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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

GOP Rep. Sanford: "Hush Money is a Big Deal"; Trump-Stormy Daniels Scandal Heats Up; Trade War?; President Trump Enacts Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 8, 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]

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mike? Get up here, Mike. Come on up.

Let's go take a picture in the Oval Office, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Great day. Great day.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: We're going to stop trans-shipping, or we will let it happen, but they got to pay.

So, trans-shipping, frankly, is a big deal. China says it's at 2 percent, but it sends much more. We are going to have a great relationship, hopefully, with China, but we have to do something.

We're losing with China $500 billion a year. We have to do something. And they trans-ship. And we're going to accept their product, but it's going to cost a lot of money from the standpoint of the trans- shipper, OK?

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: All right, welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper today.

What you just saw at the White House the result of chaos, confusion, and also some presidential conviction, and now new tariffs that might ultimately, might ultimately ignite a trade war. Even hours before, aides told CNN they were not totally sure what the

president would be signing, if anything, or if there would even be an event at all. But the invited guests from the steel and aluminum industries, they were already in town and a frustrated President Trump wanted something to tell voters about tariffs when he visited Pennsylvania this weekend.

The rollout really has been ugly from the beginning, and that's what you hear from Republicans in Congress. Rattling Wall Street investors last week, prompting resignation of the president's top economic adviser, Gary Cohen. There's pushback from close allies on Capitol Hill, not to mention key allies, international allies threatening retaliation or now considering it.

Let's go to CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

You were watching this event. The president seemed determined to get it done and he signed two documents today, despite sort of the misdirection and chaos that led up to it.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, he did indeed.

The president was driving the speed of this today. I'm told he wanted to get this done before the week's end. He wanted to make good on this promise. He saw some of the television coverage earlier this morning saying he may be delaying it to next week and told his advisers he wanted to do it today.

And, of course, there were some steelworkers behind him there in the Roosevelt Room here at the White House.

And just to break it down a little bit here, the president said that he would immediately at least temporarily exempt Canada and Mexico from this for national security reasons. But he also said that could change in the future depending on the negotiations or the re- negotiations of NAFTA here.

Now, there are many people in this town, mainly Republicans, who are opposed to this plan

Senator John Thune, of course, Republican of South Dakota, said just a few minutes ago, using the word bad three times, he said: "It's still just a bad, bad move. It will have bad consequences for our country."

Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, he said this could backfire, he believes, and is going to actually increase steel prices and slow plant production.

So, John, one of the questions here is the president was talking with nostalgia for the steel industry as he knew it growing up, as his father saw it, as some of the fathers of these workers in the room saw it, talking about bringing back steel.

One thing the president did not say I thought was striking, John, was automation. He did not talk about the fact the steel industry has, indeed, changed. One industry study said that the amount of steel that it took 10 hours to make in 1980 now takes two hours to make. So automation and how the economy has changed was not mentioned, but this is a campaign promise.

We will see where it goes from here in terms of our allies and others who say the U.S. could be on for a trade war -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Jeff Zeleny for us at the White House.

My panel now joins me with more on this.

Margaret Hoover, Republican strategist, you had a chance to watch this. Republican orthodoxy is not for tariffs for steel, yet this is something the president ran on. Your reaction to what you just saw?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, as a Republican who is a pro-trade Republican, I understand that every example we have -- I mean, if you ask anything about Republican or conservative orthodoxy or the last American conservative movement for the last 60 years, pro- trade, free markets, Milton Friedman, access to markets has been a critical part not just of that Republican orthodoxy, but for very good reason.

It's helped elevate the standard of living for Americans and other people around the world for more than 60, 70 years. It is a critical part not just of our economic plan and our economic strength, but it's also part of our national security strategy and strength.

[16:05:01]

This is a, I think, misguided, ill-advised short-term win for the president politically that will have mid-term and long-term consequences on the people who helped elect him and Americans and individuals around the world more globally, because when you begin to affect your own prices, you do risk -- what happened in March 2002 when President Bush enacted the steel tariffs?

The E.U. responded immediately by also enacting some other tariffs. Nobody wins.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: And the Bush White House ultimately retreated from that.

One thing this was not, Alex Burns, was a tariff on all steel and aluminum coming to the United States. And it was just last week the president seemed to indicate it would be. And the architect of this, Peter Navarro, his trade adviser flat-out said there would be no exemptions.

Listen to what Peter Navarro said about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: as soon as you start exempting countries, you have to raise the tariffs on everybody else.

As soon as you exempt one country, then you have to exempt another country. And -- and so it -- it's a slippery slope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: He said no exemptions.

Let me just read you the exemptions right now. Canada and Mexico are exempt right away. They are number one and four in terms of steel exporters to the United States, and then everyone else will able to negotiate, particularly U.S. allies.

Well, if you look at one through 10 on the list, that would be Brazil, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Taiwan. The only countries who are not necessarily in complete cooperation with the U.S. on all things are Russia, be that as it may, take that for what it is, in this case, and China, which is number 10 on the list.

The president caved on this.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He caved up to a point, and this is going to be part of over the next 15 days the I think continuing dance we see between the president and the congressional Republican Party.

I talked to a couple Republican members of Congress over the last week, all of whom basically said they didn't want to go at the president hammer and tongs on this until they found out what he would actually say.

And in some ways, he probably buys himself even more time to push forward this policy that, you know, an avowed free trader is never going to like. But there are degrees of dislike, right, and there are degrees of whether it's really worth a blowup between the president and the congressional Republican Party if at the end of the day this ends looking like a substantially watered down version of what he announced last week.

We don't know that's where this is headed. He could very well say Canada and Mexico and no further.

BERMAN: Right, but he's not saying that. Today, the door is wide open to exemptions. So, Republicans on Capitol Hill, while they are not thrilled, got something of what they wanted, though the president still got something of what he wanted, Joan, with this a picture surrounded by steelworkers there, which is a good picture.

This is a Reaganesque -- Michael Deaver could have set this up today with those people there, the day before or two days before the president goes down to Pennsylvania.

JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

This really looked like a campaign rally. It looked, it sounded like. He talked about loving the workers. He talked about the farmers. He talked how good he is going to be to all these people. It was political theater, and nothing more.

I don't think Margaret necessarily has a lot to worry about, because he's leaving the door open to exempting virtually everybody. He's saying everybody is negotiate. I know, you can worry. But it could be this is completely meaningless in the long run.

HOOVER: In which case it's a win-win for Republicans. Right?

Maybe the president gets his photo-op. He gets to go run on it, and the Republicans who actually care about the policy can make this into a Swiss cheese sort of tariff situation whereby our allies -- we get what we need out of it.

BERMAN: There was a moment at the end of the signing where Steve Mnuchin, the secretary of treasury, had to tell the president to go actually sign the document, had to go remind him.

And as a capstone sort of what has been a bizarre 10 days on this, Alex, which is it's never been clear what the policy was, if they decided on it, if they thought it through, if they had made a decision about even when to announce it or how to announce it.

And this isn't, again, a minor thing. When you are talking about something that can have such a big impact on U.S. allies, not to mention industry, it came out in a half-assed way.

BURNS: It certainly did.

And it's worth reflecting on, yes, it's possible he ends up making all kinds of exemptions. There's already been irreversible consequences to the president having gone down this path. He's lost his chief economic adviser, right? That's a big deal both within the White House and in terms of the larger relationship the White House has with private industry, with finance in the country.

We don't know that a Gary Cohn-like figure is going to take that job next. And so to me, there's reasons for hope on the Hill among free traders, among more conventional Republicans. I wouldn't necessarily say that there's reason for optimism.

BERMAN: They are just confused and their heads are spinning right now.

If you talk to any Republican on the Hill, they're just like, we don't know what's going to happen next.

WALSH: They have no idea.

BERMAN: They have no idea.

All right, guys, stand by. We have much more to talk about.

Right now, I'm going to turn to another scandal rocking the White House, the Stormy Daniels saga.

The adult film actress, her attorney is telling CNN that President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is still, still pressuring her to keep quiet about her alleged affair with then candidate -- well, I guess he wasn't even candidate Trump -- he was just private citizen Donald Trump, pressuring her to stay quiet as recently as yesterday.

[16:10:06]

But the one catching the president's ire is Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

A source tells CNN he's angry over her responses that essentially admitted the existence of a nondisclosure agreement and the president was involved in some ways.

I want to get right to CNN's Drew Griffin on this.

Drew, Stormy Daniels' lawyer says they are now fighting a restraining order from Cohen.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: That he says, John, amounts to harassment by Cohen, but the terms for seeking to silence her through this restraining order is in that hush agreement that Stormy Daniels did sign when she agreed to keep quiet about her affair in exchange for the $130,000.

Now, theoretically, she could face a $1 million fine for violating the agreement, but that means the president would have to take her to court. John, it's about to get messy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): With details of the alleged affair, the pre- election payment and even the acknowledgement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders that the president was involved.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can share that the arbitration was won in the president's favor.

GRIFFIN: President Trump and his private attorney Michael Cohen find themselves caught in a perfect storm of their own making.

Legally, their next move could be to enforce the nondisclosure agreement to silence Stormy Daniels by bringing her to court, but bringing her to court would risk revealing all the sordid details in public. They are stuck.

Legal experts say Michael Cohen's mistakes include admitting he paid Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000, drawing up a sloppy now public nondisclosure agreement, missing Donald Trump's signature, and sending the payment through a secretive Delaware corporation that has his own name attached to it.

All this has, according to Clifford's new attorney, made the rush to silence his client before the election look like a legal hack job.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: The way that this was handled and the documentation, quite honestly, this was amateur hour, Anderson. This is very, very sloppy. It's very, very messy. It is shocking, quite honestly, that something of this magnitude was handled in this way in the waning days of the 2016 presidential election.

GRIFFIN: The legal fight to ensue between President Trump, Michael Cohen, and a porn actress amounts to a contract dispute between private parties.

The bigger picture and perhaps bigger storm now focuses on what the president knew and when. Campaign finance watchdog attorney Paul Ryan says the just filed lawsuit provides a trail of allegations that the president knew of the plan to keep Stephanie Clifford silent.

PAUL SEAMUS RYAN, COMMON CAUSE: We have Stephanie Clifford in the legal filings in court saying Donald Trump initiated and directed all of this. That's the first important fact. Second new important factual allegation is the whole purpose of this negotiation, Donald Trump's purpose for engaging in these negotiations was to help ensure his victory in the 2016 election.

GRIFFIN: According to the complaint filed by Common Cause with the Federal Elections Commissioner and the U.S. Department of Justice, that $130,000 undisclosed payment amounts to an illegal campaign contribution or expenditure, in other words, a crime.

RYAN: If this FEC does not investigate, and that's all we're asking for, does not open investigation into this matter, this FEC is hopeless.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: But as you know, John, the Federal Elections Commission is well-known for its lack of investigating just about anything, and in its current political makeup, it's almost a certainty the case will go nowhere.

Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, in the past has called this complaint by Common Cause baseless, along with the allegation that President Trump filed a false report to the FEC -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Drew Griffin, thanks so much.

One Republican is now talking about this Stormy Daniels' scandal, and, considering his past, the person may surprise you. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:20] BERMAN: Back now with the political panel, the Stormy Daniels story which is really starting to be an issue within the White House and inside Washington. Just moments ago, the House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked about this at a press conference. Listen to what the speaker said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WIS.), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm not even -- I haven't put in -- I haven't put a second's of thought into this. It's just not on my radar screen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, Joan, Speaker Ryan claims it's not even on his screen. Is that because, A, his radar screen has parental controls, or, B, because he's dodging this issue and doesn't want to get anywhere near it?

JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's dodging this issue. His radar screen isn't tune to take in very much as far as I can tell. He wants to give the president a pass about this. He wants to make this a silly story, and, look, if this was a consenting relationship, which it was, in some ways it's better than, you know, the 19 allegations against the president of nonconsensual touching.

This was consensual. It becomes our business when they put together hush money, they put together a contract and we don't know where the money came from and it happened in the days before the election.

BERMAN: That is what is alleged to have happened here, so it became maybe by those standards our business.

WALSH: It's absolutely our business.

BERMAN: I will say one person who agrees with Paul Ryan to an extent is the Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who said today she doesn't think this is something that Congress should shake up. The other side of that, however, is Mark Sanford, right, the congressman from South Carolina who you'll remember liked to hike up the Appalachian Trail. So, consider the source, it's interesting he's weighing in. But what he says is worth looking at.

Mark Sanford says hush money is a big deal, particularly if it's not ancient history. We're talking about a payment in October of 2016. That's not a long time ago. We're talking about money that was exchanged in the midst of a presidential campaign.

[16:20:01] I think that's problematic, and I think it needs to be viewed for what it is.

Alex, you know, Mark Sanford maybe on a little bit of an island. I talked to Francis Rooney, you know, an ally of the president from Florida early today and he said that this is abhorrent.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think you have to view Mark Sanford actually as someone who has exceptional credibility on this subject. That is --

(LAUGHTER)

BURNS: In all seriousness, I think it's fun to sort of snicker about Mark Sanford, but this is a guy who had a consensual extramarital affair, and went before the press corps and --

BERMAN: Said it. BURNS: -- humiliated himself with this tearful confession, right, and answered a wide range of questions that far beyond what any politician who I can remember in a consensual extramarital relationship fessed up to. That's obviously what we're not getting here from the White House. And I think what a lot of folks on the Hill, in both parties, feel about this is that they don't really want to go there yet because they don't have any idea where this is headed.

And if you're a Republican, this is maybe just one more ticking time bomb, maybe one month, two months, six months down the road, you're going to have to deal with it in a very big, big way. But for now, it's easy enough for them to say this is just one more thing nobody thinks the president is saying and I don't really need to weigh in.

BERMAN: Margaret, you're shaking your head and I can't tell why.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because Republican voters don't care about this. There's -- of all the things the Republicans voters and also Trump voters, this is just not registering. It's not penetrating at all. In fact, the way the right wing media is covering this is that this is a woman who wants her own reality TV show, who got a good legal team, who's coming back to create this case all for publicity so that she can get rich and famous herself.

And so -- and that's, you know, this goes along with the president's line when not yet president, said he could go to the middle of 5th Avenue and shot someone in the head and nobody would care. And nobody cares about an affair that he had right now, and whether they should or shouldn't, but it's not registering.

WALSH: His voters don't have to care for it to be a crime. And I'm not saying, we don't have evidence yet that it is a crime. But if it is, it matters, regardless if Trump voters are saying, he's just -- this is a man we knew. He was the man we voted for.

HOOVER: Even the rule of law, it matters.

BERMAN: The one fact that's not in dispute at this point appears to be that there was hush money, right? I mean, I think all sides agree, which is extraordinary to say that. Everyone agrees that this woman was paid $130,000 to keep quiet.

WALSH: And Sarah Sanders really stepped in it. I mean, she's been the golden child since taking over. But I think she's in a loot of trouble because she was the first person associated with the president to actually confirm that there's some sort of agreement. It went to arbitration. She alleges it went in his favor, but that confirmed that there's an agreement of some sort. So, you know, she's on shaky grounds now.

BERMAN: You know, Alex Burns, the Mark Sanford standard here, since you are a disciple or at least a follower of what he preachers here shall we say, look, he said among other things, if this were a Democratic president, Republicans would be all over it. And it's hard to argue that appointment, particularly, again, talking about the hush money aspect of it. If this were a Democratic president and he was accused of these things, there'd be hearings.

BURNS: Oh, there's no question, and next year, there were very well could be hearings depending on who is control of the House. And frankly, there could be conceivably be some movement on the Republican side before then just depending where the story goes. I don't want to be just the guy who's slapping a caveat on everything, that we don't know how serious this is going to get.

But, you know, when we say right now that this is not registering or that voters don't care, we'll see if voters care in six months. And, you know, I don't know that we're ever going to see a linear relationship that voters see the Stormy Daniels story and go out and vote accordingly, but it does set a mood for the way people feel about what's going on.

BERMAN: Captain Caveat, that can be your new nickname, right? I want to hear briefly from the lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, Michael Avenatti, right now, who is talking about not the law here in the case, but he was wading into politics. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: The idea that somehow President Trump didn't know anything about this, and that attorney Cohen was just running off and doing what he thought was best without any consultation with President Trump, it is patently absurd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It's interesting, Margaret, because that's really in the realm of politics right now. I'm not even sure that matters legally, but he is all in on this fight right now.

HOOVER: I mean, he also -- he made some other sort of flippant comments about the president winning the popular vote. I mean, we know where he stands and assume he would be in support of his client and not in support of the president having taken up this case.

BERMAN: All right, guys, thank you very much.

Don't talk to them. Who is President Trump reportedly being warned to avoid? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:37] BERMAN: All right, today's President Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty in charges of bank fraud and tax crimes. This comes as another one of President Trump's ex-campaign heads, Corey Lewandowski, just wrapped up testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.

The top Democrat on the committee says he refused to answer some relevant questions and needs to come back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Now, these included questions about the production of the false statement concerning the Trump Tower meeting, questions about the firing of James Comey, as well as any discussions that Mr. Lewandowski had with the president about the potential of firing Bob Mueller.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I want to get right to CNN's Jessica Schneider.

And, Jessica, are Republicans on the committee willing to subpoena Lewandowski?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's uncertain. So far, Congressman Schiff says Republicans have only responded that they would take issuing a subpoena under advisement and really, given the division between the Republicans and Democrats on that committee, it could be somewhat of a stretch. Now, Lewandowski's interview today before the House Intelligence Committee came at the same time another former Trump campaign official actually faced a judge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort back in court this time in Virginia, pleading not guilty to 18 counts of bank fraud and tax crimes. Manafort has maintained his innocence in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation even as his former co-defendant and campaign deputy Rick Gates pleaded guilty to separate charges as part of a plea deal two weeks ago.