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White House Bans CNN Correspondent from President's Event.; What Does Trump-Cohen Tape Reveal?; Interview With Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey; Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 25, 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: Representing the five television networks. You asked a question. You asked a couple of questions. Others did as well. That's what happens at every photo opportunity. The White House knows this.
But then what is truly shocking, they reprimand you, they call you in for this meeting with Bill Shine, the deputy White House chief of staff, in charge of communications.
And then he does something I have never heard of. And I was a White House correspondent for seven years. He blocks you because of what you did, which was legitimate journalism. He blocks you from attending an open event in the Rose Garden simply because you asked questions they didn't like.
It's truly shocking to hear that. And I think all of our colleagues, anyone who has ever served as a White House correspondent, I don't think anyone's going to remember a time where they blocked an accredited White House correspondent from a major news organization in the United States from attending an open event in the Rose Garden.
So, what's been the reaction since then, Kaitlan?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we haven't heard anything else from the White House.
We did send some CNN photographers and other reporters to that briefing. But they said I specifically -- or to that press conference, that open press availability with the president, but they said I specifically could not go into that press conference.
We have not had any other press availabilities here at the White House today. There was no White House press briefing with any of the press secretaries to take our questions in a public setting here in the Briefing Room, where I'm standing now, Wolf.
And I was simply just doing my job, asking questions of the president about the news of the day, some of the things the president had already remarked on and then would make news on later when he did issue that statement through the national security adviser, John Bolton.
But, clearly, the White House was not pleased with those questions we had for the president today.
BLITZER: And at that open event in the White House, which we had -- of course, had coverage of that, the president didn't take any questions either.
When he was done with his statement, the president of the European Commission was done with his statement, they simply walked back up the stairs towards the Oval Office. That's the president's right. He doesn't have to answer questions.
But journalists are there to ask questions. That's what's happened for years and years at the White House. And this is truly pretty shocking that the White House would bar an accredited White House correspondent from an open event, as they did for you.
And I assume the White House Correspondents Association and the network bureau chiefs here in Washington are filing formal complaints with Bill Shine and others at the White House. This is not supposed to happen this way. It's truly outrageous.
Kaitlan, thank you very much for your excellent, excellent work over at the White House.
I want to get some more on all of this.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut's joining us. He's a member of the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees.
Let me get your quick reaction to what Kaitlan just told us. I'm obviously pretty angry about it. But you're a member of the United States Senate.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Wolf, I am shocked and angry, deeply offended, not only as a United States senator, but as a citizen of the United States, by this kind of very -- showing intimidation and punishment of a reporter simply for asking a legitimate question.
This kind of really violation of a reporter's rights is an offense against the First Amendment interests of all of us. And it is public property. It's not Donald Trump's personal home or place of business.
It really is a source of information that all of us need and deserve. And these questions are legitimate. I am really very deeply offended.
BLITZER: Yes. I mean, it's something you would expect to see in some totalitarian regime. And I have traveled with presidents around the world at photo opportunities that the host government was unhappy that White House correspondents were shouting questions. They weren't happy about that.
They would come to us before a briefing, before a photo opportunity, say no questions allowed. And we would always say the same thing. They don't have to answer the questions, but our job is to represent the American news media and ask those questions. You don't like it, you don't have to answer the questions.
But this is something that is not supposed to take place here, especially at the White House.
BLUMENTHAL: We are the greatest nation in history world because we have the Bill of Rights.
And one of those rights is the First Amendment. This kind of misconduct raises very severe First Amendment issues. And I intend to pursue them.
BLITZER: Yes, I would like to see Bill Shine, the deputy White House chief of staff in charge of communications, who reprimanded Kaitlan Collins, I would like to see him formally publicly apologize to her for what he has done.
I don't know if he was ordered to do so by the president or if he just did it on his own, but that is simply unacceptable. And there has to be an apology to Kaitlan.
BLITZER: And not only -- remember, Kaitlan wasn't just representing CNN. She was representing ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, all of the television networks.
She was the pool reporter on this day. She was doing her job. They should know better.
BLUMENTHAL: And that's why I'm saying it's more than about her personally, even if she may have been personally offended.
And it's more than about those networks that were represented by her in the pool. It's about the American people's rights to see and hear and ask questions through her of the president of the United States.
BLITZER: This is an attack on the free press. And it's a very serious issue that they have to fix quickly.
Let's talk about will be heard from the secretary of state. What's your bottom line? Because he came. There were announcements made earlier. The president was no longer going to be meeting with Putin at the White House in the fall. They have now delayed it.
The National Security Council -- National Security Adviser John Bolton said it would be next year, after what he called witch-hunt, the Mueller witch-hunt, was over.
BLUMENTHAL: A couple points, Wolf.
First of all, the secretary of state was invited to this hearing so he could tell us, the United States Senate, and the American people what happened in that private meeting, what agreements were reached, what understandings for concluded.
He failed to answer those questions. The audacity of his evasiveness on those points is striking. Second, the delay of this meeting, supposedly a postponement, it ought to be a complete cancellation. It was a bad idea from the outset, because they should have finished the damage control from the first meeting before they planned a second.
But to blame it on this special counsel investigation as witch-hunt is absolutely reprehensible, because it is a further attempt to intimidate and threaten the special counsel's investigation using the visit and foreign relations as a ploy.
BLITZER: You heard the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, say the president, in his words -- and I'm quoting him -- "is entitled to have private meetings with other world leaders."
BLUMENTHAL: He had a private meeting without anyone present to record by notes or any other means what was said, extraordinarily dangerous, especially with a trained intelligence operative like Vladimir Putin, a KGB thug.
But, also, even if he has private meetings, we need to know what agreements and understandings were reached. Our primary source for understanding those agreements right now is TASS, the Russian news agency, and the Russian Defense Ministry, that have said there were agreements on the New START treaty, on Syrian cooperation in the Middle East, on other areas of the world.
What are those agreements? The whole purpose of his coming to the Senate was to explain it. And that was a failure.
BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction to the release of the Michael Cohen audiotape with the then candidate involving Karen McDougal, the former Playboy playmate.
BLUMENTHAL: This tape is evidence of a criminal conspiracy to violate campaign finance law.
What we have on this tape is the president's own voice with Michael Cohen planning to conceal an illegal payment to AMI to keep secret McDougal's version of the truth, and use a shell company to hide and conceal it.
So, it is a criminal conspiracy, whether or not a payment was ever made. It is very telling and compelling evidence. And I think it will be followed by more evidence on other tapes.
BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, I know you got to go back to the Hill and vote. Thanks so much for being patient. Thanks so much for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Richard Blumenthal is -- was just joining us.
We're following breaking news right now, the breaking news on the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, refusing to give senators details about the president's private meeting with Vladimir Putin, this as the president is going to new lengths right now to avoid questions about the secret recording of Mr. Trump that Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, released to CNN through his lawyer.
Let's go quickly to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, after venting about the Cohen tape on Twitter, the president, he clammed up on camera when he had an opportunity to speak out publicly and answer reporters' questions.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he did.
He was not answering any questions, as you heard earlier there in the Oval Office. And we put the same questions to the president in the Rose Garden just a short time after that. The president not addressing those questions at all.
But, privately, we're told he is seething.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump ignoring question after question after question.
QUESTION: Did you mislead the American people, sir, when you said you did not know about the payment?
ZELENY: Biting his tongue in public today, but aides say privately seething over longtime confidant Michael Cohen's release of a secret recording about paying hush money to a Playboy model who says she had an affair with Trump.
The president's only reaction came on Twitter. "What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad. Is this a first? Never heard of it before. Why was the tape so abruptly terminated, while I was presumably saying positive things?"
The tone far more measured than the president often takes, particularly on investigations he's railing against and involving someone from his inner circle outside of family.
Outside of family, no one in Trump's orbit has been closer to him over the years than Cohen, who has explained his relationship with the president like this:
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: I protect Mr. Trump. That's what it is. If there's an issue that relates to Mr. Trump that is of concern to him, it's of, of course, concern to me. And I will use my legal skills within which to protect me Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.
ZELENY: The president reacted with anger back in April when Cohen's office and hotel room were raided. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, I just heard that
they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, good man, and it's a disgraceful situation. It's a total witch-hunt.
ZELENY: Since then, Trump has distanced himself, but never denounced Cohen.
TRUMP: He's not my lawyer, but -- anymore. But I always liked Michael. And he's a good person. And I think he's...
TRUMP: Excuse me. Do you mind if I talk? You're asking me a question. I'm trying to -- ask it.
QUESTION: Just want to know if you're worried if he's going to cooperate with federal...
TRUMP: No, I'm not worried because I did nothing wrong.
ZELENY: All this as the White House backtracked today on its invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Washington this fall.
QUESTION: Why has Vladimir Putin not accepted your invitation?
ZELENY: The president not answering, but National Security Adviser John Bolton issuing a statement, saying: "The president believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch-hunt is over. So we have agreed that it will be after the 1st of the year."
The invitation, made abruptly last week after Trump's heavily criticized performance at the Helsinki summit, was never accepted by the Kremlin, but blasted by Republicans and Democrats alike in Washington.
ZELENY: So, certainly interested that the White House delaying or rescinding that invitation, which, of course, has been widely criticized for giving it in the first place.
Leaders on Capitol Hill said they do not want Vladimir Putin to come to Washington this year. They believe it would send the wrong message. But, Wolf, one thing is clear, the White House staying in that statement they want to wait until next year, after the Russia investigation is over.
That is something, of course, this White House does not have any control over, when the Russia investigation will be over. But, of course, that all was the subject of much discussion today on Capitol Hill with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny at the White House.
Also breaking, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, refusing to share details of the president's private talks with Vladimir Put in Helsinki, as he defended the controversial summit in a Senate hearing that went out for three hours.
Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is joining us right now.
Elise, Democrats, some Republicans, they had some very tough questions for Secretary Pompeo.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Very tough, both sides of the aisle, Wolf, including the chairman of the committee, Senator Bob Corker, on talking about how, while Secretary Pompeo was trying to do cleanup about the summit, it's really the president's statements and the distrust that he's creating with allies is really the cause for concern among senators.
Take a listen to Senator Bob Corker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Is there some strategy behind creating doubt in U.S. senators' minds on both sides of the aisle, doubt in the American people as to what his motivations are, when we, in fact, have tremendous faith in you?
I think you're a patriot. Tremendous faith in Mattis. But it's the president's actions that create tremendous distrust in our nation, among our allies. It's palpable. We meet and talk with them.
Is there a strategy to this? Or is it -- what is it that causes the president to purposely, purposely create distrust in these institutions and what we're doing?
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Senator, I just disagree with most of what you just said there.
You somehow disconnect the administration's activities from the presidents actions. They're -- they're -- they're one and the same. The -- every sanction that was put in place was signed off by the president of the United States. Every spy that was removed was...
CORKER: Well, go to the points I just...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LABOTT: Really incredible, Wolf, that his own party really talking about the distrust of the president.
Now listen to a very, very fiery exchange between Senator Bob Menendez and Secretary Pompeo just moments ago. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: I really don't know much more about the summit after sitting here for three hours than I did before.
I wanted to say to you, I want you to think about the suggestion that what the president says is not the policy of the United States. When the president speaks...
POMPEO: Can I clean that up, Senator? You're right. I misspoke there.
MENENDEZ: If you want to clean it up, because...
POMPEO: I would love to. Thank you. I would love to.
MENENDEZ: .... when he speaks, that is the policy of the United States.
POMPEO: I would love to, Senator. I would love the chance to do that.
MENENDEZ: Yes, go ahead.
MENENDEZ: OK. All right.
POMPEO: I misspoke. It is the case that the president calls the ball. His statements are in fact policy. But it's the case that when all of us speak in informal settings in response to questions, we're not being -- we're not covering the full gamut of things that impact the world.
That's -- that's what I intended to say. I saw the glee on your side walking away trying to make a political point from that. That's silliness. This president runs this government. His statements are, in fact, U.S. policy.
MENENDEZ: All right, fine, good.
So, now we understand that, when the president speaks, it is the policy...
POMPEO: Two-hundred-plus sanctions, you have seen them, Senator.
(CROSSTALK) POMPEO: Senator, I understand.
I have now been here three hours. And you're making a -- you have got a political soliloquy.
MENENDEZ: No. You know what? I have listened to your political soliloquy as a secretary of state sitting at that table demeaning some members here, because you have said that Senator Shaheen believes more in the Russian Defense Ministry.
She was quoting them only because we don't know what our own government is saying. So, please, don't talk to me about politics. You want to talk about politics.
If President Obama did what President Trump did in Helsinki, I would be peeling you off the Capitol ceiling. Please.
So, here's the point. When the president speaks, it is the policy of the United States. And so when he says, in one respect, I applaud this declaration about Crimea, but then he goes and says that Russia should join the G7, well, the reason Russia is not in the G7 is because they invaded Ukraine.
So, which is the policy? Because, when the president speaks, it is the policy. And I must say, sir, when you speak around the world, people believe that what you say is a reflection of the policy of the United States.
So, I want to close by saying, I -- one thing I heard here today that I can agree with you is that we need more sanctions. And I look forward to working with the chairman, Senator Graham and others who are interested in this regard. Hopefully, we can come together in common cause to push back on Russia on sanctions that we can pursue.
And, secondly, I want to reiterate I believe that it is rightful for the members of this committee, even if it's in a classified setting, to speak to the translator and -- and/or to see her notes, because that's the only way we will know what truly transpired.
CORKER: Would you like to give any response?
POMPEO: Not a word.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LABOTT: Really incredible, Wolf.
And I think this is the real dilemma for Secretary Pompeo, on one hand trying to defend the administration's policy, but, on the other hand, trying to defend what the president says.
Today, Secretary Pompeo laid out a very strong statement, which he reiterated in the hearing, about how the U.S. would never recognize Crimea, the Russian annexation as a Russian territory, saying it belongs in Ukraine.
Then you have comments by the president saying, well, everybody that lives there speaks Russian, it must be a Russian territory. So this is really the dilemma that he faces and he faced in this meeting today.
BLITZER: You could see that during the course of those three hours.
Thank you very, very much, Elise Labott, reporting.
Joining us now, Senator Ed Markey. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. He joined in the questioning of Secretary Pompeo.
You were there, Senator. Thanks so much for joining us.
And let me get your quick reaction. You heard Secretary Pompeo. He was very adamant that he wouldn't reveal what the president said to Putin during that private one-on-one meeting with only translators present.
Why should that be a secret, if the president was only expressing U.S. policy?
SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, sadly, Wolf, at the end of the day, we now know more about the substance of the conversations between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen than we know about the substance of the conversation between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
That's the dilemma that the American people have a right to know what the president is doing in their name in the national -- in protecting the national security of our country.
And it's very clear, after the testimony of Secretary Pompeo today, that he's not in a position to give us absolute assurances about what did transpire in that conversation, that extensive, more-than-two-hour conversation that took place between Putin and Trump, and that, at the end of the day, that's at the heart of this question, because the same thing happened with President Kim in North Korea and Trump.
They too had private conversations that we still don't know the full substance of. And the American people are entitled to know what the leader of the free world is doing, is saying, is committing to other nations in the name of the American people.
BLITZER: Secretary Pompeo also assured your committee just a little while ago that the U.S. won't recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea. He says he personally told the Russians they will face what he described as severe consequences if they interfere in Ukraine or Crimea.
Again, the president has not specifically said that. We haven't heard a bold statement like that from the president. So, whose word do you believe here?
[18:20:07] MARKEY: I actually don't think we know what President Trump believes. I don't think that Secretary Pompeo knows what President Trump believes.
The president is basically in a position where, in many of these foreign policy issues, he's just making it up as he's going along, and then leaving it to people like Secretary Pompeo to come and to try to explain situations that are inherently unknowable on his part, ambiguous at best, but dangerous in terms of the creation of foreign policy and the message that we're sending to our friends and our enemies around the world.
So I don't think any of us are in a position to know who knows anything. But if I had to choose one, I would choose Secretary Pompeo.
BLITZER: The White House, we have learned, our Kaitlan Collins, who broke the story, our White House correspondent, that the White House will no longer be providing summaries of the president's phone calls with foreign leaders.
Secretary Pompeo seemed to be arguing that readouts of top-level meetings would actually make it harder to achieve progress in serious negotiations. What do you make of that?
MARKEY: Obviously, the president is moving to a bunker mentality. We saw this during the Nixon years. It's somebody who doesn't trust the press, but he also doesn't trust the American people.
And, increasingly, he doesn't trust his own staff. He doesn't trust the people who he has hired to do these jobs. So I think that there's a lot of pressure on the president. We understand that. Michael Cohen had four million files that were taken by federal prosecutors. He holds the Keys to the kingdom.
And I think that, ultimately, in this situation, we're seeing a deep paranoia that is being manifested by the president. Unfortunately, it's showing up in national security areas that go to the heart of the protection of the American people. And he's more concerned with the protection of Donald Trump.
BLITZER: As you know, the White House announced today that the president is postponing his second meeting with Vladimir Putin until after the Mueller investigation wraps up.
The national security adviser, John Bolton, said the meeting would take place next year after what he described as the witch-hunt that Mueller is engaged in will wrap up.
But what do you -- what do you make of that decision? What do you think went into that decision?
MARKEY: I think he realized that he's created a mess from his first summit with Putin.
It's very clear that the American people wanted a confrontation, and not a conversation with Putin. The American people wanted him to draw the line on many important national security issues. He did not do that.
And I think that he now realizes that, if he once again had a meeting where it was obvious that Putin was the winner in that conversation, that it would seriously hurt him and hurt the Republican chances this fall, and that he was advised politically that it was a huge disaster for him, for the Republican Party, and to just push off the next summit into the next year.
BLITZER: Senator Markey, thanks so much for joining us.
MARKEY: No, glad to do so.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on Michael Cohen's recording of the president, what it reveals, why it matters.
And why does the secretary of state need to be so secretive about the president's private meeting with Vladimir Putin? I will get Republican reaction.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now,, including the president's refusal to answer questions about Michael Cohen going public with one of his secret recordings and Mr. Trump, releasing it to CNN.
Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, we have been going over every word of the recording. What more can you tell us?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, speaking to former prosecutors today, one of things that is clear is that one of the defenses coming from, for instance, Rudy Giuliani, that the president, was he talking about paying by check or by cash, is largely irrelevant.
Legally, both would constitute a payment and a payment to cover up the story of an affair that President Trump had long denied.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): President Trump has repeatedly denied any affair with the former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal and any knowledge of payments to conceal an affair.
But on an audiotape obtained exclusively by CNN, then candidate Trump can be heard discussing with his attorney, Michael Cohen, payment for McDougal story.
COHEN: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up and I've spoken...
TRUMP: Give it to me and (INAUDIBLE)
COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with...
TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?
COHEN: ... funding. Yes. And it's all the stuff.
TRUMP: Yes, I was thinking about that.
COHEN: All the stuff. Because, here, you never know where that company -- you never know what he's...
TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.
COHEN: Correct. So, I'm all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for the financing, which will be...
TRUMP: Wait a sec. What financing?
COHEN: Well, I will have to pay him something.
TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE) pay with cash.
COHEN: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I got it.
SCIUTTO: When asked today by CNN's Kaitlan Collins about the tape...
COLLINS: Did Michael Cohen betray you, Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: ... President Trump did not answer. His current attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has said the tape proves that Trump did not know about the payment in advance. Giuliani telling "The New York Times" Friday, quote, "In the big scheme of things, it's powerful exculpatory evidence." But the audio appears to belie that claim.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There's nothing illegal on its face on the tape. However, it does seem to indicate that President Trump had prior knowledge of the payment to Karen McDougal to buy and kill her story.
SCIUTTO: Just one week before the 2016 election, "The Wall Street Journal" broke the news that the "National Enquirer's" parent company, AMI, had brought McDougal's story of an alleged affair with Trump. At the time Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied the campaign knew anything about it, saying, quote, "We have no knowledge of any of this."
This March, McDougal told CNN's Anderson Cooper the campaign was lying.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hope Hicks has said categorically you did not have a relationship. There's no truth to this.
KAREN MCDOUGAL, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH TRUMP: Uh-huh.
COOPER: When you heard that denial, what did you think?
MCDOUGAL: Well, I think somebody is lying, and I can tell you it's not me. It's a little hurtful. But at the same time, I have to understand, like if he were to have told Hicks -- Hope that he didn't do it, I guess I understand, because he's trying to protect his family, his image, things like that. But it was definitely a little, like, "Wow. You're going to lie about that? OK."
SCIUTTO: When "The New Yorker" detailed more of the alleged McDougal affair in February, the White House denied it outright, saying in a statement, "This is an old story that is just more fake news. The president says he never had a relationship with McDougal."
Cohen talks about setting up a corporation to make the payment. "The Wall Street Journal" today reported that just weeks later, he set up a shell company, Resolution Consultants, which further distanced Trump from the payment, offering Trump the ability to remain unidentified. There is no indication that Trump or Cohen, for that matter, ever actually made the payment to AMI, but such a payment could violate campaign finance laws, though it would be up to the Federal Election Commission to investigate.
ZELDIN: The payment to Karen McDougal, if it's deemed to be a payment to impact the outcome of the election, could be deemed to be a reportable transaction, which if not reported, could be a violation of the federal election laws.
TRUMP: We're making tremendous strides.
SCIUTTO: Now, while Michael Cohen's lawyers say that there are other taped conversations including the president, the reason that this tape was released was to contradict what they say was a false claim made by Giuliani about the content of the conversation. They say, Wolf, that they wanted to get the facts right here and that this audio tape, in their view, shows the facts.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Sciutto reporting for us, thank you very much.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Chris Stewart. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. He's from Utah.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: So do you believe the president was lying about not knowing about that payment to Karen McDougal?
STEWART: I've got to tell you, I have no idea in the world. This is one of the last things that I'm interested in, the last things I'm following. I know it's -- I know it's interesting to some people. I know, you know, tabloids, a little bit sexy, but as far as I know, there's no accusations of actual illegal conduct because of this. And it just isn't something that I think is that important, and probably we're not going to be talking about it a week or two weeks from now.
BLITZER: Well, there is some suspicion, as you know, that there could be some criminal conduct. The president and Cohen were trying to suppress Karen McDougal's story only days before the presidential election. Some legal experts suggest that potentially could be conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws.
STEWART: Yes. Maybe. And if that suspicion ever moves into actual accusations and evidence, then I would have to pay attention to it then.
But I just think we're a ways away from that. And I think it's -- look, I'm not criticizing you for covering the story. I understand that there's some people that are interested. I just think it's one of the -- another example of things that kind of burst up. We talk about it for a while and then it doesn't pan out to be very much, and we move on. And I -- I really think that's more likely with this than the FEC gets involved and there's actual criminal conduct established. I think that's quite unlikely.
BLITZER: I want to move onto some other important issues. But I know you, Congressman. Don't you think paying money to someone to protect a politician only days before an election, an alleged sexual relationship, don't you think there's something wrong with that?
STEWART: Well, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I understand that. And me included. But I don't think it's particularly new. And again, I don't think it's illegal. And those two things being true, I'm just not sure it amounts to much.
[18:35:04] BLITZER: All right. Let's move on and talk about the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. As you know, he was grilled up on Capitol Hill before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for about three hours. He argued that he can't really divulge what President Trump said privately to Vladimir Putin during that one-on-one meeting in Helsinki. If the president was affirming of the U.S. policies that Pompeo outlined, why does it need to be that secretive?
STEWART: Yes, you know, I know Mike very well. He's a close friend, someone that I have tremendous respect for. And I think he's doing a terrific job of secretary of state, by the way. And I think he will continue.
And I think the basis of your question is, is it appropriate for a head of state, for President Trump, to meet privately with another head of state? And I've got to tell you, Wolf, I said this before the meeting, that doesn't bother me. I think, you know, we're going to establish policies. I think eventually we're going to know what their conversations were. Because unless it is just "Hey, tell me about your family," if it was anything more than that, it's going to have to eventually come out and be discussed as policy. And when it is, then I think we'll have a chance to evaluate that.
BLITZER: Don't you think the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo -- you -- a man you admire -- should have been in that meeting, listening in, taking notes, making sure that other national security officials, foreign policy advisors to the president, would have an accurate reading on what actually occurred?
STEWART: I think there are some advantages to doing that, and you've described some of them there. I just don't think we can say in a blanket way it is inappropriate and wrong and should never happen that the president meet privately with other world leaders. The reality -- the reality, Wolf, is that he does.
BLITZER: Yes, but I would say the difference -- the difference -- meeting with world leaders is one thing. If the president wants to have a private one-on-one chat with the leader of Canada or France of Britain or a friendly country, that's one thing. But you're meeting with an adversary like Putin. I don't remember a time when a president of the United States would meet with an adversary without at least a note taker or diplomat, an ambassador, someone there who could have a good account of what happened.
STEWART: Yes. Well, I can tell you that privately, I agree with that. Because I always have someone with me when I meet with someone officially and especially someone of such importance. I think there's an advantage of that. One of them is we avoid this conversation.
STEWART: Right? We wouldn't be talking about this.
But I'm not willing to say -- two things. No. 1 is that anything nefarious took place in this private conversation. Once again, if there was any change in policy, that eventually is going to have to be known. You can't change policy without telling people.
And the second thing I'm a little bit uncomfortable with, although you know, I've wondered, and that is this idea, once again, you can't say or should you say the president can't meet with Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un or anyone else in a private setting. I think -- I think there may be circumstances where the president determines that's what he wants to do. And I think that might be OK.
BLITZER: But how can you say, Congressman, that you know that nothing nefarious happened during that two-hour-and-ten-minute meeting?
STEWART: Well, I think that's my strong belief. I just think that, lacking any evidence contrary, we have to give the president the benefit of the doubt. He was there representing U.S. interests. He was there representing interests that you and I recognize would be important. And it is being true to U.S. interests. And short of evidence that contradicts that, I don't know how we can comfortably say anything else. BLITZER: But don't you think that what he said publicly at that joint
news conference with Putin after the meeting, so much of it was deeply, deeply concerning?
STEWART: Yes. No doubt about it. And by the way, I was on an airplane during the time of that news conference, but by the time I landed and heard about it, we immediately put out a statement expressing our concerns and deep reservations about that.
Putin is not our ally. You're right, Wolf. We have to treat him differently. He is not someone who wants to help the U.S. He is an adversary and would seek -- seeks to, you know, take away democracy and freedom all around the world, not just here in the United States. And some of the things that the president said made me very uncomfortable, made a bunch of people really uncomfortable. And I expressed that almost immediately.
BLITZER: Are you pleased the president has now decided to put off a second meeting with Putin at least until next year?
STEWART: Yes, I think that's probably appropriate. You know, let's let the special counsel finish his work. It's good not to have that cloud hanging over another meeting.
And the other thing is that it's one thing to have a sit-down, let's get to know each other but now the next meeting has to be substantive. It's got to have goals, and it's got to have, you know, more public policy attached to it. And that's going to take a little time to put that together.
BLITZER: Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, thanks so much for joining us.
STEWART: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, what is Michael Cohen's next move after going to war with the president by going public with their secret audio conversation?
And the secretary of state fails to answer several crucial questions about what agreements might have been struck between President Trump and Vladimir Putin behind closed doors. Is the administration hiding something?
[18:44:28] BLITZER: Tonight, a CNN White House correspondent banned from a presidential event as the White House seethes over attempts to question Mr. Trump about the release of the Michael Cohen secret recording of their conversation.
Let's bring in our analysts to assess. Kaitlan Collins, our White House correspondent, Gloria, she was doing her job as the network pool reporter, representing not just CNN, but ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, at an event -- after the event in the Oval Office. She shouted a question or two to the president. He didn't answer. That's his right. He doesn't want to answer, he doesn't have to answer, but it's her job to ask a question. It's an opportunity.
Later, she is called in with a formal reprimand. But let me play the clip of what she tried to do in the Oval Office.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Did Michael Cohen betray you, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody.
COLLINS: Mr. President, did Michael Cohen betray you?
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everybody.
COLLINS: Mr. President, are you worried what Michael Cohen is going to say to prosecutors? Are you worried what is on the other tapes, Mr. President?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep going. Thank you, everybody.
TRUMP: Thank you very much. .
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. Come on, guys. Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are done.
COLLINS: Why is Vladimir Putin not accepting your invitation, Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Right after that she was just simply try to go ask a question or two. She was called into Bill Shine's office.
He's the new deputy White House chief of staff, in charge of communications. He reprimanded her. He told her she would be forbidden from going to a second event, an open event in the White House Rose Garden, where the president was meeting with the European Commission president, even though she is an accredited White House correspondent.
This is outrageous. It doesn't happen, shouldn't happen in the United States.
The White House Correspondent Association Olivier Knox just posted this statement: We strongly condemn the White House's misguided and inappropriate decision today to bar one of our members from an open press event after she asked questions they did not like. This type of retaliation is wholly inappropriate, wrong-headed and weak. It cannot stand.
Reporters asking questions of powerful government officials up to and including the president helps hold those people accountable. In our republic, the White House Correspondent Association supports the prerogative of all reporters to do their jobs without fear of reprisal from the government.
So, clearly, it is something that shouldn't happen.
BORGER: Of course, and I don't think I could say it any better than Olivier did. I mean, I think he is 100 percent right. That's our job. Are we only supposed to go to the White House and ask nice questions that perhaps the president would like to answer? I don't think that's the case.
And when you limited contact with someone like the president of the United States, these things are going to turn into scrums where people shout questions because they are going to try to get an answer because it's the only availability they might have to ask those questions of the news of the day with the president.
And, by the way, I might add that the president himself tweeted about Michael Cohen this morning. So, he raised the issue himself and when a reporter raises it, suddenly, that reporter is going to be reprimanded.
BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, you know, let me just point out that during the campaign, the Trump campaign on a regular basis would ban certain reporters from attending campaign events. But that was -- they were -- he was not the president of the United States. He was a presidential candidate at the time.
This is very different. He is the president of the United States and there's a free press in this country. You should not treat the free press like that.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But let's remember how the president talks about the press. He calls us repeatedly the enemies of the American people. You know, he gave a speech yesterday or the day before yesterday where he said, you know, don't believe what you see. You know, it's all fake news.
So, Bill Shine's -- you know, what he did to Kaitlan didn't come out of nowhere. I mean, it is part of a consistent authoritarian approach to the press that the president, the tone, the substance he has set and we are starting to see the practical implications of it. Every network except Fox where Bill Shine used to work is going to feel it sooner or later.
And the question is, will the White House Press Corp stand up in a way that forces the White House to back down in some way? And I don't know the answer to that.
BLITZER: Well, there is a strong statement from the White House Correspondents Association president that I just read.
Sabrina Siddiqui, this is -- you know, you could see the president were seething when he heard the question from Kaitlan Collins, our White House correspondent. I could only imagine -- I don't know this to be for sure, but he basically told Bill Shine, his new deputy White House chief of staff, I don't want her at anymore events.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: We have seen how the president reacts to any coverage that he deems to be critical and I think we do have a president who has showed continued hostility towards the freedom of the press. As you pointed out, it is a practice on the engagement on the campaign trail as well, where he would frequently bar reporters from media outlets when they didn't like their coverage. The last year, there was also another infamous moment when Sean Spicer barred several reporters from attending what was more of a closed door White House briefing.
In addition to calling the press, as Jeffrey noted, the enemy of the American people, he's also called the media the opposition party. At rallies, he has sometimes incited violence against journalists.
[18:50:03] So, this is part of a practice and the tone is ultimately set from the top. And it does enable a climate where reporters are increasingly not being able to do their jobs, even though they are very much entitled to, as Kaitlan did today, ask questions on behalf of the American people and try to inform the public.
BLITZER: It's having an impact. Abby, you cover the White House for us, as well, because increasingly, the president's supporters are really going after criticizing the news media.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. As recently as yesterday, the president was in actually a fairly nonpartisan environment, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and he attacked the media, prompting the crowd to turn around and boo and jeer at the press, and prompting the VFW to issue an apology on behalf of their organization.
It starts at the top. But it also -- here's the big picture. The White House nowadays, they are doing fewer than one White House press briefing a week. They are talking to the press in a critical environment, where there's an opportunity to ask questions fewer and fewer times.
A week and a half ago, when the president was overseas and Jim Acosta at CNN tried to ask him a question, the White House called that disrespectful, pulled a guest -- another guest from CNN's programming. This is a pattern of the White House always trying to restrict things.
Just yesterday, Kaitlan Collins reported that the White House is stopping the long-standing bipartisan practice of releasing public statements, telling the world when a president speaks with a foreign leader. This White House is pulling back access. They don't like critical coverage, they don't like critical questions, and this is just yet another example of that.
BLITZER: And as I said earlier, Bill Shine, the White House, they need to apologize to Kaitlan and the White House Correspondents Association for treating her the way they did. Somebody spent seven years as a White House correspondent, fully appreciate --
BORGER: And asked a lot of tough questions.
BLITZER: They didn't like the questions we were asking.
BLITZER: They don't have to ask them, but it's our job to ask the questions.
Everybody, stick around. We're going to have much more on the outrage after the White House bans a CNN White House correspondent from a presidential event because he simply didn't like the questions she asked the president earlier.
[18:56:50] BLITZER: In an unprecedented move, CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins was banned from a late-afternoon press event, because the White House simply didn't like the questions she had asked the president earlier in the day.
I want to bring in our senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter.
You know, Brian, it's outrageous what the White House did. Bill Shine, the deputy White House chief of staff, happy to report that Bret Baier, a Fox News anchor just tweeted: As a member of the White House press pool, Fox News stands firmly with CNN on this issue and the issue of access.
It is outrageous what they did to Kaitlan.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: And this is a rare day, because of the solidarity we're seeing from other networks, Wolf. You're absolutely right about that point about Fox. The network has also just issued a statement that's been sent to me, very similar to Baer's comment. Fox is saying, we stand in strong solidarity with CNN for the right to full access for our journalists.
Now, the reason why Fox is saying is because they're a part of the press pool just like CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, all the networks take turns as the one reporter who's going to be in the room when the president has meetings. It just happened to be Kaitlan's day today. It could have been any reporter. And I think that's why we're seeing solidarity across the press corps.
This is another escalation by a White House that looks really weak. This is not a behavior of a confident White House. This is the behavior of a White House on defense.
And I think it's worth noting, this is Bill Shine, who used to be the co-president over at Fox News. He was a journalist for many years as well as an acclaimed television producer. He knows better than this, Wolf. BLITZER: I can only assume the president ordered him to do it. I
don't know that, but that's what I could only --
STELTER: That's my expectation, as well.
BLITZER: That's only what I can assume.
STELTER: And, by the way, and I've been asking Sarah Sanders for the past couple of hours, e-mailing her, asking for comments, no response at all.
What do you think, Gloria, will Bill Shine, speaking for the White House, apologize?
BORGER: It's hard to know. This White House doesn't apologize very much. Donald Trump doesn't apologize.
This is a rough start for Bill Shine, I'd have to say. And I agree with both of you, I think that this order has to come from the top because he's a producer. He comes from the news environment.
SIDDIQUI: There's also, by the way, a trickle-down effect. I think about last year when my "Guardian" colleague Ben Jacobs was body slammed by Greg Gianforte who was running for a House seat in Montana, he lied about it, he was elected anyway. By the way, Donald Trump Jr. has been campaigning with Gianforte.
So, it's a climate where attacks on journalists are fair game.
PHILLIP: But the idea that the White House doesn't want this to be told the way it is I think probably not true. The president likes this fight with the media. He likes about making it about us versus them, which is not. It's about us being able to cover the president on behalf of the American people, but they like this fight, they want this fight.
That's why we're not hearing anything from them, because they're just going to let it play out.
BLITZER: Well, let me show you some numbers, and I'll put it up on the screen. The president likes it, because, look at this, in this recent Quinnipiac University poll, among Republicans, who do you trust to tell the truth? Trump gets 75 percent. The news media, 16 percent. Very different among Democrats, 5 percent trust Trump, 86 percent trust the news media.
So, as far as the president and his base is concerned, he thinks going after the press as the enemy of the American people is good for him.
All right, guys. We're going to continue to watch this very disturbing story.
In the meantime, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.