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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Stands by Pruitt As Ethics Questions Mount; Judge Grants Trump Attorney's Extension in Lawsuit; Trump Sanctions Putin Cronies, Inner Circle. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 6, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: But I can say we all serve at the pleasure of the president and as you guys know and America knows, if the president is displeased, you'll know it.

[16:30:03] You'll know it in a hurry.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: There's obviously a big source of individuals who like Scott Pruitt a lot, not necessarily because of these issues but because of what he is doing in terms of deregulation.

A source familiar with the conversation says that oil magnate Harold Hamm who's also a major Trump donor is urging the president to keep Pruitt. When the president is making this decision, is he listening more to outside advisers or his own chief of staff?

GIDLEY: Well, the president's listening to the results. And quite frankly, the economy is booming in part because of deregulation. You'll remember the president's campaign promised that he would cut two regulations for every one they put into place.

But instead, he's cut 22 for every one they put it into place, and the economy's booming the American people like it and we've seen the results with millions of jobs created, we've seen wages increase to the largest margin in about eight years. And in large part, that has to do with the job that Administrator Pruitt has done.

But as far as personnel announcements, obviously, I have none to give you here today.

TAPPER: The economy thriving, I hear you. Obviously, people on Wall Street have concerns. Dow down more than 570 points today. A lot of fears because of the trade war and the tariffs that are being threatened.

Experts say that China has the advantage here for a number of reasons. The Chinese government, for example, has greater control of its economy. They can order banks to support industries suffering from American tariffs.

How far is President Trump willing to go here? Is he prepared for this to continue to escalate and will he actually pull a trigger and start enacting and enforcing these tariffs?

GIDLEY: Well, to place the blame on Donald Trump here is misguided and misplaced.

China, for decades, has been allowed to operate illegally and unlawfully on the international stage. Other countries know it. We know it. We're hundreds of billions of dollars in a trade deficit right now with China.

The American president, Donald Trump, comes into office and says, bureaucrats and politicians have ignored this now for decades, I'm not going to let it happen anymore. We're not going to let China cheat and what we're doing is actually putting forth some measures that could actually protect the American worker, the American economy, the American business and American agriculture. That's what this president ran on. That's what he's doing. It shouldn't be any surprise to anybody in 2015. He even called out some of these tariffs specifically on what he would do should he be elected.

And so, we're moving toward making the economy better. He wants open markets. He is a free trader, but they can only be open if everyone else is open as well.

Let's not forget, the president has said on multiple occasions, too, Jake, he wants -- he'd be fine if it were zero right now --

TAPPER: Right.

GIDLEY: -- as far as tariffs are concerned. But the other countries have to be zero as well.

China is not playing by the rules. The American people know it. The international community knows it, and they're thanking Donald Trump for standing up and having the backbone and quite frankly the strength to take on China.

TAPPER: I don't think people are questioning whether or not China is guilty here in terms of the larger trade issues. The question is how best to deal with it.

You mentioned agriculture. A lot of farm state members of Congress in the Senate are really worried about this.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse, in response to the latest threat of tariffs, tweeted, quote: Hopefully, the president is just blowing off steam again but, if he's even half serious, this is nuts. He's threatening to light American agriculture on fire. Let's absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this, unquote.

Your response?

GIDLEY: Look, the president is already working with the secretary of agriculture to make sure that the American farmer is not impacted. China --

TAPPER: They have been already impacted.

GIDLEY: China has, as you just said and as Mr. Sasse just pointed out as well, China is the one guilty here. When they move to attack the American farmer, the American president moved to protect the farmer here in this country. In fact, we've already met with the secretary of agriculture, we're coming up with ways right now to protect them and prevent any harm whatsoever coming to them.

But we're in this position again because of China. The president is inheriting a problem that's been growing quite frankly in this country for decades, and it's a common theme quite frankly, Jake. This president's coming into office. He's seen these things go wrong for a long time and he's making fixes to them. This is one of those many examples.

TAPPER: Hogan Gidley, always good to have you on the show. Thanks for coming and have a great weekend.

GIDLEY: Thanks, Jake. You too.

TAPPER: Moments ago, a judge made a key decision in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit. How might this affect President Trump? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:33] TAPPER: And we have some breaking news in the Stormy Daniels legal saga. A small victory for President Trump's legal team in the lawsuit that could theoretically force him to answer questions under oath about his alleged affair with the adult film actress. A judge just granted Trump's lawyers an extension to respond. Originally, the president's team had to weigh in by next Monday.

Let's bring in CNN's Sara Sidner.

Sara, what does this mean for the case?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is definitely an incremental but obvious win for Donald Trump. His attorney getting the judge to agree that the case needs to be held off for a bit, that he doesn't have to respond right away. And the reason why Donald Trump's attorney asked for that is because they want to let the court try to decide whether this case can go to arbitration, which means it would be out of the public view. We do not know what the judge is going to decide, but this is giving some time for the judge to look at that.

Now, in other news, if you will, we have now heard Donald Trump respond for the very first time to questions about the Stormy Daniel case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): Porn actress Stormy Daniels is headed to the Midwest for the weekend, touted as infamous on a St. Louis venue's Website, a cartoon of President Trump right next to her picture.

This as her attorney Michael Avenatti is vowing to refile his request on Monday to depose President Trump following the president's comments on Air Force One.

REPORTER: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. What else?

[16:40:03] REPORTER: Then why -- why did Michael Cohen make it, if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: You have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

SIDNER: Avenatti says Trump's admission that he knew nothing and steered reporters to his attorney Michael Cohen bolster Stormy Daniels case.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: So, the president has just shot himself in the foot, thrown his attorney basically, Michael Cohen, under the bus and the process put him in dire straits with the state bar of New York, because according to the president now, Mr. Cohen was negotiating this agreement and doing this all on his own without consultation with the president.

SIDNER: With a Monday deadline looming, Trump's attorney is now requesting more time to respond to Daniels' lawsuit, asking a federal judge for more 30 days and hopes the judge will send the case to arbitration before then. Daniels is suing to get out of a confidentiality agreement she claims is void because Donald Trump never signed the deal himself.

Daniels former attorney Keith Davidson represented her in that agreement. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Davidson said after he was fired from the case, Michael Cohen was encouraging him to spill his guts about the Daniels case, and the case involving Playboy playmate Karen McDougal both of whom say they had affairs with Trump.

KEITH DAVIDSON, STORMY DANIELS' FORMER ATTORNEY: Michael Cohen called me within the last week or two.

SIDNER (on camera): And what did he say to you?

DAVIDSON: He suggested that it would be appropriate for me to go out into the media and spill my guts.

SIDNER: Are you here be at the behest of Michael Cohen?

DAVIDSON: No, no, no. Not in any way, shape or form.

SIDNER (voice-over): Now, CNN is learning after the Daniels deal was done Cohen referred a client to Davidson.

Davidson tells us the client was Chuck LaBella, a producer on "The Apprentice", the Miss USA pageant, and Miss Universe, all involving Donald Trump. LaBella had an issue with actor Tom Arnold who tweeted several times last fall, but LaBella possessed damning information about Trump that Arnold claims involved Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Davidson says he wrote a cease and desist letter to Arnold's attorney on LaBella's behalf. LaBella told CNN a friend did call Davidson on his behalf, but LaBella never considered David's his attorney because he never paid him.

Then just last month, Arnold commented on Twitter that Michael Cohen had Chuck LaBella hire Keith Davidson to try to keep me quiet about Trump, Russia, Miss Universe 2013.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now, LaBella has said that some of the things that Tom Arnold has tweeted are outright lies. Mr. Cohen has not commented on the story Jake.

TAPPER: Curiouser and curiouser. Sara Sidner, thanks so much.

SIDNER: It is.

TAPPER: Is there anyone in Washington who can stop President Trump from taking this potential trade war with China to the mattresses? That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: Well, we've got a lot to talk about today. Let's bring in our political panel. Let's start with President Trump calling EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt a good man. He isn't alone in receiving that compliment from the President. Other people include right before they were fired, David Shulkin, Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, Dr. Tom Price, Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, Reince Priebus, the list goes on and on, good men all. Is this the kiss of death or am I reading a little too much into it, Jackie?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is hard to say. Yes, there is a pattern there. That said, it doesn't seem like Pruitt has really risen to the level that Trump is not happy with Pruitt. Pruitt has done his job. Whereas some of these other folks like Tom Price, for example, Healthcare had failed. He felt like he had failed. Rex Tillerson, he was upset with constantly. Shulkin had embarrassed him. Now, we'll see if Pruitt gets there. I mean, being locked out of your $50 rental because you weren't paying the rent and you were staying too long. I don't know if that going to be what breaks his back. But does it really -- you heard Hogan. Hogan couldn't say whether he was going to be there or not because no one else --

TAPPER: Not even by midnight tonight.

KUCINICH: Yes, right, exactly. So only the President knows.

TAPPER: Robby, what do you think?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think we crossed a line in the last 24 hours from the swamp of corruption to the swamp of pathetic. I mean, it's -- the getting locked out by changing the locks. Trump typically pushes people out when they become story too much. In all the other cases that I've heard of as I try to listen for this, I think at some point he became disappointed and thought they weren't you know, loyal to him anymore but it feels like he's staying up too much band with. Trump won't allow that.

TAPPER: What do you think?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think Pruitt has put enough policy points on the board for Trump and for the conservative base that that's why he has hung on as long as he has. That as Jackie mentioned, with a number of these other folks that have been sort of unceremoniously let go, it is -- that they were not producing results that the President liked. And so I think Pruitt has more runway here. But I hope that President Trump does take action in this case because he was elected to drain the swamp. And this is so many of the things that have been alleged here are peak, gross, swampy behavior, using a government vehicle to turn on the sirens to get through traffic so you can get to your fancy restaurant. These are just --

TAPPER: By diplomats? It's a fine -- it's a fine --

KUCINICH: I mean, it's hard -- it's hard to get a reservation there.

ANDERSON: These are just the sort of things that if Trump is going to stand up for what his voters sent him to Washington to do, you can find someone else who will put wins on the board for your administration's policies in terms of deregulation who does not engage in this type of behavior, I would -- I would hope. So my belief is that is that this is what has gotten Pruitt this much runway this far is that he can point to his record as EPA administration. Say conservatives are very, very happy with it, but this type of behavior making these kinds of headlines, Trump should try to do better.

[16:50: 15] TAPPER: The other thing that's interesting is there are clearly a number of sources in the EPA and the Trump administration who are providing information to reporters so there is this drip, drip, drip. And when he came out and give that interview to Ed Henry who gave him a tough interview with him and he said he had no idea who put these raises forward and then people at the EPA and the White House were like that's not true. He knew all about it.

KUCINICH: Well, that was the thing that I was going to say. I mean, they told him not to do interviews and not to go to the press and he went to Fox and was clearly surprised by the interview that he received. He also was told not to give those pay raises. He went around the White House and personally, his staff executed it but he signed off on it. So those points where he's denying the White House, and they know inside the White House that he did that. I think that's why you're seeing reports that Kelly wants him gone. Kelly had called him and said that the White House have kind of painted it in a rosier light initially saying, Kelly had called and reiterated the President, keep your head up. Well, it turns out Kelly called him and said no more scandals like we can't handle this. So the fact that --

TAPPER: And there were like three more after that.

KUCINICH: Three? Four, five? TAPPER: Well, then, after -- right, no, after Kelly said that, and -- well, after we reported it yesterday, he said it earlier in the week, there were all these new scandals about the Republicans in the EPA challenging Pruitt and being dismissed or shunted to the side.

ANDERSON: Yes, I think this is why to the extent that the Trump administration can find someone else to do this job who can execute the President's agenda, but can come to the job committed to a level of public service rather than personal enrichment, I think that needs to be priority number one. And it's just become clear with it's not just one allegation, if it was just one story, one odd thing with the landlord, one odd thing with the request for a pay raise, then certainly you know, the Trump administration can say this is the media going after him, trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. But it has now added up to a point where there's enough of a pattern that I think the administration needs to find someone else for this job.

KUCINICH: The private phone booth in his office, the request to a bulletproof desk. I mean, it's just --

MOOK: And the security detail.

KUCINICH: The security detail.

MOOK: And Jake, this is what's interesting to me. We don't know if the Democrats are going to take back the house but if we do, I think we're are just seeing the surface. When Democrats can subpoena all these documents, e-mails, schedules, expenses from these departments, I think this is just the beginning. I think a lot of people come in who aren't experienced in being in government but also aren't experienced in the kind of accountability that comes with a Congressional subpoena and they've -- I think they've just been reckless. All of these department (INAUDIBLE) accountability.

TAPPER: And to be frank, I mean, the legislative branch of government is supposed to be conducting this oversight and they're not. The media is doing the job of the legislative branch. I want to ask you a question Robby because obviously, you were the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton. These sanctions against these oligarchs and others, do you -- will you acknowledge that President Trump is actually enacting some tough measures against Russia for the election interference?

MOOK: Yes, I think this is a great time. I will say it. This is -- this is what needed to have happened a very long time ago. So I won't give the President or the White House credit for moving quickly enough and to send the message clearly enough. But somebody in the administration is moving these stuff through. The one remaining roadblock here though is the President himself. You know, the White House does one thing. We heard this in the press conference today. The White House has been very clear that we're cracking down on Russia, that we're sending messages to Russia but Donald Trump himself won't say it and that disconnects you know --

TAPPER: Well, he issued a paper statement. He said something on paper. He clearly okayed it. MOOK: He weren't on camera and we're hearing leaks about the things

he says about Vladimir Putin on the phone. This will still be less than good until the President himself can come out and get tough but I will absolutely acknowledge this is what needed to happen and I'm glad it has. I just wish it happened a long time ago.

KUCINICH: Well, and that's what it's unique to this president, right? I mean, usually, if someone issues a press release and it says that that's coming out of White House, that's what the President thinks. We've seen this many times at this President which is why Sarah Huckabee Sanders has such a tough job where she says at the podium when we issued a press release. That doesn't necessarily mean anything anymore. The President comes out and contradicts it as he's want to do, then that's policy. So it just make -- it makes everything tougher and it makes us a little bit more skeptical about what's coming out of White House press shop.

TAPPER: And Kristen, what do you think? Should President Trump get some credit here?

ANDERSON: Absolutely. Well, and I think his administration all along has had, you know, whether it is Ambassador Nikki Haley at the U.N. sort of consistently holding the tough line against Russian national security documents that are put out saying we're taking a tough stance against Russia. It would be nice to see the President himself personally take a stronger stance but I -- you know, actions speak louder than words. These are good actions.

TAPPER: All right, one and all thanks for being here. I appreciate it. It's Friday, almost quitting time. Just about the time the President usually fires someone so don't go away. We still got a few more minutes on the clock there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Tune in Sunday for "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest, the White House top economic adviser Larry Kudlow, plus an exclusive with Senator Susan Collins. It starts at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern, Sunday morning. Quick question, yes or no, is president Trump going to fire Scott Pruitt this weekend?

ANDERSON: I lean no.

MOOK: No, next week.

KUCINICH: No.

TAPPER: All right. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.