Return to Transcripts main page


Awaiting Last Major Court Filing in Paul Manafort Case; Democrats Demand Attorney General Publicly Release Full Mueller Report; Interview with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI); Musician R. Kelly Charged with Sexual Abuse of Minors; Trump's Ex-Attorney Michael Cohen Gave Prosecutors New Info On Trump Family Business; New England Patriots Owner Accused In Sex Sting; Trump Closely Watching 2020 Democratic Candidates, Hopes To "Cause Chaos" During Primaries; Trump Admin Weighs Softening Demands For Full Nuke Accounting Before Second Summit With Kim Jong-un. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 22, 2019 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news, waiting game: the Justice Department says the Mueller report won't come next week while the president is away in Vietnam. We are standing by for Mueller's crucial court filing on Paul Manafort, which could come at any moment, with new details on Russia contacts.

Singer indicted after decades of accusations: R. Kelly faces 10 courts of criminal sexual abuse. Three of the cases involve minors. Chicago police say a warrant has been issued. A bail hearing set for tomorrow.

Patriots owner charged: police say New England Patriots owner is being charged with soliciting someone to commit prostitution after a raid on a day spa. Police say more than 20 people have been charged, all of them caught on video.

And North Korean brutality just days ahead of the summit with Kim Jong-un. North Korean defectors revealing gruesome new details about what they portray is Kim's reign of terror.

So why is the Trump administration considering softening its demands?

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

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

BLITZER: Breaking news: at any moment special counsel Robert Mueller is due to release the final big court filing in the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. A sentencing memo could reveal new key details of Manafort's Russia's contacts.

At the same time, New York prosecutors are reportedly building a separate case against Manafort which could mean that he'd serve prison time even if the president pardons him. A Justice Department official says Mueller is not expected to deliver his report to the attorney general next week.

Also breaking: the musician R. Kelly indicted on 10 counts on aggravated criminal sexual abuse, involving four alleged victims, three of them minors. The cases span more than a decade. A bond hearing is set for Kelly in Chicago tomorrow.

I'll speak with Senator Mazie Hirono of the Judiciary Committee and our correspondents, analysts and specialists, they will have full covering of the day's top stories. Let's begin with our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz and our political reporter, Sara Murray.

Sara, what's the latest you're getting on when the Mueller report will be finished and what does the timing depend on it?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We previous said this report could come as early as next week. Now a Justice Department official says it is not likely to be finished next week.

Part of the issue is that the president is going to be traveling overseas. They don't want to do anything that could interfere with the president's diplomatic efforts. That's part of the timing situation here.

It could still come any time in the next few weeks. The attorney general has to decide what he wants to make available to Congress. It will be a negotiation within the Justice Department.

We have already seen concern from Democratic lawmakers that believe they will not get enough information or a watered-down version. They are pushing to make the entire Mueller report public. That seems unlikely. But there have been many twists in this investigation. You'll never know.

BLITZER: Indeed.

What are you hearing, Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: So I think one of the key issues here is the timing around the president's trip. We had been hearing for weeks this was expected to come down; they were pretty much done.

Today Justice officials said it is now not the case. They don't tell us exactly when it will be delivered. I think just they wanted to set expectations for all of us.

BLITZER: In addition to the final Mueller report on the Russia investigation, there is a separate Mueller statement that we are anticipating coming forward right now in the sentencing of the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, that could be released any moment.

PROKUPECZ: At any moment we are expecting the special counsel team to file this. This will be the sentencing memo that is going to the judge.

That is going to have some information that we may not have known already. There will be redactions we are told. But a lot of what we have seen has been out there already. There may be new threats. That's what we are waiting for now.

This is an important part of the Paul Manafort case. It will be perhaps the last time we see a significant filing in the Mueller investigation. We are --


PROKUPECZ: -- hoping to learn new information.

BLITZER: Manafort is almost 70 years old, could face many years in prison, maybe the rest of his life. But the New York prosecutors are not taking any chances right now. They want to separately move against Manafort in case the president pardons him. If he were convicted of crimes in New York, the pardon wouldn't mean anything.

MURRAY: One of the lingering questions around Paul Manafort and some of his bizarre behavior and botched cooperation with the special counsel was whether he was angling for a pardon. Through Bloomberg News and some other reports we're learning that the prosecutors are laying the groundwork in case the president does pardon Paul Manafort.

These are cases that have to do with his taxes. There could be a loophole for this in New York, and exception for tax-related cases. It's odd for this information to be coming out, to find out that prosecutors may have a case waiting in the wings just in case someone besides Paul Manafort gets pardoned. But it's been a crazy investigation.

BLITZER: It will probably be crazier. Guys, good reporting. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, President Trump is talking tough about the Mueller report. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. She have the very latest.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Today the president said he hadn't discussed the end of the Mueller investigation with the attorney general but he said he is looking forward to reading Robert Mueller's report and he feels it will be an honest report if it shows there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.


COLLINS (voice-over): Washington is bracing tonight as both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue await Robert Mueller's final report.

TRUMP: At some point I guess I'll be talking about it.

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump sounding confident the special counsel's investigation will clear him. TRUMP: The nice part, there was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no anything. That's the nice part. There was no phone calls, no nothing. Everybody knows it's a hoax. So I look forward to seeing the report. If it's an honest report, it will say that. If it's not an honest report, it won't.

COLLINS (voice-over): A Justice Department official briefed on that plans telling CNN that at the moment Mueller is not expected to deliver the report next week while the president is in Vietnam for his second summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Sources tell CNN Bill Barr is preparing to announce the investigation is over. After that it will be up to him to decide how much Congress and the public sees.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: It is up to Mr. Mueller what the content is. It is up to the attorney general what the summary is that is presented to Congress.


COLLINS (voice-over): Aides insist Trump is more focused on his upcoming summit than the report.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think we are always prepared for a number of things that come at us. Right now our focus is not on the Mueller report but it's on doing our jobs.

COLLINS (voice-over): But his Twitter feed says otherwise.

Trump tweeting that, "The witch hunt is so bad for our country and must end."

In the Oval Office today Trump, who has pledged to fight human trafficking, commenting on his billionaire friend and New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, after he was charged with soliciting prostitution as part of a human trafficking sting.

TRUMP: I was very surprised to see it. He has proclaimed his innocence totally and but I'm very surprised to see it.

COLLINS (voice-over): In the meantime, the president's attention is also focused on the 2020 candidate field. New reporting from CNN shows Trump is eager to play a disruptive role in the Democratic primary.

In the words of one adviser, his team is looking for ways to cause chaos from the left and right. One Republican who speaks to him often tells CNN the president wants to get into the game. People may knock him in terms of running the government but he gets the campaign and can't wait to get started.

Trump, who has closely watched Democrats asked aides in recent days for political intelligence on Joe Biden. TRUMP: He is basically a 1 percent guy. He is weak. So we'll see what happens with him.


COLLINS: So above all the president has become increasingly fixated on that Democratic primary. It has become a regular subject of discussion here at the White House with allies and advisers and even Republican lawmakers. Now the president is getting regular briefings from his 2020 campaign manager to stay up to date on all of it.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, thank you.

Joining us now Democratic senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, she's a member of both the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committees.

Thanks so much for joining us. We're awaiting a key filing in the special counsel investigation. Manafort's sentencing memo due by midnight. We are told it is coming fairly soon.

What are you looking for in that new document?

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI.), MEMBER, JUDICIARY AND ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEES: I'm sure that because the deal that Manafort struck with the special counsel is off --


HIRONO: -- it will probably be a very strong memo.

The New York district attorney and the New York attorney general are already standing by, preparing their cases against him in case Manafort gets a pardon.

So I think Manafort is in a lot of trouble.

BLITZER: The Manhattan County, the New York defense attorney, Cyrus Vance, is preparing separate charges in case there were to be a presidential pardon. We are also learning about the New York prosecutors. They are doing this because they fear the president could pardon Manafort.

Do you believe that the president would seriously consider pardoning Manafort?

HIRONO: If the president thought that pardoning Manafort would somehow save him, I think he would do it. Trump cares about two things, protecting himself and money. If he thinks it will help him to pardon Manafort, it's very wise for the New York DA and the New York AG to stand ready to go after Manafort in case a pardon comes through.

BLITZER: That's precisely what they are doing right now.

Meanwhile a Justice Department official tells CNN Mueller is not expected to deliver the final report next week. Do you think this delay is a sign that Mueller is still working on the

report or the Justice Department wants to wait until the president returns from Vietnam?

HIRONO: I have such confidence in Mueller that whatever he is doing is totally focused and appropriate. So we will get the Mueller report when he gives it. And my hope and expectation is that our new attorney general will release the report to the public as well as to Congress.

BLITZER: You pressed that.

HIRONO: That is not certain.

BLITZER: -- during his confirmation hearings, you pressed Bill Barr to provide details on what he plans to do. Let me play this clip.


HIRONO: You have justified that you would like to make as much of the original report --


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Right. What I can tell you right now is my goal and intent is to get as much information out as I can consistent with the regulations.


BLITZER: Are you satisfied with that answer?

HIRONO: Of course not. He gave himself a lot of wiggle room to not provide disclosure that the public should have. He was very reassuring to the president. Congress said the president wants to hear certain things from Barr. At the same time Barr would not say he's not going to do it to assuage any concerns that Democratic members on the Judiciary Committee had. But by him not coming forward with pretty clear answers, I think it just gave us more cause for concern.

BLITZER: How will you respond if you're not pleased with the attorney general's level of transparency?

Will you subpoena Mueller to testify before Congress?

HIRONO: Well, the thing is that we do not control our ability to issue subpoenas. But on the other hand, the House does. So I think the House committees will be very interested in having the Mueller report disclosed to the public.

I'm pretty sure that three chairs, the Oversight chair, Elijah Cummings; the Judiciary chair, Jerry Nadler as well as Adam Schiff of Intel would be very interested in questioning Barr as to why the report is not being made public. BLITZER: You're absolutely right. The Democrats have the majority of the House. They have subpoena power. The Democrats are in the minority in the Senate. They don't have subpoena power.

If a sitting president --

HIRONO: We will certainly raise our voices.

BLITZER: I know you will.

HIRONO: We'll certainly raise our voices.

BLITZER: That's important but subpoena power is much more important.


BLITZER: If a sitting president can't be indicted and that's the Justice Department guideline and prosecutors shouldn't share damaging information about unindicted individuals, are you concerned about Mueller's ability sharing the findings, whatever they might be, about the president?

HIRONO: That could happen. But we should just look at the Mueller report in the context of his charge. There are a lot of other investigations that are happening with Southern District of New York and other U.S. attorney offices.

There are other aspects to what's going on with the Trump operation and his foundation, any violations of campaign spending laws. So while the Mueller report may be what it is --


HIRONO: -- these other investigations must continue. And I think they will as long as they are not interfered with by the new attorney general.

BLITZER: Senator Mazie Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, more breaking news. We are awaiting the final court filing in the special counsel's case against Paul Manafort.

And criminal sex abuse charges filed against musician R. Kelly while New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is being charged with soliciting prostitution.




BLITZER: Breaking tonight, two important court cases and disturbing new details about sex allegations against prominent figures in the sports and entertainment industries.

First, a Chicago jury indicted the musician --


BLITZER: -- R. Kelly. He's accused of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, including the abuse of minors.

CNN's Nick Watt is in Chicago for us.

Nick, there are four victims and the alleged crimes span more than a decades. Update our viewers on the latest.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. There are 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. Three of those victims, we are told, were under the age of 17 when these acts allegedly took place.

A warrant is out for R. Kelly's arrest. We do not know his whereabouts. A bond hearing has been scheduled for him tomorrow at lunchtime here in Chicago.

Now we heard all of this from the Cook County state's attorney, Kimberly Fox. She just read the charges, would not take questions.

We have also heard from Michael Avenatti. He provided Fox with a video he says shows R. Kelly having sexual relations with a 14-year- old girl. Avenatti detailed what he says is on that tape. He says a number of times, 10 times in act, it is referred, the age of that young woman referred to and she is 14.

Avenatti claims a number of times R. Kelly is addressed as "Daddy" by this young woman. Ten counts, each of them could carry up to seven years in prison.

Right now R. Kelly's whereabouts are known. The charges we know and Avenatti claims he knows of two more videos that show R. Kelly involved in illegal sexual acts. He says he has one of those tapes already and he is in the process of obtaining the other.

He will then turn them over to Cook County and, you know, we are just waiting to see what happens to R. Kelly, whether he turns himself in, whether he is arrested with that bond hearing scheduled tomorrow afternoon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch it all closely.

Also tonight we are getting details about the sex allegations against Robert Kraft, the owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. This the result of a prostitution sting operation. Kraft denies any wrongdoing. Let's go to Jason Carroll.

What is Kraft being charged with?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is facing a number of charges. Through a spokesperson, he is denying the allegations. But police in Jupiter, Florida, say they have the proof and part of it, they say, is on camera.

The investigation into allegations of sex trafficking took place over several months and involves several different law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security.

The focus, the Orchids of Asia day spa. It's located in a strip mall down there in Jupiter, Florida. Police raided it and charged 25 men identified as johns for allegedly taking part in illegal activity.

Investigators say that have videos showing Kraft engaged in what they characterize as paid acts. They say Kraft visited the spa on more than two occasions. Police charged him with two counts of soliciting, another for prostitution, a misdemeanor.

A spokesman for the 77-year old saying in part that we categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. In addition to being owner of the New England Patriots, Kraft is a friend of the president and a frequent visitor to Mar-a-lago.

Trump calling this situation very sad. In addition to the criminal charges there are questions about what the NFL will do about this.

How are they going to respond?

According to their policy book, owners are held to a higher standard. He might be subject to some type of significant discipline when these type of violations occur.

BLITZER: We'll stay in touch with you and watch this unfold as well. Jason Carroll, thank you.

Our legal and political experts are here. We'll discuss all of the breaking news right after this.





BLITZER: We are standing by for special counsel Robert Mueller to file court paper ahead of the sentence for Paul Manafort, expecting that momentarily. We'll get that to you as soon as it comes in.

Also breaking "The New York Times" reporting right now that President Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen met with federal prosecutors in Manhattan last month. "The Times" said Cohen offered information about possible irregularities within the president's family business and about a donor to his inaugural committee.

Susan Hennessey, "The New York Times" report which all of us have now read, suggests that the U.S. attorney for the SDNY in Manhattan now going directly after the Trump business empire that Michael Cohen, who worked for Donald Trump for 10 years as a lawyer and fixer, has already been questioned.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: Right. I think this once again reveals why individuals close to the president are so concerned about the Southern District. They believe they it might represent more of a risk for the president than the Mueller probe.

They don't have any kind of jurisdictional limit here. Michael Cohen doesn't have a formal cooperation agreement. But prosecutors can recommended a reduced jail sentence within one year of his sentencing.

[17:30:03] So essentially, he has a really, really, strong incentive now to cooperate as much as possible, tell absolutely everything he knows. It is interesting that every time, sort of, prosecutors look under a new rock they appear to find a brand-new set of possible crimes, now we're hearing that there's some question about insurance claims. This is sort of, this is a brand-new thing on the table.

I think that ultimately, this really, really raises the political importance and potential importance of Michael Cohen's public testimony. He has said from the beginning that he has a story to tell. He clearly believes the story is going to be incredibly damaging to the president. And so, I do think that it's going to be really, really important to see what is he willing to say under oath and before the American people about Donald Trump's facility.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And that would be Wednesday morning, Gloria, starting at 10:00 a.m., when Michael Cohen does appear before the House Oversight Committee. And presumably, they're going to ask them about this development.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Look, I mean, this goes into the whole broader aspect of the Trump organization, as Susan was saying. And I think --

BLITZER: Including the president's family.

BORGER: Including the president's family, including potentially the president. We don't know. But if Michael Cohen is talking about, according to the Times, potentially, a regular insurance claims, if he was talking to them about the $900,000 donation to the inaugural committee by Mr. Zuberi, according to the Times. Then, these are things that prosecutors want to know about. We know that they're investigating the inaugural committee and we know that Michael Cohen has been on the inside of the Trump War for more than a decade.

And CNN, as you'll recall, was the first to report that prosecutors wanted to interview people who worked for the Trump organization. So, now we know exactly what they're pursuing. And we know that Michael Cohen is such an important link in all of this. Yes, his credibility will be questioned, sure, but he has said publicly: I have a story to tell; I'm not going to be the villain here anymore. I want to set the record straight.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, one quick comment on this. The president already told us this. He's not a great poker player, he played his hand already. Look at his Twitter feed. How many times has he gone after campaign people? Manafort, Gates, Flynn. Flynn was the first cooperator -- the number of times that the president has gone after Flynn.

I could probably count on one hand. How many times has he gone after Cohen? Countless times. What's the difference between Manafort, Gates, Flynn and Cohen? Manafort, Gates, Flynn know about the campaign in Russia, not so much. Cohen, knows about money. I think the president is worried because he knows he's got a vulnerability on this issue, and he told us.

BLITZER: Remember that interview last year the president told the New York Times that going after his family or his business, that would cross, Joey, a red line.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it wouldn't cross a red line in as much as -- remember the special counsel has a very specific mandate relating to and dealing with Russia and collusion, Southern District does not. Their mandate is to investigate criminal activity in the event that this criminal activity that it becomes problematic. But something very important, and that's corroboration. The White House will savage Cohen as they have on the issue of his incentive and bias to lie.

As Susan mentioned, right, because the substantial assistance within one year of sentencing, if you assist enough and if you're on team America and you do it right, here's the carrot, here's the stick. We'll going to do good things for you and we'll going to reduce your sentence because you're cooperating. But it's more than that, Wolf. In the event that Cohen is able to give reliable information to the southern district who's not bothered by a mandate about Russia; they're bothered by a mandate about a crime, whether it involves your family or not.

If it's in this district, we're going to root it out and find it. And so, in the event that Cohen gives then information, and the Southern District is able to get information that substantiates, corroborates, and otherwise supports what Cohen is saying, that could lead them to this other fruit and that can represent problems for the president of the United States.

BLITZER: Yes, more legal headaches, no doubt, for the president. And his family, potentially has very significant, you know -- Susan, Bloomberg has been reporting a new (INAUDIBLE) report that state prosecutors in New York, in the District of Manhattan are preparing charges against Paul Manafort, the former Trump Campaign Chairman in case, for some reason, the president would have pardon him -- a presidential pardon doesn't affect those who have been charged and convicted in local or state crimes.

HENNESSEY: All right. So, it's pretty unusual to see this degree of, sort of, leaky kind of law enforcement. These reports don't just describe that the prosecutors are sort of about the set of backup charges. But it also shows quite a bit a leg on what they are actually thinking about going after him. And so, these are really, you know, relatively harmful leaks. Now, there might be double jeopardy issues. The laws are pretty complex in terms how they related between the state and federal government. You know, that said, I do think that we're seeing a little bit of a lack of discipline, a loosening as the Mueller investigation potentially heads into the home stretch.

We are seeing a lot of leaks out of other investigations, right, sort of the Southern District and now the New York District Attorneys' Office. But also, sort of a flurry of leaks about the special counsel's office. Now, we've seen a lot of reporting but most of that has come from defense attorneys and people that the special counsel's office has interviewed. Now, we see DOJ, not just leaking a lot about whether or not the special counsel is about to, you know, hand over these reports to Bill Barr, but also not getting its story straight as today. (INAUDIBLE) or walk that back.

BLITZER: Clearly, the district attorney in New York thinks a presidential pardon of Manafort is possible, what do you think, Gloria?

[17:35:38] BORGER: Well, the president has called Paul Manafort a very brave man. The word to that effect, "brave," being the important part of it. He has said publicly, he thinks that he's been treated badly. And while they were not particularly close during the campaign, I think that the president has watched what Paul Manafort has gone through and feels like he hasn't betrayed him in any way shape or form.

And so, it is completely possible that the president could pardon him. He has said various occasions, I didn't take that off the table. So, we don't -- you know, we just had no idea. And I think what they're saying in New York as well, you may have authority over that but you don't have authority so far as the state is concerned.

BLITZER: The president has a lot of legal headaches beyond Robert Mueller and the special counsel investigation.

BORGER: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Everybody standby. Much more on all of the breaking news right after this.


[17:41:06] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts. And Joey Jackson, what do we know about this case involving Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots?

JACKSON: Well, we certainly know that he's been otherwise -- or is being charged with solicitation of a prostitute. That's a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a year in jail, community component of 100 hours. You know, it's not the case of the century. The larger question and obviously it represents an embarrassment for him. He'll have some explaining to do, he'll have some explaining to do in addition to criminally with his team, et cetera. The larger issue the human trafficking component of this and certainly, he lends a major face. The underlying issue is that he was involved a situation where women

were enslaved in very a part of that human trafficking. And so, to the extent that the president seems to go on and on and on about human trafficking and immigration, I'm just wondering what he would have to say as it relates to this specific instance where Robert Kraft is apparently caught on video is the understanding involved in a situation involving prostitution.

BLITZER: Yes, this human trafficking, Susan, very serious. The president certainly said: It's very sad. I was very surprised to see it. He's proclaimed his innocence totally, but I'm very surprised to see it.

HENNESSEY: Right. So, we've seen the president do this playbook before even as recently as yesterday in which one of his own Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, is accused of helping cover up, really, another set of horrific sex crime against children by Jeffrey Epstein. The president basically said, well, that's too complicated and he's still on the job as of today. You know, what we've seen that the president is perfectly happy to, you know, offer these images of sex trafficking victims being smuggled over the border as part of the case for the border wall.

But he defends Roy Moore, he defends Brett Kavanaugh; he defended Bill O'Reilly and Roger Ailes again and again. Whenever it's his buddies that are accused of these things. You know, the president is more than happy to defend these people -- and so, I do think that it reveals, sort of, just the blatant hypocrisy and the fact that the president doesn't really appear to care about victims. It appears to care about himself and, sort of, his own political, personal political advantage, and defending his friends.

BLITZER: Did you want to weigh in?

MUDD: I was just -- I mean, I don't understand the confusion here by the -- the president paid for sex. If I were him, I'd be saying how did Robert Kraft get off so cheap? I mean, let's be serious, federal document indicate that he was in with the National Enquirer saying, we're going to pay off a human being who I had sex with to make sure she doesn't speak. So, I can see where the president is coming from. He's saying, I suspect from his optic, I paid 130K; this guy paid, whatever he did.

I don't want to be crude about this but the president himself did something similar. He paid a human being for sex. Now, I agree with Joey, the question here is not payment for sex. I think the real question is human trafficking. But the president in some ways is not defensible on this issue. He's paid himself and we know it.

BLITZER: Well, he was paying to 130, 000 to Stormy Daniels, hush money to cover it up -- $150,000.

HENNESSEY: Whatever you're arguing that your hush money as you defense.

(CROSSTALK) MUDD: I mean, I don't buy this. He could pay me; I didn't have sex

with him. He did give me 130,000 bucks. I mean, I think we know what happened here, but to get back to the serious point. Joey nailed it. The serious point here is human trafficking, it's not whether a wealthy human being paid for sex; that happens every day in America.

BLITZER: Very quickly, let's talk about 2020 because the president seems to be obsessed right now with what the Democrat -- the Democratic president candidates are up to based on everything we're hearing.

BORGER: Jeff Zeleny and Kaitlan Collins over the White House have done some great reporting for us. And you know, their point is that the president may not be so obsessed with governing as he is with running for re-election and he's been watching Democrats. I'm sure he'll watch your town hall on Monday night, Wolf. And he with Bernie Sanders, he will -- he's interested in Democrats. And he asked for oppo-research on Joe Biden for example.

You know, this is a president who is already planning on winning in 2020. He's got a couple of things he's to get through before he gets to that. But that is his preoccupation right now.

BLITZER: Obsessed right now with what's going on according to those who know him very, very well. All right, everybody stick around. Important note to our viewers, once again, be sure to join me Monday night when I moderate our next CNN Presidential Town Hall. It will be with Senators Bernie Sanders right here in Washington, Monday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

[17:45:28] Coming up, shocking details about how North Korea's brutal dictator, Kim Jong-un is dealing with critics of his outreach to President Trump.


[17:50:27] BLITZER: More breaking news now, just days before President Trump holds his second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong- un, multiple officials say the administration is considering softening its demands for a full accounting of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs before the United States makes any concessions. That comes as a new report reveals some gruesome details about what defectors portray as the dictator's reign of terror. Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just days before the summit, we're getting new details on just how Kim Jong-un's regime eliminates its internal enemies. The stories from defectors are graphic and jarring, revealing methods of execution designed to instill fear and paranoia.


TODD: Kim Jong-un, the man President Trump will shake hands with again at a summit next week, who he now calls Chairman Kim.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I asked Chairman Kim, would it be possible to do that?

TODD: And who the president is counting on to get rid of his nuclear weapons, tonight faces new allegations of especially grotesque brutality against his own people. Stories of executions and torture, detailed by those who once lived under the regime, before fleeing. Kang Chol-hwan says he defected after spending 10 years in a concentration camp.

He says, witnesses told him that at one execution in 2013, two men, closely tied to Kim Jong-un's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who the dictator distrusted were brought in front of a firing squad of eight anti- aircraft guns. The men, the defector says, had lumps of irons stuffed into their mouths. He says, Kim's uncle was forced to watch his colleague's murder.

KANG CHOL-HWAN, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR (through translator): They let it fire against these people. And these two people instantly, like, just disappeared. And all the blood, it poured into Jang Song-thaek's face, who's forced to witness them, and he fainted.

TODD: Kim's uncle would, himself, be executed later that year, also allegedly with an anti-aircraft gun. The accounts come as part of a new report released today by the North Korea strategy center, an organization led by Kang. The group which includes defectors, spotlights human rights issues. The group says, it interviewed several current and former North Korean officials. Kang says, his group was told about the execution of a top police official named, Oh Sang-Hyun, also close to Kim's uncle.

KANG: Kim Jong-un especially hated him. So, Kim Jong-un personally ordered him to be executed by using a flame flower. So, Mr. Oh was burned alive without even using the machine guns. And then after he was burned alive, the tanks around him kind of crushed him.

TODD: The reason for pulverizing their bodies? Human rights observers say, Kim believed they weren't good enough to be buried on North Korean soil.

GREG SCARLATOIU, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: These senior officials who are executed by ZPU-4 anti-aircraft gun or flamethrower are denied this fundamental right of leaving behind a body for the family.

TODD: Kang says, another official and his mistress were executed by being stripped and mauled by a pack of dogs. This all came, this group says, on the personal orders of a man who President Trump has consistently expressed admiration for.

TRUMP: And then, we fell in love. OK. No, really.

TODD: Should President Trump be shaking Kim Jong-un's hands? Calling him Chairman Kim? Meeting with him? Professing his love when all indications show this is a murderous dictator.

KANG: President Trump, don't take this bloody man's hands. Meeting him in Vietnam, saying good things? He's a murder. It sends a low signal to the world.


TODD: The Kim regime has repeatedly denied allegations of committing human rights atrocities inside North Korea. Now, is President Trump going to discuss these alleged executions with Kim Jong-un, when he meets him in Vietnam next week? We reached out to the White House, the State Department and U.S. intelligence about that. None of them would comment on any of that, nor would they respond to this latest report, Wolf?

BLITZER: The orders for these executions, you're also hearing that this is something Kim's family takes part in as well, is that right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. This new report says one person who is instrumental in ordering these executions is Kim Jong-un's younger sister, Kim Yo-jong. She's presented, of course, as the soft, young face of this regime. But the report says she and her brother collaborate very closely in ordering these very grotesque executions.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you.

Coming up, the breaking news. The Justice Department now says the Mueller report won't come next week while the president is away in Vietnam meeting with Kim Jong-un. Well, we are standing by for Robert Mueller's crucial court filing on Paul Manafort, which could come at any moment.

[17:55:00] Also, breaking, the New York Times just now reporting that President Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, met with federal prosecutors in New York to offer information about possible irregularities within the president's family business.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Bracing for impact. The Trump White House on alert as we standby for new revelations in the Paul Manafort case and the broader Russia investigation. Will Robert Mueller tip his hand tonight as we're learning about new information former Trump fixer Michael Cohen has given to prosecutors?

[17:59:58] Pre-empting a pardon. Prosecutors in New York reportedly are preparing charges against Manafort in case the president pardons his former campaign chairman. Will that guarantee that Manafort does time behind bars?