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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Trump Signals Wider Senior Staff Shake-Up Soon; Pennsylvania Congressional Race Leaves GOP Dems Asking What's Next in Washington; Session Considering Whether to Fire McCabe; New Connections Between Stormy Daniels and Trump Organization Revealed. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired March 14, 2018 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:03] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the second hour of 360. After another in what could be parade of arrivals and departures the White House on the table, not just the arrival of a new economic adviser after the firing of the Secretary of State, but signals as well of a much larger staff shake-up.
Also tonight, what is the apparent victory of a Democratic candidate in a deep red Congressional district had to say about the midterms in November?
And later, following the money in the Stormy Daniels saga and the links, including one that leads to a Trump golf property in Southern California and a Trump attorney.
First all the seismic activity that could be the first rumblings of a bigger staff shake-up at the White House. For that, Jeff Zeleny is at the White House for us tonight. So what have you learned about other possible staff changes that may be coming down the pike?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you're definitely getting the sense of a spring cleaning kind of mood and moment here at the White House. The President has talked to his advisers that he is planning on making some changes. He said out loud he is about ready to have the cabinet that he wants. Never mind that we're 14, almost 15 months into this administration.
But the reality here is we are expecting some changes either tomorrow or by Friday, potentially of his cabinet. The people, we hear the most talked about, David Shulkin, the Veterans Affairs Secretary, of course under fire for mismanagement, a variety of other things. Also the National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, said to be, you know, not a matter of if but when he'll be leaving. And that sound behind me here, if you can hear it, Anderson is the President returning from St. Louis. So he is back here at the White House. We'll see if he talks this evening, but he definitely seems to have some more staff shake-up on his mind.
COOPER: And you said some of these changes may happen even this week?
ZELENY: It certainly seems like that. There is a sense of edge and anxiety here. And there is a sense that the President wants to get on with it. He wants to move forward with this and get his team in place.
Now, we also hear conversations about White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. How long will he be in place? Of course we've heard these rumblings for months and months, but the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week is a reminder that if the President's in a firing mood, something else could happen all at once here or, Anderson, it could not. It is entirely controlled by his decision. Most people here at the White House do not know when or if he will make these announcements. He's likely to do so on Twitter.
COOPER: All right.
COOPER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.
Joining us, two people who have seen shake-ups up close, the two Davids, Axelrod of the Obama administration, and Gergen of -- well, many, many administrations dating back to Richard Nixon.
So, David Gergen, I mean, looking at who's been fired, who's survived, what conclusions do you draw about what the President values in his staff and where this administration is headed, or can you?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he values two things, Anderson, increasingly. One is that he wants to be his own man. He wants to do solo. He thinks a lot of people around him have been like training wheels. He doesn't need it anymore.
But also I think he's looking for surrogates to go out on television. I think he's trying to assembly a team of surrogates. He replaced Tillerson with somebody he thought could make a much more forceful argument for him. Gary Cohn was not often on television, but Larry Kudlow is of course -- he has been on television for 30 years and he can go out and defend. And I think with H.R. McMaster, it's interesting that just in the last few days, the President had John Bolton to speak for an hour, and it looked reading the tea leaves that he might be coming in to replace McMaster. And of course he's very effective, articulate on television.
I think the President's trying to bolster his P.R. team among other things heading toward 2018 elections.
COOPER: David Axelrod, I mean, what message do you think the turnover sends not only to the remaining staff but anyone else that might be coming into this administration?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, obviously this is -- you know, when you have said before there were seismic changes. When you have a volcanic President, you're going to have seismic changes. And that doesn't create a very good working environment.
But, you know, I think what's happening, Anderson, it was always odd, you know, Gary Cohn, he really didn't match the campaign that the President ran. Tillerson was suggested to him by the foreign policy establishment that he derided as a candidate, and you always have the sense that they were there to mind the President. And he now is throwing that off and saying, I don't want that. I don't need people to tell me what to do. I don't want people to tell me what to do. And he's bringing in people who reflect his point of view and who will not challenge him.
And that is concerning in a President who doesn't read, who gets a lot of his information from "Fox & Friends," and who operates off of instinct. You know, we saw it with Korea. We saw it with the tariffs. I'm just going to do these things. Well, if there's no one there to stop him, that can have some pretty catastrophic consequences.
COOPER: David Gergen, though, if, you know, doing things the way he wants to do them got him this far, why shouldn't he continue doing that if he feels he's sort of learned the ropes at the White House at this point?
GERGEN: Well, they've gotten them this far but they've got him down to 35 percent approval ratings. And you know, he's got one big legislative accomplishment on taxes, but he's failed at most other things.
[21:04:57] And you know, so I wouldn't think that the last 14 months is a good guide that he rely on his instincts. His instincts for campaigning as we know are first class but it's interesting to -- although I don't like them, but his instincts for governing are terrible.
But I just want to say one other thing, Anderson, usually a President somewhere much later in the first term does start looking for a second string, maybe after the re-election. I look for a second string, usually that second string is weaker than the first string. And the way this President has said good-bye to people, the shabby way he treated Secretary Tillerson, never before have we seen a cabinet officer dismissed in such a -- it was just pointless and really rude the way he was treated. It's really hard after that to find extremely talented people who are willing to come in, put their reputations on the line, work their tails off for this guy, and then be treated as shabbily as Rex Tillerson.
AXELROD: That is true, David, but never before have we seen a secretary of state call the President a moron before.
COOPER: And not deny it time and time again.
AXELROD: There's all kinds of new ground we're charting here.
GERGEN: Yes. So I mean, look, I don't think he treated Tillerson the right way. That's not the way you dismiss a cabinet member. But on the other hand, I think it's more concerning that you have people working for you who think that about you. And it should be concerning to the country that they thought that about him. So in some ways he's going to get the cabinet that he wants, as he says. In other ways, he's not going to have people there who offer the depth of experience that perhaps he needs.
COOPER: You know, David Gergen, I mean, it was interesting that during the campaign, I remember the President saying he wanted to have different viewpoints. He liked to have people arguing and for him to make up his own mind. Do you think that's actually the case based on the changes?
GERGEN: He said that about Larry Kudlow coming in just in the last short while, that they disagreed over tariffs for example. And then he said, because I like to have diverse viewpoints. That is not the case broadly speaking. He's now looking for people who are much more consistent with his viewpoint. You know, particularly in the case of the state department with Pompeo coming in. He's much more than nationalist.
Tillerson was much more of a globalist. I think Tillerson represented the alternative point of view. Kelly represents an alternative point of view. Mattis represents an alternative point of view. And the people who represent an alternative point of view are arguing with the President are now gradually heading toward the exits for the most part.
COOPER: David Axelrod, David Gergen, I appreciate the discussion. Thank you.
I want to bring in our panel, Kirsten Powers, Jim Schultz, Paul Begala, Tara Setmayer, and Steve Cortes. Does it make sense to you, Kirsten, that there may be this many changes of staff and cabinet level? I mean, there is always turnover, particularly after the first year, but this is obviously accelerating.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a lot more than I think is -- I don't want to say normal, but common. This is not normally what you would see, and I think that it is chaotic and disruptive. At the same time, the President should have the people around him that he wants, and I think that -- you know, I've said before that I think with Rex Tillerson, I probably would have fired him long before Donald Trump did. So I didn't see that to be a particularly rash thing for him to do. He wasn't that popular at the state department.
You know, Trump didn't particularly like him. He was reportedly disrespectful to Trump. These are all sort of fireable offenses. He may have even given him an opportunity to resign. He certainly was sending him the message. You know, he could have resigned. So -- but then, you know, I think some of the other turnovers are, you know, a little more unusual. Having Hope Hicks, who is his closest aide, that would be like Huma Abedin just walking out on Hillary Clinton.
You know, I mean that's a very unusual thing. So I think there is just a sense of chaos, and he said that's the way he likes it.
COOPER: Jim, I mean, do you think it's a good idea if it's true that the President sort of feels more emboldened to do things his way and not be reined in and feels maybe I think Maggie Haberman has been reporting that, you know, early on he may have felt he knew the job and now he feels he does. Is it a wise thing to kind of jettison these people and kind of do it your way?
JAMES SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: Just because Mike Pompeo is philosophically agrees with the President doesn't mean that he's not going to challenge him. Mike Pompeo is a very intelligent human being, Harvard Law Grad.
You know, just -- knows his space and is going to sail to confirmation at the CIA. And I thought what was interesting, such a decisive decision. I agree with Kirsten, such a decisive decision to let Tillerson go had someone in the queue ready to go, someone to replace Pompeo at the CIA, that looks like somebody who is ready to make decisions. If I'm one of those cabinet members that had the talking to over ethical issues as reported in the news, I'm worried this week.
COOPER: But I mean, it was -- I mean, the Tillerson thing has been -- I mean, you said it was a decision and there was someone to replace him. Obviously you would want somebody to replace him immediately. But it does seem like that was dragged out for long, debated, talked about, I mean, the Jeff Sessions thing he's been publicly derided for, you know, there's been story about McMaster now for quite some time.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: All right, he's never going to change or perhaps he is changing, but she's shrinking in the job. Usually people get in there, particularly people who come from outside of Washington, President Reagan, President Obama, President Clinton, after some time, they do tend to inhabit the office. They gain more gravitas. They understand the power of the words, president of the United States.
[21:10:12] And there is this growth in the job. I think this guy is like -- as Gergen said, he wants the training wheels off, and we're seeing he's on steroids now. It's really extraordinary. And it's not about this staffer or that. I agree with you guys --
COOPER: Well, you said he's shrinking but he's also on steroids generally --
BEGALA: I'm not an expert on steroids, as I think you can tell. But he's becoming morally smaller.
COOPER: Maybe he's becoming more cut. I don't know.
STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There's pushback on that and I'll give you an example.
BEGALA: -- this administration, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. And he's going to be Donald Trump every day --
CORTES: On that idea that she's shrinking or that he wants conformity with a very real world example, one that matters a lot to me, which is immigration. There's tremendous debate within the administration on immigration, particularly DACA. And a lot of people, a lot of hard- liners within the Trump movement, want no DACA. They wanted to go away. They don't want a DACA compromise.
It was viciously debated quite frankly behind closed doors within the White House. I was privileged to be part of that, someone who wants DACA preserved, who believes in immigration compromise. Many people opposed that view within the administration. The President came down, I think, very sensibly I'm saying we want a grand compromise. We want secure borders and we do want to show magnanimity and compassion towards DACA. So just think it's unfair to cast him as rigid and as demanding submission from his staff and immigration is exhibit I think on why he --
COOPER: But I mean on immigration, I mean he did have that bipartisan meeting where he seemed to agree with the Democrats and then switch to the Republicans and then back to -- and on gun control as well, he's talking about raising the age to 21, you know, very publicly a number of times. And then meets with the NRA and now he's like, oh, well, it's up to states to see the --
TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Because President Trump doesn't have core convictions and we've said this before. It's been a criticism of mine about him from the very beginning. As a conservative I was very concerned about when the tough times come and you need to -- where do you draw from to make these tough policy decisions? And for Donald Trump, it's more about his brand and what looks good and how it plays on Fox News and to his base as opposed to what is a good policy prescription for whatever the issue is at hand.
And the fact that he vacillates so often between one thing to the next and no one really knows is probably why reports are coming out that senior staffers in the White House are calling this the most toxic work environment they have ever encountered. That is a quote from a story in Axios right now.
That is not a good reflection of the boss. We also have to remember a couple of other things. Donald Trump has never answered to anyone. He's run a private company. He's never had to answer to a board of directors. He's only had to answer to himself. And we've seen when the disaster that was made of his companies in Atlantic City and other places, where that hasn't worked out so well.
So unfortunately now, the best parts of him are not being seen right now, whatever those may be, other than branding himself and doing rallies. As a manager, this is not the way you can run the White House.
Right now we're looking at the Secretary of Veterans Affairs potentially on the chopping block. We're already lost the Secretary of State. We've already lost the secretary of HHS. The Secretary of HUD is also in trouble. We've lost the communications director. Four of them have gone. The National Security Adviser is on the chopping block. I mean we can go down the list. This is not normal. This is not the way a White House should be run, and this is certainly not the way you would run a business. I would hope not. CORTES: I would grant you that hyper political types like all of us, people in the news business, fixate on palace intrigue, on the supposed chaos of the West Wing. But if there's a disruptive West Wing, let's look at what matters for most Americans -- most Americans couldn't name one of the people that you just named. And you give them their title. That doesn't matter to them.
SETMAYER: How is he governing?
CORTES: What does matter to them is their prosperity and their security. And their prosperity in particular is increasing and accelerating terrifically.
BEGALA: Small business optimism right now is at a level unseen since the --
SETMAYER: Meanwhile the wheels are falling on --
CORTES: There is optimism and growth and prosperity.
SETMAYER: I would disagree there's more chaos in --
COOPER: Paul and then we've got to go.
BEGALA: And yet he's at an all-time low for --
BEGALA: Despite, thank God, no major wars and a strong economy. This is a guy, but the American people should have known what they were getting. He's had three campaign managers, three political parties, three wives. He's not a guy to run the river with.
CORTES: And three percent GDP growth, which Obama never got in one year.
COOPER: All right.
CORTES: The only president of U.S. history who never do it.
COOPER: Much more to talk about tonight, including the very latest on the Congressional race deep in the heart of Trump country that could be on the verge of a big upset.
[21:14:51] Later, new developments in the Stormy Daniels story that we broke tonight. New documents suggesting a deeper link between the Trump organization and efforts to keep Stormy Daniels quiet about her alleged affair.
COOPER: Well, the race was about as tight as it could have been in a nationally watched Congressional battle that was viewed as a referendum on President Trump. Tonight the Democrat Conor Lamb still holds to a slight read over the Republican, Rick Saccone. Lamb has declared victory. Gary Tuchman went searching for some voters on the day after. Here's what he found.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): We're here at Carnegie Coffee. In Carnegie Pennsylvania, all of you voted for Donald Trump for President?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Correct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of you did what Donald Trump wanted you to do when he spoke here over the weekend and vote for the Republican candidate for Congress? And how many of you switched and voted for the Democrat? What made you decide not to vote for the Republican candidate? You're a lifelong Republican, voted for Donald Trump. Why did you switch?
MARY ELLEN BUZZELLI, CONOR LAMB VOTER: I made the decision very early on in the campaign. I thought that Conor Lamb was the best candidate based on his priorities and his background, and I think we needed some new blood in Congress.
TUCHMAN: Steve, you're a registered Democrat, but you switched and voted for Donald Trump for President.
STEVE REED, CONOR LAMB VOTER: Yes.
TUCHMAN: Because you wanted change?
TUCHMAN: And Donald Trump said, OK. Vote for Saccone if you continue to watch change. Did you not believe in that message?
REED: I stopped believing in Donald Trump six months ago.
TUCHMAN: And why?
REED: I just don't trust anything he does. I'm a vet, and I'm actually ashamed of -- I'm ashamed to be a vet. I'm ashamed to be part of the country sometimes.
[21:20:04] TUCHMAN: Is that one of the reasons you didn't vote for this candidate, Saccone?
REED: Right. I think it's time for a change.
TUCHMAN: Another change?
REED: Another change.
TUCHMAN: You voted for Saccone?
ROBERT TOBIN, RICK SACCONE VOTER: Mm-hmm.
TUCHMAN: But you're saying you thought Conor Lamb was a better candidate?
TOBIN: I think he ran a better campaign. I think the things that he campaigned on were really resonated with this area.
TUCHMAN: Why didn't you vote for him?
TOBIN: Because I would not be able to support the Democratic Party right now. I think he's going to vote Democrat every time.
TUCHMAN: So he said, you know, he comes off as a conservative Democrat.
TOBIN: He comes off as a conservative, but he's going to vote Democrat in my opinion.
JOHN BUTERA, RICK SACCONE VOTER: Great candidate. He's not going to be a very good Congressman in our eyes because he's not going do what he said he was going to do. He's going to vote with Pelosi and Schumer. If he doesn't, then they're going to cut him off at the legs.
BUZZELLI: That's going to be the same thing on the Republican side. If Rick Saccone doesn't follow the party line, it's going to be the same thing. When are we going to stop this? This is the divisiveness. This is what the American public is tired of. I want to see some fresh new ideas in government.
BUTERA: That's why we voted for Trump.
BUZZELLI: Yes. I totally agree. That's exactly right.
TOBIN: We all agree on that.
COOPER: Gary, I know you've talked to a lot of Trump voters in western Pennsylvania over the past couple days. Do they think the President's rally in Pennsylvania last weekend helped Rick Saccone?
TUCHMAN: Well, none of the Trump voters we've talked with here think it hurt Rick Saccone, but most of them tell us he could have helped Rick Saccone, a lot more if he talked more about him at the rally this past Saturday. President Trump talked for about an hour and 15 minutes, said very little about Rick Saccone. And when he did talk about him, he didn't sound particularly gung ho. When Donald Trump wants to gush, he can gush. And he wasn't gushing about Rick Saccone. Anderson.
COOPER: Gary. Thanks very much. Good discussion time with those voters.
The Democrats are saying the White House is trying to put a happy face on possible defeat and how they're doing it has been raising some eyebrows. They're suggesting Conor Lamb appealed to voters because of how much like the President he is. Spokesman Raj Shah saying, "The Democrat in the race really embraced the President's policies and position where he didn't embrace Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leader."
In short, the man the President called lamb the sham is now a lamb in Trump's clothing. Something for the panel to consider. So do you buy -- I mean, when the White House says he essentially was kind of Trump light, he was embracing the President, that's why he won?
POWERS: You know, I don't know what they really think. If they really think that, then the Republican Party's in trouble. I mean, I do know a lot of Republicans are freaking out, and I don't know if the people who are coming out and publicly saying things are just trying to make it seem happy. But the truth is, I mean, look, he was -- yesterday, he was being attacked as this pro-abortion, liberal, Pelosi-loving Democrat. And then today we have Paul Ryan coming out and saying he won because he's a conservative, he's pro-life and he's a conservative. That's ridiculous. The Susan B. Anthony list, which is a GOP pro-life group, ran ads against him.
COOPER: He says he's personally pro-life but wouldn't --
POWERS: Right. Yes. So it's just you can't just switch the next day and suddenly start saying this person you have been attacking as pro- abortion rights as being pro-life and that's why he won. Also he ran -- he criticized the repeal of Obamacare. He was very much stood up for unions. He ran against the tax plan. This just is not a person who in any place would be called a conservative. So he was pro-gun.
COOPER: James, I mean, should the Republicans be nervous?
SCHULTZ: Well, he ran commercials where he was carrying a gun. He claims that he's pro-life, ran away from Nancy Pelosi. All of those things happened. And this is western Pennsylvania, and it's somewhat of a swing district.
POWERS: Can I just say though he didn't claim he was pro-life in the way that you mean. He was very clear when he said he would not vote against abortion rights. He was crystal clear about that. Nobody questions that.
SCHULTZ: Anderson just said that he's personally pro-life.
COOPER: But wouldn't vote that way.
SCHULTZ: Inconsequential to the next point I want to make. The issue here -- this is western Pennsylvania, a swing area. First off we had a Congressman resign in scandal. That usually doesn't go well in a special election. It's a swing district where Democrats voted for Donald Trump. Democrats voted for Donald Trump there, and that is the difference. In this case, Donald Trump didn't have coattails there. Donald Trump wasn't on the ballot. Rick Saccone was on the ballot, and you had a dynamic, young, former military person --
COOPER: You make it sound like this is an area that Democrats should win.
POWERS: It's not a Democratic district. SETMAYER: Let's check the records right here about this district. This district had had -- it does have a larger registered Democrat vote. However, it has voted Republican for the last 15 years. It voted Republican for the Presidential races. It voted Republican for Congress. It actually, you know, Democrats here --
[21:25:03] SCHULTZ: Not by 20 points.
SETMAYER: No, but by double digits. I mean Mitt Romney by 17. So this is --
POWERS: Republican congressman --
SETMAYER: So Republicans now are trying to mitigate this loss by trying to claim this was a Democrat district, but it hasn't really been for a long time. That's number one.
Number two, the Republicans who ran in this district were also pro- labor. So they appealed to the more blue dog Democrats, I guess, if you want to call them that, because they were pro-labor. Rick Saccone was not. That was the major difference here because big labor had an opportunity to come in there and organize, which is what they're very good at doing, and there were a lot of people who said they had voted for Trump, said they didn't vote for Rick Saccone over the right to work issue. So that was a major issue that created that crossover.
And also in this district, you have to understand that a lot of what Donald Trump did, the fact that he wasn't very big on Rick Saccone. This was Alabama 2.0 when he was supporting Luther Strange and all of that, but then he kind of was, oh, well, he lost. We got to go for Roy Moore. And then after Roy Moore lost when he went and campaigned for him, he was like, oh, well, Doug Jones is great. We're going to embrace him. He's doing the exact same thing here with Conor Lamb because --
COOPER: We got to take a break. We're going to continue this conversation, though, about Pennsylvania. We'll dig deeper to that far, any political fall out spreads from this, how radioactive it could remain in November.
Also later, new details in the story broke -- in the saga of Stormy Daniels, new information from her attorney saying that he now has new evidence which he's presenting tonight for the first time showing a greater involvement of somebody from the Trump organization than previously known.
[21:30:05] COOPER: Some news organizations are declaring a winner in the incredibly tight race tonight in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. CNN is not, not yet.
However, with Election Day and absentee ballots now fully counted, Democratic Conor Lamb leads Republican Rick Saccone by 627 votes in a district that candidate Donald Trump won by 20 points. The Saccone campaign today took preliminary steps to prepare for a potential recount. Recounts in this case are not mandated by Pennsylvania law. However, there is a process to request one. As part of that, the Saccone campaign today asked the four counties comprising the 18th district to preserve ballots and voting machines in the event of a recount if it happens.
Back now with the panel. Paul, is there a message in this -- assuming Lamb wins, for Democrats nationwide -- for Democratic candidates nationwide?
BEGALA: Candidate talent matters of course. But a big tent matters. You know, there's two kinds of parties like there's two kinds of churches, those who hunt heretics and those who seek out converts.
OK, I'm a Pope Francis Democrat. I wan to see that convert. I don't want to drive people out of my church, and you have the same fight in the Republican Party where they brand people rhinos if they dare vote against one thing. I like the fact that the Democrats found someone who is a Democrat, as Kirsten pointed out, pro-union, pro-medicare, pro-medicaid, pro-choice, but also fit the district. You got to meet people where they live.
So I think this is a great template for the Democrats. Not every candidate will be a progressive. Not every candidate will be that talented. But if the Democrats finally are learning --
COOPER: But could Conor Lamb win on a national stage in the Democratic Party as it is today?
BEGALA: He's just 12 years old. I mean -- no, he's 33. Someone with those numbers --
SETMAYER: Yes, Joe Biden.
COOPER: Somebody who says they're pro-life.
BEGALA: Does it personally pro-life. Tim Kaine was my party's vice presidential nominee. The same position as Conor, which is -- he is devoted catholic and personally pro-life he says but follow the constitution as interpret by the supreme court --
COOPER: Kirsten, do you --
POWERS: Yes. Here is the thing. I do think the position that Conor Lamb has, yes. If you look at it, actually it's like a non- controversial thing among most Democrats as long as the person says that they will uphold the constitution and aren't looking to overturn Roe V. Wade, and there have been some -- there are some progressives who come out and say you need to be a hard line, pro-abortion person. But that's not where the Democratic Party is.
Nancy Pelosi has said clearly you can be a pro-life Democrat. She has people in her family who are pro-life Democrats. The DCCC who is recruiting the candidates to run, they have said no litmus tests. They're not going to have litmus tests really on anything they that they want candidates that fit these districts and they're recruiting people who fit the district. So I do think that the party mostly is onboard with this idea.
SCHULTZ: One, I'm sorry, but the biggest issue actually debated in the election was the Trump tax cut. The biggest accomplishment of the Republican Party, the Republican President, they advertised it with millions of dollars. Lamb was four square against it preferring tax cuts for the middle class. Lamb won, narrowly, but he won in a plus 20 Republican district.
SETMAYER: And the Republicans, it's supposed to be the signature accomplishment and they stopped running ads touting the tax bill and started running ads about illegal immigration because they know that that riles the base up and need to get people out.
COOPER: Steve, we haven't heard from you. Does this make you nervous? I mean, does what happened in Pennsylvania make you nervous?
CORTES: Once again, yes, I'm nervous of the poll. I think you're foolish to not be as a Republican. Barack Obama lost 63 seats in his first midterm election, the most in 60 years. As I mentioned earlier in the show, Ronald Reagan had a disastrous first midterm. Bill Clinton, all three of us by the way, went on to be successful two-term Presidents.
So should you be nervous? Yes, the deck stacked against you clearly for the midterm but having said that Conor Lamb was terrific candidate. He was a pro-gun marine, a likable, handsome young man. There's not a lot of kind of Conor Lamb of the Democratic Party.
When you start -- there's a lot more, Elizabeth Warrens, there's a lot more Bernie Sanders, a lot of old, tired, social justice warriors who will not meet the people where they are. It's a Democratic Party that left its roots. Largely Conor Lamb is a small example of returning to those. So that is going to be their challenge, even though they have an institutional advantage historically.
BEGALA: The Democratic Congressional campaign committee Ben Ray Lujan as a chair has recruited candidates across the country, more candidates than Democrats have ever had, and they fit the districts. And districts like Lambs, you're going to see candidates like Lambs. District like Pelosi, you're going see Nancy Pelosi.
CORTES: I think this is important. There's so much anti-Trump hysteria. In 2010, I don't remember people hanging this around Barack Obama's neck eight years ago when he had the worst midterm election in two generations.
SETMAYER: Oh, yes.
CORTES: If we have a bad midterm, it will immediately be viewed as a verdict on Trump, and that's not fair. Trump is not on the ballot.
CORTES: And when he is on the ballot in 2020 it will ramp again. BEGALA: -- guns and unions, I think you said it.
CORTES: All is well, no need to change.
[21:34:53] COOPER: All right, let's take a break. A lot more coming up, former FBI Director Andrew McCabe is four days away from retirement. But now we're learning Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering firing him anyway. That's next.
COOPER: Former FBI director Andrew McCabe could get fired just days before he's set to officially retire, jeopardizing his pension after serving 21 years in the FBI. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering weather to fire McCabe after a recommendation from the FBI's office of professional responsibility. This all comes from an internal report about how investigations were handled at the bureau including one about the Clinton Foundation.
Back now with the panel. Jim, we were talking during the break. You were saying there's a whole process about whether or not he would actually lose his pension.
SCHULTZ: Yes. If he has a property right in a pension, if he's vested in that pension, he's going to have procedural due process.
COOPER: So even if he got fired four days before.
SCHULTZ: Even if he got five or four days before. Unless it's a vesting and timing issue as to whether or not he's going to vest or not in that pension due to a time frame. And we don't really know. What we know is this -- at least what we hear from the reports is this, that the office of professional responsibility has made a recommendation that he be fired. The reason for that is during the Clinton Foundation investigation, he talked to some reporters about it, and he may have represented -- misrepresented to the office of inspector general what he said to those reporters or what was conveyed to those reporters. That's what's being reported. We don't know because we haven't seen the office of inspector general report, and we haven't seen the office of professional responsibility report. But that's what's being reported. If that's the case, then Jeff Sessions does have a decision to make as to whether to fire him or not. But whether or not it's going to actually impact his pension remains to be seen.
[21:40:08] COOPER: Kirsten, I mean, if the office of professional responsibility recommended he be fired, why shouldn't he be fired?
POWERS: I mean I don't know. I would want more information honestly about what happened. It seems like if somebody's leaving in four days, why do you need to go out of your way to fire them? I mean is what he is accused of -- is it considered a --
COOPER: Right, is this a way to appeal to the President? SETMAYER: Yes, it's 100 percent that's the reason why it's happening now. Donald Trump is been targeting Andrew McCabe for months publicly, on Twitter going after him, going after the fact that McCabe's wife ran for office in Virginia and received pac money from Hillary Clinton allies.
COOPER: Terry McAuliffe?
SCHULTZ: You have the office of professional responsibility --
SETMAYER: No, I'm not saying whether there's merit or not to it. I'm saying the timing of this is -- the pressure on Jeff Sessions, the reason why this is almost like -- it's a signal from the President kind of nudging Jeff Sessions like, um, the Office of Professional Responsibility now has suggested that this guy be fired. So you need to fire him, or I'm going to fire you is the tacit message here coming from the President.
CORTES: I think to me the most damning allegation -- and it's an allegation, it has been not been proven. But it's regarding the text that we got from the paramours from Lisa Strzok -- Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in which they talked about the insurance policy should Trump win. That was the most nefarious part of those texts that were revealed. And in that sequence, they said let's meet in Andy's office. Most reporting suggests that is Andy McCabe. I think he needs to explain to the American people, was he that Andy and if he was, what was it about?
There's so much smoke around this guy all the time.
COOPER: But I mean, that's like the argument about the secret society, which turned out to be a joke.
CORTES: No, I don't think it's a secret society, but I do believe --
SETMAYER: No, the accusation that they were talking about some secret society, it turned out to be a complete joke because it wasn't put in context.
COOPER: Anyway, Paul, what were you saying?
BEGALA: The investigation is not about these text messages between other people who are not Andy McCabe. It's an allegation that he participated in a news story with "The Wall Street Journal," not just about the Clinton Foundation but damaging to the Clinton Foundation, damaging to Hillary Clinton in the days before the election. Interesting that Donald Trump hates him, but go back and get on your Google machine, America. Look at that story. It was a hit job on the Clintons' campaign and the Clinton Foundation.
So as a Clinton loyalist, once again I'm looking up and Donald Trump hates the FBI, but he hates them for doing something that I didn't like. I can't quite know which jersey to wear, but how about we keep the FBI the hell out of our campaigns.
SETMAYER: My question about this though is, so now if Jeff Sessions does go ahead and fire Andy McCabe, let's say he does do it, now it's OK? The President's going to accept what the Department of Justice officials have recommended? But before the Department of Justice was corrupt and we need a special counsel, and we can't trust anything we say, and the I.G., who is non-partisan, who is doing a great job, who has a stellar record, Horowitz, he's not good enough. We can't believe what they say because the FBI is corrupt. We need to have a special counsel. Which is it? It's only what fits the President's narrative at the time.
COOPER: All right, let's take a quick break. Coming up our breaking news, exclusively obtained documents that show a new Trump organization lawyer is involved in legal maneuvering in the Stormy Daniels case. That when we continue.
[21:46:27] COOPER: There is breaking news tonight in the Stormy Daniels story. Now, for the past couple weeks we've been focusing not so much on the alleged affair but who knew what, when, and the pay out of the hush money, following the money as it where.
Tonight, new documents obtained exclusively by this broadcast suggest a deeper link between the Trump organization and efforts to ensure that Stephanie Clifford, the real name for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, keeps quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. For the first time there's some evidence that another one of Trump's attorneys besides his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has been involved in the ongoing legal battle.
Now, this is one of the documents we're going to put on the screen. It's a demand for arbitration filed in California by an attorney who works for a Donald Trump company. She lists her address as one Trump national drive, Rancho Palos Verdes California. It's signed by an attorney named Jill A. Martin. That addresses happens to be the address of the Trump National Golf Course, not far from Los Angeles.
Now, there's not room for doubt that Ms. Martin has been an employee for Donald Trump. This is her links in LinkedIn page, which identifies her as a Vice President and assistance general council for the Trump organization.
Here our California State Bar Page, also listing her address as the Trump National Golf Club.
Now as far as the arbitration goes, in a declaration labeled highly confidential, it names Peggy Peterson, which is a pseudonym for Stormy Daniels, as the respondent. It lists EC, LLC, as the party seeking relief. Now those initials stand for Essential Consultants, the company created by Trump Lawyer, Michael Cohen, to funnel a cash payment of $130,000 to Ms. Daniels in return for her promise to keep quiet about the reported affair, which means Daniels claims began in 2006, lasted through 2007. So as more as more comes out about the story, Mr. Cohen has continued to deny, A, that the affair ever happened but also he has acknowledged the payment saying last month, "In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford. Neither the Trump organization, nor the Trump campaign was party to the transaction, and neither reimbursed me for the payment either directly or indirectly."
Trump organization may not have been party to that transaction, but it's pretty clear one of its attorneys is involved in this case, and it's certainly not the first time she's defended Donald Trump. In fact, here she is in October 2016 just after that access Hollywood tape surfaced appearing on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JILL MARTIN, VP & ASSISTANT GENERAL COUNSEL, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: None of us would ever imagine he would do something like this. It's completely inconsistent with his character and our own personal experiences. So because of that, I believe him when he says he didn't do anything inappropriate with women.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So she's a Vice President and Assistant General Counsel to the Trump Organization.
So back to the arbitration case, Ms. Martin did win a temporary restraining order because the nondisclosure agreement Stormy Daniels signed said an action could be brought against her without any advance notice. That's an assertion that Ms. Daniels' current attorney, Michael Avenatti, strongly disputes.
Tonight we received a statement from Ms. Martin on behalf of the Trump organization. It reads, "As previously reported, Lawrence Rosen, a New York attorney, is representing EC, LLC in the arbitration. The Trump organization is not representing anyone, and with the exception of one of its California-based attorneys in her individual capacity facilitating the initial filing pending the pro-hack admission of Mr. Rosen, the company has had no involvement in the matter."
We've also should note that we've reached out to Michael Cohen, have not yet heard back.
Kirsten, I mean, does it make any sense to you, Michael Cohen, who makes this statement in like February 13th or 14th, that the Trump organization was not involved in the financial transaction, basically that Michael Cohen is saying, look, I did this all my own out of loyalty to Donald Trump. I took the money from my home equity line. Then about two weeks later goes and reaches out to the Vice General Counsel of the Trump organization as part of this arbitration?
[21:50:14] POWERS: I mean, I feel like they're trying to slowly drive us insane because I can't -- I mean I really do. I'm watching this, and I'm like, it's so obvious that they're note telling the truth. And I just I don't even know what to say. I mean, even if you look at Michael Cohen's words where he says he didn't -- wasn't paid back any money, that doesn't mean he wasn't supposed to pay back money. Because the Wall Street Journal had reported that he had complained that Trump in fact didn't pay him back, so I just think everything looks so obviously like what we all think is happening. I guess I'm going to hear you defend this but I just -- I don't even know what to say any more. So obviously this happened --
COOPER: Jim, I mean --
SCHULTZ: I think you have to understand the legal issues involved here, right? I mean, the optics are poor admittedly, that you have a Trump organization lawyer pro-hot getting involved in a case --
COOPER: Two Trump organizations --
POWERS: Yes, that's right.
COOPER: One reaching out to another.
SCHULTZ: So Rosen is representing Cohn he's.
SCHULTZ: OK. Rosen is not barred in the state of California.
SCHULTZ: In order to make that filing you have to be barred in the state of California, you need a person -- a lawyer from the state of California who has a bar admission there, to basically vouch for that person so that they can participate --
COOPER: All right, it's really hard in California to find a lawyer --
SCHULTZ: That's right.
COOPER: I know it's hard.
SCHULTZ: I admit it, the optics are poor here, but this is not substantial involvement in the case, once you -- once someone gets admitted in most jurisdictions including California. Once someone's admitted (inaudible) they handled the case themselves.
COOPER: Wait a minute. OK, so you're just saying Michael Cohen who by all accounts.
SCHULTZ: No, Rosen --
COOPER: Michael Cohen who -- by all accounts, would be an intelligent person, and allegedly seems to be an attorney with a license reaches out to the vice general counsel --
SCHULTZ: Michael Cohn's lawyer Rosen reaches out.
COOPER: How do you know Rosen reaches out? SCHULTZ: Because that's how it works, because in order for him to be involved in the matter on behalf of Cohn.
COOPER: Right but Michael Cohn is involved in this arbitration.
SCHULTZ: As a party. Not as lawyer.
SETMAYER: So it doesn't matter they had to go to a Trump lawyer?
SCHULTZ: He is represented by counsel -- his counsel can't afford it here in California --
COOPER: So he reaches --
SCHULTZ: And yes, they should have found another lawyer in California.
COOPER: All right, so that's even weirder then, his outside counsel goes back into the Trump organization because for what possible reason?
SCHULTZ: Because they had a friendly lawyer in California that could have gotten to him quickly.
POWERS: Oh, come on?
SCHULTZ: That's it. But you know, and it was a bad -- it wasn't a good decision. The optics are poor, but let's face it, she's not substantively working on this matter.
COOPER: We don't know. This is the only document that's come up.
SCHULTZ: OK --
COOPER: Paul, what do you have?
BEGALA: This is all just baffling to me. In my dean in law school say, when I hide something, Begala, put in the law book, so I'm not going to argue with Jim about the law here. But here's the problem. Why oh, why is Donald Trump, a man who's flamboyant about his sex life, who famously planted a story in the New York Post front page about how he --
COOPER: Marla Maples --
BEGALA: Marla Maples, right? Why is he jumping through all these hoops? Why is at least his friend paying all this money? It suggests I think two things, this is not the first time that this crowd has done this. I don't know that I -- but they're certainly acting like this is not their first rodeo. Second, more troubling, this does seem like a guy who's very susceptible to blackmail, who would do a lot to keep something he doesn't want to come out to come out. And that's why it leads me back to Russia, which I think I don't care about this deal, I don't care if he had an affair --
CORTES: Paul, come on, that's a leap of logic to try to connect -- BEGALA: But the guy is clearly --
CORTES: A porn star to --
SETMAYER: Not really.
COOPER: No, the argument is that he could not even get a security clearance. He made fun of Hillary Clinton saying sheen cot get a security clearance. I mean, with all of the -- this potential for blackmail, do you believe he could get a security clearance?
CORTES: Yes, of course, I believe he could. But more importantly --
SETMAYER: Based on what?
CORTES: -- you know who decided that he got a security clearance? The American people.
SETMAYER: Unfortunately --
CORTES: You might say unfortunately.
CORTES: Why does any of this matter? By the way it makes me happy that I'm not a lawyer listening to you lawyers talk about this, holy cow. But those of us who aren't lawyers, and those of us again who don't necessarily live in politics, is any of this relevant? Is anyone surprised -- is any Trump voter surprise that he wasn't Mother Teresa? Are we surprised that he had a colorful past? No. Are we surprised by the way that there are accusers accusing him of some pretty nefarious things? No. The voters decided that those accusations were irrelevant or not true.
COOPER: Why this is matter?
SETMAYER: This is where I just can't take it, OK. Because people like you and you, and every other Trump enabler and would have --
CORTES: Enabler voter.
SETMAYER: Enablers that enable this kind of behavior and excuse away this kind of behavior would have been calling for the impeachment of Barack Obama or of Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton like all of us Republicans in 1998 who went after Bill Clinton for his sexual affair With Monica Lewinsky as we should have. And I can't stand the hypocrisy.
[21:55:09] CORTES: No, no --
SCHULTZ: I'll take the blame for enabling more jobs, the economy. I'll take all of that. Thank you.
SCHULTZ: You what, you'll take all that, and you'll take all of that so the ends justify the means, huh? You know how dangerous that has been in history. And the fact that we have Republicans that are sitting there and using that excuse, none of this matters. That was not the position we have many years ago.
SCHULTZ: We're talking about Stormy Daniels.
SETMAYER: We're talking about the President of the United States that is engaged in behavior that's A, immoral, B, that's possibly illegal and, three, that could make him susceptible to being immoral in other areas, such as Russia.
SETMAYER: Yes, there is.
CORTES: Engage in something illegal --
SETMAYER: Hush money paid to a porn star, two weeks before an election, possibly illegal.
COOPER: Coming up, students nationwide walking out of their classrooms demanding stronger gun control, that's next.
COOPER: Schools across the country today, students got up and left their classrooms demanding gun control, one month after the deadly Stoneman Douglas shooting. Students participate in nationwide. Many of them marches lasting for 17 minutes, one minute for each of those killed at Parkland.
The students demanded changes for Congress, banning assault weapons, requiring universal background checks, passing a law that would let courts to take away guns from people who show warning signs of violent behavior.
[22:00:09] There were student walkout in solidarity in other countries including Tanzania, Israel and the Czech Republic. That's it for us tonight. Time to hand it over to Don Lemon.