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AT THIS HOUR

Cohn Resigns, Markets Rattled, Porn Star Lawsuit; Trump: "I Like Conflict, I Like Watching It"; Today: Kushner Meets With Mexico's President; Lawyer Believes Porn Star Is Free To Talk About Trump; Ted Cruz Defends Mocking Beto O'Rourke's Name. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: No chaos. That's right.

So, just try telling that to Wall Street. Stocks have wallowed in the red all morning just hours after the abrupt resignation of President Trump's top economic adviser. Rattled investors worried that the impending departure of Gary Cohn removes one more moderating influence in the president's inner circle. He joins a long and stunning list of White House insiders to leave.

And CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House with more on this.

So, Abby, Cohn staunchly opposed these new tariffs that the president is putting in place or steel and aluminum, but the White House is pushing ahead even so.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We spoke to Sarah Sanders this morning and she told us that they are still on track to have an announcement by the end of this week, by Friday. You know, the president wants to move forward with these tariffs and the fact that Gary Cohn is now essentially out of the picture means that they are no longer going to delay on this.

There are -- there's still the question of carveouts are there going to be exemptions made for countries like Canada and Mexico. Those details are all being worked out. There is a lot of legal work being done behind the scenes and this is being done as quickly as humanly possible.

Meanwhile, the president is making a very sharp pivot to trade on social media. He tweeted this morning in part to justify his decision on tariffs. He said, "From Bush 1 to present, our country has lost more than 55,000 factories and 6 million manufacturing jobs in accumulated trade deficits of more than $12 trillion.

Last year, we had a trade deficit of almost $800 billion, bad policy and leadership must win again." So, the president here is really doubling down on this policy that has been largely opposed by the business community.

You saw this morning the stock markets reacting very badly to Gary Cohn's departure, but there are fears within the White House and outside of the White House that the president is taking a sharp turn to these economic populist messages and policies.

And that those policies could in turn harm the economic recovery and the growth that we've seen in recent months. Even after the tax cut bill that the president is so proud of. So, we're still waiting here to see where President Trump is going to go with the replacement for Gary Cohn.

And among the candidates that we know of based on our sources is one of the people within the White House who is a big proponent of the president's tariffs. We're not sure exactly when that announcement is going to come. He says it will be soon.

KEILAR: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you so much.

I want to bring in our panel now. We have Jason Miller, a CNN political commentator and former senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign, CNN political commentator and former Democratic Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, and Doug Heye, a CNN political commentator and Republican strategist.

So, Jason, the president saying there's no chaos. He said yesterday I like conflict. He also said I like having two people with different points of view. But I wonder then so when you look at Gary Cohn leaving, and then it appears he's likely to be replaced by someone with an entirely different point of view.

You know, what would your advice be to the president on if he says he likes having all of this different kind of inputs, so he can maybe avoid some sort of group think or something, what would you say to him about maintaining that?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would say that competition is good, and chaos is bad. There's a big difference between the two. Competition is when you put these two different viewpoints in front of you. You let them duke it out and then, after you the president makes the decision, and everybody falls in line and you charge ahead.

That's been the fundamental problem of this White House ever since day one, after the president makes his decision, people have retreated back to their camps and told their people to get spun up in different directions.

But look, the fundamentals of this economy are good. Nobody fundamentally voted for Gary Cohn. I mean, people voted for Donald Trump and we knew exactly what President Trump was going to do with his economic and trade policies.

But there's really a bigger position even more so than the national economic adviser that we need to be looking at here. I think number one, we need to make sure there's someone filling that kind of that big picture forward thinking role to implement the president's vision, whether it comes to the big picture trade policy or big picture economy. I know we'll never have a chief strategist again, that was an experiment, one and done. The president will never have that, but you need someone trying to put all these pieces together. There's another spot that's critical to this White House has to fill.

We need to get General Kelly an ex-o. He needs a right-hand person obviously with departures with the deputy chiefs of staff and also with Rob Porter have left a hole as far as implementing some of the domestic policies, that's a big problem for this White House right now because the president has his ideas, but he doesn't have the people to go and implement them right now. We've got to get that in place.

KEILAR: Doug, what do you think as you're watching all of this unfold and the president is insisting there's no chaos?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The one thing this administration is very good at, what it's not good at is, pushing back on all of the litany of things because things pop up, it's like whack a mole trying to get rid of every problem.

[11:05:07] But what they can do very effectively is say effectively these are not the droids you're looking for and then move onto the next topic, sometimes through a tweet or something that the president says.

The problem is two-fold, one it catches Congress and congressional Republicans especially by surprise, which they never like having done, and two, we see that so often when there's good economic news and Jason is right, the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

But when we have the Friday jobs numbers that come out and we don't focus on them except from 8:30 to 8:35 because the president has tweeted something or somebody else resigned or there are some other self-created outreach (inaudible), the good news of the economics -- good economic news that's out there doesn't get heard by the American people because we're talking about Stormy Daniels or whatever else it may be.

KEILAR: That's right. Nina, I wonder what you think if you can sort of bring your expertise about where you're from because President Trump is going to be heading to the suburbs of Pittsburgh on Saturday. This happening amid his news on tariffs, you're from a neighboring state. You're from Ohio. A lot of issues that resonate there, will resonate in Pittsburgh as well. How do you think he's going to be received?

NINA TURNER (D), FORMER OHIO STATE SENATOR: I mean, he ran on this. Nobody should be surprised, but how do you balance the scales between having fair trade and implementing a policy that will upset the entire apple cart. As an Ohioan, even Senator Sherrod Brown and I also believe the senator from Pennsylvania too on the tariff thing, this is regional. It's not -- necessarily whether you're Democrat or Republican.

It is whether you're Midwest or not and how hurt you have been over the generations with trade deals that disadvantage the American workers. So, this is deeper than what we realize but in Ohio, the trade deals from NAFTA to the TPP have caused serious implications for states like mine.

KEILAR: You backed a candidate for -- Bernie Sanders --

TURNER: Yes, I did.

KEILAR: -- who has actually a lot in common with Donald Trump's messaging when it comes to --

TURNER: On the good side though, I mean, on the good side, you know, only the lift. The president, you know, he does these things. Sometimes I don't think he fully understands the consequences of what he is doing. But in terms of a populist message that really hones in.

It's a difference between what you say and do and what the outcome is. What you don't want is unintended consequences to make this worse for the American worker. It should be good for the American worker.

KEILAR: I wonder what you think Jason because our Kaitlan Collins has reported that President Trump at least tacitly has sort of approved the former Coms Director Anthony Scaramucci taking public aim at the current Chief of Staff John Kelly, probably not so helpful to the current chief of staff when he's taking that incoming. What would your advice be to President Trump in this situation about how he can handle this?

MILLER: Well, farce this particular news cycle and the -- supposedly the he said it was OK to go and say this, I would just ignore it. There's no reason to pay more attention to it, but I would push back a little bit on this. I've never known the president to be a particularly shy when he wants to go and voice his opinion.

I mean, he's -- we know from Twitter and other things that he's going to tell us in real time what he's thinking. If the president had an issue with General Kelly, he would walk down the hall and tell them or tell General Kelly to come in and tell him to his face. Kind of this whole idea you need to tell somebody else to say it, that doesn't sound like the president. I have a little bit of an issue with that --

KEILAR: I guess my point being, it's not as if you're saying hey, Anthony layoff, right. Don't say this from outside the White House.

MILLER: We don't know what conversations are being had or aren't being had. What most are thinking about today is the economy and yes, I know that the futures opened up down a bit and market was down 250 or 300 points early. It's only down 100 so far today. I wouldn't be surprised if the market ends up in the black today and we're saying Gary Cohn and any other of the staff stuff is out of the news by the end of the day.

KEILAR: Politics aside, just this sort of internal also the external, you're hearing from Anthony Scaramucci, Nina, and what we're seeing as chaos, this turnover, the whack a mole as Doug is talking about. I mean, taking off your partisan hat, what would your advice be? TURNER: I mean, the president loves this. I mean, he spoke the whole truth and nothing but the truth yesterday when he said that he loves conflict, loves it, can't enough of it. That's how he rolls at all times. This kind of environment builds him and all he's thinking about is himself, but he doesn't really take into -- into consideration the impact that it is having on his White House.

But also. the impact it is having on this country, drama, drama. This is President Trump's America. You wake up every day and there's drama. You lay your head on the pillow, there's drama. You turnover, there's drama. Drama everywhere we turn, so how can we ever have the substantive conversations that need to be had domestically about the needs of the workers in this country.

KEILAR: I want to ask -- I want to ask Doug because, Doug, you were talking about, what Nina is discussing.

[11:10:09] You were talking about how that is affecting congressional Republicans, people in the president's own party who are trying to push an agenda.

HEYE: Sure, and it's not just people from within the White House. This is not just the White House. It's more reminiscent, sometimes, of Hotel California, you can checkout, but you can't leave, which is why we're talking about Anthony Scaramucci again.

And all of this, whether it's tariffs or response to guns or immigration, sends the message to Capitol Hill that there's no cohesive message here because there's no core ideology. That's part of why they are so troubled.

KEILAR: Thank you so much, guys, so much. Doug Heye, Nina Turner, and Jason Miller, we appreciate it.

President Trump's embattled son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has just arrived in Mexico to meet with the country's president and he's lugging some pretty heavy baggage, renegotiating NAFTA, defending these proposed tariffs and of course, his downgraded security clearance.

We have CNN's Patrick Oppmann. He is live for us in Mexico City. Tell us, Patrick, what we are expecting.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Well, the big issue, the big question is can Jared Kushner in this very short visit to Mexico, including a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, turn around what has really been a dead-end relationship just a few weeks ago.

We were telling you about how the Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto, was expected to go to the U.S., but that visit was canceled because he and President Donald Trump got in a fight over who, of course, was going to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build between these two countries. So that ended badly.

Jared Kushner is down here again with his reduced security status, trying to mend this relationship, and we'll see if he can do that. Of course, the issue still is the wall, Brianna, and whether Mexican officials and Mexican president can go to the U.S. and be greeted by Donald Trump and not have this issue of who's going to pay for the wall come up and spoil the trip.

KEILAR: All right. Patrick Oppmanm for us with a preview there. We appreciate it.

Still ahead, breaking news, Attorney General Jeff Sessions taking the Trump administration's war against California to the next level. The Justice Department is now suing the state over its immigration policies. Jeff Sessions is set to speak any moment.

Plus, a porn star sues the president. The lawsuit from Stormy Daniels says Donald Trump never signed a hush agreement over their alleged affair and now she is free to talk. Is she? We'll have details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:35]

KEILAR: Making news the porn star turned plaintiff, Stormy Daniels, is suing President Trump to nullify the nondisclosure agreement that she signed days before the 2016 election. It prevented her from talking about their alleged sexual relationship back in 2006 and 2007. Daniels' lawyer says that Trump never signed the agreement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: There were three parties to the agreement, my client, Mr. Trump and EC, two of the three signed. Mr. Trump did not sign. We believe that that was, so he could later claim deniability and therefore, from a legal perspective, we believe she's free to talk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: CNN national politics reporter, M.J. Lee has details on this. It's important to note, M.J., what the catalyst was for this lawsuit. Tell us about it.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Brianna, the biggest reason that this lawsuit has come to fruition seems to be that Stormy Daniels simply wants the freedom to talk. Let me back up and walk through some of the key details in this lawsuit.

First and foremost, Stormy Daniels is saying in this lawsuit that she did have an affair with Donald Trump. She says that this was an intimate relationship that began in the summer of 2006 and went well into 2007.

She says in this lawsuit that during the 2016 presidential election, she made the decision that she wanted to share her story. She says this happened when the "Access Hollywood" tape came out in October of 2016. She saw that other women were coming out with their stories and wanted to approach the media to share her story. This is where things get really interesting. What happened next. I just want to read from a part of the lawsuit.

It says that after discovering Miss Clifford's plans, Mr. Trump with the assistance of his attorney, Mr. Cohen, aggressively sought to silence Ms. Clifford as part of an effort to avoid her telling the truth, thus helping to ensure he won the presidential election.

Now after this is when the lawsuit said Michael Cohen drafted an NDA as part of this so-called hush agreement and at the end of October 2016. So, we are now getting very close to election day, Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen signed this agreement and he somehow arranged to have $130,000 wired to Stormy's attorney at the time.

But a key part of this is that the lawsuit alleges that Donald Trump himself did not sign this agreement. And that is what they are using to try to make the case now that the agreement should be null and void.

And now, I just want to be very clear about very important part of this and the takeaway from this, this lawsuit is basically alleging that Donald Trump in fact knew about these efforts to try to silence Stormy Daniels about this alleged affair.

That Michael Cohen acted in consultation with Donald Trump. Obviously, if this ends up being true, this could be hugely, hugely important -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And Daniels says that Michael Cohen has continued to intimidate Miss Clifford into silence and shut her up in order to protect Mr. Trump. Tell us about that allegation.

LEE: That's right. The lawsuit not only says that Michael Cohen acted to try to silence Stormy Daniels during the election, it essentially says that those efforts are continuing to this day. It makes a reference to an arbitration that Michael Cohen started just last month in Los Angeles.

And you kind of have to wonder if that's a big part of the reason why Stormy Daniels seems increasingly wanting to speak out and wanting the freedom to speak out about this alleged affair with Donald Trump.

I want to toss to some sound from what Stormy Daniels' lawyer had to say this morning about whether she had more information that hasn't yet come into the public light.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:20:10] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her lawsuit states that she had an intimate relationship with the president, but let's not bother to be delicate. Did she have a sexual relationship with the president?

AVENATTI: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. She also says according to this document, that there were tangible items, photos and images that she had them and according to this agreement she won't turn them over and never release them publicly. Does she still have photos and images, text messages, documents that verify this claim?

AVENATTI: That's a question Ms. Daniels will have to ultimately answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Now there's a lot going on here and certainly a lot of questions that the White House will now have to answer, and all of this just became a lot more serious because all of it is in writing and it is in a lawsuit -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. M.J. Lee, thank you. I want to talk more about this lawsuit with Michael Moore. He is a former U.S. attorney in Georgia. He is currently an attorney in Atlanta. So, Michael, this lawsuit and you just heard M.J. say this, she said, you know, what it revealed was just last month, really last week, it was February, but it was just last week Michael Cohen tried to silence Stormy Daniels through the use of a secret arbitration proceeding. What does that tell you?

MICHAEL MOORE, PARTNER, POPE MCGLAMRY LAW FIRM: Well, it tells me they are probably feeling pressure about the position they've been put in by her lawyer. And I'll tip my hat to him because it's a pretty clever legal move on his part. He's essentially got Mr. Cohen in the posture having to admit that he acted with the express permission of Donald Trump to pay Stormy Daniels off to keep quiet or made a contribution or acted totally without Trump's authority and may find himself in other jeopardy for actions that he undertook there.

So, he's boxed him in with this lawsuit. So, you know, I think what's interesting and what we need to think about and watch and see how it plays out and it will be significant as time goes on. It's always the cover-up or attempt to cover-up that causes problem for the people involved.

We saw it with Bill Clinton and now we're seeing it with Donald Trump. It's not the idea whether or not he had an extra marital affair, it's now what has he done to try to cover it up prior to the election and that's where we find ourselves and that's what he may be called to answer.

KEILAR: Her lawyer is trying to say that this contract is invalid because it required signatures of multiple people and Donald Trump himself did not sign it to try to have plausible deniability. Obviously, if Trump signed it, it's pretty clear that he knew what he was signing. Between that missing signature and Cohen's disclosure to the press that she was paid, does Stormy have a real case here? Is she free to speak?

MOORE: I think she's got a case. I think a first-year law student gets taught the parties to a contract have to acknowledge and agree to the contract. We're missing some evidence here this third party, this DD that they name this person by, acknowledged often and agreed this would in fact be the agreement in the contract.

I think it's a good case and I think it's a good claim. You know, we'll see at the end of the day what happens. One other thing to think about and look for, does a case settle quickly. Does it suddenly dismiss?

Could that be she's been paid more money and bringing the lawsuit because she wants to be free to sell her story to somebody else, so she can earn more than the $130,000 that she's apparently been paid by Mr. Cohen.

So, I think these are other things we'll watch for as things unfold and go forward. But again, it's the cover-up, the effort to try to suppress the truth that's going to cause Trump the biggest problem.

KEILAR: Yes, very interesting. Michael Moore, thank you so much. Democrats are dreaming of big blue surge in Texas this fall. Getting a dose of reality this morning after voters went to the poll's in yesterday's primary. The chairman of the DNC will join us live with his reaction next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:28:04]

KEILAR: The first votes of the 2018 election cycle have been counted but for all of the talk of a blue wave Democrats couldn't get over that red wall of Texas. Democratic voter turnout in last night's primary topped 1 million for first time since 2002, but 60 percent of the total votes went to GOP candidates and the head of the RNC told CNN that Texas is still very much a Republican state.

But Ted Cruz doesn't seem to be taking that for granted. He will face off against Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke, Cruz has already put out a new ad ridiculing his opponent's first name. Here's what they each had to say about it on CNN this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: In terms of the jingle, some of it, have a sense of humor. You actually miss the central title of the song, which is if you're going to run in Texas, you can't run as a liberal man.

We had some fun with it because, listen, Texans, there is a common sense conservative practicality.

REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS: We can get into name calling and talk about why the other person is such an awful guy or focus on the big things we want to do for the future of our country, for the generations that will succeed us.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez with me now. To be clear, what this opening salvo for Ted Cruz was, he says sort of poking fun, but he was taking aim at Beto O'Rourke for using the name Beto, which is a name that he has used his whole life, his name is Robert, but he doesn't use Robert.

And the insinuation really seems to be from Ted Cruz that he's trying to sell himself as Hispanic, but he's not actually Hispanic. I am the product of an immigrant past. That seems to be what Ted Cruz is saying. What's your reaction to that?

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: That is shameless. I mean, your first chance to make a first impression and you attack somebody's nickname they've had since they were an infant. What Beto O'Rourke is talking about is, how do we expand access to health care for people? How do we grow jobs?