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Cohen: Trump Knew about Son's Meeting with Russians; Putin 'Ready' to Go to Washington, Invites Trump to Moscow; Trump Denies Advance Knowledge Of 2016 Trump Tower Meeting; Democratic Senator Says Russian Hackers Targeted Her Office; Trump National Security Team Meets On Election Cyber-Attacks; North Korea Returning Apparent Remains Of U.S. Troops. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for watching. I'll see you Sunday morning.

[17:00:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Trump's fixer breaks. President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, is ready to testify that candidate Trump knew ahead of time about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. The president denies that. Who's lying?

Invitation to Moscow. Vladimir Putin says that he is ready to visit Washington but is also inviting President Trump to come to Moscow. And why is the Russian leader praising the president for keeping his campaign promises?

Economic spike. The U.S. economy is sizzling, growing at the fastest pace in almost four years. President Trump is taking the credit now, but what will he say if things cool off?

And stalling tactics. North Korea returns the apparent remains of some American troops killed in combat many decades ago, but what about Kim Jong-un's other commitments? Is he stalling when it comes to giving up his nukes?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, President Trump denies a stunning claim by his former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, that he knew ahead of time about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians were supposed to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But sources say that Cohen is willing to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that he was present when Donald Trump was informed of that Russian offer. That comes as Russia's Vladimir Putin praises President Trump and says that he is ready for another summit in Washington or Moscow.

I'll speak with Congressman David Cicilline of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees, and our correspondents and specialists standing by with full coverage.

We begin with CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip.

Abby, once again, some positive news on the economy overshadowed by the latest investigative bombshell about contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign.


President Trump this week ending his week in relative silence, at least about some of the most pressing controversies facing his administration. The president just leaving moments ago on the White House South Lawn, refusing to take questions from reporters. But his ruptured relationship with his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is becoming a growing problem.


PHILLIP (voice-over): For a third day, President Trump avoiding questions from reporters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you have any response to Cohen's allegations?

PHILLIP: Instead, keeping the press back and holding a carefully- staged event touting economic numbers.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am thrilled to announce that, in the second quarter of this year, the United States economy grew at the amazing rate of 4.1 percent.

PHILLIP: Changing the conversation and refusing to talk about his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did you find out about the -- allegations?

PHILLIP: Privately, a White House official tells CNN the president is fuming about a CNN report that Cohen may testify that Trump did know in advance about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The president tweeting, "And so the fake news doesn't waste my time with dumb questions, no, I did not know of the meeting with my son Don Jr. Sounds to me like someone's trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam."

And angry that Cohen released a secretly-recorded tape of Trump discussing a payoff to an alleged mistress.

TRUMP: What financing?


PHILLIP: In public, though, his aides insist that the president is not angry. Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, sitting down with CNN's Chris Cuomo. RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I saw the president when

the president first found out that he had been taped. And the president was completely shocked.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I believe that.

GIULIANI: No. He wasn't angry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's his mood like at the end of such a week like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very positive. Upbeat.

PHILLIP: Meantime, President Trump meeting with his National Security Council behind closed doors to discuss election interference, a week after appearing to doubt Russia would meddle in this year's midterms.

CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you very much. No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make your way out.

PHILLIP: And after the White House pushed off an invitation for Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Washington, Putin today offering his own conditional invitation.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We are ready to invite President Trump to Moscow to be my guest. He has such an invitation. I've told him that. And I'm ready to go to Washington. I repeat once again, if the right conditions for work are created.


PHILLIP: And White House press secretary Sarah Sanders accepting the invitation, waiting -- saying that they are waiting for a formal invitation to be offered to the White House.

[17:05:00] But this is clearly Putin putting the ball in the White House's court and suggesting that, between the Russia probe and also the controversy surrounding the election interference in November, the time for a summit really isn't right now, Jim.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper now on CNN's reporting that Michael Cohen claims Donald Trump was aware of plans for that Trump Tower meeting with Russians and aware of what they were offering the campaign.

CNN political correspondent Sara Murray is here. Help our viewers understand the significance of this and what we've learned here.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Trump has denied over and over again that he had any knowledge of this meeting, but all of a sudden, Michael Cohen is emerging, sources say, with a different tale to tell and one he says he's willing to share with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.


MURRAY (voice-over): Michael Cohen now claiming that Donald Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower where Russians were expected to offer dirt on Hillary Clinton, sources tell CNN. And sources say Cohen is prepared to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller just what candidate Trump knew and when.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It is quite a bombshell. If it's true and if it can be corroborated, it would mean that the president was willing personally to accept Russian help during the campaign. So it effectively brings the issue of collusion or conspiracy right to the president's feet.

MURRAY: Cohen, Trump's former attorney, who is currently under criminal investigation in New York, claims he was present when Trump Jr. informed his father and several others of the Russians' offer, sources say. Cohen even alleges Trump gave a nod of approval for the the meeting to go forward.

The president, his attorneys, the White House and others involved in the meeting have repeatedly denied that Trump had any knowledge of it before it took place.

TRUMP: I just heard there was an e-mail, requesting a meeting or something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?

TRUMP: No. I didn't know anything about the meeting. Must have been a very unimportant meeting, because I never even heard about it.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: This is not a situation where the president was involved in this meeting. Was not aware of the meeting. Did not attend this meeting.


SEKULOW: And he didn't know about this meeting --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't really -- he didn't know about this meeting until a few days ago?

SEKULOW: Yes. That's correct.

SEAN HANNITY, CNN ANCHOR: Did you tell your father anything about this?

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: No. It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell.

MURRAY: Trump Jr. even testifying under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September that he never told his father about the meeting. When asked, "Did you inform your father about the meeting or the

underlying offer prior to the meeting," Trump Jr. responded, "No. I did not."

When Trump Jr. was later asked why he didn't share news of the possible meeting, he responded, "Because I wouldn't bring him anything that's unsubstantiated before I knew what it was actually about myself."

Last year Cohen testified before two congressional committees regarding Russian election interference. But a source familiar with Cohen's testimony tells CNN he did not testify that Trump had any advanced knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting. Now the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is attacking Cohen's credibility.

GIULIANI: The man is a liar. A proven liar. There's no way you're going to bring down the president of the United States on the testimony, uncorroborated, of a proven liar. I guarantee you this guy is a proven liar.

MURRAY: When just a few weeks ago Giuliani seemed to have plenty of faith in Cohen's truthfulness.

GIULIANI: If he believes it's in his best interest to cooperate, God bless him. He should cooperate. I do not expect that Michael Cohen is going to lie. I think he's going to tell the truth, as best he can given his recollection. And if he does that, we're home free.


MURRAY: Now, Donald Trump Jr. and the special counsel are making news today for the most random of reasons that perhaps could only happen here in Washington, D.C. A photo emerged in Politico of them at the same airport today. You can see Donald Trump Jr. there in the hat, the special counsel sitting there at the gate.

Peter Carr, who's a spokesman for the special counsel and does not often put out statements, said this: "That is Mr. Mueller waiting to board a flight. If it's accurate that the other person in the photo was Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Mueller was not aware of him and had no interaction with him."

It is a very small town, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's a very small world. Sara Murray, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of the great state of Rhode Island. He's a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for taking the time on this Friday.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure. Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: So in light of CNN's reporting here and the president's denial today, essentially, you have Michael Cohen, the president's long-time former attorney and fixer, and the president in a he said/he said situation. Who do you trust, Cohen or Trump?

CICILLINE: Well, I think first of all, we should understand that Mr. Mueller has a lot more information than many of us have and will also look at the kind of conduct of the president and the people around him.

Let's remember, the president first denied this meeting took place and then said there was a conversation about adoption. We know from the text message or e-mails that were sent to Donald Trump Jr. that he knew it was about Russian operatives having dirt on Hillary Clinton. He said, "I love it, if that's what it was about" and that the meeting took place. Even Steve Bannon said it's hard to believe that that meeting would have happened without Donald Trump -- President Trump knowing about it. Candidate Trump.

[17:10:08] And also, look at all the behavior of the president in both refusing to say anything negative about Vladimir Putin and refusing to acknowledge Russian interference in our election. A number of Trump operatives lying about or forgetting about meetings with the Russians.

So again, you think -- you have to look at it in the context of all of these facts. And I think President Trump is in a tough position to argue somehow we should believe that he's being honest and we should disbelieve Michael Cohen. The president has a long history of not being truthful.

Michael Cohen understands that, if he's not honest, he will be unable to reach an agreement with the special counsel. He had to come clean and tell the truth as a cooperating witness. If he provides false testimony, no deal; it will be blown up. And I think he has to understand that and does.

So I think we have to wait and see. But this is very disturbing and I think very alarming information for the president to hear a witness who says he knew about this meeting, he authorized it.

And we shouldn't forget. This is an adversary, a Russian operative, going into Trump Tower to meet with members of the Trump campaign to help them and, as the e-mail to Donald Trump Jr. said, as part of the Russian government's effort to help Donald Trump and undermine Hillary Clinton. Think about that for a minute. This is really significant.

SCIUTTO: No question. And you make a good point there, because the defense you've heard, for instance, Donald Trump Jr., when this was exposed, was not that taking the meeting itself was a problem but that, really, they were just disappointed, because the Russians didn't show up with the dirt that they -- that they had promised.

But I want to ask you because Donald Trump Jr., as you know, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that his father knew nothing about this meeting. Now, you have Michael Cohen, a man who claims to have been in the room when Donald Trump Jr. told his father about this meeting.

Do you believe that Donald Trump Jr. needs to be called back before Congress to answer to this?

CICILLINE: Well, I don't think there's any question that once it becomes clear that Michael Cohen is prepared to offer that testimony under oath, to the special counsel or to the -- to one of the congressional committees, that it's absolutely appropriate for Donald Trump Jr. to be brought back to explain what appears to be untruthful testimony.

Look, everyone understands the interest in protecting your dad, especially if your father's the president of the United States, but when you take an oath, you're required to tell the truth. Congressional committees have a right to expect that. There are legal consequences. It's a crime if you lie under oath. And so I think the congressional committee should be very interested in bringing back Donald Trump Jr. to ask him some additional questions.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, someone is lying here. We should know that Michael Cohen, according to our reporting, is willing to testify before the special counsel. So he's willing to put his money where his mouth is, as it were, and face what would be legal consequences if he were to lie in that context.

I want to turn, if I can, to other important news, because as you're aware, the White House says that President Trump is open to visiting Moscow for another summit with Vladimir Putin. Of course, this is just a little more than a week after the president had what was widely seen as a disastrous summit with Putin with Democrats and Republicans.

Is this a time for the U.S. president to meet again, for this U.S. president to meet again with Putin?

CICILLINE: Absolutely not. Remember, Vladimir Putin said that this summit was useful. And I wonder, useful to who? Maybe useful to Vladimir Putin but not useful to our country.

Look, the Russians are engaged in very aggressive behavior. They invaded Crimea. They're involved in actions in Syria to prop up Bashar al-Assad. They attacked our election. The American president needs to be clear. This will not be permitted. There will continue to be consequences.

We need to treat the Russians as an adversary. That doesn't mean you don't talk, that doesn't mean that you try to change their behavior. But acknowledging their attack on our democracy and their ongoing effort to interfere with the 2018 elections and the idea that the president invited Vladimir Putin to the White House, the greatest icon of American democracy, the people's house, to invite someone who attacked our democracy into the White House is appalling.

Nor should the president go to Moscow. The American president visiting Moscow after that country attacked our democracy sends the wrong message, particularly since the president has not been a strong spokesman for advocating strong action against the Russians for their aggression; in fact has been minimizing the attack, diminishing it, saying it's no big deal, maybe a big heavy guy in New Jersey did it. I mean, it's really offensive that the American president is not

defending our democracy. Whether you're a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, this is about making sure the American people decide who represents them in this country and not a foreign adversary.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because we just learned yesterday. A sitting United States senator, Claire McCaskill, and in fact, a key toss-up race in this current election, the upcoming 2018 midterms, she confirmed yesterday that she was targeted -- thankfully unsuccessfully -- by Russian hackers this year. Russia attacking today.

[17:15:00] I just wonder, when you speak to your Republican colleagues, do they say privately to you, do they express privately concern that this president is not leading on protecting this upcoming election from Russian interference?

CICILLINE: I mean, occasionally, you'll hear one or two colleagues do that. I'm frankly not interested in what they do privately. What we need is everyone, Republicans and Democrats, to raise their voices in defense of our democracy.

What they did just before we left this past week was they removed $380 million to fund election protection by states and localities to protect our 2018 elections. They cut that out. We tried to put it back through an amendment, and that amendment was blocked by the Republicans.

So, they've not only not spoken out, they've not provided the resources to do it. And again, this is incredibly disappointing, because whatever your political affiliation, we ought to be all committed to the idea of protecting our elections. Claire McCaskill's example is just one. Our intelligence communities have said they're at it again. We should expect that it's going to continue.

And what we should have is the president leading an interagency effort to make sure we protect our elections from Russian interference or interference of any other adversary so that the voices of the American people will be heard in our elections and not the voices of any foreign government.

SCIUTTO: You'd think that would be an automatic, right? Regardless of the partisanship.

CICILLINE: You would think so.

SCIUTTO: Congressman David Cicilline from Rhode Island, thanks for joining us. We hope you have a good weekend.

CICILLINE: Thank you, same to you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, with President Trump still taking heat for that disastrous summit in Helsinki, Russia's Vladimir Putin says he's ready for yet another meeting. Will the president go to Moscow this time?

And North Korea's turning over what are believed to be remains of some American troops killed in combat in Korea some 65 years ago. But will Kim Jong-un honor the other agreements made with President Trump, namely giving up his nuclear weapons?


[17:21:28] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. President Trump is still taking heat for a disastrous summit in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, but the Russian leader eager for another round. He says that he is ready to come to Washington. He's also invited the president to go to Moscow.

Let's go live to CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance. He is in Moscow.

Matthew, it seems like Vladimir Putin's kind of enjoying this back and forth.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. It certainly looks that way, doesn't it? He's kind of gloating in a sense about the controversy that's been circulating around where, when these two leaders are going to meet for a sequel, for a Helsinki 2, if you like, another one-on-one summit.

And he revealed -- he was speaking to journalists in South Africa. He was attending a BRICS economic summit there. And he revealed to journalists that an invitation to Moscow is something that he's discussed with the U.S. president, with President Trump. Take a listen to what he had to say.


PUTIN (through translator): We are ready for such meetings. We are ready to invite President Trump to Moscow, to be my guest. He has such an invitation. I've told him that. And I'm ready to go to Washington. I repeat once again, if the right conditions for work are created.


CHANCE: Well, "if the right conditions are created." What he means by that is he doesn't want a summit to go ahead, and the Kremlin has said this in other areas -- he doesn't want another summit to go ahead unless some kind of constructive dialogue can be held, unless something can be achieved.

And because of the political situation in the United States right now being so toxic and all the criticism that Trump, President Trump has received for what's seen as his deferential performance in Helsinki when he was standing next to President Putin, I think the Russian preference is that no meeting goes ahead until the situation is calmed over there in the U.S. -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Some interesting comments from Putin, as well, dipping a bit into U.S. domestic politics, praising President Trump today?

CHANCE: That's right. He did. He always finds a time to manage some praise for his U.S. counterpart, and he said this: "It is one of President Trump's great virtues that he always wants to keep his promises to voters and to the American people."

That was an extraordinary thing to say, given that one of President Trump's main platforms, of course, when he was the candidate, when he was candidate Trump is to make the relationship better with Russia. You get the sense that, even in that praise for President Trump, President Putin is having a bit of a dig at the U.S. president.

SCIUTTO: Imagine that. CNN's Matthew Chance in Moscow, thanks very much.

Coming up, President Trump denies claims by his former fixer and lawyer that he had advance knowledge of the 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower. Is Michael Cohen ready to testify under oath? That's our reporting.

And as President Trump's national security team discusses election cyberattacks, a Democratic senator says that her office has been targeted by Russian hackers this year.



[17:29:17] SCIUTTO: As he left the White House this afternoon, President Trump again refused to answer or even acknowledge reporters' questions about his former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. On Twitter this morning, though, the president denied Cohen's claim that he knew ahead of time about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians had offered to provide the campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Let's talk about this with our legal and political experts.

Jeffrey Toobin, if I could begin with you, you and I have discussed a few legal developments in this case over the course of the last couple of years. Place this one in the pantheon. And granted, this is potential, because he hasn't testified to the special counsel here, but he's -- he is offering to testify to some pretty explosive stuff.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's enormously significant because, you know, if there has been one bedrock claim by the president and then the candidate Donald Trump, is that he had no knowledge, no connection to any contacts between the Russians and his campaign.

[17:30:08] If Michael Cohen is correct that Donald Trump knew about and authorized this meeting in Trump tower between Russian government representatives and the high command of the Trump campaign, that would be enormously significant. In addition, you have Donald Trump Jr. having testified under oath before Congress that he had -- did not inform the president of this meeting in advance. So, if it's established convincingly that Michael Cohen is telling the truth, Donald Trump Jr. could have a perjury problem.

SCIUTTO: People in this investigation have already been sentenced to time in prison for that. Nia-Malika, so the Trump team has been spinning, denials about this meeting ever since it's happened, just for the sake of our viewers because it's hard to keep track of all the stories. We can show some of this up on the screen. June 9th, when it first came out, Don Jr., dropped nothing. Sanders said he learned of it later. Trump learned of it later. Trump again, Don Jr. again. This has been a repeated back and forth here. Does the White House have credibility on this? Of course, the White House is attempting to impugn the credibility of Michael Cohen here in very aggressive terms. Is the white house a credible source?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I mean, if look at the White House's credibility on any number of issues, they don't have a ton of credibility. The Washington Post is doing a running count of this. They got something like 3,200 misleading claims over the last year or so. With this particular issue, if you go back a year, you've got Donald Trump basically intervening to craft a misleading statement about this meeting, essentially saying that it was about a Russian adoption and nothing about finding dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The other thing that I think we found out this week from those Cohen tapes is kind of a way things operated at Trump Tower. I mean, you've got Cohen there -- not only taping Donald Trump but you get the sense that they're talking about any number of things. Campaign issues, very minor campaign issues. Polls. Surrogates -- an event in Charleston postponed at some point. You've people coming in and out of there. Talking about, you know, Donald Trump ordering a coke. And then, obviously, the hush money, as well. So, this idea that somehow with this issue that Donald Trump Jr. said would've -- you know, he would love this information. The idea that he had kept it a secret from his father but informed Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort -- it's a little hard to believe, but we'll see who's believable.

SCIUTTO: You remember Steve famously told that to Michael Wolfe, right? The idea that he did not keep his father informed of this in light of the way that the organization is ran.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But Jim, let me just add just one sentence onto Nia-Malika and perhaps asking to weigh in a little bit on this with his time with President Obama or when President Obama was Candidate Obama at the time. Donald Trump's campaign team was historically known or well-known anyway for being so small that there was a tight-knit group of individuals who's like four, five, six people. How he would not have heard about this very big meeting in his building when you hear the likes of Corey Lewandowsky and other say that there was really only one decision maker in that campaign and that was Donald Trump. It's hard to believe that he --

SCIUTTO: David Axelrod, let's just say it right out. There've been lies about this. Repeated lies about this meeting. We never met with Russians. Oh, well, we did meet with Russians. We never met with Russians about this. Oh, well, there are e-mails that show this, et cetera. Do those matter over time? In this investigation, because this president has been misleading on a whole host of things and yet has not faced any real consequences for it. DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, I mean

the consequences may come when Mr. Mueller reports. In terms of the politics, I think that there's a lot of the country that's tuned this out. There's been a steady, you know, cascade of stories about this. But when you hear interviews with his supporters and you look at the polling, they feel like he's being, you know -- they buy his side of the argument that he is the victim of a witch hunt and so on. So, I don't think that he has suffered political consequences as yet but the real issue is what Mueller comes up with, and as we sit here today, surely, he knows a lot more about this and where this investigation is going than anybody here.

SCIUTTO: No question.

AXELROD: Except you, maybe, Jim. You may know more about it. Most of us don't.

SCIUTTO: I will say, no. That is one black box, Mueller's investigation. One consistent theme here is that this administration changes its opinion of close advisers very quickly. Let's just remind people what Trump and his advisers, his closest advisers were saying about Michael Cohen just a short time ago and then what they were saying about him last night. Have a listen.


[17:35:05] RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: If he believes it's in his best interest to cooperate, God bless him. He should cooperate. I do not expect that Michael Cohen is going to like. I think he's going to tell the truth as best he can, given his recollection. And if he does that, we're home free. The man is a liar. A proven liar. There's no way you're going to bring down the president of the United States on the testimony uncorroborated of a proven liar. I guarantee you this guy is a proven liar.


GIULIANI: So, he's a proven liar. Two months ago, I think he's going to tell the truth. I do not expect him to lie. He's honorable. Is that a lawyer you can trust, Jeffrey Toobin?

TOOBIN: Well -- it's kind of a problem, isn't it? You know, I think, you know, I think I am stammering as much as Rudy Giuliani probably should have stammered last night rather than contradict himself so completely. I mean, look, they are responding to day by day events and the default mode of everyone associated with Donald Trump is to attack, and whenever someone turns on him they attack. Now, the fact that they didn't attack him two months ago, well, that was then and now they are in battle. And now, Michael Cohen is apparently outside the tent for good. And he's going to be a target as we saw last night.

SCUITTO: David Axelrod, how damaging is this for national security? Because this is happening in a context where Russia, we learned yesterday, there were suspicions and warnings that Russia would continue to -- you know, let's forget about 2016 for a moment but would continue to interfere in U.S. elections and Claire McCaskill confirmed that yesterday. A Russian attempted attack on her, a key senator, in a key race. This is relevant to actual national security threats to this country today.

AXELROD: Yes. I mean, I really. I think this is not talked about enough. This is a maligned force that has attacked us and continues to attack us and Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill acknowledge that they're continuing to attack us. Members of this administration acknowledge that they're continuing to attack us. And try and hack into our elections and manipulate our elections. And yet, the president is proffering invitations to Putin. Putin's proffering invitations to the president.

The president stands on a stage and is completely deferential and never raises this issue in public, and never challenges Putin on it. And I can only view this if I'm Putin as a green light to continue doing what I'm doing. And, you know, I think the McCaskill report is probably just the tip of the iceberg. We just don't know what the rest is right now. And it's really, really concerning because these are very competitive elections. The president has a lot at stake, and apparently Putin has a lot at stake, as well.

SCIUTTO: And it rings -- it's reminiscent of how this played out in 2016, right? There were small signals here and there. You didn't learn the whole scope of Russia's interference in one day, it happened over time. Jeffrey Toobin, David Axelrod, Mark Preston, and Nia- Malika, thanks very much.

Coming up, the president meets with his national security team today, finally, to talk about preventing cyber-attacks on the midterm elections. But, one vulnerable senator, as we said, is in a very tight race, says that Russian hackers already have tried to break into her office's computers.


[17:43:06] SCIUTTO: Today, President Trump convened his National Security Council to discuss combatting cyber-attacks on the U.S. midterm elections. A Democratic senator, in a very tight race, says that her office already has been targeted by Russian hackers this year with an election on the way, of course. CNN's Senior National Correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is looking into all of this. Alex, we've been waiting, many have been waiting for him to sit down and talk with his team about this, that happen today.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right and it couldn't come at a more important time just before these midterms. That senator who you just showed there, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, is one of several, in fact, several 2018 candidates who we know of, who have been targeted. Since the president came into office, Jim, we have all heard him repeatedly call Russian interference a hoax, directly at odds with this senior most officials in his administration. Today, that NSC meeting on election security meant to show that they're taking this threat seriously, less than four months ahead of the midterms.


MARQUARDT: Facing growing criticism, he hasn't focused enough on the election cyber-security threat from Russia. The president today met with his national security team in the White House situation room to discuss election interference. So far, the administration, vague on the details.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Just rest assured there are actions under way to protect our elections or to expose any external, any -- by anybody, external efforts to influence the American public, to show false news, that sort of thing.

MARQUARDT: It comes as Missouri Senator, Claire McCaskill, accuses Russian operatives of trying to hack into her office last year. Saying in a statement: "While this attack was not successful, it is outrageous that they think they can get away with this. I will not be intimidated. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Putin is a thug and a bully." McCaskill is one of the most vulnerable Democrats running for re-election this year. A senior Microsoft executive confirmed that three 2018 candidates have been targeted by the same group of Russian intelligence operatives who targeted Democrats in 2016.

TOM BURT, VICE PRESIDENT OF CUSTOMER SECURITY, MICROSOFT: They were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint as well as an election disruption standpoint.

MARQUARDT: The hackers used fake Microsoft pages in so-called phishing attacks. The company is on high alert for similar pages which they say they'd take down when discovered. It's the campaigns rather than the voting systems that are among the most vulnerable systems.

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: I think the fact of the matter is that campaign staffer just never going to be able to get to the level of these adversaries and scare them down. We're talking about the most sophisticated cyber operators in the world -- Russian intelligence, the Iranians, and the North Koreans.

MARQUARDT: The Trump administration has come under fire for not announcing a comprehensive coordinated plan to thwart cyber threats.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: I think it's an embarrassment that this White House has not made election security a top priority and has not put the kind of attention and focus on it that we need.

MARQUARDT: In May, the cyber coordinator role on the National Security Council was eliminated as top intelligence officials are sounding the alarm comparing the current state of danger to the months before the 9/11 attacks.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I'm here to say the warning lights are blinking red. Again. The day the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack. MARQUARDT: The Department of Homeland Security oversees the defense

of the country's voting infrastructure. But on offense, it's less clear. With the NSA, FBI and military all taking leading roles.

MOOK: We really need more connective tissue between people gathering intelligence, people doing law enforcement, and people charged with protecting our different assets in the digital realm.


MARQUARDT: And Jim, it's that lack of structure, the lack of a point person that the White House is getting most of the criticism for. The NSC says it leads what it calls a whole of government approach. Now, compared to the 2016 election, the Department of Homeland Security says that so far it is not seeing what they call the scale or scope of Russian activity in the lead-up to the midterms, but there's no doubt they believe that this year's elections are very much a potential target. Jim?

SCIUTTO: No question. Alex Marquardt, thanks very much. We were just getting a readout of the president's meeting as part of the White House statement, they say the president has made clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign influence in our elections.

[17:47:38] Coming up, Kim Jong-un makes good on a promise to return the remains of U.S. troops killed in the Korean War. But is he keeping other promises he made at the Singapore summit with President Trump including giving up his nuclear weapons?


[17:52:35] SCIUTTO: Today, the White House announced that Vice President Mike Pence will be in Hawaii on Wednesday to receive the remains of U.S. service members killed during the Korean War. North Korea is returning these remains as part of an agreement President Trump made with Kim Jong-un during their summit in Singapore. CNN's Will Ripley joins us now live from Seoul, South Korea. Are the North Koreans -- is there any evidence, Will, that the North Koreans are honoring the other parts of the agreement, specifically on giving up their nuclear program?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this point, you know, you have seen some signs, Jim, of North Korea dismantling some of its older, less relevant weapons facilities while upgrading the kind of facilities that are producing missiles that could pose a threat to the United States. And what we saw here in South Korea, the first repatriation of Korean war remains in more than a decade, Trump administration is touting as a step in the right directions. Well, let's be honest here, it's a very small step down a very long and difficult road when it comes to getting North Korea to give up their nukes.


RIPLEY: Just one week after his Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, President Trump made this triumphant announcement. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We got back our great

fallen heroes, their remains. In fact, today, already 200 have been sent back.

RIPLEY: But it took five more weeks for just 55 sets of remains to arrive at South Korea's Osan Air Base, Friday, on the anniversary of the Korean War armistice. Pyongyang did not even approve the mission until the final hours, keeping U.S. officials guessing.

TRUMP: And I want to thank Chairman Kim for keeping his word.

RIPLEY: But few expected this relatively simple confidence-building measure would take more than six weeks. Raising serious questions about the far more complex, and far more contentious negotiations over denuclearization.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The North Koreans understand --

RIPLEY: This week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Intelligence Committee: North Korea is still producing fuel for nuclear weapons. Pompeo, fresh off a disappointing trip to Pyongyang, little if any progress on key issues. And a widely perceived snub by Kim Jong-un, who did not meet with him. The U.S. was later criticized by North Korea for making what they called gangster-like demands.

In May, North Korean officials took CNN to what they claimed was the destruction of this nuclear test site. These new images show they may also be dismantling a satellite launching station. But U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea is upgrading other key weapons facilities, including a ballistic missile plant and nuclear reactor. Their assessment: Kim Jong-un has no plans to give us his nukes any time soon.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: They have not done another nuclear test, so that's a positive. They haven't done another ballistic missile test, that's a positive. North Korea is playing its normal game in which it agreed to a concept of its own definition of denuclearization, whatever that means. And then freezes activity to let the heat go down.

RIPLEY: An official telling CNN this week, North Korea wants sanctions relief and a peace treaty, formally ending the Korean War, or Kim Jong-un may consider walking away from the talks, emboldened by his increasingly friendly relationship with traditional allies, Russia and China. Both could make it nearly impossible for the U.S. to continue its maximum pressure campaign, even if negotiations with North Korea break down.


RIPLEY: So, here we are, more than six weeks after the summit in Singapore. There's still no timetable for denuclearization, no transparency from the North Koreans about how many warheads they possess, where they're producing nuclear fuel, where they're hiding their warheads. All of those things the United States said they need, they still don't have. What they do have tonight, those 55 set of Korean War remains that took significantly longer to return than anyone in the administration would have expected.

SCIUTTO: And of course, the president said that the North Korean nuclear threat was over a number of weeks ago. Will Ripley in South Korea, thanks very much.

[17:56:43] Coming up, the president denies a claim by his former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, that candidate Trump knew ahead of time about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Where is this investigation now headed?