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INSIDE POLITICS

Porn Star Sues Trump Over Alleged Affairs and "Hush" Deal; Wray Stands Up For FBI During Cybersecurity Speech; Study: 43 Percent Turnover in Top White House Jobs; Cruz Attacks Dem Challenger's Name in Campaign Ad. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 7, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:01] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: But that's a campaign finance violation.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, certainly. And, Michael -- we should also look at what Michael Cohen who is the president's private attorney is saying because initially he said that he made this payment out of the goodness of his own heart, out of his own bank account, and the president had no idea.

But then it was reported that he was saying he couldn't get in touch with the president those last few days before the election because everything was so hectic, and he was complaining that he had not been reimbursed for that $130,000.

So that certainly raises some questions there. And this story has had staying power, but it is stunning that it is not dominating the news headlines as it would be in a typical administration.

But the White House is continuing to brush this off. Just today, Sarah Sanders is telling reporters they've addressed, they've already handled it. But she filed a lawsuit yesterday, and they have not addressed that.

But it is interesting. And someone actually inside the White House raised the prospect to me today while we were discussing this that if there's this cover-up, this woman, this, you know, hush money, how many others could there be (INAUDIBLE) over the last two decades.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: That's the point I think is really critical. Look, this started as accusations of sexual harassment during the campaign. It has now escalated to what we know are payments essentially of hush money to people that the president had affairs with during his marriage.

And it's not just one. We know of another with playboy bunny. She admitted she was paid to keep quiet. And so we know now that this is a pattern of behavior of payments by the president or people acting on behalf of the president.

And I think what we've seen or what this whole MeToo movement has revealed is people don't do these things just once. There's always a pattern of behavior. And I think that's what people in the White House must be getting really nervous about, and it's why these stories have staying power. There's never just one bad act.

KING: And I covered the White House in the Bill Clinton days and I can tell you that sometimes lawsuits filed about alleged personal behavior by the president, before he was president, but filed by the president end up to a process called discovery in court that leads to further jeopardy. And I give you Paula Jones as a textbook example of that.

And so if you are in the Trump White House and if there's anything to this, you should be nervous about it because they'll call into court Mr. Cohen who is your client, is David Dennison the president of the United States? Why didn't he sign that document? (INAUDIBLE) what the payment and that so on and so forth.

Just the timeline for people who are watching this. This is a lookup.

In July 2006 into 2007, these legal papers give you more details. Stormy Daniels, I'll use her name, the actress' name here, Ms. Clifford says she had alleged encounters with the president over a long period of time, starting in July and continuing to the next year.

She tried to share details. Cohen established that an LLC to pay her off essentially. She signs the agreement. Cohen pays her $130,000 just before the election. And then she says she denies the relationship essentially, denies anything inappropriate, and then here we are today into this.

Number one, there's this case. Number two, it's Michael Cohen who is the president's fixer, per se, who also comes up in the Russia meddling investigation and a whole number of things. So, again, this is not going to end.

Well, it's such an obvious cover-up with the multiple names. I mean, you just can't get past that.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And I think that the MeToo movement, this is a good point. This is the kind of stuff that Donald Trump and his inner circle have been brushing off and covering up for years. There's just a long trail of this. They have kind of gotten away with it in the past.

The MeToo movement, post-Weinstein, people will not let go of these cases now, and this is -- this could become just a continuing problem with them. And as we've talked about before, John, it plays into the gender gap, which is going into the campaign -- into the midterms as a huge thing for the Republicans to overcome. And that's s just feeds that divide. Women do not like this.

KING: Look at yet another poll today that said 62 percent of American women disapprove of the job performance of President Trump. If that number holds up in November, the House is gone.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: And it's down from 46 percent because I looked up the numbers too. Thanks Jennifer Agiesta. Yes. KING: All right. Up next, the president's senior adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, on a big diplomatic mission, south of the border.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:38:37] KING: Time to check some of the other stories on our political radar today.

The Florida House set to vote on a bill that makes significant changes to state gun laws. Governor Rick Scott has not said whether he'll sign it. But the version passed by the Senate raises the minimum age for firearm purchases from 18 to 21. It also provides more funding for armed resource officers and mental health services.

Also this morning, the education secretary Betsy DeVos paid a visit to the Florida high school where 17 people were killed last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: I heard a variety of things from the students that I spoke with. Some of them are doing quite well. But they all acknowledge that it's a day-to-day situation.

For students who were actually in the building involved, it's very tough. I was just there to be there, to be with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner is in Mexico for meetings with President Enrique Pena Nieto. The president's son-in- law arriving there amid tensions over NAFTA and other issues and just a week after Kushner had his security clearance downgraded.

His meeting also follows the Mexican president's decision to skip a trip to Washington in a dispute with the president over the border wall.

The FBI Director Christopher Wray standing up for his agency, which as you know has come under constant attack by President Trump. Director Wray speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Boston today, dedicating the opening line of his speeches to his employees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:40:00] CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I encounter example after example after example of relentlessly hardworking, selfless, honest, brave, professional people over and over and over again.

And I would love to sit up here for hours telling you stories of some of the people I've gotten to meet and work with, patriots. And I couldn't be more proud and inspired by them and more humbled in a way to be up here standing with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Wray also stressed the seriousness of today's threats to cybersecurity and gave a tongue and cheek example of how technology is changing law enforcement work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRAY: When I left DOJ in 2005, tweeting was something that birds did. It's apparently a little more popular now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You could just take that as a guy trying to have a funny joke about the passage of time, or you could take it as starting his speech with standing up for his agency, which comes under constant attack from the president of the United States. And even a Twitter joke, which is where most of those attacks play out.

Is the FBI director casting a little shade?

HULSE: He seems to be getting pretty comfortable at that. You know, he had a congressional appearance not too long ago where he caused some problems for the administration. He's showing some confidence. And I think he's willing to push back against the president.

HENDERSON: Yes, and we've seen that before, right. Sessions obviously willing to push back against the president too, giving off a little shade, as you said. So we'll see if this continues.

A shame that the FBI director had to give that speech and have it begin with that and thanking those kind of rank and file folks from the FBI.

JOHNSON: I think the balance of power is shifting from a president who normally has the power in these sorts of interactions, to the people who work for him. Because he simply cannot afford to fire a bunch of people who work for him.

He's lost way too many people and it would be -- he would do disastrous harm to himself if he were to fire his FBI director, his attorney general, his secretary of state, any of these people. So they have a lot of power right now, and I think you're seeing them use it.

KING: It's an excellent point. But are we sure he gets it?

COLLINS: No, but it's hard for him to criticize Chris Wray of all people. He handpicked him and had him sworn in. And he's on the record praising him, saying what a great guy he is.

Of course, they did that with other people in those positions as well, but it's certainly a lot more difficult for the president to be critical of him.

KING: Well, we'll track that.

Up next, the president says everybody wants to work at his White House. So then why are so many people packing up and leaving?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:46:36] KING: Welcome back.

The president says it's much to do about nothing. The turnover isn't necessarily a bad thing and that replacing top economic adviser Gary Cohn will be easy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMO, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing. So many people want to come in.

I have a choice of anybody. I could take any position in the White House, and I'll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position. Everybody wants to be there.

And they love this White House because we have energy like rarely before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's to be polite, not true. You get a lot of laughs and even more hell nos when you call around town and ask seasoned Republicans if they're open to joining team Trump. And there's this stunning stat.

The Brookings Institution says the Trump White House has seen a 43 percent staff turnover in 13 months. It affects policy. It affects personnel. It affects just about everything, including the politics in the zeitgeist of the Republican Party right now.

I get the president making fun a little bit there. What he says is not true. He can't get -- there are not people lining up to work in the Trump White House. I also understand that that's -- he needs to say that publicly.

But what is the domino effect of Gary Cohn leaving?

COLLINS: Well, it's certainly not true that there are people lining up to work in the White House. Half the people who work in the White House complain about working in the White House and don't want to be there and would leave if they felt that they could. So that's certainly just not true.

The president is likely aware of that because a lot of people have turned down some of those high-profile jobs, and that's why they had such trouble filling positions. That's why they've had five communications directors, several press secretaries.

There's a reason that that is a problem that they've had. It's just simply not true. And it's because of the very toxic work environment in this White House.

And Gary Cohn resigned. We heard that he was going to resign last week. We knew it was on the horizon. But there were already two high-profile staff departures last week.

One of those being Hope Hicks, a very significant departure. So Gary Cohn essentially waited until this week. We know he was obviously frustrated with the tariffs, but it just speaks to this larger problem of what's going on inside the White House.

A lot of people say palace intrigue is something that they bemoan. Reports of palace intrigue, they don't really care about who's up, who's down. But it is important in this White House because it's how policy gets made. And that is very clearly evidence with Gary Cohn right there.

KING: But there are happy people too though. If you look at Breitbart, if you look at the president's more America first national strategy. They think the Manhattan wing of the party, the globalist wing of the party has been shoved out of the White House.

JOHNSON: Look, putting that to one side, I would add that the president continues to do self-inflicted harm in the area of personnel by keeping in place these rigorous, ideological tests for who he brings in.

Where, anybody who criticizes him served on the campaign is still not allowed to serve in this White House. That's a fact and in particularly in around the foreign policy where we've heard stories that H.R. McMaster may be on his way out. And they are not entertaining anyone who leveled any sort of criticism on the president -- on the campaign trail.

And I've heard somebody say, you know, what they've got to start looking at people -- what people have said since he was sworn into office. What have you said since 2016, not what did you say before 2016?

And so, I think that's another layer to this personnel shortage that the White House is facing.

KING: You mentioned McMaster. I think a lot of Cohn staff which is viewed as a very capable staff of the National Economic Council may head for the exits. You have reporting with some of your colleagues on cnnpolitics.com that Donald Trump in talking to Anthony Scaramucci and others outside the White House is encouraging these attacks on the chief of staff John Kelly. Hello?

[12:50:07] HENDERSON: Yes. John Kelly who is supposed to be kind of the moderating influence, the adult in the room. Obviously got in trouble over these last couple weeks because of the Rob Porter thing. He didn't seem -- he sort of -- seemed to overlook some of the more concerning details about Rob Porter's life and marriages. So we'll see what happens.

Sort of not surprising that Scaramucci is out there, at least being encouraged by the president. Maybe not at his behest. Just kind of speaks to him liking the chaos.

COLLINS: That's exactly it. The president bemoans chaos and says there's no chaos in this White House, but he sows some of had himself by actively allowing Anthony Scaramucci to go on T.V. and refer to the chief of staff as, quote, general jackass. So he plays a large role in this in watching his aides clash. He thoroughly enjoys it.

HENDERSON: And he said that they love conflict.

KING: And if you study the polling data, they talked to Republicans (INAUDIBLE), they tell you this constant churning, backstabbing, sniping, childish, immature behavior is one of the reasons they think there's a wave coming to blow them out.

HULSE: The president, what said about conflict, I think was that, he likes to get conflicting opinions. Now, that's a fine thing in a White House. But what the president is presiding over is this turmoil and upheaval and chaos among his staff.

People look to the White House for stability. If you're on the Hill trying to work with the White House and do something serious, you want to know that the person you're talking to is going to be there in a few weeks when this gets going. And I think it's a big problem.

JOHNSON: And that person actually speaks for the views of the president. The policy that person tells you reflects the White House's policy. And I think Republicans on the Hill, Democrats on the Hill, they don't trust that.

KING: The shelf life of most of what they're told is maybe eight to 10 minutes. So you're lucky if it's eight to 10 hours.

Everybody, we'll (INAUDIBLE) on top of this.

Up next, Texas kicked off the 2018 primary season yesterday. The state's senior Republican senator says, be worried.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), MAJORITY WHIP: Well, I think it's a wake-up call for Republicans in Texas. We need to -- and also the White House. We need to get people out to vote in November. I'm confident we will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:56:13] SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Every two years, every four years, Texas is always fixing to turn blue. But the nice value of it is, in Texas at least, there are a lot more conservatives than there are liberals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator Ted Cruz there feeling confident and throwing some cold water on Democrats after yesterday's primary back in his home state of Texas.

Democrats are optimistic despite the raw vote count that shows Republicans beat them in overall turnover yesterday by a wide margin. Bit more on that in the conversation in a moment.

As for Senator Cruz, his November challenger will be Congressman O'Rourke, who easily got enough votes yesterday to avoid a runoff. And the Republican incumbent already going after his opponent, telling voters even his name is disingenuous. Listen to this campaign ad and then O'Rourke's reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember reading stories liberal Robert wanted to fit in. So he changed his name Beto and hid it with a grin.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman, I know you had a punk rock past. Do you plan to compose a punk rock song to counter that jingle?

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS SENATE CANDIDATE: Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to continue to meet with and work with my fellow Texans on the big issues that we want Texas to lead on.

CAMEROTA: Why aren't you taking my punk rock bait?

O'ROURKE: Because I just don't think that's what folks in Texas want us to focus on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I would not bet the ranch on Beto O'Rourke beating Ted Cruz in a still red Texas. The turnout yesterday was good for the Democrats they think.

If you take what happened in Texas and bring it to other states, it's good for them to see that enthusiasm. But I think a lot of Democrats and even a lot Republicans are happy Ted Cruz is in a race that might give him fits this year.

And number two, the only lesson I take from that, the attack ad right away from Ted Cruz, remember, he laughed at Donald Trump. Didn't take it was a serious challenge, didn't do anything. Donald Trump is president out of the box.

COLLINS: Although, nothing is richer than Ted Cruz mocking him for going by a nickname when Ted Cruz goes by a nickname. But of course, Texas is Texas. I don't think this necessarily means that there's not going to be some kind of blue wave across the United States.

HENDERSON: Yes. And -- I mean, if you're a Democrat, you're focusing on those three seats, the Hurd seat, the Sessions seat, and the Culberson seat, and maybe they can make some inroads. And that flipped, two of them or three of them or one of them or whatever.

KING: Run-offs in those seats. HENDERSON: And the difference you've seen in Texas is that Democrats put up candidates, and pretty solid candidates in all of these races. Something you hadn't seen before.

I think the real victory for Beto O'Rourke would be if he kept it within single digits, right. I mean, if you think about Democrats before, they're getting beat by 20 or so points. If he keeps it to eight or 10.

KING: You see more proof of Democratic intensity. The president, some new reporting today, saying he's now worried about Pennsylvania 18. it will be a tough one. That's the special election next week.

I talked to a Republican this morning who said already, he expects at least four more Republican retirements. He said watch the North Carolina and the Florida delegations. He says you get at least four more, and if the Republicans lose Pennsylvania, that could double.

HULSE: Yes, I think that's what the takeaway from Texas is. Ted Cruz, I do know that people on Capitol Hill love seeing Ted Cruz be nervous. And they're enjoying that.

But I think the real takeaway is, can Democrats pick up some of those seats there to get them on to their majority. And I think the signs yesterday were pretty good.

This is going to show my age, but you probably remember in 1988 campaign, Connie Mack (INAUDIBLE) ran "hey buddy, you're a liberal." It sort of Ted Cruz seems to have adopted that. It did work before but it is not original.

KING: 1988, good jobs, good wages came up in that campaign. If you're the Republicans, you're trying to bend this arc. How do you do it?

JOHNSON: I think they're trying to figure that out. And I think for the president, morale is not great. And that you've seen the White House put an extraordinary amount of effort into this Pennsylvania race.

Mike Pence is going out there. Other members of the president's team going out there, pouring in a lot of money. And it's going to be the third race he's gone out to campaign in and that he's likely to lose.

KING: And midterm election year comes down to usually one thing, president's approval rating.

Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf starts right now.