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THE SITUATION ROOM
WSJ: Feds Have Evidence of Trump's Involvement in Hush-Money Payments That May Have Violated Campaign Finance Laws; Judge Sets 7:00 P.M. Deadline To Turn Over Voting Records; Lawsuits Filed Over Unfinished Florida Vote Count; Trump Denies Knowing His Own A.G. Appointee. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 9, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Have a great weekend.
[17:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Involved in the payoff. A bombshell from the "Wall Street Journal" reporting federal investigators have evidence that Donald Trump was deeply involved in the hush-money payments to a porn star and a "Playboy" model. Did he violate campaign finance laws?
False denials. As backlash grows to his pick for acting attorney general, a critic of the Russia investigation, President Trump now says he doesn't even know Matthew Whitaker, but just last month, he said he knows him as a great guy.
Attacking the Obamas. After Michelle Obama reveals she'll never forgive Donald Trump for the birther rumors he spread about her husband, threatening her family's safety, the president lashes out at both Obamas.
And Florida, Florida, Florida. Eighteen years after the hanging chad left the presidential election hanging in the balance, Florida is again involved in very close races, recounts and lawsuits that could impact the balance of power.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. Federal investigators reportedly have evidence that Donald Trump was deeply immersed in the hush-money payoffs to porn star Stormy Daniels and former "Playboy" model Karen McDougal. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that then-candidate Trump intervened directly to suppress stories about his relationships with the women, possibly -- possibly -- violating campaign finance laws.
That comes as President Trump arrives in Paris, leaving behind growing fallout over his pick for acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, who's under scrutiny for his criticism of Robert Mueller's Russia probe, which he now oversees.
I'll speak with the attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti; and our correspondents and specialists, they are standing by with full coverage.
Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's in Paris.
Jim, the president leaves behind a new bombshell about possible campaign law violations, and an uproar over a threat to the Mueller investigation. What's the latest?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump just landed here in Paris to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, but it doesn't sound like he's interested in peace back in Washington, especially when it comes to the Russia investigation. But there are other storm clouds on the horizon.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Leaving for a weekend trip to France, President Trump is having trouble getting clear of some big storms brewing back home. "The Wall Street Journal" reports the U.S. attorney in New York is gathering evidence that shows the president was involved in hush- money deals with two women who say they had affairs with Mr. Trump. Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels.
"The Journal" says the president was involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the payments. Contrast that with the president's comments last April when he claimed he didn't know about money going to Daniels.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No.
ACOSTA: As he was leaving for Paris, the president was pressed on the other big legal mess hanging over him, the Russia investigation, specifically his decision to make Matt Whitaker his acting attorney general, a move that puts a critic of the probe in charge of it.
TRUMP: I didn't know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General Sessions. He was very, very highly thought of and still is highly thought of, but this only comes up because anybody that works for me, they do a number on them.
ACOSTA: The president repeatedly claimed he didn't know Whitaker.
TRUMP: I don't know Matt Whitaker.
TRUMP: But that's not true, If you believe what Mr. Trump told FOX News last month.
TRUMP (via phone): I never talk about that. But I can tell you, Matt Whitaker is a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.
ACOSTA: Prominent D.C. attorney George Conway, husband of White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, argued in a "New York Times" op-ed that Whitaker's selection is "unconstitutional. It's illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does or tries to do in that position is invalid."
The president brushed off Conway's concerns.
TRUMP: He's just trying to get publicity for himself. Why don't you do this? Why don't you -- why don't you ask Kellyanne that question, all right? All right? She might know him better than me. I really don't know the guy.
ACOSTA: But Democrats are about to take control in the House and are vowing to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: The American people spoke on Tuesday. They want a check on abuses of power. That's, I think, one of the issues that was on the ballot.
And so we have a number of options. One, we're going to have a funding the government vote coming up here in a couple of weeks. And we're going to insist that we protect the Mueller probe.
ACOSTA: Even with all of that on his hands, the president is also sparring with, of all people, Michelle Obama. In excerpts of the former first lady's new book, obtained by "The Washington Post," Mrs. Obama says she'll never forgive Mr. Trump for being a birther, saying, "What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls?"
[17:05:15] The president dismissed that and took a swipe at Barack Obama.
TRUMP: She got paid a lot of money to write a book, and they always insist that you come up with controversial -- well, I'll give you a little controversy back. I'll never forgive him for what he did to our United States military by not funding it properly.
ACOSTA: The president is said to be, quote, "on the warpath" about vote counts still under way in places like Florida. Mr. Trump complained of voter fraud, but when asked for evidence, he didn't have any.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have evidence of fraud?
TRUMP: Although I hear -- I don't know, you tell me. It's always the Democrats.
ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's claim that he doesn't know his acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, we should point out CNN has learned that Matt Whitaker has been to the White House more than a dozen times, that he's met with the president on multiple occasions and the two have spoken on the phone.
So, Wolf, that claim doesn't add up, and it's another example of the president playing fast and loose with the facts -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta in Paris, thanks very much.
We're going to have much more on the "Wall Street Journal" story and President Trump's role in the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, including a conversation with Stormy Daniels's attorney, Michael Avenatti. That's coming up.
But first, there's more breaking news. President Trump leaves behind some growing fallout over his pick for the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, who's under a lot of fire right now for his criticism of the Mueller probe, which he now oversees, and other issues, as well.
Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us right now.
So Jessica, what's the latest?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, amid the outcry about Matthew Whitaker's appointment as acting attorney general, we're now learning a bit more about how he ended up at the Justice Department just a little more than one year ago.
Sources telling us it was the White House that had a heavy hand inserting Whitaker into that chief of staff role to essentially keep an eye on then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who at that point had lost the confidence and drawn the ire of the president.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Matthew Whitaker was well-known as a reliable conservative when officials at the White House hand-picked him to work under Jeff Sessions in late 2017. Sources say former White House counsel Don McGahn was behind Whitaker's hiring as Sessions' chief of staff, and White House officials believed Whitaker's loyalties would lie at the White House and not with Sessions, who had fallen out of favor with Trump.
Federalist Society executive vice president, Leonard Leo, confirmed to CNN that he, too, recommended Whitaker, since "Jeff Sessions needed a reliable conservative, a strong manager and someone who had credibility who had previously served the department."
One source says it was a way to keep things on the rails at the Justice Department and to keep Sessions focused.
Whitaker was even encouraged by people close to Trump to appear on TV to get the attention of the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is the first week going, Acting Attorney General?
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Going well.
SCHNEIDER: But now it's his wide-ranging political comments that are creating a problem for the White House. Democrats are calling on the now acting attorney general to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe because of numerous comments like this one from March 2017.
WHITAKER (via phone): This theory that, essentially, Russians interfered with the U.S. election, which has been proven false. They did not have any impact in the election. I guess what the -- you know, they're trying to conflate is that somehow Russia and the Trump campaign, you know, sort of conspired to influence the election. I mean, it's crazy.
SCHNEIDER: And the remarks raising eyebrows date back even farther than 2017.
WHITAKER (on camera): I'm not sure what we are passing on to the next generation.
SCHNEIDER: In 2014, Whitaker told an Iowa blog that he thought the landmark Supreme Court ruling, Marbury versus Madison from 1803, that established the judiciary's ability to strike down laws that violate the U.S. Constitution, was one of the worst decisions in the Supreme Court's history.
He said, "There are so many bad rulings. I would start with the idea of Marbury versus Madison. The courts are supposed to be the inferior branch of our three branches of government. We have, unfortunately, offloaded many of our tough public policy issues onto the court, and they've decided them. Unelected judges are deciding many of the issues of the day."
Whitaker also said judges should adhere to the Bible in making decisions and implied any judge who didn't hold Christian beliefs wouldn't be a good judge.
WHITAKER: Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice, which I think is very important, because we all know that our government --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Levitical or New Testament?
WHITAKER: I'm a New Testament. And -- and what I know, is as long as they have that world view, that they'll be a good judge.
SCHNEIDER: And raising more red flags, his comments right before he rejoined the Justice Department in October 2017. He was a U.S. attorney for five years, starting in 2004.
WHITAKER (via phone): I think it smells a little fishy.
SCHNEIDER: Whitaker there referring to the special counsel's investigation, worried it could turn into a fishing expedition, in his words, and saying he'd be sure to shut it down if it did.
WHITAKER: Because I would be one of the ones jumping up and down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good for you, yes.
WHITAKER: And make sure the limitations on this investigation continue, because that's the way it's supposed to be. (END VIDEOTAPE-
SCHNEIDER: And Whitaker also said around that time that he guessed that any replacement for Jeff Sessions would cut Mueller's budget so the Russia investigation would essentially grind to a halt. We know that Whitaker is not planning to recuse himself, so really the question is, how will he handle what comes next in the Russia probe, and will he essentially try to shut it down -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider reporting. Thank you very much.
Let's get some insight right now from our political and legal experts. Jeffrey Toobin, I want your honest analysis right now. Whitaker, tell us more, because the controversy -- some of his thoughts on various Supreme Court decisions is pretty outrageous.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let me -- let me start with two. Marbury versus Madison, 1803, Chief Justice John Marshall's opinion that says the courts have the last word on whether federal and other laws are constitutional. Can a -- the Supreme Court overturn the work of the other branches of government?
It is the foundational opinion of American constitutional law. It is not controversial. It is not something that Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia disagreed about. It is a bedrock of American constitutional law. And that anyone questions its validity or correctness shows that person is out of the mainstream.
No. 2, the notion that only judges who have a biblical understanding of law and the Constitution are appropriate is not only contrary to how the Constitution itself defines no establishment of religion, it is also contrary to how all judges express -- the need to keep the courts insulated from political and religious and other kinds of pressure.
So that the Marbury versus Madison stuff, the religious stuff, is way outside the mainstream of American legal thought.
BLITZER: You know, you would think that the White House, Dana, would do some vetting on these individuals before they give them these senior positions. Today the president said he didn't really know Whitaker at all, but a month ago, he told FOX News, "I can tell you, Matt Whitaker is a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker."
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, what you heard the president say today is Trump-speak for distancing himself. Probably for a lot of reasons. Some of which might be what Jessica was reporting and what Jeffrey was just explaining and digging deeper on.
Obviously, Whitaker wants this job. People who know him, people who have talked to him, describe him as very, very ambitious. Maybe that's stating the obvious. The fact that he came on CNN, that he made other points to try to get the president's attention prior to going into the administration and being Jeff Sessions's chief of staff is Exhibit A of that. But in order to -- even though the Republicans have -- are going to
have a much -- a bigger majority -- not much bigger, but by a Senate vote standards, much bigger, it is hard to imagine somebody who has said these things, unless he completely disavows his own beliefs and his own statements, getting the nod, never mind from the president, ultimately, when the president has to actually formally nominate a replacement for Jeff Sessions.
But then the votes in the U.S. Senate, even though there could be, you know, 54 Republicans, depending on what happens with Arizona and with Florida.
BLITZER: Yes. April, you see a pattern here in what the president says? "I barely knew the guy, I didn't know the guy," but it seems they've met many times. You heard Jim Acosta's report.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. This president and the truth happen to collide. When you have tape to disprove the president time and time again, and maybe he just forgets what he says.
But this is someone, Mark [SIC] Whitaker, is someone who the president obviously knows. And any time the president would name him, even for a temporary post or an interim position, it's someone he feels that's loyal enough, someone he feels that has the same mentality.
And this president is trying to walk away from the knowledge of him at the time when there is knowledge of him. And it's not the most expedient thing to do.
And he does this quite often. What did he do with his former campaign manager, who was tried and convicted? What did he do with Michael Cohen? I mean, so many people, you know, have been so close to him, and he's pushed away and said, "I don't know him. I know him very little."
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, the notion is -- I think it's pretty clear. The president clearly wants somebody overseeing the Mueller probe who agrees with the president that the whole thing is a witch hunt.
[17:10:09] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Right. It's not so much how well he knows him. It's how well he knows what he thinks. And he knows what he thinks, because he's said it publicly. And he's called the whole Russia investigation crazy. It's very clear that he would not be aggressive in allowing subpoenas to go through if, you know -- if the Mueller team wanted to subpoena, say, the president to testify. And so he knows exactly where he stands, because he's heard him -- he's heard him say it.
And I believe that's why he likes him. And maybe he doesn't know him very well, but he knows what he -- what he says, and he knows how he feels about this investigation.
And there's a question about that. People would say, you ought to recuse yourself. Well, Trump is bringing him on precisely because he thinks he won't recuse himself like Sessions did. We don't know that they had a conversation to that effect. But it would strain credulity for me to believe that he and Donald Trump don't have an understanding that he's going to stay on this investigation and not remove himself from it. Although I believe Rosenstein will still have some role, his office, on day-to-day in dealing with Mueller.
TOOBIN: Wolf, if I can just --
BLITZER: Go ahead. Jeffrey.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, go ahead.
TOOBIN: One quick point. That as our colleague, Drew Griffin, reported last night, there are also ethical questions about Whitaker.
BASH: Yes, yes.
TOOBIN: About his involvement in a shady jacuzzi company, of all things. So, I mean --
BORGER: A patent company, too.
BORGER: A patent company, too, that was fined $26 million. Yes.
TOOBIN: Yes. I mean, so the idea that, out of all the lawyers in the United States, this is the one who should be attorney general of the United States is simply astonishing.
BLITZER: What I don't understand, now that we know so much more about this guy, Jeffrey, how did he get the job as chief of staff to the attorney general of the United States? Given that background, all the various positions he's taken, the statements he's made, and the -- clearly, some shady business deals that he's involved in?
TOOBIN: Because the job of chief of staff is not a Senate confirmation job. He has never gone through the scrutiny of a Senate confirmation. So he's never really been a major public figure before. He got the job, because the White House wanted a spy in the Justice Department to keep an eye on Jeff Sessions. He -- that's what his job was.
BASH: Exactly. That's the answer.
TOOBIN: To keep an eye on Sessions, and that was the only qualification that he needed for that job. Now, if he's presented for Senate confirmation, the parade of his past will make quite a viewing.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure he's never going to be presented for Senate confirmation. But Dana, you agree.
BASH: Yes. What Jeffrey said is exactly what CNN's reporting is. That you asked a good question: how was he put there, even as chief of staff, never mind acting attorney general? And that is the answer. There was so much distrust, so much bad blood. I mean, more than I -- even though so much of it has played out in public, my understanding is it's even worse or was even worse in private. Hard to wrap your mind around that. Because it is pretty ugly in public. But that is a big reason why Whitaker was put there.
And the notion that, you know, he's going to recuse himself, as Democrats have been arguing he should do right now, given the things that he's said, there's no way. Because that was the original sin of Jeff Sessions. The reason why the relationship frayed to begin with was that recusal. You think Whitaker is going to recuse himself after he was put in charge over Rod Rosenstein, who is still there, who was in charge until 48 hours ago? Not a chance.
BORGER: That's why he's there. He's there because he won't recuse himself.
TOOBIN: But Wolf -- And as they say on the television commercials, but wait, there's more!
It may not even be constitutional that he does this job. I mean, that's the argument made by Neil Katyal and George Conway in the op-ed piece. The idea that you can install an attorney general who has never been presented for Senate confirmation for any job is an unresolved constitutional question, in addition to everything else.
BLITZER: Let's point out that George Conway is Kellyanne Conway's husband, and the president clearly in that Q&A he did at the White House before leaving for Paris, also insulted George Conway.
You know, I want to switch gears, and April, I want to play a clip. What the president had to say about you, which was awful. And what the president also had to say about our own White House correspondent, Abby Phillip, which was also terrible. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:20:00] TRUMP: Same thing with April Ryan. I watch her get up -- I mean, you talk about somebody that's a loser. She doesn't know what the hell she's doing. She gets publicity, and then she gets a pay raise or a contract with, I think, CNN. But she's very nasty. And she shouldn't be.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You want him to rein in Robert Mueller?
TRUMP: What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes. That was his exchange with Abby Phillip. And she does not ask a lot of stupid questions. And she certainly is not stupid. She's an honest, excellent journalist who works for us.
RYAN: Yes, she is.
BLITZER: Covering the White House. You know, let's talk a little bit about, first of all, April, what the president said about you and what he said about Abby.
RYAN: Wolf, you know, I don't -- I guess at this point I'm numb to it. It's been two years of the same thing. But now it's open. It's openly said by the president of the United States.
You know, there's been efforts to silence me in the briefing room. There have been efforts to discredit me. But, you know, who I've been and who I am is who you know. I'm an open book. Anyone who knows me knows me. And what you see is what you get from me.
But the president called me a loser. I'm not. And I'm someone, like many -- to include Abby Phillip. We follow the U.S. Constitution. We have the utmost respect and reverence for the highest office in the land. It's sacred. The president is right. There is sanctity there. And one of the reasons is because life and death is in the tongue and in the pen there. This is a serious space and place. And we take our jobs seriously. And we have been.
I mean, Abby has been there for many years, and I have been, too. And I've covered the White House with you and many others who understand the seriousness of this place. And the office-holder. There is reverence for that office, as well.
And to be called a loser by the president of the United States -- I think back about the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press. He is challenging the Constitution when he says that. And that's his personal opinion. That's fine.
But I also think about me being a loser today. But last year in January, was I loser when he asked me to get together the Congressional Black Caucus with him for a meeting? He thought I had enough gravitas then and enough seriousness for me to do that. So was I loser today and yesterday or just a loser today, because I tried to ask a question about a serious issue? Voter suppression. And he responded to me. And that is the only reason why I stood. But if I'm a loser, so be it.
BASH: Wolf, can I just -- April is obviously very good at defending herself. But she you shouldn't have to be the only one to do so. She mentioned she covered the White House with you. I covered the White House with April.
RYAN: Yes, you did.
BASH: And she asked the questions, just as our colleague, Abby Phillip does.
And let's just cut to the chase. What the president does, and I've been on the receiving end of it, too. I've been called rude, you know, a year-and-a-half ago, the last time we talked, just because I asked a regular question. What the president does is he goes after the person who's asking a
question when he doesn't like the content of it. Even though and especially when it's a legitimate question. And that goes for April, and that certainly went for Abby today, who asked the question -- the question of the day in a very straightforward, very matter-of-fact way about whether or not his expectation was that Matthew Whitaker would, you know, do something to quash the Mueller probe. That's it.
TOOBIN: Wait a second. Wait a second. How about, what do all these people have in common?
BASH: Well, that was --
TOOBIN: April, Abby Phillip.
BASH: That was going to be my next point. Take it away, Jeff.
TOOBIN: Sorry, I didn't mean to.
BASH: No, no. Go for it.
TOOBIN: There was another. Yamiche Alcindor, who was also demeaned by the president yesterday.
BLITZER: She works for PBS.
TOOBIN: All black women. All black women. How about Don Lemon, how about LeBron James, how about the NFL football players? Constant attacks on black people. And Jim Acosta.
RYAN: Colin Kaepernick.
TOOBIN: I mean, come on. Colin Kaepernick. I mean, let's be honest here.
RYAN: Michelle Obama. Stacy Abrams.
TOOBIN: There is also a racial dimension to this. The fact that the president is always --
RYAN: Andrew Gillum.
TOOBIN: -- attacking black people. Andrew -- I mean, April, take it away. I mean, I -- the idea that this was some random selection of journalists he doesn't like is not the case. It's always black people with this president.
BORGER: You know, he also -- he's just defining the presidency downward. Every single day. In every single way. I mean, what we're all talking about is one thing. But I would argue that every time he calls a reporter stupid, no matter who it is, or that's a dumb question or whatever, he's acting like a 3-year-old who doesn't want to answer. Because he doesn't have the answer. And so what he does is, he punches.
And, yes, I think he punches black women an awful lot. And I think he punches anybody who challenges him.
And if you are president of the United States, and you don't know that you are going to be getting tough questions, then you shouldn't be there. Because you should have answers to questions, because you should have thought out problems before you speak.
And I think what he is finding, in his new role as his own spokesman, is that he is getting questions that he doesn't like, and so he just throws pellets at people. And I think, watching it from afar, you think, Is this what the president of the United States should be doing? Is this how he should be behaving? Should he be calling serious journalists stupid, and saying I watch you, and I don't like you, and -- you know, who cares? Answer the question. Answer the question.
BLITZER: And let's not forget, he calls Congresswoman Maxine Waters "low IQ."
BORGER: Of course. I mean, come on. Yeah.
BLITZER: Maxine Waters. So there is a pattern there.
Everybody stand by, there's a lot more that's going on. We have more breaking news, including a stunning report that Donald Trump was deeply involved in hush-money payments to a porn star and a Playboy model.
[17:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with breaking news. Federal investigators have reportedly gathered evidence of Donald Trump's deep involvement in hush money payments, potentially violating campaign finance laws. The Wall Street Journal reports he played a key role in the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Let's go to our National Political Reporter, M.J. Lee, who's working this story for us. M.J., what's the latest?
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we've learned in recent weeks that Michael Cohen has had numerous meetings with investigators. He's spoken with folks in the southern district of New York, the New York A.G.'s office and, of course, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office, as well. And now, we have these new details showing just how much Donald Trump himself was involved in these hush payments during the campaign.
LEE: Tonight, new details implicating the president in two infamous hush payments. The Wall Street Journal reporting that during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump closely coordinated with America Median, INC. Chairman, David Pecker, to silence two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump. Federal prosecutors, according to the journal, had enough evidence to outline Trump's role without naming him in an 80-page draft indictment of Michael Cohen. Trump reportedly asked Pecker to kill a story involving Playboy model, Karen McDougal. She claims to have had a long-running affair with Trump.
KAREN MCDOUGAL, DONALD TRUMP ACCUSER: If he weren't married, I wouldn't have any regrets because he treated very kind, he was very respectful as I told you. It was kind and it was a good relationship while it happened. Now, had I known at the time, there were supposedly all these other women, no, I wouldn't have been in the relationship.
LEE: Trump was involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the agreements, according to the journal. He directed deals and phone calls and meetings with the self-described fixer, Michael Cohen, and others.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I'm obviously very loyal and very dedicated to Mr. Trump.
LEE: Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts in August, including two counts of campaign finance violations. Cohen told the court that it was at Trump's direction that he facilitated the secret payments. Prosecutors said Cohen coordinated with one or more members of the campaign. And there's this secret recording obtained by CNN in July.
COHEN: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David. So that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Give it to me.
COHEN: I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --
TRUMP: So, what are we going to do?
COHEN: Funding -- yes. And it's -- all of the stuff. All of the stuff, because 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: what financing?
COHEN: Well, I have to -- pay.
TRUMP: Pay with cash.
COHEN: No. No, no, no.
LEE: Showing Cohen and Trump discussing a payment to McDougal. CNN has reported that Trump was also personally involved in silencing Daniels, who also claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump.
STORMY DANIELS, TRUMP ACCUSER: My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth, and the facts of what happened and I give my word that we will not rest until that happens.
LEE: The new details of Trump's intimate involvement clashing with previous denials from the president and the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael -- why did Michael Cohen make it, if there was no truth around --
TRUMP: You have to ask Michael Cohen.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has denied these allegations. And I don't have anything else further to add on that front.
LEE: Wolf, a source close to Cohen tells CNN that Cohen was just doing his job and protecting his client. Meanwhile, no reaction so far from the White House on all of this. Though it's worth reminding everyone, under current justice guidelines, a sitting president cannot be indicted. Wolf?
BLITZER: M.J. Lee reporting for us, thanks very much. Joining us now, the Attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti. Michael, thanks so much for joining us. Does this very long, detailed report in the Wall Street Journal vindicate what you and your client have been saying?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: I absolutely think it does, Wolf. I think that it vindicates us almost entirely. It's exactly what we've been alleging for many, many months. My client is tired of being called a liar. I'm tired of being called a liar. And with each passing month, we get closer and closer to judgment day. You know, I drafted an op-ed in the New York Times about five or six weeks ago. I argued then for an indictment of this president, an indictment of Donald Trump. And we are renewing that request today, in light of this report relating to the testimony and the evidence. I think a sitting president, this sitting president, can and should be indicted.
[17:35:27] BLITZER: Although current guidelines suggest a sitting president cannot be indicted. There are other avenues, including impeachment, but not necessarily indictment. But tell me why you think -- what's the main argument you make why he should be indicted?
AVENATTI: Well, he should be indicted because I think there is little question in light of the evidence that has been reported on that he conspired with Michael Cohen to cover up this payment, to skirt the law, to hide this payment from the American people, may have engaged in money laundering and other very serious crimes as it relates to the $130,000 payment to my client. And let me say this: Justice Department guidelines are drafted by
attorneys, Wolf. No different than me, for that matter. No court of law has ever passed judgment on whether a sitting president can be indicted. And that's why I argue in the op-ed and the New York Times that the court should decide this issue. Donald Trump should be indicted. And if he has a constitutional argument claiming that he can't be, he should make it.
BLITZER: The argument that this may not necessarily have criminal -- the hush money payments, is sort of bolstered by what happened with John Edwards years ago when he was making some hush money payments to a mistress. They went to a jury. The jury acquitted him. There was a hung jury on some other charges. The argument he was making, it wasn't done for campaign finance purposes. It was done so his family would not be embarrassed, so he would not be embarrassed before his family. What do you make of that argument, presumably the president could make that same argument?
AVENATTI: Well, he could make a number of arguments, Wolf. But I don't think that that argument passes the smell test in this case. Because according to the Wall Street Journal report, Michael Cohen and Donald Trump had communications, along with others, for the specific intent of covering up this payment so it could not be traced back to Donald Trump. That is not legal. That is illegal under campaign finance law. And it's a very serious matter. If the Wall Street Journal report is to be believed, and I don't have any reason to believe that it's not accurate in this regard, then there is no question that Donald Trump conspired with Michael Cohen to commit a felony. And, of course, we know that Michael Cohen already pled guilty to a felony in connection with this $130,000 payment.
BLITZER: The Wall Street Journal report is full of details on all of the various interactions between Donald Trump and his associates. When you read the report, did you know all the specific details that were outlined in this account before it was published today?
AVENATTI: No, I did not. I knew a lot of it. I certainly did not know all of it. It is clear to me that Michael Cohen has flipped on Donald Trump, as I predicted he would a long time ago, and has described a lot of information, a lot of details that are very, very damaging to Donald Trump. You cannot square this report with the president's repeated denials of having any knowledge of the payment. This is a very serious problem for Donald Trump, and it should be a serious problem. He should be indicted. He should be indicted immediately. And if he has a constitutional challenge, he can take it up with the Supreme Court of the United States.
BLITZER: The report cites what's being described as an 80-page draft indictment against Michael Cohen, the president's former fixer and lawyer. Have you seen any version of that?
AVENATTI: I have not seen a version of the draft, the 80-page draft indictment. But what I will say, Wolf is, I don't think we've heard the end of the details relating to this $130,000 conspiracy undertaken by Donald Trump and Michael Cohen. And my guess is, is that the government has audio recordings to support quite a lot of this. You know, as you know, Michael Cohen, was one of the world's greatest evidence hoarders: The government seized a lot of documents and a lot of audiotapes in connection with those search warrants.
BLITZER: What's the most surprising thing you learned today?
AVENATTI: Well, I'm not surprised by a lot of it, because it's exactly what we have been saying. But I would say probably the most surprising thing is that David Pecker's sole reason for refusing to pay the $130,000 payment was that he didn't want to be associated with a payment to a "porn star." I found that to be rather humorous, in light of, of course, the history of David Pecker and some of his conduct.
[17:40:12] BLITZER: The David Pecker who is the publisher of the National Enquirer, very -- used to be at least, a very close friend of Donald Trump. Apparently, they're not speaking any more. He's got an immunity deal, he's cooperating with federal prosecutors, as is Allen Weisselberg, who's long-time chief financial officer of the Trump administration. He's cooperating, as well. Both have immunity deals that we know that Michael Cohen is cooperating, himself. There's a lot of people there who were involved in all of this, who are now working with Mueller and other federal prosecutors.
AVENATTI: Well, you're absolutely right, Wolf. But the problem is this, unless an indictment is issued, then the route is going to be one of impeachment. And thus far, I do not think that the Republicans have the backbone, the guts, if you will, to do the right thing and to ultimately convict Donald Trump. I think that impeachment charges may pass by way of the house, but I don't think the votes will be there in the Senate, due to the lack of fortitude and the lack of courage on the part of the Republican Party. And so ultimately, we may have to resolve this at the ballot box in 2020. I hope, though -- I hope that prosecutors with the southern district and/or Bob Mueller, will issue an indictment against this president. Let's test this issue at the highest levels as to whether a sitting president can be indicted.
BLITZER: Michael Avenatti, thanks so much for joining us.
AVENATTI: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. So, we're going to discuss what we just heard with our political and legal experts. We're also going to be joined by our White House Reporter, Kate Bennett. But let me get Jeffrey Toobin to weigh in, you read this lengthy of the Wall Street Journal, does it look to you like the president of the United States broke the law?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I take a lot more cautious line than Michael Avenatti does. The argument that it is a crime is that the National Enquirer knew that this money paid to both Stormy Daniels and the other woman were -- well, no. It's the money that went to the other woman, the playboy model, was a campaign contribution. That that was the -- that was the purpose of this money. And that Donald Trump conspired to make an illegal campaign contribution in the form of this $130,000. That is an argument that has not been made in successful criminal prosecutions so far. It's an unusual situation, so maybe it will be made. But I think it
is a difficult criminal case to make that this was a campaign contribution and Donald Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy to make this campaign contribution. It's not out of the question, but you'd need to know a lot more facts, if, for example, there are tapes. If the president acknowledged on those tapes that he knew this was an illegal campaign contribution. That might change the factual situation. But it's certainly worthy of more investigation. I'm not prepared to say it's a crime, based on this.
BLITZER: I know, Gloria, you've been doing some reporting and you've got some information from a source close to Michael Cohen.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. As we know, Wolf, Michael Cohen has been testifying to a whole variety of people with the special counsel, Southern District of New York. And he spent, you know, more than 30 hours talking to these people. And a source close to Cohen told me today that he was doing his job and protecting his client. It's called loyalty. Something Trump doesn't understand and probably can't spell.
So, you see -- you see the breakdown here in the complete and utter breakdown, which we've been watching occur for the last months between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump. And it seems to me that the southern district has done an awful lot of interviewing, not only with Cohen, but with other people from AMI, for example, who were all involved in this. Jeffrey is more qualified to make the, you know, to make the case about whether there is a case that could be made on campaign finance violations.
But in reading this story, it seems very clear to me that contrary to M.J. Lee's piece and all of the quotes from Donald Trump for months that he didn't know about it, you would have to ask his attorney, et cetera, et cetera, he was in the driver's seat here. He was directing this. And knew every piece of it. And so that Michael Cohen didn't do something on his own without talking to then candidate Trump about it.
And at the very beginning of this piece, there's an anecdote in which it explains that Donald Trump went to his friend, David Pecker, and said, what can you do to help me during this campaign? Period. And this is what it was.
[17:45:02] BLITZER: Kate Bennett, I want to switch gears and talk about this new book, Michelle Obama's autobiography is coming out, a new book and she is speaking about President Trump, when he was a private citizen, the treatment of her husband spreading the birther conspiracy, a total lie. And the excerpt from the new book in the Washington Post she writes this: "It's underlying bigotry and xenophobia, hardly concealed. But it was also dangerous. What if someone with unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington, what if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump with his loud and reckless innuendos was putting my family's safety at risk with all of the allegations of the birther."
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Right. Michelle Obama obviously feels very strongly about this issue. She made reference to Donald Trump, we remember, on the campaign trail when she was stumping for Hillary Clinton. She said, you can't just pop off when you're a president. There needs to be an adult in the room. She made a few veiled references, never used his name. But now that she's no longer first lady, she is using his name and she feels very comfortable pointing the finger, talking about exactly what that did do her.
What that did to her family, sort of breaking the unspoken rule that there is that sitting former presidents don't talk about sitting presidents. Apparently, might not apply to the first lady. Of course, the president today, sort of, hit back, taking a swipe at Michelle Obama or really, Barack Obama on, you know, using Michelle Obama's book as an entry point there. But, yes, certainly very personal.
BLITZER: You know, it's also very personal, and April, she also revealed some extremely personal details about her struggles with miscarriage, her decision to conceive using IVF. Have you ever seen her or heard her be so open? Because she's always been a pretty private person.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, you hear things here and there. You know, I've talked to her, and on numerous occasions and talked to people around her. And there were some things that were revealed closer to the end of the presidency of President Barack Obama. But this is very telling and open -- and she is showing her heart, showing her realness. And people around her have said, you know, you -- when you're placed in this position, it's about opening up to help people, as well, to show that you're real. As she's living this public life, as a civilian now.
This is very telling. I mean, she talks about the help that they have received, even though their marriage looks great from the outside, they've received help. And, you know, the miscarriages and the things of how to conceive a child or children. This is very -- it's very real and very touching to hear another woman who has been on a lofty perch to open up to this personally.
BLITZER: I think all of us are looking forward to going through this book in the coming days. Guys, stand by there's more breaking news coming up. A judge sets a new deadline, as Florida officials rush to count all of the votes in the too close to call races for governor and U.S. Senate.
[17:50:38] BLITZER: We're following breaking news in Florida where there are now new lawsuits and new deadlines and plenty of name calling as officials try to wrap up the vote count in the still- uncalled races for governor and senate -- senator. CNN's Ryan Nobles is keeping track of these developments.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Forgive the people of Florida if they're having flashbacks. 18 years after an historic and controversial recount of the 2000 presidential election, Floridians and their board of election are back in the spotlight, and already the accusations are flying.
GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Ever Floridian should be concerned there may be a rampant fraud happening in Palm Beach and Broward counties.
SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: The governor has decided to abandon the most fundamental of all rights because he fears that he will lose the election if all the votes are counted.
NOBLES: Three statewide races in Florida are so close that a massive recount of the vote will likely be necessary. At stake, a U.S. Senate seat and the governor's mansion, but before the recount can take place the vote needs to wrap up and every couple of hours the margins change.
SCOTT: By Wednesday morning, that lead dropped to 38,000 votes. By Wednesday evening, it was around 30,000 votes. This morning it was around 21,000. Now, it is 15,000.
NOBLES: The margin between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Bill Nelson has tightened by more than 40,000 votes since election night, a dramatic shift that has Democrats encouraged and has Republicans sounding the alarm.
TRUMP: There's bad things have gone on in Broward County, really bad things. I say this, he easily won, but every hour it seems to be going down. I think that people have to look at it very, very cautiously.
NOBLES: The president later mocked the process on Twitter and seemed to joke that the Russians may be at fault. To be clear, there is no concrete evidence of fraud or manipulation, but there are serious questions about the collection and counting of votes in two major counties, Palm Beach and Broward. While the rest of the state has wrapped up its count of all but provisional ballots, new votes from both places continue to trickle in, and it is not clear just how many total votes were cast. The confusion has led to protests outside the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office. Democrats feel bullish about their chance to make up ground in the Senate race.
NELSON: We believe when every legal ballot is counted, we'll win this election.
NOBLES: The governor's race is more of a climb, but Democrat Andrew Gillum, who conceded on election night, is now promising he would make sure every vote is counted.
ANDREW GILLUM (D), MAYOR OF TALLAHASSEE: We're hopeful that every single vote will be counted in this race and that way all of us can walk away feeling extremely confident about what each and every one of us did.
(END VIDEOTAPE) NOBLES: And even though this race is not even done being counted, already the lawsuits are flying. Today Rick Scott and his team actually won a pair of lawsuits in Palm Beach and Broward County that charged the board of elections down there with not being fully transparent with their public records. Bill Nelson had a federal lawsuit where the judge decided to weigh in on that next week about provisional ballots, but it is interesting this has already become a court issue, Wolf.
And Marco Rubio, the Senator from Florida, a Republican, now an ally of Rick Scott, he's been very vocal about what is happening here in Florida. He just held a conference call with reporters where he said that now this has been handed over to partisan lawyers. And he said the goal of partisan lawyers isn't to make sure that every vote gets counted, it's to make sure that only the votes of their clients get counted. Interestingly, Wolf, he didn't distinguish between Republicans and Democrats, and that's one of the reasons that this race remains in the balance here for the voters of Florida. Wolf.
BLITZER: As we used to say 18 years ago, Florida, Florida, Florida. Ryan Nobles, thanks very much.
[17:54:40] Coming up, there's breaking news. A bombshell report from the Wall Street Journal reporting federal investigators have evidence that Donald Trump was deeply involved in the hush money payments to a porn star and a playboy model. Did he violate campaign finance laws?
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Trump's pay-off problem. The feds now reportedly have evidence of the president's direct role in hush-money deals with a porn star and a playmate. Could he be indicted for breaking campaign finance laws?
[17:59:46] Creating distance. As Mr. Trump kicks off an overseas trip, he is trying to get far away from his controversial new acting- attorney general. How could he claim he doesn't know a man he recently called a great guy?
Lashing out. After Republicans lose control of the house, the president is losing his temper; insulting reporters, picking a fight with the French president and taking angry swipes at the Obamas.