTTO: The president has remained uncharacteristically silent on this, possibly because his lawyers are indicating to him that's a good idea. But I imagine he's gotten advice like that before, which he's ignored. He's listening this time.
LANHEE CHEN, FORMER POLICY DIRECTOR, MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Well, precisely because this situation could be different.
Again, if this remains a story about Donald Trump's interactions with women, I think that is a story by and large everyone has seen, heard and they have processed. To the extent this migrates to a story regarding activity during the campaign, potentially if there are things that happened, if the president testifies under oath, then it becomes a very different scenario.
And so I think they're being ultra-careful, as they should be. And this is -- to the point about the "Wall Street Journal" piece, the only way this becomes a bigger problem is if this becomes more of the legal question, rather than a question about an affair, because the American people sort of say, OK, I have heard that story before. What else is new? Tell me something else new.
ROSEN: Also, the more the president talks about the affair, he has two choices. He either admits it or he denies it.
Neither one really is good for him or his family. Remember, he has a wife he has to go home to every night and a young son. I do think that that's playing into this on some level.
SCIUTTO: Now, of course, other major news today, the "New York Times" reports that Trump's lawyer at the time, John Dowd, floated the idea of presidential pardons for Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort.
Gloria, I know you speak often with folks inside the Trump orbit on this. What are they telling about stories story today?
BORGER: Well, of course, they deny it. John Dowd has denied it publicly, not to us, but has denied it. The president's attorneys deny it.
But I think that this "New York Times" piece is very well-sourced, I would have to say, reading between the lines here. And I think that it's a question of, if John Dowd did this, in any way, shape or form,did the president know about it? Did he sanction it? Did he direct him to do it? Was it, in that case, obstruction?
Look, I think there's a long way to go between this story and the question of obstruction. But it could become another data point that Mueller has to look at now to see whether in fact these people were approached before they flipped, and the timing of this is really important.
ROSEN: But this is important, because it's not really just about Flynn and Manafort. When you have sources close to the president floating that word, that pardon word, you are dog-whistling other people.
There are so many people that Mueller is communicating with. You are dog-whistling people. Like, you know what? You don't have to give up X years in jail just to give Bob Mueller information. We are going to take care of it. And so that I think is really the point and problem.
SCIUTTO: Let's be fair, Lanhee. It's not just a dog whistle, because the president has been asked about this. We played a clip a short time ago. And he left the door open to the possibility of pardons.
CHEN: This is precisely the point. The president is the one who can end the speculation.
If the president came out and said, look, this is not on the table, we are not considering this, then it wouldn't matter how much dog- whistling was going. Everyone would say, look, the president has spoken on this.
As long as the uncertainty remains, that is what fuels the speculation.
CHEN: Well, but he is the one who is in the position to end this. Let's be clear about that.
SCIUTTO: Unless he doesn't want to end it. Right?
BORGER: But he could also end it and change his mind, don't forget. We know that happens.
SCIUTTO: When has that ever happened?
SCIUTTO: Other news, just before we went to air, Justice Department's internal watchdog has just announced it is launching an investigation into the FBI's handling of FISA warrants. This has been a long issue here, because you hear from the right, you
hear from Trump supporters abuse of the FISA process. Now you have Trump's Justice Department following through.
BORGER: Right. They just reauthorized the FISA process, as you know.
And this is all about whether people were spied upon who shouldn't have been spied upon, i.e., Carter Page, for example. And this goes back to the infamous Devin Nunes memo, which sort of the point that these people, that the judges were not presented with enough information, et cetera, et cetera.
And so I think it is really here the Justice Department doing the bidding of what Republicans have been talking about and Donald Trump has been talking about for the last year.
SCIUTTO: Does it have the potential for consequences in this Russia investigation, Lanhee, or is this more about scoring political points?
CHEN: No, I think this is about -- to the extent that Republicans on the Hill, to the extent that they tried to sidestep the Nunes memo specifically, it did say, look, there is an issue around the FISA surveillance process and we need to examine that.
So the OIG investigation within the Department of Justice does speak to that concern and I think is evidence that there is something is working right at the Justice Department for this to be happening. But in my mind, it will be interesting to see what the OIG finds, because, remember, this is same office that found that Andy McCabe had not behaved with full candor, supposedly. We will see when the full report comes out.
ROSEN: Right, whether that is true or not.
But, Jim, this has been your area for many years. You know this better than any of us. And the truth is that over the years, actually, the Republicans in Congress have been very generous to law enforcement on surveillance and on warrants.
And it has actually been the Democrats and kind of the left that have been pushing back on surveillance. The irony now of the deafening silence of the Republicans across the board as the Justice Department and as the administration is now saying, oh, well, maybe they have gone overboard, simply because their own cronies are getting...
ROSEN: ... is quite remarkable.
SCIUTTO: And, as Gloria noted, after Congress, by overwhelming majorities in both parties, frankly, just renewed the FISA legislation.
Thanks very much to all of you.
Did China just steal President Trump's spotlight before his big meeting with North Korea? Stay with us.
We will be on that when we get back.
SCIUTTO: In our world lead, a momentous and historic meeting in Beijing President Xi Jinping of China and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
It marks the very first time that Kim has left his country since taking office seven years ago.
I want to bring in CNN's Michelle Kosinski.
Should this be read as China kind of reinserting itself into this negotiation?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, in big letters.
Now that we know this really did happen, we see President Xi of China trump Trump's big announcement that he was going to sit down with Kim Jong-un. Just as the announcement that Trump made, that he was going to meet with Kim surprised the world, we see Xi now surprise everybody by actually doing it in a days-long summit.
The White House wants to put this in the best light possible. Even seeming to take some credit for it. It is clear that Xi wants to show the world who is boss in dealing with his neighbor and shaping this precarious conversation.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): Chinese President Xi Jinping alongside Kim Jong-un on what is believed to be the reclusive volatile leader's first trim outside North Korea since he's been in power.
Now China is finally confirming that this even happened after the sudden appearance of an armored mystery train in Beijing and releasing all the pictures, posing with their wives, though China still calls it an unofficial trip, one that lasted four days.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He's trying to make sure that President Trump understands that that's his region. He is going to dominate that region.
KOSINSKI: China saying nothing about Kim's intentions on denuclearization or his ballistic missile program.
But President Trump's tweets this morning were all about reasserting the U.S. role here: "Received message last night from Xi Jinping of China that his meeting with Kim Jong-un went very well and that Kim looks forward to his meeting with me. For years, and through many administrations, everyone said that peace and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was not even a small possibility. Now there's a good chance that Kim Jong-un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting."
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're going to be cautiously optimistic, but we feel like things are moving in the right direction, and that the meeting yesterday was a good indication that the maximum pressure campaign has been working.
KOSINSKI: The Trump-Kim meeting is still expected in May, despite key staffing positions in the administration unfilled.
ELIZABETH SHERWOOD-RANDALL, NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT: With the absence of many senior diplomats who have retired recently and a lack of a secretary of state who is confirmed, there is reason to be concerned about a negotiation that will require great and rigorous attention.
KOSINSKI: U.S. officials insisting that, even with the national security and State Department leadership in flux, planning is under way and the U.S. is leading it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is on track, as it has been all along. It is diplomatically led.
KOSINSKI: Only China and North Korea know what all was said in these meetings.
But we know that China would love for the United States to have less of a presence in the region. As one of our analysts said today, this is China playing chess, not checkers.
And there is also a concern that all these meetings with Kim Jong-un are giving him stature and a standing in the world without him even beginning to give anything up yet.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, giving Kim some stature, too. Michelle Kosinski, thanks very much. What would it be like for President Trump to actually sit down with Kim Jong-un? We're going to ask a man who's actually negotiated face to face with North Korea himself.
SCIUTTO: In our "WORLD LEAD," the Trump administration preparing for a major meeting this May between are President Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea. This now after a surprise visit this week though between the North Korean Leader and China's President Xi Jinping. Joining me now is former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations who has visited North Korea many times. He was also, of course, former Governor of New Mexico. Governor, thanks so much for taking the time with us.
Thank you very much, Jim. SCIUTTO: I'm sure you saw the President tweeting last night on this meeting in China. He said, "received message last night from Xi Jinping of China that his meeting with Kim Jong-un went very well and that Kim looks forward to his meeting with me. In the meantime and unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all costs." I wonder the president to some degree claiming one, involvement -- central involvement here but also credit for the change and open of negotiations. Do you see that in this China visit or was this China reasserting itself as the leader of this process?
BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER GOVERNOR, NEW MEXICO: Well, I do see China basically saying to the United States and North Korea, you can't make a deal without me. And this was reasserted by China in getting this meeting together. Secondly, I think Kim Jong-un has an end game. You know, he's made a lot of moves lately, a summit with South Korea, the Olympics, the summit with President Trump. so we can't underestimate Kim Jong-un right now because he is on the offensive. He is also probably saying to China, look, a meeting with President Trump. I'm cooling down. Please take some of those sanctions off. It is obvious that those sanctions have been biting. And I will give the president credit. I think getting the Chinese to be more forceful on the sanctions, on oil sanctions, food stuffs, coal, North Korean workers not bringing money in. After all, 80 percent of North Korea's commerce is through China so they have maximum leverage. So I think this is a good evolution, Jim because you want Kim Jong-un to talk to foreign leaders. This is only the second one he's talked to. The South Korean envoy, the first head of state visit. I mean, he was only talking to Dennis Rodman before. So this is -- this is a good move. This is positive. This may lead the something decent.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you because Chinese state media says that North Korea, and this was included in their statement on their conversations, is willing to denuclearize, give up its nuclear weapons. You've negotiated with North Korea, do you believe that?
RICHARDSON: No, I don't believe that. I think they're setting up expectations because they want the summit to succeed. Look, North Korea will not give up their nuclear weapons. What they might do is reduce them, slow them down, allow inspectors. But I think there are other issues that are important for us. The issue of the missiles, stop the missile technology that hits the United States, exports for instance, of nuclear materials and exports of missiles materials to rogue countries, stopping some of the chemical weapons to Syria, releasing the three Americans are there, getting the remains of our soldiers back. So you know, there are a lot of issues at play. North Korea has agreed to talk about denuclearizing and if we set up a process and the President is patient and he's prepared and we have a plan of a negotiation that might lead to a drastic reduction and that's good. But will it be denuclearization? That won't happen. They've got 20 to 40 to 60 nuclear weapons. They're not going to give those up.
SCIUTTO: It sounds like you see positive progress here. Do you give the Trump administration credit for bringing this process along?
RICHARDSON: Well, I see positive progress and I've just given them credit on the sanctions. I give credit to the President for agreeing to the summit. It's a real gamble. My worry is that he's going to start tweeting and insulting and you know, not having a prepared agenda. I worry, too, that we don't have a national security team confirmed, the secretary of state and national security adviser. Kim Jong-un has got to have a plan. He's going to be prepared. He's going to want to stay in office. He's not going to want to denuclearize completely. I don't think. He's going to want the end of the Korean war through the armistice agreement. And then, in the end, he may want something like economic assistance, sanctions off. You know, he's got a plan. We can't underestimate him.
SCIUTTO: Governor Richardson, thanks for walking us through it. Well, another huge blow for the V.A. We're going to tell you about a major investigation, what it reveals about 6,000 employees there. Could it be the final straw for the current V.A. Secretary? That's right after this.
SCIUTTO: A new report reveals more turmoil at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A new audit shows that the V.A. may have employed more than 6,000 staffers at medical facilities across the country without completing their background checks. That is roughly six percent of all V.A. staff. In one case the audit found a registered nurse in Ohio worked with patients for more than 1,400 days, nearly four years before a background investigation was initiated. The Office of Inspector General recommends the V.A. get their number of delinquent background checks below 2,500 by this October. This audit comes as sources tell CNN that President Trump has indicated to associates he's preparing to fire V.A. Secretary David Shulkin soon. Be sure to follow the show on Facebook and Twitter @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."