Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Administration Expels Russian Intelligence Officials; White House Pushes Back on Stormy Daniels; White House Won't Close Any Doors On Sanctions Against Putin; New Speculation that Kim Jong-un is in China. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 26, 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: We're digging on what would be an unprecedented trip, if confirmed. Is there any connection to plans for Kim Jong-un to meet with President Trump?
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: Breaking tonight, Stormy Daniels is suing the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen for defamation, escalating the legal battle over her alleged affair with Mr. Trump and a hush money deal to keep her quiet.
This as the White House is denying her claims about sex and threats in a national TV interview seen by millions of Americans.
Also breaking right now, the Trump team is trying to play up an unusually tough move by this administration against Russia, suggesting the door is open to new sanctions against Vladimir Putin. We're getting new reaction to both stories.
I will talk with a former director of national intelligence, James Clapper. Peter Stris is also joining us. He's the lawyer for the former Playmate Karen McDougal who claims she, too, had an affair with Mr. Trump. And our correspondents and analysts are all standing by.
First, let's go to out senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.
Michelle, the U.S. now getting ready to expel 60 Russian diplomats.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right.
This is a big coordinated effort, Wolf, and the scope of it surprised many. We know some U.S. allies thought maybe the U.S. would match or nearly match what the U.K. did by expelling 23 Russian diplomats, and the attack happened on their soil, but instead we saw this administration nearly triple that number.
And they hardly did this in the kindest, gentlest way possible, flat out calling these Russians intelligence agents, saying this is going to significantly hurt Russia's ability to spy on American soil.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): Sixty Russian diplomats, according to the Trump administration, aggressive spies, have one week to pack their bags and get out.
A dozen Russians will be kicked out of New York at the U.N.; 58 others at embassies and consulates around the U.S. The Russian Consulate in Seattle will be shuttered, administration officials saying it's too close to a U.S. submarine base.
A sharp U.S. response to the nerve agent attack poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter, and others in the U.K.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think this is a good move by the president and the administration and I'm glad to see it.
It sends two strong messages to Putin. One is, we're going to hold you accountable for your crimes, and number two that you're not going to be able to continue to divide and sow chaos and discord in the West.
KOSINSKI: This move cuts the number of Russian diplomats in the U.S. by 13 percent, officials saying this will make the U.S. safer from Russian espionage.
More than a dozen U.S. allies also expelling diplomats, and Russia already warning it will do the same right back.
ANATOLY ANTONOV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: The United States did a very bad step. I'm sure that the time will come. They will understand what kind of the grave mistake they did.
KOSINSKI: It's a much harder line than previously seen from this administration, especially from President Trump, who only days ago defied his national security team's warning in all capital letters to not congratulate Vladimir Putin on his election victory.
On a phone call with Putin, Trump didn't even bring up the poisoning attacks or election meddling, which lawmakers both Democrats and Republicans are worried that this administration is not tackling. Now Trump will have a new national security adviser in John Bolton, a new secretary of state in Mike Pompeo, both of whom have called for strong action against Russia.
Though, in 2016, Bolton criticized President Obama on FOX News for taking the same action and merely expelling diplomats.
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: That is utterly useless. So, if you make them feel pain and others feel pain, then the possibility of deterring future conduct like this increases. That's what we need to do.
KOSINSKI: Today, former CIA operative Bob Baer agrees. BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You go after Putin's money. You go after
the oligarchs. You hit them in their pocketbooks. Bolton is absolutely right. I don't usually agree with him, but he's right on this, and you really have to make them feel pain. And expelling 60 diplomats does not go far enough.
KOSINSKI: Now, Russia that some response could be coming.
They have been trolling the U.S. online for days. Today, they tweeted out a poll asking people what U.S. Consulate in Russia should be closed, but the Trump administration issued its own stark warning to Russia this morning, saying that if Russia does retaliate, which we fully expect it to do, then the U.S. could well take further action -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will see what happens.
Michelle, thank you, Michelle Kosinski over at the State Department.
While the Trump administration is talking about the expulsion of those Russian diplomats, President Trump is silent on the subject today.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, we did hear from the White House deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, and he was repeatedly asked why the president didn't bring up the poisoning of that former Russian spy and his daughter when he had the phone call, that congratulatory phone call with Vladimir Putin.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And as for the president's tweets, he tweeted about the stock market, he tweeted about his disdain for the news media, but nothing on Russia. That's despite that fact that his administration took this action today to expel those 60 Russian diplomats.
But, as you said, the White House didn't have really much of an answer today as to why the president didn't bring up the poisoning of that ex-Russian spy in his conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, and that's despite the fact the White House said the president has been intimately involved in the planning of these actions that the administration announced today.
But in addition to that, Wolf, Raj Shah over here at the daily briefing here at the White Housed also floated the possibility that Vladimir Putin could potentially be sanctioned in the future, he didn't rule it out. Here's a bit of that exchange I had with Raj Shah about this earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: If you listen to national security experts, diplomatic experts on what happened with Russia, they will say that you have to hit Russia where it hurts. You have to sanction them. Economically, you have to go after Putin's cronies. You have to go after Putin himself, potentially.
Would this president consider sanctioning Vladimir Putin or his cronies to punish him and the Russian government for what happened in the UK and also for meddling in the 2016 election?
RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the United States has issued sanctions on key Russian oligarchs in response to the meddling in the 2016 election.
ACOSTA: What about Putin himself?
SHAH: So, I wouldn't close any doors or I wouldn't preclude any potential action. But the president doesn't telegraph his moves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, of course, the Trump administration, Wolf, may actually never sanction Vladimir Putin, but it's interesting the deputy press secretary didn't rule it out at the daily briefing earlier today.
Another interesting thing that we heard during this briefing, you will recall last week the president said he may actually sit down and have a meeting with Vladimir Putin in the near future.
Raj Shah was asked about that during the briefing today and didn't sound very committal on the subject, saying no such meeting has been planned at this point, so, Wolf, the president floated that out there last week. Doesn't sound like actually it's happening any time soon, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting from the White House, thanks.
There's breaking news just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Multiple suspicious packages have been intercepted at U.S. military installations here in the Washington, D.C. area.
Let's quickly go over to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
The FBI at this hour now has control of those suspicious packages that were delivered throughout the day to several military facilities across Washington in the National Capital Region.
At Fort McNair, not a facility a lot of people would know about, a suspicious package was found and it was found to contain black powder and other elements that could be used in some sort of potentially explosive device.
The FBI now has it, it was rendered safe. Also at Fort Belvoir, just south of Washington, D.C., and we have just gotten word also at Dahlgren Naval Base. That is in Southern Virginia, but is considered part of the National Capital Region. That's a Navy facility.
These places may not be well known to the public, but to the U.S. military they are the backbone of the military presence here in Washington. At that one facility, Fort McNair, a number of senior officers live on the compound, the National Defense University is there, so a lot of concern about who may be behind this, whether there are more packages out there.
You will remember, just a few days ago, there was a breach at Travis Air Force Base in California. Someone went through the gate with their car on fire. It was deemed to be some sort of attack. They're still not sure what. And earlier today at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, there was a potential breach.
It was turned out not to the case, but nerves were running so high there that the FAA closed the airspace over that Florida air base until the whole matter could be sorted out. Tonight, the FBI analyzing all the packages, all the devices and components that were found -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very suspicious, very worrisome. Let's see what they really are. Barbara, I know you will update our viewers once you get that information. Thanks very much.
Joining us now, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper. He's a CNN national security analyst.
General Clapper, thanks so much for joining us. A lot to discuss.
But let me get your reaction to this move by the Trump administration in coordination with other U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere to expel 60 Russian diplomats from the United States. Is that a strong enough message to Vladimir Putin?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's a strong message.
When you say strong enough, do you mean will this be sufficient to stop the meddling, the information warfare campaign that he's waging, no, I don't think so. But I think it's very significant that we stand with our allies.
I'm in London now and I can tell you that the people here are gratified that the U.S. is standing shoulder to shoulder with our Brit allies. But is it enough to stop all the nefarious behavior? Absolutely not.
BLITZER: Is it enough to convince the Russians to stop using a poisonous nerve agent to kill individuals who may be enemies of Russia right now?
CLAPPER: Well, it may well do that, and certainly there but for the grace of God it could have been us on our soil. So hopefully this has been a compelling message not to do that in this
country or others. And I also think it's very important that other nations. I think some 13 E.U. nations, European Union nations, in addition to Canada, are also expelling Russian operatives.
So that's a very powerful message not to do that, as this really is an egregious act they did in the U.K.
BLITZER: Putin will almost certainly retaliate by expelling a whole bunch of American diplomats from Russia, some of whom, as you know, might be undercover intelligence officers. You're the former director of national intelligence. How much damage potentially does that do to U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities in Russia?
CLAPPER: Well, I can't comment specifically on that one, Wolf, other than to say if, you know, we lose -- we have one less intelligence officer anywhere, that's harmful.
But beyond that, I can't say anything about what -- the extent to which that would harm our efforts elsewhere.
BLITZER: In August of last year, General, following the expulsion of a whole bunch of American diplomats from Russia, President Trump had this to say. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank him, because we're trying to cut down on payroll, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll. There's no real reason for them to go back.
So I greatly appreciate the fact that they have been able to cut our payroll for the United States. We will save a lot of money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What does that tell you, General, about his thinking when it comes to Russia?
CLAPPER: Well, I thought at the time he made the statement, boy, that's a classic example, to use the old expression, about making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
How could you contort yourself to make that development something positive? And, again, I think it reflects his almost aggressive indifference to the threat posed by the Russians. And I'm waiting to see what he says in a tweet about this action, just exactly how he feels about it, even though clearly the government bureaucracy below him has conveyed a pretty pointed and clear message to the Russians.
BLITZER: According to the National Security Agency chief, Admiral Mike Rogers, the president still hasn't ordered direct action against the Russian agencies responsible for election meddling here in the United States. What needs to be done? CLAPPER: Well, everybody's kind of doing their own thing.
I think Director Wray when he was asked about I think before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he's doing, the FBI is doing certain things and certainly the Department of Homeland Security is doing certain things.
What's needed here is leadership, which I believe can only come from the White House and specifically the commander in chief. And it isn't just a governmental -- a government-wide effort. It needs to be society-wide.
And so what I would hope for is the president would make a very clear and unambiguous, unequivocal statement about the very profound threat that Russia poses to the United States. And it would kind of start with that.
And that would set the tone for what I think is needed here, which is a sense of urgency across not only the government, but our entire society.
BLITZER: General Clapper, thanks so much for joining us.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, the breaking news on Stormy Daniels and her interview about the president. I will get reaction from the lawyer for the former Playmate Karen McDougal, who also claims to have had an affair with Mr. Trump.
The two women telling similar stories about Mr. Trump, likening them to his daughter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: He was like, "Wow, you -- you are special. You remind me of my daughter." You know -- he was like, "You're smart and beautiful, and a woman to be reckoned with, and I like you. I like you."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
Stormy Daniels now suing President Trump's personal lawyer for defamation just hours after her bombshell TV interview detailing her alleged affair with Mr. Trump.
The White House issuing a new denial tonight of the former porn star's allegations. Let's go to our national correspondent, Athena Jones.
Athena, Stormy Daniels' legal battle is clearly escalating tonight.
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
That's right. It sure is.
Stormy Daniels is now suing Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney, for defamation, pointing to a statement he issued in February to explain the $130,000 in hush money he paid her. That statement included this line -- quote -- "Just because something isn't true doesn't mean that it can't cause you harm or damage."
Daniels' lawyers argue's Cohen's statement was meant to imply or insinuate that Daniels lied about her affair with Trump.
Daniels said she is telling the truth and she shared her story with millions of people last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAH: The president strongly, clearly and has consistently denied these underlying claims. And the only person who's been inconsistent is the one making the claims.
JONES (voice-over): Tonight, the White House is denying claims by Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who told millions of people Sunday about her alleged affair with Donald Trump in 2006.
But aides are refusing to say whether the president watched Daniels' "60 Minutes" interview.
SHAH: Well, the president doesn't believe that any of the claims that Ms. Daniels made last night in the interview are accurate. There's nothing to corroborate her claim.
JONES: Trump tweeting this morning about so much fake news, but maintaining his unusual silence when it comes to the alleged encounter, declining to comment about Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And you had sex with him.
COOPER: You were 27, he was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?
COOPER: Not at all?
JONES: The 39-year-old even sharing that she once spanked Trump with a magazine that had his picture on the cover, punishment, she says, for gushing to her about himself.
DANIELS: And I said, you know, "Give me that," and I just remember him going, "You wouldn't." "Hand it over." And -- so he did, and I was like, "turn around, drop 'em."
COOPER: You -- you told Donald Trump to turn around and take off his pants.
COOPER: And did he?
DANIELS: Yes. So he turned around and pulled his pants down a little -- you know had underwear on and stuff and I just gave him a couple swats.
COOPER: This was done in a joking manner.
JONES: Daniels' interview, the highest-rated "60 Minutes" episode in nearly a decade, shared similarities with an account another woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, gave to Cooper just days before. Both say Trump called them special and compared them to his daughter Ivanka.
DANIELS: He was like, "Wow, you -- you are special. You remind me of my daughter." You know -- he was like, "You're smart and beautiful, and a woman to be reckoned with, and I like you. I like you."
JONES: Daniels says she asked Trump about his wife, who had recently given birth to their son.
DANIELS: I asked. And he brushed it aside, said, "Oh yeah, yeah, you know, don't worry about that. We don't even -- we have separate rooms and stuff."
JONES: And she spoke for the first time about being threatened in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 after telling a tabloid magazine about the alleged affair.
DANIELS: I was in a parking lot, going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. Taking, you know, the seats facing backwards in the backseat, diaper bag, you know, 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 leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, "That's a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom." And then he was gone.
COOPER: You took it as a direct threat?
DANIELS: Absolutely. I was rattled.
JONES: Daniels believed the threat was ordered by a Trump associate, but did not name Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Still, Cohen's lawyer sent a cease and desist lawyer to Daniels'
attorney, Michael Avenatti, after the airing of the "60 Minutes" interview accusing him and his client of making defamatory statements about Cohen and saying Cohen had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any such person or incident and does not even believe that any such person exists or that such incidents ever occurred.
The letter calls on Avenatti and Daniels to retract their statements about Cohen, to apologize publicly and to make clear they have no evidence to back up their claims.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Michael Cohen needs to stop hiding behind pieces of paper and come clean with the American public.
JONES: Daniels acknowledged he signed two statements denying the affair. One was sent by Cohen, the other by Daniels' former manager Gina Rodriguez, saying, "I am not denying this affair because of hush money. I am denying it because it never happened."
Daniels telling Cooper she was pressured by her manager and attorney at the time, a claim her former lawyer denies.
COOPER: So you signed and released -- a statement that said I am not denying this affair because I was paid in hush money I'm denying it because it never happened. That's a lie?
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."
COOPER: They being?
DANIELS: I'm not exactly sure who they were. I believe it to be Michael Cohen.
JONES: Cooper asked her why she should be believed now.
COOPER: How do we know you're telling the truth?
DANIELS: Because I have no reason to lie. I'm opening myself up for possible danger and definitely a whole lot of (EXPLETIVE DELETED). (END VIDEOTAPE)
JONES: And just in the last few minutes, we have learned from Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti that they have several leads on who was responsible for that 2011 threat in that parking lot that Daniels spoke about.
That's according to my colleague Sara Sidner, who spoke with Avenatti -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Athena Jones reporting, thanks, Athena.
Let's get reaction now from the lawyer for the other woman who is publicly speaking out about her affair with Mr. Trump, the former Playmate Karen McDougal. The attorney Peter Stris is joining us.
Peter, thanks for joining us.
PETER STRIS, ATTORNEY FOR KAREN MCDOUGAL: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, so let's begin with your reaction to the breaking news. Stormy Daniels now suing President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen for defamation. Does she have a case?
STRIS: Well, let me say this.
Like millions of Americans, Karen watched Ms. Daniels on "60 Minutes" and believed her, just like millions of Americans last week watched Karen's conversation with Anderson and believed her.
And I think it's really important kind of as a starting point. And I tweeted about this for that reason, to make sure that these women are not pitted against one another, particularly at this public moment, because to do that is essentially to do a tremendous disservice to any other women that may have signed similar contracts and frankly a tremendous disservice to our democracy.
BLITZER: So you think that Stormy Daniels has a case against Michael Cohen?
STRIS: Well, from our perspective, the most important thing is that people in a circumstance like this are able to tell their story.
And the reason I -- I don't mean to dodge that question at all. Frankly, I have been focused 24/7 almost on my client, Karen McDougal, and I know she has a case, and the reason is simple. She was tricked into signing a bogus contract with a quarter-billion dollar company that happens to be run by a close personal friend of Donald Trump.
And so our lawsuit is essentially to achieve a very simple goal, which is to get Karen out of that contract. And so are there similarities between Karen and Ms. Daniels? Certainly. But I can't really speak on the specifics of another client and another case. I can tell you that we're very grateful that Karen was able to tell her story and we're hopeful that this major company, American Media, will come to the table and come to their senses and let her out of this bogus contract.
BLITZER: Yes, American Media being the parent company of "The National Enquirer." They worked out a $150,000 hush agreement with your client.
You heard Stormy Daniels' claim she was actually threatened by a man back in 2011 telling her to drop the entire Trump story. Has your client ever received a similar threat?
STRIS: No, absolutely not.
And, Wolf, I'm sorry, but I have to correct something you just said, because it's the impression that I think a lot of people have, and it's unfortunate. You described Karen as having signed a $150,000 hush agreement.
And nothing could be further from the truth. American Media doesn't even take the position.
BLITZER: Well, tell us what the truth is.
STRIS: So, here's the truth.
The truth is, she signed a contract that she believed was a legitimate modeling and writing contract. Now, American Media to this day insists that it is a legitimate contract.
But here's what we have learned. We have learned that American Media was colluding with Karen's own lawyer. We have learned that American Media lied to Karen about the core features of the contract. And we have learned that American Media then went and effectively attacked publicly Karen's credibility, but then used the contract to privately bully her into not responding.
And so the purpose of our lawsuit -- I want to be very clear -- the purpose of our lawsuit is not to get out of a hush agreement. The purpose of our lawsuit is to get out of an agreement that has been used to silence Karen and that transfers her life rights, the rights to her story, to a company that has absolutely no business profiting from or controlling that information. It's very simple.
BLITZER: [18:30:13] So I just want to be precise. You say she was bullied. Was she ever threatened, your client?
STRIS: Well, it depends on what you mean by threatened. Economically? Absolutely. As recently as a month ago, when Karen spoke with "The New Yorker" for an important story that Ronan Farrow published about American Media and its catch-and-kill practices, in other words buying stories and then never intending to publish them for friends like Donald Trump. When Karen spoke to "The New Yorker" about that story, afterwards American Media's response was to say, "Hey, we've now decided that we're actually going sell your story. We're in negotiations, and further disclosures would breach the contract and cause considerable monetary damages."
And we all know what that means. Stormy Daniels knows what that means. It means you get sued for $20 million. So is that a threat? I mean, I think so, absolutely. I mean -- but if you're asking, you know, was there an incident where her family was physically threatened or she was physically threatened, absolutely not.
BLITZER: Did American Media Incorporated -- that's once again the parent company of the "National Enquirer," which arranged that $150,000 payment to your client, coordinate that action with the Trump campaign?
STRIS: So I mean, if we're forced to litigate, which we hope we are not, because we have a client who wants out of, you know, a duplicitous contract. It should end tomorrow. But if we're forced to litigate, that's going to be at the core of our lawsuit.
Now it certainly seems like the answer is yes. No normal lawyer, I can tell you -- and I think, you know, all of my colleagues will agree to a person -- no normal lawyer would keep Donald Trump's fixer in the loop on a contract to which Donald Trump is not a party or involved in any way. And it was only last month, through reporting from "The New York Times," that Karen learned that, in fact, that is precisely what occurred.
Now we set forth a number of other details in the complaint. It's actually, you know, a pretty detailed complaint. And, you know, we think the story is very clear. This lawyer brought Karen to American Media, and after American Media, you know, heard and interviewed her exhaustively and got a whole bunch of information about the Trump relationship that they now have, which is very troubling to Karen, they told her they had no interest. But then they went -- and they admit this -- they spoke with Trump's people. Now, they suggest it was to corroborate the story, and they didn't run the story, because it wasn't credible.
But I mean, I'm going to ask your viewers, this is the company that owns the "National Enquirer." I don't think I need to give examples about the kinds of stories that are published. But those stories are credible and Karen McDougal's story, that everyone heard in her voice, you know, in her words, in speaking with Anderson Cooper was not credible? I think we -- I think we know the truth at this point.
BLITZER: Peter Stris, thanks for joining us.
STRIS: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: You can see, by the way, the full Stormy Daniels interview with Anderson Cooper later tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern on "AC 360."
Just ahead, more on Stormy Daniels's legal strategy as she sues the president's personal lawyer, goes public with her details of her alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. Could this be a national security issue?
And our experts will weigh in on the expulsion of Russian diplomats and why President Trump isn't talking about his surprisingly tough action against Moscow.
[18:38:38] BLITZER: the breaking news this hour: Stormy Daniels following up on her highly-rated interview with President Trump with new legal action. Her interview about President Trump following up with a new move to actually sue the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, for defamation. Let's bring in our analysts to assess.
Jeffrey Toobin, you're going to -- I assume you've gone through these multiple pages of this legal document, suing Michael Cohen. Does she have a case?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let me -- let me tell you what I think is going on here.
You know, the problem that Michael Avenatti has for Stormy Daniels is that, if this contract that she has will with Michael Cohen, essentially, is valid, he has to go into arbitration to fight it. And arbitration is a secret process with very limited discovery.
Everything Michael Avenatti has done has been geared towards getting this out of arbitration and into federal court, where he can take depositions. Where he can take a deposition of Michael Cohen and especially of President Trump.
And this lawsuit today is another attempt to sort of get out of arbitration. Filing a definition lawsuit is something that can only be tried in court, and if he gets past a motion to dismiss, which he may, then he is very likely to be able to take at least Michael Cohen's deposition. And so all of his efforts are focused that way and at least initially, he seems to be doing pretty well.
[18:40:11] BLITZER: Gloria, give us your analysis of the political and legal impact of all of this.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm not a lawyer, but I can play one on TV. I think in a defamation suit -- and correct me if I'm wrong, Jeffrey -- but in a defamation suit the issue is the truth. It's not about the arbitration agreement. It's not about -- a defamation suit is about "You maligned me and what is the truth here?" And I think so you're sort of moving the field a little bit, and you're changing the conversation. Am I right about that? Or --
TOOBIN: You're absolutely right. It's about whether Stormy Daniels is telling the truth about what went on with Donald Trump, and who are the main witnesses about that?
TOOBIN: Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump.
TOOBIN: That's the effort here, to get Donald Trump under oath.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, what do you make of the denials coming in from the deputy White House press secretary today, Raj Shah, but the continued silence of the president?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think one of the reasons you've heard less from President Trump on this is that, unlike the end of the 2016 campaign, where there were any number of accusations made against President Trump by women for non-consensual sexual issues, and he was able to get by saying, "This is all false. This is all fake news," he was not been able to get away with the "fake news" argument in the same way with the Karen McDougal case and the Stormy Daniels case.
And so it seems to me that the White House, or at least the president himself realizes that the better part of valor for his own sake is to be a little more quiet on this issue.
BLITZER: Yes, the -- he did tweet today, "So much fake news. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great."
BORGER: Wolf, I spoke with -- with someone who spoke with the president over the weekend. And he said to me that the president thinks this is a big nothing and that it will -- it will go away. And he doesn't understand why the media is so obsessed with it, but he's getting a lot of advice not to tweet, as you point out, and so far, he's taking it.
BLITZER: He's not tweeting on this. He's tweeting a whole bunch of other things, not necessarily on this.
Phil Mudd, is there potentially a national security issue at stake here?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think there is on the U.S. side. Look, we knew the president was sleazy when we elected him. We're not seeing revelations now that take us in any new directions there. We now know out in the open that there's been payments of hush money to try to quiet women.
I think there is one angle going back to the fall of 2016 we have to think about and that is, if the U.S. side, in essence, is not a national security issue, did the president ever do anything oversea, in particular in Russia, that would be embarrassing and that he'd like to hide?
That takes you back to the infamous Steele Dossier, Wolf, that information collected by a former British intelligence officer about some of the allegations about the president's activities in Moscow with women there. If that turns out to be true -- and I think we have information that suggests the FBI has corroborated some of that -- I could see a national security implication. But for Stormy Daniels, I don't see -- that one's out in the open. I don't know how you can blackmail somebody for something that's already public knowledge.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, you went to Moscow not that long ago, just in the last few weeks, to investigate all of this. Amidst this concern, as Phil points out, potential blackmail by a foreign power. TOOBIN: Well, you know, this goes to the whole question of the
Mueller investigation, which is why the president has been so solicitous of Vladimir Putin. I mean, today, obviously, we have somewhat of a change, but all through the campaign and we have this effort throughout the campaign of the Russians to help Donald Trump get elected. So the question is, was there any connection between the two?
I mean, certainly, I did not establish proof of the Kompromat -- the infamous claims of what went on at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. But, you know, this remains a central part of the Mueller investigation, and we'll see what they come up.
BLITZER: Yes, we will.
Everybody stick around. Much more on the breaking news. We'll talk about President Trump's message to Vladimir Putin as the U.S. orders 60 Russian diplomats to leave the United States.
[18:48:50] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with our analysts.
We're following the breaking news on President Trump and Russia. The White House now says it's not closing any doors on new sanctions potentially against Vladimir Putin as the United States gives 60 Russian diplomats here in the United States the boot over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter.
Phil Mudd, did the administration send a strong enough signal?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Not yet. If you want to send a strong signal, I think at some point, you've got to look at money sanctions, you've got to get at Putin and the individuals around him. Look, 60 people is a lot. It's more than I would have anticipated. But before you say the signal is incredibly strong, I think also the unity with the Canadians, the Europeans, Ukrainians is important.
Remember this -- if the Europeans, the Ukrainians and Canadians had acted without a U.S. response, that would have been extremely odd. I cannot envision that scenario so one of the things that happened is when the State Department and White House heard how many individuals were going to be expelled by other countries, we as Americans had to step back and say, we better do something similar, otherwise it looks like somehow we have a special relationship with Russia that's stronger than our relationships with the Europeans, and particularly the U.K., Wolf.
[18:50:01] BLITZER: You know, and, Gloria, even some of the president's sharp critics, they're praising this decision by the president to go ahead and authorize this expulsion.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: They're praising it a lot. I think people are just waiting to see whether there's another shoe that's going to drop, vis-a-vis the Russians and sanctions. But, you know, in Pompeo and Bolton, you had two appointments of people who are very anti-Putin, anti-Russia. That may have some influence here.
We didn't hear it from the president's mouth. But, you know what, they did it. They did it in concert with the allies. And I think it's -- you know, I think it's the right thing.
BLITZER: But, you know, it's significant, the other day, when the president called Putin to congratulate him on his re-election, he never mentioned the poisoning of this former spy.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He didn't mention it. And for the last couple of years, Wolf, the president has been loathed to say a single bad word toward or about President Putin. He's willing to savage anybody else on Twitter or in person, or on camera, not President Putin.
It seems to me that he may want to somehow preserve that sort of rhetorical bromance. But as Phil said, if he hadn't at least acted in this case, regardless of statement, the idea that the U.K., Canada, the E.U. would all go out there and expel diplomats and we wouldn't, the blowback that the administration would have gotten would have been --
BLITZER: Jeffrey, why is the president silent when it comes to Putin whether in his words or his tweets?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is the question that everybody has been asking for a year. I mean, the question is, what does Russia have on President Trump or what does the president want from Russia? I mean, you know, he has tried to do business with them since the 1980s. This is what -- why did Russia try so hard using all of the -- you know, conspiratorial efforts at its disposal to help Donald Trump win the election. This is a question that I can't answer but it's certainly a very important one about where we are at this very moment.
BLITZER: And the British prime minister, Phil, Theresa May, she said today that maybe as many as 130 people may have been exposed to this Russian nerve agent. How worrying is that?
MUDD: I think it's worrying in light of what we seen from Russia for now going back 12 years. Remember, you had the poisoning by a radio isotope of a Russian in 2006, that famous case was out in front page of newspapers around the world. Putin clearly didn't get the message. In the interim, he sided with a dictator in Syria who, not routinely, but who occasionally has used chemical weapons against his own people. And now, after all that, we have an attack in the U.K.
I think the message is, if the president wants an outreach with Vladimir Putin, the message is from Putin, you know who I am. If you want to cut a deal with the devil, do it, but you know it is the devil.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stick around. There's more news we're following.
Is Kim Jung-on on a secret visit to China right now. We're going to tell you why there's new speculation tonight that the North Korean dictator may be taking an unprecedented trip.
[18:57:40] BLITZER: Tonight, there's new reason to question whether Kim Jong-un may have left North Korea for the first time since taking power. It all stems from a rather mysterious old style train that was spotted in the Chinese capital of Beijing.
Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, U.S. intelligence officials are not commenting on what's going on. South Korean officials tell us they are investigating this. And China's foreign ministry claims it's not aware of the situation, all of which adds to the mystery of this train tonight.
It's possible that Kim Jong-un could have been on the train. It's also possible that his sister Kim Yo-jong or other top North Korean officials could have been on it. This is an old style green train similar to this one you're looking at that according to Japanese media pulled into a Beijing station today.
We're not getting clear information on where the train originated. But several media reports indicated it crossed the border between North Korea and China. And this train has a resemblance to other heavily armored train that have transported Kim Jong-un's father and grandfather on trips they took to China and Russia.
We can also report tonight, there was a large security presence at a guest house in Beijing where North Korean leaders have stayed in the past and there's video you see here of a motorcade in that area.
Now, if Kim Jong-un is in China tonight, it would be extraordinary. He's never travelled outside North Korea since taking power in late 2011. He's never met with a foreign head of state since becoming supreme leader and North Korea's relationship with China has been severely strained because of Kim's weapon test and purges of top officials who China favored including his uncle Jang Song-thaek.
There's speculation that Kim could be in Beijing for consultations ahead of his planned summit with South Korea's president and a possible meeting with President Trump, Wolf.
BLITZER: And this train that North Korean leaders have used in the past, and we're told it has enormously strong security measures.
TODD: Absolutely, Wolf. It's really -- it's an extraordinary arrangement. According to a South Korean newspaper, when this train was used to travel around North Korea, it was flanked by two other trains. One for security, the other for reconnaissance. The leader's train was armored. It had conference rooms, bed rooms, and audience chamber and satellite phones and flat screen TVs, so the leader could be briefed and give orders. Wolf, it's overnight there now. Actually, it's morning there now.
Hopefully, we're going to get some new information in the coming hours.
BLITZER: I'm sure we will. Brian, thanks for that report.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.