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Trump Furious over Leak; Trump Attacks Russia Investigation; Trump at Center of Lawsuits; Trump Congratulates Putin; Austin Serial Bomber Dead; Pressure on Trump; Interview with Rep. Jerry Nadler. Aired 1:00-1:30p ET

Aired March 21, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 12:00 noon in Austin, Texas, 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 5:00 p.m. in London. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

He was warned, don't congratulate Vladimir Putin, but President Trump doing it anyway. And now he's said to be furious the warning was leaked as he faces backlash from all sides.

A porn star, a playmate, and a reality TV contestant upping the legal pressure on the president, involving accusations of sex, silence, and harassment.

And, the serial bomber in Austin, Texas, dead, but the danger may not be over. What the feds are fighting inside the killer's home.

All that coming up.

But first, a warning to the president leaked to the press. The warning, do not congratulate Vladimir Putin on his re-election. The president is said to be furious. He's already under fire for congratulating the Russian leader. It's not clear if he didn't see or just disregarded the warning from his national security team. Now the White House says whoever's behind the leak could be fired or worse. The incident has revived the president's belief that individuals within the administration are trying to undermine him. He took to Twitter once again today to slam the Russia investigation.

As if all that wasn't enough, the president is also facing serious legal challenges from a trio of women. The lawsuits all stem from allegations of sexual affairs or harassment.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, update us on the fallout over the leaked warning against congratulating Putin.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's no question the president is said to be furious about this, as are many of his top advisers, including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. I am told he is looking for the person who may have leaked this. Now, the president, of course, made that phone call yesterday about

this time. He said that he had congratulated Vladimir Putin. That set off a firestorm across Washington with the Republicans on Capitol Hill and beyond admonishing the president for doing that. Well, it turns out his own national security advisers urged him that he should not congratulate him.

Of course that leaked out last evening in "The Washington Post." Now the White House trying to get a handle on who did that exactly.

Essentially, Wolf, everything is closed here at the White House today as federal offices across Washington indeed are as well. But there is a look for internally if there is a leak, if there is someone who does not agree with the president's agenda on the National Security Council. So certainly raising questions about what the president said yesterday.

So we've heard him talk a lot about witch hunts, Wolf. It sounds like there is one underway here to find out who leaked that information.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure there is.

The president also unleashed another Twitter attack on the Russia investigation today. Tell our viewers what he said this time.

ZELENY: Wolf, he did. And this is yet another example of the president clearly watching media accounts. And he was obviously reading an op-ed piece by the lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, who said that the special counsel should never have been appointed. The president was reading that and he essentially summed it up in a series of tweets this morning. He said this, the special counsel -- misspelled that -- is told to find crimes, whether a crime exists or not. I was opposed to the selection of Mueller to be special counsel. I am still opposed to it. I think President Trump was right when he said there should never have been a special counsel appointed -- he goes on to say -- because there was no probable cause for believing that there was any crime, collusion, or obstruction of justice, so stated by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.

That was an op-ed piece in "The Hill" newspaper here. We reached out to him. He said he does stand by all of that.

So, Wolf, still the president arguing about the very existence of the special counsel, coming on the heels of the White House saying yesterday he does not plan to shut it down or to essentially remove people at the Department of Justice, the attorney general and others, to shut it down. But he clearly is not pleased with the direction of it -- it's taking, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly not.

All right, Jeff, thanks very much.

Jeff's over at the White House.

ZELENY: Sure. BLITZER: Meanwhile, there's another storm that's brewing here in Washington, D.C., and this one isn't going away any time soon. Stormy Daniels has been on a Twitter tear for the last 24 hours, tweeting about the president and her upcoming interview with "60 Minutes." The tweet storm comes as we learn that Daniels took a polygraph test back in 2011 and it concluded she was telling the truth about having sex with President Trump.

Daniels is now suing President Trump for the right to talk about her alleged affair. And she's not alone. Two other women, a former playmate and a former "Apprentice" contestant also have lawsuits involving the president.

I want to bring in Kim Wehle to talk through the significance of these cases for us.

So let's start with Stormy Daniels, Kim. How significant, first of all, is that polygraph she took in 2011 in which she alleges there was an affair, a sexual affair, with the president in 2006 and '07?

[13:05:01] KIM WEHLE, CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: As a legal matter, it's actually not particularly significant. I mean it makes for good headlines and it certainly suggests that she's telling the truth. Certain courts do admit polygraphs in evidence.

But here the issue is whether the -- there was any damage actually caused by any disclosure regarding this affair. And notwithstanding the million-dollar per violation clause in the NDA, the standard is reasonable harm. And here this president has -- doesn't seem to be shy about his sexual predilections. We know from the "Access Hollywood" tape his base doesn't seem to care. A lot of this information's already out. So I really think this lawsuit is much ado about nothing as a legal matter essentially.

BLITZER: That polygraph test included.

Another woman, Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, is suing the president right now. She's alleging she has a right to talk about what was going on. She's suing him for the comments he made accusing her basically of being a liar.

WEHLE: Yes, so the genie is a bit out of the bottle when it comes to these various NDAs, non-disclosure agreements. I mean the president, as a private citizen, entered into them. The Stormy Daniels one is probably enforceable with some limitations, like I mentioned.

But it looks like, you know, this stuff is coming out because he's president and it should come out because he's president. And we're just going to see this more and more. And, you know, the president sued Buzzfeed for libel. There could be access to this information in other ways, by serving a subpoena for these kinds of documents or deposition, or it could be gotten through friends of these women who contemporaneously heard about this information.

So, at the end of the day, if there's no damages to the president's reputation, these women are probably legally going to be allowed to speak freely without a whole lot of problem.

BLITZER: Even though Stormy Daniels received $130,000 in that hush agreement. Karen McDougal received $150,000, part of an agreement she had with the owners of "The National Enquirer" that she wouldn't speak out.

WEHLE: Sure. So it comes down to a contract. This is not some outside law, constitutional question of statute. It's the agreement of the parties. And the court would enforce what's reasonable here. She got $130,000, Stormy Daniels, and she was silent for a particular amount of time. Now, the president could sue, assuming that he's a party to the agreement, which I think any court is probably going to find. The part -- he could argument that, listen, these disclosures harm me, a million dollars per, and I just don't think that's going to fly.

BLITZER: And some -- the third woman, Summer Zervos, saying the president libeled her.

WEHLE: Yes. So that is an interesting twist here because the president tried to dismiss that case on the grounds that he is the president and so he can't be sued. But we saw this with Bill Clinton. Didn't work with Bill Clinton. The Supreme Court came out and said that a sitting president can be civilly liable. What's good for the goose is good for the gander regardless of which political party you're on. So I think that's the right decision. I actually think it has implications for whether the president can be indicted as a constitutional matter as well.

BLITZER: The legal battles underway right now with these three women.

Kim Wehle, thanks very much for joining us.

WEHLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York. He's joining us from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, a lot to discuss right now, but let's start with those lawsuits by these three women against President Trump. A judge says "The Apprentice" contestant, Summer Zervos, can go forward with her defamation case against the president. Do you agree with letting a civil case proceed against a sitting president of the United States? And what are the legal and political implications?

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Well, yes, I do agree that a civil case can proceed against the president. And I think that was established in the Paula Jones case under President Clinton. And I think it's settled law. And it means that the president is not above the law.

I am more concerned at this point, however, about the threats that the president is posing to the investigation, to the Mueller investigation, on the collusion with the Russians and interfering in our election campaign last year and obstruction of justice. And I'm very much afraid that in the next two weeks, when Congress is out of session, we may see, given the heightening storm of tweets and other warnings from the president, we might see the president attempt to further obstruction of justice by interfering with the investigation especially.

And here people haven't really focused on this. If we were to fire Sessions, not Mueller, if he were to fire Sessions and bring in somebody else who would do what he wants, Sessions is recused from the investigation. But a new person wouldn't be. And this new person, following the instructions from the president, could shut down the investigation, or without the public being aware of it, throttle the investigation by cutting its budget by telling the special prosecutor, don't look at this, don't look at that. And, in effect, he could control the investigation if Sessions were removed. And that is a great danger that we have to be aware of, in addition to the danger of Mueller being removed.

BLITZER: Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is raising the specter of possible impeachment in a tweet warning the president not to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel. He tweeted this. We are begging the president not to fire the special counsel. Don't create a constitutional crisis. Congress cannot preempt such a firing. Our only constitutional remedy is after the fact through impeachment. No one wants that outcome, Mr. President. Please don't go there.

[13:10:24] As you know, congressman, the White House says there's no discussion about firing Mueller at all. Do you believe that?

NADLER: I never believe anything this White House says because they've repeatedly lied. A few weeks ago there was no discussion of firing Tillerson, and suddenly Tillerson was fired. So, who knows.

But I think the danger is not only of -- I mean, yes, Senator Flake is right, this would be a terrible obstruction of justice and a terrible red line crossed if Mueller were to be fired. But I would say the same thing about Sessions. And perhaps the greatest danger is that he fires Sessions, brings in some lackey who will do what the president tells him to do, and that person could either fire Mueller or could control the investigation, shut it down for all practical purposes, without the public even knowing about it, by cutting the budget, by telling them don't look at this, don't look at that, and by cutting the resources. That is the danger equally or perhaps even greater than firing Mueller.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the fury over at the White House right now over the warning cautioning President Trump not to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his re-election. Sources describe the president right now as furious that that warning, which he ignored or didn't -- never received, for whatever, was leaked to the news media.

Here's what Florida Senator Marco Rubio said today about the call and the leak. Listen to this.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: No, I don't like he did it. But you know what I like even less, that there's somebody close to him leaking this stuff out. If you don't like the guy, quit. But to be this duplicitous and continue to leak things out, it's dangerous. And -- so I don't like what he did, but I really hate that there's someone in his inner circle that's willing to leak this stuff. And if you don't like working for the president, you should resign your job.


BLITZER: So, congressman, does this lend credibility to the president's claim that there are people inside the government within his own administration who are actively trying to undermine him?

NADLER: No. I mean there may or may not be someone that he appointed who is trying to undermine him, and there may be somebody who really thinks that it's in the public interest that the public knows that he was warned against kowtowing to Putin.

I mean this is just another instance of the great question which has been hanging around since before he was inaugurated. Why is this president apparently so beholden to Putin? He's nasty to other foreign leaders. He's nasty to other people. But to -- about Putin, who's a foreign dictator, who just apparently committed murder in Great Britain, one of our allies, he cannot say a cross word and he insists on congratulating him for a sham election. This is the great question, what does Putin have over him?

BLITZER: Well, what do you suspect the answer is?

NADLER: I don't know what Putin has over him. I certainly think that's one of the things that I hope the investigation will find out. What, if anything, and, I mean, I don't know, I suspect that there's something over him. But what, if anything, does Putin have over him? Why is he so subservient to Putin and to no one else. That's the great question in the room. I certainly hope the investigations going on now will give us some answers to that.

BLITZER: The congratulatory phone call the president made with Vladimir Putin was condemned by a whole bunch of lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans. Listen to Senator John McCain. He said, and I'm quoting Senator McCain right now, an American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.

What's your reaction to that phone conversation the president had with Putin?

NADLER: I think Senator McCain said it exactly right, you don't -- a leader of the free world, a leader of the United States should not congratulate a dictator for a sham election, especially a dictator who was -- tried to interfere and subvert our election, especially a dictator who apparently just -- who's credibly accused by the British government and ally of committing murder on British soil. You should not be congratulating such people. You should be condemning them.

BLITZER: You know, the president's supporters point out that President Obama, back in 2012, congratulated Putin on his election then. What was different then as opposed to now?

NADLER: Well, I don't know. And I don't recall whether -- what Obama said at the time. But what's really important is that this is a president, meaning Putin, who just apparently ordered a murder on British soil, who has committed aggression that we're -- in the Crimea and in Ukraine that we're opposing supposedly through sanctions, and who just attempted to subvert the American election. Certainly he hadn't done that in 2012.

BLITZER: Congressman Jerry Nadler, thanks for joining us.

NADLER: Thank you.

BLITZER: The suspect in the series of bombings that's terrorized Austin, Texas, is now dead, but investigators are still scrambling. Did he act alone? Are there more bombs remaining?

[13:15:08] Plus, more Republicans are coming out criticizing the president over his congratulatory call with Vladimir Putin. And we have new details on the GOP backlash.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Breaking news. Police in Austin, Texas, are warning the public they don't know if the suspected serial bomber planted additional packages before he blew himself up during a dramatic standoff with police. Authorities closed in on the suspect, now identified as Mark Anthony Conditt, by studying the surveillance video from a FedEx store. The suspect was wearing what looked like a blonde wig and gloves when he dropped off two packages, one of which later exploded. What remains unclear, whether the suspect acted alone during the 19-day spree that killed two people, injured several others, and left an entire city in fear.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us in Austin.

[13:20:01] Ed, what more are we learning about the suspect and those final moment when is police had him surrounded?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, right now investigators are beginning that process of really digging into what was the motive behind all of these attacks over the course of the last three weeks. But investigators tell us that the big key break in this case was that surveillance camera footage from the FedEx drop-off point in south Austin. That based on that video, it really helped investigators begin to track the movements and backtrack on the movements of the suspected bomber. And that really helped pinpoint his location, his whereabouts, and give them a strong lead as to who he might be.

And all of that culminated in the overnight hours as a team of investigators were able to descend on a parking lot just across the interstate in a hotel where they identified the suspect. He was in his car. That team was waiting for a group of tactical officers to arrive so they could have more officers there in force to try to arrest 23- year-old Mark -- the 23-year-old suspect. All of that ended just behind me on the interstate, Wolf, where the suspect was -- drove into a ditch, and as SWAT team members approached him, we're told by investigators that he blew himself up inside of his car.

Now, we've also had a chance and begun the process of trying to reach out to family, relatives, and his grandmother. The suspect's grandmother, who lives in Colorado, tells us that she described him as a loving person. As someone who described this whole incident as simply -- just a horrible situation and as someone that didn't have -- or show any signs and a history of violence. So at least from the grandmother that we've spoken to, very perplexed by what has happened.

We do know that investigators are inside the suspect's home, which isn't too far away from where we are, as well as the parents' home as well, as they begin that process of gathering up and trying to look into his digital footprint, any kind of writings he might have left behind to get a better clue as to what the motive behind all of this was.


BLITZER: And they're certainly looking to see if any bombs were left behind as well.

Ed Lavandera, thanks very much for that.

Other news we're following, a porn star, a playmate, and a reality star all amping up the pressure on President Trump right now. Details on the mounting lawsuits.

Plus, from Silicon Valley to Washington, D.C., new questions are brewing over FaceBook's role in the use of personal data and the ongoing silence from CEO Mark Zuckerberg.


[13:26:49] BLITZER: Porn stars, playmates, and reality TV stars. These are the three women with lawsuits now involving the president of the United States. You know Stormy Daniels. She's the former adult film star fighting to have her nondisclosure agreement ruled invalid so she can talk openly about her alleged affair with the president.

There's also former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal. She's also suing for the right to speak about an alleged affair she had with the president.

And now there's former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos. During the campaign, she accused the president of making unwanted sexual advances. And a judge has now ruled that her defamation lawsuit against President Trump can move forward.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst David Gregory and our chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, the president, he's over at the White House today, but presumably all three of these cases weighing very heavy on his mind.

DANA BAS, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You would think. I talked to two sources who speak with him just before coming on who insist that it's not, that he considers it noise, that this kind of thing he feels like he put a stake in it in October of 2016 when the "Access Hollywood" tape came out. This is obviously these three separate events that are going on are different from that, very different, but that the president, when he gets agitated, it is still about the Russia probe. So the question is whether these two are going to converge. And it seems as though, at least with the Stormy Daniels situation, they could be if Mueller really is looking into questions about that.

But for right now, I had a source say to me, you know what, he -- he's still a New York real estate guy who has been in the tabloids for a long time and maybe he's just going to be the Berlusconi of America, meaning, of course, the Italian leader who --

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Or Vladimir Putin, who hangs out with Berlusconi --

BASH: Or Vladimir Putin, exactly.

GREGORY: And women for many years.

This is the least surprising part of the Trump presidency to me, honestly. I'm not at all surprised that he's not overly concerned about it. And, again, we've seen this -- we've seen this movie before in the impeachment scandal of President Clinton where you can have an investigation into land deals in Arkansas turn into something having to do with his personal life. And that is, I think, the legal exposure for the president. If he starts doing depositions, if somehow it becomes part of the Mueller probe.

Aside from that, I mean it's unseemly, it's embarrassing, it's -- but, again, I think this is much more about his -- his marriage and not so much about his public standing. I think more with him than even Bill Clinton. People have made a judgment about this, and it's not part of the politics.

BLITZER: Because first there was Stormy, then Karen, now Summer.


BLITZER: You think more women are going to come forward with lawsuits?

GREGORY: Well, I think that's possible. And I -- and I think certainly -- and he's threatened to sue women and then hasn't backed that up, who have made accusations against him. This is different, right? It's not just -- I mean Stormy Daniels sounds like it was just an affair. There were others things like, you know, that she's alleged intimidation and so forth that make it a lot more serious than just that, and unwanted sexual advances in this environment.

[13:29:57] But again you're talking about Donald Trump. I just don't know that there's a political impact. I think the thing, if it's a constant story, there's certainly people who would find it unseemly. And if it gets into the realm of the legal jeopardy he's facing, that becomes something else.

BASH: Absolutely. And that is really the key is that even the -- the woman who --