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White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Comments on Arbitration Between President and Actress Stormy Daniels; President Trump to Meet with Steel and Aluminum Workers; Interview with Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; Interview with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 8:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea President Trump didn't know anything about this is patently absurd.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hopefully I'll be able to tell my side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are urging caution that this could send the economy in the wrong direction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants to address the trade imbalances, we're moving fully ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This wasn't thought through at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is completely improper to interrogate witnesses after they provided testimony. We saw this before in Watergate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's perfectly normal for anyone to be concerned about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What this does show is a heightened sense of paranoia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, March 8th, 8:00 in the east. President Trump is touting a meeting that he will hold with steel and aluminum workers at the White House this afternoon. However, there is still confusion as to whether the president will unveil today the details of that controversial plan to impose these new tariffs.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Also the White House is fighting back reports that the president's personal lawyer is trying to silence a porn star alleging an affair with the president a decade ago. This, as CNN is learning that President Trump is upset with his press secretary. Why? We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip live at the White House with breaking details. What did Sarah Sanders do?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. It seems the president is not very happy with her explanation of his involvement in this case involving Stormy Daniels. Sarah Sanders yesterday acknowledged for the first time that President Trump -- that there was a non-disclosure agreement that President Trump was a part of when she talked about this issue of arbitration. And now a source close to the White House has told CNN's Jim Acosta that he's upset she went there in the briefing yesterday. In fact, this source says POTUS is very unhappy Sarah gave Stormy Daniels, that storyline steroids yesterday.

Listen to what Sarah Sanders said exactly on this issue of an arbitration case that would have happened in the last week involving the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration, and anything beyond that I would refer you to the president's outside counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said there's arbitration that's already been won? By whom and when?

SANDERS: By the president's personal attorneys, and for details on that, I would refer you to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're aware of them. So what more can you share with us?

SANDERS: I can share that the arbitration was won in the president's favor. And I would refer you to the president's outside counsel on any details beyond that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: The key point here being in the president's favor. That is an acknowledgment by the White House for the first time that the president is directly involved in this saga, ongoing saga with Stormy Daniels over an alleged affair. This situation is now expanding beyond what we thought we knew. Up until this point the White House had seemed to deny that the president knew anything about this whatsoever.

Now, on the issue of tariffs that you mentioned earlier in this intro, that is still brewing here at the White House. President Trump getting a little bit ahead of his own staff this morning, sending out a tweet just a few minutes ago announcing that there will be a 3:30 p.m. meeting on steel and aluminum tariffs. It is really not clear what this meeting is going to involve, whether it's going to involve the actual signing of a legal document authorizing these tariffs to go into place. We know there will be a meeting, but as of last night, late last night, White House officials were telling CNN that plans for an actual signing had been scuttled despite the fact that steel and aluminum workers were being flown into Washington for some kind of event. We still don't know if the legal part of this will be done in time for the president to be able to say that this is a done deal by this afternoon, Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, stay with us if you would because we're going to need more details as they break from the White House, which seems to be happening minute by minute. We also want to bring in CNN Political Director David Chalian. David, I admit, I'm confused how Sarah Sanders could have run afoul of the president and the president be angry with her this morning about what she said because what she said was that the Trump, Stephanie Clifford, Stormy Daniels arbitration was won in the president's favor. That didn't roll off her tongue. That's not an extemporaneous thought. These are prepared remarks that Sarah Sanders comes to the podium with.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And there are only two people, right, that could have given her that information, or maybe three, Michael Cohen, the president of the United States, or Michael Cohen's attorney in this matter. Clearly she got that piece of information to share.

But you and Abby are both right to underscore that -- in the president's favor, by saying that expression, and I don't know if that was part of the written remarks or if she was supposed to just stick to "arbitration was won," in the president's favor, I have to agree with the president's analysis according to Jim Acosta's reporting that this is putting steroids into this story because we now hear from the podium for the very first time that the president is party to this dispute with someone who is accusing him of having an affair and being paid off to be silent about that affair. The president now is at the center of this. And if Sarah Sanders' job yesterday was to go and try to put this story to bed, I think she did just the opposite.

CUOMO: So let's test that theory because in fact, Abby, the president is not at the center of the legal dispute. It's in my hand. The arbitration case lists as the claimant EC LLC, which is Michael Cohen's consulting, LLC. The president is not mentioned. He is not party to it. He was mentioned by a pseudonym in the NDA which he didn't sign. But legally this is still not about Trump. So this is really about the political implications in the court of public opinion. It's not about the actual legalities. Fair point?

PHILLIP: I think to some extent it is fair. But I think that's exactly why what Sarah said yesterday was so problematic. What she suggested is that the president really is at the center of it, that despite what Michael Cohen has been saying, Michael Cohen is a lawyer who has been saying that his client was not directly aware he was doing all these things on his behalf because his job for Trump has been to be the fixer of problems.

So for Sarah Sanders to now come out and say it was won in the president's favor, it suggests that the president is the person who is at the center of this case, that it's a case between the president and Stormy Daniels. That's what Stormy has been saying all along. And for Sarah to acknowledge that I think is problematic at the very least in the court of public opinion. But it might go towards Stormy's case that at the end of the day Michael Cohen was acting on behalf of Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: The bigger issue, David, that you can address as well, is if this violates campaign finance laws. So if the president was aware of this, if he instructed the $130,000 payment, then it seems to more likely be a case of violation of campaign finance laws because it happened right before the election in order to perhaps keep the president from losing the election.

CHALIAN: Right. It would be sort of an illegal contribution to the campaign in some way. That seems to be a second step here. The campaign finance law issue is not part of the actual dispute.

But I would just add, guys, when Michael Cohen admitted to paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, he admitted to doing so to protect Donald Trump. And what the political argument that Sarah Sanders helped bolster is that indeed he did do this to protect Donald Trump because they got a ruling that's in the president's favor. She basically linked arms with Michael Cohen on this matter yesterday as opposed to trying to distance the president from it.

CUOMO: So what's the so what on this, though? Because if you're a Trump voter, we've seen in the polls, people believe that his personal choices are such as what they seem, obviously, and they don't care. They voted for him anyway. Even evangelicals voted for him in a way that they haven't since Ronald Reagan even more than they did for him. So who cares, unless Donald Trump winds up sitting across from an FBI member and doesn't tell the truth about this and you're right back where Clinton was many years ago.

CAMEROTA: David?

CHALIAN: That's me? I agree with you. I don't think this is going to affect his support overall. I totally agree with that, Chris, although I will say it does beg the question, if you look at what some of his most ardent supporters, white evangelical leaders said back in the '90s about Bill Clinton and that they seemed to be willing to give him a mulligan on this, I think that they need to sort of explain that discrepancy there.

But I agree, I'm not even sure, by the way, Chris, if indeed Stormy Daniels told her story right before the election that it would have upended the result of the election. I'm not convinced of that either. But we do have two different versions of events. There is Stormy Daniels's stories and the president's story. One of them is lying. He is the president of the United States. I think it's worth finding out if he's lying or not to the American people about this.

PHILLIP: I would agree with what David just said. It's important whether or not president is telling the truth. It would be one thing if the White House weren't making a statement one way or the other about the truthfulness of the allegations. But the White House is saying officially that the president denies that this happened, the president denies the allegations against him. If that turns out to be untrue, that's very important. It's important now and it might be important going down the road as Republicans are trying to hold on to Congress and there is this constant stream of what seems to be scandal coming from this White House.

CUOMO: Right. And look, Stormy Daniels or what's her --

CAMEROTA: Stephanie Clifford.

CUOMO: Stephanie Clifford, her credibility is already in trouble, right, for several reasons. One, she told different stories about this. In this pleading says once again goes back to saying yes, I did have an intimate affair. So that's where she is right now. She also took the money and she cut the deal. So now she wants a better deal. That is not recognized well in the court of law.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's talk about policy. So Abby, the confusion is -- we know the president favors these tariffs. But the confusion is that there was -- you, I believe, heard there was going to be an announcement at 3:30 this afternoon. There might even be something signed. There was going to be certainly the policy position laid out about it. And now, has that changed to just being a meeting with some steel and aluminum workers?

PHILLIP: Alisyn, I think it's still very unclear what exactly is going to happen this afternoon. At the very least because the president is in charge here, he says there is going to be a meeting. So there will be some kind of meeting happening this afternoon.

But it's a real issue whether or not there's a legal foundation for what the president is going to sign today. One of the big open question marks here is who and what is going to be exempted from these tariffs. The White House still has to work out how and if they are going to exempt Mexico and Canada, for example. The president mentioned trying to be good to our friends in that tweet this morning. They have to work that out from a legal perspective.

So last night there was real confusion. They thought they were going to be able to do this by this afternoon. And then later in the afternoon it seemed like they didn't think they could get it done in time if what the president wanted to do was actually sign a document and hold it up as he often does and say this is what I promise. It's not clear they'll be able to get that done this afternoon.

But perhaps they could get it done by Friday. What he wants to be able to do is go to Pennsylvania over the weekend and say I have put in place the tariffs that I promised, in this critical Republican district, in a Republican race where it could be beneficial to that candidate to have a president who is fulfilling promises on this trade agenda, bringing back the steel and aluminum industries.

CAMEROTA: All right, thank you very much. David Chalian, Abby Phillip, let us know as soon as you have any more information.

CUOMO: So look, there's no question that the president has a problem with tariff idea in his own party. You've got more than 100 members of the GOP blasting this idea. Up next, Republican Senator Ron Johnson is going to tell us why he's against it. And we're going to ask him what's he going to do about it, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:16:15] CUOMO: More than 100 House Republicans signing a letter, urging President Trump to reconsider his proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum. The White House scrambling to finalize its policy, and announcing Mexico and Canada may be exempt.

Joining us is Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who opposes the tariffs.

Good to see you, Senator.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Good morning, Chris. How are you doing?

CUOMO: All right. First, let's deal with -- I'm doing well, thank you. First, let's deal with the politics. You wrote a letter. He doesn't care.

How does that make you feel as a GOP senator?

JOHNSON: Listen, I don't think anybody to agree with me 100 percent of the time. So, you know, on trade, there's obviously a wide divide within this country and between individuals. So, it doesn't surprise. President Trump has had this position literally for decades.

But I come from a manufacturing background. I have exported product to 20, 25 countries around the world. I understand global supply chains. And I just view this as potentially -- if it's widespread. If it's targeted toward China, depending on how it's tailored, I may not have a problem with it, because that's where the root cause of the problem is, the gross oversupply within China --

CUOMO: Right.

JOHNSON: -- and their trade abuses.

But a generalized tariff that would actually harm allies, harm American consumers, by the way, harm American workers that use steel in production, hurting their competitive nature in global markets as well, I'm opposed to that.

CUOMO: All right. So, there are two obstacles here and we should discuss them both. The first one is whom is he helping, OK? The promise is attractive to his base and to workers in general. You're going to make it better for us. We're going to have more jobs.

But is that true when you have so many more workers, literally exponentially more affected because of their use of these materials than the workers involved in the manufacture of the materials?

JOHNSON: Sure. One study after President Bush tried to do this in 2002 said there are about 2,000 jobs lost in steel using industries. You're talking about somewhere 6.5 million to 7.5 million workers in industries, manufacturers that utilize steel versus probably under 150,000 in steel mills. And so, you're left to wonder what would the increased prices do even

for those workers in the steel mills? Maybe a couple mills might open up, maybe a few more jobs might be created. But you're literally risking hundreds of thousands of jobs in other industries that utilize steel. Their cost is going to increase. Their product is going to be less competitive on global markets.

And, oh, by the way, American consumers will pay higher prices, as well those steel workers for higher priced goods because of the raw materials increased.

CUOMO: So, if it's that obvious on an economic level, you have to ask why is he doing it anyway? Impulsivity aside, do you really think that he might be just loading the deck for a trip to Pennsylvania for a special election in one congressional district?

JOHNSON: I really can't answer that. I do know it's actually --

CUOMO: You must.

JOHNSON: It's actually very disappointing that free and fair trade is not politically popular. I don't understand it myself, again, having been in manufacturing, participated in global markets. But there's been a fair amount of demagoguery on all sides of the aisle on this issue.

And so, the American public in general does not support free and fair trade. I think that's unfortunate. I think that's just an incorrect economic position to take.

CUOMO: The second obstacle is this is not power derived from his seat. This is power given to him by Congress back in the '60s. There is a threshold that the president has to make the case that it is a matter of national security interest.

Do you believe that threshold is met?

JOHNSON: I don't believe so. The figures I've seen, the Defense Department uses about 3 percent of American-produced steel. Our largest supplier, foreign supplier of steel is Canada. I'm pretty confident that Canada is a solid ally of ours, a friend of America.

[08:20:00] So, I don't believe it meets the national security threshold at all.

CUOMO: And now, their latest move may work against them in the White House. Now, they're saying, first, Pete Navarro said -- I don't know how well you know him, but he was somewhat of a nondescript character in this White House until this issue came up and Gary Cohn got squeezed out over it. Now, Navarro seems to be driving the bus on this, that's politics. He said no exemptions, can't make exemptions, sends the wrong signal when you have any exemptions.

Now they're saying there will be exemptions, and it's probably Canada and Mexico. And that's because of forcing the hand on NAFTA. But if it's about NAFTA, then how is it about national security? JOHNSON: Well, being the senator from Wisconsin, what I do know about

NAFTA is Wisconsin has a trade surplus with both Canada and Mexico. One thing that's kind of lost in this whole conversation when we talk about trade deficits, I would much rather export $2.3 trillion and have a trade deficit than have a trade surplus and only export $1 trillion, as well as the fact in the private sector, suppliers treat customers really well. America, we are the world's largest market, the world's biggest customer, and so our suppliers, other countries that import into our country really ought to treat us well, and they do.

And so, our trade posture can really be an effective foreign policy tool, do an awful lot of good. We can wield an awful lot of influence because of that. And again, if we start engaging in trade wars, I don't believe anybody wins a trade war quite honestly. There may be people that are harmed less, maybe America is in a better position, but I think there's so much collateral damage, I think it's a risky and dangerous strategy.

CUOMO: So, Senator, you're often identified as somebody to look for some semblance of progress on issues that matter for the American people, not just in the proving yourself right all the business, which seems to be a big function of partisan side of things. That takes us back to what you were involved in, this imbroglio over FISA and what's going on in our intelligence community.

Do you have any regrets about getting caught up in those false notions of secret societies and the like?

JOHNSON: No, Chris. What I asked everybody to do is read our very detailed report on our investigation in the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal and the FBI's investigation of that. Very detailed. An awful lot of questions that have been raised as a result.

I'm just trying to get to the bottom of that for full public disclosure. I think the American public has a right to know what's been happening in the FBI and Department of Justice.

CUOMO: Now, look, I hear you on that. And I read it. But there's no secret society. There's no proof there was conspiracy going on to undermine justice. You know that.

JOHNSON: Not my phrase. I just said and it's true. I had an informant that's talking about secret meetings. That's all I said.

CUOMO: Well, you are in high dungeon. You were in high dungeon.

JOHNSON: No, I made the comment one time and others blew it out of proportion. My main concern is the possible corruption within the FBI and Department of Justice in this particular investigation and how that may affect their other work.

CUOMO: But you don't believe there's a secret society?

JOHNSON: We continue -- we continue to do our investigation. We'll continue to uncover facts. We're looking forward to the inspector general's report on the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal and we'll continue to do our work. There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered.

CUOMO: Fine. You don't believe there's a secret society?

JOHNSON: Not my term. There may have been off-site meetings. I have information there were. But again, that's almost beside the point.

My main concern is the investigation. It was not really meant to uncover the truth or prosecute, it's really meant to cover up and exonerate. I'm concerned about that type of investigation from the FBI and Department of Justice.

CUOMO: I totally get you. The truth has to be the side that we all have to decide to join. But you don't want to smear the intelligence community without cause. We know it seems to work for the president. But we hope the people will be better than that.

JOHNSON: I'm not. I'm just asking the questions. Others blow certain things way out of proportion. I'm trying not to. I'm just trying to get to the facts.

CUOMO: All right.

JOHNSON: The American people deserve the truth.

CUOMO: Senator, you are always welcome on this show to make your case to the American people.

JOHNSON: Appreciate that. Have a great day.

CUOMO: See you, Senator.

Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris.

It has been three weeks since the massacre in Parkland, Florida. So what's happening in terms of fighting gun violence on Capitol Hill? We'll ask House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer that and more, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:28:08] CAMEROTA: It has been three weeks since the Florida school massacre. The Florida legislature now has a bill sitting on the governor's desk that tries to tackle gun violence and school safety. What has the U.S. Congress done in that time?

Let's ask House minority whip, Congressman Steny Hoyer.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: Hi. How are you?

CAMEROTA: I'm doing well. So, let's talk about what Florida has put on the governor's desk.

They -- here is what the conditions are of this legislation. They want to raise the minimum age for purchase to 21, require a three-day waiting period, ban bump stocks, give police more power to seize weapons, those sort of temporary restraining orders if a family member or friend flags that somebody is a danger to themselves or others, allow additional funding for armed school officers and allow school staff, meaning teachers, you know, those who are trained, to be armed.

So, that's what Florida is doing. We'll see if the governor is going to sign that. What's happening in the halls of Congress?

HOYER: First let me say, those are some positive steps. I don't believe with every one of them, particularly the arming of teachers which I think is a mistake.

But having said that, I think it's some movement. There has been no movement, however, here. And that's unfortunate.

We have been trying to get comprehensive background checks which the overwhelming majority, 97 percent of the public supports taking steps so everybody has a background check and we can preclude those who are criminals, multiple misdemeanor offenders, people who are on the terrorist watch list, people who are with mental health problems from getting guns.

We can't get that piece of legislation, overwhelmingly supported by the American people, on the agenda, on the floor.

CAMEROTA: And why not?

HOYER: It will pass. Because the Republicans refuse to do it. The Republicans --

CAMEROTA: But why is that? Explain to us why -- as you point out, everybody talks about background checks. That seems to be something that there is wide consensus on. So, what's the sticking point?

HOYER: Well, I think the only conclusion one can draw is that NRA is opposed to it and they don't want to offend the NRA.