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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
EPA Director Piling Up Scandals; New Stormy Daniels Lawsuit; Trump Commutes Life Sentence of Alice Marie Johnson; Wife of George Papadopoulos Asks Trump to Pardon Him. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired June 6, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Stormy Daniels just filed a new lawsuit.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Breaking news. Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who has been a thorn in the president's side, suing her old lawyer, accusing him of being President Trump's puppet and colluding with the president's fixer, Michael Cohen.
President Trump is said to have a new favorite thing, pardoning people, and today the wife of a Mueller witness and former Trump campaign official comes to THE LEAD to make a special request to the president.
Plus, we love Chick-fil-A. The bizarre answer Scott Pruitt gave to his latest ethics scandal. It's his 13th investigation so far, for those keeping score at home.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
TAPPER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We are going to start with breaking news in the national lead, Stormy Daniels, the saga brewing once again, the adult film actress suing her former attorney, Keith Davidson, as well as President Trump's attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen.
In the lawsuit filed today, Stormy Daniels claims that Davidson, her attorney at the time, betrayed her, that he acted as a puppet for President Trump and for Michael Cohen. She says that Cohen -- quote -- "hatched a plan" and tried to get her on FOX News back in January to lie and to deny having had an affair with President Trump back in 2006.
Stormy Daniels also claims that President Trump was aware that her old attorney, Keith Davidson, and Michael Cohen were colluding for President Trump's benefit, all of this while Davidson was still her attorney, purportedly representing her and her interests.
Let's go right to M.J. Lee. M.J., does Stormy Daniels, her attorney, Michael Avenatti, Stephanie
Clifford, her actual name, are any of them citing any proof for these allegations?
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, she sure is, Jake.
If you look at this lawsuit, there is an exhibit of text messages allegedly exchanged between Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson as recently as January and then through march of this year.
Just to give you the bigger context, of course, Stormy Daniels says that she had an affair with Donald Trump in 2006 and now wants to get out of an NDA that was put together by Michael Cohen. And now she is suing Keith Davidson, in addition to Michael Cohen, saying that the two men colluded to try to prevent her story from coming out.
Now, some of the text messages, if you look at them in January of 2018, you see Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson texting one another in an apparent attempt to get Stormy Daniels on Sean Hannity's show.
There they are. There is the screen grab of two of the text messages. There are many more included in this lawsuit. And you see Michael Cohen there saying, "I have tentatively scheduled for Hannity tonight. Call me after your trial."
And then Keith Davidson appears to respond, "She can't do today."
And then if you look through the rest of the text messages, you see Michael Cohen clearly getting increasingly frustrated because apparently Stormy Daniels couldn't get on the show.
But one more thing that is really interesting from these text messages, there is an exchange from March of 2018 where the first lady of the United States is mentioned. Keith Davidson writes to Michael Cohen, "Are you calling?" And then Michael Cohen appears to write back, "With FLOTUS," the first lady of the United States." "Give me a minute."
So just to be clear about this. These text messages appear to show the former attorney for the porn star that alleges to have had an affair with President Trump asking Michael Cohen to call him, and then the attorney for the president says, "I can't call you right now because I'm with Melania Trump."
Now, we do have a statement from Michael Avenatti, the current lawyer representing Stormy Daniels. Let me just read it to you.
It says: "These text messages show that the prior denials by Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen relating to what Mr. Trump knew and about the honesty of my client were absolute lies. There was a significant cover-up as part of an attempt to deceive the American people and Mrs. Trump. And we intend on getting on -- getting to" -- excuse me -- "the bottom of it."
Now, just keep in mind, Jake, that Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson have appeared in other instances together as well, Karen McDougal being one of them, and of course another Playboy model who sued Elliott Broidy, the Republican donor.
So, Michael Avenatti clearly trying to show that there is a pattern of collusion here between the two men.
TAPPER: Interesting. M.J. Lee, thank you so much.
My panel is here with me.
First of all, let's just start with your reaction to this lawsuit being brought by Stormy Daniels suggesting her former attorney wasn't looking out for her, but was working with Michael Cohen on behalf of President Trump just to keep her quiet.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Right.
Look, obviously, if you hire a lawyer to represent you, they should not be talking to the people who are out -- basically out to get you and who you are accusing of something.
So that is a problem. I think that you could say, oh, well why was Michael Cohen doing this? He's trying to cover something up and, so, therefore, maybe Donald Trump is guilty.
I would also say, if you are Michael Cohen and the lawyer reaches out to you, you are going to do whatever you can to get this person to deny that this happened. That is a reasonable thing to do. If they're doing something that is illegal, then that is a different story.
TAPPER: And does this, do you think, put President Trump in more jeopardy of actually ultimately having to testify in some way?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it certainly keeps the story alive. It keeps us discussing it.
And, look, I really don't think there is anything that out of the ordinary of two lawyers in a transactional case. Right? This is not a criminal case. In a transactional case who have had a relationship to be having -- exchanging texts.
What I do think is weird, what I do think raises eyebrows is the fact it is always the same two lawyers crafting these NDAs. That really kind of defies logic. Are they the only guy in California and the only guy in New York to be doing this time and time again? That, I think raises questions.
She may have a valid point. She's trying to get herself out of a nondisclosure agreement. Seems to me she's kind of defied that agreement already. But maybe she just needs to make it official.
TAPPER: So, this all, of course, happens at the same time that there is other -- this other legal jeopardy going on with people around President Trump.
And, in fact, Rudy Giuliani was in Israel -- Rudy Giuliani, who represents the now -- and he accused the Mueller prosecutors of something that I really want to get your reaction to, Phil.
Basically, he said that the Mueller prosecutors were trying to frame an innocent president of the United States. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: He's innocent. He hasn't done anything wrong. The president of the United States, they are a group of 13 highly partisan Democrats that make up the Mueller team, excluding him, are trying very, very hard to frame him, to get him in trouble, when he hasn't done anything wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: To frame him. What is your reaction to that?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I know a couple of these lawyers, not including Mueller. I worked for him. He's obviously not a Democrat, but a couple of people that Giuliani is referring to.
If you ask me, who do I trust, the man who is lying for the president of the United States or the lawyers I worked for at the FBI, I would take the lawyers hands down. I never heard one of the two that I know say anything partisan when I was there.
By the way, Giuliani is here in part because multiple times he's had to come out and say what we told you before, I forgot to mention, that was a lie. For example, I didn't know anything about Stormy Daniels. That's the president on Air Force One. Actually, I paid her through my attorney and my attorney knew about the money coming from me, obviously, because I'm his client.
If you want to trust Rudy Giuliani, maybe I would have done it on September 12 of 2001. Not anymore. He is toast. The man is done.
NAVARRO: I have got to tell you, that is remarkable that, given that this case is hot and heavy right now, Rudy has got so much time to be on TV and even be doing it from remote places.
That he's got time to be a theological tourist in the middle of this Mueller investigation leaves me very astounded. I think -- look, I think it is obvious that he's the mouthpiece. And I remember there was this book, expletive my dad said. This is almost like expletive that Rudy said.
NAVARRO: What did he say about Kim Jong-un being on his hands and knees and...
TAPPER: Right. NAVARRO: I don't know.
Part of me thinks that what Rudy is doing right now is auditioning for the role of the next attorney general, because God knows, we all know that Trump has turned poor Jeff Sessions into a pinata. Really, he's the only person who could make me feel any sympathy...
TAPPER: But, Kirsten Powers, the idea that Rudy Giuliani is referring to the Mueller team as 13 highly partisan Democrats who are trying very hard to frame the president, that is a -- he's accusing them of a crime.
POWERS: Right. No, absolutely.
I mean, it is completely out of bounds, but it's also basically the story the president has been telling. He's just now actually putting the word to it. Right? This is clearly -- I think Ana is right. This is what he was hired to do. He was hired to go out and say these outrageous things and to put this in the heads of Trump voters, who will now be like, oh, he's being framed, which is again basically what the president has been saying all along.
NAVARRO: And we don't hold them to the same standard that we hold -- we would hold the real lawyers working for Trump on this, right, the Raskins, who are doing the serious work, who are not traveling all over the world.
TAPPER: Well, I do. I hold him to one standard, which is saying things that are true.
NAVARRO: I think, for most people, like with Trump, Rudy kind of gets measured with a different stick, because he really does -- has said some outrageous, ridiculous things that he's had to walk back within hours in the last several weeks.
MUDD: I'm with Ana on this.
Look, let's be clear. Rudy is a not a lawyer. He's Scaramucci with bad hair. He's out to represent Trump in a way that Trump likes, assuming he doesn't get too far ahead of the curve here. He's not there to be part of the legal team.
I agree. He's sort of part of a scam here to try to persuade the American people that a legendary prosecutor and maybe the most legendary FBI director since the FBI was formed in 1908 is a fraud. Try that one out. I don't think it's going to work.
TAPPER: And, of course, all this time, President Trump, including in the last few hours, has been pushing what he calls -- and I don't think anyone else -- calls spy gate, this idea that the FBI informant who was -- or FBI confidential source who was there to try to check out what was going on, why the Russians were so interested in the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, why they were there.
President Trump has been suggesting that this was nefarious by the FBI. There was a rebuke today by two top Republicans on Capitol Hill who were asked about that allegation, the idea that President Obama inserted a spy into the Trump campaign.
Congressman Trey Gowdy, a solid conservative Republican from South Carolina, had previously said, after having been briefed by the FBI, that he thought Americans would be proud of how the FBI handled the matter.
House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked today if he agreed with Gowdy. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Normally, I don't like to comment on classified briefings. Let me say it this way. I think Chairman Gowdy's initial assessment is accurate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: In addition, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, added in an interview -- quote -- "I think that Trey Gowdy's description of the process was correct."
So you have these Republicans stalwarts -- by the way, we should point out neither Paul Ryan nor Richard Burr have been particularly critical of President Trump, but both of them saying, no, Gowdy is right.
Are we reaching a point here where Republicans are drawing a line, you think?
POWERS: Well, I am glad that they said this. It is a little belated. Right?
This was so clear when this happened that the way this was being presented and then portrayed in the conservative media was really being stretched into something that didn't even match reality in any way, shape, or form.
And it is nice for them to now come out and say it, but it would have been better if they just would have come out and said it right when it happened.
MUDD: I mean, Ryan has been gone more than Melania Trump.
We have been at this for months and months and months, including Devin Nunes mismanaging the process on the House side, which Paul Ryan is responsible for, forever, including his surreptitious visit to the White House that we reported on extensively.
And, finally, he comes out and says, by the way, in the biggest investigation this country has seen since Watergate, I think the FBI guys are doing OK.
Where have you been, brother?
NAVARRO: Wait, wait, wait. I got to tell you, it is Nunes, not Nunes, Portuguese, not Latino.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.
Reality star power at work. Kim Kardashian's visit to the Oval Office got one woman clemency. Now the wife of one of Mueller's witnesses has a favor to ask President Trump.
She will join me next. Stay with us.
[16:17:01] TAPPER: Welcome back. The Trump-Kim summit is producing results. No, no, not that Kim. This one.
President Trump today commuting the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a first time nonviolent drug offender who's been serving a life sentence. Last week, Kim Kardashian West lobbied President Trump on behalf of Johnson in the Oval Office. This comes as CNN has learned that the White House has started the paperwork to pardon at least 30 other people, according to two sources.
CNN's Pamela Brown reports from the White House.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump considering dozens of new pardons. That as he commutes the life sentence of Alice Johnson, a first time drug offender who served 21 years of a life sentence on charges of cocaine possession. That decision following a personal Oval Office request from reality star Kim Kardashian West.
Sources say Chief of Staff John Kelly and Don McGahn advocated against. Others on the list, lifestyle guru and businesswoman Martha Stewart. A source familiar says the president has cooled on that idea.
MARTHA STEWART, LIFESTYLE GURU: We're going to make a scrumptious meatloaf sandwich which is Donald's favorite sandwich.
DONALD TRUMP, THEN-REALITY TV STAR: I've never had meatloaf this good. BROWN: Stewart was found guilty of lying to investigators about suspicious stock trades. And former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is also on the list. He was on "The Apprentice" with Trump.
TRUMP: Governor, I have great respect for you.
BROWN: He was convicted on 17 corruption charges and impeached for trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat.
And last week, Trump pardoned conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza, who pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws. The president tweeted, saying he has the absolute right to pardon himself and his willingness to ignore Justice Department guidelines on issuing pardons has some Democrats worried he'll use it to help allies caught up in the investigation into Russian campaign meddling in 2016, as he did when he pardoned campaign supporter and controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio last year for his criminal contempt conviction.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: There's thousands and thousands of people that deserve commutations, deserve pardons, and it shouldn't take Kim Kardashian going to the White House to get something like that done.
BROWN: And two sources familiar with the matter say the White House counsel's office is also looking at potential clemency, reviewing potential clemency for a handful of people who were just like Johnson who aren't celebrities and who were not political allies of this White House -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown at the White House for us.
Joining me now from Chicago is Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos. She's the wife of George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his interactions with foreign officials close to the Russian government.
Simona, thanks so much for being here.
You're here to ask President Trump to pardon your husband? I know that -- I know that his lawyers haven't submitted any kind of formal request to the White House to pardon your husband. Why haven't the lawyers done that?
SIMONA MANGIANTE PAPADOPOULOS, WIFE OF GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS: Actually this is an interesting question. Good evening. I am not sure I can share the opinion.
[16:20:02] I can just say that this doesn't interfere in my view with the plea agreement. George Papadopoulos pled guilty for lying to the FBI.
My appeal to the argument, that he deserves a pardon precisely because we have to dig into the nature of these lies. He didn't lie because of the nature of his relationship with Russia, because he didn't have any relationship with Russia. He lied about the date in which he met with Professor Mifsud.
Today and mostly after the new elements that came out in story, we know that Professor Mifsud is likely to be announced that the Western intelligence more than Russia. We don't know. That whatever his intention when he targeted George as someone sensitive but deemed to approach talking about emails of Hillary Clinton, I would like to remember that those e-mails at the time were speculated by the media all over the world. They are not the DNC e-mails.
So, this is also I think an important element to talk about (INAUDIBLE) -
TAPPER: I want to get into that in a second.
PAPADOPOULOS: So --
TAPPER: Let me just ask you, Simona. President Trump watches a lot of cable news and despite his protests, he also watches a lot of CNN. Talk to him right now. What do you want him to know? Why should he pardon George?
PAPADOPOULOS: George is loyal to the truth. He's been through a lot. He's loyal to his country, he believed in Trump and I believe in Trump, having access to information and awareness for now to know that he deserves a pardon.
He's been set up -- probably the target of many set up, we don't know. But definitely he's attacked in a way to jeopardize this country and the president. I'm sure he will appreciate that.
TAPPER: You describe your husband as a victim even though he did admit to lying to the FBI about the timing of correspondence he had with individuals thought to have connections with the Russian government. How is he a victim?
PAPADOPOULOS: He was a victim as I said because first of all, whatever intention Professor Mifsud didn't materialize and any action from George in the sense of creating any collusion with Russians. He just happened to meet his professor in Rome, and when the FBI asked them the date in which he met with the professor, we have access to his plea agreement which is clearly stated the reason of why he pled guilty, he just confused the date.
So, we don't know -- he never had any interaction likely to cause collusion. We don't know who Mifsud is. It is appeared I know personally (ph) Mifsud and I agree he is a shady figure, but he's an asset of Russian intelligence or Western intelligence.
We know today George was approached by Halper in very shady circumstances, it is important to dig into new elements to better understand if all of the shady characters, it's not all Mifsud or Halper -- but other ones, one of them I witnessed in personally where --
TAPPER: Which one did you witness personally? PAPADOPOULOS: -- participating to a biggest operation.
Someone we met in Mikonos, an Israeli person who came -- flew to Mykonos just to discuss business. Very appealing and very proposal -- much money was offered to George in many directions as we know. And everything was highly suspicious.
I was highly -- I thought it was -- potentially a target for many people with different intention. It is not up to me to define what it is, because I don't know. But definitely, I see him as a victim because of an incident.
He actually volunteered. He reported to the FBI about his meeting with Mifsud, the one -- they first talked to him in January 2016 --
TAPPER: So --
PAPADOPOULOS: So I don't understand how he could -- yes, he is guilty and confused and made a mistake and pled guilty, but I'm sure that President Trump now has access to many elements to have a better understanding of what my husband has been through and, of course, one of the reasons why I want him to pardon him because I love him.
TAPPER: Right, of course.
Simona, speaking of Israeli, speaking of Israelis, you're saying now also that Mueller and the special counsel team threatened to charge George, your husband, with being an unregistered foreign agent for Israel and that is why he pleaded guilty. Now last year, you said you were proud of his choice to cooperate with the right side of history.
So which is it? That he wants to be on the right side of history or threatened of being charged with a foreign agent for Israel.
PAPADOPOULOS: Well, cooperation is -- shows the truth and George shared the information with the FBI and I'm sure it is in the interest of everyone having access to the truth. Whatever will come out from this cooperation collusion in which we don't know and a major plot for other reason, I think it is really still very important.
So, I don't think there's a contradiction. Right side is to be loyal to the truth and that's my assessment. I don't think you have -- sided with any -- another -- I never meant actually, and I never did side with an agenda or another agenda.
[16:25:10] I think it was also and simply for saying the truth. But this situation was chaotic and many things -- we could have a better understanding of things happening in the past when you have access to information that becoming clear right now. I think the Halper's story is quite interesting in this extent.
TAPPER: All right. Well, I think taking to the airwaves is definitely a good way to reach President Trump.
Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, thank you so much. Best of luck to you. PAPADOPOULOS: Thank you very much for inviting. Have a good evening.
TAPPER: At this rate, he could have more scandals than any other cabinet level person in the Trump's administration. Now, there is new fallout for Scott Pruitt's search for a used hotel mattress and a Chick-fil-A franchise. Say what?
Stay with us.
TAPPER: It's a breaking news in the politics lead. An official tells CNN that two of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's aides have now resigned.