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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump May Revoke Security Clearances of Ex-Intel Chiefs; Trump Denies Frustration with North Korea, Tweets "Very Happy";Interview With Stormy Daniels Attorney Michael Avenatti; Interview With Florida Senator Marco Rubio; White House Looking to Revoke Security Clearance of Trump Critics?; 12 Audio Recordings Seized From Michael Cohen. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 23, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: clearances retaliation. President Trump takes his attacks on the intelligence community to a disturbing new level, threatening to yank security clearances from high-level Obama era officials. Is he putting national security at risk, in hopes of punishing his critics?
Cohen's secret tapes. Prosecutors now reveal that a dozen recordings were seized in the raid on the president's longtime lawyer and fixer. Do they contain incriminating evidence against Mr. Trump?
Witness immunity. Five people set to testify against Paul Manafort are now granted protection from prosecution. Their names were just unsealed by the judge. What might they reveal about the former Trump campaign chairman?
And frustrated by Kim. A top U.S. official tells CNN that President Trump is privately venting concern that North Korea is moving too slowly on denuclearization. Tonight, the White House insists all is well, despite new demands and snubs by the Kim regime.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, President Trump threatening unprecedented retaliation against some of his staunchest critics in the intelligence and law enforcement communities.
The White House says he's considering revoking the security clearances of six former officials, including Obama era CIA Director John Brennan and fired FBI Director James Comey. It's a politically charged and potentially very dangerous move.
I will get reaction from Republican Senator and Intelligence Committee member Marco Rubio.
And I will also speak with Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, about the breaking news in the Michael Cohen case. Our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, the White House issued this provocative threat, apparently without knowing who has and doesn't still have a security clearance.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
They didn't seem to check, because two of the people included on that list today were James Comey and Andrew McCabe, the former director of the FBI, the former deputy director of the FBI.
Sources close to both of them say they have not had their security clearances for months, James Comey for several months and Andrew McCabe since he was terminated in March. But, Wolf, that doesn't seem to matter much to this administration, who is singling out these people specifically and making it quite clear why.
COLLINS (voice-over): The White House targeting six former national security officials today who have criticized President Trump, announcing that he's weighing stripping them of their security clearances.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not only is the president looking to take away Brennan's security clearance. He's also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice and McCabe.
COLLINS: Sarah Sanders making the explosive announcement today, claiming the former officials have politicized their roles.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate, and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.
COLLINS: Sanders declining to give a firm deadline for when Trump would make his decision and rejecting the idea that it's the president who has politicized these agencies.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president is not making baseless accusations of improper contact with a foreign government and accusing the president of the United States of treasonous activity. When you have the highest level of security clearance, when you're the person that holds the nation's deepest, most sacred secrets at your hands and you go out and you make false accusations against the president of the United States, he thinks that is a -- something to be very concerned with.
COLLINS: But it appears as though the White House didn't check to see who actually had a security clearance before making that announcement. Sources tell CNN, Comey no longer has a security clearance, and McCabe's was deactivated when he was terminated. The announcement coming after a meeting between Trump and Republican
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who called on Trump to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's clearance after he criticized his sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin as treasonous.
Paul tweeting after the meeting: "Public officials should not use their security clearances to leverage speaking fees or network talking head fees."
James Clapper, the former intelligence chief who is being targeted, says he doesn't see how this isn't political.
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's pretty obvious, Wolf, what the reason -- you know, why we were singled out for this contemplated action, is because of, you know, the criticism that we have expressed about and reservations we expressed about the president.
If now, when someone applies for security clearance, are they going to add to the standard Form 86 a Pledge of Allegiance to President Trump?
COLLINS: Asked if Trump has the authority to strip him of his clearance, Clapper said:
CLAPPER: I guess, legally, the president has that prerogative. He can suspend or revoke clearances as he sees fit. And if he chooses to do it for political reasons, I think that's a terrible precedent and it's a very sad commentary. And it's an abuse of the system.
COLLINS: Top officials typically maintain their clearances after they leave their post, in part so they can offer advice and consult with their successors as needed.
Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators, kept his clearance during the Obama administration, despite his political appearances.
This as the White House is once again facing questions about whether Trump believes Russia interfered in the election. After days of damage control from the Helsinki summit, Trump tweeted that the investigation is just a big hoax.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: We maintain that Russia interfered in the elections. The president, however, very much so and has repeatedly, as again have the rest of us, that his campaign colluding in that process is a total hoax.
COLLINS: Included in the president's weekend tweetstorm, an all-caps threat at Iran, warning of dire consequences if it threatened the United States again.
That message coming just weeks before banking sanctions will be imposed on Iran after Trump withdrew from the Iran deal in may.
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you concerned about provoking tensions with Iran?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not at all. Not at all.
COLLINS: Now, Wolf, there is no denying that the president has had longstanding grievances with several of the people on the White House's list, and now that new announcement from the White House is raising questions in Washington about whether the president is using his power to punish people who criticize him.
BLITZER: It's pretty unprecedented. Kaitlan, thank you very much, Kaitlan Collins at the White House.
We're also following breaking news in the special counsel's case against Paul Manafort. A judge granting immunity to five witnesses prepared to testify against the former Trump campaign chairman.
We're also learning more tonight about who they are and their ties to Manafort, who appeared at the hearing today.
Let's go to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez. He's outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside of D.C. He's been covering Manafort's hearing all day long.
So, Evan, what do we know about these five witnesses?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these five witnesses were people who are handling some of the bank loans, some of the financial transactions, the taxes from Paul Manafort and his company.
I will show you the names in just a second here, James Brennan, Donna Duggan, Conor O'Brien, Cindy Laporta and Dennis Raico.
Now, these are five witnesses that the special counsel said they needed to provide special immunity for, just so they could testify and so they didn't declare their Fifth Amendment right against incrimination.
So for the purposes of this trial, any information that they provide cannot be used against them. Now, after all, this is a financial and tax fraud case. There is -- according to the discussion today in court, both the prosecution and the defense are doing their best to keep the Russia collusion questions, to keep President Trump out of this trial.
Again, the charges that Paul Manafort is facing here in Virginia have to do with some of the loans and his failure to pay taxes, or even declare some of the bank loans or bank accounts that he allegedly had in Cyprus that allegedly came from Ukrainian- and Russian government- tied accounts.
So these are all things that the prosecution and the defense are trying essentially to try to keep the Russia and the Trump questions out of this trial, Wolf.
BLITZER: The trial has been delayed briefly to July 31. We will watch it unfold then.
Evan, thank you.
Joining us now, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. He serves on both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's get to some important issues. We've got a lot to discuss.
First of all, as you know, the president is now looking to revoke the security clearances of key intelligence and law enforcement officials. Are you concerned about the precedent this might set?
RUBIO: Well, first, I think you meant to say former intelligence and security officials, not active ones.
BLITZER: Yes, former.
BLITZER: From -- who served for many, many years in Republican and Democratic administrations.
RUBIO: Yes, and I have worked with them, obviously, being on the Intelligence Committee. They appeared before us quite often.
Intelligence -- look, security clearances are designed to further the national security of the United States. And so if someone has a reason to have a security clearance for purposes of our national security, then they should have one. And if they don't, then perhaps they shouldn't.
And this is a novel question. I heard it for the first time today at 2:00. And so I want to learn more about some of the rationale behind it. But, ultimately, security clearances exist for purposes of the national security of the United States. And the only people entitled to them are those who need them in order to do their current jobs.
BLITZER: The argument in favor, and it's always been the case -- and I have covered the intelligence community for a long time. Let's say Dan Coats is the director of national intelligence and he's going to meet with a foreign intelligence chief, and wants to get some perspective.
He may call up General Clapper, his predecessor, and say, you used to meet with this guy, what's he like, give me some background. They can't have a really good conversation unless, unless Clapper still has security clearances, right?
RUBIO: Yes. I think that was the case back in the good old days. We're living now in some unprecedented times. People leave the service of our country and immediately become sort of partisan participants in our daily debates, which they're entitled to do.
But we're just in a different time. And that's why, as I said, I have heard about this for the first time today at 2:00. I would like to think a little bit more about the pros and cons of it.
But the most important thing to understand is, the national security of the United States creates these -- the need for these clearances for people that are actively serving. This is the reason why they have been held in the past. We're in a different time. And these sorts of things are always open to reexamination.
BLITZER: I know you want to continue to study it, but from what I hear you saying, Senator, you're open to what the president is thinking of doing.
RUBIO: Yes. Again, I would like to hear their viewpoints as to why it's necessary, because ultimately, these clearances exist to further the national security of the United States. And that's the only people that are entitled and need to have it.
Now, the fact that we have done it this way in the past for people doesn't necessarily mean that's the way we need to do it in the future. But, again, I want to learn more about it. I have heard about it for the first time today just a couple of hours ago.
BLITZER: So if there is a Democratic president, should former Republican chiefs of the CIA or the director of national intelligence or the NSA, National Security Council, should they lose their security clearances, do you think?
RUBIO: Well, I wouldn't be able to argue that they would be entitled to it. They're certainly not entitled to it by law. Whether they should lose it or not is something, as I said, I have heard about it for the first time today, so I want to think through some of the pros and cons of why we would want to change that today and why it existed in the past. But they would certainly not be entitled to it.
BLITZER: What about Bush administration officials who still have their security clearances?
RUBIO: Same thing. As I said, anybody who used to have it because they were in a position and now they -- we allow then to keep it for years to come because of what you outlined. And that is that, in the past, people relied on their predecessors for advice and so forth.
That was the rationale for allowing them to keep it at the highest levels, not everybody. But maybe times have changed and maybe things have changed now because people are leaving the intelligence community and immediately going on television and becoming partisan participants in these debates we're having, which, by the way, I'm telling you they're entitled to do 100 percent. I'm not telling you that that alone justifies it.
But it's a new concept. And, as I said, I have heard about it just two or three hours ago. But I just want to be very clear. No one is entitled to this stuff. They're not actively every single day contributing to our national security. And they provided a service to our country in the past.
BLITZER: It seems like your Republican colleague Senator Rand Paul is behind this latest effort. The president is picking up it just a week or so ago. He was here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me. He attacked John Brennan, the former CIA director, said he should lose his security clearances. He's defended the president's performance in Helsinki.
He says that those who are going against the president have what he branded as Trump derangement syndrome. What do you make of that?
RUBIO: Well, again, I do think there are people out there that have deep hatred for the president and are basically against anything he is for. I think there are people out there that support everything he does.
And then there are people out there that basically, when they agree with him, they support him, and, when they don't, they say so. And that, in my view, is the way life works. I don't agree with anyone 100 percent. I think there are few people that agree with me 100 percent.
So, I represent the people of Florida. I largely agree with the things the president is doing, because he's governing as a conservative Republican president. From time to time, he will say or do something I don't agree with. I will say that.
But that doesn't mean I don't work with him or support him on the things that I do agree with him on. And that's the way I have approached it. Obviously, others will have to find their own way.
BLITZER: The president is back to contradicting the intelligence community's assessment, calling the Russian cyber-warfare campaign in 2016 as recently as today a big hoax.
Is there anything that could convince the president to believe his intelligence chiefs over Putin?
RUBIO: Well, I saw a piece of the -- I think it was today when Sarah was speaking about it, and she said the White House acknowledges that the Russians were interfering in our election, but that what the president considers to be a hoax is the charges of collusion.
And there was a great statement made yesterday. We're not done with our work in the Intel Committee, so I will refrain until we're done with our work. But there was a great statement yesterday by Trey Gowdy where he said, if there has been collusion, it would have leaked out by now. And suffice it to say, that's what Mueller is looking at and others
are looking at. But I do agree with him on this. If there were things out there that indicated collusion clearly, I guarantee you that those things would have been leaked. I believe they would be.
But our probe isn't finished and neither is Mueller's and others that are looking at it. So we will wait for all of that to come in. But I know unequivocally, and one thing I can tell you most certainly happened -- and I'm glad to hear Sarah say it again today -- is that the Russians did try -- under the direction of Vladimir Putin, did try to interfere in our elections in 2016, and I believe will do so again, which is why it's so important that we put in place sanctions that they know will happen the minute they take these actions in the future.
BLITZER: Yes, but, you know, it's one thing for Sarah Sanders to say what she said from the White House press room, Senator, as you know.
It's another thing for what the president says. And as recently as yesterday, he was tweeting once again that this whole Mueller probe is fake news. It's all a big hoax. You know, he is going very, very far along these lines.
Sarah Sanders clearly is trying to clean it up. But the president, as you know, he's been very firm in suggesting this whole Russia probe, which you're Senate Intelligence Committee, is serious and important. He says it's a hoax.
RUBIO: Well, the Mueller probe is about collusion or crimes that were committed. It isn't about the interference part.
The interference part is what the Senate Intelligence Committee is working on and what the House is working on. Did they interfere, how did they interfere, and what can we do in the future to prevent it from happening, and how did our intelligence agencies perform while this was happening? That's our probe.
Mueller's probe is to find out whether there was criminality. And there are people that have already been charged. The president from day one has very strongly said he did not collude with the Russians. That's not a new position. He's always said that from the very beginning.
If I were running a campaign and I had not colluded, I would be behaving -- I would be very sort of emotional about that as well. He feels very strongly about that. And that's why I have told the president and I have said repeatedly that Mueller's work should be allowed to continue, let the truth come out. It will be good for the president. It will be good for our country.
BLITZER: Are you...
RUBIO: The one thing I know for sure is that the Russians interfered.
RUBIO: The collusion question is a separate topic and I believe that's what the president feels very strongly about.
BLITZER: That's what Sarah Sanders tried to clarify today.
Are you proud, bottom line, Senator, of what President Trump has done to the U.S. intelligence community over the past let's say year-and-a- half, two years?
RUBIO: Well, I don't -- I said it yesterday and in a couple of occasions. I don't think that that was a good moment for the administration in Helsinki, which I think it was important for the president to come back and make clear what he says he intended to say, because it left the impression he was siding with Putin against the intelligence community.
The bottom line is, I can tell you this. Our intelligence community does an excellent job every day of informing American policy-makers. They're not always right. They're human beings, but they provide valuable information. They're the best intelligence community in the world.
And they're a valuable tool for the president. I can also point you to specific public policies that this White House has taken which I believe is informed by the intelligence, whether it's hitting Assad when he gassed his own people, whether it's the type of sanctions they have imposed on Iran and imposed on North Korea, whether it's the approach they have taken on Ukraine and on NATO.
And so a lot -- or I should say in Europe. And those are the kinds of things that I point to, because, ultimately, I'm not saying rhetoric and words don't matter. They matter a lot. But public policy matters even more.
BLITZER: I -- you make some fair points, there's no doubt about that.
But let me repeat the question. Are you proud of the way the president has treated the intelligence community over the past year- and-a-half, two years?
RUBIO: I don't know how to -- I don't know what the question means about proud.
BLITZER: Well, he said some awful things about the U.S. intelligence community, including day one of his administration, when he was over at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, standing in front of those stars of slain CIA officers, and he -- and made a reference -- I don't even want to repeat what he said.
But it was then that started that trend that we have seen to this day.
RUBIO: I think it's pretty obvious the president feels that there are people in the intelligence community, including the FBI, who he believes have treated him very unfairly.
There are people in the intelligence community, because they're human beings, that make mistakes or do horrible things. I think if you look at what we know now about a couple of FBI officials, they said and did things that have been deeply damaging to the FBI.
But, writ large, the broader community, whether it's the incredible people at the CIA or the NSA or the FBI, by and large, the overwhelming majority of the employees in our intelligence community are patriotic, hard-working Americans, and there are some people that do things they shouldn't do.
That's true of any organization anywhere in the government, anywhere in the country or, quite frankly, anywhere in the world. That's what I continue to say. And I think the president has said that on occasion. Do we -- some of us wish he would say that more sometimes? Yes.
But I also think the president has said, as he did the other day, that he has great people working for him there. It goes back to the whole rhetoric standpoint.
I look at the actions. And I know this president has made public policy positions based on the work of the intelligence community. And I think it shows that this administration values them, at least when it comes to making public policy.
BLITZER: There's another national security threat that the president may be underestimating. And I want to get your thoughts on this. We're talking about the reach of China, the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, specifically.
BLITZER: Do you believe that the National Defense Authorization Act will leave Americans vulnerable to this threat?
RUBIO: I don't understand.
If we know for a fact that no country in the world spies on us more than China does, no country in the world steals intellectual property from us more than China does, and they use their telecommunications companies to do it, installing back doors into routers, all sorts of things, why would we allow them to remain in business in the United States?
That applies to ZTE. That applies even more to Huawei. And so that's why, knowing that and knowing what my colleagues know about ZTE, I don't understand why they would give in so easily, so quickly and cave on something that would have put them out of business by denying them access to U.S. semiconductors.
I'm still puzzled by it. It makes no sense to me. But we got played again. And this cannot continue to happen. BLITZER: Well, as you know, in his 2016 campaign, the president
promised he was going to be very tough on China. Is he putting that on hold right now, for example, what you just discussed with ZTE...
RUBIO: Well, I disagree.
BLITZER: ... to make progress on North Korea?
RUBIO: No, look, I disagree on the determination that he made and that Commerce made on ZTE.
But, on a broader scale, I don't know of any administration that's confronted China's cheating more than this administration has, to be fair. I disagree on the decision they made about ZTE.
BLITZER: Why do you think he made that decision on ZTE?
RUBIO: Well, I don't know. You will have to ask the White House what it was based on, because I think it was based on sanctions and sanction violations. And I would agree.
If the only issue I had with ZTE was that they allowed North Korea and Iran to evade sanctions, then the penalties they're facing are more than enough, more than anything Obama ever did. On the other hand, I don't view ZTE as simply a sanctions violator. I view them as a company that the Chinese government can use to spy on Americans and steal American intellectual property.
I disagree with them on ZTE. But on the broader China issue, no administration, Republican or Democrat, frankly, has been stronger or tougher on the Chinese than this administration. And that's been long overdue. We have allowed them to get away with it for far too long.
BLITZER: That's a good point. The U.S. has been weak in dealing with the Chinese copyright infringement and all of that.
Have you raised the issue specifically of ZTE with the president?
RUBIO: I did. We spoke about a few -- maybe two months ago. We just have a difference of opinion, with is normal and life and in American politics.
He viewed it as, you know, one way, and kind of focused on it from a sanctions perspective. And he pointed to the fact that, you know, the previous administration did nothing about ZTE sanctions violations and he did. And he's right about that.
And I tried to explain it as it's more than just sanctions. We have a different view on it. And that happens. But that's different from the broader approach to China, which I generally agree with.
My only difference there is, I wish we would have focused on China first, and partnered with Europe to do it, as opposed to being in a fight with Europe and China at the same time. But, again, you know, people can disagree on approaches.
We all want the same thing, I hope, which is a better and fairer trading system for the United States and for American workers.
BLITZER: That's what we all want, absolutely. Senator Rubio, thanks so much for your time.
RUBIO: Thanks. Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, just ahead, the Michael Cohen tapes. We have new information on the number and the content of the recordings seized by the FBI from the president's longtime fixer and lawyer.
And I will talk about that and more with Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti. You see him live. He's standing by.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now, including new confirmation from prosecutors that 12, 12 audio recordings were seized in the raid on Michael Cohen, this just days after we learned that the president's former lawyer and fixer secretly taped Mr. Trump talking about a payment to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Let's bring in CNN national political reporter M.J. Lee.
M.J., those 12 recordings were turned over to the government today. What are you learning about them?
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
We are just learning this afternoon that investigators now have their hands on 12 new audio recordings. These were recordings that were seized by the FBI as a part of its massive raid earlier this year.
Now, what's interesting is that these 12 audio recordings were previously marked as privileged. However, the parties involved in these recordings decided that they no longer needed to be marked as privileged, and that is why the government now has their hands on these recordings.
Now, the question of how many of them are actually involving President Trump, the answer is one. Only one of the 12 recordings are involving President Trump, and that is a recording that we reported on last week involving the Cohen conversation with Donald Trump about the potential payment to the former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Now, the 11 other recordings that the government now has, we are told, involve Cohen having conversations with some members of the media and perhaps other people. But, at this point in time, that is really all we know about the other 11 recordings.
Now, we also know that there are other recordings as well that were not previously marked privileged between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump that the FBI seized as a part of that raid.
But we are told that those recordings were actually less substantive and less sensitive, and that's why they were not originally marked as privileged.
[18:30:17] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: M.J., I understand you're getting some new reporting about Michael Avenatti and an interaction he had with Michael Cohen? What can you tell us?
LEE: That's right. This is an exchange that happened last week at a restaurant on the Upper East Side of New York City. Michael Cohen was dining with his son and one other person and what we're told is that Michael Avenatti walked into the restaurant, walked up to Michael Cohen and said something to the effect of, "Let's resolve our differences and work together."
Now, this source says their read on Avenatti saying this was that the implication was that he wanted to work with Cohen against Donald Trump. But, again, not something that was said explicitly by Avenatti.
Now, I'm told that Cohen's reaction was to be stunned and that he was taken aback and that he told Avenatti to reach out directly to his attorneys. Avenatti, when I reached out to him earlier, said that this was 100 percent fabrication and that this was 100 percent false, not true -- Wolf.
BLITZER: M.J. Lee reporting for us. Thanks very much.
So that sets the stage. We're joined now by Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti.
Michael, thanks so much for joining us.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORY DANIELS: Hi, Wolf. How are you?
I'm going get to that encounter you had with Michael Cohen. But first, do you think any of these tapes, the dozen tapes that now have been confirmed may relate to your client, Stormy Daniels?
AVENATTI: Well, they may, Wolf. But I want to be really clear about something. This is not all of the recordings. The number of recordings is not limited to this is 12 or dozen recordings. There are other recordings that have yet to be disclosed, and there are other recordings between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump. You know, I called for the release of these recordings, all the the recordings, back in late May of this year.
BLITZER: Does the FBI have those other recordings, and how do you know that's true?
AVENATTI: Well, I'm not going to tell you how I know it's true, but my record has been pretty good over the last six months. The FBI does have copies of all of the recordings, as does Michael Cohen and his attorneys. And there's nothing preventing Michael Cohen or his counsel from releasing that information or those recordings. There's no court order preventing them from doing so. Especially as it relates to those recordings that are not privileged.
BLITZER: Well, could they be privileged, attorney-client privileged; as a result, they're not releasing those, only releasing these dozen we now know about?
AVENATTI: Well, I think this whole idea of the attorney-client privilege as it relates to Michael Cohen and his activities is an interesting one, Wolf. Because as you know, Michael Cohen really wasn't practicing law for the better part of a decade or so. And I think you've already seen the special master overrule a number of privilege objections that had been lodged by various parties, finding that Michael Cohen was not engaged in the practice of law.
So I think the vast majority of these recordings, text messages, e- mails, documents and the like never had any assertion or correct assertion of privilege.
BLITZER: In one recording, as you well know, and our viewers know, the president and Michael Cohen discussed his alleged affair with a Playboy model, Karen McDougal. This is before he became president.
The president responded by tweeting this -- and I'll put it up on the screen. "Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer's office early in the morning, almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client, totally unheard of, and perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favorite president did nothing wrong."
Let me get your reaction to that tweet from the president.
AVENATTI: Well, I agree. My favorite president, George Washington, did nothing wrong, and the recording will prove that out.
You know, Wolf, this is just more of the same from this president. He fabricates things on a regular basis. He's a -- he's a pathetic liar when it comes to anything of any consequence, whether it's Vladimir Putin or this issue.
This is a complete fabrication. He knows that these warrants were validly issued and executed by the hard-working men and women of the FBI. He also knows for a fact that Michael Cohen had a history of recording people, many times at his request. That he had heard recordings that Michael Cohen had done of others to benefit Mr. Trump.
It's clear that Michael Cohen, like most Americans, did not trust Donald Trump in 2015 and '16, and that's why he recorded him. So I don't understand why the president is shocked by any of this.
BLITZER: Let's talk about your run-in you in New York City. His attorney, as you know, now says that Cohen doesn't, in his words have any interest whatsoever in cooperating with you. So why do you think Cohen is going to potentially switch gears, tell the truth? Is that wishful thinking on your part? What do you know?
AVENATTI: Well, here's what I know, Wolf. This is a very dynamic situation, and hour by hour, as it relates to Michael Cohen, I think -- he flips and changes his mind and can't decide what is going to happen to him.
[18:35:10] Frankly, I think that he's waiting for Donald Trump to appear in the middle of a dark forest and lead him out to salvation, and I don't think it's ever going to happen.
And I think the sooner that he comes to that conclusion, the better off he will be and the better off the American people will be.
But I want to be really clear about something. I didn't do anything wrong in this restaurant, Scalinatella, in New York last Monday night. Michael Cohen and I had a very fruitful, honest, frank, lengthy discussion. Michael Cohen at no point in time, did he say that I needed to speak with his counsel. That just did not happen. It simply did not happen.
There was subsequent communications with Michael Cohen and his counsel. At no point in time did anyone make any complaint to me or anyone else about my communications with Michael Cohen. I think he's in a tough spot. I think that he feels the noose is tightening and he can't decide what he wants to do.
BLITZER: So why do you think his lawyer, Brent Blakely, a Los Angeles-based lawyer, put out this statement: "Neither myself or Mr. Cohen have provided any information to Mr. Avenatti or are in any way cooperating with Mr. Avenatti or have any interest whatsoever in cooperating with Mr. Avenatti to the detriment of President Donald Trump. Mr. Cohen's legal matters will not be tried in the court of public opinion, but in a court of law."
Why do you think Brent Blakely released that statement?
AVENATTI: Well, maybe he took Honesty 101 at Trump University. I don't know. I can't tell you why he's issuing false statements.
BLITZER: What's false about that statement?
AVENATTI: Well, what's false about that statement and subsequent communications is that it suggests that we haven't had communications, I haven't had communications with Michael Cohen. And that there's been no exchange of thoughts or attempts to cooperate. I mean, and that's just not true, Wolf.
I mean, the meeting that took place -- and I'm not going to get into the details of specifically what was said. But it is not as Brent Blakely has made it out to be. And, in fact, I just sent out a tweet moments ago, showing some screen shots of a text exchange that I had with Brent Blakely in the days after the restaurant meeting, showing that we were trying to set up an in-person meeting between Brent Blakely, myself, Michael Cohen and others.
So you can't reconcile the receipts, if you will, with what Brent Blakely is trying to sell.
BLITZER: So where does it stand now as far as future meetings between you and Michael Cohen and Michael Cohen's attorneys? AVENATTI: Well, we have zero interest, Wolf, in cooperating with
Michael Cohen until and unless he comes to the conclusion that it is time for him to come 100 percent clean and do the right thing, disclose what he knows about the president and let the chips fall where they may.
If he does not do that, I'm tired of hearing about how he's a potential patriot. I'm tired of hearing about the love of country. And I think most Americans have heard enough at this point. He needs to do the right thing or move on. Period.
BLITZER: We know he's under criminal investigation. Do you think he'll be charged?
AVENATTI: Well, I do. I think he ultimately will be charged. But I think the best thing that Michael Cohen could do for himself and for the nation is to come clean right now, period.
BLITZER: Michael Avenatti, thanks so much for joining us.
AVENATTI: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll have more on the president's threat to revoke the security clearances of former intel officials. Is he the one who's politicizing national security?
[18:43:11] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight. An unprecedented threat from the White House, saying President Trump is looking at revoking the security clearances of a half dozen former national security officials.
Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and analysts. And Gloria Borger, I'll play the clip. This is Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, making the announcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not only is the president looking to take away Brennan's security clearance, he's also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice and McCabe. The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance, because they have politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, it's -- clearly the president has the authority; he can remove --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.
BLITZER: -- someone's security clearances if he wants. But why is this threat so troubling? BORGER: Well, look, these are people who are critics of the
president. They're also public servants who have been public servants for decades in many cases, who have served under Democrats and served under Republicans.
The president doesn't like them, because they have been critical. Some of them were -- served for Obama, so that's another -- that's another strike against them.
It also makes the president's case not only about the Obama administration being out to get him, but also about, you know, the deep state that exists -- that he believes exists in -- in government.
And so, you know, I think he throws this out there. It's a way to change the subject a little bit. I mean, this morning we were talking about are we going to war with Iran? We were talking about Putin and the Helsinki summit. And now suddenly, we're shifting to Brennan and Clapper.
So I think it's -- it's a way the president wants to stir the pot. And I think it's really troubling.
BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people agree with you. Anne Milgram, you're our legal analyst. Some of those mentioned by the White House today are potential witnesses in the overall Russia probe. What does that tell you about this?
ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I think that, to Gloria's point, I think, you know, it would almost be easy to dismiss this as a petty political sideshow, and, you know, in an effort to distract whether it's Iran or Helsinki or the Manafort trial that's coming up soon. But I actually -- I really think that this is more.
The idea of having a political litmus test for who gets a national security clearance and really using that to try to quash dissent is deeply troubling. It's a slippery slope. Do you evaluate people who currently have security clearances in the law enforcement agencies on their political beliefs, on their political party? Not to mention the countless number of private security individuals that the government has and continues to employ around the world who have private security clearance -- who have government security clearances, often based on years of government service.
Are we going to evaluate them on their politics? So, to me, this is just a really deeply troubling, deeply political, but also deeply troubling way to politicize national security.
BLITZER: You remember, David, earlier this year when there was an issue of security clearances for Jared Kushner, Rob Porter, others in the White House. The White House made a point of saying, we don't get involved in that. That's held in the intelligence community, the law enforcement community. They have other procedures with dealing with national security and security clearances.
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: That's right, Wolf. And on that scale, the White House is being completely inconsistent in terms of how they're addressing and looking at that. They want to have an arms' length distance when it comes to Jared Kushner and then they want to be directly involved or at least propose being directly involved here. I though that the bigger point is this idea, yes, they are -- you had the press secretary there in that clip you played saying that these individuals may have politicized the process.
Actually, this is politicizing the process. And I think that one thing that you really have to look at here is that not only were these people public servants, they're citizens. Remember that. They have the right to free speech, like everybody else.
BLITZER: You know, it's also interesting, you know, Jackie Kucinich, that a lot of times, a current director of national intelligence, a current CIA director, a current national security adviser, will want to bring in predecessors to get a sense of, for example, how a foreign intelligence operative was working in terms of some background information. If you remove security clearances from a James Clapper, for example, spent 32 years as an intelligence official, worked his way up to a four-star general in the military, you say, you know what, we're not going to bother talking to that person anymore. That's a potential national security threat.
JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, that's why this existed in the first place, right? To retain that sort of institutional knowledge and throughout administrations, but it's almost like the administration didn't do their homework before they announced this. Apparently, McCabe and James Comey don't have security clearances anymore. They were read out as soon as they left the bureau.
So, the fact that they would do this at the -- potentially to the detriment of what future officials might know, I don't think they care. I think this -- I think this is political in this case. And it doesn't sound like there's anything really standing in their way from doing it.
BLITZER: You know, what jumped out at me, Susan Rice, who was President Obama's national security adviser, she's on that list, as well. And I said to myself, why is she on that list? Well, she was on one of the Sunday talk shows yesterday, critical of the president. All of a sudden, she's on that list.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and you know, look, she's the previous national security adviser. You would assume that the current national security adviser and the previous national security adviser might want to consult with each other on issues of national security that both are informed on, because it makes sense. And this way, you cut off that kind of communication. So the current national security adviser couldn't call up Susan Rice and say, hey, what did you guys do when you were confronted with X, Y and Z? What was your feeling about this?
You know, everything that was so political that perhaps John Bolton wouldn't do that anyway --
KUCINICH: And she is a villain of the right. She is someone who they would like to vilify.
SWERDLICK: Yes, but you can't imagine a situation where there is a crisis in Yemen or Syria or Iraq and it takes time to read them back into the discussion.
BLITZER: I want to pick your brain, what exactly happened a few years ago?
BLITZER: Of course, we have to get -- that's not going to happen. Stick around, guys.
There's more news. More on the president's threat to revoke the security clearances of former intelligence chiefs.
And is North Korea really dismantling its nuclear program? Tonight, President Trump is speaking out.
[18:54:10] BLITZER: New tonight, President Trump is denying that he's frustrated at the slow pace of progress with efforts toward North Korean denuclearization.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who's working the story for us.
Barbara, what are you picking up over there?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as they always do tonight, the U.S. intelligence community looking very closely at North Korean weapon sites for any signs that Kim is beginning denuclearization.
STARR (voice-over): President Trump denying he is worried about the effort to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, tweeting: A rocket has not been launched by North Korea in nine months, likewise, no nuclear tests. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy, but the fake news is saying, without ever asking me, always anonymous sources, that I am angry because it is not going fast enough. Wrong, very happy.
[18:55:02] But a U.S. official tells CNN that President Trump has expressed frustration in private that North Korea is moving too slowly. North Korea is now demanding a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War and relief from sanctions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is making clear sanctions relief comes after denuclearization.
He was already stiffed by Kim, a no-show in the most recent Pyongyang meeting, and with his own reputation on the line, traveling to the U.N. to ramp up pressure on the Kim regime. MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We need to see Chairman Kim do what
he promised the world he would do. It's not very fancy but it's the truth.
STARR: The president now learning what his top commanders in the region already know.
GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES KOREA: Our expectations have to be tempered properly. Diplomacy is a process that takes time.
STARR: The commander of U.S. forces in Korea calling for both sides to find a way to trust each other. But warning there is a long way to go. Even after these alleged tunnel entrances were blown up at an underground test site.
BROOKS: Their production capability is still intact. These types of things tell us that there are still steps that must be taken on the road to denuclearization, which chairman Kim Jong-un has said he will do.
STARR: U.S. intelligence is watching several missile test sites. Satellite imagery has shown recent renovations and activity but intelligence agencies are not ready to say any of it is part of denuclearization.
New commercial satellite images also show dismantling activity at a North Korean satellite launching station, according to an analysis published by 38 North, a monitoring group that keeps watch on North Korea.
STARR: The next big test may come July 27th, that is the anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War. And the U.S. expects that on that day, North Korea will begin returning the remains of what it says are American troops who lost their life in the war -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on all the breaking news. President Trump now threatening to revoke the security clearances of some former Obama-era intelligence chiefs who have criticized him.
Chris Cuomo is joining us with a preview of "CUOMO PRIME TIME."
So, what are the risks, Chris, of this threat from the president?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": I was listening to the show, Wolf, and I do think that with the proviso that there might be a former administration to current administration communication link that is disrupted by this. I heard Gloria Borger's point on that and I'll take that point.
But I think largely this is just about politics. Does the president have the right to do this? Yes, he does. He almost has more authority in this area than in any other. Should he do it? Is it the right move? That's going to come down to
politics, Wolf. If you support the president, you're OK with it. You see these people as inimical. You would buy the argument that they are monetizing influence in some cases, politicizing in others.
Is there some hypocrisy in that? Yes. Why? Michael Flynn despite all of his problems kept security clearance along the way. What's the difference? The difference is that the president was OK with Michael Flynn and he's not OK with these people. So, I think it's largely about politics.
BLITZER: Some of these intelligence officials, as you know, they're potential witnesses in the overall Russia investigation, right?
CUOMO: Right. Yes. And I don't think this move would influence that in any way because it will be testimony based on what they knew at the time, not now, so having an ongoing clearance shouldn't be relevant. Might that generate animus? I'd like to believe that these men and women are better than that and that they put duty first, even when the politics of the situation makes it very muddy.
BLITZER: How much pressure, Chris, is President Trump facing right now with five witnesses being granted immunity from prosecution to testify against his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort? Also, a lot of pressure, more audio recordings from his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen in the hands of government prosecutors.
CUOMO: Well, it's all about what anyway they say, right? Whether it's about the tapes or the individuals who are given immunity. I mean, look, to this point, Wolf, we haven't seen exposure of Trump in what Manafort is dealing with.
There is a theory out there, not even a theory, there is a notion that maybe what is motivating Trump's suppleness when it comes to Russia is some type of financial obligation or pull or affinity but we don't know anything about that. And Manafort is used in that narrative, but, again, until you've got the facts, all you've got is feelings.
BLITZER: Chris Cuomo reporting for us, thank you.
And to our viewers, tune in later tonight, "CUOMO PRIME TIME," 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.
Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.