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Sources: FBI Sought Info on 'Access Hollywood' Tape in Michael Cohen Raid; Trump Tells Russia to 'Get Ready' for Missile Strike in Syria; Speaker Paul Ryan Announces Exit from Congress. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 11, 2018 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. "Access Hollywood" records. We have new reporting tonight that the feds who raided the president's lawyer were looking for information about the notorious and lewd tape. What might prosecutors be hoping to prove? Stand by for new details.

[17:00:21] Bad blood. The president opens a new front in his war against Robert Mueller, blaming the Russia investigation for souring U.S. relations with Moscow. Is it another sign that Mr. Trump is looking to fire the special counsel?

"Get ready, Russia. The commander-in-chief taunts the Kremlin, warning that U.S. missiles will be raining down on Syria soon. How does his jaw-dropping tweet square with his vow never to reveal his battle plans in advance?

And exit strategy. House Speaker Paul Ryan reveals that this will be his last year in Congress, even as Republicans head into a potentially bruising midterm election. How will Ryan's departure impact the party of Trump?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the infamous "Access Hollywood" videotape is coming back to haunt President Trump in a surprising new way that could put him and his attorney in legal jeopardy.

Sources tell CNN that FBI agents who raided the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, were looking for communications between him and Mr. Trump related to the "Access Hollywood" video that rocked the Trump campaign only a month before the presidential election.

I'll get reaction to the breaking story from Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they are all standing by.

First, let's go to CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

Gloria, you have new reporting on the FBI raid. Why is it significant that agents were looking at information on the "Access Hollywood" tape? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, the warrant's

specific reference to Donald Trump is really the first known direct mention of the president in a search warrant, and it appeared in connection with the now-infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, our sources said. And that search warrant also saw communications between then- candidate Trump and his associates regarding efforts to prevent disclosure of the tape, according to our sources.

And I have to tell you, Wolf, that the warrant is really the first indication that investigators suspect that there was any effort to -- to suppress this tape before it came out. And we don't know if there was one. We don't know if Michael Cohen was involved in any way or if then-candidate Donald Trump was in any way involved. But it's clear from our reporting that that's what they are looking at.

BLITZER: And you've been doing reporting, Shimon, on this, as well. Why would investigators be looking at these communications?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, based on our conversations, look, I think, Wolf, it's fair to say, based on the people we've talked to, everybody is puzzled by this. The fact that the FBI, that essentially the Department of Justice would be seeking this kind of information, I think has puzzled everyone.

A couple of things that could be going on here is that the warrant specifically -- there has been some -- some information that we've been told, relates to this notion that perhaps someone was trying to suppress something that was going on here. What that suppression may have involved, who that may have involved, we don't know.

But think about this, Wolf. This is an extraordinary move by -- by the U.S. attorneys in New York, by the FBI, to mention the president, who is then a candidate -- a political candidate in this search warrant, to then go ahead and ask his lawyer, to go and raid his lawyer to get this information.

These are communications that, certainly, everyone close to the president and Michael Cohen say these are privileged communications. But something has happened here where perhaps Bob Mueller during his investigation uncovered something here, and to put this in the warrant, they would have needed some pretty strong evidence to get approval to do something like that.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right.

BORGER: Wolf, the subpoena -- I mean, the warrant also talks about wire fraud, talks about bank fraud. And investigators also want records of any communications concerning what they consider to be negative information about the candidate that may have been -- that people may have tried to hide.

So it seems to me that -- that they believe that somebody was trying to hide something. We don't know -- we don't know what that is. We do know, of course, as we've reported earlier this week and others have reported, and I should say "The New York Times" reported the existence of this in the warrant first. We do know that there was specific references to Stormy McDaniel -- Stormy --

BLITZER: Daniels.

BORGER: Sorry. And Karen McDougal. But we did not know about -- about "Access Hollywood." And so I think the -- the president's attorneys believe this is all a subterfuge. They believe this is all an effort to get at Donald Trump.

PROKUPECZ: Some of what -- yes. And some of what -- the way this would fall in terms of the FBI, and we've been asking this question, is extortion. Was there any kind of intimidation?

And then the other thing -- the obvious thing would be campaign finance laws. We don't know what the FBI is looking for.

BLITZER: Yes. But it's intriguing that they're looking at this.

Brian Stelter is with us, as well. You know, you're doing a lot of reporting on this. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: A sources tells me that NBC Universal, which produces and owns "Access Hollywood," has not been contacted by investigators and not subpoenaed. But I think it's worth going back in time to that famous day when the tape was leaked, Wolf. This tape did not come out through NBC. It did not come out through "Access Hollywood." It came out through "The Washington Post." Someone leaked it to "The Washington Post," maybe because they suspected NBC wasn't going to broadcast it.

But the story has always been that it sat on a shelf at NBC for many years, as if it had been forgotten. And then in the late stage of the election someone at NBC remembered, found it. And according to NBC they were about to broadcast it that day, but it didn't get around to it at the time "The Washington Post" published it, and the whole world suddenly heard what was on the tape. So it makes you wonder when now- President Trump learned the tape was about to come out, when Cohen knew about the tape.

One of the big mysteries about this tape is how many people at NBC knew about it? How many people knew it existed, and what did they do about it?

And there's one other mystery, Wolf, and that might prove crucial here. About an hour after the tape was published by "The Washington Post," WikiLeaks began dumping damaging information about the Clinton campaign. This was the leak of the Podesta e-mails, the stolen e- mails from John Podesta. Those -- those e-mails were leaked on the Internet half an hour after the tape was released by "The Washington Post." It's always been a mystery about whether that was a coincidence or whether it was something more coordinated.

BLITZER: Well, let me put the time line -- and Gloria, Shimon, I want you guys to walk us through. You see the time line there. This is October 7, 2016, a month before the election.

At 3:30 p.m., the United States officially blames Russia for the DNC leaks, a joint statement, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security; James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. They put out a joint statement blaming Russia.

At 4:03 p.m., "Access Hollywood" videotape is released, a bombshell.

And less than a half an hour later, at 4:30 p.m., WikiLeaks releases the first of the John Podesta e-mails. Coincidence? Not a coincidence? Is this potentially something the the FBI agents, the prosecutors, the U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York are looking at?

BORGER: I think they -- I think they potentially are, and I think Brian raises absolutely the right questions.

I think from the Trump attorney's point of view, they believe this is kind of a fishing expedition to see if the president was involved in any of a -- you know, any kind of a way to suppress information, any kind of payoffs, any of this -- any of this stuff.

And of course, don't forget: the president has denied he knew any of these women, just as he -- just as he denied the Stormy case. So I think that they think that -- that this is another way to try to get at Trump in an extraordinary way through his personal attorney, and it does also explain to us why the president went so ballistic about all of this. Because if he knew what was in this warrant, and he knew he was mentioned in the it and the "Access Hollywood" tape was mentioned in it, you can only imagine that he was saying, "This crosses my red line."

BLITZER: The whole notion of collusion between Trump -- the Trump campaign, Trump -- team Trump and the Russians through WikiLeaks, that comes now, if you look at that time line, whether there was any collusion, we don't know. If there was any specific collusion on the release of the Podesta e-mails. But it's something that is clearly intriguing.

The other thing they might be looking at, campaign finance laws. If this was, in effect, some sort of in-kind campaign contribution, which potentially could have been illegal.

PROKUPECZ: Well, that's exactly right. Anything to do with WikiLeaks and Russia collusion I don't think would have gone to the southern district in New York. That would have stayed with Bob Mueller, because that -- the WikiLeaks investigation, that's where that stays. And in terms of, certainly, the Russia collusion.

But something here has happened during Bob Mueller's investigation, and that then has now been forwarded to the New York prosecutors and FBI agents. What role WikiLeaks had in any of this, that may still lie with the special counsel, because that's who they're looking at.

And yes, Wolf, you're absolutely right. There is this campaign finance laws that perhaps could be what they're looking at here. Remember, everyone keeps saying follow the money, follow the money; and this seems to be about money, too, and whether money in any way was used to try and suppress any of this information. [17:10:03] And remember, it is the public corruption folks that the

FBI and the New York field office that are looking at this. Which is what they do. This is exactly what they look at.

BORGER: And Shimon and I have been told that, you know, there wasn't a subpoena for this information. They may not have been able to get it through a subpoena because any attorney would claim attorney-client privilege. So instead what Michael Cohen had was three dozen FBI agents at assorted locations, knocking on his door, confiscating this information.

BLITZER: Very interesting. And Brian, you remember at time there were reports that various media organizations were looking to interview some women who may -- may have had some sort of relationship with then-candidate Donald Trump at the time.

STELTER: That's right. ABC, for example, is pursuing an interview with one of the women that we now know about. We've heard all about Stormy Daniels at this point, Karen McDougal. We all remember the "Access Hollywood" tape. This series of events toward election day in 2016, of course, makes you wonder if Michael Cohen know about other women or other stories or other tapes or other embarrassments that he was able to suppress. That's one of the great unknowns, one of the great mysteries of the story.

BLITZER: And very quickly, Brian, I know you've done a lot of reporting on this, before "The Washington Post" at 4:03 p.m. or whatever time it was on that day released the "Access Hollywood" video. I'm sure they first contacted the Trump campaign to get reaction.

Do we know when they did? Was it, like, an hour before, a day before or a few days before? Because that would have told, presumably, not only Donald Trump but Michael Cohen and others -- his fixer, his long- term attorney, close friend -- that "The Washington Post" had this very disturbing videotape.

STELTER: Yes, well within NBC, we know that there was at least a few days -- a minimum of a few days where people at the company were aware of this tape. Lawyers were looking at the tape, thinking about how and where and whether to release it. We know that that was a conversation inside "Access Hollywood" and NBC News.

At "The Washington Post," it was a much tighter tame frame. Reporter David Fahrenthold received the tape from an anonymous source and within a few hours, he published the tape on "The Washington Post" website. So we know "The Post" only gave the Trump campaign a few hours to comment.

But within NBC, there was a longer period of time where this tape was a hot commodity. People were talking about it. There was discussion about when and how to release it. And then "The Washington Post" went ahead and published it first.

One of the great mysteries here is who inside NBC knew about it? And this report about the warrant makes you wonder did Michael Cohen -- did he somehow know that someone at NBC was working on this? Was he in touch with anyone at NBC? Those are just some of the questions we don't have answers to.

BLITZER: Yes. Very significant questions.

Everybody, stick around. Gloria, Shimon, Brian, good reporting.

Also breaking tonight, the White House insists all options are still very much on the table to respond to the apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria. This despite a new tweet by President Trump warning Russia that it should, quote, "get ready for a U.S. missile strike."

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, the White House is trying to play down the president's tweet that caught his aides, I'm told, and U.S. allies by surprise.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: James Mattis and Joe Dunford were spotted at the White House as President Trump, as you said, is essentially telegraphing an upcoming military strike on Syria, something he swore during the campaign he would never do.

But the president has other topics on his mind. You just talked about one, the Mueller investigation. And the prospect of his party losing control of Congress in the fall as House Speaker Paul Ryan says good- bye.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, will you take a few questions?

ACOSTA (voice-over): Avoiding questions from the press, President Trump all but declared war on Twitter, previewing air-strikes aimed at Syria while tweeting a warning to Russia. "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and smart. You shouldn't be partners with a gas-killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it."

The president's vow to take action, while in response to the suspected gas attack allegedly carried out by Syria, also violates his past pledges to never telegraph his next move.

(on camera) The president says, "Get ready, Russia. They will be coming, the missiles are coming." How is that anything but an announcement of a pending airstrike?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's certainly one option. But that doesn't mean it's the only option or the only thing that the president may or may not do. Just because he does one thing doesn't mean he can't do a number of other actions, as well. And he certainly hasn't laid out the timetable which is -- would be broadcasting his intentions.

ACOSTA (voice-over): When former President Barack Obama faced the question of striking Syria in 2013, Mr. Trump tweeted, "I would not go into Syria, but if I did it would be by surprise and not blurt it all over the media like fools." DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unbelievable.

ACOSTA: Something he promised again during the campaign.

TRUMP: I have a substantial chance of winning. If I win, I don't want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is.

[17:15:02] ACOSTA: The president is blaming the bad blood with Russia on what he called the "fake and corrupt Russian investigation."

MICHAEL COHEN, PERSONAL LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: So you asked me who I was having lunch with.

ACOSTA: The latest twist: federal investigators who raided the office of the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, are interested in finding any information about Mr. Trump's infamous comments to "Access Hollywood" that nearly cost him the election.

TRUMP: Grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

ACOSTA: CNN has learned the president and his legal team are now reevaluating whether Mr. Trump will sit down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators. But Mueller has his defenders, who are out with a new ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robert Mueller rescued fallen Marines under enemy fire and was awarded a Bronze Star for valor.

As a prosecutor, he spent decades going after corruption, financial fraud and terrorism. As the head of the FBI under George W. Bush, Mueller has been trusted by Republicans to put America first.

ACOSTA: The White House still insists the president has the power to fire Mueller, even top officials at the Justice Department, a move that could lead to a shake-up at the special counsel's office.

SANDERS: The president certainly has been clear that he has a very deep concern about the direction that the special counsel and other investigations have taken. This investigation started off as Russia collusion, of which there was none. That has been very clear that nothing has come up over the last year.

ACOSTA: The questions about the Mueller probe come as Republicans are in search of a new leader in the House, as Speaker Paul Ryan announced he's retiring at the end of his term, a departure that is fueling fears of a Democratic wave in the midterms.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Yes, I really -- I gave it some consideration, but I really do not believe whether I stay or go in 2019 is going to affect a person's individual race for Congress.


ACOSTA: Now as for the upcoming midterms, there are growing worries inside the White House and among top GOP congressional officials that Democrats will immediately seek to impeach the president, should Republicans lose control of the House this November.

Multiple officials tell us, Wolf, that the president is aware of this concern among his advisers. As one White House source described it to us earlier today, there's a, quote, "anticipation of death" about the November elections -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Joining us now, Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, I want to get your quick reaction to the breaking news, federal agents seeking access to records related to that infamous "Access Hollywood" videotape in their raid yesterday against Michael Cohen, the president's longtime attorney. What's your reaction?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, my reaction is a couple of things. First, I think they're doing their job, and if there's any issue with the execution of a warrant, the president ought to know that you go to court to try to suppress any evidence. You don't fire the prosecutors. That would be an obstruction of justice.

But I think there are at least a couple possibilities that you've outlined, Wolf. This could be about whether Michael Cohen was making any effort to suppress release of that tape, much like he was trying to pay hush money for these other people, Stormy Daniels among others, to keep their stories out of the press during the presidential campaign; and whether that was a violation of the campaign finance laws, not to report it. That's one possibility.

It's also possible that they're looking at whether the Trump campaign and Michael Cohen had any role in the timing of the WikiLeaks dump of the Russia stolen Podesta e-mails.

I tend to think it is more likely the former, because this was referred by the special counsel to the Southern District of New York. I think that indicates that it probably had more to do with the issue of Stormy Daniels and campaign finance law violations than it did on the issue of potential collusion. But it could be a culmination of both.

BLITZER: You and your colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, you've been looking into all of these things for about a year plus. Were you aware of these late-breaking developments that we're just learning about today?

SCHIFF: We certainly weren't given a heads up that this warrant would be executed. I think that took everyone by surprise in Congress, aa well A clearly within the White House.

But I'm not at all surprised that once again, the president is contemplating firing either Rod Rosenstein or Bob Mueller. Both of those would be acts of obstruction of justice and to see him float in his tweet and otherwise, the idea that he could somehow give a justification for it by pointing to Rod Rosenstein signing a FISA application or, even more bizarrely claim that, because Rod Rosenstein wrote a memo that the president used as a pretext to fire James Comey, that gives him a pretext to fire Rod Rosenstein. It's bizarre.

Plainly either of those actions are designed to interfere with an investigation that may implicate the president. That is obstruction of justice. And if the president goes forward with either one of these firings, he is only making the case against himself for obstruction of justice. But it deeply worries me, because it would throw this country into complete crisis.

BLITZER: It certainly would. You're a former federal prosecutor. How difficult would it be to get this kind of search warrant for the home, the hotel room, the office of the president's long-term personal lawyer?

[17:20:09] SCHIFF: Well, it would certainly be very difficult, and it would rise to the highest levels of approvals within the Justice Department, because there is such assiduous attention played to the attorney-client privilege.

There are two reasons why they may have concluded that it could go forward here, and with good reason. The first is that both the president and the lawyer, Michael Cohen, seem to be denying that, if he made these payments as hush money, that they were doing it with the knowledge of he other. And clearly, there's no attorney-client relationship in that act, if there's no communication, and it's not done under those auspices.

But moreover, this is part of a crime of evading campaign finance laws or intimidation. Then there's a crime-fraud exception that would more than justify this very unusual step.

Can I make one other point on Rod Rosenstein, which I think really concerns me, because firing him, the president may conclude, is a more surreptitious way to get at Bob Mueller. There are two reasons why Americans should be concerned with this prospect.

The first is that he can secretly -- any replacement of Rod Rosenstein could secretly cripple the Mueller investigation by telling Mueller, "You can't follow the money. You can't investigate this." Or "You need to wrap up that."

But second, and I think this is really lost, Rod Rosenstein will make the decision whether a report from Bob Mueller ever sees the light of day. Whether it's ever submitted to Congress for consideration of whether the president's conduct violated the law and might rise to the level of impeachable offense. Or whether it's even presented to the Congress. That's a very important, maybe the most important decision.

And the president, if he tries to fire Rod Rosenstein, is going to try to take away that decision and give it to someone who will simply do what he says. And that would be, in my view, another serious act of obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: Do you believe Congress should investigate these allegations against Michael Cohen? SCHIFF: Well, look, I think we had Michael Cohen testify before our committee. There were a lot of unanswered questions. If there are issues that have come up and further reason to believe that either he wasn't fully truthful with us, or he may have been involved in other kind of criminal activity. It absolutely should be investigated by the Congress.

Now, it may not be, if this is involving, for example, violation of the campaign finance laws, that may not be an issue for the Intelligence Committee. It may be an issue for the Oversight Committee or one of the committees that is looking at elections.

But nonetheless, clearly, the Congress would have an interest if any of the top officials of our government or those affiliated with the president are engaged in criminal activity.

BLITZER: Do just to be precise on this issue of shelving or holding a report that Robert Mueller might-- may come up with, and not letting it go to Congress, not letting it be made public, for example.

Your fear is that if Rod Rosenstein is fired by the president, someone new coming in could do what the president wants and just kill the whole thing? We'd never know what the conclusions are. Is that your fear?

SCHIFF: That is my fear. And people need to understand that it's not Bob Mueller's job to tell the country what happened. It's his job to decide who should be prosecuted and who's violated the law.

But if the special counsel decides that the president has violated the law, and that it's not appropriate for him to seek an indictment of a sitting president, Bob Mueller would make a report to Rod Rosenstein. And Rod Rosenstein would decide what to do with it. Is that report made public? Is that report provided to Congress?

You get rid of Rod Rosenstein, and who knows what happens to that report? So that is of deep concern to me, and I would view the firing of Rosenstein as every bit as much an act of obstruction as anything else the president could do.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks so much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more on the breaking news on the FBI raid on Michael Cohen and why the feds are interested in that notorious "Access Hollywood" videotape. Will this enrage the president even more, as his anger toward the special counsel, Robert Mueller, reaches a new boiling point?


[17:28:51] BLITZER: Breaking news. CNN has learned important new details about what investigators were looking for during this week's searching targeting President Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, including the first known direct mention of the president's name in a search warrant, that it comes in connection with that notorious "Access Hollywood" videotape.

Let's bring in all our experts to assess.

Gloria, you're doing great reporting on this. What's the significance, bottom line, of this report?

BORGER: Well, first of all, as you point out, the president's name is -- is mentioned in it. And I think this gives us a real clue to the fact that perhaps -- and again, we don't know -- but perhaps investigators suspect that there was some kind of an effort to suppress the tape. We know there was an effort to suppress Stormy, Karen McDougal. And so this -- this may be one more thing in what they believe could be a pattern. Was there money exchanged, et cetera?

The warrant -- another thing that was interesting in this that I think is significant is that it sought communications between candidate Trump and his associates in any effort to prevent disclosure of negative things, of the tape and other negative things. So what they want to know is, were these people communicating with each other to try and stop this stuff very close to the election?

BLITZER: It was a month before the election, Joey. Joey Jackson, when the video tape was aired after "The Washington Post" broke that story. So what laws, potentially, could have been violated?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let's talk about this first, Wolf. First a general, then the specific.

If you get Michael Cohen, and it's determined that there is any law that he violated, now you have someone who's close to the president, the closest of all, who can perhaps now be flipped because he knows significant information. So this imperils Trump in a significant way.

And this is exactly what prosecutors do. They go after people close to you. They squeeze those people. They say -- and they ask what they know, and whatever they know they turn against you.

Now let's get more specific into the laws. Right? If it's campaign finance, which is the most obvious one, let's look at what happened. Karen McDougal, close to the election, whose fingerprints are all over that? Michael Cohen's fingerprints all over that.

Let's move closer. "Access Hollywood," a month before the election, that comes out. What are they looking for? The "Access Hollywood" tape as it relates to Michael Cohen and his involvement. Eleven days before the election, Stormy, right? -- Stormy, right? -- that issue comes out. And so to what extent, if any, was this directed and related to the campaign and done and designed to protect Trump? And in other words the entire force of this goes to the motivation of circumventing campaign finance laws.

So you want a law that could potentially be broken, it's that one. You want the motivation for doing it, it is to protect the candidate. And if you get all that together, then you have your violation of law. Then you have Michael Cohen and then, Wolf, you can get to Trump. BLITZER: And it's interesting, Jamie, that the raids in New York on

Michael Cohen's home, the hotel room, his office, his legal office, it was referred to by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to the U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York in Manhattan. So how does this fit into the broader investigation?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you ask Donald Trump, he thinks it does fit in. He sees a conspiracy here. But the reality is that Robert Mueller referred this for a reason. It didn't fall within his purview.

That said, depending on what they find out here about what the unofficial role of Michael Cohen was in the campaign, and I think even more, let's remember that Michael Cohen is not an ordinary lawyer. Ordinary lawyers don't do the things that he does. So maybe there will be other things that do go back, but not yet.

BLITZER: Should -- David, should the president be worried that federal prosecutors might try to do what Joey was just suggesting, flip Michael Cohen to cooperate with this investigation, potentially against the president himself?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, yes. I think the president should be worried about this overall pursuit of Michael Cohen because of how close Michael Cohen is to him, far be it for me to say it. And, by the way, should or shouldn't he? The president is expressing to us on Twitter and in the cabinet room the other evening, he is quite concerned about this. You can read it all over his face and his body language, Wolf. You can read it in his words.

This -- Michael Cohen has made clear, in plain language, that he perceives his role in life to protect Donald Trump. That -- he has made that clear. He made it clear about why he was paying Stormy Daniels, to protect Donald Trump. And that -- this pursuit, this entire avenue seems to be, well, what exactly does that mean? And what length did you go to? And was everything on the up and up in every way you chose to try and protect Donald Trump?

BORGER: We did a piece on him just recently and described him -- one of his colleagues, his former colleagues, described him as Ray Donovan. And Michael Cohen thinks this is a huge compliment. Because -- because he sees himself, and he has said it in the past, that -- that he will do anything for Trump. The loyalty is more than anything I have really ever witnessed, aside from maybe a spouse. You know, this is somebody who will do anything that Donald Trump wants at any time.

And people who worked alongside Cohen in the Trump Organization said to me, "Look, we never knew what he did, but he got it done."

CHALIAN: Probably safe to say that loyalty is probably getting its most stern test --

BORGER: Absolutely.

CHALIAN: -- that it's ever received. BORGER: Well --

GANGEL: It's also the reason they were able to get these warrants. It's not just typical lawyer-client confidentiality. The relationship goes so far beyond that, that that's why the Second District was able to get something that's very unusual to get.

BLITZER: And let's not forget, Joey, the time line of that day when the "Access Hollywood" videotape came out. And we put it up on the screen before, but there it is right there.

[17:35:03] At 3:30 p.m., the U.S. government officially blames Russia for the Democratic National Committee hacks. At 4:03, "Access Hollywood" tape is released by "The Washington Post." At 4:30 p.m., all of a sudden, WikiLeaks -- WikiLeaks releases the John Podesta e- mails. What do -- when you see that time line, what's your legal conclusion?

JACKSON: I mean, listen, if you think about the law, what -- what does the president do, what would his public relations people do, what would his lawyers do? What they want to do is they want to deflect. They want to distract, and they want to distort.

And so obviously, if you have information which is compelling and information which demonstrates that someone close to you may have been breaking laws, and they may have been -- don't know -- at your behest breaking those laws, then of course, the issue is not about an "Access Hollywood" tape or Stormy Daniels. The issue is about so many other things that are relevant in the world in order that everyone could focus away. I think it's similar to what the president does it relates -- as it relates to tweets.

But going back to Michael Cohen, Wolf, briefly, you know, that relationship, as was mentioned, you want to say he's loyal. You want to say you're the Ray Donovan? You want to say you're the guy that protects me? We're going to see just how very loyal he is, because I have to tell you -- and this is from a personal practice perspective, practicing in the Southern District, yes, me -- what they will do with clients is they will tell you -- prosecutors, if they want information, the things that they could do to your client. And once clients learn the -- how imperiled they are, people flip constantly.

And just the other issue, look at Michael Flynn and what they said that could happen, potentially, to his son; and we saw what happened with him. And so OK, Ray Donovan he may be, but let's test how much Ray Donovan he is once the stakes are raised and once they gather the information and tell him what they have on him.

BORGER: I do know, Wolf, that Michael Cohen is very concerned about the impact this is having on his kids and on his wife. And we also know that the president has brought Michael Cohen to Mar-a-Lago, publicly had dinner with him, stated, "He is my personal attorney." And it is a question of, if Michael Cohen is loyal, A, his family is at stake. But also, B, will the president be loyal back to Michael Cohen? BLITZER: It's interesting also, Jamie, that last night the president

had dinner with Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor emeritus who's been defending him on television.

GANGEL: You know, we've been watching this for a couple of weeks, and let's start by saying that Alan Dershowitz has said time and time again that he does not want to be on the Donald Trump legal team. That said, however, he did go and have dinner. He did meet with him.

Alan has been on CNN today saying that he does not think that Donald Trump should sit down with Robert Mueller. That's where we're hearing that Donald Trump is leaning these days.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

GANGEL: And if it was up to Alan, he might turn this into a constitutional case, take it to the courts and fight it for a couple of years.

BORGER: And I don't think Dershowitz is alone in that. And particularly given after the Michael Cohen raid, we reported yesterday there was a conversation between the Mueller team, a previously scheduled conversation between the Mueller team and the president's attorneys. Can you imagine that?

And I think if Trump or any one of his attorneys had any inclination that the president ought to testify, I think that's probably over and done with.

BLITZER: We'll see what -- we'll see what happens on that. He, like Bill Clinton, may not have choice if he's under court order to testify. Unless he pleads the Fifth; unless he decides he's not going to testify, if he pleads the Fifth.

BORGER: And then you take it to the Supreme Court. Bill Clinton did.

BLITZER: There will be a constitutional crisis.

All right. Everybody stick around. There's more breaking news we're following in this, the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Also breaking today, the House speaker, Paul Ryan's, shocking announcement about his political future.


[17:43:42] BLITZER: Breaking tonight, just hours after the House speaker, Paul Ryan, revealed that this will be his last year in Congress, he's telling CNN that he has no plans to run for president or any other office. The Wisconsin Republican heading for the exit as his party faces a tough fight in the fall mid-term elections.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, tell us about Ryan's decision and what this may mean for his party. MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a surprise decision on Capitol Hill, because he had been so actively involved in raising money for House Republicans this year. No member has been more active in helping, with his super PAC raising millions of dollars, crisscrossing the country, even raising money for his own re-election campaign in his district in Wisconsin.

So the decision today came as a bit of a surprise. But what Paul Ryan said, this was a family decision. He said it was something that he had been considering for some time. And he did not want to give up -- not actually run for reelection, win reelection and then suddenly decide to resign next year. He said that he could not make that -- could not do that to the voters of his district. This is more of what he had to say earlier today.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What I realize is, if I'm here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can't let that happen. So I will be setting new priorities in my life. But I'll also be leaving incredibly proud of what we have accomplished. Some of you know my story. My dad died when I was 16. The daughter -- the age my daughter is. And I just don't want to be one of those people looking back at my life, thinking I spent more time with my kids, when I know if I spend another term, they will only know me as a weekend father.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, Paul Ryan said that the political landscape had nothing to do with his decision. But this is, very clearly, a blow for the Republican chances to take back the majority.

Right now, there are 41 Republican retirements compared to 19 for Democrats, 23 seats that Democrats need to pick up to take back the House majority. And that's roughly about the same number of districts in Republican-held seats that Hillary Clinton won back in 2016.

And you look at the poll numbers for this party, for the -- for President Trump and how the first midterm of a new president always becomes -- always historically is typically very difficult for a new president. All of which points to the very likelihood scenario that Paul Ryan, if he were to run and win, he could be minority leader in a new Congress.

And that would be a much different environment, much different set of circumstances. And maybe, he won't even have support to maintain that leadership position. Perhaps probably some of the factoring -- factors that ultimately led to Paul Ryan making this decision.

Even though he cited it as a family decision, no doubt that the political -- the environment here, as well as just having to deal with all of the questions about President Trump that constantly come up, and the difficulty of working with him as a governing partner seem to have worn down not just him but other Republicans on Capitol Hill. But, again, Wolf, he denied that the President played any role. He

really had high praise for the President, saying he had a good governing partner with the President.

But no question about it, you've talked to Paul Ryan day in and day out. A number of things that they want to push forward on, constantly undermined by the President and the distractions coming out of this White House, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, good point. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

Coming up, this hour's breaking news. The first known direct mention of President Trump in a search warrant.

And Defense Secretary James Mattis visits the White House just hours after President Trump warns Russia to get ready for a missile strike on Syria. How close is a U.S. attack?


[17:51:54] BLITZER: Breaking news. Defense Secretary James Mattis and top U.S. military officials were with the White House this afternoon. After the meeting, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said all options remain on the table for military action against Syria.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are your sources telling you?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, believe it or not, what everybody is watching is social media because, this time, President Trump going far beyond his usual Twitter words. This time, he's making it real.


STARR (voice-over): President Trump now using Twitter to promise an active war, tweeting, Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming nice and new and smart.

This is the President who repeatedly said he would never telegraph military moves in advance.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America's enemies must never know our plans. I will not say when we are going to attack.

We no longer tell our enemies our plans.

STARR (voice-over): The President's startling tweet catching allies and the Pentagon by surprise. A spokesman told CNN the Department does not comment on potential future military actions, but Defense Secretary James Mattis said the military is on standby.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We stand ready to provide military options.

STARR (voice-over): U.S. intelligence agencies are locking down a final assessment of what chemical agents Syrian forces used.

MATTIS: We're still assessing the intelligence.

STARR (voice-over): The next key decision? What targets to hit, airfields, helicopters, chemical storage sites, or escalate and hit Assad's regime, including government targets in Damascus.

Satellites and other U.S. intelligence aircraft are now watching closely for signs that Assad, as well as Russian units, are using the advance notice to move aircraft, weapons, and personnel out of the way of a potential attack.

But Russia also has a key military move it will likely play.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The Russians have the air defense capability employed in Syria that they could be a threat.

STARR (voice-over): Moscow now knows to aim its radars and anti-air missiles towards airspace over the Mediterranean. European aviation authorities are already warning commercial airliners of possible missile strikes in the Eastern Mediterranean in the coming hours.

The U.S. hopes to get French and British aircraft and ships to be part of the strikes. The U.S. has two surface ships and possibly unacknowledged submarines off Syria ready to fire satellite-guided, highly precise Tomahawk cruise missiles, the very type of smart missiles the President tweeted about.

The Russian Foreign Ministry quickly, on social media, keying in on the President's use of the phrase smart missiles with a warning and a question -- smart missiles will destroy all evidence of chemical weapons used on the ground?


STARR: The Russians perhaps there not so subtly suggesting that evidence could disappear. The official word from Washington tonight? No final decision has been ahead -- Wolf.

[17:55:04] BLITZER: We're waiting to see when it is made. All right, Barbara, thank you very much.

We're going to take a quick break. We're coming back with breaking news.

We have some shocking new details about the raid targeting President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Our reporters have that coming in right now. You're going to see it right here on CNN.


[18:00:04] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Seeking "Access."