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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Did Trump Lie About Wealth to Reporter?; Michael Cohen Tries to Delay Stormy Daniels Lawsuit; Reporter: Trump Lied to Me to Get on Forbes 400 List; Comey Memos Renew Questions Over Trump's Behavior. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 20, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: How soon before President Trump replaces John Kelly with John Barron?

THE LEAD starts now.

It's salacious and shocking. And the question, is some of it classified? The former FBI director is reportedly being investigated. The Justice Department is now apparently looking into whether Comey shared too much.

Plus, a newly uncovered audiotape of the mysterious John Barron calling a reporter to sing Donald Trump's praises. Who is this enigmatic no one has ever seen, one who sounds suspiciously like Donald Trump himself?

And breaking news out of the courtroom in the Stormy Daniels scandal, potentially crushing news for the president's so-called fixer. Might this prompt a Florida tweetstorm this weekend from the president?

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

We begin with the politics lead.

Pressure mounting for President Trump this afternoon, as questions are being raised as just to how lawyer his fixer, Michael Cohen, will prove to be if threatened with serious jail time.

"The New York Times" said this afternoon that President Trump's lawyers and advisers have become "resigned" to the strong possibility that Michael Cohen could end up cooperating with federal officials. This comes as the lawyer representing Cohen said today for the first time that his client could be indicted in the next 90 days.

All of this while multiple salvos are being fired in the legal wars being waged by and against President Trump and his allies.

Only five days into fired FBI Director James Comey's book rollout, the Justice Department inspector general is reportedly investigating whether Comey released any classified information when he shared his memos with a friend who leaked the contents to "The New York Times." Comey's former deputy Andrew McCabe is now threatening to sue

President Trump for wrongful termination and defamation of character. The Democratic National Committee is suing. They're suing Russia, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, the Trump campaign, top advisers who attended the now infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting and more, alleging that they all conspired to interfere in the 2016 campaign.

Meanwhile, President Trump and the White House have been attacking Comey and his memos, memos that paint the president as rather self- obsessed and at times without concern for boundaries that separate the White House from the Justice Department.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is traveling with President Trump. He's in West Palm Beach, Florida, for us.

And, Jeff, the president attacked Comey, saying Comey leaked classified information. Comey says that is not true. We don't know that to be true, but the Justice Department inspector general is now looking into it.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that is right. The internal watchdog group of the Justice Department is apparently looking into whether the memos contained classified information.

James Comey, as you know, has said there was no classified information in it. But all of this shining a brighter light and giving a rare look into a conversation between an FBI director and a new president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Former FBI Director James Comey's secret memos now the subject of a Justice Department review over whether he improperly disclosed classified material.

The department's internal watchdog is investigating Comey's handling of the newly disclosed memos, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting today, which shed new light on President Trump's concern about salacious details unearth by the Russia probe.

The Justice Department turned over a set of documents to Congress Thursday night offering a rare look into Comey's private conversations with the president.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I'm totally fine with transparency

ZELENY: In his interview with Jake, Comey said he didn't object to releasing the memos. He's previously maintained no classified information was disclosed.

COMEY: I have tried to be transparent throughout. And I think what folks will see if they get to see the memos is, I have been consistent since the very beginning, right after my encounters with President Trump.

ZELENY: White House officials telling CNN today the memos showed no collusion with Russia and offered no proof of obstruction of justice in the firing of Comey last year.

From his Mar-a-Lago resort, the president tweeting: "James Comey memos just out and show clearly there that there was no collusion and no obstruction. Also, he leaked classified information. Wow. Will the witch-hunt continue?"

COMEY: I knew that there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened.

ZELENY: Republicans requested the memos, but it is unclear they got what they were looking for. The heavily redacted writings reveal Comey's consistent story about his early interactions with the president. The president had concerns about Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser who pleaded guilty and is now cooperating with the feds.

Comey writing: "The president pointed his fingers at his head and said, 'The guy has serious judgment issues.'"

The memos also disclosing new information about former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who Comey said asked him whether Flynn was under surveillance.

"Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?" Comey wrote at the time.

The president was also consumed by allegations contained in the now dossier. "The president brought up the golden showers thing and said it really bothered him if his wife had any doubt about it," Comey write.

"The president said, 'The hookers thing is nonsense,' but that Putin told him we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world."

[16:05:01]

Before firing his FBI director last May, the president also discussed putting reporters in jail. "The president wrapped up our conversation by returning to the issue of finding leakers," Comey wrote.

He replied by saying, "It may involve putting reporters in jail. They spend a couple of days in jail, make a new friend and they're ready to talk."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, as President Trump was visiting one of his golf courses earlier this afternoon, the Democratic National Committee added a new twist to this ongoing Russian saga.

Jake, they filed a new lawsuit against the Trump campaign, the Russian government and WikiLeaks, accusing them of a conspiracy using a legal theory for organized crime, calling it a racketeering enterprise.

Just a few moments ago, the Trump campaign responded. The campaign manager called it a sham lawsuit simply designed to raise money. Jake, unclear if that lawsuit will go forward. One thing is clear. This Russia investigation still hangs over this White House.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny in Florida with the president, thanks so much.

My political panel is here with here.

Molly Ball, let me start with you because it is your birthday, and happy birthday.

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: "The New York Times" is reporting about Michael Cohen potentially cooperating with federal authorities, people around the president worried about this.

It quotes Roger Stone, who is part of that group, the first advisers of the president, saying: "Donald goes out of his way to treat him" -- meaning Michael Cohen -- "like garbage."

These are friends of Cohen's kind of suggesting that the president might want to be nicer to Michael Cohen. What do you think will happen? Do you think Michael Cohen will stand up for the president, no matter what, even if threatened with jail time?

BALL: I have no idea. Certainly, Cohen has a reputation of being quite loyal, but does that loyalty extend to going for jail for somebody?

That is really far to go, especially, as the piece points out, when it is someone who, your employer who has basically kicked you around, as Trump might say, like a dog for many, many years?

And I think that is the dynamic of this relationship that we've seen over time. And it is a larger dynamic between Trump and almost everyone around him. This idea that loyalty is a one-way street with him. He treats a lot of people like garage. And the question with all of these investigations is whether some of that is going to come home to roost for him, whether it's with the Cabinet secretaries he's unceremoniously fired or with the longtime personal employees who now have something on the line personally.

TAPPER: And the dogs will come home to roost, as it were.

BALL: Exactly.

TAPPER: Robby, in that vein, listen to Sam Nunberg, another part of the first group around the president, saying to "The New York Times" -- quote -- The softer side of the president genuinely has an affection for Michael Cohen. However, the president has also taken Michael for granted."

What do you think is going on there?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It worries me that Stone and Nunberg, who -- Nunberg has a bone to pick with the president and has been critical. But Roger Stone, talk about a loyalist coming out and saying this. He's really trying to send a warning. It is very clear. I assume they think there is something going on there.

To me, I'm not a lawyer, but this is probably about the evidence more than anything. If a lot of bad things were done and it is clear to Cohen that law enforcement can nail him on it, and his only choice to maybe shorten a sentence is to come out and talk about it, I think he will probably do that.

And I don't know that it makes a difference. I think they will get the president one way or another. It is just a matter of lessening his time and making the process more efficient. That is a pretty compelling argument.

The only person who hasn't broken on this so to speak is Manafort. And I have been surprised because it looks like he's in real trouble. But he may have issues of his own that he doesn't want to come clean on yet.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And it is interesting also that Rosenstein came out yesterday and assured the president he is not the target or the subject of the investigation surrounding Cohen, which would lead you to believe that Cohen is the one that is holding most of water, in essence.

So from his standpoint, I wouldn't go to jail for anyone, no matter if it is the president of the United States. So I would expect for him to provide information that would save himself and may not be helpful to the president, and in that way that the president may become a subject of this investigation.

But right now, it looks as though all eyes are on the Cohen, based on the information that was seized in the raid of his property, and if I were him, I would be concerned.

TAPPER: Minutes after the Department of Justice shared with Congress the Comey memos, somehow, everyone in the media ended up with copies of them.

I have my copies right here. I want to turn to one part of the Comey memos. On February 8, 2017, when Comey is talking to President Trump, Comey recounts -- quote -- "Putin had told the president, 'We have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world."

He remembers Putin telling him that. We should point out, just a few days before on January 17, Putin said this in a press conference about the dossier which had been published at that time after BuzzFeed. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It is hard to believe that he ran to a hotel to meet with our girls of a low social class, although they are the best in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:10:02] TAPPER: The best in the world.

And CNN covered this comment when it happened. I'm sure all the other media did.

Molly Ball, just as a Trump watcher and observer, do you think Trump just saw this on TV and just internalized it, that this is what Putin had told him, we have the most beautiful prostitutes in the world, or do you think he had actually been told that by Putin? It is tough to know, but what does your gut tell you?

BALL: I have no idea. That does seem like the kind of thing Trump would do, particularly because this was a period where Trump was still trying to portray himself as very close to Putin. Right?

There is actually a string of exaggerations that Trump had made where he claimed to have met Putin and have had a closer relationship with Putin than later reporting has revealed that he actually had, because he had this sort of crush on Putin and wanted people to think that they were buddies.

So that indeed could have been a thing where he was he had seen a comment. It also could have been a thing that really happened or that he made up. The other thing I think is funny, though, is that yesterday in denying this, the Kremlin said that is not a thing that Putin could have said, as if implying, these words are not capable of coming out of the exalted leader's mouth, where there he is saying basically the same thing.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: He said it. The truth means nothing.

Another thing -- I interviewed James Comey yesterday. And at one point, I asked him if he hated Donald Trump. He said he did not.

He then went and did a "New Yorker" conversation with David Remnick, the editor there. And he relayed to David Remnick, my wife asked me how come I said I don't hate Donald Trump? Take a listen to his explanation as to why he doesn't hate the president.

Oh, it is a full-screen. I'm sorry.

He said: "I think he has an emptiness inside of him and a hunger for affirmation that I have never seen in an adult."

That is Comey talking about the president. "I think he has an emptiness inside of him and a hunger for affirmation that I have never seen in an adult."

STEWART: I think the disturbing thing is, as he also told you yesterday, this book is not about Donald Trump. He said this book is about a higher loyalty and this is about having not loyalty to a person, but to integrity and honesty.

And comparing three presidents, two of them with integrity and one as he said, is a counterpoint. But so much of the book is -- I view as personal in nature. He's personally attacking the president. And those comments that he made I think diminishes any kind of bigger picture statement that he would want to make about loyalty and about integrity in this high office.

And I think it diminishes that. And another key takeaway out of your interview was that I felt it was very misleading -- and you pointed this out -- for him to continue to say that it is possible that Russia has damaging information on Trump.

It does lead you to believe that it is possible, which is more than unlikely or it is still up to be determined by Robert Mueller. I think that was a disturbing takeaway from your interview.

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

There is a man who leads the life of danger. To everyone he meets, he stays a stranger. We are going to hear from Donald Trump's most mysterious and loyal advocate next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:07] TAPPER: An explosive new claim now designed to hit the president where it hurts, his wallet or at least what he wants to think is in his wallet. A former financial reporter for "Forbes" magazine saying that, years ago, the president repeatedly lied about the scope of his personal fortune and a charge that the reporter is backing up with newly discovered tapes that he claims are of Donald Trump himself.

CNN's Alex Marquardt joins me now with more.

And, Alex, it's the return of the president's apparent alter ego John Barron whom as far as I could tell no one has ever actually met in person and who sounds mysteriously, coincidentally I'm sure, like Donald Trump.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he is back and that's right, Jake. John Barron who first appeared in the early '80s on these new recordings and conversation with the then-Forbes reporter Jonathan Greenberg. Greenberg now helped launched the Forbes 400 list, researching the net worths of the wealthiest Americans and in these tapes, you could hear Trump and Barron trying to convince Greenberg that his wealth was far greater than it was believed to be, raising yet more questions about the president's casual relationship with the truth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JONATHAN GREENBERG: OK, what's your first name by the way.

"JOHN BARRON": John.

GREENBERG: John.

"BARRON: John Barron.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MARQUARDT (voice-over): John Barron, one of the aliases President Trump has been accused of using over the years to speak with reporters glowingly about himself.

"BARRON": Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump, you know, because you have down Fred Trump.

MARQUARDT: In this call from 1984, so-called "Barron" is claiming that the assets of Trump's wealthy father Fred are in fact his. So, he deserved a higher spot in the famous Forbes 400 list.

"BARRON": And it's been pretty well-consolidated, OK? So, that's one point that you could --

GREENBERG: Now, is that just the -- is that including the residential units?

"BARRON": Yes, everything's been consolidated basically now, and over the last couple of years have been working on it.

MARQUARDT: Trump as himself was in regular contact with former "Forbes" reporter Jonathan Greenberg, repeatedly arguing for a better ranking.

DONALD TRUMP: And then you mentioned other names and there's no contest. You know, I mean, there is no contest.

MARQUARDT: Greenberg didn't take Trump at his words and "Forbes" decided to list Trump at $100 million, much lower than his stated value. Greenberg said later research showed he was worth under $5 million at the time and didn't belong anywhere near the list.

JONATHAN GREENBERG, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: He is a consummate con man. He figured out what he to do in order to deceive me and get on to that list. And he did it very well. And he maintained that persona of just sort of talking about his assets without any sense of debt and lying about it --

MARQUARDT: Greenberg said he's only reporting this now because he recently came across these tapes from the mid-80s. He alleges that Trump repeatedly inflated his wealth by dramatically exaggerating the value and number of his properties.

GREENBERG: He lied about -- there were 25,000 apartments in Brooklyn and Queens and there were 8,000 apartments in Brooklyn and Queens. He lied about his father, that he owned all of his father's assets and he borrowed against his father's assets.

[16:20:03] MARQUARDT: Trump has long denied that he's John Barron or another alleged alias John Miller who would call gossip reporters.

"JOHN MILLER": By the way, I'm sort of new here. And I'm --

SUE CARSWELL: What is your position there?

"MILLER": Well, I'm sort of handling P.R. because he gets so much of it.

TRUMP: This doesn't sound like me, though, really. You know, you think that sounded like me?

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT TV HOST: Yes.

TRUMP: I don't.

MARQUARDT: But then --

TRUMP: Over the years, I've used alias. If you're trying to buy land you use different names.

KIMMEL: What name do you use?

TRUMP: I would use, I actually used the name Barron.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: Barron, there it is. Not just a name he liked for an alias but, of course, for his youngest child as well, naming his son Barron. Now, except for a five-year period in the '90s, Trump has actually stayed on the Forbes 400 list, but often with figures well below what he claimed to be worth. During the 2016 campaign, Trump said repeatedly he was worth some $10 billion, something that, of course, can't be checked because we still haven't seen his tax returns. We have reached out to the White House but have not heard back, and the Trump Organization says they have no comment -- Jake.

TAPPER: They wouldn't even put John Barron on the phone.

Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

In one moment, the president calls him Lyin' Comey. The next minute, President Trump is relying on Comey's own words. Which is it? The White House weighs in on all of today's news, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:20] TAPPER: In his private memos, former FBI Director James Comey says that dining with President Trump was like, quote, conversation as jigsaw puzzle, because the president jumped back and forth between topics so quickly, including recounting a story he said Vladimir Putin had told him about Russian prostitutes and fixating on an intelligence report that Russians had proof he cavorted with some of those prostitutes, the point where the president asked Comey to consider investigating the claim to disprove it.

Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shan joins me now to talk about this and other developments in the news.

Raj, thanks for joining us.

Specifically to these Comey memos that Republicans in Congress were pressing the Justice Department to release, is there anything in the memos that the president specifically disputes?

RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, Jake, thanks for having me on.

You know, I will say right out of the gate when it comes to these memos, in one of them, James Comey put in a footnote that these should be marked secret. That's a level of classification that involves -- you need a security clearance to review. Now, he sought it fit to give these memos to a friend and have the contents of them read out to "The New York Times".

The fact that he arranged for these memos to be leaked and thought they were classified raises serious questions about his judgment and about his integrity because in one of the memo it says, I am not a weasel. He said that he said to the president that he was not a weasel, that he does not leak and that memo itself has been leaked among many others.

TAPPER: Well, I'm not sure exactly the number of memos, seven or eight memos, and I don't know which ones he released to his friend Daniel Richmond and what the status was, and the inspector general is looking into that. He did say he doesn't leak, but, of course, he leaked after he had been fired, I guess, that that splitting hairs perhaps to some. But I do want to ask you, do you dispute -- does the White House dispute any of the content of these memos?

SHAH: Well, I think that James Comey has a lot of editorializing within these memos. At no point within them and, frankly, in his testimony last year before Congress, both in March and in June after he was fired, does he allege that the president asked him do anything inappropriate. In fact, within these -- within his testimony last year in March, he was asked specifically and said that no one has asked him to stop any investigation for political reasons. So, at no point does James Comey allege anything was done inappropriately. I've not asked the president line by line to go through these memos and fact check them.

But, you know, when you look at James Comey, he has a real credibility problem. He has a story in his book about John Kelly, the chief of staff. You asked him about it and he couldn't get the story straight. There are a number of issues for which whether it's these memos, whether it's his testimony, whether it's his book where he really doesn't have a straight story and he has real credibility and judgment problems being raised about him.

TAPPER: I think Comey would say that at least the part in the memos where President Trump tells him to let it go, the situation with Michael Flynn, that he would consider that to be inappropriate behavior. That happened after an oval office meeting with several advisers in February of 2016, the president asked everyone including Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus and Jeff Sessions to leave the room so he could speak to Comey alone and then he allegedly asked Comey to let this inquiry into Michael Flynn go.

Why did the president ask those other officials to leave the Oval Office if not because he was about to make an inappropriate request of Director Comey.

SHAH: Well, first of all, the first person to ask for a one-on-one meeting with the -- between the president and James Comey was James Comey in January of 2017 at Trump Tower where he went through these salacious allegations in this discredited memo. And, you know, through that experience, obviously, the president thinks he could have a one-on-one conversation with James Comey.

I would say with respect to Michael Flynn, again you mentioned something that is in the memos from February of 2017, one month later testifying under oath James Comey was asked whether he was asked to stop an investigation and he said I was never asked to by anybody for political reasons.

TAPPER: Well, actually, in point of fact, according to the memos at least, the president in that January 2016 Trump Tower meeting says that he gave it up -- he left it to up to the president whether or not it would be a one-on-one meeting or whether he would ask other people to leave the room.

But I hear what you are saying about the congressional testimony. But Comey's story since he's been fired has been that the president asked him to let it go. I hope you could see clear to letting this thing go.

Would that not be inappropriate?

SHAH: Again, the president has been pretty clear about his view that Mike Flynn hasn't been treated fairly, but that doesn't mean that he did anything inappropriate or doesn't mean he obstructed in any way, shape or form. The president said from day one there has been no collusion with the Russian government and his campaign.