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THE SITUATION ROOM

Did Trump Personally Order Jared Kushner's Security Clearance?; Interview With Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX); Trump Fails to Secure Deal With Kim Jong-un; NY Times: Trump Ordered Officials to Give Jared Kushner a Top-Secret Security Clearance, Overruling Aides' Concerns; Russia Mocking Trump-Kim Summit Collapse. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 28, 2019 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:05]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: more Cohen testimony. The president's longtime lawyer wrapped up his third straight day appearing before Congress, revealing he will return next week to answer even more questions. Lawmakers also are set to interview a Russian-born businessman connected to the president and to the Kremlin.

Kushner's clearance. New reporting tonight that President Trump personally ordered a top-secret security clearance for his son-in-law and senior adviser, overruling concerns among intelligence officials and within the White House.

Crossing the red line. After Michael Cohen publicly accused the president of crimes, House Democrats now are digging deeper into areas Mr. Trump warned investigators not to go. Will his children and his chief financial officer now be subpoenaed?

And failure to summit. President Trump is heading home from Vietnam with nothing to show from his meeting with Kim Jong-un. Did Mr. Trump underestimate Kim and overestimate his own ability to strike a denuclearization deal?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, the House Intelligence Committee chairman says Michael Cohen answered all the panel's questions in a closed-door hearing that ended just a little while ago.

But there's apparently more ground to cover. And the president's longtime lawyer is now set to appear again next Wednesday. The committee chairman, Adam Schiff, says his committee will interview another key figure in two weeks, the promoter of the Trump Tower Moscow project, Felix Sater.

House Democrats are putting their investigations of the president into overdrive right now, fueled by Michael Cohen's marathon testimony. And that includes the hours Cohen spent on live television yesterday accusing Mr. Trump of illegal and immoral behavior.

This hour, I will talk to a House Intelligence Committee member involved in questioning Cohen today, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, lawmakers have heard a lot from Michael Cohen. And they still have more questions.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They do have more questions, Wolf.

And that's exactly why Michael Cohen will be back here on Capitol Hill to answer more questions on Wednesday. He divulged plenty of details. But it was all behind closed doors in a secure room for 7.5 hours today.

The chairman, Adam Schiff, said that Cohen was fully cooperative and answered all the questions, but Schiff, as well as other committee leaders, they say that there is still a lot more to uncover.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Michael Cohen is not going away anytime soon. After spending all day behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee, tonight, he says he will be back to testify again.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: He will be returning on march 6 for additional testimony.

SCHNEIDER: The committee's chairman says Cohen has more to share.

SCHIFF: He was able to shed light on a lot of issues that are very core to our investigation. And we were able to drill down in great detail. None of the questions we had for him went unanswered.

SCHNEIDER: The committee is working to uncover more about Cohen's claim that Donald Trump Jr. told his father about the meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower before it happened in June 2016 and his allegation Roger Stone informed the president that WikiLeaks was about to expose e-mails from the Clinton campaign and the DNC, this after an explosive open session Wednesday with House Oversight.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: He's a con man and he's a cheat.

SCHNEIDER: House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said there's a lot more investigating to be done across Congress.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it fair to say that the hush money payments is going to be a focus of the committee going forward, how that happened in the White House, the president's involvement is going to be a focus of the committee?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Probably. What we did yesterday was we gathered a lot of information that I think will be -- we may not look into it in our committee, but one of the five or six committees will.

SCHNEIDER: Cummings says the committee will focus on hush money payments Cohen says he made to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with Trump years before.

Cohen showed lawmakers two reimbursement checks, one he said was signed by the president and the other he said was signed by both Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr.

REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: And do you know if this criminal financial scheme that the president, Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. are involved in is being investigated by the Southern District of New York?

COHEN: I would rather not discuss that question, because it could be part of the investigations currently ongoing.

SCHNEIDER: Allen Weisselberg is the Trump Organization CFO. And he's provided testimony to federal prosecutors in Manhattan in exchange for limited immunity.

Chairman Cummings says he may call both men in for questioning before House Oversight. And Cohen opened the door to financial and tax fraud investigations, handing over the 2011 and 2013 financial statements Trump allegedly gave Deutsche Bank as the basis for a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills.

[18:05:10]

Cohen suggested Trump inflated his worth for this loan and in other instances when it suited his interests.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: Did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?

COHEN: Yes.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Do you think we need to review his...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And we also know that Michael Cohen has talked about investigations by the Southern District of New York. We previously reported that prosecutors, federal prosecutors out of New York are investigating the Trump inaugural committee, as well as executives from the Trump Organization.

But there is still a lot more to come here on Capitol Hill. Michael Cohen will be back here on Capitol Hill for more closed-door testimony. That will happen on Wednesday. And now we know that on March 14 we will hear in public from Felix Sater. He's the Russian businessman who played a big part in those talks all surrounding Trump Tower Moscow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you, Jessica Schneider on Capitol Hill.

Let's talk more about all this.

Our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is joining us.

Shimon, what should we make of the fact that Cohen is coming back again next week? They want him to answer, obviously, more questions.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, I think it has been a long day. And certainly it sounds like they want more documents from Michael Cohen. And so they're asking him to go back, go through these documents, bring documents back to them.

I think Michael Cohen is being asked about a lot of things that we probably don't even know about yet, outside of what we heard of yesterday. But, more importantly, this committee is obviously focused on Russian interference. There's also this Ukrainian peace plan that we have heard a lot about that Michael Cohen may have been involved in.

So there's a lot that they're asking him concerning the Russia part of this. They're now asking him for more documents, so he's going to go back and get those documents. Keep in mind some of those documents were with investigators. They are now back in his hands, so he can be able to provide them to the committee.

BLITZER: And you heard the committee chairman, Adam Schiff, say Felix Sater will also be testifying. But he will be testifying in open public session on March 14.

Tell our viewers who he is and what he knows.

PROKUPECZ: So, Felix Sater is a quite an interesting guy, right?

He's a real estate guy. He's been in business around Trump. Certainly, he's been in business with the president. What's significant about Felix Sater is he was a longtime, longtime FBI cooperator on other matters.

BLITZER: An informant.

PROKUPECZ: An informant.

He provided them a lot of information. He's worked with the FBI for many years. He's been before Mueller. There have been questions about obviously -- he is central in the Moscow project as well. It was he and Michael Cohen who were involved in that. He's the guy that promised to say, oh, let's offer Putin a penthouse in the Moscow Trump Tower as a marketing ploy.

They were going to offer this penthouse to the Russian president, so he has a lot of information. The other thing to keep in mind is that President Trump has tried to distance himself from Felix Sater. But there's video of them together.

There's all sorts of photos. So it's going to be interesting I think to see how Felix Sater addresses his relationship with the president, and, again, we're going to probably see essentially lies by the president come out about his relationship with Felix Sater.

Felix Sater has also been into see Mueller. We don't know a lot about what he was questioned about. But he is a central figure in a lot of this. He has ties to Russians and he's been around this really the real estate world for quite some time.

BLITZER: And he had an office in Trump Tower in New York City on the same floor that Donald Trump's office was.

PROKUPECZ: Right. There's a lot that Felix Sater brings to the table in terms of the history here with the Russians, the business history, the history of a Ukrainian peace plan.

There are a lot of parts of this investigation that Felix Sater may be able to answer. And the fact that he's doing it openly I think is going to create problems for the president.

BLITZER: It's going to be another, I'm sure, explosive hearing that will watch on March 14.

Based on what we heard publicly from Michael Cohen yesterday, I assume that these committees and maybe federal prosecutors, whether in New York or elsewhere, are investigating new threads.

PROKUPECZ: They are.

And I suspect federal prosecutors, especially the ones in New York, knew what Michael Cohen was going to talk about. There are all sorts of indications that they approved what he testified to.

And one of the most significant clues is this stuff that Michael Cohen was not allowed to talk about, the phone calls, communications with perhaps the president, with Donald Trump two months after the raid of his home.

He said when a member of the committee asked him, when was the last time you communicated with Trump or someone else connected, an agent of Trump, he said, I can't answer that because that is under investigation.

That is significant, perhaps. It could indicate that there's an obstruction probe out of the Southern District of New York. We don't know specifically.

[18:10:06]

It was that. And there was the other thing that they were asking questions, members of the committee were asking questions about, other parts of Donald Trump's business, perhaps maybe insurance fraud of some kind.

These are questions that he said he could not answer because of the Southern District of New York's investigation. So, clearly, they have a lot still going on there in New York. BLITZER: See what happens with Robert Mueller's report. We anticipate that could be emerging fairly soon as well.

All right, Shimon, thank you very much.

This hour, President Trump is heading home from Vietnam with a one-two punch in the gut. In addition to being publicly accused of crimes by his formerly loyal fixer, Mr. Trump failed to strike a denuclearization deal with his new pal, the dictator Kim Jong-un.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He has covered the Trump-Kim summit for us in Hanoi.

Jim, it ended rather abruptly and rather unsuccessfully.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly did, Wolf.

President Trump could not find a deal with Kim Jong-un, but the president did figure out a way to dodge questions about the bombshell testimony coming from his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

Still, here in Vietnam, we witnessed another episode of the president showing deference to a dictator.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Speaking to U.S. troops on the way home from Vietnam, President Trump barely mentioned his second summit with Kim Jong-un that ended abruptly without a deal.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, I'm on my way back from Vietnam.

ACOSTA: While the president is learning the sequel is rarely as good as the original, there is more drama awaiting him back in Washington, as Mr. Trump still faces critical questions about his former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

TRUMP: I think having a fake hearing like that and having it in the middle of this very important summit is really a terrible thing. They could have made it two days later or next week.

ACOSTA: Responding to Cohen's scathing testimony on Capitol Hill.

COHEN: And I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore.

ACOSTA: The president cherry-picked from his former fixer's comments, accusing him of lying, except for the part about colluding with the Russians.

TRUMP: He lied a lot. But it was very interesting because he didn't lie about one thing. He said no collusion with the Russian hoax. And I said, I wonder why he didn't just lie about that, too.

ACOSTA: Incredibly, during an hour-long news conference in Hanoi, the president was only asked one question about Cohen's testimony.

That's because the president largely avoided the White House press corps and instead randomly fielded questions from reporters he had never seen before, including several representatives of Chinese and Russian state media.

TRUMP: Where you from?

QUESTION: Russia, Sputnik news agency.

ACOSTA: As well as a few favorites from back home.

TRUMP: What are you doing here, Sean Hannity? Should we let him do a question?

ACOSTA: The president did reveal why his talks suddenly broke down with Kim Jong-un, as the summit ended without any concessions from the North Korean dictator.

TRUMP: They wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn't do that. They were willing to de-nuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn't give up all of the sanctions for that. So, we continue to work, and we'll see. But we had to walk away from that particular suggestion.

ACOSTA: That's despite a promising moment earlier in the day, when Kim told U.S. reporters he was willing to give up his nuclear weapons.

KIM JONG-UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER (through translator): If I'm not willing to do that, I won't be here right now.

ACOSTA: North Korea's foreign minister seemed puzzled by the failure to find an agreement, insisting they were willing to deal.

But perhaps the most stunning moment in Vietnam came when the president provided cover for the dictator, when he accepted Kim's denial that he had anything to do with the death of American Otto Warmbier, the college student who died after being held in captivity in North Korea.

TRUMP: He felt badly about it. I did speak to him. He felt very badly. But he knew the case very well, but he knew it later. He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word.

ACOSTA: It was another example of the president siding with dictators and autocrats, as he did with Russian President Vladimir Putin over interference in the 2016 election, and as he did with the Saudis over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But as the president left the news conference, he could hear the questions he avoided, a reminder of the potential new crisis he will have to face once he lands back in Washington. Back in Alaska, as the president sidestepped the summit when he addressed U.S. troops, he did work in some praise for the nation's air defense system.

TRUMP: I learned so much about NORAD so many years ago, studying different things. Yes, I love -- I love this world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the president's only success from the trip, if you want to call it that, was that he was able to avoid answering some of the specific allegations from Michael Cohen, that he knew all along of the scheme to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels and the plan for WikiLeaks to release damaging information about Hillary Clinton before the 2016 election.

But when he lands back in Washington, he won't be able to dodge those critical questions for very long -- Wolf.

[18:15:03]

BLITZER: All right, Jim, Jim Acosta in Hanoi, safe travels back here to Washington. Thank you very much.

Let's bring in a member of the House Intelligence Committee involved in questioning Michael Cohen today. Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas is joining us. He's also vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: No, thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: I asked your colleague Congressman Eric Swalwell if you guys learned anything new from Michael Cohen today. And he said, that would be an understatement.

How would you characterize his testimony that he delivered today behind closed doors?

CASTRO: No, I agree with Eric. That's right. We learned a lot of new things.

And it gave me a sense of just how big a whole legally President Trump and his family could be in, not just from the special counsel, but also from the Southern District of New York and the investigations that they're under -- that they have undertaken.

BLITZER: Which is a bigger threat?

CASTRO: In the long run -- Well, I mean, it's hard to say, because, of course, the special counsel has conducted their own investigation. And they have been pretty tight-lipped about it.

But that Southern District of New York, the investigations there are very real and could outlast, I think, the special counsel -- special counsel's work.

BLITZER: Yes, the special counsel seems to be wrapping up. But, in New York, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York seems to be only just beginning.

CASTRO: Right.

BLITZER: Can you share some details on what you learned, some of the new information you learned? I know there's sensitive information, but just give us some subjects that maybe you guys are going to pursue?

CASTRO: Yes.

Well, as you know, Wolf, we're asked not to disclose it, because it is committee-sensitive, also because Michael Cohen is coming back on March 6 to finish up his testimony. Shortly after that, of course, he's going to start his sentence in prison.

But, as you can imagine, the special counsel's work is separate from the Southern District. And, as Michael Cohen said yesterday, they're handling issue -- financial issues, perhaps fraud issues, insurance issues, and so forth.

BLITZER: Yes, lots of issues under way, based on what we heard from Michael Cohen yesterday.

What do you need to follow up on when Cohen returns to testify before your committee next Wednesday?

CASTRO: There's actually still a good bit of stuff that we need to go over.

There are basically three buckets of things that we have been dealing with, the obstruction issues, the money laundering issues, and, of course, the collusion or conspiracy issues. And there's still some, I think, of all of that we need to touch upon when he comes back.

BLITZER: Has Cohen provided any evidence for his claim that President Trump knew in advance about the WikiLeaks release and the 2016 Trump Tower meeting?

CASTRO: I missed a little part of the interview. And so while I was there, we didn't -- I didn't hear him talk about it.

Again, Eric or somebody else, while I was gone, may have heard it. But that's one of the things that we need to follow up on.

BLITZER: On March 14, that you're going to have a public hearing with the Russian American businessman Felix Sater.

What exactly do you think the American people will learn from him?

CASTRO: Well, I know what we want to learn. We want to know how closely connected President Trump was, or Donald Trump at the time, was to that Trump Tower Moscow deal, how closely he was directing it, how much he knew about it as it was going on.

Remember, this deal, they're trying to put it together once President Trump or candidate Trump has already announced for president. It kicks off in 2015, three months after he's already announced for president, and continues for several months, or over a year. And so Felix Sater was the main link to that deal, the main Russian link to that deal. So he's got a lot to tell us.

BLITZER: Adam Schiff says you will be deciding on a case-by-case basis whether future hearings are public or private.

Are there any other witnesses, in addition to Felix Sater, who we can count on hearing from publicly, at least as of right now?

CASTRO: Yes, I mean, of course, I will leave it to the chairmen to decide on the specific witnesses.

But I still think there are at least half-a-dozen people that we need to hear from, including some of President Trump's family members at this point.

BLITZER: Well, can you be specific? Are we talking about Jared Kushner, Ivanka? Are we talking about the chief financial officer for some 40 years at the Trump Organization Allen Weisselberg?

CASTRO: Well, Wolf, I don't mean to be overly broad, but, based on what I heard, I mean, I think it would be fair -- most people, if they heard the testimony that we did today, would say that it would be fair to bring any of those people in front of the committee for questioning.

BLITZER: Because there are now reports that Weisselberg is going to be coming before your committee. Can you confirm that?

CASTRO: I can't. I will leave that to add to Adam to follow up with you on.

BLITZER: I'm sure we will get that confirmation fairly soon.

Let me ask you about another report, a new report just posted in "The New York Times." They're reporting that the former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly wrote a contemporary memo that President Trump -- quote -- "ordered," ordered him to grant Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance.

[18:20:08]

And former White House counsel Don McGahn wrote a memo outlining the concerns the CIA had raised about Kushner getting that top-secret security clearance. What's your reaction to this report?

CASTRO: That is very disturbing.

And there's a reason that clearances are held or not given. And so the president, to just ignore all of that information, ignore the intelligence agencies, and go ahead and grant a clearance to somebody who could possibly have leveraged against them -- leverage against them by a foreign government or other issues is a serious matter.

And Congress should take that up and should review it.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to have more on this story coming up later.

Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

CASTRO: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on all the breaking news -- and there's plenty of it -- right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) '

[18:25:30]

BLITZER: We're back with breaking news, the House Intelligence Committee revealing plans for more testimony by Michael Cohen and new testimony by Trump Tower Moscow promoter Felix Sater.

Also breaking, "The New York Times" reporting that President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance last year.

"The New York Times" says that Mr. Trump overruled concerns expressed by intelligence officials and the top White House lawyer.

Let's talk about all of this and more with the former director of national intelligence, General James Clapper. He's now a CNN national security analyst.

General Clapper, thanks for coming in.

You have had a chance to look at this "New York Times" story. What's your reaction?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it is, as they say in the security business, a practice dangerous to security to do that, when there is the potential for leverage to be exerted by a foreign power or foreign adversary.

That is a dangerous practice. And it sets a very bad example.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You worked in the U.S. intelligence community for decades. Do you remember a time where a president of the United States, if this "New York Times" report is true, ordered someone, a relative in this particular case, to get top-secret security clearances?

CLAPPER: I do not. I know of no prior case.

BLITZER: What's the risk?

CLAPPER: Well, the risk is, if there is concern about foreign entanglements, where a foreign power, perhaps in this case China, could exert leverage because of financial entanglements, and then influence or gain access, that's, again, a risky practice.

And it does set a terrible example for the -- for the rest of the security community.

BLITZER: We did get a statement from Peter Mirijanian, spokesman for Abbe Lowell, who's the personal attorney of Jared Kushner.

I will read it: "In 2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner's security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone. That was conveyed to the media at the time. And new stories, if accurate, do not change what was affirmed at the time."

You want to respond to that?

CLAPPER: Well, there's a conflict there, it seems to me, from -- between that statement and what "The New York Times" is reporting.

BLITZER: Yes, well, let's see what's going on.

If "The New York Times"' report is accurate, and they say they have four people involved who gave them this information, it's -- you're sitting here next to me. The president of the United States, if it's true, personally ordered the top-secret security clearance for his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

But we remember all those threats he was making against you and others to remove, to lose your own top-secret security clearances.

What, if anything, has ever happened on that?

CLAPPER: As far as I know, nothing.

BLITZER: You still have top-secret security clearances?

CLAPPER: As far as I know.

BLITZER: But have you used those? Have you asked anyone to gather that kind of sensitive information?

CLAPPER: No.

BLITZER: No. So, you wouldn't -- you wouldn't know if it would be denied to you, since there hasn't been a need for you to...

(CROSSTALK)

CLAPPER: I'm sure they would tell me, and do something about my badge or informing me what my obligations are, by virtue of being debriefed. And I have never gone through that.

BLITZER: So if your security clearances were revoked, they would have to tell you that?

CLAPPER: Well, I sure -- yes, I would hope so.

BLITZER: But nobody has said anything to you.

Let's talk about Michael Cohen's testimony. He said, Cohen said he had no evidence to back up his claims that the president was given advanced knowledge of WikiLeaks e-mail and the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russians.

On the question of collusion, do you think Cohen's testimony was valuable?

CLAPPER: I actually thought he was credible and compelling.

And the reason is that what -- why on earth would he have any incentive to lie under oath again, and thereby risk extending his prison term? So, to me, he had every incentive to be truthful.

BLITZER: Yes.

CLAPPER: So I take at face value what he said.

BLITZER: He sounded...

CLAPPER: Now, the fact that he doesn't have any other -- he doesn't possess any other documentary or electronic proof of the phone call, there are other ways to determine whether that actually happened or not.

BLITZER: So, presumably, federal prosecutors, whether it's the special counsel or the Southern District of New York, they have access to all sorts of information that he might not even have.

(CROSSTALK)

CLAPPER: Well, exactly, like access to phone -- phone company records, for example.

WOLF: Did the President do the right thing in Hanoi, Vietnam, when he abruptly left, there was no agreement with Kim Jong-un? You've covered - you've been involved in U.S.-North Korea relations for many years.

CLAPPER: Actually, to his credit, I think he did do the right thing. I think no deal is better than a bad deal. I was very concerned, Wolf, that the outset, that in order to generate a counter-distraction from the Cohen testimony that he might make a concession, they all advice a concession, such as agreeing to pull troops off the peninsula. So in this case, I think no deal is better than a bad deal.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the President said. He was asked at a news conference before leaving Hanoi, if he confronted Kim Jong-un on the death of the American student, Otto Warmbier, and he said this. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I did speak to him. He felt very badly about it. But he knew the case very well but he knew it later. And, you know, you've got a lot of people, a big country, a lot of people. And in those prisons and those camps, you have a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto, some really, really bad things. But he tells me - he tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I will take him at his word. What's your reaction to that?

CLAPPER: Well this is a - unfortunately, a pattern that seems to have emerged with President Trump on accepting the word of autocrats like Kim Jong-un. And I thought, first of all, whenever the North Koreans have U.S. hostages, it's only two or three at a time. That's about the most they have ever had. They are well aware of their status. And Kim Jong-un knew exactly what was going on with Otto Warmbier.

And the other thing that really bothered me about this is the terribly insensitive thing to say for the parents to hear.

BLITZER: The parents of Otto Warmbier.

CLAPPER: Exactly.

BLITZER: You know, obviously, very, very sad. He was a 22-year-old University of Virginia student who happened to be sightseeing in North Korea.

CLAPPER: For stealing a poster.

BLITZER: Yes, stealing a poster, spent the year and comes home and he is dead. Alright, thanks very much.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: James Clapper, the Former Director of National Intelligence for the United States.

Just ahead, Michael Cohen is giving democrats a blueprint for building a case against President Ttrump. But will he drop any new bombshells when he returns to Capitol Hill next week? And what will house investigators get out of Felix Sater when they question the Trump tower Moscow promoter after Cohen?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

[18:37:15] BLITZER: We have breaking news tonight. The House Intelligence Committee is not done with President Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. After a full day of testimony, Cohen said he'll be back before the panel next Wednesday. And Chairman Adam Schiff announced the committee will also be bringing in the Russian- born American businessman Felix Sater who worked on the Trump Tower Moscow project. Lots to discuss with our experts and analysts. And, Gloria, what does it say to you that they want more questions to Michael Cohen next week?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that - and we heard Adam Schiff earlier that they felt that he was very cooperative. And during, you know, these hearings, they can ask questions for half an hour each. It's not the five-minute rule that you get at the public hearing. And so I think they didn't finish. And I think there's a lot more they want to hear from him.

It's very clear from watching the Chairman that they believe that his testimony was credible and that they need to hear more and to pursue more leads. And I think one of the things that came out of this was this public interview with Felix Sater who, of course, was very involved in communicating with Michael Cohen about the Trump Tower Moscow project.

BLITZER: Felix Sater, you know, Phil, will be testifying on March 14th, an open session. He was intimately involved with Michael Cohen in developing this potential Moscow Trump Tower project. Hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake. How important will his testimony be? And by the way, we have been told he was not subpoenaed, he volunteered to come and testify before the committee.

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Let's make sure we understand two different questions, the question of Russian collusion and the question of dirty money. If Adam Schiff thinks he's going to do better than the Special Counsel on determining whether there is collusion from the Russians, good luck, he is barking up the wrong tree. He's going to fail. If you look at the hearing yesterday and if you look at the hearings that will follow, the question I would ask is, forget about collusion, that's the Mueller lane. Are we going to find information that suggests that Trump people were involved in dirty money related, for example, to Russian Real Estate deals? That's what I would be looking at. I would not be asking about Russian collusion.

BLITZER: The - you know, Michael Cohen, when he appeared today behind closed doors, Laura, before the House Intelligence Committee, he is going to come back next week, they asked him to bring documents. He says he will be bringing documents, according to Adam Schiff. So what does that say to you about a potential road map that he has provided congressional investigators?

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, yesterday, we talked to, for example, about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He gave a roadmap and a witness list for people to come back to that committee. And it's really a jumping off point to say, here are the people you need to know. Here is where you can find the information and invited them really to actually do it.

Now the intelligence portion of the house is saying, look, he was cooperative, he answered all of our questions, which is much to [INAUDIBLE] story yesterday's public testimony.

[18:40:04]

He didn't answer the questions you really wanted to know, like what is this SDNY hearing about, what other documents besides the $35,000 check and the multiple and installments, et cetera, what actually do you know. Now, you have the idea of why would Mueller be so interested in Michael Cohen. Why is SDNY not taking his word for it, he has receipts. If he wants to provide them, this is the form to do it.

And I have to say, I thought I used to agree a little bit on the notion of the idea of collusion not being able to be found in this public form. The way that the American people have been impatient waiting for Mueller's report to issue either the Congress or to now Bill Barr, well, Congress has been waiting, trying to have their parallel legislative investigation go on.

And now, you have somebody with direct ties to the Kremlin, a part of the Trump Tower Moscow meeting. When Michael Cohen has said that the President carried on talks from January to, what was it, May or later in the year of 2016 as a pre-emptive RNC [ph] nominee. Now, somebody can connect the dots about the influence and what Putin was.

So this may be a matter of impatience and Congress is finally saying, we've had enough, whoever wants to come, we're going to talk to you.

BLITZER: How significant, David, would the Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer, Allen Weisselberg, how significant would his testimony be assuming he is going to be called and everybody is agreeing that he's going to be called to testify as well?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Very significant. He came up more than once during Michael Cohen's testimony yesterday in the open hearing. All of the reporting on Weisselberg is that he knew about all the financial dealings of the Trump Organization. So whether or not he testifies in open hearing, what the Special Counsel's investigation can find out from him, what the congressional committees can find out from him can tie some of the stuff together about what money was going between President Trump and people working for him and for what purpose.

BLITZER: Yes. Listen to how, Gloria, the President reacted to Cohen's public testimony yesterday at a news conference in Hanoi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He lied a lot, but it was very interesting because he didn't lie about one thing. He said no collusion with the Russian hoax.

I was impressed with the fact that he - when - you know, because the most important question up there was the one on collusion. And he said he saw no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So did the President hear what he wanted to hear?

BORGER: Yes, I think so. What about all that other stuff that Michael Cohen said that he was a conman and cheater and chapter eversible [ph] --

BLITZER: A racist. BORGER: Yes, and a racist, and all other kinds of things. But, you know, what Donald Trump is obviously obsessive about, and with good reason, is this question of collusion. And what Michael Cohen said was he didn't have particular evidence of collusion. It doesn't mean that there isn't any but it just wasn't in Michael Cohen's possession.

BLITZER: He didn't have direct evidence, he said, but he had suspicions?

BORGER: That's right. Direct evidence, well - but he also did talk about the phone call from Roger Stone saying that there's going to be a WikiLeaks dump, which he overheard on a speakerphone. So there are ways - I saw your interview with Clapper. And there are ways of confirming that. You can look at phone records, et cetera.

So the President heard what he wanted to hear because there was no collusion is his refrain, his mantra these days, and he is sticking to it.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Everybody stick around, there's much more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:48:04] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking news tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting President Trump ordered his chief of staff to give his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner a top secret security clearance last year despite concerns voiced by intelligence officials and the top White House lawyer.

David Swerdlick, I want to play for our viewers what Jared Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell told me about this last year and what Ivanka Trump said just the other day. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Who made the decision to restore his security clearance? How did that happen?

ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR JARED KUSHNER: The intelligence community and the FBI. It happened in the normal course. It happened the way it happens for thousands of people. It goes to initially the bureau, who does a background investigation. It takes a lot of time. It then gets through various agencies, to the White House. There's a special office that does security measures.

They're all career people. There was nobody in the political process that had anything to do with it. There was nobody who pressured it. It was just done the normal, regular way.

INTERVIEWER: There are a lot of people that question whether you were given special treatment by the president overriding --

IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: Absolutely not.

INTERVIEWER: Can you speak to that? TRUMP: There were anonymous leaks about there being issues. But the

president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.

INTERVIEWER: What were the problems early on?

TRUMP: There weren't any.

INTERVIEWER: So, no special treatment?

TRUMP: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What do you think?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, Wolf, I hope Mr. Lowell comes back and talks to you. He was very categorical talking to you last May that it was just the regular intelligence process. But the "New York Times" reporting says they talked to four people, that this was also May, according to the report, that the president ordered the White House chief of staff to grant the top security clearance to Jared Kushner, that he wrote his own memo separately noting this and that the White House counsel also wrote a separate memo to file about this.

So, I would like to hear now exactly what --

[18:50:02] BLITZER: Abbe Lowell is welcome to come back here in THE SITUATION ROOM anytime.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: His spokesman today just released a statement obviously in response to this "New York Times" story, and it's very carefully written, it said that in 2018, White House and securities clearance officials affirmed Mr. Kushner's security clearance was handled in a regular process. In other words, that's what we were told. That was conveyed to the media at the time, the statement says and new stories if accurate do not change what was affirmed at the time. In other words, this is what we were told and that's what we told you and if that's not true, it's not our fault.

BLITZER: You worked at the CIA and FBI. I assume you had top secret security clearance. What do you think about this story?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERRRORISM ANALYST: I still do. But in August of this year because of what I said on CNN --

BLITZER: August of last year.

MUDD: Of last year. The president threatened my clearance. Not because I did anything inappropriate, not because I took money from the wrong people, but because of what I said on CNN.

One question, let's go -- why was it that senior officials in the White House seemed to think Mr. Kushner shouldn't have a clearance? Is it because he talked to the wrong people or because he took money from the wrong people and didn't declare it?

It's not just a question of the process, it's the question of why. I was attacked by the president because of what I said. Mr. Kushner I suspect had a security clearance that was suspect because of what he did. Why? What is it? That's what I want to know.

BLITZER: As far as you know, do you still have security clearance?

MUDD: Not as far as I do. I do. The president threatened me, too much of a coward to act. If you want to take away my security clearance, Mr. President, let's go. It is because of what I said, which is First Amendment.

It's not because of what Jared Kushner did. Where is his money from and why didn't he talk about who he spoke to in the past? That's what I want to know.

BLITZER: He didn't only threaten you. James Clapper, he threatened John Brennan, the former CIA director. He's threatened a bunch of people to remove the security clearance.

MUDD: Yes, because of what we said. We were told since the 18th century we could say what we want and this president says not true. Let's go.

BORGER: Well, you know, Jared Kushner had problems because as we all know and we've reported, I've reported this at CNN, he submitted his security clearance four times. And originally, his attorney said that it was a premature draft, that was mistakenly submitted. But then it was resubmitted and resubmitted and resubmitted and resubmitted.

And clearly, there were questions about his family business ties to foreign investors and also the fact that remember , Kushner was the one who said I'm going to be the back channel to foreign governments during the transition. And maybe some of those conversations had not been reported. So, clearly, red flags were raised. And they were right to be raised because the form, his original form, had nothing on it about his conversations with foreign officials or his family's dealings with foreign investors.

BLITZER: Legally, the president, Laura, could classify or declassify whatever he wants.

BORGER: Yes.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He absolutely can. That is his prerogative to do so, and unfortunately, nepotism I think also factored into this, with regards to what he's actually said in an interview, not Ivanka Trump.

The real issue here, it was not done in the normal course. It wasn't like thousands ever people had been the son-in-law of the president or have been told they may be compromised as potentially easily manipulated by other people. Here, we have Jared Kushner.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more we need to cover, including Russia reacting now to the failed Trump/Kim summit by mocking the media.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:58:00] BLITZER: The sudden collapse of the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un is being met with mockery by Russia.

Here is CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight the failed Trump/Kim summit, a feeding frenzy for Russian state media. Mocking the lack of results and President Trump walking out on Kim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It ended so badly the sides even avoided signing any joint agreement. Crafty Kim Jong-un was ready for some concessions, but not the ones Trump reportedly wanted. So the agreements that were ready to be signed had to just know back to Washington.

OLGA SKABEEVA, HOST, RUSSIA (through translator): Overall, very, very meager for such a pompous summit that has been lauded as the biggest deal ever.

PLEITGEN: Analysts even claiming America isn't negotiating in good faith and that the U.S. would invade North Korea if Kim gives up his nukes.

KONSTANTIN ASMOLOV, ANALYST (through translator): Kim is risking a lot. If he makes concessions, then Trump's successor could come and say, everything this clown Trump signed is against our national interests. Kim will end up in a Gadhafi-like situation.

PLEITGEN: The key, while the Russians have publicly been backing the Trump-Kim talks, even saying that the U.S. consulted with Moscow before the summit, Putin wants to lead the diplomatic effort to denuclearize North Korea, his spokesman taking a swipe at President Trump's negotiating style.

DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESMAN (through translator): Every step towards each other should go with some flexibility, certain concessions, certain small agreements. It's impossible to immediately set sights on a quick fix solution to such a complex problem like North Korea.

PLEITGEN: And saying a Putin/Kim summit is already in the works.

PESKOV: This meeting is on the agenda. There are no exact agreements right now, but we will continue to coordinate this with our North Korean counterparts through diplomatic channels.

PLEITGEN: The Russians noting that Kim Jong-un is welcome to visit Vladimir Putin in Moscow at anytime convenient for the North Korean strong man.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: So there you have it, Wolf, a little bit of schadenfreude on the part of the Russians saying President Trump's strategy simply isn't working.

BLITZER: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thank you.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.