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Trump Discloses Payment to Cohen During Campaign; FBI Director Says Russia Probe Not a Witch Hunt; Trump Jr. Was Interested in Clinton Dirt Promised by Russians; Giuliani: Mueller Tells Trump Team He Will Follow DOJ Guidance That 'A President Cannot Be Indicted'; Trump Reveals Payment to Cohen in Financial Disclosure; Trump: 'We'll Have to See' on North Korea Summit Threat. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 16, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for "THE LEAD." I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.
[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Ethics disclosure. President Trump acknowledges he paid back his lawyer and fixer who paid hush money to Stormy Daniels. Why is his disclosure being turned over to the Justice Department for further inquiry?
No doubt. Senate Intelligence Committee leaders say there is no doubt Russia took unprecedented steps to interfere in the U.S. presidential election in a move to help Donald Trump as the FBI director says the Russia investigation is not a witch hunt.
Looking for dirt. A Senate committee releases stunning new details on the infamous meeting in which Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign figures sat down with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. So what does the testimony reveal?
And "we'll see." President Trump says he hasn't received any information on North Korea's threat to cancel his planned summit with Kim Jong-un, saying, "We'll see what happens." Did harsh U.S. rhetoric lead to North Korea's sudden turn-around?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump reveals he reimbursed Michael Cohen for a six-figure expenditure, apparently the money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. That disclosure is passed on to the supervisor of the Russia probe, even as the FBI director now says the Russia investigation is not -- repeat not -- a witch hunt.
I'll speak with Congressman Andre Carson of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they are standing by with full coverage.
But let's begin with President Trump now admitting he paid back his fixer, his long-time lawyer for campaign expenses, apparently including the Stormy Daniels hush money.
Let's get straight to our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, how important is this?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is the only -- most latest development here, the latest chapter, if you will, in this ongoing saga about Stormy Daniels and did the president know or not about that hush money that was paid in the 2016 campaign?
Of course, a couple of months ago the president said he did not. Then his new lawyer said he did. Well, today we learned on page 45 of a 92-page disclosure report, the president did reimburse Michael Cohen for that money.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump not answering questions tonight.
(on camera): Mr. President, why did you --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, why did you amend your financial report today?
ZELENY (voice-over): But conceding for the first time, in a financial disclosure report, he repaid more than $100,000 to his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, for expenses incurred during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The financial disclosure form, released today from the Office of Government Ethics revealed the payment to Cohen, who's now the subject of his own criminal investigation.
The form did not explicitly say what the payment was for, but Cohen has acknowledged paying $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public about her alleged affair with Trump. It appears to contradict what the president said last month.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No.
ZELENY: The president did not disclose the payment last year in his financial report. The disclosure this year drew attention of the ethics office, which passed it around to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who's supervising the Russia investigation.
In a letter today, the acting director of the ethics office says, "You may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the president's prior report."
WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: His letter to Rod Rosenstein is tantamount to a criminal referral, and that's because it would be a crime to knowingly and willfully omit any required information from a report.
RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: A nuisance payment.
ZELENY: The president and his new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have struggled to give consistent answers to questions about the payment.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You said he -- this was a regular arrangement he had with Michael Cohen. Did Michael Cohen make payments to other women for the president?
GIULIANI: I have no knowledge of that. But I would think, if it was necessary, yes. He made payments for the president -- or he conducted business for the president. Which means he had legal fees, money is laid out, and expenditures which I have on my bills -- to my clients.
ZELENY: Daniels's attorney say the new documents show a disturbing pattern.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: This disclosure today proves the following: Michael Cohen has been lying to the American people for months. David Schwartz, the individual who came on national television repeatedly on many networks and stated that the president never reimbursed -- reimbursed the payment and knew nothing about, it is lying to the American people.
ZELENY: Now this all comes as Trump's representatives say they are not required to report this, but they did anyway. But the ethics office, in fact, says they were required to report this. So this came in the annual financial disclosure report that all public officials have to file. It was made public today and, again, Wolf, buried deep inside that report. Page 45 -- or 42 of a 92-page report, it contained this information.
[17:05:08] So not necessarily raising more questions, but certainly making clear this has been less than a consistent story about the payment of Stormy Daniels from the president and his team -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.
Also breaking, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, now says the Russia investigation is not a witch hunt. That comes a year after President Trump fired his predecessor, James Comey, which helped lead to the special counsel's probe.
Let's turn to our senior congressional reporter Manu Raju. Manu, what's the latest there?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When Wray was meeting with the Senate Appropriations Committee, he was asked a number of questions from Democrats about the criticism that his agency has gotten over the months, particularly from President Trump and as well as President Trump's allies suggesting there may have been some sort of effort to make the president look bad or try to conspire against the president in any way.
But what Wray did over and over again was defend the professionalism of his agency, saying that the bureau has dedicated law enforcement professionals. And he made very clear that this is not a witch hunt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The agents that I have worked with since being on the job have inspired me every day in terms of their professionalism, their integrity, their courage and their commitment to doing the right thing in the right way, which I think is the key.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: You said at your confirmation hearing that the Russia investigation was not a witch hunt. Then now ten months, you're far more immersed in the details of the FBI. Is that still your opinion?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now he was also asked about that Chinese electronics maker ZTE, the one that President Trump tweeted about over the weekend, suggesting that it needed to be saved; there was a need to save Chinese jobs, despite the concerns about its -- the way it's conducted itself in the United States.
Wray raising some concerns about ZTE and companies like that, electronics maker, but he suggested that any discussions about the trade issue needs to be referred to the Commerce Department but made very clear about concern about companies that the president himself has said he wanted to save, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. In contrast to the FBI director, the president says it's a witch hunt almost every other day.
Also up on Capitol Hill today, Manu, some very pointed language from the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Tell us about that.
RAJU: Yes, that's right. This all has to do with that 2017 assessment from the intelligence community which said that Vladimir Putin orchestrated a campaign to help President Trump win the presidency in 2016.
Now that finding has come under dispute from the House Intelligence Committee, Republicans, who said that there were some issues in the underlying intelligence and the way that it was put together. And they did not agree with the finding that Putin wanted Trump to win.
Well, the Senate Republicans have a different view. The Senate Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating this matter making it very clear that they support the intelligence community and not the House Republican findings.
Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, said on his statement, "There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections."
And that was agreed by his counterpart, Mark Warner, who said something similar. He said, "The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton."
And Wolf, I talked to a number of Republicans on that committee: Senator John Cornyn, Senator James Langford, Senator Susan Collins, all of whom agree with the underlying Intelligence Committee assessment.
But still tonight the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are telling me that they stand by their view that there was some issues with that report and there's -- that you can't, essentially, say with authority that Putin tried to help Donald Trump become president. But Wolf, we're learning tonight that they are increasingly isolated in that view, as more people on the Republican side of the aisle side with the intelligence community that Putin tried to help Trump win, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Here, too, President Trump won't be happy with the Senate Intelligence Committee report. Manu, thank you very much.
In a huge document release today, the Senate Judiciary Committee has opened an extraordinary window into the Trump campaign's notorious Russia meeting. CNN political correspondent Sara Murray is with us. You've been going through these documents, Sara. Update our viewers.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, we're getting a sense of just how eager Donald Trump Jr. was to play ball when it came to getting incriminating evidence about Hillary Clinton during the campaign season.
But we're also learning that this meeting in Trump Tower certainly didn't shape up to be what the Trump campaign hoped it would be.
MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump Jr.'s excitement over getting dirt on Hillary Clinton quickly turning to frustration for top members of the Trump campaign when the quest for damaging info came up short. The Senate Judiciary Committee releasing approximately 2,000 pages of interviews, shedding light on the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer.
[17:16] In his testimony, Trump Jr. says he was interested in listening to information but claimed he didn't know if it came from the Russian government, saying, "I had no way of assessing where it came from. But I was willing to listen."
He testified that he told campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about the meeting but says he didn't tell his father about it or the offer of incriminating information on Clinton.
"I wouldn't bring him anything that's unsubstantiated, especially from a guy like Rob, before I knew what it was actually about myself," Trump Jr. testified.
Rob Goldstone, the British music publicist who arranged the meeting, testified that he expected something big, perhaps a smoking gun. "I'm setting up a meeting for someone that is going to bring you damaging information about somebody who was running to become the president of the United States. I thought that was worthy of the word 'smoking gun'."
Instead the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, began talking about Russian adoptions. That, according to Goldstone, triggered Kushner. Kushner appeared somewhat agitated by this and said, "I really have no idea what you're talking about. Could you please focus a bit more and maybe just start again?"
She delved into adoption again, and it seemed to infuriate him even more, Goldstone testified.
After the meeting, Goldstone says he immediately called Amin Agalarov, the Russian pop star who had asked Goldstone to set up the meeting. Goldstone's message: "This was the most embarrassing thing you've ever asked me to do. I've just sat in a meeting about adoption."
Trump Jr. testified that Goldstone apologized to him for wasting our time.
According to his testimony, Trump Jr. says he never told his father about the meeting. But on June 6, shortly after the meeting was arranged, Trump Jr. made an 11-minute phone call to a blocked number. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified to House members that the president's primary residence has a blocked number.
When the meeting first came to light, more than a year later in a July 2017 "New York Times" story, the Trump team was left flailing for a response. Ultimately, they crafted a misleading one aboard Air Force One as the president returned from the G-20 summit in Germany, saying the meeting focused on adoptions. There was no mention of dirt on Clinton, the reason Trump Jr. accepted the meeting.
As the special counsel probes the meeting and the statement that followed, it's still unclear how involved the president was in crafting it. Trump Jr. testified his father may have commented through Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, casting it as a collaborate effort with attorneys. He said he did not request his father's assistance, saying, "Hicks asked if I wanted to actually speak to him, and I chose not to, because I didn't want to bring him into something that he had nothing to do with."
MURRAY: Now today in a statement, Donald Trump Jr. described his testimony as candid and forthright, but there are still some Senate Democrats who disagree and say they still have some more questions for Donald Trump Jr. -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots of questions, I'm sure. Thanks very much for that. Sara Murray reporting.
Joining us now, a key member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's begin with the president's updated financial disclosure statement, which has just been released. Does this filing suggest, perhaps, in your mind, that the president may have actually broken the law by only disclosing that payment to Michael Cohen, his longtime lawyer this year, as opposed to last year?
CARSON: It seems like -- I'm not an expert, but know I have to deal with the Federal Election Commission regularly, and it seems like there could be some deep concerns. I think, one, any influence or contribution from a foreign entity, I think that's -- that's always a concern. But also, contributions that exceed the campaign cap or limitation. So we're going to look into this as it unfolds. I think it's something that should concern the American people.
BLITZER: And the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, he did say in this letter to the -- to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, "I'm providing both reports to you, because you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the president's prior report that was signed on June 14, 2017."
Do you believe, Congressman, that the U.S. Congress needs to dig into this?
CARSON: I think so. I think that the Founding Fathers, as complex and complicated as they were, were brilliant in setting up three separate but equal branches of government. We need checks and balances. And I think the way this administration is behaving, it's clear that we need more checks and balances.
BLITZER: Let's turn to the newly released transcripts of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding that very controversial 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York and its aftermath. A meeting with Trump campaign officials and Russians. Was there a smoking gun, do you believe, pointing to proof of collusion between the Trump campaign and official Russia?
[17:15:12] CARSON: Well, I think that this information only reaffirms what many of us have always known and suspected, for that matter. It was that the Russian government deliberately targeted the Trump campaign. They wanted to discredit Hillary Clinton. They wanted to promote Donald Trump and present him in a favorable light and they wanted to have influence; and they didn't stop. They had Russian bots. They had folks and influencers and wealthy Russians to try to influence the campaign and the American people, and quite frankly, I think it had tremendous impact.
BLITZER: We learned that soon after that Trump Tower meeting, Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, held an 11-minute phone call with a blocked number. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he couldn't remember who was on the other end of that call. The former Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, did tell your committee, Congressman, last year that President Trump's primary residence uses a blocked phone number.
Do you believe then-candidate Trump was on the other end of the conversation with his son?
CARSON: Stay tuned.
BLITZER: Well, that's intriguing. Tell us what you mean.
CARSON: Well, stay tuned. I think this is why -- I think this is why the House Intel Committee's investigation is so important, Wolf. I was deeply disappointed to see the leadership attempt to end this. The Democrats have been fighting hard.
But you know, quite frankly, and historically, the House Intel Committee has been one of the most bipartisan committees in the House of Representatives. This is critically important. It's why, you know, the House Intel Committee's findings have gotten us this far. This is why we have to continue with our investigation on behalf of the American people. It's an election year, but we cannot put our political ambitions ahead of the interests of the American people.
BLITZER: Because I'm intrigued when you say, "Stay tuned."
BLITZER: Do you know -- can you tell us whether or not you know who that blocked phone call was to?
CARSON: I can't speak to that. At that point
BLITZER: But do you -- but without telling us -- without telling us the identity of that blocked phone, do you personally know who it was?
CARSON: I can't say, sir.
BLITZER: You can't even say that?
CARSON: No, sir.
BLITZER: Because it raises all sorts of possibilities.
BLITZER: Do you believe the special counsel, Robert Mueller, knows the identity of that blocked phone call?
CARSON: I can't say either. But I know that Director Mueller is an accomplished investigator, and having him on the case gives me great comfort.
BLITZER: Well, I'll assume he knows, and I'll try to assume that you probably know, as well, even though you are not at liberty to -- able to share that information with us. I assume we'll get that at some point.
That wasn't the only key detail he was unable to recall, Donald Trump Jr., in that -- in that exchange with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Was he any more forthcoming when he testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee, your committee?
CARSON: Well, I think, fortunately or unfortunately, I think the bulk of what he said in that hearing is -- is pretty much public knowledge at this point.
But I think what is important to know is that any -- any investigator worth his or her salt has to be given the necessary tools. They don't try to prevent certain witnesses from coming in and testifying. They don't try to end investigations early. And this is what we've seen with the House Intel Committee, particularly my Republican friends who, for political expediency purposes, they've attempted to halt this investigation.
But my appeal to my Republican friends is that, in this election year, the American people are relying on you to be bold, to be firm, and take a stand and do what's right to preserve our republic and make a more perfect union.
BLITZER: Do you believe Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony was truthful?
CARSON: Well, I think that -- you know, Donald Jr. loves his father. I think that, clearly, there were murky -- campaigns step into very murky territory. D.C. is not a friendly place, and I think the House Intel Committee, we are sworn to uphold the law. We're sworn to look into these matters and look at the extent of Russia's influence into our electoral process. I take that role seriously as do my colleagues, and anything that he said or has said, I think will be looked into a lot deeper. And hopefully, he told the truth.
BLITZER: Well, what do you think, yes or no, do you think he told the truth?
CARSON: We'll see.
BLITZER: All right. Congressman, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.
CARSON: Always a pleasure, Wolf. I appreciate you.
BLITZER: All right. We appreciate you, as well. Andre Carson of Indiana.
Up next, there's more breaking news. President Trump discloses that he reimbursed his long-term lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who had paid hush money to Stormy Daniels. That disclosure now actually being referred to the U.S. Justice Department for possible further action.
[17:24:36] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: All right. We have more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is here; just spoke with the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Tell us what he said, Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what he said is that the special counsel's team has informed the president's legal team that they have concluded that they cannot indict a sitting president.
Now it has been the -- along with the guidelines of the Justice Department since the Nixon era, the Office of Legal Counsel said back then that, because of the rigors of the job, that a president cannot be indicted. It was was actually reaffirmed during the Clinton years.
However, during all of this tumult and during this investigation, the Mueller team has been debating whether or not to challenge those guidelines. And that's something that Giuliani told me -- Rudy Giuliani told me that he understands that they were debating, as well.
But at the end of the day, he said orally the Mueller team has informed the Trump team that they are going to stick with those guidelines that they cannot indict a sitting president.
Having said that, this does not say anything about the status of the Mueller investigation, where they're going with the investigation, and no indictment doesn't necessarily mean at all that the president is off the hook. Because at the end of the investigation, we do expect a report, a lengthy report from the special counsel. And what is supposed to happen is that, if there are recommendations or referrals, that would go to the House of Representatives. And then they would decide whether or not there's anything to do: impeachment or anything of the sort.
So that is -- that is the status. But the fact that the special counsel and the Justice Department seems to have decided that this is how they're going to approach the Trump case, is noteworthy.
BLITZER: Yes, that's very significant, indeed.
And Joey Jackson, you're our legal analyst. There was a debate whether or not a sitting president could be indicted. Now Mueller, apparently, has decided, at least if you believe Rudy Giuliani, that he can't be indicted. Not going be indicted. What does that say to you?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's not a unilateral determination, Wolf, in terms of Mueller deciding it. It already has been decided. To Dana's point, the issue came up during Nixon, and it was d a conclusion. And that conclusion is that you cannot indict a sitting president. To Dana's further point: she got it absolutely right in that it was reaffirmed. And so the guidance at this point is it can't be done.
What does that mean? What it means is that, irrespective of what Mueller comes up with, there won't be an indictment of Trump. Should they be going in that direction -- we don't know -- it would defer to the political process. And we know that that political process means that the House, by majority vote, would have to vote out articles of impeachment. That doesn't end the inquiry. It then would be referred to the Senate. And of course, the Senate would have to, by two-thirds vote, convict.
And so that's where the process would stand. And then thereafter, there could be some type of formal prosecution in the event it goes that far.
BLITZER: But it is interesting, Gloria, that Mueller has now informed Giuliani of this decision.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, very well interesting, because I presume this was an internal debate among -- among Mueller's -- among Mueller's legal team. And also, lawyers that I've spoken with in terms of reporting this story as we have all along, all of us, have -- you know, have basically made the case that Mueller is a conservative, and that they have predicted that Mueller would not be likely to go outside the lines that have been drawn for him, given the precedence that Dana -- that Dana was referring to.
I think what's interesting, actually, is that he told Rudy Giuliani that. Because I'm sure the president's legal team was wondering the same thing. Obviously, there is a report that goes to Congress. If there is, for example, some finding of obstruction, that then would be decided by the Congress
BLITZER: I assume, Sara, that this conversation may have taken place in the context of whether or not the president will actually sit down with Mueller and his team and answer questions. Rudy Giuliani has been handling that negotiation with Mueller's team. And maybe this was, in part, designed to reassure the White House he's not going to be indicted; let him come forward and answer our questions.
MURRAY: Right. I think that's certainly a possibility. And to me this does look like sort of a shrewd political move, too, whether it was meant that way or not. I mean, they obviously want President Trump to sit for an interview. So if you offer them, you know, this notion that we can't indict the president, that might make them more willing to allow them to participate in an interview. It also might calm down a president who we know has thought frequently about whether he wants to fire Robert Mueller, who has thought frequently about whether he wants to fire Robert Mueller's boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia investigation.
So I do think we've seen the Justice Department kind of drop these sort of Easter eggs to try to keep the president calm and let this investigation reach its conclusion.
BLITZER: Yes, how do you see it?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I wouldn't be calm if I were them.
Let me lay out a simple scenario. Assuming we believe Rudy --
MURRAY: They're never calm.
MUDD: -- in the past month, that guy has got more stories than I have socks. So I don't know if I believe the story. But I think there's one scenario, if I were the White House, I'd be extremely concerned about.
There is a document, presumably, after the investigation closes out that the Mueller team gives to Rod Rosenstein. I could easily see that document lay out a series of charges against the president. But the document says, "I'm not going to -- we will not bring charges against the president formally, because we don't think it's constitutionally acceptable."
[17:30:09] Boy, talk about a bombshell. That will either leak or be exposed within a matter of days or weeks. So I don't think this is any indication that the president is out of the woods.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You're right. But it's a big "if." It's a big "if." But that is exactly the point.
Look, we know from James Comey's time -- this is just the FBI -- that you could just say something about a report, and it could be damaging. Hillary Clinton. And so this is going to be a whole lot bigger than that. We don't know what the conclusion is going to be at all. And I could just add, tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the Mueller probe. Been going on for a year.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: But Wolf, something -- something very significant, though, we should keep in mind. Even though he should not -- that is the president, and I'm sure his lawyers are telling him this -- be baited into sitting with the special counsel because, "Oh, guidance says that we can't indict you anyway." Why?
Because even if he didn't do anything wrong, they find no collusion, in the event he lies, that in and of itself, could mean a referral in terms of impeachment. And so remember -- right? -- let's think of the lessons in terms of Clinton and what happened with him. The fact that you sit down with the special counsel under the guise of "Don't worry, because we can't indict you anyway," and then you go and misrepresent -- this president has a penchant for doing so -- that could expose you to impeachable offenses, in and of itself, even if the special counsel has found nothing as it relates to collusion.
BASH: And that's what I was just going to say about the fact that tomorrow is the one-year anniversary. And Giuliani is saying, as are other members of the team, that they want to use this anniversary to pressure Robert Mueller to finally come to them and say, "OK, what exactly do you -- this is exactly what we want to hear from the president in any interview." He's also going to be pressing to see how much money are you spending and so forth.
So this is a time where they're trying to -- continuing to try to get the Mueller team to wrap it up.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But this is also part of Rudy Giuliani's plan, which is -- I'm not sure is the whole legal team's plan. But it is Rudy -- it is Rudy Giuliani's plan to kind of wrap this up. Right? He wants -- he just got in, what, two weeks ago, but he wants it over.
So he wants to say, "Well, OK, the president has been told, you know -- the guy is not going to get indicted. OK. So everybody knows that. Like so what's the point of continuing with this thing? Let's just --"
BASH: And he's saying not just indicted, he's saying -- this is a quote -- "You've got all of the facts. You've got all the documents. You've got the explanations. We're happy to tell you that that's not going to change, so you don't need to talk to the president."
BORGER: Right. And I don't think Mueller is going to listen to that for one second, by the way. But I think Rudy coming out and telling you this is an indication of where -- of where he is, and what he's trying to do is put outward pressure on it. I'm sure we'll hear from the president on this tomorrow. We heard from the vice president already. You know, let's -- let's wrap this thing up.
And if they don't get Mueller to move on that, then their next strategy will be, "Let's keep this thing going through the -- through the midterm, because we don't -- we don't want any bad news before the midterms."
So they're going to try this first, see if Mueller responds. I believe -- I could be wrong, but I believe. And then -- and then see what -- see what happens. My guess is Mueller is silent.
BLITZER: You know, but the political problem they have, the White House right now, even if Mueller has told Rudy Giuliani, "Don't worry, he's not going to be indicted and we can't indict him." But as Dana points out, they could refer to the House of Representatives. And there's a big difference if they refer it to a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, as opposed to, after November perhaps, a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.
MURRAY: That's right. And you can expect the president's allies will be using this, in part, as a rallying cry during the midterms, that you need to vote for a Republican, whether you like that Republican who's running for your congressional seat or not, because if you vote for the Democrat, they're going to try to impeach this president.
They're also going to try to make the case that that's the only thing that Democrats have to run on, is the notion that they're running against Trump, that they want to kick him out of the White House, that they're not going to actually do anything to make your life better. They're just going to turn Congress into this spectacle of impeachment proceedings.
And so I mean, I do think that could potentially be a potent political argument. You know, it rests on the notion that the people who voted Trump in in the first place still want to see him in the White House, which can be a risky gambit when your approval rating is around the 40 percent mark.
But look, the president's allies right now feel better than they did a couple months ago. They think his polls are moving in the right direction, and they certainly believe that the longer this investigation goes on, past this one year mark, the more they can kind of use it as a political ploy. BLITZER: Let me get Joey into this other issue, the other news today.
The president's financial disclosure statement confirming that the president did reimburse, pay his long-term lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen, more than $100,000, perhaps -- perhaps -- reimbursing him for the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels. What are the legal implications of that?
[17:35:03] JACKSON: You know, they're significant, Wolf. I mean, there's general, and then there's specific implications. Right?
On a more general level, does anyone tell the truth? I mean, the reality is, is that we heard the president speak to this issue. We heard the president deny the issue. We heard Cohen speak to the issue. We heard him deny it. I think it's a further basis for -- if you want to talk about Stormy Daniels -- for him not sitting for any depositions, for getting rid of that, because he'll lie. And then there's perjury. It speaks to what we've been talking about, which is why he can't sit down with the special counsel.
And then you have the specific issue, and we know that there's been a referral to the Justice Department, and I think there's two things for the Justice Department to investigate.
No. 1, why this delayed disclosure? So, 2018 you're finally disclosing something from 2016. You drop it in a footnote, Wolf, and say, "Hey, we're not really required to disclose this, but in the interest of transparency, let's do it." That's one thing, the disclosure issue.
And then the other issue, Wolf, which is did he direct -- what knowledge did he have in terms of circumventing -- that is Trump -- anything with Cohen? Did he know about it? Did he direct him to do it? Was it an in-kind contribution? So it raises all types of thorny legal issues and causes more problems for this president.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, a lot of shifting explanations. I'll put a graphic up on the screen, involving payment for the Stormy Daniels hush money.
On March 7, Sanders -- Sarah Sanders at the White House said Trump has no knowledge of payment.
March 9, Michael Cohen says payment was made with personal funds.
April 5, President Trump denies knowing about any payment.
May 2, Giuliani says Trump repaid Cohen $130,000.
May 3, Giuliani says Trump learned details of payment maybe ten days ago.
May 4, Trump says Giuliani wasn't totally familiar with everything.
It is pretty awkward, I should say, given all those different explanations. BORGER: It is pretty awkward. But Dana and I were talking about this
earlier, that by disclosing this when he did -- when Giuliani did, he actually now makes today's report seem -- "Oh, we knew that" a little bit, kind of. Because Giuliani sort of let the cat out of the bag early, and now they had to disclose it. Or maybe they were going to disclose it, and Giuliani kind of decided to try and let the air out of the balloon -- have I used enough cliches -- let the air out of the balloon a little bit.
BLITZER: I was going to say, Phil --
BORGER: You have another one?
BLITZER: The best damage control, experts they always say, if you have bad news, you report it. Don't let your adversaries report it.
MUDD: Yes, sort of. But hold on a second here. This comes in the wake, as we know, of a judge authorizing the raids on the Cohen residence, on his hotel room, on his office.
Presumably the team is looking at those raids, saying, "If they acquire financial documents that prove this, if we don't get this out, we're going to be proven wrong in court one day."
I think what's happening here is that for years, the president worked journalists on issues like this and said, "I can say whatever I want." Now he's got to work the Department of Justice and judges. And they've got to come through with no more -- to coin a phrase, no more "dog ate my homework" explanations. They've got to come clean.
BORGER: OK. So that's three. OK, anybody else?
BLITZER: Everybody stick around. Don't go too far away. There's more news. President Trump's low-key reaction to North Korea's threat to pull out of next month's summit meeting. Did the president's new national security adviser send the wrong signal to Kim Jong-un?
[17:43:05] BLITZER: Tonight the Trump White House is taking a wait and see approach to North Korea' new threats to pull out of next month's summit meeting between the president and Kim Jong-un.
Our Jeff Zeleny is joining us once again. Jeff, the president's reaction, at least so far, has been quite restrained.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It has, indeed, Wolf. There certainly is confusion and uncertainty tonight about what the status of that Singapore summit actually is. But we were struck today by the measured response from the president.
Certainly, the morning after -- a major development like this happens, you know, he was on the headlines of every newspaper and television program about, you know, a promise of his that summit could be off. We were expecting for him to say something on social media. But I am told by an official that he is trying, at least, to measure
his response. They do not want to provoke anything from Kim Jong-un. But listen to how he answered the questions earlier today in the Oval Office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We haven't seen anything. We haven't heard anything. We will see what happens. We'll see what happens. We'll see. Time will tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So not saying much at all there, except you know, we'll see what happens, time will tell.
So Wolf, it's an open question if this demand from Kim Jong-un is a hiccup or a big hurdle in the road to that potential summit in Singapore. The president and the White House are still moving along as scheduled, as though it is planned. It is still on the calendar here. But it is very much an open question if it is going to happen.
Of course, it all revolves on the question of if the president is going to insist on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Asked in the Oval Office, he said he would. But that, of course, is something that North Korea does not want to hear, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. The president flatly said no nukes. That's what he wants.
On another sensitive issue, as you know, the president had some controversial comments today about undocumented individuals here in the United States. Tell us what he said.
ZELENY: He did, Wolf. I was in the cabinet room with him earlier. He had visiting California officials from sanctuary cities, all opponents of immigrant. Listen to what he said specifically, how he treated immigrants.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have people coming into the country or trying to come in. We're stopping a lot of them. But we're taking people out of the country.
You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So we certainly heard the President talking some harsh words before, but this certainly ranks among them. He's been furious recently at the immigration laws and building that wall, of course. He promised and said he would push for full funding for that.
Important to remember he got very little of that, Wolf, from this Republican Congress. Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. There's going to be some reaction to that word, "animals."
All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.
Coming up, a closer look at what Vladimir Putin wants from the United States which we've now learned is a big reason why a group of Russians came to that election year meeting with top members of the Trump campaign.
[17:50:33] BLITZER: Thanks to the newly released transcripts of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, we now know more than ever about that 2016 meeting involving Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a group of Russians who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Our Brian Todd is joining us now to clear up what the Russians actually came to talk about. Some of these officials, Russians, are pretty close to Vladimir Putin. What are we learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we've got new information, fresh insights on what those Russians were really pressing for at that Trump Tower meeting.
They were very likely doing Vladimir Putin's bidding to try to get the Trump team to roll back sanctions which Putin had been furious about for years. Sanctions Putin is still pushing back on as he flaunts the invasion of Ukraine, which prompted those measures.
TODD (voice-over): Vladimir Putin has other men slide over in the front seat as he takes the wheel. Putin leads a convoy of orange dump trumps adorned with Russian flags across the brand new Kerch Strait Bridge. The nearly 12 mile-long span connects Russia to Crimea, which once belonged to Ukraine.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIA FEDERATION (through translator): Since the time of the czars, people were dreaming to build this bridge.
TODD (voice-over): As he dedicates the bridge, Putin's embassy in the U.S. tweets -- Washington is not happy with that but Crimea is Russia.
Not according to the U.S. which has never recognized Putin's 2014 annexation of Crimea and leveled crippling sanctions because of it.
Tonight, analysts are drawing a clear line between sanctions against Russia and the 2016 Trump Tower meeting that attracted so much scrutiny for Donald Trump, Jr. If Putin hadn't been chaffing at all these sanctions, would that
meeting have ever occurred?
KEITH DARDEN, SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL SERVICE ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: No, and it's very likely that without Putin chaffing at the sanctions, he wouldn't have tried to get involved in the presidential elections in 2016.
But this was a primary bone of contention for him. That that meeting, all the Russian involvement, trying to manipulate our politics, is really an effort to get the United States to back off sanctions.
TODD (voice-over): One set of U.S. sanctions the Russians at that Trump Tower meeting were trying to roll back was the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 American law named after a Russian whistleblower. A law that sanctions individuals close to Putin.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CO-AUTHOR, "RUSSIAN ROULETTE: THE INSIDE STORY OF PUTIN'S WAR ON AMERICA AND THE ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP": The premise of the Magnitsky Act was that Putin was leading a government that abused human rights, that threw its opponents in jail, that murdered dissidents, that murdered journalists.
That was the fundamental underpinning for the passage of the Magnitsky Act. And Putin resented it and he wanted it abolished.
TODD (voice-over): Putin hasn't been successful in removing those sanctions. In fact, he's even had more sanctions imposed on him. His anger over the sanctions may have motivated Putin to try to create political trouble in Washington.
One casualty? Fired national security adviser Michael Flynn who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about speaking with a Russian ambassador about sanctions.
Tonight, experts warn Putin's got every incentive to keep trying to undermine American politics.
DARDEN: There's an argument that Putin has reached the point of no return, that he has to keep probing. He has to keep seeking influence because he is really outside of the politics of the West at this point.
TODD: Just how might Vladimir Putin try to stir up more trouble with the Trump White House? Analysts say look for him to try to meddle in America's midterm elections later this year and to keep trying to drive wedges between President Trump and America's allies, Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting. Brian, in the meantime, Putin is taking some new measure to try to undermine the Magnitsky Act, that American law which punishes people close to him, right?
TODD: That's right, Wolf. There's a new law being pushed by the Kremlin to impose prison sentences on Russians who support the Magnitsky Act and other sanctions.
The author of that law singled out an anti-Putin activist named Vladimir Kara-Murza as someone who could get put in jail with this. Kara-Murza has often testified in Washington supporting the Magnitsky Act and he's actually been poisoned twice.
BLITZER: Really serious stuff going on. Brian Todd, thanks very much.
Coming up, breaking news. President Trump reveals he reimbursed his lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, for a six-figure expenditure. Apparently, the money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. That disclosure has now passed on to the supervisor of the Russia probe.
[17:54:53] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Disclosing the payout. President Trump acknowledges for the first time that he repaid his lawyer who paid hush money to Stormy Daniels.
Mueller's promise. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani says the Special Counsel's team has told the Trump team they can't indict a sitting president.
Not a witch-hunt. The FBI Director defends his agency and the Russia investigation before Congress.
And tale of the transcript. Newly released details of Donald Trump, Jr.'s interview with Senate investigators reveal his quest for dirt on Hillary Clinton in a meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.
[18:00:07] We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.