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U.S. President Asked Trump Supporter Be Put in Charge of Cohen Probe; Judge Orders Roger Stone Back to Court after Crosshairs Photo; Interview with Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, Armed Services Committee; Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 19, 2019 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- money will eventually be funneled into the Army Corps of Engineers -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Political risk, too, taking away projects from the military construction. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Tweet the show @TheLead. CNN coverage continues right now.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now: breaking news, attempting to interfere, a bombshell by the "The New York Times" saying President Trump trying to interfere by asking to have his former lawyer by asking to have a supporter in the charge of the probe.

Stone's misstep: Long-time Trump ally Roger Stone has been ordered back to a report after a post showed a picture of the judge with crosshairs in the background.

Did Stone put his bail arrangement at risk?

Bern to run: Last time around, Bernie Sanders was the outsider in the Democratic presidential race. He is back in a field full of other progressives.

Has he missed his best chance?

Brides of ISIS: as ISIS is driven out of Syria, young Western women are speaking out about life inside the terror group.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, a stunning new report that Trump tried to interfere in the federal investigation of his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. Trump is denying a story that he asked Matt Whitaker to put a Trump supporter in charge of the probe.

Jeffrey Berman had already recused himself from the investigation and "The Times" reports that the president soured on Whitaker when he was unable to make it happen. I'll speak with Congressman Ro Khanna of the Oversight Committee and our correspondents and analysts have full coverage.

Let's go to Kaitlyn Collins.

Kaitlyn, take us through the truly remarkable report that the president tried to influence the Michael Cohen investigation.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: If you're starting to sense a pattern here, I'm not sure anyone can blame you. An explosive report in "The New York Times" that claims the president asked then acting attorney general Matt Whitaker to reach out to the Southern District of New York and tried to get him to unrecuse himself from overseeing that investigation into the hush money payments to women.

The investigation is tied to the president and that president today denied.


COLLINS (voice-over): A stunning report in "The New York Times" claiming President Trump asked Matt Whitaker to put someone who was supportive of Trump in charge of investigating hush payments made by Michael Cohen.

TRUMP: I have a lot of respect for Mr. Whitaker. I think he's done a great job.

COLLINS (voice-over): A bombshell Trump denied today.

TRUMP: No, not at all. I don't know who gave you that. There's a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn't.

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump wanted in the job, U.S. attorney for Southern District of New York Jeffrey Berman had already recused himself from overseeing the probe. According to "the Times," it's unclear how Whitaker responded and there's no evidence he intervened, despite he knew part of the job was to jump on a grenade for the president .

Whitaker remarked that New York prosecutors required adult supervision according to "The Times."

While Berman is recused this probe, not another that could touch Trump. One looking into the president's inaugural committee. "The Times" adding Trump soured on Whitaker after his inability to make the change and he has since been replaced by Bill Barr.

Whitaker could be facing bigger problems. He recently said to a congressional committee under oath that the president had never pressured him regarding any investigations. MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: At no time has the

White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation.

COLLINS (voice-over): Whitaker is under scrutiny by House Democrats for potential perjury. A DOJ spokesperson says he stands by his testimony and Trump is standing by him.

TRUMP: He is a very, very straight shooter. I watched him during the hearing. I thought he was exceptional.

COLLINS (voice-over): Since Trump told advisers Rod Rosenstein assured him the Cohen investigation had nothing to do with him, "The New York Times" reports he has since wondered if Rosenstein was deliberately misleading him.

The extensive report is claiming Trump told advisers in February 2017 they should say he asked for Michael Flynn's resignation because "that sounds better." Pressed by Spicer if it was true, Trump reportedly said --


COLLINS (voice-over): "Say that I asked for his resignation."

According to "The Times," White House lawyers were so concerned about what Spicer said from the Briefing Room podium they compiled a memo laying out his misstatements.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: The White House counsel review and determined there is not a legal issue but rather a trust issue.

COLLINS (voice-over): The report coming amid reports that Andrew McCabe, who was fired last spring, briefed congressional leadership about the counterintelligence investigation he launched into President Trump.

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: The purpose of the briefing was to let congressional leadership know exactly what we have been doing. Opening a case of this nature, not something that an FBI director, an acting FBI director do by yourself.

COLLINS (voice-over): And that no one raised concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you tell Congress?

MCCABE: And I told Congress what we had done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did anyone object?

MCCABE: That's the important part here. No one objected, not on legal grounds or constitutional grounds and not based on the facts.


COLLINS: "The Times" also notes that the president has had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller probe, something he's done over 1,100 times and could serve as a public relations strategy in addition to a legal one.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Let's bring in Laura Jarrett and Jeffrey Toobin.

Laura, does President Trump alleged request of Whitaker to replace the person leading the Cohen investigation obstruct -- what some are suggesting could be obstruction of justice?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The legal question in this case is what was the president's intent?

If he wanted to have Berman on the case because he thought he was a better lawyers and the U.S. attorney was not doing a good job, it might be legitimate. But if he wants Berman because he thinks he'll protect him, that's where it could be corrupt reasons and obstruction could come into play.

The other point is that "The Times" lays out more than the fact than he wanted Berman. They lay out a month-long campaign trying to undermine the Mueller probe. We also know that he tried to get Sessions to unrecuse himself. So you have to ask yourself why.

What is he doing it for?

BLITZER: You reported last year on Trump's calls to Whitaker, the acting attorney general.

What does it tell you about the president's position, about the president's concern over the Cohen investigation that he was engaged in these activities?

JARRETT: Pamela Brown and I reported that the president was frustrated by the prosecutors in Manhattan doing what he felt like was running amok on the Cohen investigation. He thought the court papers made him look bad. He was outed as Individual-1, an unindicted co- conspirator, in a hush money scheme of Michael Cohen to quash those stories before the election.

The president is leaning on Whitaker because he thinks he can do something about it, not telling him to stop the investigation but concerned about what prosecutors might find because of his personal liability and exposure.

BLITZER: He was obviously very concerned.

I will bring in Jeff.

Take it all together.

How strong is Mueller's obstruction case as a result of these developments?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: In and of themselves, I doubt you can make a criminal case out of it, even if you could prove that it took place. However, this is not an isolated incident.

What you have is a series of actions going over many months, starting with even -- starting with the president's pressure on Comey to go easy own Michael Flynn, then his firing of Michael Flynn, then his threats to fire Mueller.

And you have the -- if proved -- this attempt to limit the investigation of Michael Cohen because it involved him. I didn't list all of the possible evidence here but you could make a case the president has engaged obstruction of justice from the moment he took the oath of office until today.

BLITZER: Jeff, other Mueller investigation news developing today, the federal judge overseeing Roger Stone's case ordered him back in court after he posted a picture on Instagram of the judge with crosshairs.

What could it mean for Stone's gag order and did he put bail in jeopardy?

TOOBIN: The answer to both of those is yes. This is really bad news for Roger Stone. It might not mean catastrophic news. But the question is, will the gag order be tightened so that Stone has fewer free speech rights than he had already?

He does have the right --


TOOBIN: -- in the initial appearance that he has the First Amendment rights. But you don't have the right to interfere with the government's right to a fair trial as well as his own. Then there's the issue of the threat.

Is a photograph with what appears to be a target some sort of threat, which is far more serious than violating a gag order?

That could get your bail pulled and could get you locked up. What makes this situation more perilous for Stone this is the same judge, Amy Berman Jackson, who locked up Paul Manafort and pulled his bail when he was found to have contacted witnesses in his case.

She takes bail conditions very seriously. The question is, does this Instagram post constitute the kind of behavior that would provoke a bail revocation?

That's the real peril.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Joining us now, Rep. Ro Khanna of California. He's a member of the Oversight Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

So if the President of the United States asked the acting attorney general to make a call to try to get the then U.S. attorney in New York, Trump appointee, to unrecuse himself from overseeing the Michael Cohen probe, would it be from your perspective obstruction of justice?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CALIF.), MEMBER, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Well, Jeffrey Toobin says it is a pattern of corrupt intent. You don't need to look at legalese. It is common sense.

If someone was watching commits a crime, you don't get to pick a neighbor or a friend to oversee the investigation. That's what the president's doing. Most people think the president isn't above the law. There should be an independent person investigating it and he shouldn't try to force that person to investigate who he wants, who is a friend of his.

BLITZER: Do you think Whitaker perjured himself when he appeared before the House Judiciary Committee and answered questions about contacts he may have had with the president?

KHANNA: I think there's a real concern about that. He testified that the president didn't force a commitment from him and he's trying to use some loophole there. But the bottom line is he wasn't transparent. He didn't say Trump had an interest in having one of his supporters overseeing the investigation. He should at the very least correct his testimony.

BLITZER: What's the latest on Michael Cohen?

We was supposed to testify in open session before the House Oversight Committee but he cancelled that citing security concerns for himself and his family as a result of some of the comments made by the president.

Will he ever appear in put?

We know he is supposed to appear behind closed doors with other panels.

KHANNA: We are going to pursue. We are going to make sure. We're going to subpoena him and he has to appear in public because that American people need to know what happened.

He should be transparent. We should understand who ordered him to make these payments, the president, why, what may the obstruction of justice have been?

BLITZER: How do you deal with potential threats?

He says his wife and father in law faces.

KHANNA: I'm sympathetic to him and to Andrew McCabe. The president we know is a bully. He will insult their family. He has no remorse. But I think in the interest of the country and transparency override that. We'll provide him with security but he needs to tell his story to the American people.

BLITZER: He hasn't made a commitment.

KHANNA: He has not. But chairman Elijah Cummings has been very clear we'll make sure he testifies before the committee.

BLITZER: He is supposed to start his three year prison sentence March 6th.

KHANNA: Whatever we need to do, we'll make sure he testifies and make sure he testifies in a way that's safe.

BLITZER: In open session?

KHANNA: In an open session to the public and evaluate.

BLITZER: One of his lawyers told ABC News that Cohen plans to share a chilling account of his time working for a decade-plus for Donald Trump.

What do you want to hear?

KHANNA: I want to hear why he did what he did. It is unbelievable he acted on his own. I want to hear when the president directed him. Did the president know what he was doing was illegal? Did the president continue to violate the law?

What does Michael Cohen think about the president's actions?

BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to the stunning statements from the fired acting FBI director. McCabe said he did brief the so called Gang of Eight, the top leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee, Republicans and Democrats, in connection with his decision to launch --


BLITZER: -- what he describes as a counterintelligence investigation into President Trump.

He says -- the president says McCabe's decision was an illegal coup. McCabe says no one on the Gang of Eight, Republicans and Democrats, objected.

How do you see it?

KHANNA: First of all, I never thought I would hear the president of the United States accusing someone at the FBI of treason or wanting a coup.

Second, McCabe went to these leaders, including Paul Ryan, and he presented evidence that there may have been interference by Russia in our elections. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and everyone said conduct the investigation. No one objected.

No one wants Russia to be interfering in our elections. I don't see why that's controversial. I don't see why the president, if he himself has nothing to hide, wouldn't say investigate this. Make sure Russia isn't interfering.

BLITZER: Were you surprised no one complained to McCabe when he briefed them?

KHANNA: I'm surprised that no one spoke out publicly and that McConnell and Ryan aren't out there saying let the FBI conduct the investigation. We approved this. They aren't putting the country's interests ahead of partisan interests. It shouldn't be a partisan question that we don't want Russia sowing discord in our elections.

They did this perhaps for Donald Trump.

What if tomorrow they do it from some other candidate?

No one wants that.

BLITZER: We checked with all eight of the Gang of Eight. Six offices told us they would have no comment on this allegation by McCabe, former House Speaker Paul Ryan and Devin Nunes did not respond.

Congressman, thanks for joining me.

KHANNA: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up, bombshell report that President Trump tried to interfere in the federal probe of his former fixer by asking to have a supporter put in charge of the investigation.

And Trump ally Roger Stone is already in deep legal jeopardy. Now a judge ordered him back to court after his Instagram account showed crosshairs.





BLITZER: President Trump is denying "The New York Times" report that he tried to interfere with a federal investigation of personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. Let's bring back our experts.

How significant is this report?

JARRETT: You know, I think for many of us that cover this Russia story every day you sort of forget all of the details we have been covering over the last two years.

I think "The Times" lays out how there was almost a triangulated approach. The White House went on the attack. Then they had Congress go on the attack with the president's allies, the Republicans on Capitol Hill. Then they used a method to go after the Justice Department, pressuring them to release highly classified documents they thought would help the president.

It was all of those steps together. It wasn't just the president on it. It was everybody sort of working in collaboration together.

BLITZER: It is a very long report. We all read nearly 5,000 words.

Does it add new evidence to Robert Mueller's potential obstruction of justice case?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think so. I would look at this and say the story is uglier than that. What Robert Mueller has found has been transferred over to the Southern District of New York. If you think Mueller will shut down soon, the investigations in New York, including the Cohen investigations, the stuff involving dirty money will continue.

If you look at this story that relates to what's happening in New York, I think with the Southern District and related to Cohen. So I think if you're looking at this from the White House, you're saying if something obstructed something, it is obstruction related at the Southern District. That case is going to go on forever.

BLITZER: There's a case involving the Southern District of New York, the New York state attorney general, the District of Columbia U.S. attorney, Northern Virginia U.S. attorney; in addition to the Mueller probe, there are a lot of investigations of the president and his team.

MUDD: That's right and there's one other question here. After the President of the United States goes through the process of taking out Comey and getting a tougher investigator, Mueller, and having everybody ask about obstruction, now we have another story that says he wants to take out a prosecutor he thinks it won't become public.

And when it becomes public, he's going to realize somebody will say I tried to obstruct justice.

When does this guy learn?

It's not that hard.

BLITZER: The U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, Jeffrey Berman, was highly respected but he was a law partner of Rudy Giuliani and he was a volunteer in the Trump transition. That's why he recused himself from all of this.

Listen to the president. He was asked about this "New York Times" story at the White House earlier.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You asked acting attorney general Matt Whitaker to change the leadership of the investigation into your former personal attorney, Michael Cohen?

TRUMP: No, not at all. I don't know who gave you that. That's more fake news. A lot of --there's a lot of fake -- there's a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn't.


BLITZER: What do you make of that denial?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Anytime the president is confronted with news that plays him unflatteringly, he has no other response but to dismiss it as fake news. But his is a president that had a long standing problem with the truth.

Now he has a credibility problem. And actually if you think back to Matt Whitaker's testimony a couple of weeks ago on Capitol Hill, he testified under oath that he had never discussed the Russia investigation with the president.

But he would not say whether or not he had discussed the investigation being overseen by the Southern District of New York. When it comes to the president, it is plausible. It fits into --

SIDDIQUI: -- the pattern where he has repeatedly sought loyalists, whether at the Justice Department or the FBI and where he has sought to interfere with ongoing investigations.

Yes, the hush money payment is separate from the Russia inquiry. But think about the firing of James Comey, his attempts to get Jeff Sessions and the attorney general not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, threatening to fire Robert Mueller.

So it is all part of a pattern.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, what does it say the president is so concerned about this Michael Cohen investigation?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: If the report is accurate, what he asked of the Justice Department is so obviously out of bounds, so inappropriate. I think it tells you what he is afraid of and but what he isn't afraid of.

It shows concern which turned out to be justified about where the investigation would go and leaving him as an unindicted co- conspirator.

It also shows that he was willing to make a request like this. It underscores how unlikely he thought it was that the acting attorney general would object and those objections would become public.

It also indicates he really didn't think anyone was watching in those first two years. I just find it hard to believe that you would do something that was so clearly inappropriate if you thought there was any meaningful congressional oversight that might unearth it.

I think it just was a reflection of how the first two years of this presidency unfolded with essentially no checks, no balances and no constraints.

BLITZER: There's a lot more to discuss. We'll do that right after this.



[17:34:21] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: We're back with reporters and analysts. We're following the breaking news. And, Laura Jarrett, the Department of Justice, and you cover the Department of Justice for us, they issued a response to the New York Times report suggesting that the President asked the acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to intervene in the New York investigation of Michael Cohen, right, U.S. Attorney of the Southern district in New York. Here is the response.

Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that, at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the Special Counsel's investigation or any other investigation. Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony. So how do you read that, because some say that's not exactly a denial of what the New York Times has reported?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: It's nonresponsive as well. Our reporting back in December was that the President was venting about the prosecutors in New York. And it follows the New York Times reporting today which is that he wanted to switch out Berman, the U.S. Attorney, that Trump had personally interviewed and asked Whitaker if he can sort of un-recuse himself.

So for the Justice Department to say, well, Whitaker didn't make any promises, no one is suggesting that he did make any promises. The question is whether they had the discussion at all and the appropriate context for them to be having that conversation.

BLITZER: That was not in that so-called denial.

JARRETT: Correct.

BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, another line stood out in this long New York Times report that Whitaker, quote, had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to "jump on a grenade for the President." What concerns you about that?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's not his role. The role for anybody representing the U.S. government whatever position is to represent the constitution of the law. If the President is in violation of the constitution of the law, you stand - you fall on a grenade for the constitution of the law, not the President.

What if Rosenstein had said that? What if Robert Mueller had said that? What if the former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has said that? What would rule in this country with the the executive branch under a man who lacks character in the Oval Office rule or would the rule of law which we all have respected since the 18th century rule? You cannot fall on a grenade for somebody who does something wrong. You're there to prosecute and defend the law, end of story. BLITZER: Amidst all of this, Sabrina, the fired former acting FBI Director, Andrew McCabe, he's taking a lot of heat from the President and supporters who accuse him of launching what they call an illegal coup to get rid of the President of the United States because he opened a counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump after the firing of James Comey. McCabe says, he did go ahead and briefed that so-called gang of eight, the top leaders in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as well as the leaders, democrats and republicans in the House of the Senate. We show the pictures of the eight lawmakers who were briefed. And McCabe said no one objected. What's your reaction to that?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: Well, I reached out to the spokespeople for some of those top congressional leaders to see if they were willing to corroborate. McCabe has account, one that we briefed them in May of 2017, and two, that no one in that meeting objected. Now, most of them declined to comment citing their longstanding policy of not weighing in on intelligence matters.

But if you look at the ways in which republicans have responded to the Russia investigation. You do have a coalition, of course, of Trump's allies who have raised concerns about the Justice Department. And FBI sort of sided with this President - with the President on this notion that there's some kind of bias.

But if Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan genuinely thought that there was some sort of illegal coup happening behind the scenes against his President, you better believe they would have said something in public.

It's also a separate question as to whether or not Andrew McCabe is helping or hurting given the investigation is still ongoing.


And some of these more controversial or outrageous claims do give some fodder to the President and his supporters. But there simply is no evidence to back up the notion that there has been any kind of coup or even widespread bias within the FBI against Trump.

BLITZER: You know, Ron, is McCabe a credible narrator in all of this? He has had his own issues with the Inspector General at the Justice Department.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Look, I mean, certainly to the President's supporters, he's not. And that is a big part of what the President does. I mean, a big part of his communication strategy is to try to disqualify messengers that he thinks can land a blow against blow against him. But I don't know. To the public, overall, generally speaking, in polling, people have consistently said that either that they - whether the question is Robert Mueller or the FBI that they are more likely to accept their version of events than the President's.

And I think it is striking. I mean, you know, you talked about the language of the bureaucratic coup, and Lindsey Graham making that charge on Sunday, it's quite a kind of twist to put on this, that rather than saying, look, what was it that so concerned the very top law enforcement officials in the country about the President's behavior that they would open this kind of investigation of a President rather than - as oppose to saying that, saying the fact that they opened the investigation is proof that they're biased against him and immediately dismissing the idea that there was anything that might prompt that behavior.

So that is the kind of structure that the President has built within his coalition, in which I think people feel the pressure to go in that direction, like republicans in the Senate. But there's no evidence that he's built anything like that for the public, overall.

BLITZER: You wanted to weigh in?

MUDD: Yes. I think we need to be careful with language. I think the language is wrong here.

BLITZER: Which language?

MUDD: The language about what McCabe said to the Congress. That is when you're briefing the gang of eight about a counterintelligence investigation, I could easily see a conversation where McCabe says, we're concerned about Russian interference in the election, including with people involved win the President's campaign. And people in Congress, I think, would say, if there's information about Russian involvement, we need to look at it. That is fundamentally different than a member of the FBI going down to say, the President of the United States is under investigation. I bet my paycheck McCabe --

BLITZER: That's what he says - he said.

MUDD: I don't think - I didn't sit there. I briefed the gang of eight. I bet it was a counterintelligence investigation about Russia that involved people in the President's circle, and that's a big difference.

JARRETT: This is why it's so significant because it's not in McCabe's book. So McCabe does discuss the fact that there were four individuals in the Trump campaign that they had opened case files on back there July of 2016. He says, we briefed the gang of eight about that and additional steps. Now, the question is, well, what additional steps. And then today's show comes today, what do you know? He says, both the counterintelligence investigation and the obstruction investigation were discussed with those top lawmakers.

That is a huge deal for all the reasons that you laid out, of course, what kind of coup is this if they were all informed. But also given the fact that House Intel Chair - former House Intel Chair, I should say, David Nunes, was in the room, given his cozy relationship with the White House, it opens up a whole host of questions about what exactly Nunes relayed to the White House about that conversation after McCabe provided that briefing if indeed he did reveal that there was a case file opened on the President personally. BLITZER: We reached out to Devin Nunes's office today for comment on what McCabe is alleging. We have not gotten any reaction from him. Six of the other eight have just told us, no comment. But he former Speaker Paul Ryan have not commented. He had not given us anything yet.

All right, standby, guys. There's a lot more news we're following, including Senator Bernie Sanders. He has now joined the race for the democratic nomination. Will he stand out from the rest of the pack this time around?



[18:43:10] BLITZER: The independent Senator, Bernie Sanders, is running for President again. His announcement today makes him the 10th candidate officially in the race for the democratic presidential nomination. I'll be moderating a CNN Presidential Town Hall with Senator Sanders Monday night at 8:00 P.M. Eastern here on CNN. Our Political Director, David Chalian, is joining us here in The Situation Room now. He is very well known, as we all know. Does that mean he is a frontrunner?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTION: Well, it certainly means he has a national following from the 2016 campaign. There's no doubt about that, Wolf. But he is going to be in this 2020 contest in a different context. That was a one-on-one race against the very embodiment of a establishment politics, Hillary Clinton. So he was able to play that insurgent. He is no longer an insurgent. He's got competition for his voters on the left, progressive wing of the party, and it's a much more crowded field. But most importantly, there is not one opponent that he can point the supporters to and say, see, this is everything we are fighting against. It's an entirely different context for Bernie Sanders.

Donald Trump is keenly aware of his appeal. If you recall in the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump used to say, Bernie Sanders and I have a thing going together. We both understand the appeal against establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton. And here is what the President had to say about Sanders entering the race.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I think he missed his time. But I like Bernie because he is one person that - you know, on trade, he sort of would agree on trade. I'm being very tough on trade. He was tough on trade. The problem is he doesn't know what do about it. He ran great four years ago and he was not treated with respect by Clinton. And that was too bad. I thought what happened to Bernie Sanders four years ago was quite sad as it pertains to our country. So we'll see how he does.

You've got a lot of people running, but only one person is going to win. I hope you know who that person is.



CHALIAN: Wolf, you can see that the President is referring to himself.


CHALIAN: That he thinks he's going to win. Of course, he has the same challenge this time around. He is not going to have Hillary Clinton to run against either, so he is keenly aware, though, that Sanders has an appeal out there that Donald Trump himself experienced last time around.

BLITZER: When he was running in 2015 and 2016, he was different. He was supporting issues like Medicare for all, free college tuition. But so many of the other progressive Democratic candidates right now, they're with him on those issues. So what makes him different?

CHALIAN: Yes, he has moved, almost single-handedly, the debate inside -- the policy debate inside the Democratic Party further to the left. He has brought the party a bit closer to him on some of these issues.

One of the things you see the candidates are starting to deal with differently -- you asked the differentiator -- is how to deal with President Trump. Some are taking him on directly, going right at him, calling him a racist as Bernie Sanders did today. Some are trying not to engage on the President's turf too much, not trying to show a fighter spirit but one that is a call for unity.

This is how Bernie Sanders goes after the President.


JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS HOST: What's going to be different this time?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: We're going to win. We have a president who is a pathological liar. And it gives me no pleasure to say that, but it's true.

We have a president who is a racist, who is a sexist, who is a xenophobe, who is doing what no president in our lifetime has come close to doing. And that is trying to divide us up.


CHALIAN: He's going to have to make some adjustments this time around. That's the big question around Bernie Sanders, Wolf, can he expand beyond what he already got in 2016?

BLITZER: Well, we'll see what happens fairly soon. This is moving. This presidential contest is moving along. David Chalian, thanks very much.

Once again, I'll be moderating a CNN presidential town hall with Senator Bernie Sanders. Tune in Monday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up, they left their homes, married ISIS fighters, and now they are telling their stories about life inside the terror group.


[17:51:45] BLITZER: As U.S.-backed forces drive ISIS out of its last enclave in eastern Syria, young Western women who became ISIS brides are now speaking out about life inside the terror group. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have new information tonight from these women on what life was like inside ISIS, the conditions they faced. One of them ran away from the terror group just a few weeks ago. And these women are clearly traumatized by their experiences.


TODD (voice-over): She made a bold move and, she now says, foolish decision to leave her home in, of all places, Alabama, to join ISIS overseas. And tonight, this 24-year-old American woman is speaking out in new interviews about her life with the terrorist group.

Hoda Muthana told ABC News she was radicalized online in the U.S. then made her way to Syria through Turkey four years ago. But she tells "The Guardian" newspaper that reality hit her when she arrived in Syria.

HODA MUTHANA, AMERICAN WOMAN WHO JOINED ISIS: I don't know, I thought I was doing things correctly for the sake of God. And when I came here and I saw everything with my own eyes, I realized I've made a big mistake. And I know I've ruined my future and my son's future, and I deeply, deeply regret it.

TODD (voice-over): Muthana said when she got there, ISIS offered her lists of fighters to choose from to marry. She had her choice, she says, of Westerners or Arabs. She says she was married three times to ISIS fighters, including to an Australian man, and now has an 18- month-old son. Analysts say a lot of promises ISIS made to Western women soon faded.

MIA BLOOM, AUTHOR, "SMALL ARMS: CHILDREN AND TERRORISM": Those women thought they were going to be frontline fighters. Once they got to Syria or Iraq, they found out they were basically there for one purpose, and that was to procreate and get married off and have many babies or as many babies as possible.

TODD (voice-over): Muthana's first two husbands, she says, were killed in combat. After one of them died, according to one group that monitors terrorists, Muthana started tweeting calls for violence against Westerners. In one tweet saying, quote, go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them. SEAMUS HUGHES, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE PROGRAM ON EXTREMISM, GEORGE

WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hoda was right in the mix for English language propaganda. She was a well-known commodity.

TODD (voice-over): Muthana now says she wishes she could take those tweets back.

Another ISIS bride, a British woman named Shamima Begum, is also speaking out tonight. Married off to an ISIS fighter as a teenager, Begum told Sky News she knew about ISIS' gruesome practice of beheadings even before she left her home in Britain.

SHAMIMA BEGUM, BRITISH WOMAN WHO JOINED ISIS: Yes, I knew about those things, and I was OK with it.

TODD (voice-over): Shamima Begum says people should have sympathy for her because of her experience in a war zone. But one expert who monitors the plight of these women disagrees.

HUGHES: I think they chose their own path. You know, we talk a lot about men and foreign fighters, but the women have the agency that men did. They went in there and they arrived knowing exactly what they were joining in to.


TODD: Both of these women who were just interviewed say they want to return to their home countries. But a lawyer for the British woman, Shamima Begum, says she is going to be stripped of her British citizenship. Analysts say the American woman, Hoda Muthana, could be prosecuted for supporting terrorism if she makes it back home.

CNN reached out to the Justice Department about that. We could not get comment from them on whether they would try to prosecute her, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

[17:55:01] Coming up, breaking news. A stunning new report in the "New York Times" says President Trump tried to interfere in the federal investigation of his former lawyer Michael Cohen by asking to have a supporter placed in charge of the probe.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Trying to meddle. A blockbuster report describes a brazen attempt by the President to interfere in the Michael Cohen investigation by trying to put a supporter in charge of the probe. We'll break it all down with one of the journalists behind the report.

[17:59:56] Crossing the judge. Roger Stone is ordered to appear in court after the indicted Trump ally posted a picture of his judge with crosshairs in the background. Will his gag order be tightened or his bail revoked?