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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Sex Coach Claims to Have Key Info on Russia Probe; Interview With New York Congressman Tom Suozzi and New York Congressman Peter King. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired March 5, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our world lead.
A self-described model and sex coach making international headlines and giving CNN a jailhouse interview about what she claims, claims is key missing evidence linking the Trump campaign and Russia; 21-year- old Anastasia Vashukevich seen here aboard the yacht of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, says the two carried on an affair and that she was present during several meetings he had with at least three unnamed Americans in 2016 and 2017.
She says she has recordings and photographs that will blow this Russia investigation wide open.
As outrageous as all this might sound, she does actually have ties to Deripaska, who is a close ally of Vladimir Putin and a former business associate of Paul Manafort, President Trump's one-time campaign chairman.
Vashukevich's credibility of course is in question for many reasons, not the least of which is she is languishing in a Thai detention center for illegally conducting sex seminars, but she is promising to deliver the goods if the United States grants her political asylum.
CNN's Ivan Watson joins me now live from Bangkok.
Ivan, she is in this Thai prison making strong accusations, while also seeking asylum. And yet many people in the international community seem to be taking this rather seriously.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
There is reason to be skeptical when somebody is on their way to jail and they say, hey, I'm going to try to barter my freedom by giving up information.
But some of reason why people are taking it seriously is because Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who does these investigations of alleged corruption at the highest levels of the Russia government, his team pieced together in a 25-minute piece last month that she had been on this yacht with the Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, from her social media accounts and also from this kind of salacious book she published, "How to Seduce a Billionaire," and then figured out she was also on the boat the Russian deputy prime minister by the name of Sergei Prikhodko.
And that, in her videos, you can overhear them discussing U.S.-Russian relations and the fact they didn't like Victoria Nuland from the State Department. So she's been clearly near very powerful Russian people, though Oleg Deripaska, this oligarch, denies he ever had an affair with this woman, as she alleges, and claims that she's been creating things basically to try to get out of trouble here in Thailand.
TAPPER: Ivan, what did she tell you?
WATSON: I spoke to her. It was hot. It was sweltering hot and kind of crazy in this jail, this Thai immigration detention center.
She claims she has hours of audio recordings and a photo that show Deripaska, the oligarch, meeting with at least three different Americans that she wouldn't identify them, and that they discussed plans to influence the U.S. election.
I kind of tried press her, what are the names of these Americans? Give me a name. And she said I can't give it to you because I'm on the verge of being deported back to Russia and it is going to be bad for me if I give it to you. But I'm happy to give this to U.S. investigators. I would think that American officials, an ambassador, for example, who cares about their country, this is important information and it would seem silly if they wouldn't want to come and talk to me.
But the fact is even though a handwritten letter requesting asylum was directed to the U.S. Embassy here, the embassy says this is a matter for Thai law enforcement since she is not a citizen of the U.S.
TAPPER: All right, Ivan Watson in Bangkok, Thailand, you so much.
Banking laws, the FCC and security clearance procedures key items on Congress' agenda this week. The surprising item that has been left off the schedule coming up next.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead and dwindling hope that congressional leaders will take any action to try to prevent the next mass shooting.
Two congressmen from New York, Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican Peter King, both from Long Island, say they have a bipartisan plan to change that.
They join me now.
Thanks so much for joining us.
Congressman King, let me start with you because your party controls everything. So Republican leaders in the Senate have indicated there's no appetite for the Manchin-Toomey background check bill, expanding background checks to online sales and gun shows.
Is your plan -- your plan is also for background checks. Is it different?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: No, mine actually includes that.
In fact, it as the King-Thompson bill. Now it's Thompson-King bill. It is identical to Manchin-Toomey. But in addition to -- that's the background check bill, basically, which also includes gun shows.
It expands it to Internet sales. But then also the terrorist watch list bill. We have the assault weapon ban. And then Tom is very interested in the whole thing, the bill involving red flags.
So, basically, that's it. This isn't rocket science. We put together the four most basic proposals that probably 80 percent of Americans agree on.
TAPPER: But would it even come up for a vote in the House?
REP. TOM SUOZZI (D), NEW YORK: That's really up to Speaker Ryan.
And we have to see if we can put pressure or, really, more importantly, something that I feel is very different right now is the young people that are trying to bring pressure all over the country. If they can keep it up, maybe they will put the pressure on.
As Peter pointed out, over 80 percent of Americans support every single one of these initiatives. But this is what the public wants. They want Republicans and Democrats to work together to actually solve something. And this is an issue that it's very clear on.
TAPPER: What a crazy concept you have just brought up.
Yesterday, Senator Joe Manchin, who also like you guys tries to be bipartisan, he told me they're only one way Congress will move on any gun legislation, and that is if President Trump gets specific and gets behind it.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: If the president comes forward and says, this is what I want done, this is what I'm going to support, and I will give you the cover you need, OK...
TAPPER: So, it's up to President Trump?
MANCHIN: That's what -- it's up to President Trump, truly. (END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Do you agree? Does President Trump need to do this?
KING: And Joe Manchin, by the way, he's a great guy. I have great respect for Joe Manchin.
Yes, he does. The president, he has moved the ball. He has definitely shaken things up, but he has got to follow through. And whether he goes all the way or not, he has got to move the ball downfield somewhere, because, otherwise, we're going to be doing the same thing a year from now.
And there will be more kids killed in the meantime. By the way, on the idea of the kids, I give Tom credit for it. Both of us are doing it, but it was really -- it was his idea to start. All the high school kids are having a massive rally Long Island on March 24.
SUOZZI: So we're having -- Peter and I Gates both be involved in a rally, Democrats and Republicans. We want all the kids from Long Island to come to I and send a very clear message from our part of the country that we're all on board with basic things like the basically, like the assault weapons ban, like the red flags, going after folks with mental health issues and trying to take their guns away from them.
We have to work together on this thing.
TAPPER: The most controversial item of the four that you just mentioned is probably the so-called assault weapons ban, banning some forms of semiautomatic weapons.
And I don't sense that there's the support for that provision in the House or the Senate to even get a vote on it. Would you be willing to drop that component to get the other three?
SUOZZI: We're going to do whatever we can to get something done.
The bottom line is, that is very hard to get that brought up by a Republican Congress. But it is what the people want. I first became the mayor of my hometown 25 years ago. Peter first became a congressman 25 years ago.
That's when the Long Island Railroad massacre was, when Carolyn McCarthy's husband was killed. We have been talking about this stuff for such a long time. We had some laws that expired. We have got to get back to just recognizing that there are some basic things that we need to work get together. Everybody is afraid of the NRA.
TAPPER: Is that what it is? Is that the problem? That people are afraid of the NRA?
KING: They are. And, again, part of the problem too is that they're afraid of primaries. And the primary, you get a small turnout. And the hard core is always going to turn out. The NRA has a mailing list. It is not so much the money, to be honest with you. There's a lot of big contributors around.
TAPPER: It's the votes more than it is the money.
KING: It's the vote.
But also, again, my district went for Barack Obama twice by four points and five points. Donald Trump carried it by nine. When I'm out in the district, a diner, bowling alleys, people do support these measures. This is a district that went for Donald Trump.
And, again, basically what you call the old ethnic Democrats, or blue- collar Democrats and Republicans. And they want this bill. This is not considered radical. Maybe it's our part of the country, and I realize that different states have different cultures.
But we're not asking to take away anyone's gun who is not a criminal and doesn't have a mental history.
SUOZZI: And this is a little off topic, but it's kind of on the topic.
The big problem in our country is that so few people vote in these primaries; 10 percent of the voting public votes in the primary. And for Republicans, it's the far right, for the Democrats, it's the far left.
As a result, if you're afraid of a primary, and that's the only way a lot of these elected officials can lose because they're in safe seats, the Republicans are pulled to the right. The Democrats pulled to the left. And nobody does anything in the middle.
Gerrymandering of safe seats, then participation in primaries is what is pulling everybody apart from each other. It's not that everybody is a bum and nobody is anything good. It's that there's a systemic problem related to gerrymandering these safe seats and these primaries with very little participation.
TAPPER: Without taking position on the legislation, I know that there are a lot of people out there who want Democrats and Republicans to work together and accomplish something.
KING: The actual details are not essential. If we can move this ball down and get any or all of this through, it's going to save some lives.
TAPPER: All right. Thank you, Congressmen. Appreciate it, both of you.
KING: Thanks, Jake.
SUOZZI: Thank you. TAPPER: The president is talking out of both sides of his mouth on
trade wars. Does the White House even know specifically what he wants?
[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with some breaking news. Republican Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi just announced he intends to step down from his Senate seat effective April 1st. Cochran cited the "on-going challenge of his health." My political panel is with me. He's the Chairman of the very powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. His health problems have been going on for quite some -- quite some time. But opens up a Senate seat.
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Right. So I think, there'll be two Mississippi seats up this year. And of course, normally, one would say, well, Mississippi, that, of course, won't change anything in the partisan balance in the Senate. But I believe, we also said that in Alabama a few months ago, right? So who knows?
TAPPER: Who knows? I want to turn to some news on Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. He went on an anti-Semitic rant during a major speech a week ago yesterday. Here's a little bit of --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[16:50:09] LOUIS FARRAKHAN, LEADER, NATION OF ISLAM: He talked about their grip in Hollywood and how the Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out, turning men into women and women into men.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, despite the anti-Semitism and homophobia inherent in that clip, several leaders of the women march were -- are supporters of Farrakhan and have not condemned him. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have met with him were asked for their comments and one of them, Congressman Danny Davis not only refused to denounce Farrakhan. He said the world is bigger than him and his Jewish question. Why is it so tough for some people to condemn a rabid anti- Semite who is always misogynist and anti-LGBTQ?
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It should not be this -- the reason this is relevant to our political world as you just noted that there's disagreements that people are going to be asked that they're going to denounce it for good reason and there will be alignments that have been together, women, (INAUDIBLE), others will have division over this. Why can't people criticize it? I mean, past relationships, their own caucuses, and constituencies, sometimes play but it's still hard to understand.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE REPORTER: A pretty low bar to denounce something like that. And the people who are you know, supporting the Women's March, what are they out there supporting for? Equality and all this stuff and that is opposite of equality. So how is that hard to denounce?
PSAKI: And it shouldn't be. It shouldn't be.
TAPPER: And this -- it should be and yet there, you know, there's been reporting about -- I think the Wall Street Journal reported on like a secret meeting, that Keith Ellison, who's the Vice Chair of the DNC had with a group of people including Farrakhan. There's a secret meeting that the Congressional Black Caucus with him. There was this photograph of then-Senator Obama that had been hidden from the public for several years. So people want to have the association but they don't want to get dinged for it publicly.
KRISTOL: I was on a panel with a Democrat just a couple of days ago, and she was commiserating with me about the problems of the Republican Party. A lot of Democrats like to commiserate with me about that now, I guess and feel sorry for me. But -- and then she said, you know what, we got problems in our own the party too. I mean, both parties have authoritarian and intolerant types in their electorate with some support from -- well, with some support. We'll see what happens. There'll be a lot of primaries on the Republican side, beginning with Texas tomorrow but there actually quite a few competitive ones to the Democratic side. It will be interesting to see whether this strain of the party or other strains of the party that are not the traditional you know, sort of moderate liberalism a lot of Democrats start to prevail. So it's not just the Republican Party that has some bitter fights ahead of it this year I think.
TAPPER: I also -- I want to turn to this story about -- from the Wall Street Journal reporting that Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen complained to friends that he had not been reimbursed for his payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Cohen had paid her $130,000 as part of the nondisclosure to not speak about an alleged affair she had with Donald Trump in 2006. Cohn had said before that he made the payment completely on his own to protect Mr. Trump. Not only that Cohen's bank flagged the payment at the time, according to the Wall Street Journal as suspicious, reported it to the Treasury Department. We should point out that both Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels denied that there was an affair although Stormy seems to be vacillating on that. And any other administration, a private payment of a $130,000 to an adult film actress would probably be front page news every day until there was an apology or something but --
PSAKI: And the focus on the investigations by Members of Congress and it would be the dominant issue we were talking about every single day. So it speaks to what's going on in our environment right now, clearly but it doesn't mean it's not an important story. Because obviously, there are lies being told from somewhere clearly and this is about paying off of a -- I don't know what to call her really.
TAPPER: Adult film actress?
PSAKI: Adult film actress. Well, she's been defined by many things. So it's about -- that's a big story.
TAPPER: I didn't know you were familiar with her body of work.
PSAKI: I'm not. I'm not.
KRISTOL: I'm not either. You both looked at me like -- anyway, paying her off right before the election.
PSAKI: Well, exactly.
KRISTOL: It's not just random. Like this happened 15 years ago.
COLLINS: Well, and isn't it funny now Michael Cohn is saying, he's telling people he's mad that he wasn't paid -- reimbursed immediately but he was on the record just a few weeks ago saying --
TAPPER: He did it for the goodness of his heart.
COLLINS: President Trump had no idea and he did it without him knowing.
TAPPER: Thanks, everyone. Which states will be hurt the most by a trade war? President Trump might want to wait and hear the answer. Stay with us.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: The "MONEY LEAD" now. The White House disagrees but economists say President Trump's new tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum could hit red state the hardest, the very states that sent Mr. Trump to the White House. If other countries retaliate, that could put Midwest Farmers at risk, those who export most of what they grow. Car plants in Michigan and South Carolina could pay more for steel and aluminum if the tariffs go through, so well American manufacturers. They use the metals to produce beer, appliances, even baseball bats. Higher costs could force companies to raise prices or cut jobs and the top five states that most depend on manufacturing jobs, well, those five states all voted for trump.
The European Union has already threatening to retaliate and President Trump is vowing to push back with attacks on European cars. A trade war could economists say, mean higher prices on quintessential American products such as bourbon, delicious, delicious bourbon, Levi's jeans, Harley Davidson Motorcycles, all made in the good old USA. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for this wild edition of THE LEAD. Turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, defying Robert Mueller.