Return to Transcripts main page


NTSB: One Fatality in Southwest Jet Engine Failure; White House Undercuts U.N. Ambassador on Russia Sanctions; Stormy Daniels Releases Sketch of Man Who Threatened Her. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 17, 2018 - 17:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Emergency landing. An engine explodes on a Southwest Airlines flight, blowing out a window and forcing a harrowing emergency landing. One person is dead. An urgent investigation has begun. What went wrong?

[17:00:39] Stormy Daniels threat. Stormy Daniels shows a sketch of the man she says threatened her to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Donald Trump. She's offering a big reward to anyone who could quote, "I.D. The thug."

Sanction reversal. After U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announces new sanctions on Russia, the White House clumsily reverses them. Now the State Department suggests the new sanctions are coming shortly. What's behind all the confusion?

And sooner or never? President Trump says the U.S. has already held talks with North Korea at extremely high levels. He says a meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong-un could happen very soon, or not at all. As the president says, quote, "We'll see what happens."

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, a terrifying ordeal aboard a Southwest Airline flight as an engine explosion blows out a window, fatally injuring a passenger and forcing the plane to make an emergency landing.

And in the middle of President Trump's running battle with former FBI director James Comey, the president takes heat for undercutting the United Nations ambassador and walking back new sanctions on Russia.

I'll speak with Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are all standing by with full coverage.

But let's get right to the breaking news: that deadly engine failure aboard a Southwest Airlines jet. Brian Todd is joining us right now.

Brian, what's the latest? What are you learning? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a short time ago we spoke

to a passenger aboard that plane who says shrapnel from an explosion of that engine blew out a window just a few seconds later. A window that was just two rows ahead of him.

We have dramatic new accounts from this passenger, who was able to capture images from inside the cabin as the jet was plummeting more than 20,000 feet in about five minutes.


TODD (voice-over): This is passenger Marty Martinez, Facebook live- streaming what he thinks will be his death. Martinez tells CNN he was on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 when one of its engines failed, possibly from an explosion about 30 minutes into the flight from New York's La Guardia Airport to Dallas.

MARTY MARTINEZ, PASSENGER (via phone): All of a sudden, we hear this loud explosion. And, like, within a span of five seconds, all of the -- all of the oxygen masks deployed. And then just a few seconds later, another explosion happened, and it was a window that just completely exploded. And as you can imagine, everybody was going crazy and yelling and screaming.

TODD: Martinez says the flight attendants appeared to be panicking. The pilot projected calm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Southwest 1380 has an engine fire. Descending.

TODD: Tonight the NTSB says one passenger was killed. It may have been a woman who, witnesses say, was sitting near this window, blown open, they say, by shrapnel from the explosion.

MARTINEZ: Her, like, arms and her body was sucked in that -- like, sucked in that direction, from my vantage point. Ao you see people from the back of the seat holding onto her, you know, trying to keep her -- or keep her contained.

TODD: Martinez tells CNN a man who tended to that passenger had blood all over his hands.

He says the plane experienced violent turbulence, that he saw his colleague sitting next to him typing out a good-bye message to his family. The plane quickly depressurized and made an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flight crew did an incredible job getting this aircraft here on the ground.

TODD: Officials say a few other passengers suffered minor injuries. Former NTSB official Peter Goelz says initially, investigators may focus on possible failure of the fan blades inside the engine.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Most typically, a fan blade fails because of some sort of maintenance oversight, some sort of foundry failure that there is the tiniest little anomaly that can grow with the enormous pressure that the speed of the rotating engine puts on it.

You could have a fatigue crack that could have been hard to determine where it was.

TODD: Tonight a terrified, emotional passenger tells CNN the landing was so violent he thought they were crashing.

MARTINEZ: I feel just so -- like, really, lucky to be alive. You know, I've had a lot of people contact me and, you know, loved ones calling. And, you know, all I could think about as I was going down on that plane was, you know, how my life was being taken away from me.


TODD: This incident, of course, could have been so much worse, and aviation experts are telling us tonight that one thing that could have happened is a catastrophic failure of the plane's left wing. They say that these 737s have fuel tanks throughout the wings inside. If shrapnel had ignited a fuel tank, damaged that wing, severed the hydraulic controls, they could have lost control of the flaps and, possibly, that plane could have crashed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Wow. There was, I'm told, a safety directive regarding the type of engine this plane had. Is that right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Last year the FAA issued an air worthiness directive on the same turboprop engine after an in-flight failure. In August of 2016, a Southwest Airlines 737 flying from New Orleans to Orlando was forced to make an emergency landing in Pensacola after an engine failed that could have been something very similar to what happened here.

BLITZER: Very scary stuff indeed. Brian Todd reporting. Thanks very much.

Meanwhile, President Trump is at his Florida resort right now. He's huddling with Japan's prime minister about a planned meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. But the Trump administration has been busy sending out mixed messages on Russia and the prospect of yet more U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Let's go live to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's down in Florida reporting on what's going on. What's the latest, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a case of foreign policy whiplash. The White House is blaming the administration's own ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, for jumping the gun on new sanctions on Russia. Now the State Department says that those sanctions could actually happen.

The confusion over these sanctions, which would be tied to the Russia -- Russian support for Syria, comes as the president is holding talks here in Florida with the Japanese prime minister on another pressing national security issue, North Korea.

The president said today just a short while ago that high-level talks with the North Koreans have already begun.


ACOSTA (voice-over): As the president and the Japanese prime minister meet at Mr. Trump's ritzy resort in Florida to try to get on the same page on North Korea --

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have also started talking to North Korea directly. We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels with North Korea.

ACOSTA: -- the White House is attempting to make sense of its policy on Russia. One day after ambassador Nikki Haley warned new sanctions on Russia would be announced by the administration --

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Absolutely. So you will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday if he hasn't already.

ACOSTA: The White House was walking back, insisting a decision had not been made and putting the blame squarely on Haley, who said Russia would be punished for its support for Syria's dictator, Bashar al- Assad, and the regime's suspected gas attacks on its own people.

In an off-camera briefing with reporters, the president's new chief economist, Larry Kudlow, told reporters, Haley simply got it wrong.

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISOR: She got ahead of the curve. She's done a great job. She's a very effective ambassador. There might have been some momentary confusion about that.

ACOSTA: It was a curious purported stumble for Haley, who has consistently been a tough voice on Russia for the administration, in stark contrast to the president, who has only recently stepped up his rhetoric on Moscow. Even fellow Republicans are noting something seems off.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: It sounds like confusion from the White House.

ACOSTA: While in Florida the president and his aides are busy responding to the new book from former FBI director James Comey. The president has suggested Comey could face jail time for his actions, tweeting, "The big questions in Comey's badly-reviewed book aren't answered, like how come he gave up classified information (jail)? Why did he lie to Congress (jail)?"

Comey, who was promoting his new book, reacted to that, accusing Mr. Trump of crossing a line.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: That is not normal. That is not OK. First of all, he's just making stuff up. But most importantly, the president of the United States is calling for the imprisonment of a private citizen, as he's done for a whole lot of people who criticize him. That is not acceptable in this country. ACOSTA: Still, Comey has critics on both sides of the aisle. The

Democrats are still furious with Comey for very publicly reopening the Clinton e-mail investigation just days before the 2016 election.

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN FOR HILLARY CLINTON: I think it was his -- to some extent his arrogance that led him to make a very bad error of judgment. But I thought he was an idiot in the context of this election, and it was influential in the outcome.

ACOSTA: And there's new uncertainty on the subject of North Korea. While the president told reporters his meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un could happen, quote, "very soon," Mr. Trump also said it's possible his face-to-face encounter may not even occur.

TRUMP: It's possible things won't go well or we won't have the meetings, and we'll just continue to go along this very strong path that we've taken. But we will see what happens.


ACOSTA: Now the president told reporters that five locations are under consideration for his upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. One other nagging concern for the president has resurfaced today. That is all of the questions regarding his tax records. The White House announced today that the president is filing for an extension to file his 2017 tax returns.

[17:10:13] Of course, this president has refused to release his returns to the public, the first in decades to do so. And the White House is not giving any indication whether the president will keep his 2017 returns a secret, Wolf. It seems like we're never going to see those tax returns.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, we shall see. Maybe one of these days we will. Who knows? All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that.

ACOSTA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. I quickly want to begin with the president's sudden reversal on Russian sanctions. The White House is now blaming U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley for supposedly, quote, "getting ahead of the curve" on the issue when she said on Sunday they would be announced by the Treasury Department. Why can't this administration speak with one voice when it comes with policy toward Russia?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Ambassador Haley has it right, Wolf. The president needs to tell the country what is the strategy with Russia.

I propose the strategy should be we counter their aggression in the United States and abroad. And to achieve that, he has to finally have the spine to directly confront Vladimir Putin, to ratchet up the sanctions, to get our allies on board so that they can impose hurtful sanctions, particularly against the oligarchs who are benefitting from what Putin is doing.

And also to unify the country so that, in the investigations we do here about what Russia did, we show Russia and other countries that we're never going to tolerate this.

He can still do that. But right now, we're in this "Does Putin love me? Does Putin love me not?" saga, where one day he's tough on Putin and the next day he's admiring him as a leader. And that doesn't help is at all.

BLITZER: Is there anything, Congressman, that the U.S. Congress should do about this?

SWALWELL: Yes. Well, what Congress should do -- you know, Elijah Cummings and I have bipartisan legislation that would have an independent commission on what Russia did. But also, we can, with the power of the purse, insist that he impose sanctions against Russia for what they're doing in Syria, for what they just recently did in the United Kingdom, for what they continue to do in Ukraine.

You know, I hope members realize that we're not helpless here, that the American people trust Congress to be a check when the president is not willing to act or when the president is out of control.

BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to the latest comments from the former FBI director, James Comey. Comey says the FBI's credibility is lower today than it was a few years ago but that the bureau's reputation would be even worse if not for the controversial choices he made during the 2016 presidential campaign. What do you think?

SWALWELL: You know, I'm not going to second-guess Director Comey's choices. I didn't second-guess them at the time. I was a prosecutor, Wolf. I know that there's a lot of times when you're in a catch-22, and you know, sometimes no one's going to be happy with what you decide.

I think most importantly going forward, we need to make sure in Congress that we have an independent Department of Justice, that no president is ever able to use the department to punish their enemies or reward their friends.

And also, just as Democrats, frankly, Wolf, I don't want us to miss some of the people who we did not connect with in 2016 and just scapegoat what happened in 2016 with what Director Comey did. Whether it affected the election or not, there are a lot of people who we did not connect with, and there are a lot of people who have always been on our side who just stayed home. And if we're going to win in 2018 and in 2020, we need those folks to be back with us, and we need to go back to them.

BLITZER: Comey expressed confidence in the Russia probe, telling NPR in an interview -- and I'm quoting him now -- "If the president's goal is to shut down an investigation, he would literally have to fire everyone in the Department of Justice and the FBI to accomplish that."

Do you share his faith in the FBI and the Department of Justice?

SWALWELL: I do. And I think they could be clearer about that. And I know that's not something they're normally comfortable with. They usually keep their head down, and they don't give a rip about politics. I have two brothers who are police officers. They hate talking about politics. They hate the suggestion that they could be influenced by it.

But with this president, I would really appreciate it if senior officials pledged that they would not be a part of any firing of Mueller without cause.

And again, Congress is not helpless. We have bipartisan legislation in both chambers, the House and the Senate, where we could protect Mueller and make sure that he and Rosenstein are not fired unless there was cause.

BLITZER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thanks so much for joining us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, more breaking news. Stormy Daniels shows a sketch of the man she says threatened her to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Donald Trump. And her lawyer says that man probably worked for the Trump Organization or Donald Trump's personal fixer. We'll be right back.


[17:19:08] BLITZER: Breaking news. The lawyer for Stormy Daniels just told CNN he believes the man who allegedly threatened her to stay silent about the affair she claims she had with Donald Trump probably worked indirectly for the Trump Organization or for Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

Our national correspondent, Sara Sidner, is joining us with the latest.

Sara, Daniels and her lawyer, they put out a sketch of this man. They describe him as a thug.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, she's giving more details now about that alleged threat from a man she says was trying to keep her from talking about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. She's giving the more details for the second time to "The View."


SIDNER (voice-over): After more than a week of teasing it, porn actress Stormy Daniels revealing this sketch of the man she says threatened her back in 2011 to keep her from talking about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.

STORMY DANIELS, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: The thing that I remember so clearly about him is that nothing was alarming about the way he looked at first.

[17:20:05] SIDNER: Daniels appeared on ABC's "The View," revealing more details about the incident she says happened in a Las Vegas parking lot while she was headed to a "Mommy and Me" workout class with her infant daughter.

DANIELS: He had his hands in his pocket, and he looked at my daughter, and I just remember him saying, like, "It's a beautiful little girl. It would be a shame if something happened to her mom. Forget about this story. Leave Mr. Trump alone."

SIDNER: Her attorney, Michael Avenatti, says he has gotten hundreds of tips since releasing the sketch, and he tells CNN's Jake Tapper Daniels has looked at photos of people who may be the mysterious stranger.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You said you have some names in mind of whom that sketch might be of. Has Miss Daniels looked at photographs of these individuals who it might be?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: She has reviewed, Jake, a number of photographs over the last few weeks, a couple weeks actually. And we've narrowed it down.

TAPPER: The photographs that you have, that she's looked at, are they individuals who worked for Mr. Trump or Mr. Cohen at some point in the past?

AVENATTI: We believe indirectly.

SIDNER: But she didn't go to the police, saying she feared her husband would find out about the alleged one-night stand with Trump in 2006.

DANIELS: First of all, I was scared. I would have had to tell an entire police department -- and police reports are public record, I know that for a fact -- I had sex with Donald Trump. And then the whole world would have known, and I was in the process of trying to quiet that or figure out what to do. And honestly, I was just afraid, and I didn't want everyone to know.

SIDNER: But she did tell her story that same year for a deal worth $15,000 to "In Touch" magazine, which didn't publish the story until this past January, reportedly because Trump's lawyer threatened to sue.

Daniels is talking openly about the alleged threat, insisting she can recall vividly what the man looked like, enough to commission this sketch, drawing from her memory seven years prior.

DANIELS: And you would be asked the question that you are asked -- you just asked me. Like, "Why didn't you say anything?" And I did tell quite a few people, actually, from back then and --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who did you tell?

DANIELS: I told family members and two friends and people that I worked with.

AVENATTI: It's obvious she just didn't sit down with this sketch artist and, I mean, fabricate this. I mean, this is a very detailed sketch.

SIDNER: And as for President Trump's recent denial --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. No.

SIDNER: The porn actress and director is now reacting. Stormy Daniels isn't buying it.

DANIELS: Let me just say, I work in the adult business, and I'm a better actress than he is.


SIDNER: Now when asked about the threats, Michael Cohen had initially said -- sorry -- initially said that he had never called her, never e- mailed her, never had any contact with her, only talked to her attorney. But when the sketch came out, we have re-contacted Mr. Cohen to see if he knows anything about it so far. We have heard nothing.

BLITZER: All right. You'll drink a glass of water. Your throat will be much, much better.


BLITZER: Sara, thank you very much for that report.

Coming up, what has President Trump fuming tonight? We're getting new information from our sources. We'll be right back.


[17:28:06] BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. We're following Stormy Daniels' lawyer telling CNN the man she says warned her to stay silent about Donald Trump likely -- likely -- worked for the Trump Organization or for the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

Let's get some more from our specialists, our analysts who are all standing by. Joey Jackson, Michael Avenatti said he thinks that this individual, this so-called thug indirectly worked either for the Trump Organization or for Michael Cohen. Could this be a significant break in this case?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, I have to reserve judgment at this point, and this is why. Every case turns on its facts, and every fact has to be proven in court. When you make allegations, where are you getting that from? How do you know? You know, you make the allegation or claim that they are directly or indirectly related. What's your basis of knowledge of that? Whenever you're doing that -- and let's look at the actual underlying

allegations. You indicated that were threatened in 2011. It stemmed from an affair of 2006. You were going to sell a story, and you were threatened as a result, a story you told anyway.

After the threat you walked in. You actually go to your class. You don't report it to the police. Now seven years ago, right, 2011, let's fast forward. You're asked to give a sketch. You do give a sketch. Who did you identify this person to then? D id you talk to a family member? Did you talk to a friend? If so, what did you say? What was the reason you didn't report it?

Oh, OK, your husband. You didn't tell him about the affair so you were embarrassed as a result of that, from an affair that happened in 2006? You were embarrassed to tell your husband in 2011? None of us have a past? And so from a defense attorney perspective, they will ravage this.

Last point, Wolf, and that's this. When we talk about things like, you know, probable cause to do a search warrant or what have you, there's a distinction between probable cause and actual proof beyond a reasonable doubt. There's a distinction between an indictment where a grand jury, 23 people, a majority vote and say indict, and an actual conviction. And there's a distinction between going to trial and being accused and actually being convicted.

So at this point, I reserve judgment. I'm not yet a believer, but from what I've seen, you have to bring more to the table than that in order to convince me and, generally, in order to convince a body of 12 people, right, who would listen, ultimately, to any type of claim.

BLITZER: On another legal issue, Joey, what's at stake in the federal judge, Kimba Woods' decision now, in what to allow Michael Cohen's lawyers and Michael Cohen, for that matter, to see as far as the seized documents in those FBI raids that were concerned, what to allow the president's lawyers to see.

JACKSON: Everything is at stake. Understand this. When we talk about allowing privilege versus non-privilege, and we could debate all night whether Sean Hannity, whether his stuff was privileged and other things are privileged they will debate for a long time in that court. But when you talk about the privilege, we're talking about items that will be introduced and allowed in the investigations, and item that will be excluded.

So what you're going to see is you're going to see the prosecution have a tiny list of things and say, OK, that's attorney-client privilege. And you're going to see the defense have encyclopedia's worth of things saying, "Hey, you can't admit this, because what's in those communications, right, in assuming that they're allowed in, could be very significant.

So the judge's ruling ultimately, because I don't think the defense is going to agree and the prosecution is going to agree in terms of what is privileged, what's not. That's what you need to judge for. I think the ruling is critical, in terms of the information that's

evaluated, considered and ultimately admitted into court to resolve this case.

BLITZER: You know, Sean Hannity, Chris Cillizza, FOX News is standing by their host, Sean Hannity. And in a surprising revelation by Michael Cohen's lawyers, that he, too, was a client of Michael Cohen.

A FOX statement saying, "While FOX News was unaware of Sean Hannity's informal relationship with Michael Cohen and was surprised by the announcement in court yesterday, we have reviewed the matter and spoken to Sean and he continues to have our full support."

Your reaction?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, so I think two words are the most important in that statement. "Unaware." They didn't know. Right? They found out, as we all did, in open court. And "informal." That it's an informal relationship. That's in keeping with what Sean Hannity has said. "I never paid Michael Cohen for any legal aid. We talked about real estate."

The thing that I am confused by and would like more information on. Why, is that's the case, did Michael Cohen's lawyer get up and say, "This is the other client that Michael Cohen represents"? Why did they seemingly misunderstand that relationship?

Presumably, Michael Cohen told his lawyer, "Here are the people that I represent. Here are my -- here's my client list. It's not all that long a list."

And then the other thing on the Hannity end, if this was so informal, if there was nothing to it, why be so intent on keeping yourself out -- your name out? Right? He had requested his name not be mentioned. And the attorney for Cohen said, "This client, Sean Hannity, is worried about public embarrassment." Why? I mean, if this is just a buddy of yours who you call for real-estate advice, it seems odd to me.

Those are the two questions, one on the -- one on the Cohen attorney end, one on the Hannity end that I don't have an answer to.

BLITZER: The other explanation is that Sean -- that Michael Cohen's lawyers didn't want the information that -- the documents contained about Sean Hannity and discussions he may have had with Michael Cohen, recordings of those phone conversations perhaps made public. And if they said he was a client, he would be subject to attorney-client privilege, and those recordings or documents would be kept secret.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. This came as the government was arguing over which documents that were seized in the raid they would be able to access, which of those communications, of course, may actually be privileged. And what this does is it undermines Michael Cohen's credibility, because he did, in fact, argue that some of the communications were privileged. And ultimately, it turns out he was referring to those communications he had with Sean Hannity. And then you have Sean Hannity coming out and saying, "Well, I didn't

actually retain him as a lawyer." Well, you cannot invoke attorney- client privilege if you are not, in fact, a client.

I think on the Hannity end of it, it's also important to note that he's openly a defender of this president, and he has used his platform to also defend Michael Cohen. But he's also extensively discussed this investigation into Michael Cohen on his program and at some point, he should have certainly disclosed, even if he had informal ties to Cohen -- that he had that contact.

CILLIZZA: Very quickly. That is so important. We get caught up in a lot of the other things, but Sean Hannity is someone who has millions of people watching him. Right? Whether he's an activist or a journalist -- he says he's not a journalist, journalism is dead. Not really that important.

He is out there every night having a very clear perspective on Michael Cohen and the FBI raid, for example. At a minimum, you have to say, I don't think this is something, but just so you know, Michael Cohen and I occasionally talk about real estate. I don't see how even if you -- even if you were Sean Hannity, you can't see why that is something -- maybe your viewers don't care. Right? But that they should know.

[17:35:14] BLITZER: Let's get to Bianna. Bianna, sources telling CNN that the Cohen raid, the raid on Michael Cohen's apartment, on his hotel room, on his office, his safe deposit box, not the book tour so much from James Comey is the primary source -- primary source of the president's anger these days. What does that tell you?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I argue that it doesn't have to be a binary decision. I mean, look, Steve Bannon called the firing of James Comey the worst political decision made in modern history. So clearly, we knew that this book tour and the book coming out was going to upset the president and rehash a lot of the things that sparked all of the issues he's facing right now and the problems that he's facing right now, specifically obstruction of justice, potentially.

However, he knew this book was coming. He did not know the raid on Michael Cohen's business and home was coming. You talk about the relationship that the president had with Comey and compared to the relationship that he had with Michael Cohen, arguably the closest relationship in a good or bad way. I don't know how healthy that relationship was.

But given all of the people in his orbit, you could argue that he knows more than even some of the president's closest allies, including his family and including Ivanka, including some of his closest aides.

So whatever they have access to right now, and remember the president's lawyers were arguing that they have the right to look over any of those documents first, the judge said that's not going to happen. You can understand why the president is concerned about whatever treasure trove could come out in the weeks and months ahead. BLITZER: And do you agree that the investigation of Michael Cohen in

New York by the U.S. attorney's office in the southern district of New York represents a bigger potential threat to the president than the Robert Mueller Russia probe that's going on here in Washington?

GOLODRYGA: The president has been a New Yorker longer than he's been president of the United States. There is a deep history of business deals. Obviously, this is taken out of just the realm of the Russia investigation at this point. Once that genie has been opened, it's really hard to see how you could put it back into the bottle.

And you could see why the president from day one did not want his taxes to be released, did not want to talk about his finances. All of that is at stake right now, given the latest that we've heard with his attorney's home and his office being raided.

BLITZER: And Joey, you agree?

JACKSON: I really do. I mean, and I think the significant thing is this, and we have to keep this in mind. We talk about this pardon that, of course, Trump threw out there, Scooter Libby, right, and saying, "Hey, keep quiet. I've got your back."

But the issue, really, is that these crimes, you have to know, are also crimes in the state. Simply because it's a federal crime does not make it not a state crime. The Manhattan district attorney's office, my former office, used to prosecute customarily crimes that could also be prosecuted by the southern district.

Quick note on relevance. Why is this important? Because the president's pardon power does not reach into the state. That would be a Governor Cuomo prerogative, and I don't see that happening any time soon.

So when you talk about squeezing Cohen and getting information from him, I'm interested to learn, once he realizes or gets that some of these can be prosecuted at the state level how much he'll be willing to give up on Trump, who they really want, in order to save himself. That's the critical question.

GOLODRYGA: And it's really easier or, I guess, much easier to say you would do anything for the president, even take a bullet. You know, words say a lot but actions say a lot more.

And you start to wonder whether or not Michael Cohen would actually sacrifice time with his family and spend time behind bars to defend this president. That's a whole other discussion, and I think that's a big -- big, big step for the president and a leap of faith for the president to take in him.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody, stick around. There's more breaking news we're following, including a mysterious death of a Russian reporter, why some suspect foul play. Plus, new details about that mid-air horror that left one passenger dead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:43:41] BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. President Trump's nominee for CIA director is facing growing scrutiny from key lawmakers about a role in the controversial destruction of interrogation tapes more than a decade ago. CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is working the story for us.

Manu, this is a major sticking point for Gina Haspel's nomination and eventual potential confirmation to lead the CIA.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. Behind the scenes, she has faced a barrage of questions from senators from both parties about her role in this very controversial episode from 2005 when a number of CIA tapes were destroyed, and that showed harsh interrogation techniques taking place. She has not alleviated these concerns among senators who are asking much more information before they decide to ultimately support her.

Now back in 2005, she was the chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, who is the head of the CIA's clandestine service. And at that time, Rodriguez ordered the destruction of these tapes and asked her to write a cable to move forward with the destruction of these tapes.

Now some have said that she advocated for the destruction of the tapes. But she has said she was simply carrying out orders, and she drafted the cable that she thought that Rodriguez was going to get approval by the CIA director at the time, Porter Goss. But instead, he sent that message down to the CIA officers that led to the destruction of these tapes.

Now, Wolf, that is not yet alleviating some concerns from members who were asking for some more information, including two key senators who just recently met with Haspel.


RAJU: Are you concerned about the videotape, the destruction of these tapes.

Now, Wolf, that is not yet alleviating some concerns from members who were asking for some more information, including two key senators who just recently met with Haspel.


RAJU: You were concerned about the videotape, the destruction of the videotape. So how did she quell those concerns?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: That was one of the issues that we discussed at length, but I'm not going to preview the hearing.


COLLINS: I've asked for some additional information.

RAJU: About that episode.


RAJU: How much of the destruction of the videotapes remain a key issue in this confirmation?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Well, I want to make sure and confirm that Gina Haspel basically did not do this on her own accord. That's all.


RAJU: Now, this doesn't mean this is going to derail her nomination, Wolf. Ultimately, she could resolve these concerns, but a number of these members want to see more records. Some are asking for the CIA to declassify a number of records before her confirmation hearing, which could take place next month.

But, Wolf, only a one-vote margin for Republicans on this committee. So if any Republican, like Susan Collins, were to jump ship or if Democrats voted in unison against her, she would not have the votes to get a favorable recommendation on the -- from the committee.

And on the floor, Rand Paul of Kentucky already saying he is a no vote in a very narrowly divided Senate. So not much margin for error here as a key sticking point emerges behind the scenes as these meetings are happening right now, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, Manu, what's the latest on Mike Pompeo's nomination to become the next Secretary of State?

RAJU: Well, we expect a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week, but the Republicans do not have the votes yet for a favorable recommendation for Pompeo. In fact, are one vote short with Rand Paul of Kentucky saying that he was going to vote against the nomination along with all the Democrats on the Committee expected also to vote no.

But the Republicans have been taking unprecedented moves, sending the Secretary of State nomination to the floor despite this negative vote in Committee and tried to get him approved that way by getting support from some red-state Democrats, where they will need at least one red state Democrat to jump ship.

And Joe Manchin, Wolf, met with Pompeo earlier today and told me he is, quote, very open to supporting Pompeo for the Secretary of State jobs and wants to answer some -- wants him to answer some questions first. But, clearly, Manchin prepared to defect.

Some other red state Democrats, I'm told, could very well do so. So Pompeo could get his job, but barely, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu Raju, up on the hill, thank you.

Coming up, the mysterious death of a Russian reporter. Did he fall or was he pushed to his death?

[17:52:11] BLITZER: There is new concern tonight among Russian journalists after the mysterious death of an investigative reporter known for his extensive coverage of Russian mercenaries in Syria.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is working the story for us.

Jim, this reporter fell from his fifth-floor apartment?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the question is under what circumstances. A potentially disturbing story here.

Maxim Borodin -- he is a Russian journalist known for covering issues like corruption in the Russian government, a lot of issues that the Kremlin is not comfortable with -- died on Sunday, falling from the fifth-floor apartment.

Russian authorities investigated. They said that there was no foul play, that the apartment was locked from the inside. He may have fallen from his balcony while smoking.

But his friends paint a different picture. They say that the very same day, he told them he was concerned that there were members of the Russian security services surrounding his apartment building. He thought that they wanted to raid his apartment building.

So what is it that he was looking into that the government could have been uncomfortable with? He was looking into the death of hundreds, it seems, of Russian mercenaries in a firefight with U.S. forces in Syria last month.

You may remember that during his confirmation hearing, the CIA Director, Mike Pompeo -- his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State -- acknowledged that a couple of hundred, in his words, Russians were killed in that firefight.

The question is, was his reporting connected to his death?

And, listen, this would not be the first time. You look in -- since 1990, Wolf, 346 journalists and media and staff have been killed in Europe. A third of them lost their lives in Russia.

Well, one more connection I should mention here, those Russian mercenaries who were killed in Syria, they work for a company that is run by a pro-Putin oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

You may remember him. We reported on him a couple of months ago. He is the one who ran that Internet research agency that provided all those trolls during the election, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, sent a lot of fake news this way. And he was one of the people who was indicted by the -- by Robert Mueller, I should say, as a part of the Russia investigation.

BLITZER: Pretty dangerous being an investigative journalist in Russia right now.

SCIUTTO: No question. And there's a long history. There are so many names of journalists who lost their lives and, frankly, the circumstances, more than questionable.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, with that disturbing story, thanks very much.

Coming up, breaking news. An engine explodes on a Southwest Airlines flight, blowing out a window and forcing an emergency landing. One person is dead. An urgent investigation is now underway.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Engine explosion. Panic, chaos, and a rare in-flight death as a Southwest jet's engine fails and a passenger is sucked toward an opening in the plane. A survivor is sharing stunning details about the perilous emergency landing.

Sketchy figure. Stormy Daniels goes public with a new image depicting a man who allegedly threatened her to stay quiet about Donald Trump. Tonight, the porn star's lawyer tells CNN that the man likely had an indirect link to the President.

Unsanctioned. New confusion about Mr. Trump's Russia policy as the White House blames his U.N. Ambassador for declaring new sanctions on Moscow were imminent. Did Nikki Haley speak out of turn or was she thrown under the bus?

And backing Hannity. Fox News says it's standing by its high profile host despite being, quote, surprised to learn he's a client of Trump attorney Michael Cohen. Has Sean Hannity come clean about his Cohen connection?

[18:00:03] We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.