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White House Braces for Mueller Report, Rejects Request for Info on Trump-Putin Communications; Ivanka Trump Used Personal Email for Government Work, Jared Kushner Used WhatsApp to Contact Foreign Leaders; Interview with Rep. Steve Cohen (D), Tennessee, on Trump's Relatives. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 21, 2019 - 17:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar in for Jake Tapper and our coverage on CNN continues right now.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: bracing for Mueller. The White House, Congress and the country are on pins and needles, bracing for Robert Mueller's Russia report, which could drop at any time. The Trump legal team preparing to react to any eventuality.

West Wing WhatsApp: A top Democrat says White House officials, including Ivanka Trump, have conducted government business with personal emails. And he claims Jared Kushner has used the WhatsApp messaging system to communicate with foreign leaders.

Just say no: the White House refuses to comply with Democrats' request for information on President Trump's communications with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Does the president have something to hide?

And in the Heights: President Trump drops a Twitter bombshell, saying it's time to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, captured in 1967.

Speaking of timing, is the president acting now because his supporter, prime minister Netanyahu, is in a very tough re-election fight?

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


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

BLITZER: Breaking news as the White House braces for the Mueller report, rejecting a request for documents on President Trump's communications with Vladimir Putin.

The House Oversight Committee chairman says he has new information that senior White House officials, including Ivanka Trump, have used personal email accounts for government business and he claims presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has used a messaging app to communicate with foreign leaders.

Also breaking, the president moves to overturn a half-century of U.S. policy by saying it's time to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, captured in 1967. The president denies it's a bid to support Benjamin Netanyahu in a closely contested election in less than three weeks.

I'll speak with Steve Cohen of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents are standing by with full coverage.

Let's go to chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, as the White House prepares for the Mueller report, it's digging in against the Democrats.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is correct, Wolf. White House officials, like the rest of Washington, are on the edge of their seats, waiting for the Mueller report to drop. While those expectations are building, Democrats are complaining the White House, as you said, are stonewalling their investigations into the president's conversations with Russia's Vladimir Putin as well as another probe into Trump family members, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.


ACOSTA (voice-over): As the White House is awaiting the arrival of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on alleged Trump campaign ties to Russia, the president is gearing up for battle for the 2020 election, firing up the conservative base.

TRUMP: You have a president who is also fighting for you. I'm with you all the way.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Tonight the president is facing new accusations of stonewalling, as House Democrats complain the White House is blocking information about Mr. Trump's conversations with Putin.

Democratic leaders released letter from White House counsel, stating, "While we respectfully seek to accommodate appropriate oversight requests, we are unaware of any precedent supporting such sweeping requests."

House Democrats are seeking many documents that could reveal why the president seems eager to accept Putin's denials of Russian interference in the 2016 election.


TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.


ACOSTA (voice-over): House Democrats are on the hunt for personal emails and encrypted text messages from Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. The attorney for the president's daughter and son-in-law confirms that Mr. Kushner has been using WhatsApp as part of his official duties in the White House and also confirmed that Ms. Trump continues to receive official emails on her personal email account and she does not forward the emails to her official account.

Using private messaging to conduct government business was something that the president slammed Hillary Clinton for doing in 2016.


TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.


ACOSTA (voice-over): As for the Mueller report, the president is its release.


TRUMP: Let it come out. Let people see it. That's up to the attorney general. He's a very highly respected man. We'll see what happens.


ACOSTA (voice-over): One reason why growing optimism inside Trump world, where advisers believe the report will conclude the president did not commit any crimes. As one adviser predicted --


ACOSTA (voice-over): -- "This clears the deck for us."

There is a sign the president is working to shore up support heading into the 2020 campaign as he lends a hand to a key political ally. The president announced that the U.S. will recognize Israel's control over the Golan Heights, an area hotly contested for decades, tweeting, "After 52 years, it's time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights."

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: President Trump has just made history. I called him. I thanked him on behalf of the people of Israel.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The move is a gift to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Trump supporter who is facing re-election next month. But the president denied he did it for any political reasons.

TRUMP: No. I wouldn't even know about that. I wouldn't even know about that. I have no idea. He was doing OK. ACOSTA (voice-over): The president still facing pushback on his recent comments that he approved the funeral for the late senator, John McCain.

TRUMP: I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which, as president, I had to approve. I don't care about this. I didn't get thank you. That's OK.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The site of McCain's funeral, the National Cathedral, released a statement, contradicting the president's comments, saying, quote, "Only a state funeral for a former president involves consultation with government officials. No funeral at the cathedral requires the approval of the president or any other government official."


ACOSTA: Getting back to all these Democratic investigations, an attorney for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner pushed back on claims, saying they were not completely accurate.

But the prospect of the president's own family members were conducting government business over private communications raises questions whether the Trump family learned any lessons from the 2016 campaign, when they hammered Hillary Clinton over her email use.

Wolf, getting back to this Mueller report that everybody in Washington is waiting for, I talked to an administration official a short while ago, who said that the White House does expect to get some kind of heads-up as to when the Mueller report is coming out but not a heads- up on the contents of that Mueller report. We'll see how all of that plays out. We'll find out, it seems, as the White House is finding out as well.

BLITZER: Everybody is waiting. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's take a closer look at the president's call to fully recognize Israel sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Oren Liebermann is joining us from Jerusalem.

It's hugely significant, overturning more than 50 years of U.S. policy when it comes to the Golan Heights.

What was behind this move?

What are you hearing over there?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No mention in the statements from secretary of state Mike Pompeo or prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu or President Trump's tweets that this was about helping Netanyahu win an election. But that is the proverbial elephant in the room.

Netanyahu is facing a difference reelection campaign as he's seeking a fifth term in office. It has not been a good week for him in that election. He was sliding in the polls a little bit and the press focused on the corruption investigations he faces. And this changed all of that.

So it's difficult to believe Trump when he says he wasn't aware that the elections were coming up, especially with Pompeo's visit here. When Pompeo visited the Western Wall, the holiest site that Jews can pray inside Jerusalem, he went with Netanyahu. That's essentially unheard of.

When President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited the Western Wall, they did so alone, out of respect of the sensitivity of the holy site between Israelis and Palestinians.

Not so anymore. Pompeo with Netanyahu and it certainly looked like the Trump administration campaigning for Netanyahu in his next term, as does Trump's recognition of Israel's sovereignty in the Golan Heights, which has been considered occupied territory.

On top of all of that, Netanyahu will head to APAC in Washington, D.C., for the conference of the American Jewish lobby, where he will stay at the Blair House as an official guest of the White House. He will meet Trump. That, for all intents and purposes, is a campaign stop for Netanyahu and it will once again look like Trump is campaigning for Netanyahu.

Could there be more in store there?

Could Trump give Netanyahu more before this election campaign?

That's certainly a possibility.

As for reaction, one European diplomat tells CNN, Trump is essentially once again ignoring international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions. And from that perspective, it doesn't seem they're all that surprised.

We're certain to hear condemnation from Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, no doubt.

The bigger question, what's the kind of reaction we get from the de facto anti-Iran Sunni states -- Saudi Arabia, the UAE and those states -- do they offer symbolic condemnation or are they legitimately angry about this one as they try to seek better relations with the U.S.?

BLITZER: Oren, we'll have more on this later in THE SITUATION ROOM. A very important development today. We'll stay on top of it.

Meanwhile, a powerful congressional Democrat says White House officials have --


BLITZER: -- used personal email and, in the case of Jared Kushner, a private messaging app for government business. At the same time, Democrats say the White House is rejecting their request for information on the president's communications with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Manu Raju, start with the private emails and messaging developments.

What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Elijah Cummings says he has learned former and current White House officials have used their own personal emails to conduct government business; namely Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser; Ivanka Trump; senior adviser and his daughter, of course, as well as Steve Bannon, former White House adviser and KT McFarland.

When he says Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, he said had a meeting with their lawyer, Abbe Lowell back in December and Lowell confirmed that Jared Kushner used WhatsApp to talk with foreign leaders, conduct official business with foreign leaders. He said his staff had asked Abbe Lowell at that meeting whether or not classified information had been passed along through the WhatsApp application by Kushner.

He said Lowell could not rule that out. He said also Ivanka Trump, in that December meeting, that Lowell acknowledged that she perhaps may not have been following the Presidential Records Act because, according to Cummings, Lowell revealed she continues to not forward emails that are received to her personal account, government emails, to her official account, which is required by federal law.

Now Lowell pushed back; the attorney for Trump and Kushner sent a letter back to Cummings today and said he never acknowledged that Kushner talked to foreign leaders through the WhatsApp application and that, after September 2017, Ivanka Trump -- excuse me, always forwarded emails that went to her personal account to her official account, saying they are both in compliance with federal law.

Nevertheless, Wolf, Cummings asking a range of questions to the White House tonight, demanding answers.

The ultimate question is will the White House respond to those questions?

No word yet as the White House says it is reviewing this letter.

BLITZER: Democrats say the White House is also stalling on their request for information about the president's often secretive communications with Russia's President Putin.

What are you hearing about that?

RAJU: The White House rejected the demand from three powerful Democratic chairmen to provide any information about those Trump-Putin meetings. They wanted transcribed interviews with the translators. They wanted notes that may reveal exactly what happened and they wanted the White House to disclose whether or not the president took action to conceal those notes, destroy those notes and what happened in those interactions with Putin.

Today the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, sent a letter to these Democratic chairmen and said they would not give that information over to Congress, specifically the president must be free to engage in discussion with foreign leaders without fear that those communications will be disclosed and used as fodder for partisan political purposes.

And foreign leaders must be assured of this as well. It appears the White House may be gearing up to fight this if Democrats are trying to issue subpoenas. Cipollone cites in the letter that he believes they're on firm legal ground.

Democrats have yet to respond to this but expect potential subpoenas in yet another ratcheting up of the fight between the White House and House Democrats over their investigations here on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: Not only continues, it intensifies. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

As the White House braces for the Mueller report to drop, the question everyone wants to know, what happens next?

Let's bring in Evan Perez.

When Mueller is finished with his investigation, how do you expect all of this to unfold?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we expect that, once the report is delivered to the attorney general, Bill Barr, the attorney general will notify Congress, especially the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department, that they have received the report, that essentially the Mueller investigation is over, is closed and there will be a period in which he will be reviewing those findings before he will formally send what will essentially be the Barr report, essentially his summary of what he sees in the Mueller findings, what he thinks is releasable as a result of his own review of the Mueller findings.

BLITZER: You've been covering the Mueller investigation for, what, two years, almost on a daily, sometimes hourly basis?

PEREZ: Who is counting, Wolf?

BLITZER: There's still some unanswered questions; what do you anticipate?

PEREZ: Wolf, given the fact that this has gone on for 674 days now, I think there's still big overarching questions, including the question of collusion, whether or not there was obstruction --


PEREZ: -- whether or not Mueller found any proof of Russian collusion or conspiracy by people either close to the president, the president himself, to collude with the Russians with regard to the 2016 election.

Another question, obviously, that we expect Bill Barr will have to answer to Congress is whether or not Mueller asked to subpoena the president. We know that the president never gave a sit-down interview with Mueller.

The question is, did Mueller ask for a subpoena, to subpoena the president and what happened to that?

That's going to be a big question. Again, Bill Barr is required to tell Congress if there were any disagreements with Mueller, whether he rejected any requests from Bob Mueller.

And how detailed is this report?

That makes it more difficult for Bill Barr. The more detail in this report, the more difficult it is for Bill Barr and what he produces to Congress.

BLITZER: Critically important questions. We're bracing for the release and word that the investigation has been completed. Evan Perez, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee.

Congressman, thank you for joining us. I want to quickly get to the breaking news. According to the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, senior White House officials used personal emails to conduct official government business.

In particular, Jared Kushner used a private messaging app to communicate with foreign leaders.

What concerns does all that raise for you?

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: Well, one of the first things that Jared Kushner did was try to see if they could get a back channel between the White House and Russia. There are communications that this administration or Jared Kushner, particularly -- and he's Trump's guy -- didn't want the American public to be able to access or even the CIA and the security departments to be able to access between the White House and Russia.

Now you see they're using private communications to communicate with people. There's an issue about Kushner and Ivanka not being cleared for security clearances through the proper channels and having the president have to get involved to give them those security clearances.

And they still don't have the top security clearances because of concerns at the CIA and those related to private business they could have with countries that were involved, Israel and the Middle East.

The concern obviously is that Jimmy Breslin is writing this administration's handbook. It's the gang that couldn't shoot straight. They can't get, in their minds, what the law is and comply with it. They want to do everything off channel, away from the public's eye and it makes you wonder, what are they hiding, just like the White House not releasing anything about the Putin-Trump meetings.

Everything with Russia is quiet and secret and it raises lots of issues.

BLITZER: On those meetings, the White House rejected a Democratic request for documents. Do you agree that Congress needs to see these documents?

COHEN: Every individual elected to Congress takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect the United States against enemies foreign and domestic. One of our duties in oversight is to see to it that or foreign policy is done for the protection of our country and for the betterment of the American society.

We can't have anybody using foreign policy for their personal benefits. And with this administration, there's lots of issues that have been raised, concerning involvement the emoluments clause, concerning involvement with Russia, business practices, at 666 Fifth Avenue and who financed that, Deutsche Bank and who financed Trump.

It's a legitimate concern of Congress to look into, if there is influence --


BLITZER: Let me interrupt.

COHEN: -- see what they talked about.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the White House response. In a formal letter to Congress, legal counsel says that U.S. Constitution assigns responsibility for dealing with foreign affairs to the president and that all presidents over the years have a right -- have a right to keep their communications with foreign leaders confidential.

So why should lawmakers have the right to review these communications between the president and Putin?

COHEN: I don't know that they have a right to keep them confidential from the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House and/or the Intelligence Committee. I think if subpoenas are issued, we'll let a court decide that.

In particular in these circumstances, where they tried to hide so much from the American public in their communications with Russia -- and here is a meeting and you want to know, did they discuss the Trump Tower in Moscow, did they discuss lifting sanctions?

Did they discuss --


COHEN: -- different situations in the Baltic and maybe assurances that wouldn't invoke Article 5 NATO if they went into the Balkans or the Baltic, both of which are possible Russian sites of aggression or further incursions into Ukraine.

This is something that the American people have entrusted the government officials with. it's part of Congress' oversight responsibilities. And for him to say that he won't do it because he thinks we could use it for partisan political gain, he sees everything in black and white. He doesn't see things in terms of governmental oversight and

governmental practices and that's what this is. The last two years, he has had the Republicans act as if they were an agent of the White House both our Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee. And David (sic) Nunes ran over there whenever they asked him to.

But it's a new game in town.

BLITZER: The special counsel Robert Mueller's report could be delivered to the new attorney general at any moment.

Do you trust that Bill Barr will be, as he testified in his confirmation hearings, as transparent as possible within Justice Department guidelines?

COHEN: Well, "as possible" leaves him a lot of leeway for interpretation. No, I don't feel comfortable about it. I don't think Donald Trump would have made him and appointed him attorney general if he thought there would be any problem.

After Jeff Sessions recused himself and be his attorney, he wanted to find his Roy Cohn, his attorney general. He wants his guy in there to take care of him and to be the attorney general as if he was the personal attorney for the president and not the attorney for the United States of America.

So I think he probably went to the Federal Society or somebody and said get me a guy and they got Bill Barr. I have to think that the fix is in. That's why the House Republicans voted for the resolution we had last week, to have the report made public.

That's why Trump is saying he wants to see it public because he knows Barr is not going to make much of a report and it's going to be flavored toward Trump and he has no problem with that being released.

The full Mueller report, what Mueller gives to Barr should be seen by the Congress and Mueller should be made to testify before the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committees and others about what he has found. The American public paid for that report. The American public deserves to see those reports.

BLITZER: We'll find out fairly soon whether any of that will happen. Congressman Steve Cohen, thank you for joining us.

COHEN: You're welcome, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, breaking news: the White House is bracing for Mueller's report, which could be wrapped up and delivered at any time now.

How is the Trump legal team preparing to respond?

And a key Democrat says Ivanka Trump is among White House officials who have used personal email for government business while Jared Kushner has used private messaging to communicate with foreign leaders. (MUSIC PLAYING)



BLITZER: Tonight the Trump White House is dealing with multiple demand from Democratic investigators in Congress while waiting for Robert Mueller to wrap up his investigation. Let's our experts about this.

Gloria Borger, Elijah Cummings says he has new information that senior White House officials, including the president's daughter and son-in- law, were using private email and private messaging to deal with official government business.

That's a big deal.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is a big deal. The president has spent the last two years railing about Hillary Clinton and her private email server. The White House will say it wasn't a private server but you shouldn't be using private emails for government business.

I think the problem with Jared Kushner is particular because they're charging he was using WhatsApp and maybe some encrypted devices that were not so encrypted to communicate with foreign leaders and that shouldn't be done.

His attorney, Abbe Lowell, is saying whenever he spoke with somebody out of the country, he took a screenshot of it and transferred it to his regular email. But there is some disagreement whether he was talking to foreign leaders or just people he knows overseas. That's what they want to investigate.

BLITZER: It's very weird because, despite the irony, they used to attack Hillary Clinton all the time --


BLITZER: -- there are serious national security risks. You're communicating with a foreign leader over WhatsApp that's a problem.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: There's a reason that the attacks on Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump had some resonance because she was secretary of state and there were concerns about potential security breaches.

That has not changed. In fact, we know that Russia hacked into the DNC and John Podesta's emails and released them via WikiLeaks. So we know that this stuff happens. This is not a theoretical conversation. We know this is happening. We suspect other foreign powers are doing the same.

Given the water under the bridge, it's sort of negligence and whistling past your own political graveyard to do this. The one thing you would think the Trump administration on day one would say you may have missed the campaign we just ran but it was a lot focused on this issue. So let's not repeat this mistake.

BORGER: Don't forget, Jared Kushner was the person who was establishing the so-called back channel to the Russians. Was he using WhatsApp for those communications?

And we don't know. We don't know the answer to that and his lawyer says no.

The question is, was classified information used on these applications?

BLITZER: And remember, Michael Cohen, he was busted in part for using WhatsApp that was discovered and that they could monitor what is going on over WhatsApp. Bianna, we now learned that the House Oversight Committee has spent the last two years investigating the official private use of email for official government business going back to March of 2017. That's where the Republicans still were the majority and controlled the committee.

Elijah Cummings, the Committee Chairman now says, "The White House is engaged in an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction." Suggesting there's a pattern here, a serious pattern of concern.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Well, look, I think Elijah Cummings is setting the groundwork and I think we saw it in display even with his op-ed in The Washington Post this morning, laying out what he has done thus far, the steps that they have taken as a committee. He said he sent 12 letters to the White House. The White House has not sent over any information at all.

As you've said he accused them of stonewalling and this could be viewed as his way of saying, "Here is everything we've done thus far," step-by-step, in anticipation that, of course, the Republicans in the White House may in turn accuse the committee and Elijah Cummings of aggressively attacking or going after or being too inquisitive as the President calls it harassment.

So I think he's just setting the ground works for here's how things typically work, here's what I've done, the protocol I followed, they're not complying.

BLITZER: How much power, Laura, does Elijah Cummings, the Committee Chairman, have to take on the White House if they continue to refuse to provide these documents?

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well he still has an enormous amount of power, because he has a subpoena of power and, of course, the nature of his actual committee has extensive authority to investigate any number of things waiting two things in a Federal Government. So that's an enormous umbrella of tasks that he actually has. The problem is if you're only as good as your subpoena power, how good are you if it's ignored? Well, ideally he has a constitutional authority to investigate a

number of things will bode very well in a litigation involving how and to what extent the President could actually refute these subpoenas and ignore them. But his power is really kind of absolute when it comes to people who could not potentially assert the executive privilege. People who would not have that legal hurdle to overcome. And there is an overlap between what they're accusing Ivanka and Jared Kushner of doing at this point in time, because remember he is fighting for information and through documents and evidence one thing you cannot have if you don't have it is if you don't have it part of the presidential or the formal government record, you cannot ask for it. You can't actually get it.

So if they don't include or screenshot or have this information forwarded from their personal accounts to their official government accounts, well guess what, it goes into essentially the ether and no one can see it again. That's why it's critical to have it captured under the Presidential Records Act and why Elijah Cummings and his Committee's power is so important.

BLITZER: It's interesting --

COATES: And don't forget this isn't ...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

COATES: ... just about protocol, this is about National Security. It had been reported over the past couple of years now that our intelligence agencies knew of allies and adversaries who were aggressively trying to influence Jared and Ivanka, particularly Jared in his role in the Middle East and in peacemaking in Israel. So the fact that now he may have been using compromised email would heighten some of the concerns that the intelligence agencies initially had.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point. Gloria, the White House is also rejecting a separate request from three House Committee chairmen to review the President's communications with Vladimir Putin. Here's the White House response, the White House Counsel writes this to Congress, "While we respectfully seek to accommodate appropriate oversight requests, we are unaware of any precedent supporting such sweeping requests. Rather, the Supreme Court and administrations of both parties have consistently recognized that the conduct of foreign affairs is a manner that the Constitution assigns exclusively to the President."

So if that's going to be the position, what's the next step by these three committee chairmen?

BORGER: Well, the question is could they use the power of subpoena. But let's provide the context here. This is a President who met with Vladimir Putin and wanted to rip up the notes of the translators who didn't have anybody else in the room with him when he was talking to Putin. This is also a White House who does not give regular readouts of the President's conversations with foreign leaders that of cherry pick which readouts they want to give. So we don't know which foreign leaders he's talking to and when and

what they generally talked about. I mean these readouts are not candid but at least they become part of the official record. When historians go back, it is a matter of National Security as Bianna says, but when historians go back and they try and reconstruct, for example, Trump's relationship with Vladimir Putin or foreign policy during the Trump administration, they may not have a lot to go on.


And National Security folks won't have a lot to go on, they won't be able to see any hard precedent. They're going to have to take people's words for what went on rather than translators, transcribers, whatever it is so while you have to respect the right of the President to have candid conversations there should always be somebody else in the room.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN: Yes, and one more thing, Gloria as she was talking I was thinking of this, remember that after the meeting between Putin and Trump where it just translators and we later learned he wanted to get rid of the translator notes, they then come out and Donald Trump says, famously slash infamously, "Well, we're both to blame in this whole hacking situation." I mean in front of Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin could not have been happier basically saying it's a both sides thing.

So the precursor to that public event was this private conversation which I think makes it even more critical and more frustrating that we're not going - we may never learn what actually happened there.

BLITZER: What's the legal precedent, Laura, you're our legal analyst?

COATES: Well, being a little disingenuous when they say there really is no precedent for this, I'm assuming that they're referring to other different administrations, Democratic and Republican trying to hold out information regarding foreign diplomacy involves, of course, with the Bush and the Obama administration definitely with respect to Guantanamo detainees repatriation et cetera.

However, the courts have clearly said that the executive privilege, I'm sure he's going to use as a foundation, is actually qualified. It's not absolute for the President of United States to say, "Listen, because I am there, because I'm the person having a communication that the privilege can never go away, the courts have been quite clear in the notion that it has to be balanced against the compelling interest of the President to have those candid conversations, naturally the compelling interest of other foreign administrations to say we can trust that we'll be able to have candid conversations with you against what Congress and the public's right to know is.

And there are ways at that fulcrum and that balancing test weighs in favor of Congress in this respect given the things that both Chris and Gloria have laid out about the notions of you got the President having these conversations, you've got the references to the NATO alliance, you have the decision not to have anyone else in the room when you should have had others there as well. These things weigh in favor of having a more compelling reason to have it disclosed.

BLITZER: Bianna, you wanted to weigh in.

GOLODRYGA: Well, and also the purpose of a readout is not to punish the President but to protect the President. I mean you have a third party in there for that specific reason and what we saw following the President's meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki is that Putin himself would give subsequent emails and in piecemeal talk about some of the things that he and the President he said spoke about in Helsinki, which raised eyebrows for everyone here in the U.S. because it was the first time we hear about it and it involved everything from Ukraine to Syria. And that's exactly the reason why you want to have documentation in a third party to witness exactly what took place in certain meetings.

BLITZER: Yes. Gloria, while everybody is waiting for the Mueller report to be handed over to the Attorney General, what are you hearing? What's going on behind the scenes at the White House?

BORGER: Look, the White House is preparing Special Counsel, Emmet Flood, seems to be in charge of the operating team that is going to come up with a response. And in talking to people today, it's interesting because they believe that perhaps or maybe it's that they hope that the Mueller report won't be so bad for the President, because he can't be indicted after all and that in the end the President could use it as a cudgel in his 2020 campaign.

They don't know but that's one of the options I was told. They're happy to think about it that way.

BLITZER: I'm told this is coming out soon so we'll just have to wait and see.

BORGER: Yes. We don't know.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's more news that we're following including the United States' denial. U.S. denies a Russian claim, its jets chased away a B-52 bomber as the top U.S. general sounds a warning about Russia's growing military threat.


We're getting a sobering new update on the threat posed by Vladimir Putin's military buildup. Our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr spoke with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff earlier in the day. Barbara, what did he tell you?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Wolf, tonight the number one General in the U.S. military increasingly concerned about both Russian and Chinese military buildups.


STARR(off-camera): A U.S. B-52 bomber caught on a Russian aircraft camera over the Baltic Sea. Moscow claims a Russian fighter jet forced to the Americans to back off something adamantly denied by the U.S. Air Force which said the Russian aircraft did not chase the B-52 away.

It's all part of the new frontline between Moscow and Washington over super-powered dominance. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says Russia is working on new missile ships and aircraft aimed at making it harder for the U.S. to defend Europe, a plan he says that is so far succeeding.


JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: There's absolutely no question that it'd be more difficult for us to project power in Europe today.


STARR(off-camera): General Joseph Dunford says the U.S. can still defend Europe and the Pentagon is funding new U.S. weapons to push back, but he has an unusually blunt warning about Russian President Vladimir Putin.



DUNFORD: We're talking about Putin putting together information operations, cyber operations, economic coercion, political influence, unconventional military operations to advance his objectives.


STARR(off-camera): Dunford also pending the 2016 election interference on Putin, something President Trump has not done even as the U.S. intelligence community believes it.


DUNFORD: Putin is doing things, he did things in the United States in the context of the 2016 elections to try to undermine our democracy. I make an assumption that there's very little that Russia does that Putin is not aware of.


STARR: And on the China front, General Dunford expressed a very deep concern about American high tech companies doing business in China that their technology would be directed towards the Chinese military. He has singled out again Google for his concerns about this and we're now learning that General Dunford next week here in Washington plans to meet with top Google executives at their request to discuss his concerns about China, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, a very serious indeed. Barbara Starr, thanks very much. Coming up, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots rejects a plea deal in a prostitution case. Will he show up for his team Super Bowl celebration at the White House?

[17:50:00] New England Patriots' owner Robert Kraft fresh off another Super Bowl

win is spurning a plea deal after being charged with soliciting prostitution at a Florida massage parlor. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Wolff, the Patriots' owner is being defiant tonight, not only rejecting that plea deal offer, but also fighting to keep some potentially damaging video of him from being released publicly. As if that weren't enough, Kraft's close friend, the President of the United States, is becoming more involved in this inflammatory case.


TODD(off-camera): The billionaire owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots tonight being as brash in his clash with the law as his team is clashing with opponents on the field.

Robert Kraft, a pal of President Trump's is accused of soliciting prostitutes at this day spa in Jupiter, Florida, and potentially embarrassing Trump in the process. A source tell CNN, the 77-year-old Kraft is rejecting a plea deal from state prosecutors who'd offered to drop the charges in exchange for paying fines, for doing community service, admitting that Kraft would have been found guilty if he went to trial. The plea deal also reportedly called for Kraft to take an STD tests. Kraft has pleaded not guilty and denies any wrongdoing.


RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: He's worried about the embarrassment that would be caused by him admitting wrongdoing and he's got a lot of money and a lot of time to try to hire the best lawyers possible to fight this.


TODD(off-camera): Kraft and his legal team are also tonight fighting in court to stop the public release of surveillance video that allegedly shows Kraft engaging in sex acts on two occasions at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. Legal analyst say the video would be a crucial piece of evidence against Kraft if he goes to trial, but that he could still beat the charges if there's no audio where he can be heard agreeing to a transaction.


MARIOTTI: The defense for Mr. Kraft has to be that he was not paying for that service.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bob Kraft, he's becoming a pretty famous guy for winning out day that --


TODD(off-camera): Tonight, President Trump is being drawn further into the Kraft saga. In an interview with NBC, Cindy Young, the former owner of that spa and a frequent guest of Trump's including at March-a-Lago fire back at Democrats who want to investigate whether she tried to sell Chinese clients access to the President.


CINDY YOUNG, FORMER SPA OWNER: I'm proud of Americans. I love Americans. I love our President. So I don't do anything wrong.


TODD(off-camera): The President meanwhile reportedly has told aides he still wants Kraft to come to the White House with the Patriots players for a celebration of their Super Bowl win. That's according to POLITICO. It would set up an awkward photo op that would likely make tabloid headlines. It wouldn't be unusual.

Trump has repeatedly stood by his friends and political allies who've been accused of sexual wrong doing, from former Senate candidate Roy Moore to former Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly.


TRUMP: I don't think Bill would do anything wrong.


TODD(off-camera): O'Reilly and Moore both denied wrongdoing. But this case could be worse for Trump because while Kraft hasn't been accused of human trafficking, he is in the middle of a case where it is being investigated. Could the optics of standing next to Kraft hurt the President, especially on an issue Mr. Trump has championed?


RICHARD LEVICK, CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST: I don't think they do, because the people that's going to hurt the President with, are people who aren't going to vote for him. He looks at this and says, "What do I do? Do I gain two, three votes from disinviting him? But what I do is I reaffirm my base when I stand by my friends."


TODD: Now, would Robert Kraft go to the White House if Trump asked him? We reached out to Kraft and the Patriots about that and we did not hear back. Despite their friendship, Kraft did clash with Trump two years ago when the President attacked NFL players over their protest during the national anthem. But recently, Robert Kraft has praised Mr. Trump during a media interview, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much. We'll watch it together with you. Coming up, breaking news, as the White House braces for the Mueller report, it's digging in against the inquiries by Congressional Democrats rejecting a request for documents on the President's communications with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

[17:55:00] Happening Now, breaking using personal emails, a top Democrat says

some senior White House officials have been doing government business on private accounts accusing Jared Kushner of communicating with foreign leaders through an insecure app. After the President railed about Hillary Clinton's emails, is his administration now doing the same thing?


Refusing to comply.