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Trump Expelling 60 Russian Diplomats; Stormy Daniels: I Was Threatened Over Trump; Trump Dismisses Story As "Fake News"; First Lady's Spokeswoman Responds To Daniel's Interview. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:06]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. We begin with breaking news. President Trump sending a powerful message to Moscow, the president expelling 60 Russian diplomats, giving them days to get out of the United States.

This is in response to the poisonings of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in the U.K. Officials say those being kicked out include 48 diplomats, attached to the Russian embassy, and 12 at the United Nations.

I want to get straight now to CNN senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, with the details for us. Tell us what else can you say about these actions?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna. Well, they have a week to get out of the United States. Twelve of them are based in New York at the U.N. The other 48, we're told, by the State Department are spread throughout the U.S. at various embassies and consulates.

And you know, last night talking to sources, when there started to be rumblings that this would happen, nobody really knew the scope of it, there was talk, well, maybe the U.S. would match the U.K.'s number of Russian diplomats that they expelled of 23.

So, to see the U.S. this morning nearly triple that number is surprising and making the Brits quite pleased this morning. Now granted Russia has many hundreds of diplomats working in the U.S. and to put this into perspective, remember, over the summer, where there was a tit for tat between the U.S. and Russia over expulsions, Vladimir Putin, at that time said now there was an equal number in each other's country of 455.

So, for the U.S. to take 60 out of that chunk, that is 13 percent of Russian diplomats in the U.S. administration officials this morning didn't just call them diplomats, they clearly termed them intelligence agents, calling these Russians aggressive collectors of intelligence.

Also, the U.S. is fully shutting down the Russian consulate in Seattle saying that it is located too close to a U.S. submarine base there and saying this action will keep the U.S. safer and significantly cut down Russia's ability to spy here. Here is a statement from the White House, "With these steps the United States and our allies and partners make it clear to Russia that its actions have consequences. The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government's behavior.

So, this is a strong response, like I said, it is surprising, not only to people here in this country, but to European countries as well. But there are still going to be questions and criticisms, one Obama era official saw the statement and said, OK, well, that's great, coming from the press secretary, though.

Doesn't Vladimir Putin need to hear from President Trump himself on this. Remember, it was only days ago that the president's national security team recommended in capital letters he not congratulate Putin on his election victory, he did just that.

But now with a new national security adviser coming in, a new secretary of state coming in, both who have been verbally very tough on Russia, the world will be watching to see what kind of start this is, and possibly more consequences for Russian behavior -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Michelle Kosinski at the State Department, thank you.

Let's go to Russia now. We'll see if there has been any reaction from the Kremlin where CNN's Matthew Chance is. What are you hearing from them?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the response, Brianna, has been pretty predictable. They've called this provocation. They've called it an unfriendly act, not just talking about the expulsions from the United States, but also the expulsions from the European Union.

Fourteen countries from the European Union, and that's -- they were also expelling diplomats there at the same time as the United States. And so, it sends this message of unity from the west that this kind of activity, this behavior, the alleged nerve agent attack in Salisbury is not going to be tolerated.

I think it's a really sign that patience is wearing out. On the more specific response, the Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement on its Facebook page. Saying that this is political act, talking about the United States and the European Union.

And its continuation of confrontation to escalate the situation and does nothing to deal with or determine the circumstances around what happened to the Skripals, of course, the Russians deny any involvement in that nerve agent attack on the Skripals.

They floated numerous different narratives, alternative narratives as to what could have happened including blaming the United States for poisoning these two individuals. So, you know, this is something that has been a feature of Russian denials.

They time and again, you know, deny that they got anything to do with whether it is this, the Litvinenko killing, the downing of MH-17, Malaysian airliner over Eastern Ukraine, doping in the Olympics, the annexation of Crimea, and you know, you get a sense that this is the west coming together finally in unison and saying, look, our patience is at least wearing thin -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you.

I want to bring in CNN national security analyst, Shawn Turner, to talk about this. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 21 years and is press secretary for the National Security Council under President Obama.

And then also in New York, we have national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, a former adviser on President Obama's National Security Council. What message, Sean, does this send, expelling 60 diplomats?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, this is a pretty significant message from this administration for a couple of reasons. First of all, as Matthew said, this sends a really strong message of solidarity with the west. I mean, we've talked about the president and the administration's language with regard to Russia for quite some time now.

And we haven't seen anything this strong with regard to the rhetoric and the action. It is also significant that they're expelling 60 Russian diplomats. As you said, I spent some time with the intelligence community.

I can tell you from an intelligence perspective, Russian diplomats are not like other diplomats. Primarily because they are so integral to Russian intelligence collection efforts no matter what titles they have here in the United States.

So, from that perspective, at least as it stands today, this is a fairly significant move on the part of the administration.

KEILAR: Sam, what do you think?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it is significant. It is an unprecedented show of unity by the international community against Russia, but I think we have some data points that are worth considering here.

One is that Russia has not been deterred by expulsions in the past. We have kicked out diplomats. They have retaliated, and so I don't know that we have any indication that Russia actually cares about losing these diplomatic foot holds around the world.

And the question that I have, and this was alluded to in some of the statements by public sector officials today is whether that this is part of a sequence of actions that the international community is considering.

Shawn, we spent a lot of time in the situation room, you and I both know that kicking out diplomats is kind of the first box to check on a list of punitive actions. So, my questions are what else may be coming that will impose costs of Putin cares about.

KEILAR: That's a really interesting question. I wonder what you think, Sam, with senior administration officials saying that these actions today are in response to the U.K. attack, but also part of a, quote, steady drumbeat of destabilizing actions by Russia after today.

Sam, especially folks who support President Trump, are going to say look at what he's done. You can't say now that he is too soft on Russia, but it sounds like you're saying this is just really the first box to check.

VINOGRAD: Kicking out diplomats typically is. The president has imposed some targeted sanctions against some Russians. But to quote the president's incoming national security adviser, John Bolton, this is not real deterrence.

I never thought I would be missing John Bolton, but I wish John Bolton was in a situation room right now because he has called for stronger measures. Again, they have massive costs that the National Security Council will have to consider, like offensive cyberoperations, and like broader sanctions against people that Putin cares about.

KEILAR: Sam wants John Bolton in the situation room right now.

VINOGRAD: I know.

KEILAR: So, Shawn, last week there was this phone call, President Trump calls Putin even though he's told not to congratulate him on his election win, he goes ahead and does that. He doesn't raise this attack. He faced a lot of criticism for doing that. Well, now, we know that he was involved or there were all these meetings throughout that time period about this decision that has been made. So, what do you read into that now?

TURNER: So, I think that the president's advisers are getting to him and helping him understand that this is the time to finally do something with regard to Russia. This is a really important moment in this president's administration.

For a long time, we have been asking the question, why doesn't the president come out more forcefully against Russia? Why is it that his administration and people who work for him will say -- make strong statements against Russia, but he will not do that?

So, here we have the statement from the White House that uses pretty strong language, we have the statement from the State Department that is also very strong. But the president hasn't said anything. So, the president has a decision to make here.

Either he can come out and he can maintain this strong tone against Russia, or he can say absolutely nothing at all. It is a key moment for him to decide whether or not he's actually going to finally stand up against Russia.

KEILAR: His rhetoric matters as do these actions. All right. Shawn Turner, thank you so much. Sam Vinograd, really appreciate it. Coming up, porn star, Stormy Daniels breaks her silence on her alleged affair with Donald Trump, detailing a sexual encounter and threat to stay silent.

Plus, sources telling CNN that President Trump is getting ready to send another top administration official packing. This time Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. But who is going to take his spot? Stay with us.

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[11:13:58]

KEILAR: Porn star, Stormy Daniels, breaking her silence, delivering her first on camera interview about an alleged affair with Donald Trump. She says it was a one-time encounter, a dozen years ago, but she says years later in 2011 she was threatened and told to keep silent about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STORMY DANIELS, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: I was in a parking lot, going to a fitness class with my infant daughter, taking the seat facing backwards in the back seat, diaper bag, getting all the stuff out, and a guy walked up on me. And said to me, leave Trump alone, forget the story, and then he leans around and looked at my daughter, a beautiful little girl, would be a shame if something happened to her mom and then he was gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And this morning, the attorney for Daniels is issuing threats of his own. He says the "60 Minutes" interview is not the last that we'll hear from his client.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: We have a whole host of evidence. This is not going away, and Mr. Cohen and the president better come clean with the American people and they better do it quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: The president apparently responding to the Stormy Daniels story saying so much fake news, never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great.

[11:15:10] CNN's M.J. Lee is in New York. So, M.J., how is the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, responding to all of this?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Brianna, these allegations from Stormy Daniels and her lawyer continue to be very, very serious. She is saying that she has received multiple threats including a physical threat against her young daughter. And, of course, Michael Cohen's lawyers are pushing back on this, really hard. Last night after the interview aired, one of Michael Cohen's lawyers sending a cease and desist letter saying that Stormy had better stop making these false and defamatory statements and they are even asking for a retraction and an apology.

And as for the Vegas incident in the parking lot where she said she received a threat from a man including one that was directed at her daughter, they're actually saying that they believe this is an incident that never happened, they don't even think this person exists.

And one of Cohen's lawyers actually went on air this morning and called all of this ridiculous. Here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SCHWARTZ, LAWYER FOR MICHAEL COHEN: So, 12 years ago, somebody approaches her in a parking lot, OK, and what does she do? She doesn't go to the police, she goes to her pilates class. You know, this is ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Now, as you heard, Avenatti saying he says this is not going to be the last time that we hear from Stormy Daniels. But Brianna, I think going forward, the bar that they're really going to have to clear is going to be will they be able to produce evidence that shows these threats, specifically came from Michael Cohen or others close to the president.

KEILAR: Stormy also in this interview and in a pretty interesting part addressed the statement that she signed in January where she denied the affair. Tell us what she said about that.

LEE: Well, Brianna, the reason this interview was so important and so highly anticipated was because we were hearing from Stormy Daniels directly for the first time and on camera, you know, the lawyers and the written statements, the social media statements that we have heard about Stormy Daniels and the incident, those are very different from hearing directly from her.

And I think one of the biggest issues that she had to address last night was this $130 payment she received from Michael Cohen, and that payment has raised some credibility issues so far, right. Why does she accept the money, and why does she repeatedly deny that she even had this affair with Donald Trump?

And she has basically said last night it was because she felt threatened and because she felt like she had no choice. Here is what she said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, you signed and released a statement that said I'm not denying this affair because I was paid in hush money, I'm denying it because it never happened. That's a lie. DANIELS: Yes.

COOPER: If it was untruthful, why did you sign it?

DANIELS: Because they made it sound like I had no choice.

COOPER: I mean, no one was putting a gun to your head.

DANIELS: Not physical violence, no.

COOPER: You thought that there would be some sort of legal repercussion if you didn't sign it?

DANIELS: Correct. As a matter of fact, the exact sentence used was they can make your life hell in many different ways.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Just want to quickly note too, we really don't know how First Lady Melania Trump is reacting to all of this. Mostly because she is such a private person who avoids the public spotlight. You have to think that the White House is pretty concerned about whether there are going to be more women with similar stories that come out in the coming weeks -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Very good point. M.J. Lee in New York, thank you.

Now it is not clear if President Trump actually watched Stormy Daniels interview with Anderson Cooper, but this morning's tweet is not his only venting on the topic. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. Kaitlan, tell us what you're hearing about the president's reaction.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Brianna, that tweet this morning is the only reaction we have seen from the president publicly, but we know that before this interview even aired, the president had been complaining privately about the coverage that these allegations made by Stormy Daniels were getting on cable news, which he perceived to be wall to wall coverage.

Something he thought was too much so he's complaining about just how much this story was in the headlines which does show that the president was keeping tabs on how the story was playing out in the media.

Now he arrived back at the White House last night from Palm Beach, a weekend spent there. He didn't answer questions about whether or not he was going to watch this interview, but it was roughly 20 minutes before the interview was set to air on "60 Minutes."

So, that's what we've heard from the president so far. The White House has tried to distance themselves from this story here, Brianna, not taking any more questions on it, even though there have been multiple questions that the press briefings regarding this.

But it is finding it harder and harder for the president to keep his distance, especially since this is becoming a legal matter and especially since this is staying in the headlines so much. It is not just stormy Daniels who is speaking publicly in an interview.

It's also Karen McDougal, that former "Playboy" model who said that she also had an affair with the president. So, it certainly has been becoming a thing that is more and more especially as the legal matter seems to ramp up here -- Brianna.

KEILAR: How is Melania Trump or even her office responding to all of this?

[11:20:04] COLLINS: Well, so, Melania Trump did not travel back to Washington with the president last night. And the White House says this is because a preplanned vacation staying in Florida with their young son, of course, saying that it is his spring break.

And as many people were tweeting about the fact that Melania did not come back to Washington with the president, her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, also seemed to respond to all of the comments on that.

Writing on Twitter, quote, "While I know the media is enjoying speculation and salacious gossip, I would like to remind people there is a minor child whose name should be kept out of news stories when at all possible here" -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

Let's bring in Eliana Johnson, a CNN political analyst and national political reporter at "Politico," and CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, with us. Paul, one of the things that was noticeable, especially if you've watched the Karen McDougal interview with Anderson and then the Stormy Daniels interview with Anderson.

They both met with President Trump in his hotel room for dinner. They both said he told them they were special and that they reminded him of his daughter, Ivanka. They both said they did not use a condom when they had sex with him.

Are these similarities something that make these allegations more believable and I would especially point out that knowing that the Stormy Daniels interview was taped before the Karen McDougal one, it's not like there is a way this could have been coordinated, do the similarities matter here?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think if you are looking at the believability of both women, the similarities are extremely important. And when you try a case, you pursue a criminal investigation, you're always looking for corroboration in the form of similar actions, taken by the person under investigation.

So here you have stories that line up with each other perfectly. But I think the bigger question, Brianna, is what does it all mean in the end? Is it a high crime and misdemeanor under the Constitution of the United States that could cause the president to be removed from office. And from what I see so far, it is not unless that incident in the Vegas parking lot where there were physical threats allegedly made against Stormy Daniels, now, that would arise to a very, very serious crime if that could be linked to the president. But at this point, it is so long ago, I just find it hard to believe that you'll be able to find a link directly to the president.

KEILAR: We keep hearing, Eliana, you know, voters know of this, they have forgiven him before, just not cared about his behavior or alleged behavior, but at the same time, is there something different about having women like Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels go out on television and tell their story in their own words like this?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I do think there is something different. Before the election we had a smattering of allegations from several women that were never definitively proven true. What we have now with Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels is evidence that the president actively sought to silence these women and to cover them up by paying them off.

And I think that adds to the credibility of these women, and also raises some legal issues for the president, that's what you're hearing lawyers come out and talk about and suggested it could have played a role in the election because the payments were made so close to the election.

In the case of Stormy Daniels, 11 days before the election. That's why I think that these two women are getting more attention and are sort of in a different category than the other allegations.

And the final thing I would say is Stormy Daniels I think is pretty media savvy and sort of besting the president at his own game. She and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, really have mastered the sort of drip, drip, drip, and she has managed as a result to sort of stay on the front pages and in the headlines for about a month now.

KEILAR: Yes. It has been some time. It seems to have just grown as we saw this crescendo into this interview last night. In the interview, Paul, Stormy Daniels said that she was threatened twice to keep quiet.

Once that time in 2011, where she says a strange man approached her, she was getting her infant daughter out of the car, in a parking lot in Vegas, and then this other time from her former manager, and her former attorney in 2016, who was relaying, it sounds like, just how difficult life could be made for her.

Cohen's attorneys, Michael Cohen's attorneys responding with a cease and desist letter denying that Cohen was involved in the 2011 threat. They didn't say anything specifically about 2016. What are the questions that you have about the issue of threats and intimidation in this case?

CALLAN: You know, I think if threats and intimidation occurred, depending upon the wording of the threats and intimidation, that could be criminal activity. And if it was done by an agent of the president, and Michael Cohen certainly has been his personal attorney for a long time, this could cause serious problems for the president.

But you have to remember that lawyers when they're talking to somebody who has breached allegedly a contract, they can use what sounds like very harsh words which sound like threats.

[11:25:10] Which are really just saying, listen, we have a contract, and we're going to enforce the contract, and we're going to come down really hard on you with the contract. Now, do you feel threatened, Brianna? Well, maybe you would from that kind of language. But what I said just then is perfectly legal.

KEILAR: That is a really good point, Paul. What is the president thinking about this, that's something we want to know, Eliana. One of his friends, Christopher Ruddy, the "News Max" CEO said this weekend that Trump called the Stormy Daniels story, quote, "a political hoax." But the president himself, he's -- has he without addressing this story and not really getting into it, and not putting that out there publicly, I mean, what does that tell you?

JOHNSON: Well, what's been so interesting about the Stormy Daniels story is that unlike so many of these other media stories, the president has stayed silent about it until this morning when he finally tweeted about it. But we know that he has been fuming about this behind the scenes.

I would say that the $130,000 payment suggests that the president was very worried about this story becoming public and that his relative silence by comparison to the other stories, by comparison to his reaction to other stories suggest that he knows this is a real threat to him and is keeping his mouth shut about it.

KEILAR: We didn't hear from the -- we did hear from the first lady's spokesperson, not from the first lady herself, and it wasn't a denial. It didn't say that this was fake news, it just said basically a reminder that there is a minor child involved here whose name should be withheld from stories whenever possible. What did that reaction say to you?

JOHNSON: Yes. I don't think we have gotten any indication throughout the Trump presidency that Melania Trump is particularly invested in protecting her husband's reputation here or in denying that he has not been the most faithful husband to her throughout their marriage.

KEILAR: She seems upset, though. We have seen that word, maybe they're not traveling together, maybe they're -- very key points where she is not standing by her man --

JOHNSON: The only thing she cares about really is protecting her son who is 12 or 13 years old and I think that's what's coming across in Stephanie Grisham, her spokeswoman's statement.

KEILAR: As she should be. All right. Eliana Johnson, thank you so much. Paul Callan, thank you.

And be sure to watch "AC 360" tonight because CNN's Anderson Cooper will have much more on his one on one with Stormy Daniels at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And coming up, the White House revolving door spinning into hyperdrive. Sources telling CNN that President Trump is getting ready to give his Veterans Affairs secretary the boot as he shakes up his legal team on the Russia probe as well. Details ahead.

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