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Interview With Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley; Congress Gets Comey Memos; Rudy Giuliani Now Part of Trump's Legal Team New Trump Advisers Bolton and Kudlow Reporting Directly to Trump Bypassing Chief of Staff Kelly; FAA Ordering Engine Inspections After Southwest Emergency. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: On Trump's team. After others turned down the president, Rudy Giuliani signs on as one of Mr. Trump's personal lawyers. The former New York City mayor apparently on a mission to push for an end to Robert Mueller's investigation.

Back channel to Russia? The special counsel suspicions about Paul Manafort underscored in court, as a federal prosecutor talks about the former Trump campaign chairman's ties to Kremlin allies. It there evidence of collusion?

Comey's memos. The fired FBI director's classified notes about the president now are heading into the hands of the president's allies in Congress. What will Republicans do with the potentially crucial piece of Robert Mueller's case?

And Rosenstein's reassurance. We're learning that the deputy attorney general has told the president that he's not a target of the criminal investigation of his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, this as we're told Mr. Trump has been consumed by the Cohen probe and worried his fixer might flip.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following major breaking stories in the Russia investigation, including a high-profile addition to the president's personal legal team. The former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani signing on to help defend Mr. Trump as he faces mounting legal troubles.

Also tonight, new insight into the direction of the special counsel's investigation, a federal prosecutor suggesting in court that the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had a potential back channel to Russia.

I will get reaction from Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, and our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Pamela, what more, first of all, can you tell us about Rudy Giuliani's joining the president's legal team?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have just learned today that the former New York City mayor, former U.S. attorney, longtime Trump ally Rudy Giuliani will be joining the president's legal team.

Rudy Giuliani met with the president this week for about 30 minutes to discus the role. His law firm just released a statement saying he's taking a leave of absence for an unspecified period of time.

And Rudy Giuliani spoke to my colleague Dana Bash, saying his role will be to interface with Robert Mueller. It will be a limited role, that he's there to -- quote -- "push" the conclusion of the Robert Mueller investigation. He said that is really what the big focus of his is.

He says that he's known Mueller for had years, that when he was the mayor in New York City that Mueller was the FBI director. The two worked together in the Justice Department. So he thinks he will be good in this role of interfacing with him to try to push, as he put in his words, the end of the investigation.

He said he will be reaching out to Robert Mueller's team to get a list of items needed in order to comply with the investigation and that he says he hope it will wrap up soon, possibly in a couple weeks, he told my colleague Dana Bash, or perhaps longer.

This is certainly a significant development, Wolf, because Rudy Giuliani is coming on during a time when the president's legal team is trying to decide whether to allow the president to sit down with Robert Mueller's team for an interview.

And this is coming after weeks of the team having a tough time essentially bringing on other lawyers because of conflicts and other issues that have come up. So now we have learned that not only Rudy Giuliani is joining us, but also two other lawyers, a husband and wife from Florida, Jane and Marty Raskin, also joining the team. We're just learning this today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. He pointedly said, Rudy Giuliani, "I have high regard for the president and for Bob Mueller." He also says: "My advice has been this. He should be allowed to do his job. He's entitled to do his job."

BROWN: And he also said he pushed back on the notion the president will fire Robert Mueller, telling my colleague Dana Bash that he views that as counterproductive, but that's not something he believes the president will do, because they think they are not going to get the most fair shot with Robert Mueller. We will have to see. BLITZER: Amidst all of this, Shimon, we're getting new details on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman. He was back in court.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he was in court today with his attorneys.

And it was supposed to be a hearing concerning his defense team. Manafort's defense team wants some of these charges dismissed. But it turned into sort of a thing for the prosecutors where they were laying out some of the questions that their investigators are seeking to answer as it relates to Paul Manafort.


Again, the big question concerning Paul Manafort has been what's his connection to potentially Russia collusion. And so prosecutors laid perhaps some of that out, given us some clues as to what they're looking at.

And some of that has to do with whether or not Manafort had been this back channel, was providing a back channel to Russia, a communications channel. So prosecutors are saying naturally because of his longstanding relationship with Russians that this is something they would look at. They are also looking at other communications, perhaps surreptitious communications, he may have been having with the Russians.

And I think, Wolf, really what this shows is that the prosecutors, Manafort's team and the investigators are not done investigating whether or not Manafort and his connections are tied to any of the Russians that perhaps may have been involved in collusion.

BLITZER: Yes, major developments unfolding today. Shimon, thanks very much. Pamela, thanks to you as well.

Also breaking tonight, the president's Republican allies in Congress are getting what they have been demanding, access to James Comey's classified memos about his conversations with President Trump.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, what can you tell us about this move and how it could impact the entire Russia investigation?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, has been under enormous pressure from Republicans in Congress who have been demanding a wide range of documents about how the investigation into Russia meddling started at the FBI in 2016, as well as the Clinton e-mail investigation, which the Republicans believe was mishandled.

They have been demanding a slew of documents that Rosenstein and the Justice Department have started to hand over, but not at a pace quick enough for Republicans. Now, in the new fight, there's been an effort to get a hand on unredacted copies of the memos that James Comey wrote memorializing those conversations with President Trump in which Trump allegedly asked Comey to show loyalty, allegedly asked Comey to back off the investigation into the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn., something that the president has denied, but Comey has said was accurate.

After these demands from the Republicans, there was a subpoena threat from Bob Goodlatte, the House Judiciary Committee chairman. And under that threat, it appears that the Justice Department is giving in. Rod Rosenstein and the Justice Department sending a message to Congress that they do plan to deliver these less redacted memos as soon as tonight for members to start to review and staff to start to review these documents.

And, Wolf, this comes after the Republicans have threatened to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress for not providing these documents and after Rosenstein actually sent a letter back to three key committee chairmen this week saying they have actually already agreed earlier last year to see these redacted memos.

And according to Rosenstein, this was part of an agreement he said in a letter to them that there is an agreement that they would not disclose any of this further. But clearly the Republicans want more information. They are getting more information. We will see if that satisfies their concerns and we will see if the memos are publicly released.

A Republican source telling our Pamela Brown that the memos, redacted versions, will be likely be publicly released. We will see when and if that happens and we will see how Republicans respond now that they're likely to get a copy of these less redacted memos, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, love to read them myself. I'm sure all of our viewers would like to do that as well. Thank you, Manu, very much.

Let's talk about all the breaking news with Senator Jeff Merkley. He's a Democrat. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction now to the breaking news. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, joining the president's legal team. What do you think?

MERKLEY: Well, I think he's being more hired more as a lobbyist and an ambassador in this role of going and trying to figure out what Mueller is doing and negotiate with Mueller than he is for his legal expertise.

BLITZER: Giuliani tells CNN he hopes they can comply with the Mueller investigation, the president's legal team. He's hoping they can reach the conclusion of an investigation within a few weeks. What do you make of that?

MERKLEY: Think of this as kind of plan C. Plan A was to figure out a way to get rid of the attorney general and replace him. Plan B was to fire Rosenstein, replace him.

But if those don't make sense -- and they don't make sense for a host of reasons, including pushback from here on the Hill -- then a third strategy is to get a high-profile negotiator to try to find a way to shut this thing down.

BLITZER: He says he does have, Giuliani, high regard, in his words for Bob Mueller and he says he should be -- Mueller should be allowed to do his job. He's entitled to do his job.

Is that encouraging to you?

MERKLEY: Well, certainly, that's the right philosophy.

And I think the president's making a move that's motivated by finding every possible way to understand what Mueller is doing and be able to limit the damage to the presidency.

BLITZER: CNN has learned, Senator, that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, told the president he's not a target of the Michael Cohen investigation that's going on in New York by the Southern District of New York U.S. attorney there. Is that appropriate?


MERKLEY: Well, I -- not coming from a legal perspective, I don't know whether it's appropriate.

I will say it's probably not that comforting, because the fact that the referral may not have been made on the basis of information directly about Trump and may have been on basis of information about Michael Cohen, that doesn't mean that the information that comes up in that doesn't bear on the current investigation that Mueller is conducting or the investigation that New York is conducting.

So not being the initial target may not be something that allows the president to sleep well at night.

BLITZER: The Mueller team also arguing in court, in federal court today here in Washington that it's natural for them to investigate Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, as a possible back channel to Russia, when you look at all his pro-Russian connections, including a whole bunch of Ukrainians with pro-Russian connections.

What does that tell you?

MERKLEY: Well, we have long been hearing about the number of connections in Ukraine and in Russia.

And for Paul Manafort to therefore have been in the campaign, a person who would carry a discussion about Russia's activity during the campaign, makes -- is a reasonable thing to -- if you're looking for somebody who might have been the conduit of that dialogue, he's a logical person to look at.

And they've been examining him very closely. I think the president has been very concerned that Paul Manafort will become a cooperating witness, which, to this point, he hasn't. But that's something that I think continues to haunt President Trump.

BLITZER: What will you be looking for, Senator, in those Comey memos that are now being presented to Congress?

MERKLEY: Well, I am looking forward to reading those memos.

The fact that Comey, as a professional in the FBI, has proceeded to document each conversation as it happened is a pretty high-quality way of understanding what those discussions were. I understand that four of them are classified. I'm not sure how they are going to be handled.

They are really arriving tonight, and they're available to members of Congress. I will be reading them tomorrow morning. Of course, the classified ones, I won't be able to share with you.

But the fact that we know already that the discussions involved a loyalty oath, a request for loyalty, but what Comey said public, does that correspond to what he put in his memos? That's something that everyone will be looking at.

We also know that the conversation about going easy or abandoning the effort to prosecute Michael Flynn, was that documented in the same fashion that we have heard about before? So those are two of the important questions. But there -- with seven memos, there may be some other valuable information and some surprises.

BLITZER: Yes, we would love to read them as well.

Are you worried, Senator, these memos, though, could be politicized while the Mueller investigation is ongoing?

MERKLEY: I have been so concerned about this investigation being politicized.

It's just -- it's so important in our democratic republic that we get to the bottom of what happened. At moments, it takes on a soap opera sense. Like, what's the next chapter, the next piece of information?

And maybe we get a little too close to the trees. But when we step back and we see that forest, it's really about the rule of law and about grave concerns of interference in the foundation of our democracy, in our campaigns.

And certainly Russia, we have seen them around the world trying to disrupt that foundation, discredit that foundation. What we learn from this not only needs to be relevant to whether or not people get prosecuted for basically betraying the United States of America, but it also is relevant to how we go fiercely into the future to prevent this from happening again.

BLITZER: Senator Merkley, thanks so much for joining us.

MERKLEY: You're very welcome. Thank you. BLITZER: Just ahead: Could Rudy Giuliani really negotiate an end to

the special counsel's investigation? We are going to assess that.

Also, the reassurance the deputy attorney general is giving the president about the Michael Cohen investigation. Should Mr. Trump be worried anyway? The former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, he is standing by live. We will discuss.



BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is joining the president's personal legal team, this as we're learning about a new attempt to reassure Mr. Trump about an investigation that's been clearly consuming him, according to our sources.

We're told that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, has spoken to Mr. Trump about the criminal probe of his attorney Michael Cohen in New York City.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, who is with the president down in Florida.

Jim, what are you learning?


We heard from a source familiar with these conversations earlier today that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, told the president recently that he's not a target in the investigation into his personal attorney Michael Cohen.

That's obviously very important, because the president has been quite upset, quite worried about the prospects of that Cohen investigation ever since FBI agents raided Michael Cohen's office, his hotel room about a week-and-a-half ago. And that's of note.

One thing we should also mention, Wolf, is that according to the source that we spoke with, Rosenstein did not tell the president that he is not a target in terms of the overall Mueller investigation. That had already been conveyed to the president.


Of course, that's not a guarantee that he won't be ensnared at some future point. But that's according to a source who we spoke with earlier today.

Now, at the same time, Wolf, I should point out I have talked to another source about this earlier today who said that the president has been assured and that the legal team is confident at this point that Michael Cohen won't turn against the president. That obviously is something that may give the president some comfort

in all of this, but the president was asked about this earlier today, whether he's concerned that Michael Cohen will somehow turn against him. He did not answer the question, but here's how it played out.


QUESTION: Mr. President, could Michael Cohen flip? Are you worried he's not loyal?


I hope you saw the crowds in Key West. They have never seen anything like that. It was really very inspirational. And what we just witnessed was incredible. But those crowds coming in, I think even the media will have to say that was quite something. Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Are you still willing to sit down with Robert Mueller?


ACOSTA: Now, while the president didn't look very publicly concerned about what may happen with his personal attorney Michael Cohen, my colleague Jeff Zeleny and I have been hearing from sources that the president has been consumed by this behind the scenes, quite worried as to the fate of his personal attorney in all of this.

Of course, they have been longtime friends, worked with each other a long time, Wolf. So that's obviously a critical part in all of this. The other thing we should note, Wolf, is, I talked to a source familiar with all these discussions just a short while ago about Rudy Giuliani joining the president's legal team.

This source was saying that Rudy Giuliani's presence is obviously filling a need that the president's legal team has had ever since the departure of John Dowd, the president's outside attorney.

According to the source I spoke with, when Dowd abruptly left the president's legal team, that created a hole and a need, according to this source, for somebody with a history in dealing with white-collar cases. Of course, Rudy Giuliani having that area of expertise under his belt, is going to be bringing that to the table with respect to the president's team -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Giuliani a former U.S. attorney general in New York as well.

Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Joining us now, the former U.S. attorney in New York and our senior legal analyst Preet Bharara.

Preet, thanks so much joining us. PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Rudy Giuliani.

He tells CNN he wants a list from Mueller of how they can comply with the Mueller investigation. Then he hopes it can be wrapped up, his words, this is what he told our Dana Bash, in a couple of weeks. What's your reaction to this?

BHARARA: I have a couple of reactions. They are a little bit mixed.

On the one hand, it seems like big news. Rudy Giuliani is a very well-known person. He had the job that I had later as U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. He served as mayor of the city of New York. He ran for president. It's a big name.

It's attached to a person who, a little bit like John Dowd, is outspoken, is not afraid to get into fights, into legal fights with adversaries. He's a strong-willed person.

We have heard a lot of news over the last few weeks and months that Donald Trump has had a hard time finding people who are very experienced in a very real -- in the courtroom kind of way dealing with nuts and bolts, blocking and tackling in the courtroom.

Rudy hasn't done that in a long time. He's very able lawyer and has a storied history as a prosecutor and as a defense lawyer for a long period of time. But that's not been his recent experience.

We also know that Rudy Giuliani has been a defender of Donald Trump in a very significant way outside the courtroom. He was one of the only people who came to Donald Trump's defense after the "Access Hollywood" tape emerged. On one hand, it sounds like it's a big deal. On the other hand, it sounds like a little bit of a yawn because I don't know that it changes the dynamic in any way.

And according to your report from a second ago, the idea that he's going to cause, by force of personality or resume or anything else, Bob Mueller to go away in the course of two weeks doesn't seem very realistic to me.

And the final thing it suggests to me is that Rudy probably has appreciated that even, Donald Trump if serves another term, he will never be the attorney general of the United States.

It's a very odd thing for someone who decided to serve as the personal attorney to the president to then get confirmed as attorney general in a divided Senate. We will see what happens. I think Bob Mueller has what he has and has the agenda that he has based on the evidence that he's collecting. And he will either make a referral or he won't.

I don't know that Rudy Giuliani in the mix makes that much of a difference, other than with respect to the P.R. that he might bring to the table for the president.

BLITZER: Yes, he's a very high-profile guy. Giuliani, by the way, says he's bringing two other lawyers into the mix as well to help the president, Jane Serene Raskin and Marty Raskin.

By any chance, do you know these two?


BHARARA: I don't.

BLITZER: All this is coming, Preet.

CNN has learned that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, told the president he's not a target, target in the Michael Cohen investigation that's ongoing, his criminal investigation in New York City.

Is that appropriate, do you believe? And do you think that statement might help Rod Rosenstein keep his job a bit longer?

BHARARA: The speculation about who gets to keep their job and why and for how long is something that occupies a lot of people, but I don't think anybody knows.

The fact that Rod Rosenstein reportedly has told Donald Trump he's not a target means not much at all to me. For the last few weeks, people have been consumed with this debate and distinction between what does it mean to be a target, what does it mean to be a subject.

Apparently, Donald Trump is a subject. It's clear from all the evidence that we have, all the reporting that has come that Donald Trump's actions are being looked at. And has he evolved to the point in the investigation that being someone who is likely to be charged imminently, which would make him a target? No. But that could change at any moment.

And then separate and apart from that, with respect to he's being told his status as a non-target in connection with the Michael Cohen investigation, that seems to be in the mix already, given that Rod Rosenstein reportedly moved that part of the investigation away from Bob Mueller's team, into my prior office, the Southern District of New York.

And you would presume if Donald Trump was really sort of at the heart of the Michael Cohen investigation ultimately, that it would not have been moved out of Bob Mueller's purview. I don't know that that means a lot either.

BLITZER: But is it appropriate for the deputy attorney general who is overseeing this whole Russia probe to even be telling the president stuff like this?

BHARARA: You know what? I would have to think about that a little bit more. It seems a little bit odd to me. I'm not sure the reporting has been confirmed yet. But, yes, it's a little odd. Yes.

BLITZER: All right, that's what have I sensed as well.

The president keeps saying no collusion, no collusion, no collusion, but in court today a federal court here in Washington, D.C., a lawyer for the Robert Mueller team said they are investigating whether Paul Manafort, the former deputy -- the former Trump campaign chairman, served as what's being described as a back channel to Russia.

It sounds like the collusion question is still very much up in the air. What do you say?

BHARARA: As I think many people have said over time, and I have said also, collusion itself is not a crime. It's a broad term that refers to people working with other people to perhaps violate the law.

And a conspiracy to violate the laws of the United States, whether it's collusion or not, is what people should be concerned about and what I think the heart of the matter really is. And so the other point I will make is the fact that Donald Trump in any way, shape or form -- and this is true of all people who are subjects of investigations as well.

The fact that they say adamantly and over and over again that some conduct has not been proven yet doesn't mean that it didn't happen. I know that Donald Trump likes to say about other people if they vehemently deny something that you have to credit that.

Prosecutors who do their jobs don't credit that. Obviously, Donald Trump is going to say for political purposes and for P.R. purposes that there was no collusion. It doesn't make it true. It may be true, but it doesn't make it true just because he says it.

BLITZER: Yes. We have no idea what's going on in that Mueller investigation. They've been holding it very, very secretive.

The Justice Department is now going to turn over, Preet, those memos that the fired FBI Director James Comey wrote about his interactions with President Trump. They are going to be presenting this to Congress, we're told, later tonight, and maybe made public at least in a redacted form, some of the classified information redacted.

What precedent does this set, from your perspective, sharing these memos so widely, while the investigation, the Mueller investigation, is still ongoing?

BHARARA: I don't know how much of a precedent it sets.

I used to work in the Senate. And we conducted an investigation of the Justice Department and we would make demands for material. And sometimes they would give it to us and sometimes they wouldn't. And sometimes the White House would intervene and say it was the subject of privilege, executive privilege or deliberative process privilege.

And depending on what the political circumstances at the moment, sometimes they are more cooperative, sometimes they're less. I think it would be unfortunate if these materials are being provided because there's a little bit of sort of people being in political cahoots because the folks requesting the documents are in the Republican Party and the administration is Republican.

I think that the department has institutional interests in making sure that it can conduct its investigations in a way that's not interfered with by Congress. On the other hand, I think a report suggested right before I came on the air that Jim Comey himself doesn't care if those reports become known to Congress.

And obviously it's not his decision to make. But that tells you something about whether or not people are overhyping this issue.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what Comey told our Jake Tapper in the interview earlier in the day.

All right, thanks so much, Preet, for that. Appreciate it.

BHARARA: Sure. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to talk more about what Rudy Giuliani brings to the table of the president's personal legal team.

Plus, there's more breaking news on the Comey memos, now on their way to Congress. We're getting new information tonight from our sources.


BLITZER: There's a lot of late-breaking news this hour. We're following it all, of course, including the new very high-profile addition to President Trump's personal legal team. That would be the former mayor of New York, the former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

[18:35:06] We're also learning more about the Justice Department's move to give Congress access to James Comey's classified memos.

Let's bring in our analysts. And Gloria Borger, you've been doing serious reporting, first of all, on the Giuliani matter. What are you learning?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I want to add to the great reporting from Dana Bash, who actually spoke to Rudy Giuliani. And this is from a source who is familiar with what Giuliani's role is going to be. He's obviously going to take a leave of absence from his law firm.

But I don't think he's in this kind of for the long-term. They brought him in, because obviously he has a previous relationship with Mueller. And I was told that his job, which they think he can do, is that he's going to try and get the lay of the land and -- this is an interesting quote from my source -- "See if we have to fight."

In other words, they're trying to get him to cut through all the B.S., I was told and get a sense from Mueller about how long this is going to go on and whether they're going to have a fight on their hands, whether it's about the president testifying, which I think they're -- they don't want the president to testify, so I think they'd be prepared to go to the Supreme Court on that. Whether they could cut a deal on that.

So I -- I think they see Giuliani as kind of the wise man from New York who can cut to the chase here for them and get this -- just cut through it all with Mueller and say, "OK, just tell me where we are and what we have to do. And then we'll talk to you again later." And I think that's going to be his -- I think that's going to be his role. Whether he can do it or not, Wolf, is another question.

BLITZER: We'll find out. He says maybe -- he told Dana maybe in the next two weeks he can figure that out.


BLITZER: Whether or not he can do it.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: You're also getting new information, Gloria, about the memos that the fired FBI director, James Comey, wrote about his conversations with President Trump. What are you learning?

BORGER: Well, what I've learned, according to a source with knowledge, is that the president himself has not read these memos, but he has been told of the contents in the memos. And this believes that, when we all see the contents of the memos, we're going to think that it's helpful to the president. Now, we have to -- we have to read those first.

There were no redactions to the memos, I'm told, made at the White House, but there were some redactions made at the Department of Justice. So in other words, the White House isn't claiming privilege here on anything contained in these memos, but the Justice Department is saying there's some things in there that should not be made available to the public.

So we are going to see some of that blackout in these memos. But the White House seems to be fine with having this released.

BLITZER: They're delivering those memos to Congress later tonight.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: So we should hopefully get some access fairly soon.

David Chalian, what's your reaction to the Rudy Giuliani news?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: So it's -- it is clearly, as you were talking with Preet about, it's a big P.R. move in one -- in one realm, because here's a big player who can command attention, talk to reporters, get out in front of stories. And as Gloria is saying, there's a behind-the-scenes aspect to see what the lay of the land is.

But before we go down the road of thinking that Bob Mueller and Rudy Giuliani are best of friends because they worked in the Justice Department, they are not. And in fact, there has been a lot of tension points in that relationship. So it is a -- it is a relationship that has existed for decades, and there have been a lot of tension points between these two men across the years.

BLITZER: Joey Jackson, you're our legal analyst. What's your reaction? CNN has learned, as you know, that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, told the president the other day when he was over at the White House he's not a target -- a target in the Michael Cohen investigation that's going on in New York City.

How do you -- how do you assess that? What's the motivation of Rosenstein telling the president that?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I'm adverse to that for the following reasons.

I think, you know, we have institutions of government, and for people to trust those institutions they have to operate independently. And so I don't think, under any stretch of the imagination -- and I know and I get that technically he works for the president -- but I think that there needs to be a wall set up such that you don't impair, you know, any confidences or anything else. And so I don't think that it's an even appropriate conversation to have with the president.

In terms of motivation, I mean, you know, look, he's the president. The president wants answers, and he gives him those answers. As to whether he should discuss that at all, it's just not something that sits right with me. I don't even think there should be such a conversation, in light of the circumstances, where he's overseeing an investigation about you. Right? You're sitting across the table. I just don't like the optics of it.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, we learned the other day that Rosenstein was over at the White House. Officials there saying he was dealing with, quote, "routine matters," something along those lines.

Samantha, what's your reaction to the Comey memos that he wrote, the Comey memos now being handed over to Congress? Some of them classified. Maybe they'll be made public with redactions.

[18:40:09] SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I'm already cringing, thinking about the president's Twitter feed commenting on these memos. We have a precedent here, right? I mean, remember when the Nunes memo was released? It was drawn from bits of classified information that was made public, and it launched a media frenzy and a Twitter tirade by the president. So I think we know what's going to happen if pieces of these memos get released.

And frankly, I'm very disappointed that the House -- excuse me, that Congress spent so much time and effort getting these documents from the Justice Department when they did not spend the same amount of time and effort getting documents that were needed for the Russia investigation.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's a lot more breaking news we're following on the president's -- on the president's chief of staff, John Kelly, his clout within the White House. We have new information. We'll share it with you when we come back.


[18:45:36] BLITZER: We're back with your analysts. We've got to get back to them in a moment. We have breaking news we're following.

I want to go to our White House reporter Kaitlan Collins, she's down in Florida covering the president.

Kaitlan, tell our viewers what you're learning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we're learning new changes happening to the pecking order inside the West Wing with the addition of those two new top aides, the national security advisor John Bolton and the director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, and that instead of reporting to the Chief of Staff John Kelly, those two aides are now reporting directly to the president. And President Trump in turn is viewing them as his essentially mini executives, much like the way he ran the Trump organization. He's given Larry Kudlow and John Bolton a lot of leeway to do the hiring and firing that they please.

Of course, with Kudlow, we saw that scuffle with the United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley this week. Something that some officials in the White House saw as a sign of his ascendance in the West Wing, but others saw as a bit of overconfidence because, of course, Haley outranks him being she's a member of the cabinet and Senate confirmed.

And then as far as John Bolton, he's really hiring and firing however he wants, really reasserting his authority over the chief of staff in that way because, of course, with the homeland security adviser Tom Bossert who was dismissed this week when John Bolton informed him that he was going to dismiss him last week, excuse me, Bossert said no, I want to speak to John Kelly. Bolton told him it simply wasn't John Kelly's decision to make.

Of course, a word of caution to those two staffers here, Wolf, if you fly too close to the sun, they sometimes get burned in the Trump White House.

BLITZER: So, how does this impact John Kelly, Kaitlan?

COLLINS: It certainly does diminish his role in a way here, Wolf, because, of course, when John Kelly was brought into the West Wing, everyone was reporting to him including the president's daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. But Larry Kudlow and John Bolton are reporting directly to the president and in turn overstepping John Kelly in a way.

And an example of that is one of the deputy national security advisers, Ricky Waddell, someone that the chief of staff John Kelly liked and wanted to keep around in the West Wing is no longer there because Bolton pushed him out. It's a sign he's really running the way he's going to have things going at the National Security Council.

BLITZER: Terrific reporting. Kaitlan, thank you very much.

David Chalian, what do you think? DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Think about when John Kelly

first came into this White House, what did we hear? We heard that even Ivanka Trump has to go through John Kelly because he was bringing order and discipline, funneling everything through him like a traditional chief of staff, quite frankly, to get to the president's desk. That included Jared and Ivanka. Needed to start following that process as well, Wolf.

Clearly, we have come a long way from then. Those days are long gone if both Larry Kudlow and John Bolton are reporting directly to the president and can go around Chief of Staff John Kelly and not filter their information that gets to the president through him so he can balance all the priorities. That to me does not seem like a fully disciplined button down operation that John Kelly promised.

BLITZER: Yes, Gloria, looks like a slap at Kelly.

BORGER: You think? Yes. I mean, everybody assumes that John Kelly is going to leave in the not too distant future.

We know that the president is not the same guy as the guy on "The Apprentice." He doesn't like to fire people. But eventually they do leave. And if Kelly can't do what he wants to do, it seems to me that he is going to leave one way or another.

And one of the things he was supposed to do was to give the president time to kind of thank and reflect and not have an open door policy where anybody could just walk in and out of his office. Then the president agrees with the last person he spoke with. I think that Kelly was there to streamline a process, to invent a process in the White House, a policy process. And I think even he would have to admit that that's failing miserably and at a certain point, you have to decide whether it's worth your time and your effort and whether you can really make a difference or the difference that you thought you were going to be able to make when you went into office.

And if I were John Kelly, I would be thinking about that and I'm sure he is.

BLITZER: I'm sure he is as well. Let's get back to some of the legal issues.

Amidst all of this, Joey Jackson, the president is consumed with the investigation -- the criminal investigation of his lawyer Michael Cohen, who's been so incredibly supportive and defensive of the president over the past several years.

[18:50:09] Listen to a little bit of this.


MICHAEL COHEN, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Who hasn't said something or done something that they regret simply trying to protect somebody that they care about? And I care about Mr. Trump.

But one thing Donald Trump is, he is a compassionate man. He is a man of great intellect, great intuition and great abilities.

Mr. Trump's memory is fantastic. And I've never come across a situation where Mr. Trump has said something that's not accurate.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: There are -- seriously?

COHEN: Yes, seriously.

Mr. Trump truly cares about America. He loves this country.

He is an amazing negotiator, maybe the best ever in the history of this world.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You guys are down.

COHEN: Says who?

KEILAR: And it makes sense that there -- polls, most of them. All of them?

COHEN: He's a smart man. He is a decisive man. He is a swift-acting individual.

Generous, compassionate, principled, empathetic, kind, humble, honest, and genuine. He is not lying. He was protecting a friend there is a difference.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What is the difference?

COHEN: The difference is he was being a true friend. He was -- it didn't matter to him. He will ultimately -- and I've said this so many times, he will ultimately go down in history as the greatest president.


BLITZER: All right. So, Joey, you just heard that. Now there is all this fear apparently among some of the president's lawyers that Michael Cohen is going to flip. What do you think?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that when you have your family at stake and when you have so many things of value to you, you really have to think about it. Let's see whether or not his loyalty is rewarded. And as a further thought, let's see whether or not there might be a state prosecution or a prosecution by the Manhattan D.A.'s office, or again, by the state attorney general's office in order to avoid the pardon issue.

They're already talking about legislation for double jeopardy issues briefly, Wolf, and that's this. If the federal government goes forward and Trump pardons him, now then at that point can the state intercede, or would it be too late for double jeopardy purposes. They're already talking in New York state about passing legislation.

And so, we'll see how that plays out. The flipping, you know, with the family and everything else, you got to give it a lot of consideration.

BLITZER: You certainly do. All right, guys. Everybody stand by there is more breaking news. We'll be right back.


[18:57:10] BLITZER: Tonight, the FAA is ordering the inspection of more than 200 jet engine fan blades like the one that failed during a Southwest flight. The NTSB now says the victim, Jennifer Riordan was apparently wearing a seat belt when she was nearly sucked out of a broken window. Riordan died despite a passenger's desperate attempt to save her.

That man Texas firefighter Andrew Needum spoke out today, downplaying his heroism and humility and gratitude.


ANDREW NEEDUM, FIREFIGHTER WHO TRIED TO SAVE SOUTHWEST VICTIM: Terrible thing happened and someone lost their life. But, you know, we took off from LaGuardia. No issues. Smooth takeoff. And got in the air. I was informed that somewhere around we were around 32,000 feet, something like that, and I heard a loud pop, as we all did.

Flight attendants were in the aisle the row behind me. And I believe they had started to ask for drink orders. And when the pop occurred, when the engine failed, and I immediately looked to them in the aisle, turned back around, and the oxygen masks had been deployed. I looked across the aisle to my wife after we heard some commotion in the rear of the plane.

And I looked at her eyes. And she basically gave me the approval to go back there. In fact I think she may have told me to go. But anyways, at that time is when I went to the rear of the plane. And what took place back there, I'm going to leave out of respect for her family. I'm going to leave that alone.

But I never was -- I never was in fear of my life. I'm sure my family could speak otherwise. But I'm trained for emergency situations, and that's just exactly what it was. And felt moved to act and as well as other people on that plane.

Tammie Jo, the pilot, professional -- professional in all aspects. And her crew, amazing job.


BLITZER: Amazing man, indeed. I think I speak for all of our viewers. We want to thank Andrew Needum for doing what he did.

Our deepest condolences to the family of Jennifer Riordan at the same time.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.