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White House: 'No Immediate Personnel Changes'; Stormy Daniels Says She Was Physically Threatened to Be Silent; U.S. Accuses Russia of Cyber-Attacks Threatening Infrastructure; Deadline Nears For Attorney General To Act On Recommendation To Fire Former FBI Official McCabe; Stormy Daniel Physically Threatened To Be Silent Says Some Accusations Occurred After Trump Took Office; British And Russians Trade Accusations Over Ex-Spy's Poisoning. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Reaching a truce. After rampant speculation that the White House is ready to fall apart, the president lets chief of staff John Kelly know that he's 100 percent safe for now. Can Kelly hold everything together?

[17:00:22] Denying chaos. The White House suggests it's running like a finely-tuned machine, or at least that it's running. But the president still hasn't told his national security adviser and a whole bunch of cabinet secretaries that they're safe. Is that conflict or chaos?

Physically threatened. The White House says it takes seriously the safety of everyone after the attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels says she was physically threatened to keep silent about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.

And Russian intrusion. The U.S. reveals that Russia has launched cyber-attacks on America's nuclear plants, electric grid and water supply. Can Moscow turn the lights out with the flip of a switch?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: White House staffers are on pins and needles, fearing another shakeup. But John Kelly, said to be on thin ice himself, has been told he's safe while telling subordinates no changes are imminent.

And a stunning new twist as Stormy Daniels's lawyer says his client was physically threatened to keep quiet about Donald Trump. The White House says it takes the security of any person seriously.

I'll speak with Congressman John Garamendi. And our correspondents and specialists, they're all standing by with full coverage.

White House staffers are breathing sighs of relief for the time being. We begin over at the White House. CNN's Ryan Nobles is joining us.

Ryan, I take it no firings today?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at least not yet, Wolf. And sources close to the White House tell our Jim Acosta that everyone loves a season finale. And if that's what we're watching, today was only the first part of a two-part cliffhanger. Because as of right now, those staff shake-ups that we were expecting have not happened. At least not yet.


NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight White House staffers are being told to ignore the rampant rumors of a personnel overhaul. White House chief of staff John Kelly specifically telling his team no changes are imminent.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, we aren't making any -- as I just said, we don't have any personnel changes at this time, but the president shouldn't be bound because Democrats in the Senate can't do their job.

NOBLES: But the chaotic uncertainty at the White House lingers, with multiple cabinet secretaries and prominent officials possibly on the chopping block.

At least four cabinet secretaries are under fire for excessive use of taxpayer funds: Veterans Secretary David Shulkin for charging his wife's travel to Europe to the agency; Scott Pruitt for heavy travel costs; HUD Secretary Ben Carson for running up expensive furnishings for his office; and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for pricey private flights on the taxpayers' dime.

And it's not just his cabinet. The president is also mulling a major change to the West Wing. High on the change list: national security advisor H.R. McMaster, who has clashed with the president over key foreign policy issues like Iran and North Korea.

But the White House has gone to great lengths to show McMaster is safe. Thursday night, press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted out, quote, "Just spoke to POTUS and General H.R. McMaster. Contrary to reports, they have a good working relationship, and there are no changes at the NSC."

Today McMaster met with the president and briefly made an appearance in front of cameras on the White House North Lawn. Despite the assurances that he's going nowhere, Sanders said that she, not the president, informed McMaster about his status in the West Wing.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I spoke directly to the president last night. He asked me to pass that message along to General McMaster.

NOBLES: Even Kelly himself may be on the way out, but the president has told advisors that Kelly is 100 percent safe. And Mr. Trump himself said reports of major staff changes are not accurate.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a very false story. It was very -- a very exaggerated -- a very exaggerated and false story.

NOBLES: But the speculation persists, as staffers continue to await the next turn in the Trump show.


NOBLES: And it seems as though the White House is setting the stage for a dramatic end to all this talk of these staff shake-ups. And if that tension is increasing things here at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the president seems to revel in it.

Our sources say that the president is enjoying all this attention this story is getting. In part, Wolf, because he is the only one who knows how this story ends -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, Ryan. Thank you very much.

There's a stunning new turn in the Stormy Daniels saga. The porn star is suing President Trump to end a hush agreement so she can reveal details of her alleged affair with the president, but now Daniels' attorney says she has been physically threatened to be silent. And he tells CNN some of Daniels's accusations occurred after Donald Trump became president.

[17:05:12] Let's go to our national politics reporter, M.J. Lee.

M.J., what's the latest?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a very serious allegation and a new allegation coming from Stormy Daniels' lawyer. He said on CNN today that physical threats have been made against Stormy Daniels to silence her about speaking out about her relationship with Donald Trump.

Now, until this morning we knew that Stormy had hired extra security because of threats and that there were legal threats that were made against her, including a temporary restraining order that was taken out against her just last month.

But Avenatti, to be clear, is not saying who made these threats or what kind of physical threats they were, but he did tell Jake attempter earlier today that they were not some random threats made by some wingnut.

Now asked whether there was proof for these physical threats, the details of that, he says, will be revealed in the "60 Minutes" interview that will now air, he says, on March 25.

BLITZER: He also claims that six other women have now contacted him with their stories, similar to the story of Stormy Daniels. What can you tell us about that?

LEE: That's right. Avenatti is basically saying that there could be six other Stormy Danielses that are out there. He said that they all have similar stories as Stormy Daniels and that at least two of them have NDAs. Take a listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER FOR STORMY DANIELS: We have been approached by six separate women who claim to have similar stories to those, or that of my client. Two of those women, at least two, have NDAs. We are in the very early stages of vetting those stories.

I want to preach caution and restraint. We are not vouching for these stories. We are investigating them.


LEE: As you heard there, Wolf, he's being very careful to say he has not fully vetted these stories. He has not fully vetted these NDAs, and he doesn't know if any of these women will end up becoming his clients. But the key thing that he said here, Wolf, is that all six women have stories that directly involve the president of the United States.

BLITZER: NDAs are -- the NDAs, the nondisclosure agreements. I want to make sure that all of our viewers understand what we're talking about when we speak about these NDAs.

So what is the White House saying about the allegation of physical threats?

LEE: Well, as usual, Wolf, the White House actually isn't saying a whole lot. Sarah Sanders spoke to reporters at the White House briefing room today, and she said that "We take the safety and security of any person seriously" but that she has no knowledge about the Stormy Daniels station and that she has not had a chance to speak with the president about this specific issue.

She also referred reporters to outside counsel for the president. But speaking of, Michael Cohen telling CNN that he is not going to comment on this issue, and attorneys for Michael Cohen also did not respond to requests for comment.

Just keep in mind, if it is true that there are other women who claim to have similar stories as Stormy Daniels, there are going to be many more questions for the White House, including whether these women have signed NDAs, whether they were paid off. And of course, now, the very important question of whether there are other women who say that they were threatened by people close to the president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: M.J. Lee with the latest. M.J., thanks very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: If Stormy Daniels was physically threatened, as this allegation has now come forward, by someone close to the president, in order to try to cover up this affair, that would be a very serious matter. Should there be, in your opinion, a criminal investigation?

GARAMENDI: I just don't know. I mean, this whole thing is just spinning out of control. We've got the president of the United States in a situation where his entire White House is falling apart. And just yesterday, we learned that Russia is hacking into our essential utilities. Nuclear power plants. On and on and on.

This presidency is a very serious security threat to the United States. And if that security threat goes to these women, it's just one more thing. I ought to say, it's time get this guy out of there.

BLITZER: Well, is Congress -- should Congress investigate, do something if there were, in fact, physical threats against this woman?

GARAMENDI: The first place to go is the district attorney in Los Angeles, if that's where the threat took place. And then we'll see where it goes. It goes beyond that. If there is something beyond that, then yes, absolutely. That becomes one of the things that will be on the impeachment if it, in fact, happens.

BLITZER: When you say "get this guy out of there," I mean, those are strong words.

GARAMENDI: Those are very strong words.

BLITZER: Tell me what you're referring to.

GARAMENDI: Well, I've had it with this president. We have a situation in which he has been one year, not pushing back against Putin in Russia. During that entire year, Russia has not only continued to hack our election processes, but it's also hacking into, gaining control of nuclear power plants, water systems, sanitation systems, aviation systems. That is an act of war. Nothing less than that.

BLITZER: The Department of Homeland Security is now saying that.

GARAMENDI: This isn't me talking. This is firm. The Secretary of the Homeland Security and the Department of Energy. We have within the Department of Defense a thing called Cyber Command. It is their job to defend and to push back.

Have they been given orders by the president to do what they are capable of doing to push back against Russia, to put Russia back on their heels? They are threatening the very lives of America, to say nothing of our economy, and this president has said not one word.

BLITZER: You're on the Armed Services Committee.


BLITZER: Have there been orders to the U.S. Cyber Command to go forward and deal with this?

GARAMENDI: We don't know. We need to ask that question. We need to bring them in and say, "Has the president told you to defend this nation? To push back against Putin and Russia?" If not, that's a clear dereliction of the constitutional responsibility of the president of the United States.

BLITZER: You want him to be impeached? Is that what you're saying?

GARAMENDI: It would be an article of impeachment if he hasn't done what he can do to protect the very essential elements of this nation. Our power grids, our water systems, our nuclear energy plants. If he's not willing to protect them, yes, that is an article of impeachment. Will it amount to that? It's one more thing on top of all this other stuff.

BLITZER: Let me wrap up this Stormy Daniels issue. If there were -- the lawyer says there were allegations made while Donald Trump was serving as president of the United States, against Stormy Daniels' threats. What kind of threats? We don't know. He's not speculating. He's not suggesting what kind of threats. But this raises further questions of, you know, what if anything should be done about that?

GARAMENDI: Well, certainly it's a subject of investigation. First off, let's get the facts. It's an issue for the district attorney, and probably in Los Angeles if that's where the effects (ph) took place. If there is something here, then yes, there ought to be an investigation.

But do not count on the House of Representatives to do their job. They have completely abandoned the people of America by not continuing the investigation into what this president did. What his team did, what happened during the election, and what other kinds of things are out there with regard to Putin, Trump and Russia.

BLITZER: You're talking about the Republican majority --


BLITZER: -- in the House Intelligence Committee. But are you saying all Republicans in the House of Representatives have abandoned their responsibilities?

GARAMENDI: I don't see one of them standing up and saying we need to know. We need to know what happened so that we can put in place laws and programs to protect this nation's democracy.

And now we have these cyber-attacks. I don't hear it from them. Where is the speaker of the House of Representatives? Do you think this thing shut down without his permission? No, no. He allowed it or caused it to shut down. He is right there. It is his job, as it is mine, to protect this nation.

BLITZER: So you're suggesting that the Russians are engaged in these cyber-attacks against power grids, whatever, nuclear power plants?


BLITZER: That they're threatening to do so?

GARAMENDI: I'm not suggesting. This comes from the Secretary of Homeland Defense and also from the Department of Energy.

BLITZER: We have a full report on that coming up. What should the U.S. do about that?

GARAMENDI: We must do two things. First of all, put in place the defensive mechanisms that we have at hand. That's what Cyber Command is -- in the Department of Defense is supposed to be doing.

Secondly, we must push back. Sanctions are good, but we can take other actions. We can make it very clear to Russia: you have messed with us. We're not taking it, and here's what's going to happen to you. Tomorrow morning, here's what it will be.

BLITZER: Strong words. What about General McMaster? He's supposedly now on his way out as the president's national security adviser. Are you OK with that?

GARAMENDI: No. I'm not. I want to know who's going to replace him.

BLITZER: The speculation is John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the Bush administration.

GARAMENDI: One of the neocons that got us into the Iraq War. There's a great idea. No way.

BLITZER: So you don't -- you wouldn't?

GARAMENDI: No, I don't think so.

BLITZER: You have confidence in McMaster?

GARAMENDI: I have certainly more confidence in him than I do in Bolton, because I know what Bolton did to this country in the early 2000s. He took us, together --

BLITZER: Well, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. He later became the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

GARAMENDI: He was part of those neocons in the early 2000 that were part of getting us into the Iraq War.

BLITZER: He supported the war in Iraq.

GARAMENDI: He certainly did.

BLITZER: And on that he disagrees the president. President Trump says that was a disaster. The U.S. wasted trillions of dollars. On that, you agree with Donald Trump?

GARAMENDI: I do find agreement in places with him. But that was long before he became president and became commander in chief of the United States military.

BLITZER: One final thing question before I let you go. The whole notion of the turmoil that's going on in the White House right now. This is happening on the eve, potentially, of the president sitting down with Kim Jong-un of North Korea and all sorts of other tense issues right now. Russia, specifically, what's happening in the Middle East and Syria, with Iran. This seems like a pretty chaotic situation when there are so many national security issues at stake.

GARAMENDI: Precisely so. It is the chaos of the White House. It is the inability of this president to be consistent over time that puts us at extraordinary risk and extraordinary danger. The negotiations, yes, we ought to be negotiating with North Korea. The president at those negotiating tables? Take a deep breath and pray.

BLITZER: You're worried about that?

GARAMENDI: You bet I'm worried about it.

BLITZER: When he sits down with Kim Jong-un?

GARAMENDI: He is so inconsistent. We have no idea what he's going to say. He will probably not going to be prepared. He doesn't seem to want to take serious briefings from serious people that understand. There is no ambassador in South Korea. There is no assistant secretary for the Far East in the State Department. The State Department is in chaos. This entire administration is not only in chaos, but it is extraordinarily dangerous.

The consistency, the objectivity, the planning that is necessary for the strongest nation in the world to be secure and safe for the rest of world, not only ourselves, isn't happening.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, the White House says it takes seriously the safety of everyone after the attorney for the porn star Stormy Daniels says she was physically threatened to keep silent about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.

And more on the alarming matter Congressman Garamendi just raised. The U.S. revealing that Russia has launched cyber-attacks on nuclear plants here in the United States, on the U.S. electric grid and the water supply, as well. Can Moscow turn America's lights out?


[17:21:20] BLITZER: A troubling new report now on America's vulnerable infrastructure. When the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on Moscow this week, it revealed that Russia has secretly launched cyber-attacks on power, water, and manufacturing facilities here in the United States, and officials concede that U.S. defenses, at least right now, are lacking.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is an enormous concern across the intelligence community. It has been for some time. But you can read into these very strongly-worded public statements that the U.S. has detected something recently, in recent weeks and months, that raised the alarm as to how far Russia has penetrated these systems, as well as how far Russia might be willing to go.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, vital U.S. infrastructure, including the power grid, under cyber threat by Russian government hackers, potentially giving the Kremlin the ability to turn off the lights.

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI detailing a two-year multistage effort by Moscow targeting the U.S. energy grid. The hackers first gained access to small energy-related companies, planting malware that allowed them to move into larger networks. Once inside the energy suppliers, the Russians collected information on the facilities' control systems, attempting to acquire the ability to turn those systems off.

JAMES LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: They're identifying targets. They're positioning malware so they could pull the trigger when they wanted to.

But they're also sending the United States a message: "We are in a position to cause harm if we wanted to do it. And so you, the U.S., should be a little more careful."

SCIUTTO: The Russians targeted other crucial sectors, as well, including nuclear power, water, aviation, and manufacturing. Experts see the intrusion as a possible precursor to an unprecedented Russian cyber-attack that could, in the event of war, devastate the U.S.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: This is our livelihood that's at stake. You know, our heating, our cooling, our electricity, our economy is at stake. And again, the Russians, they're taking advantage of a very, very weak America that has not been willing to see its commander in chief stand up to the Russians. We need a strategy against Russia, not one-off sanctions.

SCIUTTO: Ukrainian officials say Russia did the same to Ukraine in 2016 launching an attack on its electric grid that led to widespread power outages. Yesterday, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry warned Congress that the U.S. isn't ready.

RICK PERRY, U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY: I will tell you that I am not confident that the federal government has a broad strategy in place.

SCIUTTO: Some Democrats say that the U.S. response to election interference was not sufficient to deter Russia from attacks on other critical infrastructure.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: There should have been a stronger response in the cyber realm with the Russians to say, "Hey, you bring a knife to this fight, we'll bring a gun." That's the kind of language that -- that Putin understands. I'm not sure he understands any other language.

SCIUTTO: The president's nominee to be director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command shares those fears.

LT. GEN. PAUL NAKASONE, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR NOMINEE: I would say right now, they do not think that much will happen to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't fear us.

NAKASONE: They don't fear us.


SCIUTTO: Now, the U.S. publicly naming and shaming Russia for these attacks. That is something of a step, Wolf. It is showing Russia that the U.S. has identified, "Listen, hey, we detected you in these systems. We know what you're up to." That is a response to some degree. But of course, you've seen that with the election interference, and yet interference is continuing. There are great concerns about 2018, 2020.

There is a real debate now among many in the intelligence community about how far you go to deter. In fact, in terms of showing your hand. Showing vulnerabilities in Russia. Using offensive cyber weapons. A real debate about that, whether that could lead to escalation.

But clearly, what's happening right now does not appear to be working.

[1:25:09] BLITZER: Yes. You need the commander in chief, the president of the United States, to order everyone, "Get involved and do what needs to be done."

SCIUTTO: That's right.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Coming up, more on the bombshell allegations from the Stormy Daniels lawyer. Was she physically threatened to keep silent? And by whom?

Plus, new clues about how a Russian ex-spy and his daughter may have been exposed to the military-grade nerve agent that left both of them in critical condition.


[17:30:00]BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the White House is pushing back hard against reports that President Trump is getting ready to fire more top officials while leaving open the possibility about the change personnel as he sees fit to reflect changing time and conditions. Let's bring in our political, legal, and national analyst. Gloria, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, she tried to put a very positive spin on all of this today saying H.R. McMaster, the National Security Adviser, had a very good meeting with the president today. So, what do you think of all that? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Don't you kind of wish

could you fast forward this reality T.V. show to kind of the last run and then figure out what's going to happen? Because, you know, what they've done now is they've put it all in suspended animation. And it kind of looks a little bit to me like what they did with Rex Tillerson after everyone was saying, Rex Tillerson is gone, Rex Tillerson's gone, and then he was not gone and then he was.

And so, I think what you have going on now is perhaps, Kelly -- perhaps the president himself didn't like all these stories, even though we all know that he's kind of the root of all the stories because he talks to everyone about what he wants to do, and then the word gets back to us that perhaps they'd put the brakes on it now. Because, they knew that it was looking so bad. So, it's less spin than it is really just temporarily suspending that part of chaos.

BLITZER: Samantha, you served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. How important is stability when it comes to national security?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's a fundamental ingredient. And Gloria, to your point, this is worst of all words right now. We have a lame duck as National Security adviser and that makes us less safe, because I don't think that his staff, or foreign counter parts are looking at H.R. McMaster and saying you're empowered to speak on behalf of the president. We're going to substantively engage with you. And look, I was at the White House for four years, I didn't sleep because the issues were so tense. Imagine the staff now going into work every day, trying to do their jobs, stressed out, and there's this distraction of personal roulette and the investigation. That's not conducive environment to actually doing policy work.

BLITZER: You know, Shawn, we're told the president wants a new national security adviser before he sits down for his meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Is that the right move to get rid of the national security adviser before that meeting?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, as the president goes into this meeting, the team that he has surrounding him is going to be critically important because the strategy that he takes into that meeting will be critically important. Now, we think about this, by the time this meeting happens, sometime in May, as we think it will happen.

We will have a new director of CIA, a new Secretary of State, likely a new National Security adviser, and also a new director of the NSA. And so, you know, this team will come to the table with perspectives from a different position in the administration or with entirely new perspectives that we're not yet off. And that, from a national security perspective, that makes going into this meeting, and having a clear strategy more difficult.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, the shakeup may necessarily stop the General McMaster, the National Security Council -- the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as all of us know, he's been on thin ice for a long time. Some think, though, that his job made the pen, and is writing news to go ahead and fire the acting, the former acting director of the FBI Andrew McCabe before his formal retirement comes up on Sunday. He fires him before he doesn't get his pension.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's really an extraordinary story when you think about it. I mean, Andrew McCabe, whatever else you think about his role as deputy director at the FBI, was really one of the most distinguished special agents in recent history at the FBI. And he is the only mid-level bureaucrat that I'm aware of in modern American history to be attacked by name by the president of the United States for political reasons.

And think about -- you know, what an unfair situation it is. You have Jeff Sessions, you know, fighting for his job, weighing the fate of someone the president of the United States has trashed publicly. You know, given the president's, you know, interest in vindictiveness, I mean, I think it puts McCabe in an awkward, awkward position to say the least. And you know, far be it for me to predict who's going to get fired and who's going to be will be kept in the Trump administration. But I think the unfairness to Andy McCabe really is extraordinary.

BLITZER: We don't know what's in this report -- this internal Justice Department report about the allegations against them. But we do know he spent 22 years in the FBI. Let me get Shawn to weigh in on that. I know you've been thinking a lot about this.

TURNER: Yes. I mean, 22 years in the FBI until we really know what the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded. We don't know whether or not there's sufficient grounds for Andy McCabe to be fired. I will say that, you know, when the OPR makes a recommendation --

BLITZER: The Office of Professional Responsibility.

[17:35:14] TURNER: The Office of Professional Responsibility. It is up to, up to leadership at the agency, at the bureau to determine whether or not the infractions are such that they can accept those recommendations or they can disregard those recommendations. And I think that you have to look at the totality of someone's career and -- to the infraction, so the infraction will make a determination.

BORGER: And you know, Jeff Sessions has to make this decision. Jeff Sessions, who's been on thin ice with the president himself, who wants to stay in his job, presumably. If you're Andy McCabe and you're looking at this, again, I have no way of judging what the charges are et cetera, but you're a 22-year veteran, you're well-respected, even though he was called from the podium of the White House other day, a bad actor. You look at this and you say why is Jeff Sessions, who is trying please the president, is going to determine my pension? Whether I get a pension?

TURNER: The president has made his desires very clear with that tweet that he said, you know, with the 90-day countdown. He's told Jeff Sessions what he wants.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Jeff.

TOOBIN: Well, we also know that this is about whether he authorized someone to speak to the press. People from the FBI talk to the press all the time. I mean, so the idea that this is somehow something that should cost him his pension is absurd. Second, we know that the alleged leak had to do with information that was negative about Hillary Clinton, not about Donald Trump. So, the idea that, you know, this president, who is so fixated on the fact there's a deep state conspiracy to get him is considering or his deputy is considering firing someone and taking away their pension for releasing information about Hillary Clinton is just absurd.

BLITZER: You know, let me get your reaction, Samantha, you just heard Jim Sciutto has the report, that the Russians, for the past couple of years, according to the Department of Homeland Security, been trying to penetrate the U.S. infrastructure -- the power grid, the electric grids, water. What if anything can the U.S. do about that?

VINOGRAD: Well, we need to do something because the scariest part of Jim Sciutto's report and the other great reporting is: we don't know that this has stopped. And there are indications that Russia went into these systems, whether it'd be the energy grid, nuclear facilities, or election infrastructure, penetrated, lurked around. And for the time being decided not to do something.

So, right now, we have a situation where Vladimir Putin literally has an on or off switch and feels omnipotent. So, we know that sanctions haven't deterred him. We know that kicking out diplomats haven't deterred him. So, I think we need to have a real discussion about whether it's, for example, to think about things like offensive cyber operations in Russia and coordinated action with the United Kingdom, and France, and German.

BLITZER: The nuclear field -- they've mutually assured destruction. You go ahead and destroy our power grids, our nuclear facilities, water, electricity. You know what...

VINOGRAD: We'll do the same to you.

BLITZER: None of that is going to exist in Russia, either. That it worked all these years and prevented nuclear war. We'll see if that happens. Everybody, stick around, more breaking news after this.


[17:42:51] BLITZER: We're back with our analyst and our experts. And Jeffrey, this latest bombshell in the Stormy Daniels saga, if she was physically threatened -- as her lawyer now claims in interviews with CNN and elsewhere, would that actually invalidate that nondisclosure agreement? She got $130,000 for signing it.

TOOBIN: Well, to tell you the truth, I'm not sure. But remember, Stormy Daniels is acting now as if the agreement is already invalid. She has given an interview to "60 Minutes", which apparently is going to be on March 25th. So, that is a breach if there was a confidentiality -- you know, a hush agreement, as he calls it. So, as far as Stormy Daniels and her lawyer are concerned, this agreement is null and void anyway. And so, it's up to the lawyers for Michael Cohen to get into court and stop her, because she's already out there acting as if the agreement is void,

BLITZER: But could this -- physical threats, could this emerge as a criminal matter?

TOOBIN: Well, sure. I mean, if there was, you know, some sort of physical harm threatened to her, that could be a crime. But you know, with all due respect to Stormy and her lawyer, we're a long way from establishing that anything has happened, much less that a crime has been committed. But if the threat of physical violence, some sort of extortion, that's definitely a crime.

BLITZER: Gloria, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels also saying, six other women have now approached him with similar stories and at least two of them, he says, have these non-disclosure agreements.

BORGER: Right. And he's kind of dropping these bread crumbs to sort of hype that "60 Minutes" interview, and I think he's doing a pretty good job of it? They're checking out, he said, these women's stories. But, if you're in the White House right now, just imagine this: you've got chaos about staffing, you've got how are you going to do this deal with North Korea, you've got the president getting ready to go there, you've got the Russia investigation -- the question of whether the president is actually going to testify before the special counsel. That's being negotiated.

And now, you have Stormy Daniels plus maybe six more women? I mean, this is just -- this is just a crescendo here. And at a certain point, something has to give. At a certain point, either the president has to address these charges, and I presume it might be after the "60 Minutes" interview. Michael Cohen, who was the attorney representing the president is going to end up probably having to say something, I would guess, I'm not a lawyer. Jeffrey might know better that I, but I don't think this can go without remark. I mean, the president is known for being quite about things.

BLITZER: The story is going to continue...


[17:45:45] BLITZER: And we'll see how it unfolds. Stick around, coming up, alarming new developments in the poisoning of a Russian ex- spy and his daughter. How were they exposed to a dangerous military great nerve agent? Plus, the sudden death of another Putin critic becomes the focus of a murder investigation.


[17:50:41] BLITZER: Tonight, top British and Russian officials are trading accusations about the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter. Our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow for us. Fred, you're following possible new clues about how the nerve agent was planted. What are you learning? FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is

reporting, Wolf, by the British newspaper, The Telegraph, citing unnamed U.K. security sources saying that they think perhaps that the toxin, this nerve agent, Novichok, may have been placed in Yulia Skripov's suitcase before she even came to the United Kingdom from Russia. It may have happened in Russia. They believe that perhaps it might've been placed into a bit of clothing of perhaps a packet that she may have taken along, of course, she felt ill along with her father. And the Brits say that it was that Novichok nerve agent that did all this. But of course, Wolf, this is one of many leads that are out there and it's unclear how real any of that really is, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Britain's top diplomat, the foreign minister -- the foreign secretary, pointed the finger directly at Vladimir Putin. What's the reaction there?

PLEITGEN: Well, there's absolute anger on the part of the Russians. And certainly, this was really an escalation on the part of Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, saying that he believed that it was increasingly likely that Vladimir Putin himself had ordered the hit on Sergei Skripal. Let's listen into what he had to say.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Our quarrel is with Putin's Kremlin and with his decision, and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K., on the streets of Europe for the first time since the second world war.


PLEITGEN: Wolf, after hearing that, I immediately mailed the spokesman for Vladimir Putin and he very quickly responded to that message I sent him, and he said the following -- I'm going to quote it here. He said, "We have said on different levels and occasions that Russia has nothing to do with the story. Any reference or mentioning of our president is nothing else but shocking and unpardonable diplomatic misconduct." So, you can see a lot of anger there. By the way, the Russians are now saying, Wolf, that they've already finalized the measures, the countermeasures they want to (INAUDIBLE) but they haven't announced them, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, amidst all of this, Fred, that a Russian expat possibly was murdered in Britain, what can you tell us about that?

PLEITGEN: Yes. A Russian expat, Wolf, who was highly critical as well of the Kremlin and who was friends with several Russians who have also been killed under very mysterious circumstances -- one of them being Alexander Litvinenko, of course, who was poisoned by a radioactive substance in 2006. This man's name is Nikolai Gushkov. He was found dead on Monday, and initially, the U.K. authorities said they weren't sure what he died of. Well, today, they came out and said, that he compression marks on his neck. They've now launched a murder investigation and their counterterrorism police is on this as well. So, it's another Russian exile, another critic of the Kremlin found dead in the United Kingdom, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, lots going on. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thanks very much.

[17:53:50] Coming up, breaking news, the attorney for porn star, Stormy Daniels, says she was physically threatened to keep silent about her alleged affair with Donald Trump, and that some of her accusations occurred after the president took office.


[17:59:46] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Calming the chaos. White House workers told by the chief of staff to ignore rampant rumors of more firings in the works, but fear and uncertainty fill the West Wing tonight after another wild week. Are more shakeups imminent?

Stormy's new front. A lawyer for the porn star who says she had an affair with Donald Trump alleges she was physically threatened to stay silent.