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Interview with Congressman Ted Lieu; Sean Hannity Revealed as Michael Cohen's Client; James Comey Tells All; Trump Fires Back After Comey Says "Some Evidence" He Obstructed Justice, Possible Russians Have Dirt on Him; Washington Post: Trump Stops New Russian Sanctions. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 16, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, she's speaking out about the Trump fixer who paid her hush money.

And compromised? James Comey says it's possible that the Russians have dirt on President Trump. The fired FBI director unloading in a scathing and potentially incriminating interview about the president he calls morally unfit. What does it tell us about the special counsel's Russia investigation?

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, a new ruling, as the president and his lawyer Michael Cohen face off against the Justice Department. A judge ordering the government to turn over Cohen's records that were seized in FBI raids, allowing Cohen's legal team to determine if they're protected under attorney-client privilege, this at the close of a hearing that had the makings of a reality show.

FOX News host Sean Hannity was outed as the so-called mystery client whose identity Cohen was trying to keep secret. And porn star Stormy Daniels was there as well to watch it all unfold.

I will get reaction from Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz. He's outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan.

Shimon, you were there in the courtroom throughout this hearing today. Tell us more about the judge's ruling.


Wolf, the judge's ruling coming here almost around 5:00 or so. As you recall, Michael Cohen's attorneys arguing they need to review some of this material before the government starts reviewing any of the material that the FBI seized in its raid last week on Monday.

And the judge partially has given them a victory here, in that she has ordered the prosecutors, the government here, to turn over, to hand over these documents that they obtained in the search, make copies for the defense team, and then they will then review and discuss what materials there are perhaps privileged and litigated, and then, finally, finally, Wolf, what may happen at some point is the FBI and those investigators, the prosecutors may finally begin to look at some of those documents, because right now the folks who are investigating this case, the prosecutors and the FBI, cannot look at any of that material that they seized in the raid, Wolf.

BLITZER: It was a huge surprise today in the courtroom when Sean Hannity was revealed to be one of Cohen's clients. Tell us about that.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, so, we were sitting in court and there were arguments between Michael Cohen's attorneys and the judge, the two -- Michael Cohen's two attorneys were arguing to the judge why they did not want to release this name.

They said that Sean Hannity, it turned out to be, did not want his name out there and then the judge said really they had no argument, no legal ground to stand on, and she ordered his attorney, Michael Cohen's attorney to release the name. And then he just stood up and he said, OK, and he said the name, Sean Hannity.

And then all of a sudden, you know, certainly there's quick reaction from folks in the courtroom. Most of it was attended by the media, by folks of the press. And then a short time later after the name was released, Sean Hannity explained the relationship between him and Michael Cohen. Here it is.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": So, I have known Michael a long, long time and let me be very clear to the media, Michael never represented me in any matter.

I never retained him in the traditional sense as retaining a lawyer. I never received an invoice from Michael. I never paid legal fees to Michael.

But I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective. And I assumed that those conversations were attorney-client, confidential.


PROKUPECZ: So, Wolf, it's not entirely clear. They not say in court what the work, the nature of the work that Sean Hannity and Michael Cohen were involved in, but the fact is that the attorneys did say that Sean Hannity did not want his name associated with this case, he did not want his name out there.

But despite all that, the judge ordered it released. BLITZER: And in a subsequent tweet, Sean Hannity said those

conversations with Michael Cohen dealt almost exclusively about real estate.

I'm sure we will learn a lot more about this.

Amidst all of this, Stormy Daniels was at the hearing as well. What was she doing there?


She came purely as a spectator. It was Michael Avenatti, her attorney, who started floating this idea that she would appear on Friday.

She appear did just after 2:00 right before the hearing started. She sat in the back of the courtroom with her attorney. There was a folded chair there that they had ready for her. She sat down. While I was in the courtroom, she certainly didn't speak to anyone. She did speak to her attorney, but she was here purely as a spectator.

Certainly increased attention that this received today. More cameras here than there were on Friday when I was here, but she did come out of court and she made a statement explaining why she was here, Wolf. Take a listen.


STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: For years, Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law. He has considered himself an openly and referred to him as Mr. Trump's fixer. He has played by a different set of rules or should we say no rules at all.

He has never thought that the little man or especially women and, even more, women like me mattered. That ends now. My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and the facts of what happened. And I give my word that we will not rest until that happens. Thank you very much.


PROKUPECZ: So, Wolf, she will -- she could likely become a witness in this case if, in fact, the FBI and the prosecutors here are investigating and they find any criminal activity related to that hush deal.

She is -- could and may still appear in court yet again even before any criminal proceeding may unfold here.

BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz, who inside that federal courtroom all day, Shimon, thank you very much.

Let's talk a little bit more now about the federal judge's ruling and what all this legal wrangling actually means for President Trump.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Evan Perez. What's the bottom line, Evan, for the president?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think, Wolf, it's important that this judge has basically told the prosecutors and the FBI they are going to have to share the materials at least initially. She's telling them they are going to have to share some of the materials that they seized in that raid a week ago.

And that's a big deal, because even though they're not getting the temporary restraining order that they had requested, it does indicate that she's considering appointing a third party, what is known as a special master to reviews these materials.

And so the bottom line for the president is that there appears to be a window here in which his legal team might be able to figure out what exactly the FBI has in this and maybe, maybe they will be able to tell where this is going. And I think that's one reason why they're in there fighting so hard.

BLITZER: And, you know, the fact that Stormy Daniels and her attorney, Michael Avenatti, they showed up in this courtroom, you just heard her statement, I'm anxious to get your thoughts on the purpose of that.

PEREZ: This was a very, very New York moment. Tabloid atmosphere. Look, they were there as spectators but I think it became a bit of a spectacle the way she entered. And Avenatti knows. Right?

He knows that he's producing a little bit of a show here. And I think, look, in the end I think they have an important role in this case, because, after all, this payment, according to the search warrant, is a very big part of what the government has.

And, Wolf, it's important that the government has said in at least in discussions with the judge on Friday -- they said that this is a fast- moving case. It appears that this search warrant, that the search they did last week was really the culmination of events after months of an investigation.

So, they appear to be close to doing whatever it is they're going to do, if there any charges to be brought. It appears that they are close.

BLITZER: Evan, thank you very much, Evan Perez helping us appreciate the enormity of what's going on.

Also tonight, President Trump, he is in Florida as his lawyer Michael Cohen has been fighting in court to keep their communications secret. The president began the day by firing back at his former FBI Director James Comey, who is now publicly declaring that the president is -- quote -- "morally unfit" and possibly compromised by the Russians.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is in Florida covering the president.

Jeff, the president talked about tax cuts today, but it seems safe to say that other things were certainly on his mind.


So many other things on the president's mind. But as he was opening a week-long trip to Florida, at an event he held earlier this afternoon in Hialeah, Florida I was there watching him talk about tax reform and talking about economic growth. He was sticking to script unlike he often does not, clearly, aides tell me, trying to show that he's not bothered by any of this, even as more storm clouds gather over the White House and people very close to him.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump in Florida promoting Republican tax cuts and economic growth.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: USA open for business. Whose was that?

ZELENY: But that message overshadowed again today by fallout from his extraordinary public fight with James Comey, the FBI director he fired nearly a year ago.


White House aides tell CNN the president was intent on showing that Comey was not getting under his skin. The president's silence did not extend to Twitter, where he had plenty to say about Comey, accusing him of lying to Congress and committing many crimes.

The president's words even more pointed over the weekend, blasting "slippery James Comey, who will go down as the worst FBI director in history by far."

It's clear the fight has become searingly personal for both men.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president.

ZELENY: In his interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Comey's words were damning.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Was President Trump obstructing justice?

COMEY: Probably. It's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?

COMEY: I think it's possible. I don't know. These are more words I never thought I would utter about the president of the United States, but it's possible.

ZELENY: The president declined to say whether he watched Comey's tell-all interview Sunday night.

QUESTION: Did you watch the interview, Mr. President? Did you watch James Comey's interview?

ZELENY: But White House aides say he saw at least portions of the interview. The president also unusually quiet about longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen appearing in court today in New York, facing criminal investigation.

Trump saved that concern for Twitter, writing: "Attorney-client privilege is now a thing of the past. I have many, too many lawyers and they are probably wondering when their offices and even homes are going to be raided."

After a weekend that began with the president launching missile strikes in Syria, today, he showered praise on his new national security adviser, John Bolton, standing in the crowd. But after a long ovation, the commander in chief made clear who was in charge.

TRUMP: And I'm a little jealous. Are you giving him all the credit? You know that means the end of his job.


ZELENY: Now, John Bolton and other advisers are here at the president's resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. They are getting ready for a summit happening later this week with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Of course, that is only one focus of this administration. The White House has not yet commented on the new developments this afternoon from Sean Hannity, who is a very close adviser to the president, a good friend, indeed, of the president, or of his lawyer Michael Cohen.

Asked earlier today if Michael Cohen was still representing the president, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders demurred on that, not giving a definitive answer.

Wolf, we have not heard from the president on these developments, as we said. Look for him to react in some way perhaps tomorrow morning on Twitter -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect he will. All right, Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny down in Florida.

Joining us now, Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a Democrat who serves on both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

And I quickly want to get your reaction. The government now has to hand over documents from that raid on Michael Cohen's apartment, his home, his hotel room, safe deposit box. The president's lawyers are warning against what they call a special master, because they don't think that will adequately protect the privilege of the president. That's the president's lawyer making that statement. You're a lawyer. What do you make of these late-breaking


REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: I believe today is a good day for the vindication of the rule of law.

Donald Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen wanted to keep the prosecution from reviewing these documents. The judge rejected that. What she did instead is said she might appoint a special master to assist the prosecution and defense.

But make no mistake. The prosecutor is now going to be able to look at all these documents that they seized. And today shows that no one is above the law, not the president and not the president's attorney.

BLITZER: Yes, the president's attorney, Joanna Hendon, said, "We don't think a special master will adequately protect the privilege of the president."

On another sensitive issue, what's your reaction to the news that the FOX News host Sean Hannity, of course a staunch defender of President Trump, has now been named by Michael Cohen's attorneys as one of his clients?

LIEU: Well, look, Wolf, unlike you, Sean Hannity is not a serious journalist. And he's said that. He said he's not a journalist. He is a talk show host.

But even still, Sean Hannity should have disclosed the special relationship he had with Michael Cohen if he's going to run a whole bunch of stories about the raid on Michael Cohen's office and say how that was so bad. And I think Sean Hannity misled his audience and he should apologize to his viewers.

BLITZER: And what do you think FOX News, if anything, should do?

LIEU: I think they should also apologize to their audience, because you had a massive conflict of interest that was not disclosed to the people watching that show.

BLITZER: Do you believe this Cohen investigation in New York City, the Southern District of New York, the U.S. attorney there investigating, poses more of an immediate threat to President Trump than the Robert Mueller investigation that's going on here in Washington?

LIEU: It could.

Last month, Kathleen Rice and I -- we're both former prosecutors -- and as members of Congress, we wrote a letter to the FBI asking them to investigate Michael Cohen and "The National Enquirer," because both of those made payments, large payments, to two women to silence them who had negative information about affairs about Donald Trump during a presidential election.

[18:15:16] And it was clear these payments were campaign finance law violations. So, in the search of these documents, if prosecutors come across other information that relates to other crimes, they could also prosecute those crimes as well. It's called the plain view doctrine.

So I could see the president being very nervous if they see other things in the past that may have happened.

BLITZER: One of the key witnesses in this Robert Mueller Russia probe, this investigation, we're talking about James Comey, the fired FBI director.

He says his conversations with President Trump are possibly evidence of obstruction of justice. Do you agree?

LIEU: I do.

Donald Trump fired James Comey. And under our obstruction of justice statute, it's very broad. You don't actually have to obstruct justice. You just have to endeavor to influence an investigation. And then the president went on national TV a couple of days later and said the one thing his attorneys would have told him never to say, was that he basically fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation.

That's textbook obstruction of justice. It's not surprising to me that James Comey also believes that that's possibly obstruction of justice as well.

BLITZER: Could Comey's new book which is just out create problems for this ongoing Mueller investigation?

LIEU: It could, but I'm not going to do what the Republican National Committee chairwoman did and talk about a book that I have not read.

So I will wait to read it and then happy to talk about it.

BLITZER: Do you buy James Comey's explanation for his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation, announcing he was reopening that investigation only 10 or 11 days before the presidential election?

LIEU: In 2016, I was on the House Oversight Committee, and James Comey came to our committee and testified with a question -- with the opportunity to question him.

And I disagreed with his policy judgment, but I could also tell from that questioning that he had integrity. I trust him. And while I disagree with him, I do trust the things that he says and does, whether or not I would have done the same thing.

BLITZER: Comey also says President Trump shouldn't be impeached because, in his words, it would let the American people off the hook. He wants an election in order to get rid of Donald Trump. What do you make of that?

LIEU: I think that would depend on what the special counsel finds. The special counsel is going to release a number of reports on

obstruction of justice and other issues related to Donald Trump. I think the American people should see what's in those reports and then we collectively as a nation can make a judgment.

BLITZER: Congressman Ted Lieu of California, thanks for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, there's more breaking news.

President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, forced to reveal in court now the secret name on his client list is none other than FOX News host Sean Hannity.

And the extraordinary war between President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey, who calls the president -- quote -- "morally unfit" and says it's possible the president is compromised by Russia.



BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the fast-moving criminal investigation of the president's lawyer Michael Cohen is slowing down a bit.

A judge ordering the government to let Cohen's legal team review his seized records to determine if they include any privileged communication between him and his client. That would be the president of the United States.

Cohen revealing in court also the identity of another client, the FOX News host Sean Hannity, whose name he was trying to keep secret.

This hour, we're also following the reaction to James Comey's first interview since he was fired by the president.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is here with us.

Jim, Comey offered a blistering appraisal of the president.


And he raised this issue which has been a central question of the Russia investigation since the first revelation of this famous Steele dossier that CNN was first to report that was briefed to the president-elect and President Obama in January 2016.

Central question, does Russia have compromising information on Donald Trump? Well, James Comey, the former director of the FBI, briefed on some of the intelligence behind that, at least opined in this interview that it is possible Russia has such information.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): It is a sobering assessment from former FBI Director James Comey briefed on the early intelligence that Russia could hold compromising information on President Donald Trump.

COMEY: I think it's possible. I don't know. These are more words I never thought I would utter about the president of the United States, but it's possible.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's stunning. You can't say for certain that the president of the United States is not compromised about by the Russians?

COMEY: Yes, it is stunning, and I wish I wasn't saying it, but it's just -- it's the truth. It always struck me and still strikes me as unlikely, and I would have been able to say with high confidence about any other president I dealt with. But I can't. It's possible.

SCIUTTO: That was the central claim in the dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele which Comey briefed then president-elect Trump on in 2017, a story first reported by CNN.

In a wide-ranging and stunning interview with ABC News, Comey says that he was struck by how Trump, who had often expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin in public, seemed unable to criticize him in public or private, despite Russia's efforts to disrupt the presidential election.


In an unaired portion of the interview, Comey says -- quote -- "You would think that in private, talking to the FBI director, whose job it is to thwart Russian attacks, you might acknowledge that this enemy of ours is an enemy of ours. But I never saw. And so I don't know the reason. I really don't."

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are you thinking then as you see President Trump invite the Russians to release Hillary Clinton's e-mails, as you see him refuse to criticize Vladimir Putin?

COMEY: I'm thinking the questions that we're asking ourselves, which is, is anybody -- is the Trump campaign working directly with the Russians?

SCIUTTO: Crucially, Comey says that he would recount his experiences with the president under oath if special counsel Robert Mueller he decides to prosecute a case.

One encounter already of interest is an early 2017 Oval Office meeting in which Comey says Trump asked him to go easy on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was already then under criminal investigation.

COMEY: It's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.

SCIUTTO: As concerns grow that Trump may fire Mueller, Comey expressed confidence that the man who would have to carry out the order, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, would refuse to do so, saying in an unaired portion of the interview: "I'm highly confident that he would refuse to abide that order."

More broadly, Comey takes the remarkable step of declaring a sitting president unfit for the office.

COMEY: He strikes me as a person of above-average intelligence who is tracking conversations and knows what's going on. I don't think he is medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president.

A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they're pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small, and insists the American people believe it, that person is not fit to be president of the United States on moral grounds.

SCIUTTO: However, Comey made clear that he believes that only the ballot box, not an impeachment proceeding, should decide the president's fate.

COMEY: I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they're duty-bound to do directly. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values.


SCIUTTO: Comey was also pressed on the other central question of the Russia investigation. Was there "collusion" between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians.

And he dismisses the word collusion. He says: "It's not a word that is familiar to me or my work." It is of course not a criminal charge, but he focuses on whether anybody, in his words, was conspiring, aiding and abetting or helping the Russians accomplish their goal.

And he zeros in on George Papadopoulos, that spring meeting where he says to the Australian ambassador in London that he hears that the Russians have this damaging dirt on Hillary Clinton, he said -- and he makes a point that was before it became public that Russia had stolen that information.

And for him, it raises the question, for James Comey, as to whether that foreknowledge could lead to the possibility that someone in the Trump world was aiding or abetting or had some forewarning that this material was coming.

BLITZER: Yes, he had launched that investigation in July of 2016, even though he never disclosed it throughout the rest of that campaign, unlike with Hillary Clinton, where he disclosed plenty.

SCIUTTO: That's right, another subject of the interview.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much for that, Jim Sciutto. Just ahead, more breaking news. A judge forces President Trump's

lawyer Michael Cohen to reveal the name of his secret client. That would be the FOX News host Sean Hannity.

And the escalating battle between President Trump and the man he fired as FBI director, James Comey, calling the president -- quote -- "morally unfit for office."


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news out of a pivotal federal court hearing in New York involving the president's lawyer, Michael Cohen. A federal judge ordering prosecutors to turn over Cohen's records that were seized in FBI raids, allowing Cohen's legal team to determine if they're protected under what's called attorney-client privilege.

[18:33:40] The ruling coming shortly after Cohen was forced to reveal in court the name of a secret client, the FOX News host Sean Hannity.

Let's bring in our analysts and our specialists. And Joey Jackson. You're our legal analyst. The president's lawyer in court made it clear today that they don't believe a special master will adequately protect the privilege of the president. How do you think all of this might unfold?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It will unfold in a massive fight, right? So in order for our institutions to work, they have to be fair, and what everyone needs to understand is that like politics, a courtroom is very polarized. Right? You have your Democrat and Republican, so to speak. You have your prosecutor, and you have your defense. And unless and until both sides can come together, which they won't, a judge is going to have to rule.

So let's talk about what will occur. Both sides will evaluate the material. It's not going to be a surprise to any of us that the list that the prosecution has as to what is attorney-client privilege will differ from the list that the defense has concerning what is attorney- client privilege. And in order to resolve that issue because the stakes are enormous, right?

Because at stake an attorney-client privilege is what can be introduced against you in court. If it's attorney-client privilege, it's exempt. It cannot be introduced at all. It's off the table.

So the items that the prosecution will want to introduce will differ, of course, from what the defense wants to introduce or says is actually entitled to be introduced.

[18:35:10] And so at the end of the day, Wolf, I think what we're going to see, special master or not, who would be the individual to be exactly that, the ringmaster as to the two parties, will have a hearing and at that hearing will determine issues like are they a client? was it a privileged communication? Were you acting as a client-attorney, attorney-client or a business associate? Was there some other relationship? And so at the end of the day, Judge Kimba Wood will make a ruling as

to what's admissible and what's not admissible. It won't be easy. It will be a process, and it will end, of course, in a protracted battle. What's introduced will be very significant in terms of what ultimately is prosecuted against Michael Cohen.

BLITZER: Yes. Get ready for this battle. Dana, how concern something it for President Trump that Trump Organization documents were seized in these raids by the FBI on Michael Cohen's office, his home, his hotel room, his safe deposit box?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Probably very concerning. The real answer is we don't know the answer to how concerned he is, because we don't know exactly what they've seized. We don't know exactly if they've seized -- seized something or things that are troubling to the president. Beyond just the basic notion that the president is outraged about, because he claims, as Joey just explained, that Michael Cohen is his attorney and it should be privileged and this should not be something that investigators should have in any way, shape or form.

But I think that really is the key question, is what this means for the president. Gloria has done some excellent reporting on what this means for Michael Cohen and other issues that could lead to the president. But in the short term, that's the open question.

BLITZER: What are you hearing? Because I know you've done some serious reporting, Gloria, on this whole Sean Hannity involvement now. What are you hearing from your sources about Michael Cohen's relationship, legal relationship with the FOX News host?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, my sources are telling me, and Sean Hannity said it himself on his radio show, that -- that these conversations that he had were informal. It was about real estate, largely. There's no attorney -- they're not claiming any attorney-client privilege here. That -- that this has nothing to do with the case.

I was told he has no dog in this fight and that the conversations, although Hannity would rather not have had them mentioned in court, that the truth of the matter is that he never got billed. He never paid a bill. And so he was sort of shocked that he was even mentioned in this -- in this whole thing.

To add to what Dana is saying, look, on Donald Trump, this -- Michael Cohen has represented Donald Trump since 2006 in dozens and dozens of cases. We also know that Michael Cohen has taped people, did it consistently. Whether it was during the campaign or whether it was other attorneys, we know that he taped his conversations, for example, with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal's original attorney. So we don't know who else he's taping. Who else is on the tapes?

I don't know if he taped Donald Trump. Did he? Did he not tape Donald Trump? What else is in there? And I am sure that the president is very concerned about this, because he probably can't remember what happened from 2006 until now. BASH: A lot.

BORGER: And there was a lot, yes.

BLITZER: And we do know the FBI has all those tapes.

BORGER: Everything. Everything.

BLITZER: And confiscated them when they went in. Ron Brownstein, how do you see it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think this Sean Hannity thing is fascinating, because it just another reminder of how deep into uncharted waters we are and how FOX, for whatever the quality of individual journalists there, has morphed into something really unprecedented in American history, which is the media arm of a sitting president and sitting government, a kind of -- a magnifying or amplifying tool for him to constantly communicate with his base.

And I know Sean Hannity has been out today kind of minimizing this relationship. But I think unlike Gloria, I differ. I think he did say that at least some of the conversations he viewed as being covered by attorney-client privilege.

Either way, the idea in any normal newsroom, however minimal this relationship -- Sean Hannity was maximal in attacking the raids on the air. And the idea that in any normal newsroom, you could go on and do that, having this kind of relationship with the person you're talking about, and not disclose to it your audience, you know, is just -- is just extraordinary.

And I don't think it's going to be a big deal, necessarily, to his audience, because it is a reminder of just kind of this tribal sense of politics at this point. Same thing is for Donald Trump. Many of his supporters view him as at war against forces they view are against them, so they will excuse almost anything.

But again, it is a reminder of just what we are watching here. This intertwined -- maybe something reminiscent of Berlusconi in Italy, that we don't have an exact precedent for in America.

[18:40:09] BORGER: And -- but let me clarify this. That Hannity has never asked Cohen to assert attorney-client privilege. That doesn't mean that Cohen won't try and assert it. I mean, we don't -- you know we don't know how that is going to play out.

BLITZER: Let me play you how -- his explanation. Joey, you're the lawyer here. Give us your explanation. This is how Sean Hannity on his radio show earlier today explained his relationship with Michael Cohen.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: So, I've known Michael a long, long time. And let me be very clear to the media, Michael never represented me in any matter. I never retained him in the traditional sense as retaining a lawyer. I never received an invoice from Michael. I never paid legal fees to Michael.

But I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective. And I assume that those conversations were attorney-client confidential.


BLITZER: So, Joey, what does that mean, attorney-client confidential?

JACKSON: Well, let's put it this way. First let's understand that there's a public relations imperative regarding Sean Hannity releasing this information, right? He has to set the record straight. He has a reputation to uphold, et cetera.

But then there's a legal imperative also, and I think that fact pattern that he laid out is going to be evaluated very closely.

So just to be clear -- and we're going to learn, right? America is going to learn more than it wants to know about attorney-client privilege. But the reality is, is that you don't necessarily have to be a retained client, but you have you -- it has to be in furtherance of seeking legal advice. So it's to your lawyer or a prospective lawyer.

BORGER: Right.

JACKSON: So what was the nature of these communications? Were they meant in furtherance of a relationship or were they not? And this will be parsed out very closely to determine whether we ever get to know what the substance of that information was, and that's how it'll turn.

BORGER: So, Joey, if I call you and I say, "You know, I'd like some advice. I have a real estate problem. You're my friend. I'd like some advice." And do I then assume that there's some privilege in this conversation? I haven't paid you. I haven't retained you. I haven't asked you for it, as Cohen never asked him for it. But am I supposed to assume that this is confidential? And what's the difference between confidential and attorney-client?

JACKSON: Depends on who you ask. Now, let's just back up, right? It depends who you ask.

The first thing is, is that if you're reaching out to me and, you know, it could be in an informal conversation, but is it in furtherance of advice that I'm providing you regarding a legal matter? Is it of and concerning a legal relationship? It doesn't necessarily have to be formal. Right? We could joke about it, but am I giving you information and is that information, and do you expect and anticipate, right, that I otherwise would keep that in confidence? And so the fact is, is that it could be formal or informal.

Attorney-client privilege may still apply. You could retain me or not retain me. Attorney-client privilege may still apply. And so we don't have to look at it necessarily as this privilege, which is strict to you sign a retainer and that's the only way it's protected. That's not so.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We're going to continue this conversation. We're also at some point going to find out if there are any phone conversations that were taped between Sean Hannity and Michael Cohen.

We'll have a lot more on all of this, including James Comey's P.R. campaign against the president. Is the fired FBI director changing anyone's opinion about Mr. Trump?


[18:48:29] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, President Trump and James Comey in an increasingly personal war of words accusing one another of being liars.

Let's talk point impact of Comey's first interview since he was fired by the president, Ron Brownstein, you study attitudes among the American public.

Is Comey changing any minds or are the American people basically set in their respective ways?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, interesting question. If you look at Donald Trump's profile of support relative to any other Republican, the most conspicuous difference, the biggest difference is that he underperforms Republicans among college educated white voters. Two new polls out today with him at 40 percent or below among most voters.

Think for a moment about who James Comey is. He is a white man with a postgraduate degree, he is a lawyer. He is the embodiment and a lifelong Republican. He is the embodiment of the kind of voter that Donald Trump has been driving away from the Republican Party, even as he has brought them greater strength among blue color and evangelical and rural whites.

Now, James Comey may or may not a lot of people personally, but the fact is he's out there making a case that I think is more direct and unvarnished than we are hearing from most of the leading Democrats. And it's essentially in a sentence, Donald Trump is not morally fit to be president and he's a threat to the rule of law. And I think that, you know, hearing that argument stated so unequivocally from someone who looks like them and who shares many of their life experiences I think is a reconfirming kind of perspective that deepens this historic deficit that he's facing with the voters who look most like James Comey.

[18:50:06] BLITZER: And, Dana, he goes one step further and he says, the Russians may have dirt on him and potentially the president of the United States could be compromised.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, he said he can't rule it out. And remember, he was fired, you know, almost -- it's been about a year since the investigation has gone on and really exploded under the special counsel, who was appointed, because he was fired. So, the fact that he isn't so sure means that he knows some things that he potentially can't say. And you know, he also made very clear that it's -- he's unsure and he said unlikely that the president himself was colluding.

But the fact of the matter is, he authorized opening the investigation into potential collusion, because of some of the Trump aides or Trump associates actually getting caught talking to Russians about the election and about Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Just the beginning of this Comey media tour, he's going to be here on CNN on Thursday with Jake Tapper, but you have Comey saying these things about a sitting president of the United States, John Brennan, the former CIA director, saying very similar things about the president of the United States. It's really unbelievable.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is unbelievable because it's not only substantive about potential collusion with Russia, potential obstruction. It's also about the fact that James Comey believes the president lies. He believes he doesn't have the value system to be president of the United States. And he is open, completely open about that.

And open about why he felt the need to take contemporaneous notes after he met with the president, because he didn't believe that the president understood, really, the separation of powers. And I think it is stunning. I think it's stunning that it comes in the middle of an investigation in which James Comey is a substantial witness and will be talking to Mueller. I'm assuming he has already.

But, you know, this is -- the timing of this is also quite interesting.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. There's more we need to discuss. Let's not forget, the president says that Comey belongs in jail.

Much more right after this.


[18:57:01] BLITZER: Among everything else, there's new reporting out tonight suggesting the president is overruling his U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley's threat of new sanctions on Russia. You know, Dana, yesterday, she was on TV saying there would be new sanctions. Today, "The Washington Post" is reporting the president said, not so fast.

BASH: The latter is believable, because that's the way that the president has been approaching the fact that he signed, because Congress made him sign, because it was such an overwhelming vote, legislation that would impose new sanctions. The administration has been slow-walking it. A couple of weeks ago, they did implement several of them, including expelling some Russians from this country.

But at the end of the day, this is yet another example bubbling over in a very unfortunate way for this administration the differences and the push and pull on how to deal with Russia. You know, it's understandable, I guess, that the president -- understandable is probably the wrong word. It seems that the president is trying to be cautious with Russia given what's going on with Syria, despite the fact that he's been vocal, unlike he has before.

But Nikki Haley is a hawk. She always has been. She's a much more traditional Republican when it comes to many hot spots around the world, particularly on Russia.

And I'm just thinking about what it must be like to be sitting in the capitals right now of all of our allies, the U.S. allies around the world, trying to figure out what the U.S. policy is and how do you proceed with a coalition when the biggest and baddest, that's supposed to be the United States, can't get its act together.

BLITZER: Remember in the book, Comey says, you know, that the president refused to criticize Russia and Putin, even in private conversations.

BORGER: Right! Because I think the president believes one of the reasons may be, and believe me, we don't know all the reasons, he believes that he -- only he can deal with Putin and is trying to thread the needle here somehow. So, if the sanctions are too bad, he and Putin may not be able to sit down and do what he thinks he can do that no other president has been able to do in the history of the world.

So, therefore, he's trying to do, yes, we're going to do the Syria raid, but I still want to be able to sit down with Putin. I think that's partly what's going on here.

BLITZER: And, you know, Ron, very quickly, "The Washington Post" says the president erupted in anger when he found out the U.S. was expelling 60 Russian diplomats and the U.K. and France, three or four.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, there's a specific point and a broader point. The point is that it's interesting to hear the president make the argument that one reason they need to shut down the Russia investigation, which he made to Comey, apparently, is that he's arguing that it's preventing him from creating this beneficial relationship with Putin that one's been table to get.

More broadly, it just shows how improvisational policy is in this administration and the president is on his own track. Whatever anybody says, in the end, he's on his own track.

BLITZER: That's certainly true. All right, guys. Thanks very much.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.