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Interview With Virginia Senator Mark Warner; Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Trump Hires Conspiracy Theorist; Trump Attacks Mueller. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 19, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: breaking news. Pushing a conspiracy. We're told that an aggressive former prosecutor who claims there's a brazen FBI and Justice Department plot to frame the president will be joining the Trump defense team. What does it reveal about Mr. Trump's legal strategy in the Russia probe?
Lashing out. As the president rails against the special counsel, his lawyers reportedly are taking new steps to try to limit what Robert Mueller might ask Mr. Trump in an interview. I will ask the top Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees what they're learning.
Not going home. Stormy Daniels' lawyers says the porn star is not backing down from her legal fight with the president. Why is Mr. Trump now all but admitting his stake in a deal to buy Daniels' silence about their alleged affair?
And Texas terror. After a fourth explosion in Austin, authorities now say a serial bomber is on the loose. Tonight, local residents have more reason to fear that anyone in the city could be targeted next.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on President Trump's legal battle with special counsel Robert Mueller. "The Washington Post" reporting tonight that Mr. Trump's lawyers have provided Mueller's office with descriptions of key moments under investigation in the Russia probe.
Their goal, to limit the scope of a presidential interview. This as we're told Mr. Trump is hiring a veteran lawyer who's been promoting a stunning and unproven theory that some FBI and Justice Department officials are framing Mr. Trump.
I will talk with the top Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Congressman Adam Schiff and Senator Mark Warner. They're both key players in the Russia probe in Congress. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, things clearly are heating up in the Russia investigation.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And we have learned that there has been recent back and forth between Robert Mueller's team and the president's lawyers about a possible interview. This as a source close to the president tells us that the president is growing increasingly agitated as he realizes what his own lawyers have been telling him about the Russia probe ending soon isn't actually happening.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The good old USA.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, an emboldened President Trump is taking a more aggressive stance towards special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators, as we learned the president is adding a new attorney to his legal team, Joe diGenova, who has pushed conspiracy theories about the FBI trying to prevent Trump from being president.
JOE DIGENOVA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: They tried to frame an incoming president with a false Russian conspiracy that never existed and they knew it and they plotted to ruin him as a candidate and then destroy him as a president.
QUESTION: Mr. President, does Robert Mueller still have your confidence? Mr. President.
BROWN: In a series of tweets over the weekend, the president signaled his strong desire for the Russia probe to come to an end, tweeting this morning: "A total witch-hunt with massive conflicts of interest."
So far, three Trump campaign associates have pleaded guilty and Mueller's team indicted 13 Russians for election meddling, a move that prompted the administration to issue sanctions against them just last week.
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I'm just puzzled by why the White House is going so hard at this, other than they're very afraid of what might come out. I don't know how you can have any other conclusion.
BROWN: For the first time, Trump attacked Mueller by name, asking, "Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big crooked Hillary supporters, and zero Republicans?"
His question was rhetorical, as well as incorrect, as Mueller himself is a Republican, as is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the probe. And this tweet on Saturday had many questioning if the president is setting the stage for Mueller's firing.
"The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime." That tweet caused White House attorney Ty Cobb to issue a statement once again saying that there are no plans to fire Mueller. Trump himself can't fire Mueller directly. He'd need the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to do it.
Or Trump would need to replace his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, because of his earlier recusal from the Russia probe. On Saturday, one of the president's attorneys released a statement attacking the investigation as manufactured and called on Rosenstein to end it: "I pray that acting the attorney general Rosenstein will bring an end to alleged Russia collusion investigation."
But the president did get one firing he wanted. Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe was fired by Sessions on Friday, just two days short of retiring with a full pension. Trump gleefully called the firing -- quote -- "a great day for democracy," a notion which received pushback from his own party.
FLAKE: The president said it was a great day for democracy yesterday. I think it was a horrible day for democracy. To have firings like this happening at the top from the president and the attorney general does not speak well for what's going on.
BROWN: McCabe's attorney coming to his client's defense, calling Trump's tweets childish, defamatory, and disgusting, tweeting, "The tweets confirm that he has corrupted the entire process that led to Mr. McCabe's termination and has rendered it illegitimate."
The president making another news splash today at an opioid prevention event in New Hampshire, suggesting that some high-level drug dealers be given the death penalty.
TRUMP: The ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty. Now, maybe our country's not ready for that. It's possible. It's possible that our country is not ready for that. And I can understand it, maybe, although, personally, I can't understand that.
BROWN: And the president has arrived back here at the White House from New Hampshire. The president ignored reporters' questions, including the question about why he just recently tweeted that there was no plan to add to his legal team, when, clearly, Wolf, that is not the case with the news out today.
In the meantime, a source familiar with the matter says the president is realizing the recent indications between a subpoena on the Trump Organization, recent negotiations between his lawyers and the Robert Mueller investigators, it's clear that this Russia probe is not going end to anytime soon, and that agitation from the president is what spilled over on Twitter over the weekend with the president attacking Robert Mueller by name -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. Pamela, thank you.
Tonight, as President Trump is lawyering up and attacking Robert Mueller, many members of Congress are very anxious about the next shoe to drop. Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, you have been talking to some Republicans about the president's new tirade against the special counsel. What are you hearing?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Republicans do not like the attacks the president has been waging against the special counsel.
They are asking him to back off, to cool it, to not go after the special counsel. They believe it's not helpful for his cause and they certainly do not want him to fire Robert Mueller. They believe, if he did take steps to do that, it would cause a revolt on Capitol Hill.
But, Wolf, Republicans by and large do not support moving any legislation to protect Robert Mueller. There's a push from Democrats and some Republicans to do just that, even those one Republican today, Bob Corker, suggested that a bill to protect Robert Mueller should be added to a must-pass bill to keep the government open by Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: The president launched all of these attacks against Bob Mueller over the weekend. I wonder if you feel if you're OK with that?
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: No. I don't like that. And I noticed subsequently that they sent out a release from the White House saying they have no discussions and no intentions of terminating him. But, no, I think he needs to leave Mueller alone.
RAJU: Do you think that there needs to be an effort in Congress to protect him legislatively, a bill to protect...
CORKER: You know, I can't imagine -- I can't possibly imagine why Senate leadership wouldn't place a protection in this omni that's coming through. That would be the perfect place for them to deal with it.
RAJU: How would Republicans react, do you think, if he fired Mueller?
CORKER: I think there would be a total upheaval in the Senate.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I think the president ought to cool it a little bit, because I think it doesn't help him. Look, I like the president. He's a person of strong emotions and he sometimes speaks out when he shouldn't.
And in the case of Bob Mueller, I like Bob Mueller. He's honest. He's a very good prosecutor. He's straightforward, and I think is not going to indict the president and I think the president should treat it that way. It would be the stupidest thing the president could do is fire him. Yes, he could do that, but he's not going to do that. And he shouldn't do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now, Wolf, Orrin Hatch also told me that he does not support legislation to protect Robert Mueller, and neither does Senator Lindsey Graham, at least not passing something right now.
And that's notable because Lindsey Graham is one of the sponsors of two bipartisan bills to protect Robert Mueller. He just told me just moments ago, he does not believe they should move on this right now, because he does not think that Robert Mueller will be fired.
Also, John Cornyn, the number two Republican, says he does not think it's necessary to pick that fight with the president. And you're hearing some frustrations from Republicans about the Republican leadership's stance on this, including Mitch McConnell, who has been quiet so far.
Jeff Flake just moments ago raising concerns that Mitch McConnell has not said anything since the president launched all of those attacks against Robert Mueller over the weekend, Wolf.
BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you.
Let's talk about all the breaking news in the Russia investigation with the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, the official line from the White House is that the president isn't thinking of firing the Robert Mueller. How believable is that?
SCHIFF: Well, it's not very credible when you consider the fact that there's good reporting that the president actually had ordered his firing earlier in a fit of pique or when concerned about the latest Russia developments.
Here, it's hard to escape the conclusion that this timing isn't related to the reports that Mueller has subpoenaed business records from the Trump Organization. Members need to do more than just speak out in hushed tones.
We ought to include in the omnibus a provision that says you cannot fire Mueller but for good cause, that there's a right of appeal, essentially, and that all the documents be preserved and provided to Congress.
That would speak a lot more than the occasional murmurings of various members of Congress. And for the Republican leadership in particular not to speak out strongly and unequivocally really invites the kind of constitutional crisis we would have if the president were to fire Mueller. BLITZER: Do you believe, Congressman, these latest tweets from the
president, which are statements, official statements from the president, amount to obstruction of justice or potentially witness intimidation?
SCHIFF: I certainly think that all of this goes to the president's intent, goes to the question as to whether there's a corrupt intent to obstruct justice. And I find it less than credible that one of the president's lawyers, who immediately called for the -- basically the firing of Mueller after McCabe was fired, was doing so and was not speaking for the president.
Indeed, initially, he said he was speaking for the president. He must have then been cautioned by other lawyers in the White House that that was a problem legally. But, nonetheless, the president seems to be testing the waters. How much can he get away with?
And like anyone, any bully, basically, if you don't stand up to them and you do so in unequivocal terms, they see this as license to do whatever they have in mind. So, I really think we need to see what's plainly before us.
And that is that this is a president who could wake up in the morning and decide in a fit of pique he's going to get rid of Bob Mueller. And we invite that kind of crisis if we don't take action now.
BLITZER: "The Washington Post" is now reporting that the White House has sent the special counsel some written descriptions of the key moments under investigation. Will that help limit the scope of the president's possible interview with Robert Mueller and his team?
SCHIFF: Well, it's possible that if they can provide written responses that answer some of the special counsel questions, that it obviates the need for certain lines of questioning in an in-person interview. But I don't think it's going to limit that much. And I don't think it should.
There's a big difference between a lawyer-crafted statement and having a witness right in front of you that not only answers questions, but answers, importantly, the follow-up questions. I can understand why the president's lawyers are concerned. This is a president with very little allegiance to fact.
And he may be able to get away with that on the stump, but it's quite a different matter when he's speaking either under oath or under penalty of perjury, should he falsely testify or falsely state something during an interview with special counsel.
But, while it may limit the questioning in the sense of, OK, this won't be necessary, I still think a very lengthy and detailed live and in-person interview is going to be necessary.
BLITZER: Joe diGenova, a former U.S. attorney here in Washington, D.C., is joining the White House legal team as a private attorney representing the president.
Listen to what Joe diGenova said back in January.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIGENOVA: Make no mistake about it, a group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what does this hire say about the current White House legal strategy?
SCHIFF: Well, it currently says both in the remarks we have been hearing lately from Dowd and others, as well as the hiring of this lawyer, that they're adopting a new and aggressive attack approach to the special counsel.
I have to think that as the Mueller investigation has progressed and gotten closer and closer to the Oval Office, there's a sense of alarm going on. It's also not going to be over when the president wants it over, which was yesterday.
So, you know, they have their allies in Congress. They can shut down the House investigation, and they did. But they can't shut down Bob Mueller, and not if people are living up to their constitutional duty. But bringing on yet another conspiracy theorist to the White House, I don't think serves the public very well, and ultimately won't serve the president very well either.
BLITZER: This all follows the firing of the FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, late Friday night.
Should they release the inspector general's report so the American public can see the rationale behind this decision?
SCHIFF: Well, ultimately, I think they should, and I would hope that they will.
But there are going to be tough questions to answer. Why was this one piece of the inspector general investigation carved out, pushed ahead in order to be able to fire Andrew McCabe before his pension would vest?
Why did the attorney general, who had promised the Senate he would recuse himself, participate in that decision? Why did the president weigh in and push this? Were they responding to the president's calls, and does that taint the firing? Is it a coincidence that Andrew McCabe as well as Baker, Rybicki, and others at the FBI who were in a position to corroborate James Comey's testimony about his conversations with the president, why they have all been on the target list for the president and his allies in Congress?
These, I think, are very important and still-unanswered questions.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks for joining us. 3
SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the Trump team's efforts to limit the scope on what Robert Mueller might ask the president. And I will get reaction from the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Mark Warner.
And Stormy Daniels' lawyers is speaking out about a stunning new move by the president and his attorney to make the porn star pay big-time. We're also hearing from Mr. Trump's attorney. He's firing back at Daniels' claim she's been threatened.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, new insight into the Trump legal team strategy against special counsel Robert Mueller.
"The Washington Post" reporting that Mr. Trump's lawyers are trying to limit the scope of a potential Mueller interview with the president by offering written accounts of key moments under scrutiny in the Russia investigation.
We're joined now by Senator Mark Warner. He's the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: How concerned are you, Senator, that President Trump has gone from calling it the Russia investigation to now calling it the Mueller probe?
WARNER: I'm very concerned.
I raised these issues before the beginning of the year, calling on all my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, to stand up for the independence of the Mueller investigation. Many of my Republican colleagues have said that the president will make a grave mistake.
I think Lindsey Graham said it would be the beginning of the end of his presidency. But I continue to be concerned by the president's disregard for this investigation, disregard for the seriousness of the Russia incursion into our elections.
I think there was more than a little bit fishy about the way Andy McCabe was fired, 36 hours before he was to receive his pension. Now, I have not seen the inspector general report and I expect to have a full brief on that. But it was more than a little bit fishy, the fact that they strung him out and then the president was so inappropriate as to be texting about this guy who served our country for over 20 years.
BLITZER: "The Washington Post" is now reporting that the White House has given the special counsel, Robert Mueller, written accounts of some of the important moments Mueller is looking into. What do you make of that strategy?
WARNER: You know, I'm not going to comment on the White House strategy.
But the one thing we know is that, every week that goes on, new information comes out. For example, we find now that Cambridge Analytica, one of the technology firms that the Trump Organization used in the campaign, a firm that claimed in many ways that it helped create the Trump victory, appropriately, or perhaps inappropriately, got access to over 50 million Facebook accounts.
I expect an answer from Facebook, not their lawyer, but from their CEO. I expect to hear more from Cambridge Analytica. And as more and more of this information continues to come out, for any effort to try to limit Mueller or for the president to try to cut off lines of the Mueller investigation would be terribly inappropriate.
And, again, this is about rule of law in this country. And I hope, God forbid, that the president tries to get rid of Mueller or Rosenstein or starts pardoning parts of his family or others, that people will stand up for rule of law, and not, in effect, bow down to this president and his activities.
BLITZER: After President Trump called Andrew McCabe's firing, in his words, a great day for democracy, the former CIA Director John Brennan, tweeted this.
I will put it up on the screen. "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America. America will triumph over you."
Senator, that is truly scathing to hear what the former CIA director says about the president of the United States. He was the CIA director throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Does Brennan know something about the president's behavior that we don't know yet?
WARNER: I don't know the answer to that.
If former Director Brennan has additional information, I hope he's sharing it with Mueller. I hope he can come back in and share more information with our Intelligence Committee, the only bipartisan effort still remaining looking into this matter.
But what I think probably offends Mr. Brennan and I know offends a lot of former FBI agents, former prosecutors, is this president's kind of ad hominem attack against the whole FBI, against the whole Justice Department.
You go back and look at some of his tweets, you go back and look at some of the president's allies who are in effect saying so-called deep state analogies, you know, we live in a nation of laws, Wolf. And one of the things that has disappointed me is that there's not been more members of Congress, frankly, more of my Republican colleagues, and, for that matter, more former U.S. attorneys, judges, and others stepping up and saying, even beyond Mr. Mueller, you just can't go out and attack our basic institutions like the FBI or the Justice Department.
Or you end up with circumstances like we saw a couple of weeks back, where that slightly unusual character was saying that he would not go in and even respond to the Mueller subpoena. When we get to the point where people start saying they're going to pick and choose which laws they want to follow, our country's in a dangerous spot.
And, in many ways, that kind of attitude is reinforced, frankly, by tweets by the president and by some of the president's allies who have even been more outrageous in their broad-based attacks against the FBI and Department of Justice.
BLITZER: Your committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, is having an open hearing on Wednesday, a very important hearing on Wednesday, on threats to the election infrastructure here in the United States.
What are the steps you want to see taken before the midterm elections in November?
WARNER: Well, Wolf, we will have a bipartisan press conference tomorrow. We're going to highlight the work of a number of senators again from both parties, how we can get some resources, reinforcing the fact that elections are state- and local-controlled, but how we can get resources for states to make sure that voting machines have a paper trail, to no longer have the kind of I think absurd answers we originally got from the Department of Homeland Security, when they wouldn't even notify the 21 states that were attacked because they said, in certain cases, the top state election official didn't have appropriate security clearance.
That's a crazy response. Make sure there's more information-sharing. The fact is, Wolf, we're going to have this bipartisan legislation, because in a normal world, with a normal administration, you would have the White House take the lead on gathering all of these entities, DHS, the state election boards, the FBI and others, together.
Because the one thing I will give President Trump's appointees, they all recognize the problem in terms of election security, that we're going into primary season and we're not safer than we were in meaningful ways than we were in 2016.
You have even had the former head of the NSA, the FBI director, and the director of national intelligence in public testimony say in the last two weeks that they have had no indication from the White House that election security has got to be a top priority. So our committee is going to try to make sure it's a top priority by passing legislation.
BLITZER: Glad to see there's some bipartisan cooperation in the Senate Intelligence Committee, vastly different than what's going on in the House Intelligence Committee.
Senator Warner, thanks for joining us.
WARNER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, as President Trump effectively admits his involvement in the legal fight with Stormy Daniels, his lawyer, and her lawyer, they're all speaking out right now about new twists in the case and the alleged threats against the porn star.
And we will talk more about the breaking news in the Russia investigation, the Trump league team trying to put limits on Robert Mueller as a controversial new attorney is coming on board.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There's breaking news tonight. The lawsuit pitting porn star Stormy Daniels against President Trump. Our national correspondent, Sara Sidner, is working the story for us.
[18:32:37] Sara, Daniels's lawyer is speaking out about some aggressive moves by the president's legal team.
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Stormy Daniels's attorney talked to us, telling us that the president has much more to worry about than just the Mueller investigation.
SIDNER (voice-over): Even after being threatened with $20 million in damages, porn star Stormy Daniels's lawyer says his client is not backing down in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER FOR STORMY DANIELS: The president cannot fire my client, and he cannot intimidate her. We're not packing up. We're not going home.
SIDNER: Attorney Michael Avenatti tells CNN Daniels is not cowed by filings late Friday, attempting to move her case out of a California courtroom and into federal court.
In a stunning twist, the president, who has until now remained silent on Daniels's lawsuit, legally signed onto the case, all but admitting he has an interest in the $130,000 hush money deal his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, made with the porn star in the days before the 2016 election. Until now, Cohen has maintained the president was not aware of the deal made to keep Daniels quiet about a sexual relationship she says she had with Trump back in 2006. Cohen had said Trump denied the affair.
AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: For all practical purposes, joining into this lawsuit is a huge admission, on the part of Donald Trump, that he knew about the negotiated settlement, that he knew about the nondisclosure agreement, and that he has something really important that he's trying to hide. SIDNER: Trump's lawyers want to shift the case to a federal judge,
hoping to eventually shut it down or at least move it back into arbitration, where the details would remain private.
Among the claims they make, that Daniels violated the agreement to stay quiet at least 20 times, and that she owes $1 million for each violation.
(on camera): What you make of that?
AVENATTI: It is ludicrous, and it is preposterous. We now have a sitting president of the United States who is pursuing over $20 million in damages against a private U.S. citizen, who is doing nothing more than attempting to exercise her ability to tell the truth.
SIDNER (voice-over): Michael Avenatti filed suit on Daniels' behalf last month against Donald Trump and Essential Consultants LLC, the company set up by Michael Cohen to pay Daniels $130,000.
Daniels's lawsuit asserts the confidentiality agreement is not valid because the president never signed it, as himself or as David Dennison, the fake name assigned to him to protect his identity. He says because the president never signed, Daniels should be free to talk.
[18:35:12] But lawyers for Trump and Cohen's company disagree. They say the deal is valid and that part of the agreement was to handle everything behind closed doors in arbitration.
Avenatti says his client is ready to fight, and he's goading the president, saying his case can move much faster than Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russian collusion investigation.
(on camera): Do you think you will depose the president in months? Years? Weeks?
AVENATTI: I think we're going to engage in discovery relating to whether this agreement was signed or not and what he knew in a very short period of time.
SIDNER (voice-over): And Avenatti says while the president continues tweeting about the Russia investigation, he notes Mr. Trump has yet to say a word about Stormy Daniels.
AVENATTI: He hasn't stopped in the past from tweeting and claiming every other claim is a witch hunt, baseless, et cetera. There's got to be a pretty good reason as to why we haven't heard from him yet in this case. It is crickets. And I assert the reason for that is he is, and he should be, very, very concerned about what my client has to say.
SIDNER: Now, since Avenatti has received a response from Donald Trump's lawyers and for the lawyers for Essential Consultants, we are now hearing from Michael Cohen, who has spoken to "Vanity Fair," and they have just published an article. And here's what he has said.
He said quite a bit in this article, but here are some of the main points. He says, "I have never spoken to her," responding to Stormy Daniels. "I have never e-mailed her. I have never met her. I have never texted her. And he goes on to tell "Vanity Fair," I have never threatened her in any way and I am unaware of anyone else doing so."
Those are his words. The first time since these lawsuits have been filed.
We did get a response. I spoke with Mr. Avenatti, Stormy Daniels's lawyer, and he responded to Cohen's response, saying, "There is little question at this point that Mr. Cohen's credibility is highly suspect." The battle is on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly is. He says he never spoke with her. He only spoke with her attorney when they negotiated that hush agreement.
All right, Sara, thanks for that. Let's get some more on this with our experts and our analysts and Laura Coates, you're a legal analyst. Michael Cohen also tells "Vanity Fair" this: "People are mistaking this for a thing about the campaign. What I did defensively for my personal client and my friend is what attorneys do for their high- profile clients. I would have done it in 2006. I would have done it in 2011. I truly care about him and the family more than just as an employee and an attorney."
Does that make sense?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, no. And the reason it doesn't make sense is because it -- there's no real question as to why we are questioning about the timing.
Eleven days before a presidential general election. It wasn't just a defensive measure for a friend; it was somebody who was engaged in a presidential campaign. And there were corresponding requirements under campaign finance law, if there was something to be done to further that.
The reason it wasn't an issue in 2006 or in 2011 is because he wasn't running for president. Therefore, there wouldn't be a campaign finance violation if he, in fact, did this.
But the larger issue to speak of is, you know, when you think about the reasoning behind this and the motivation, you can't be so dismissive, Mr. Cohen, about the notion of why he did it, his own personal reasons he talks about and his love for the family. Because we're dealing with a category of information and a category of person who the American people have every right to understand the motivations that are used to protect in a Democratic election.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, is this latest move by the president's lawyers, in effect, an admission that the president is this D.D.?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly raises questions about it. Because you're seeing it getting closer and closer to the White House. Because at first, they were not commenting on this. And then of course, at that press briefing with Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, said that the president had won arbitration with Stormy Daniels and that brought it a lot closer to the president.
Now, we also know that she's been discussing this with President Trump, but lately, the White House has been refusing to comment on this. But it does seem to be getting closer and closer to the president with Michael Cohen saying he made that payment, and then it was reported that he had been complaining that the president had not paid him back for that payment. So it certainly raises questions about what the president knows.
And the president, who has for years been involved in so much litigation, threatened to sue to many people. Do we really think that someone that was this close to him, Michael Cohen, would not have informed him of something like this?
BLITZER: You know, Bianna, let me get your thoughts on this. The accusation that Stormy Daniels was threatened. Michael Cohen in this "Vanity Fair" issue said that he can only speak for himself. He says he didn't threaten her, he never spoke to her, only spoke to her attorney. What does that tell you?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he said he didn't threaten her. He didn't say no one else threatened her. Just this morning Mika Brzezinski said on her show, remember, Michael Avenatti was the one who told her that she had been physically threatened. She confirmed that she -- her sources told her that she had, in fact, been threatened, and they confirmed who that person was. So yes, it may not have been Michael Cohen, but that doesn't mean that someone else didn't threaten her.
[18:40:14] BLITZER: Let me be precise in what he said. He said, "I can only speak for myself. I reiterate: I have never threatened her in any way, and I am unaware of anyone else doing so." That's what he told "Vanity Fair."
Matthew, can the president really separate the work of his personal legal team from that of his White House and himself?
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, this is a president who's had trouble separating the work of anyone in the White House from himself. When it comes to his legal team, he's got the same issues. Don McGahn, the White House counsel, is sort of separate now, because he's said no to the president so many times.
But when it comes to Ty Cobb and when it comes to Jim Dowd, his personal lawyer, when it comes to the new people they're bringing on, I think the president looks at all these guys and thinks, "Well, they all work for me."
This is a president whose only experience is running what is really a small family business. People worked for him, not for a bigger company which he ran. I don't think he gets the distinction all the time.
BLITZER: Bianna, how big of a problem down the road is the whole Stormy Daniels saga for the president?
GOLODRYGA: Well, look, initially, it was just background noise. Right? We had other accusations throughout the election and the campaign, and voters seemed to overlook that.
But something significantly changed. She has very effective representation, not just because I work at CBS, but I can tell you, as we all know, "60 Minutes" does their homework in vetting these types of interviews. It's one of the reasons why it's taken a few weeks for the interview date to be set. That's coming up this Sunday. So, clearly, they did their research in confirming whatever details she may have conveyed.
And the American people can put two and two together. When you look at the fact that the president's lawyer -- I don't care how loyal he is -- gives $130,000, that's not normal, especially 11 days before an election. And you have potential finance laws that have been violated. So, there's legal ramifications. And I think from a P.R. perspective, it's something that the president can't run away from.
BLITZER: And the fact that they're now going to federal court to try to get closed-door arbitration. This is the president's legal team. They've got a new lawyer out in California, represented Hulk Hogan in the Gawker attack. So a pretty smart lawyer.
COATES: The reason that's so important here is that it's in a way throwing a lifeline to one issue for the president of the United States. When Mr. Avenatti is speaking about this particular case, he keeps referencing that a sitting president is going against an American citizen and using that sort of visceral reaction we'd all have in the court of public opinion.
But a person has a right to engage in a contract and enter into one where they have more bargaining power than the other person. And it doesn't necessarily mean, even though innuendo in the court of public opinion is very, very ripe and very, very there. The innuendo is not proof of an actual crime or the alleged sexual acts.
But what it is proof of, is the one time the president, because of his counsel now, who remember, sued for Hulk Hogan against Gawker for $120 million, the $20 million fine he's looking for from Stormy Daniels looks like peanuts compared to that. And it's all because they have one foundation. They believe that a person has a right to engage in a contract. And it may be the reason he is not coming forward and speaking, is because he has every right not to. It may be more, and that's what we're getting at.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more we need to discuss right after this.
[18:47:29] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: There's more breaking news we're following tonight. A new effort by President Trump's lawyers to limit the scope of any interview of the president by the special counsel, Robert Mueller's team. We're going to get to that in a moment.
But, Matthew Rosenberg, you broke a huge story in "The New York Times" involving this Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign, the Russians. What questions -- and Facebook, of course. What questions need to be answered right now?
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, first we need to know, so Facebook has known that this data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica, which is this data polling firm founded by Steve Bannon and Rob Mercer.
So, Facebook has known it's been out there for a few years. They haven't told anyone. They kind of told us, well, we thought it was deleted, but we've seen the data, it was not deleted.
So, what did they do? Why did they do it? When did they do it?
There were a bunch of kind of really odd, kind of mysterious Russian connections that popped up to Cambridge Analytica. You know, those remain unexplored. Why was Lukoil, this oil firm -- oil company tied to President Putin in 2014 asking an American political data firm that just started asking about its voter information? Like none of that really makes sense.
There are a lot of outstanding questions here.
BLITZER: And Facebook lost a lot of money today.
ROSENBERG: Yes, they lost a lot. I mean --
BLITZER: Billions of dollars, the stock went down.
ROSENBERG: Yes, I think it was like 5 percent, and dragged the whole market down with it. I think Facebook finds itself in a position where it's suddenly become a vector for a lot of kind of incoming attacks on the United States. Something it didn't plan on, you know. There were Russians putting ads up. Its data is being harvested by people who want to shape and kind of predict American voters and influence them.
And I think, you know, Facebook's trying to reckon with the fact that in some ways, it's an opt-in surveillance system. But that's (INAUDIBLE) business model.
BLITZER: Yes, Bianna, 7 percent, I should say, that's what they lost today, Facebook, in terms of their value when the stock dropped, as it did.
So, what does all of this say about the Trump campaign, the Russia probe, and what's going on with social media right now?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, a top executive from Facebook, just within the last half hour, announced that he would be stepping down, as well. Look, there are a lot of questions that Facebook has yet to answer. We haven't heard from Mark Zuckerberg. We haven't heard from Sheryl Sandberg.
But when it comes to the Trump campaign, something that was always a bit puzzling was the role that Jared Kushner, for example, played in social media and in reaching out to voters through social media. Remember, he's the one who actually brought Cambridge Analytica on to the campaign. And I remember "Forbes" had a cover with him saying that he was the one who won this campaign because of social networking, because they were so highly effective in pinpointing voters' likes and behavior patterns.
And yet you still have the same Jared Kushner as saying, that there's no way that they could have colluded with the Russians, because they couldn't collude with their own offices. They were all over the place and unorganized.
The role that he played throughout the campaign, specifically when it came to social networks and Facebook and that outreach was always a business puzzling, and maybe we're getting a bit more of a sense of Cambridge Analytica's role in what he saw and didn't see.
BLITZER: Laura, very quickly, is Kushner vulnerable?
LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes and he remains vulnerable in a number of years. It's also important to know that based on the data privacy laws here, compared to other places, the fact that the president has not done a good job of cultivating relationships abroad is going to have an impact, too.
BLITZER: What are you hearing from your sources at the White House?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, here's the thing. We've seen so far they've tried to distance themselves from Cambridge Analytica, saying they actually relied on the Republican National Committee for a lot of their research. But as Bianna just pointed out, we have Jared Kushner on the record, bragging about just how useful they were and how he called his friends in Silicon Valley.
And then we also know that Brad Parscale, the digital director for the Trump campaign in 2016, who is going to be the campaign manager for 2020, has been talking about how much digital advertising, especially Facebook, was what helped them win the campaign. So, you can't let them distance themselves from this too much, because clearly they were very involved.
BLITZER: Matthew, great reporting in "The New York Times", I must say.
All right. Everybody, stand by. There's more breaking news. We have new details of the latest bombing in Austin, Texas, and what set this attack apart from the others.
[18:56:15] BLITZER: Breaking news. Tonight, police in Austin, Texas, say the latest explosive trap set by a serial bomber was detonated by a trip wire. Two men were seriously injured in the blast, which happened on a residential street last night. Two other bombings this month each killed one person and a third bomb injured an elderly woman. Those devices were inside hand-delivered packages left on the victim's doorsteps.
Investigators say the latest bomb were more sophisticated than the earlier devices.
Other news. This week, CNN's parent company, Time Warner, finds itself in the news and in federal court, fighting the Trump administration's effort to block its merger with AT&T.
Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, has been covering the trial for us.
Jessica, this case could change corporate America.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It could, Wolf.
And the judge today said that this is a high-stakes case. You know, today attorneys, they focused their arguments on what evidence will be admitted in this major merger trial. The trial does start on Wednesday. And companies across the board will be watching to get a feel for how closely the Trump administration will be scrutinizing business deals and the judge in this case today acknowledged just how important his decision will be to the future of the media industry.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, initial arguments are underway in the landmark case, pitting the government against AT&T.
The Justice Department is suing to stop AT&T from merging with Time Warner. Time Warner owns Turner, which includes CNN. The proposed media takeover has been a talking point for Donald Trump since the campaign trail.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus, CNN, a deal we will not approve, in my administration, because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An historic, huge media deal.
SCHNEIDER: Despite the president's disapproval, most media analysts assume it would win approval. That's because it's a vertical merger. The two companies are not direct competitors. AT&T is the country's largest telecommunications company that bought DirecTV to boost its video subscribership in 2015. Time Warner creates video and digital programming.
JONATHAN PITT, ANTITRUST ATTORNEY: The government hasn't taken a vertical marriage case to trial in the last 40 years.
SCHNEIDER: In November, the Justice Department sued to block the $85 billion bid. RANDALL STEPHENSON, AT&T CEO: When the government suddenly and
without notice or any due process discards decades of legal precedent, businesses large and small are left with no guideposts.
SCHNEIDER: But the man in charge of the Justice Department's antitrust division told Canadian broadcaster BNN this just months before he won Senate confirmation: I don't see this as a major antitrust problem.
Two months after Delrahim was confirmed, the government filed suit, warning Time Warner's content was so valuable, AT&T might threaten to withhold it from other distributors or charge higher subscription fees. AT&T initially planned to claim selective enforcement, pointing to political bias.
STEPHENSON: There's been a lot of reporting and speculation whether this is all about CNN. And frankly, I don't know.
SCHNEIDER: Last month, a judge ruled AT&T could not force the DOJ to hand over any communication between the White House and the attorney general of the antitrust division, that could have shown whether the president played a role in blocking the takeover. The government in a previous filing said no communication like that exists.
AT&T is now focusing its defense on arguing it will not black out or charge more for Time Warner programming and that AT&T needs to add content to its platform to compete with newer entities like Netflix, Amazon, and Google.
SCHNEIDER: And that's why AT&T isn't the only company with a stake in this case. The media giant Disney is no doubt watching closely, given its proposed acquisition of 21st Century Fox. And, Wolf, this trial will start on Wednesday and expected to last about eight weeks.
BLITZER: Lots at stake.
Jessica, thanks very much.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.