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Trump Expresses Desire to Talk to Special Counsel; Did Republicans Push Fake Conspiracy Theory?; Interview With Oregon Senator Ron Wyden; New Interviews With Stormy Daniels And Her Friend About Trump; Trump Supports Path to Citizenship for 1.8 Million Immigrants. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 25, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the Russia investigation expanding and ensnaring more White House officials and aides than many people realized, this as the special counsel negotiates for a sit-down Q&A session with their boss.
President Trump says he's looking forward to answering Robert Mueller's questions under oath, but tonight, his lawyers say not so fast.
This hour, I will talk about the Russia probe with Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden. And our companies and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, Mueller is reaching deep into the Trump White House.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
It bears repeating that now virtually every senior adviser to the president, as well as at least one Cabinet secretary, has now been interviewed by the special counsel, who we now know also wants to sit down with the president himself.
Also worth emphasizing that the focus of those questioning sessions has almost universally been on the question of obstruction of justice. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
SCIUTTO:(voice-over): Tonight, the president's lawyers say that 20 White House staffers have now sat for voluntary interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller, including White House counsel Don McGahn, Communications Director Hope Hicks, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. The administration says it has turned over more than 20,000 pages of documents. Now Donald Trump says that he's willing, in fact, eager, to be next, telling reporters:
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to it, actually.
SCIUTTO: Trump's lawyer, Ty Cobb, however, quickly qualified the president's statement, telling Gloria Borger -- quote -- "While Mr. Trump was speaking hurriedly before departing for Davos, he remains committed to continued complete cooperation with the office of the special counsel."
CNN has learned new details about how Mueller wants to interview the president, that it be a sit-down meeting, rather than written questions, and that the topics would include the president allegedly asking former FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Mueller also wants to know about Trump's reaction to Comey's May 2017 testimony on Capitol Hill. Comey's comments reportedly angered Trump.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Do you stand by your testimony that there's an active investigation, counterintelligence investigation, regarding Trump campaign individuals and the Russian government as to whether or not they collaborated?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: To see if there was any coordination between the Russian effort and people...
GRAHAM: Right. Is that still going on?
SCIUTTO: In addition, investigators want to learn more about the president's outreach to intelligence leaders about the Russia investigation.
The range of topics suggesting an interview with Trump would largely focus on possible obstruction of justice, something the president has repeatedly denied.
TRUMP: Here's the story, just so you understand.
There's been no collusion whatsoever. There's no obstruction whatsoever. And I'm looking forward to it.
SCIUTTO: Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Trump argued that what some see as obstruction is really just Mr. Trump fighting back against false accusations.
TRUMP: There's no collusion. Now they're saying, oh, well, did he fight back?
TRUMP: You fight back. Oh, it's obstruction.
SCIUTTO: Today, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said that he wants to release a transcript of a closed-door interview with Donald Trump Jr. focusing on the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I think there's a couple people -- still want to go through their transcript yet. And then I think there has to be experts go through it. That would be if there needs to be anything to be redacted. And then the next step is let the public have access to it.
SCIUTTO: There is now a new and comprehensive account out in the Dutch public broadcaster NOS, a CNN affiliate, that recounts going back to 2015, Wolf, saying that it was Dutch intelligence that gave the U.S. one of the first warnings that Russian hackers were infiltrating U.S. election systems, including getting right down to the moment where they could hack into cameras and observe those hackers as they were doing this work.
Just shows that there were warnings about this interference long before many knew.
BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. All right, thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, with that report.
Also breaking in the Russia investigation, a Senate panel is now preparing to release the transcript of its interview with Donald Trump Jr., this as new information emerges about controversial FBI texts, information that is undermining Republican conspiracy theories.
Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, first, what's the latest on those FBI texts?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republicans in Congress have been forced to back off concerns they raised earlier this week about one of these texts that occurred after the elections in 2016 in which these two FBI agents are discussing a -- quote -- "secret society."
Well, Republicans earlier -- some Republicans earlier this week suggested this was all part of a plot within the FBI to undermine the Trump presidency going forward.
But we have learned a lot more information about that text exchange, which I will read to you right now. And it says: "Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society."
That's from the FBI agent Lisa Page to Peter Strzok, also an FBI agent. We learned a little bit more context from sources familiar with that exchange who are saying the calendar in reference there, it's actually a reference is a gag gift, a Vladimir Putin-themed calendar that was given out to people who were involved in the Russia investigation.
And it was really an attempt at humor. Now, now that -- some Republicans who have been presented with this new evidence seem to be backing off their assertion that this could be a real serious effort within the FBI to take down President Trump.
Ron Johnson in particular raised these serious concerns earlier this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: A secret society. We have an informant that is talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site.
I have heard you know from somebody who's talked to our committee that there's a group of individuals in the FBI, they were holding secret, off-site meetings.
I have heard from an individual that there were FBI agents or, you know, management of the FBI, holding meetings off-site.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So when I asked Senator Johnson yesterday about those off-site meetings, he said he didn't know what they were about. He wanted to dig further into it.
Today, I caught up with Senator Johnson in light of this new information and I asked him whether or not this exchange about the secret society was simply a joke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: This text message seems to be the comment about secret society was in jest. Do you agree that it appears to be it was a jest?
JOHNSON: It's a real possibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So, even as Johnson said it was a real possibility this is now a joke, the fight over these text messages, Wolf, only intensifying.
Just moments ago, Senator Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman, issued a new statement about some of the new text messages that he has received raising concerns about how these two agents approached the Clinton investigation, citing one text in particular, suggesting they were willing to back off the Clinton e-mail investigation, saying one more thing. "She might be our next president," according to this text that Grassley released.
"The last thing you need us going in there loaded for bear. You think she's going to remember or care that it was more DOJ than FBI?" in reference to going after her in the e-mail investigation. And also a suggestion that the FBI chief of staff wanted to see the deputy director of the FBI, Andy McCabe, be recused because of his wife's campaign donations she received from the Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe.
So expect this, Wolf, to just feed the fight between the Democrats and Republicans going forward about these text messages, as Republicans say there's a lot of wrongdoing here. Democrats say it's an effort to distract from the Russia investigation.
BLITZER: Yes, that battle will continue. No doubt about that. Manu, thank you, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
Joining us now, Senator Ron Wyden. He's a Democrat who serves on the Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for coming in.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The president said -- and you heard him -- we all heard him -- he says he's anxious to speak with the special counsel under oath. What would stop him?
WYDEN: He's been all over the map on this. Initially, he was for it. Then he wasn't. Now he's back.
I mean, the point is this is a duly appointed prosecutor that we have, Bob Mueller, decorated war veteran. He's looking into potential criminality in the administration and with respect to the election. And it just seems to me it's a pretty low ethical bar for the president to be available to answer questions. And if he's not, the question will be, what is he hiding?
BLITZER: He says he could do it within the next two or three weeks. Does it concern you, though, that the president says he's simply fighting back in the midst of all of these allegations from the special counsel's investigation? And he says that people consider his fighting back obstruction.
WYDEN: Well, the reality is he has called this a witch-hunt from the very beginning.
They always say, well, there is no there there. These are just allegations.
The fact is, people have pled guilty. I mean, you have got a number of people who pled guilty, a number of people who have been indicted. We still have a long way to go on this. I'm focused on the follow the money issues. The fact is counterintelligence 101 is really looking at these follow the money issues, because, if you want to induce somebody, it's with money.
BLITZER: You're talking about money laundering? Is that at the heart of this?
WYDEN: Certainly, there are overseas accounts that ought to be looked at. Trump SoHo ought to be looked at. The Deutsche Bank ought to be looked at.
But these are all matters that certainly we ought to be looking at because this is right at the heart of counterintelligence.
BLITZER: So you think the money laundering is more significant potentially than obstruction of justice or collusion?
WYDEN: I have always felt from the beginning this was the most important issue.
And, by the way, the reality is -- and I think Congressman Schiff is doing a fine job. The Republican leadership in the House and the Republican leadership in the Senate, they have all been stonewalling on this follow the money issue. They have just found one reason after another to not get into the serious questions.
BLITZER: So your committee, the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, Senator Richard Burr, who is the chairman, he's stonewalling on this issue?
WYDEN: I would say it has been given short shrift from the beginning. They have never seen this as a counterintelligence issue that I think is the reality.
We ought to hear from the Treasury officials who have expertise on this. We ought to have open hearings on this. And, yes, in both the House and Senate, the Republican leadership is ducking what I think is right at the center of this, and that's following the money.
And, by the way, Steve Bannon, I don't quote him often, that's what he said in the Wolff book.
BLITZER: Yes, the Michael Wolff book, "Fire and Fury." He said the money laundering is right at the heart of all of this.
Others have suggested that as well. But it sounds to me like you're getting some information that you believe that is the major part of this investigation. Do you believe Robert Mueller is looking into follow the money?
WYDEN: If you look at the press accounts, the press accounts day after day are raising these questions that haven't been examined by the Intelligence Committees. Look at the people that Bob Mueller has hired. They're all people who
have expertise in financial fraud and prosecuting those who try to exploit the laws here. This is something that ought to be getting a lot more attention. And in both the House committee and the Senate committee, the leadership's ducking it.
BLITZER: If the Robert Mueller team interviews the president with within the next two or three weeks, he's the one, the president, who threw out the two- or three-week timetable, does that suggest to you that Mueller is nearing the end of his investigation?
Because you really want to wait until the end to interview what they call the big fish.
WYDEN: I don't know exactly what he is looking at. Obviously, there are a whole host of questions.
When Lester Holt interviewed the president, I thought the president basically said he fired Comey to make this whole matter go away. That sure sounds like obstruction of justice.
BLITZER: Is there any chance, you think, that when all is said and done, when Robert Mueller completes his investigation, there's nothing there?
WYDEN: What I have always said is you ought to follow the facts.
Look, number one, in 2008 and 2009, when it was hard to get money, the Trump folks said, the family said, much of our portfolio involves Russian money. This is the first president who in 40 years has been unwilling to disclose his tax returns. I think there are a lot of unanswered questions here.
BLITZER: The transcript of Donald Trump Jr.'s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee is supposedly going to be released.
The chairman, Chuck Grassley, said it will be released, made public. How important do you think that could be?
WYDEN: Well, I'm not familiar with exactly what they have been looking at on the other committee.
I will say, as a general proposition, I am for disclosure. I fought very hard when we put together our agreement in the Senate Intelligence Committee for more disclosure, more transparency, more open hearings, more declassifications. So, as a general proposition, that's how I look at it.
BLITZER: What does it say to you that a couple of these conspiracy theories that have been forward by the president's supporters, Republicans, some conservative news outlets, that have now been debunked?
This -- and you have seen all the reports that the secret society that supposedly was being created, that was simply a joke. And now they're releasing the actual text messages that, earlier, they couldn't find. Apparently, there is some new technology, some new Samsung phones, not just to these new FBI agents, but a whole bunch.
Thousands of smartphones, they couldn't initially retrieve the text message, but now they have.
WYDEN: Well, the texts you were talking about on the show earlier, I think they are just irresponsible fantasies that have been spun by members of Congress who are really using it as a smoke screen to cover up the fact that there have been crimes committed.
And then, of course, on the other side of the Capitol, we have Devin Nunes, who, in my view, has just been stunningly irresponsible. And, sometimes, it's hard to see how you can be that great an embarrassment in an institution that already has done a lot of embarrassing stuff, but this is a stretch even by the House.
BLITZER: But even these jokes that now they have now been confirmed to have been jokes, should an agent working on the Russia investigation be joking about all of this with a friend?
WYDEN: As you know, Bob Mueller has taken those people out of those assignments. And as far as I'm concerned, Bob Mueller once again is showing that he is doing this, a duly appointed prosecutor, and doing it by the book.
BLITZER: Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had put together apparently this four-page memo that has been widely criticized by the ranking Democrat on that committee, Adam Schiff.
That it's -- and it hasn't been made public. And the Justice Department, which is led, as you know, by a Republican, Jeff Sessions, a former Republican senator, says it would be really damaging to U.S. national security to release that memo.
Have you read that memo?
And I have made it a practice -- I don't call for declassifying something that I haven't read. That's number one. Number two, what I would say is if in fact this is made public, certainly, Adam Schiff, who has also read this and issued and made an analysis of what it means, that ought to come out.
Again, we shouldn't be just taking talking points and making them public.
BLITZER: I interviewed Raj Shah, the principal deputy press secretary at the White House, earlier in the day. He said the president trusts the rank and file of the FBI, but there are, his words, serious questions of bias at the top of the FBI.
You believe that?
And I have disagree with the FBI on plenty of issues. Just today, I wrote a letter making it clear I don't agree with the FBI director who seems to want to weaken strong encryption, which I think would be bad for security and for American liberty. Those are policy questions.
It seems to me what is going on is there's an effort to undermine the integrity of the people in these key law enforcement agencies. And, overwhelmingly, they are people we should be proud of.
BLITZER: And the motive for doing that is?
WYDEN: Well, I guess they want to in some way derail an objective inquiry into these practices.
There are going to be a lot of questions that are going to be followed up at these agencies. And I think they're sending a message. We heard yesterday about Mr. McCabe being questioned about how he voted. That's not a proper thing to ask for.
And it looks to me like they were just trying to cultivate loyalty.
BLITZER: The president says he doesn't remember asking that question, but there were other reports to the contrary.
Senator Wyden, as usual, thank you very much.
WYDEN: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Just ahead, will the president's lawyers allow him to speak with the special counsel under oath? We're going to have a lot more on the Russia investigation and a new interview with Stormy Daniels on her alleged affair with Donald Trump long before he became president.
If the porn star is leaving out anything right now, she has a friend who's filling in a lot of the gaps. We will hear from that friend later tonight.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the Russia investigation widening inside the White House with 20 staffers being interviewed. That's a bigger number than we have heard before.
President Trump suggesting to reporters that he could be next if his lawyers give the green light.
We're joined now by our correspondents and analysts.
Jeffrey Toobin, the president's lawyer also seemed to walk back a bit of President Trump's enthusiastic decision within the next three or three weeks he's eager, anxious to appear, answer questions before the special counsel, Ty Cobb now walking that back a bit.
What does that say to you?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It says that the terms of this interview, if it takes place at all, are not settled.
The question of you know, is it under oath, who's present, how long will it take place, how long will the interview be, what subjects will be covered, how much advanced notice will be given, will there be written questions, as well as -- excuse me -- oral questions?
All of that it seems is unresolved. And Ty Cobb, who is doing a good job representing his client here, is simply saying, yes, the president wants to cooperate, but the terms of that cooperation are not settled at all.
BLITZER: You know, David Axelrod, we heard a new line from the president on the whole issue of obstruction of justice. Listen to this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
QUESTION: Do you think Robert Mueller will be fair to you in this larger investigation?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to find out.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about it?
TRUMP: But here is what we will say, and everybody says, no collusion. There's no collusion. Now they're saying, oh, well, did he fight back?
TRUMP: You fight back. Oh, it's obstruction. So here's the thing. I hope so.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is he worried that fighting back could be seen as obstruction?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think that's good spin, the pugnacious president fighting back. One's man obstruction is another man's fighting back.
The problem is, there's this thing called the law. And if he tried to actively impede an ongoing criminal investigation, that is obstruction of justice. So he's going to have to answer for Bob Mueller and that team exactly why he asked Jim Comey to drop the investigation of General Flynn, who has since pled guilty to lying to the FBI.
He's going to have to explain why he summarily dismissed Director Comey in the midst of all this. That may be the line of demarcation, Wolf, between fighting back and obstruction of justice. BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, the president ran as a counterpuncher.
He always has been a counterpuncher. He fights back, as they say, so is the special counsel going to be able to take that into consideration?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think we're radically misplaying this on our conversations.
Jeff Toobin is going to kill me for playing lawyer, but let me try it after four-and-a-half years at the bureau. I don't think the word collusion or obstruction will come up during the interview. If you're an analyst or an agent going into this interview, you ask questions like, Mr. President, talk to me about the circumstances before, during, and after the removal of James Comey.
Talk to me about conversations with your advisers. Talk to me about what you told your advisers, about the reasons for your removal of Mr. Comey. Let's say four people have said, well, the president said beforehand he's got to solve the Russia investigation and I have got to get rid of James Comey, and the president says, I never talked to anybody about why I removed him. But I decided one day I had to stop the Russia investigation.
The president's in trouble. My point is, the investigators are going to ask about facts. They're not going to say, confirm or deny whether you colluded or whether you obstructed, because the president will go off and say, no, this is facts, this is not his judgment.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And on that note, one of the facts, set of facts that there's no question that Robert Mueller's team is looking into is beyond the firing of James Comey and whether that constitutes obstruction, which is a legal debate, which we've heard Jeffrey and others have on our air, is also what happened on Air Force One on the way back from Europe when the whole story of Don Jr. and the meeting that he had in June of 2016 with the Russian lawyer and the e-mails about that broke.
And the -- when I mentioned Air Force One, it's the involvement that the president had in putting out a statement that was false and whether or not that was intended to obstruct the investigation that was going on.
I think that's an important question. And that speaks to what you're saying, Philip, which is fact.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: I was just going to say, I don't disagree with Phil.
The distinction here is that obstruction of justice, collusion or related crimes, those are legal conclusions that you can draw from the evidence or not draw.
What Mueller has been doing and certainly will be doing in interviewing Donald Trump is getting facts from which to reach those legal conclusions, but it is of no consequence that you ask a suspect in the case, did you commit a crime? That's not his -- that's not his judgment to make. That's the prosecutor and ultimately a grand jury or a jury to make.
The issue here, and Phil's exactly right, is that Mueller will ask factual questions about what happened, and then using his judgment will decide whether he thinks any crimes took place.
BLITZER: And going into a question-and-answer session with the president, Sabrina, "The Washington Post" -- you probably saw the report. Robert Mueller's team has collected an enormous amount of information, very detailed information, documents, down-to-the-minute timelines, and they have used this in questioning others and presumably they will use this in questioning the president of the United States.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Absolutely.
I think there are many people within the White House who might seem like they're on the periphery here, but at a minimum, they may be witness to conversations between people within the Trump White House and the Russians or copied on e-mail changes that were discussing, for example, Michael Flynn's meeting with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
A scheduler even maybe able to speak to whether or not such a meeting would have been typical for this White House. I think that ultimately they're trying to complete a thorough investigation.
Also, then that gives them more facts they could take to the table when they do ultimately sit down with the president and see if there is a consistency in everyone's story or if they are contradicting one another, which of course leads to deeper questions as to why that is.
BASH: On that note, I have heard that some of the people who have gone into these Q&A sessions have been floored by how much Robert Mueller and his people knew, things that people, the witnesses who were coming in completely forgot about, and, in fact, the Mueller team had detailed stories about what exactly happened at X, Y and Z event or conversation.
BLITZER: If you're about to be interviewed -- let me ask Jeffrey first. If you're about to be interviewed by this team that has this enormous amount of information, potentially, that's a pretty scary thought.
TOOBIN: It is.
And there's sort of a mythology about criminal investigations, that what really matters is how tough you are and how well you ask questions. What matters most of all is preparation, is assembling documents, e-mails, tape recordings that you can confront a witness with.
It's about knowing more about the facts than the witness thinks you know. That's what's really going to matter here. It's not about, you know, Donald Trump saying 16 times or 20 times there was no collusion.
It's presenting him with actual evidence of what he said and what other people said about what he said. That's what's going to make a successful interrogation of him or anyone else.
[18:30:13] BLITZER: You know, David Axelrod, you would assume -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that before the president would sit down with Mueller and his team, he would do a basic rehearsal with his own legal team to go through potential questions and they would help him prepare, but also determine how good he is.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, that is true, Wolf, but I don't know if you've noticed this. He tends to go off-script. So if you're an attorney for Donald Trump, this has to be an enormously anxiety-producing prospect, because he believes that he can persuade anybody in front of him of his version of the truth.
And as Jeffrey said, these prosecutors are going to have a version of the truth that is rooted in extraordinary research and extraordinary amount of preparation. So this is a very hazardous prospect for the president, which is why they're still negotiating the terms of how this encounter is going to happen.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think there's a misunderstanding here about how this plays out. That Robert Mueller -- and I'm going to pick up on what both have said. That Robert Mueller is going to sit there and play tough guy.
It's going to be experts who know things like financial transactions related to Russians. Some of the lawyers on the Mueller team participated in the Enron investigation. That's white-collar crime. That's financial transactions.
So if the president can think he's going to get out here and bluff by saying there's no collusion, somebody's going to -- "You know, on August 25th of 2014, you had this financial transaction. What did that mean?"
Let me give you one example. I used to work at the bureau with one of these lawyers, Andrew Weissman. And we went across the street to the real staff meetings at the bureau, at the bagel shop. I would never want to sit in front of that guy. He was brilliant. So if this is all "I'm just going to dance in front of the special counsel," the special counsel is not going to do the questions. They're going to be somebody who knows every financial transaction, and they will trap you if you make a mistake.
TOOBIN: Well, you know, Phil, I'm not sure -- I mean, that -- I think you're right in normal circumstances, but remember who we're talking about. We're talking about Donald Trump, who is the president of the United States. And he is going to sit there, and he is going to filibuster.
TOOBIN: He is going to talk and talk and talk. And there's no judge in the room, so who's going to tell him to stop?
I think Trump has a lot more advantages going into this than an ordinary witness does. So I mean, you're right that the confrontation with the facts will be very important...
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But the more he talks.
TOOBIN: ... but he also has advantages.
BASH: The more he talks, the more he has the potential to get himself in trouble. And that is -- and that is -- that is what so many people who I talk to who, who know him, like him, want him to succeed, say that they're extremely concerned about.
BLITZER; Everybody -- everybody...
TOOBIN: I'm sorry, go ahead.
BLITZER: Quickly. Go ahead.
TOOBIN: Dana's right in normal circumstances with normal witnesses. I just think his ability to filibuster...
BLITZER: All right.
TOOBIN: ... is unusual and valuable.
BLITZER: We're getting some more breaking news...
AXELROD: Especially with negotiated time limits.
BLITZER: ... coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to take a quick break. We'll update you on what we're now hearing from the president's lawyer about his willingness to testify.
[18:37:56] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts. And Jeffrey Toobin, we've just getting this in from our own Gloria Borger, that the president's attorney, John Dowd, one of his personal, private attorneys, has told CNN that he is the one to decide if the president will sit down for an interview with the special counsel. Dowd says no decision has been made.
As you remember yesterday, the president said he wants to talk to the special counsel: "I have to say subject to my lawyers and all that, but I would love to do it." What do you think of the statement from John Dowd?
TOOBIN: Well, it shows that, you know, this is a pretty much a complete 180. I mean, this is an invitation not to do an interview at all. And you know, we know that Donald Trump is very capable of making a complete turnaround. I mean, look, think about the tax returns. I mean, he said he's release the tax returns. Then he hedged. Now he didn't do it.
Now he said, you know, he said yesterday that he wants to talk, but now the lawyer's deciding that he's -- he can overrule the president.
So you know, it seems to me that this is very much an undecided question of whether or when the president will talk to the Mueller investigation. And the lawyers, who are no dummies, know what it was much safer, at least legally, not to talk to him. Politically, it may be a problem not to talk to Mueller, but legally, clearly, the safest course is to have the client say no.
BLITZER: It's a pretty blunt, bold statement from John Dowd, David Axelrod, saying, "I will be the one to make this decision. Not the president of the United States."
AXELROD: Yes, it is. But you know, what I wonder -- and I guess I would ask this question of Jeffrey. It seems to -- that kind of posture seems to set up a potential titanic legal struggle. And I don't know how that would come out.
But I'm not sure that that's -- they must think there's an awful lot of risk putting the president in front of these prosecutors to take the other risk, the political risk of a protracted legal battle that may or may not go their way.
BASH: And generally...
TOOBIN: Well if I...
BASH: Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Sorry. No, you go.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.
[18:40:09] TOOBIN: Well, there is one way to make this legal issue go away completely, which is if the president simply says through his lawyer, "I'm taking the Fifth." Then there's no subpoena, there's nothing. He has every right to take the Fifth. That's a political problem.
But, you know, this president has taken the Fifth before, during depositions in other lawsuits. And you know, the rules have been different for Donald Trump. You might think that the president of the United States couldn't take the Fifth. It would be too politically damaging. But you know, the rules have been different here, and that would certainly make the legal issue disappear overnight.
BASH: You know, generally when somebody who works for Donald Trump puts out statement saying, "I'm in charge," it's a one-way ticket to Bye-Bye Land in Trump's mind.
In this case, I'm not sure if that is the case, that in this particular case, because this is so unique that this is the president's lawyer. That this might be trying to give -- appears to be trying give the president political and legal cover if he goes back on his word, saying, "I wanted to do it, but you know, my lawyer said not to." It would just be so unusual and uncharacteristic of the president to not bristle at somebody coming out, saying, "I'm going to do -- he's going to do what I tell him to do."
BLITZER: Yes, one of the major decisions.
And Sabrina, as you know, John Dowd is the private, the personal attorney. Not a government attorney. Ty Cobb works in the White House in the Office of the Counsel for the White House. So this is his private attorney making that very blunt statement.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Yes, and this actually -- it dovetails with the president's comments yesterday, where he did have that very important caveat that "I would gladly sit down with the special counsel, but I have to consult my legal team first."
My sense from the president's legal team is that they do want to try and limit, insofar as they can, his exposure to the special counsel and really try and control the parameters of this interview or have as much of it as they can have be in written format. That they would like to go that route and not have too much face-to-face time, but they probably can't have not having him sit down with the special counsel at all.
BLITZER: Phil, very quickly. Phil, wrap this up. Hold on a second.
TOOBIN: I just think -- you know...
BLITZER: Hold on, Jeffrey. I want Phil to wrap. Go ahead.
MUDD: Can I throw a shoe at the camera? You think the president didn't discuss with his lawyers beforehand whether they thought it was a good idea for him to go before this group? He knew going into that conversation that his lawyers were going to say no, and he's got cover, because now he's going to say, "I said yes. They said no." And he knew already beforehand he'd get that cover.
BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey, go ahead.
TOOBIN: Well, I just think, you know, the groundwork is here, if he wants to take the Fifth. He can say, "This investigation has been a witch hunt from day one. It's unfair. It's stacked against me. I want nothing to do with it. I want no part of it. This is a way of shutting it down, at least as far as I'm concerned."
So I don't think taking the Fifth is out of the question here at all.
BLITZER: But politically, David Axelrod, if the president of the United States takes the Fifth, how would that look?
AXELROD: Well, obviously, it would be quite controversial, but there is -- we should point out that even as we speak, there's this parallel campaign going on to try and tarnish the investigation, tarnish the FBI, tarnish Mueller, tarnish everything about this.
And so that would fit into the scenario that Jeffrey describes, which is for him to say, "Everyone knows that this whole thing has been rigged. It wasn't going to be fair. I'm not going to submit myself to an unfair process." And what would probably happen is that his supporters would say, "I'm all for that." And everybody else would be appalled by it.
BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news we're following. Very different news involving the porn star who reportedly was paid to stay quiet about an alleged affair with Donald Trump years ago. She is now speaking out. We're going to hear from Stormy Daniels and from her friend, who's sharing some eye-popping stories with CNN.
[18:48:34] BLITZER: New tonight, former porn star Stormy Daniels directly asked the question, did she have a sexual relationship with Donald Trump? Daniels sat down for an interview despite the alleged payoff she received from Mr. Trump's lawyer to stay silent.
CNN's Sara Sidner has more on all of this.
Sara, tell us what Daniels said about your own interview with one of her friends.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, initially, we heard from her. She talked a lot about a lot of different things, saying she was afraid to be in her home. She was a little bit afraid for her safety after this story broke.
But what Stormy Daniels did not talk about was anything to do with the alleged affair between her and Donald Trump or anything to do with the alleged hush money she was paid to keep quiet, but her friend who we met here in Vegas has plenty to say about it.
SIDNER (voice-over): Stormy Daniels breaks her silence.
STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM STAR: I have a strangely normal life. Yes.
SIDNER: But so far, she's not talking about her alleged sexual relationship with Donald Trump and whether she was paid $130,000 in hush money a month before the 2016 election to keep quiet about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have a sexual relationship with Donald Trump?
SIDNER: She may not be talking, but her long time friend and fellow adult entertainment actress, Alana Evans, is. We met up with her in Las Vegas at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo where Stormy Daniels is expected to attend an awards show put on by that same group.
ALANA EVANS, STORMY DANIELS' FRIEND: And because I'm the one who didn't sign any type of non-disclosure, I can speak freely about it and for me, it's more about telling the truth and not letting him continue to lie about his crazy behavior, his illicit affairs.
SIDNER: Trump's attorney has denied any affair took place.
But Evans says the alleged affair happened in 2006, just four months after Donald Trump's wife Melania Trump gave birth to their son. Questions about the affair resurfaced when "The Wall Street Journal" first reported Daniels was paid to keep quite just before the election, raising questions about where the money came from and if it violates federal election laws. That has yet to be determined.
The president's attorney sent a statement to CNN, saying Daniels signed a letter saying: My involvement with Donald Trump was limited to a few public appearances and nothing more.
But in 2011, Daniels did an in-depth interview with "In Touch" magazine, detailing her alleged tryst with Donald Trump. The magazine says she and her husband took a lie detector test to prove she was telling the truth. Evans says this picture was taken after she herself was invited up to the hotel by both Daniels and Trump.
(on camera): Are you certain that there was a relationship between Stormy Daniels and President Trump?
EVANS: From the moment that I ran to Stormy that day, I knew she had met Donald and she had expressed to me what had happened in the golf tournament. And when they had met, it was very clear to me it was all about Stormy. That night when I receiving the repeated phone calls, it was after I had already had dinner with Stormy, and had already received my first invitation.
So I knew early on in the night they wanted me to come hang out with them. And as the phone call continued and towards the end when Donald was calling Stormy, to go from inviting my girlfriend to hang out with this wealthy, prominent man, to now hearing Donald Trump on the phone telling me, come, Alana, let's hang out, come party.
SIDNER: What do you think he meant by come party? Was it come play Parcheesi or was it come have sex? Or --
EVANS: I'm going to be totally straight with you. If someone calls me to invite me because they are hanging out with someone famous and wealthy like him, it's not just to have a glass of wine. It's not to just hang out. I'm pretty sure I was invited up for sexual fun with the two of them. I was the extra girlfriend to be added to the equation. But to hear Donald on the phone personally inviting himself with Stormy was enough to intimidate me from the situation.
SIDNER: So, Alana told us that she decided not to go. But she says she did talk to Stormy Daniels the next morning apologizing for not showing up for her friend and she says Daniels then detailed what happened that night, including the now infamous comment about Mr. Trump chasing Daniels around the room in his tidy whities -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Sara Sidner from Las Vegas, thanks for that report.
Just ahead, more breaking news, as President Trump meets with world leaders in the Swiss Alps, the White House reveals a major proposal on immigration. We'll go live to Davos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just want to thank everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:56:55] BLITZER: More breaking news as immigration talks heat up. The White House has revealed that the president is now supporting a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants. That comes as President Trump meets with world leaders in Switzerland.
Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is in Davos for us.
Jim, the White House is calling this a concession. What does the president want?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's not what Democrats are calling it. This is significant. But the question at this point is whether this is going anywhere.
Let's lay out some of the specifics in this immigration proposal coming from the White House. The president is now open to, according to the White House, a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants, including the so-called undocumented Dreamers. In exchange for that, the White House wants $25 billion to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and for other border security measures.
In addition to that, Wolf, this might be contentious part of it all, and that is crackdown on so-called chain migration or family migration. Wolf, what this means is they would start preventing U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents from bringing parents into the U.S. You can bring in spouses or your young children but not your parents into the U.S. That is why Democratic and immigration activists are telling me tonight, Wolf, that this proposal from the White House is, quote, dead on arrival. One immigration advocate referred to it as legislative burning cross.
So, this is going to be very contentious incoming days.
BLITZER: We'll see how the negotiations go.
The president also in Davos stirring up fresh controversy over Jerusalem. Tell us about that. ACOSTA: That's right. The president doubled down on his belief that
the U.S. should move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The president said today with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a small facility representing that embassy could open next year. He also warned the Palestinians that even though they are upset that embassy move, that they better get to the negotiating table for Middle East peace. He said, if they don't do that, he is threatening to cut off USAID to the Palestinians. That's been billions over the last 20 years.
Here's what the president had to say about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support, tremendous numbers, numbers that nobody understands. That money is on the table and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace. We took Jerusalem off the table. So, we don't have to talk about it anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And the Palestine response to that, Wolf, is that if Jerusalem is off the table, then America is off the table. They don't want to go back to the bargaining table with the Israelis and the Americans when it comes to Middle East peace. Wolf, as you know, that is tough situation for the United States to be in. This issue of Middle East can come back to haunt any U.S. president, as you know, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Clearly, the president was deeply irritated at the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, refused to meet with Vice President Mike Pence when he was in Jerusalem the other day and the president said that showed a lack of respect. And that's what concerns him a lot.
Jim, thanks very much.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.