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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

CNN Source: Trump Called Michael Cohen Today; Comey Goes to War in Devastating Takedown of Trump; RNC Accepts Resignation of GOP Fundraiser Who Impregnated Model; CNN Source: Trump Called Michael Cohen Today; Trump, RNC Go After Comey Today Over His New Book. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:31:15] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with the politics lead, this image of the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen outside with a group of men smoking cigars in New York as his hearing is ongoing. Cohen has been on the phone a few times we're told, one photographer said he would like to send, quote, the great pictures you all have to his mother. We also know that according to "The New York Times", Cohen spoke earlier with President Trump.

We're back with my political panel.

One thing that actually is very important in terms of the integrity of the 2018 and 2020 elections, Comey described in his book that president Trump and his team were more concerned about the legitimacy of their election in 2016 than they were in the election interference by the Russians that they were -- the intelligence chiefs were there in January 2017 to tell them about. What does that tell you about the president and his team?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this has been to me always the most concerning issue with this administration, is that they have never expressed any interest in trying to find out anything more about what happened in doing anything to combat it. And so, you know, best case scenario is they are incompetent and worst case scenario is they really don't want to find out.

And so, it's always to me been suspicious that they don't -- they don't direct anybody to look into this. I mean, who in this country is not concerned about this?

And here you are in the White House and you're the attorney general or whoever you are, and this is of no interest to you? And then Comey is saying the same thing.

TAPPER: Yes.

POWERS: That is not what they want to talk about. They not interested about (INAUDIBLE) or preventing it.

TAPPER: Every press secretary gets frustrated with the coverage the media provides, we always cover things that, Robby, that you don't want to be covering.

Take a listen to White House Press Secretary Sara Sanders today criticizing all of us for covering James Comey's "A Higher Loyalty".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You guys spend hours upon hours every day praising James Comey propping him up, giving him the biggest platform. We shouldn't be praising him. We should be putting him down. We should be taking him off of air.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We shouldn't be praising him, we should be putting him down, says the spokesperson for the most powerful nation on earth.

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: This is classic Trump, both in terms of there is always a filter, which is what is best for him and make him look good and how does it affect him. He has no reference for the office that I would argue that every other president has had.

But this is also an example, she way playing for her boss. I'm sure he is watching her every second she's on. That was her speaking directly to him. We see people do that here on the set. We see people do that on Fox News certainly. That's what is going on.

And, you know, it will just be interesting to see at what point Republicans finally say enough is enough. I feel like things have just changed even within the last 24 hour, this tornado of swirling faster and faster by the hour. Maybe it will happen after the midterm elections, Republicans lose a lot of seats, but, boy, it's feeling like it will get stormy -- no pun intended.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER COLUMNIST: Well, what's befuddling, or maybe not befuddling, but, you say, you know, the lens is -- well, what's good for Donald Trump. What is good for Donald Trump is not Donald Trump giving more oxygen to this book.

TAPPER: That's incredible.

ANDERSON: Not tweeting out and picking this fight. Fine, let your surrogates go out and do your -- you know, get into fist-a-cuffs with Comey and fight it out. Fine. But as the president -- as the president taking the step to tweet about this book, you are -- you are giving it a platform. And that is something that I think is beyond befuddling and if I was an adviser, would frustrate me deeply.

TAPPER: And, in fact, the publisher printing 850,000 copies to meet expected demand. Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury", the initial run was 150,000, ended up selling quite a few copies.

I want -- you're not the only that has criticized James Comey, neither are you, obviously, because there are two of you next to each other.

[16:35:03] Let's take listen to Fox News Chris Wallace talking about the book.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: The other thing that surprised me frankly is how bitchy the book is. I think one could argue that by getting into the kind of political food fight, that James Comey has done more damage to his own reputation than he has to President Trump's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, to be fair to the book, there is a lot in here about his life, about prosecuting the mob, about leadership, about -- you know, if you follow him on Instagram or Twitter you know the kind of pros that he favors.

But he does go there about the president's skins and the president's hands and the president's hair. Was that a mistake?

POWERS: Yes, it's definitely a mistake. And, look, it's always -- I think -- I mean, I know I deal with it. I'm sure of other people in the public eye deal with it. You just have that really funny little dig that you want to give -- you want to do on Twitter, you want to put in your column.

Don't do it. It is just -- it always undermines your argument. And if you -- it's the laziest way of writing. It's the laziest way of arguing. If you have something to say, say it.

And it's a lot harder to write a good book or a good column in a persuasive way without making fun of somebody or ridiculing them. And so, I think it undermines him.

TAPPER: It is. We are in the Twitter era.

POWERS: Yes.

TAPPER: That little snarky tweet.

And stick around, everyone.

The Republican National Committee says that Comey is a liar. They have a Website, LyinComey.com, to attack the new book. That's next.

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[16:40:34] TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead. President Trump attacking James Comey and his new book, calling the ex-FBI director a, quote, proven leaker and liar and an untruthful slime ball and saying it was his, quote, great honor to fire James Comey, the Republican National Committee is also waging an anti-Comey campaign branding him as an opportunistic individual, someone that Democrats railed against, which is true.

Joining me now is the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel. Thank you so much for joining us, Ronna. Good to see you.

RONNA MCDANIEL, CHAIR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Good to see you. Thanks for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: So, some breaking news. Minutes ago, you accepted the resignation of Elliott Broidy, the deputy finance chair of the RNC after "The Wall Street Journal" broke the news that a different deputy finance director of the RNC, Michael Cohen, also President Trump's personal lawyer, negotiated a $1.6 million payout to a Playboy model that Broidy impregnated while married. Cohen, we learned from the Justice Department this afternoon is also under criminal investigation this on top of the fact that your former finance chair Steve Wynn is being accused this year of sexual harassment and assault.

And I guess my first question for you is, what the heck is going on at the RNC?

MCDANIEL: Well, obviously, these developments are new to me. I have not heard of any of this. Elliott and I spoke earlier today and he tendered his resignation. He doesn't want to be a distraction to helping us elect Republicans and keeping the president's agenda moving forward.

And at the RNC, we've raised double the money of the DNC. We have the best ground game we've ever put in place. We are prepared for the midterms and that is what I'm laser focused on, is keeping the majority so we could continue to work on behalf of the American people.

TAPPER: Is Michael Cohen still a deputy chair of the finance committee there, given the fact he's under criminal investigation?

MCDANIEL: Yes, I'm going to take a look. I haven't had a chance to do my due diligence, as it is breaking, I've been hearing it mostly from the news, I want to have a chance to look at it, talk to Michael. Obviously, he hasn't been charged with anything, due process is a cornerstone of our judicial system but give me time to look at the charges or the investigation and have a chance to talk to Michael.

TAPPER: So, you're here today to talk about the Website going after James Comey questioning his ethics and integrity. And I have to just ask, can you understand somebody watching right now might look at anyone from the RNC, given Broidy and Cohen and Wynn and say, on what grounds can the RNC question anybody else's integrity.

MCDANIEL: Well, the Republican Party, the elected leaders of the Republican Party is a party that passed a tax cut that's helped the middle class and increased wages, two-thirds of Americans have bigger paychecks, 3 million jobs, ISIS is on the run, that's why you talk about the Republican Party. What is the policy that we're putting in place for the American people?

When I go to grocery stores and when I talk to people about this party and this country, they're worried about what are Republicans putting in place that will make my life better. And so far, our record is pretty darn good.

TAPPER: So, that's the Republican Party, that's President Trump and Republicans on the House and Senate, but I'm specifically asking about the committee that you chair, the RNC, that has a Website up now called LyinComey.com, attacking a former director of the FBI, assailing his character and -- you know, you just had to -- you just accepted the resignation of a deputy finance chair because a different deputy finance chair negotiated a deal with a woman -- a Playboy model not his wife that he impregnated, you got the Steve Wynn situation.

And my question is, the RNC is questioning the integrity of James Comey, whatever issues there are with James Comey, what is the deal with Broidy and Cohen and Wynn, and how does that you give any moral grounds to question anyone's integrity?

MCDANIEL: Well, James Comey discredited himself. And this isn't the RNC making up things about James Comey. James Comey has done that all on his own with his testimony before Congress, where he said he didn't leak and then he did reveal that he gave his memos to a friend to give to a reporter, with the way he handled the Clinton investigation, and now revealing in his book that he used polls to determine his decision to reveal to the public that he was reopening the Clinton investigation.

Our job at the RNC is to make sure that we're highlighting for the American people that's going to get news coverage air to air, 24-hour news coverage, that we need to present the real James Comey and that they have an idea of the person who's presenting one version of the events.

TAPPER: So, the Website is calling LyinComey.com and obviously, it suggests that the RNC cares a great deal about the truth. I know you did it in conjunction with the White House and they also seem to be very concerned about the truth when it comes to what comes out of James Comey's mouth.

"The Washington Post" reported that President Trump has made more than 2,400 false or misleading claims since inauguration.

[16:45:00]

Now, I know you're head of the RNC, you're not inclined to criticize the President but this is a man who has said falsely thousands of Muslims were on T.V. and cheering in New Jersey on 9/11, and that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the Kennedy assassination, that President Obama was not born in this country, that three to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 election, that he had the largest inauguration ever, and that vaccines caused autism, that's just a small little sampling. They're all patently false claims so why the double standard? Why do you care about James Comey telling the truth but not President Trump?

MCDANIEL: Well, the media has an obsession with covering President Trump, and they have --

TAPPER: We cover the president, yes. MCDANIEL: -- but they have covered him nonstop and probably the most negative way that we've seen for any president. But we know that they're going to bring James Comey on and we don't think he'll get the proper vetting. That's something we want to make sure that the facts get out. If you go to our Web site lyingcomey.com, you're going to see that most of the criticism comes from Democrats, that many of the criticisms we put forward are not refuted by the media. In fact, the media has covered extensively on our Web site as well. That's something we feel like we have to push forward because he's going to be out there on every news station over on the next week. As he's making his millions of dollars in selling his book, people need to know who they're dealing with and who they're hearing this from.

TAPPER: You are absolutely right, the Democrats in 2016 were extremely critical of James Comey. It's 100 percent true. And I don't dispute that what you're -- that there are a lot of hypocrites in the Democratic Party who are now embracing him and in the media too. But take a listen to what then-candidate Trump had to say about James Comey in 2016 when Comey reopened the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails just days before voters went to the polls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I have to give the FBI credit. That was so bad what happened originally and it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they're trying to protect her. It took a lot of guts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So it seems to me that when Comey's actions help Donald Trump and the Republican Party, Comey received praise from Donald Trump and the Republican Party and criticism from the Democrats, and when the opposite happened, the opposite happened. Isn't that hypocritical not just to the Democrats but Republicans too?

MCDANIEL: You know, the President gave James Comey an opportunity, he met with him and this is something that is true to the President. He had people who are critical of him that he's brought into the administration, he spent -- he had three meetings, that is it, with James Comey, three in-person meetings. He and spent time with him, he heard of this reputation, and as he got to know James Comey and as he worked with him he concluded this was not somebody fit for office and he fired him. I mean, obviously, the President came to a different conclusion once he worked with James Comey. I think this book is salacious. I think when you read it he discredits himself. I think the very fact --

TAPPER: Have you read it?

MCDANIEL: No. I haven't read it, but the excerpts I'm hearing, the very fact that he's saying that he used polling to determine whether he went to the public and disclosed opening an investigation, something that is unprecedented in FBI history. I think that discredits him completely. It's partisan, that he made a determination that Hillary Clinton was going to win so that he had to take it upon himself to take away any taint from her office as presidency. Some of the descriptions he used are salacious. I think it's worth pointing out that he has a credibility issue and that's what we're trying to do at the RNC with our Web site.

TAPPER: All right, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, thank you so much for your time and thanks for taking my questions. I appreciate it.

MCDANIEL: Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: Breaking news outside of the courtroom where the government just announced Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation. Stay with us.

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[16:50:00] TAPPER: We're back with the "POLITICS LEAD." You're looking there some recent images of Michael Cohen from just a few minutes ago sitting outside of his hotel, hanging out, not a care in the world even though he's under investigation. CNN has confirmed that President Trump called his personal attorney Michael Cohen today as CNN producers caught up with Cohen outside of the hotel. He wouldn't answer any hard-hitting questions. He did say he came out to enjoy the fresh air. Cohen was seen talking to the phone as you see there. He seemed relaxed, nonchalant, my panel is here with me.

POWERS: It's kind of like when your boyfriend breaks up with you and then you put pictures on Instagram like you're really happy, like happy campaign. You're a maniac. I've never done that actually but --

TAPPER: Just like you've read, not a care in the world. Kind of like an Instagram image. Robby, I know you are not a fan of President Trump but what would your advice be to him. This boom hasn't even dropped yet and he's already tweeting about it, the RNC is all over it, the White House is talking about it from the podium. Is that the right strategy, just destroy Comey's credibility as much as possible?

MOOK: The last time I checked we're potentially going into a trade war, potentially into hot war situation in the Middle East, the nuclear crisis in the Pacific, maybe focus on those things, in being a president and doing things that he's paid to do as President rather than focussing on the book.

TAPPER: Do you agree?

ANDERSON: Consistently when I talk to voters in focus groups, based Republican voters who like the President, this type of behavior is the one thing they say they wish he would knock off. I hope they take that message.

TAPPER: They don't -- they don't but it's never going to change though because --

ANDERSON: It won't make them not vote for him but it's the one thing where if they say we're taking points off, is that they wish he would stop behaving a reality show host and they wish he'd stop behaving like candidate Trump and be presidential.

TAPPER: What about the swing voters, is it (INAUDIBLE)?

ANDERSON: I think for swing voters, they just feel like everything seems so chaotic and awful and they're not convinced that a Democratic Congress makes that any better but they just feel like everything is a mess.

TAPPER: All right, everyone sticks around. It's Friday the 13th. What might else happen? We have a few minutes. Stay with us.

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[16:55:00] TAPPER: The White House says we shouldn't put him on air but in just days I'm going to interview ex-FBI Director James Comey about this book in his first cable news interview since he was fired by President Trump and you can see it right here live on THE LEAD Thursday, April 19th at 4:00 p.m. next Thursday. Tune in to Sunday morning for "STATE OF THE UNION." We'll be talking about Comey's new book, Michael Cohen under criminal investigation, all of the breaking news. It's guaranteed to be 13 more stories by then. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern on Sunday morning. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a great weekend. See you Sunday morning.