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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Stormy Daniels Releases Sketch of Man She Says Threatened Her; One Person Killed in Southwest Jet Engine Failure; Comey: Trump's Leadership "Threatening Some of Our Values"; White House Blames Ambassador Haley, Says She May Have Been Confused. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 17, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Stormy Daniels said she's been in the adult film industry, and even she's a better actor than the president.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Do you know this thug? Stormy Daniels shows the world a sketch of the alleged Trump goon who threatened her and her child, as the president's lawyer fights to keep more potential secrets under wraps.

"This is not normal." In brand-new comments, former FBI Director James Comey slams Trump because he said he should be in jail, but is this publicity tour threatening Comey's credibility at all?

Plus, one person is dead after an engine exploded and punched a hole in an airplane. Was a woman sucked out of the jet right here in the United States? The new chilling audio coming up.

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with our politics lead today and two media tours for two quite different nemeses of President Trump.

Former FBI Director James Comey is continuing to promote his book as it hits shelves officially today. But a source close to President Trump tells CNN that it is actually the criminal investigation into his lawyer Michael Cohen and not Comey's book that is most of the source of his dark mood these days.

As Stormy Daniels tells her story again, this time Daniels revealing this sketch of the man she said threatened her back in 2011, allegedly telling her to -- quote -- "Leave Mr. Trump alone."

While Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is insisting that Michael Cohen, who helped broker the hush money to Daniels, will flip on President Trump. Avenatti will join me in a moment.

But first let's go right to CNN's Athena Jones with more on the story.

Athena, this was the first time Daniels talked about the president's claim that he did not know anything about the payment, $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, and I don't think she buys it. ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, she most certainly

does not buy it.

And it was interesting to watch her joke about the president's acting skills in that interview. And as you mentioned, Daniels and her lawyer put up a sketch, that sketch you just put up of the man she says threatened her after she told a magazine about her sexual encounter with Trump.

It's a man with chiseled features. It's between 5'9'' and six feet tall, in his 30s or early 40s with a lean but fit body type. They're hoping someone somewhere knows who this guy is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: Let me just say, I work in the adult business, and I'm a better actress than he is.

(LAUGHTER)

JONES (voice-over): Stormy Daniels responding for the first time to President Trump, who denied any knowledge of the $130,000 payment his personal lawyer Michael Cohen made to keep her quiet about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to storm?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No.

What else?

QUESTION: Then why did Michael Cohen make it, if there is no truth to the allegations?

TRUMP: You will have to ask Michael Cohen. Mike's my attorney, and you will have to ask Michael Cohen.

JONES: Meanwhile, Daniels is hoping someone recognizes this man who she says threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 after she shared her Trump story with a tabloid. The tabloid didn't publish the story at the time.

STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: He had at his hands in his pocket. And he looked at my daughter.

And I just remember him saying, like: "Oh, it's a beautiful little girl. It would be a shame if something happened to her mom. Forget about this story. Leave Mr. Trump alone."

And his face is burned in my memory.

JONES: Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, even touting a reward for anyone who could help identify the man.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: If you can positively identify him, we are going to pay you $100,000 because we want to get to the bottom of who this is.

JONES: Daniels didn't go to the police, saying she didn't want to because her husband at the time didn't know of the alleged affair.

DANIELS: I would have to tell an entire police department -- and police reports are public record -- I know that for a fact -- I had sex with Donald Trump.

And then the whole world would and have known. And I was in the process of trying to quiet that or figure out what to do. And, honestly, I was just afraid and I didn't want everyone to know, didn't want my family to find out that way. I didn't want my life turned upside-down.

JONES: Today's interview coming a day after Daniels created a stir outside of a New York courthouse as she arrived for a hearing to discuss the handling of evidence seized in last week's FBI raids on Cohen's home, hotel and office, a search Daniels believes may have swept up communications related to her case.

DANIELS: I'm doing the job that I have been doing for last almost 20 years. Yes, there is a lot of publicity, but I didn't do it for that because this isn't what I want to be known for.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: When this comes to the sketch which wasn't made until seven years after Daniels said she saw this man, her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said they believe it will hold up and said the artist Lois Gibson, whose Web site says she has helped law enforcement identify more than 750 criminals, has worked with cases that have been much older than seven years of age and has been very successful in getting identifications and having things like that hold up in a court of law -- Jake.

[16:05:07]

TAPPER: All right, Athena Jones, thank you so much.

Stormy Daniels attorney', Michael Avenatti, joins me now.

Michael, thanks so much for joining us.

You said you have some names in mind of whom that sketch might be of. Has Ms. Daniels looked at photographs of these investigates, who it might be?

AVENATTI: She has reviewed, Jake, a number of photographs over the last few weeks, a couple of weeks, actually.

And we have narrowed it down. One of the reasons why we released this sketch today is because we are enlisting the public's help in trying to help us get over the goal line to help positively I.D. this individual. And we're hopeful that someone saw something or heard something that will allow us to make an absolute positive I.D.

We're obviously not going to release any names until we have assurance that it may in fact be that person, for obvious reasons.

TAPPER: But you have narrowed it down, but you are also just in case asking the public? Because it would seem that would be contradictory, asking the public for help and yet you have also narrowed it down from photographs.

AVENATTI: Well, we have narrowed it down to some individuals that we think it make be, but it is actually not contradictory, because what we're hoping, Jake, is that somebody saw something or heard something, that ideally one of these individuals would have bragged about to a member of the public.

And we're hopeful that if someone comes forward and provides either one of the names that we have, that would be ideal, because we think that that would be rather conclusive, or in fact gives us another lead that we run to ground. That could also be helpful. So we don't want to prejudge this.

TAPPER: The photographs that you have, that she's looked at, are they individuals who worked for Mr. Trump or Mr. Cohen at some point in the past?

AVENATTI: We believe indirectly.

TAPPER: Indirectly.

You released a sketch around 11:30 this morning. How many e-mail tips have you received at the e-mail that you have shared, idthethug@gmail.com?

How many tips have come in?

AVENATTI: At this point, over 400.

TAPPER: Four hundred.

I want to ask you about the threat. Just tell me -- clear something up on the timeline here. Did Ms. Daniels do her interview with "In Touch" magazine about the alleged affair with Donald Trump before receiving the threat or after receiving the threat?

AVENATTI: I'm almost positive that it was before, Jake.

TAPPER: But you're not 100 percent positive?

AVENATTI: Well, I wasn't expecting the question. So I would have to look at timeline, but I'm almost positive. In fact, no, I am positive, now that I'm thinking about it, that it was before.

TAPPER: Before.

So she was threatened before the interview?

AVENATTI: No. She gave the interview before she was threatened.

TAPPER: She gave the interview before she was threatened. OK. The judge's decision yesterday to let Michael Cohen's legal team review the documents seized by the FBI, was that a setback?

AVENATTI: No, not at all.

In fact -- and this really needs to be clarified. Other than about -- so when the FBI conducted its raids, they seized about 10 bankers boxes worth of hard copy documents, and then they also imaged on site various electronic media, phones, computers, hard drives, things of that nature.

It is our understanding from the U.S. attorney's office that the electronic media and the phones, once they were imaged on site at Michael Cohen's home and offices, those were left behind. They were intact.

So Michael Cohen has had the ability, him and his counsel, to review that information ever since the raids took place eight days ago, nine days ago. So the only thing they haven't had access to are the 10 boxes of documents, which they are now going to get access to, but the vast majority of information, Jake, and this will probably come as no surprise to you and others, was electronic.

TAPPER: I want to help clear up something if you can. Michael Cohen said in court that Sean Hannity was his third client. There was President Trump, Elliott Broidy, the former RNC finance official who had that payment with a Playboy Playmate, and then Sean Hannity.

Michael Cohen says he was. Sean Hannity said he was not.

AVENATTI: Well, Jake, you know, reading between the tea leaves, I'm going to tell you what I think.

Michael Cohen did not just volunteer Sean Hannity's name as a client for no reason. There is a reason behind it. And he did not volunteer it in this context for no reason.

Remember the context that we're talking about, Jake. What we're talking about is, the judge wanted to know the names of individuals that would be considered clients by Michael Cohen for the purposes of the document review of the documents that the FBI seized.

So what this tells me very, very clearly is that there are documents with Sean Hannity's name on them in the information the FBI seized.

TAPPER: Well, Sean Hannity says that that is not true. He's just had little conversations here and there, no representation, et cetera.

[16:10:06]

AVENATTI: Well, I don't know why then Michael Cohen's attorney would have engaged in a lengthy -- and it was a lengthy debate with the judge about whether this individual's name, Sean Hannity, needed to be disclosed or not if in fact he was never a client.

That makes no sense to me. There is a reason why Michael Cohen made it a point to list him as a client. And it has got to be because there's information that they don't want to get out relating to Mr. Hannity. It doesn't make any sense otherwise.

TAPPER: But you suggested that you think Michael Cohen is likely to flip and roll on President Trump, right?

AVENATTI: No, I haven't suggested that.

TAPPER: No?

AVENATTI: No, I haven't suggested it. I have stated it as a fact. And I believe it is an absolute fact.

TAPPER: He's only had three clients in the past few years. He's worked with President Trump for years. He clearly adores him. Why do you think he would be willing to flip?

AVENATTI: Because when you are facing possible incarceration and you have a wife and kids that you care about, that has a tendency to really focus the mind, Jake.

I have seen it in connection with other clients that I have represented in the past during my 18-year career. And I don't believe at the end of the day that Michael Cohen is going to face or take a significant bullet for the president and potentially face imprisonment or go to prison.

I just don't see it. I don't think he's tough enough to do it. I don't think he'd be loyal enough to do it. And I think it would be rather stupid for him to do it.

TAPPER: The president has exercised his pardon before. Some people have speculated that the Scooter Libby pardon was at least partly based in sending a signal to individuals out there that the president is willing to do that.

Isn't it possible that Michael Cohen feels, hey, there is no threat here, because whatever I'm charged with, even if I'm convicted, the president will pardon me?

AVENATTI: Well, he may feel that way, but I think that is foolhardy, Jake.

Remember, Michael Cohen was expected to go to D.C. with the president after the election, was expected to be taken care of. None of that came to fruition.

The president has a history of demanding loyalty, but being disloyal to others around him when push comes to shove. I think that is well- documented. So I think that would be a foolish calculation on Michael Cohen's part.

And at the end of the day, I think he's going to come to the right decision. It will probably be one of the smartest decisions he'd made in a long time.

TAPPER: Michael Avenatti, thank you so much for your time. We always appreciate it.

AVENATTI: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: James Comey making a bold new claim about the current state of the FBI. That story is next.

Also, a deadly engine explosion mid-flight on a Southwest Airlines plane right here in the United States. Was a woman sucked through a plane window? Now we're hearing the conversation with air traffic control. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:58] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our politics lead today, fired FBI Director James Comey hitting the president back, saying that the president's tweets and actions are, quote, not normal, but he says writing his new book was not about President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I was moved to write it because this is a very dangerous time in the United States where his leadership is threatening some of our values and so I thought I could be useful after being fired in trying to offer people a vision of what ethical leadership looks like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It sounds like it's about President Trump.

I want to bring in CNN's Sara Murray.

Sara, Comey also had a warning for the public today.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. A warning not to get desensitized to the president's attacks, particularly when they are directed at rule of law. Of course, this as President Trump said his former FBI director belongs in jail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Fired FBI Director James Comey says there's no way around it. The bureau's reputation has taken a hit.

HOST: Do you think the FBI's credibility is better or worse than it was a couple of years ago?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It's worse.

MURRAY: But in his latest interview, Comey insists the FBI would be worse off if it weren't for his actions. The FBI and the Justice Department have come under intense public scrutiny both for their handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server and the Russia investigation. Plus, it's under daily siege from the current president, Comey tells NPR. The president's ire this week targeting Comey himself saying the FBI director he fired belongs in jail. The big questions in Comey badly reviewed books aren't answered, like how come he gave up classified information, jail. Why did he lie to Congress? Jail.

COMEY: That is not normal. That is not OK. First of all, he's just making stuff up. The most importantly, the president of the United States is calling for the imprisonment of a private citizen as he's done for a whole lot of people who criticized him, that is not acceptable in this country. The president doesn't get to decide who goes to jail.

MURRAY: While the president prides himself on punching back, Comey says it's disturbing behavior from a man sitting in the oval office.

COMEY: I think that's a danger that we're numb to it. We wake up in the morning and see the president of the United States is accusing people of crimes without evidence and pronouncing them guilty and saying they should be in jail. That should wake all us up with a start, but there's so much of it that we're a little bit numb.

MURRAY: As for whether Trump did anything that ran afoul of the law, Comey says, without the full picture, he still isn't sure whether Trump has tried to obstruct justice, telling NPR: obstruction of justice required a demonstration of corrupt intent. I don't know what the evidence is the prosecutor and investigators have gathered with respect to intent. It may be there, it may not be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, of course, Comey has his own window into possible obstruction of justice when he was the FBI director. He says President encouraged him to let go of the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The president, of course, insists that conversation never happened -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray, thanks so much.

I want to bring in my political panel to talk about this. So, there's a lot to talk about when it comes to Comey. There's the individual decisions he made, and then there's his broader message about President Trump.

[16:20:06] Take a listen to what he had to say in this new interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: The danger with President Trump is, all of us will just become numb to this and accept it and we can't. We -- he's the president of the United States. He's the lawful president of the United States. He was lawfully elected president of the United States. But that doesn't mean we have to accept behavior that degrades our values.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Kevin Madden, is he wrong? I mean, I understand that there is all sorts of things you could say about Comey's decisions here and there, and we could get to all of that. But his fundamental message sounds like what I heard from Mitt Romney in March of 2016.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, that there is somehow a degradation of some of the internal controls that we have on how people administer themselves inside of government. So, I think not only does he make the charge but then offers a trail of evidence to back up his assertion.

But, you know, I think one of the big dangers here for Comey is that he always enjoyed a reputation as an arbiter of information and of truth and facts and very much now because he is taking this directly on to the president, and directly criticizing the president, he is become a political figure. And so much of that is driving people's reaction to Comey, because in politics, unlike what he was doing as an FBI director, politics is about me versus you. Politics is about, you know, winning versus losing.

And so much of what he is saying right now is not being judged based on the merits, not being judged on facts but is being grabbed by partisans to really sort of further their -- the narrative that they have fixed.

TAPPER: Jen Psaki, do you agree? Is he risking his own credibility by stepping outside of the role of a presenter of evidence to a judge, making a decision?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: To some degree, yes, because typically you have somebody who's been in this role who's coming from law enforcement. It's not just that they're nonpartisan. They stay completely out of all political debates.

However, the reality is that he is hated by people who supported Hillary Clinton, the progressive left of the Democratic Party still hates him. He didn't say impeachment should happen. He talked about -- he's made comments if you read between the lines of many of these interviews about how guns and immigration and a lot of issues that many Democrats care about shouldn't be part of the decision-making factor. He's making the point that he's not trying to make a partisan argument.

So, there is certainly risk involved. However, if people are being honest, I'm not saying they always are, he really is not aligned himself with either party. He's basically said you're all kind of terrible, but I need to stand up with -- I need to stand up for truth and the United States and rule of law.

MADDEN: Yes, just really quick, though, he said in one of his interviews, the truth should be -- these truths hold them to be self evident. Not so much any more, I think, in today's national conversation.

TAPPER: Do you think that he's damaging himself?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, yes. And I think certainly in the eyes of both parties, right? He's very much -- he's a political figure right now, but he doesn't really have a political party.

TAPPER: He doesn't see himself as a political figure.

HENDERSON: He doesn't see himself as a political person. He sees himself -- I mean, there is a certain amount of self righteousness that people I think are seeing in James Comey at this point. Like he is somehow above the kind of partisan bickering, obviously, not liked by both sides as you were talking about, Jen Psaki, and we'll see. I mean, what he's kind of future is, what his brand will be going beyond this and how well his book sales will do. That is one of the things I'm interested in.

I mean, if you think about the buzz around "Fire and Fury" and it was on the best seller, I'm sure it still is. It will be interesting to see who buys this book if there is as much buzz around it. We'll wait for your interview on Thursday.

TAPPER: On Thursday. Thank you for the plug.

What do you make, Jen, of his explanation that the reason he includes the physical details about President Trump in his book is not because he's trying to take a shot at President Trump, writing about his hair or skin or his tan line under his eye or his hand size, but just trying to be a writer. Was that convincing to you?

PSAKI: Not really. Honestly, I think, you know, I've never written a book. You've written books, I think, but anyone will say the editors are always looking for anecdotes and they're looking for color and they're looking for observations, and I'm certainly had those conversations. I wish those details weren't a part of it. Yes, it's humorous. He looked at the size of his hands, something we've perhaps all looked at, but it sort of -- it diminishes the overall message.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

And a reminder: on Thursday, I'm asking ex-FBI Director James Comey. The questions he has not answered yet in his first cable news interview since being fired by President Trump. You'll see it right here live on THE LEAD this Thursday at 4:00 p.m.

So, why the mixed messages on Russia sanctions? A White House official says U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley must have been a bit confused when she said new sanctions were coming as soon as yesterday.

[16:25:04] Maybe that's because of the bus she seems to have been thrown under.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with our world lead now.

The White House suggested that U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley might have been, in their words, confused in an effort to explain why the White House has not announced new sanctions against Russia for supporting Syria's Assad as Haley announced they would do on national television on Sunday. She said as soon as Monday.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The White House insisting today President Trump isn't backpedaling on new Russia sanctions, but a second straight day of confusion is highlighting the administration's lack of a coherent and consistent policy toward Russia. The latest contradictions coming after U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley declared this on Sunday.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday if he hasn't already and they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use.