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Lead Lawyer on Trump Defense Team Resigns; Trump Announces New Tariffs on China; GOP Members of House Intel Committee End Russia Probe. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 22, 2018 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Without a Dowd. President Trump's lead lawyer in the Russian probe, John Dowd, resigns amid growing disagreements with the president. Four other attorneys reject offers to join the president's legal team. Is the president taking charge of his own defense?

[17:00:24] Willing to testify. The president insists he still would like to testify before the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as the two sides negotiate over what topics such an interview could cover. Can his remaining lawyers keep the president from making a risky move?

Tanking the Dow. The Dow drops 724 points, and other indices plunge as President Trump imposes import tariffs on China, sparking fears of a global trade war. Will China strike back at U.S. agriculture and industry?

And unjustified killing? Police fire 20 shots at an unarmed man in his grandmother's backyard. There's growing outrage as horrifying new video shows how the encounter unfolded. Was there any justification for the deadly use of force?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump insists he still wants to testify before Special Counsel Robert Mueller even as the lead attorney handling his response to the Russian probe quits, leaving the legal team in disarray. And CNN has learned tonight that at least four prominent lawyers have recently declined offers to join the president's legal team.

I'll speak with Senator Chris Coons of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents and specialists, they are all standing by with full coverage.

Let's get to the breaking news. President Trump still wants to meet with Robert Mueller even as his Russian probe legal team suffers a big shakeup.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, what's the latest?


The revolving door here at the White House is extending to the president's legal team, as well, raising serious issues that he wants to have a more aggressive approach here in the Russia investigation.

But all of that, one key question is hanging over this. Will the president testify to the special counsel? I asked the president that directly today in the diplomatic reception room. He looked me square in the eye, and he said yes.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump has spent months blasting the Russian investigation. But tonight, he insists he still wants to sit down and answer questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

(on camera): Mr. President, would you still like --

Mr. President, would you still like to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sir?


ZELENY: You would?

TRUMP: Sure, I would like to. I would like to.

ZELENY: It's uncertain whether he actually will. The president was not in the mood to take other questions. As he faced another major shakeup on his legal team. John Dowd's lead lawyer on the investigation resigned today amid disagreements about the direction of Trump's legal strategy.

His departure comes two days after the president hired long-time conservative Washington attorney Joe diGenova, who favors a far more aggressive approach to Mueller.

It was only 11 days ago when the president wrote this: "I am very happy with my lawyers. They are doing a great job and have shown conclusively that there was no collusion with Russia."

As the investigation intensifies, CNN has learned the president believes he needs to take the reins of his own legal strategy. Dowd has been more resistant of the president sitting down with Mueller. In a statement to CNN, Dowd said, "I love the president and wish him well."

Meanwhile, the president slapped major new tariffs today on Chinese imports, to the tune of $60 billion a year, punishment for what the U.S. believes are unfair trade practices.

TRUMP: We have a tremendous intellectual property theft situation going on which, likewise, is hundreds of billions of dollars

ZELENY: Tough talk against China was a soundtrack of Trump's bid for the presidency. TRUMP: We can't continue to allow China to rape our country, and

that's what they're doing. It's the greatest theft in the history of the world.

ZELENY: Today, he said he was making good on a campaign promise.

TRUMP: It's probably one of the reasons I was elected, maybe one of the main reasons, but we're not going to let that happen.

ZELENY: The U.S. is bracing for how China will respond as some business leaders and economists worry that protectionism sparks a trade war. It also comes as the U.S. is hoping Chinese President Xi Jinping will help broke nuclear talks with North Korea.

TRUMP: I have tremendous respect for President Xi. We have a great relationship. They're helping us a lot in North Korea.

ZELENY: All this as the House passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill, a deal to keep the government funded through September. Even though it doesn't include full funding for the president's proposed wall with Mexico, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said it has the president's blessing.

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: Let's cut right to the chase: Is the president going to sign the bill? The answer is yes.

[17:05:07] ZELENY: As Mark Zuckerberg offered a rare apology for Facebook's role in election meddling --

MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: I think what's clear is that in 2016 we were not as on top of a number of issues as we should have, whether it was Russian interference or fake news.

ZELENY: -- the president bragged on Twitter: "Remember when they were saying during the campaign that Donald Trump is giving great speeches and drawing big crowds, but he is spending much less money and not using social media as well as Crooked Hillary's large and highly- sophisticated staff? Well, not saying that anymore."

The president also engaging in a braggadocios back and forth with former vice president Joe Biden, political locker-room talk for two men in their 70s.

JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.

ZELENY: The president fired back saying, "Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy. Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me for the second time with physical assault. He doesn't know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don't threaten people, Joe."


ZELENY: Of course, the president has far more urgent concerns on his plate than, potentially, Joe Biden who is a hypothetical 2020 presidential candidate.

But Wolf, happening right now at the White House, a very interesting meeting. Former ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, and a conservative commentator on FOX News, was having a meeting, we're told, with the president in the Oval Office this afternoon. The reason this is significant? Of course, he is one of the people being mentioned as a possible replacement for H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser.

We do know the president interested in shaking up more of his team, as well. He promised it a couple weeks ago. We still have not seen that change. So we will see if anything comes of this meeting when John Bolton, Wolf. But certainly, that revolving door at the White House keeps turning.

BLITZER: Yes. Let us know what you hear on that front. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

While the special counsel's investigation continues to bear down on the White House, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee has ended -- yes, ended -- its Russia probe, with Democrats vowing to push ahead on their own.

Listen to the panel's ranking member, Congressman Adam Schiff.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: A rather sad chapter in our committee's long history with the ending of the majority's participation in the investigation. That ending taking place in secret session for no reason at all, except a desire to avoid the public scrutiny of this decision to curtail an investigation into one of the most serious intrusions into our democracy and our history.


BLITZER: Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, what are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republicans rejected a number of Democratic attempts at this closed-door meeting today to reopen the investigation, including roughly a dozen subpoenas that Democrats sought the Republicans said no to. They also declined to allow this to happen in open session, this meeting today.

And they also refused to hold Steve Bannon, the White House former chief strategist, hold him in contempt for refusing to answer a number of questions, even though his refusal to answer those questions frustrated a lot of Republicans who themselves had threatened to hold him in contempt.

But Republicans instead push forward with their own report, their own findings from this investigation that has gone on for more than a year. In their report that they voted today, today along party lines to declassify, it includes a number of conclusions, including that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. And they also disputed a key finding in the intelligence community that Vladimir Putin directed a cyber campaign to help President Trump.

Now this is the Republican conclusion that Democrats are furiously rejecting. And I had a chance to talk to the Republican running the Russia investigation, Mike Conaway, about those Democratic demands to reopen the investigation.


RAJU: The Democrats say that you guys have ignored so many areas in this investigation, not issued a number of subpoenas where you should have to compel more records and witnesses. Looking back at it, do you feel like you should have turned over more -- more stones?

REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R-TX), HEADED HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION: No, we don't. There are fishing expeditions available across an entire scope of things that we don't believe would be productive and getting to the answers that we needed. We're not running a criminal investigation. We don't have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt.

RAJU: And why not hold Bannon in contempt, though?

CONAWAY: Well, that wasn't a question for today. That's an open question. And at this point in time, I'm not -- I don't think it would be effective, and, you know, we held Eric Holder in contempt. He still doesn't appear to be too hampered by that, and so at this stage of the game, I'm not sure what -- what that would proves.

RAJU: Do you believe that Clinton was hurt by the Russians, by an active effort by Putin?

CONAWAY: Well, I don't think there's any question that she was hurt. I don't think there's any question that Putin does not like Ms. Clinton, and whether or not that transferred into him wanting her not to be president or be president or Trump be president or not be president, everybody gets to make their mind up on that.


RAJU: Now one other point was that firm, the data firm, Cambridge Analytica, the one that the Trump campaign had employed in the 2016 campaign and the revelations of it working, of getting access to roughly 50 million users on Facebook, their private data, something that Democrats on this committee want to probe. Democrats have gotten some support for some, one whistleblower to provide information about exactly what happened here.

[17:10:12] But when I asked Mike Conaway whether that -- it was of interest to him to reopen the Russia investigation, he said, Wolf, that it's, quote, "a much broader question." Quite frankly, he said he does not see how that is tied directly to the question that this investigation was supposed to answer. So another sign that this investigation is done, Wolf, Democrats trying to pursue something on their own, but they're the minority, Wolf, and they do not have subpoena power. There's a question about how much information they could ultimately get, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Limited opportunities when you're in the minority. Manu, thanks very much for that.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Wolf. Always good to be with you.

BLITZER: We have lots to discuss. John Dowd was President Trump's top lawyer, the primary liaison to Robert Mueller's investigative team. With Dowd on the way out, does it look like the president may just fire the special counsel rather than negotiate an interview, for example, with him?

COONS: I'm very concerned, Wolf, that that's exactly what may happen in the coming weeks. Look at the pattern here, the president abruptly firing the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, by tweet, and the president now moves to, by name, challenge Robert Mueller in saying his investigation, his status as special counsel never should have started, and now John Dowd, his chief counsel for his defense team, who had been encouraging the president to cooperate with Robert Mueller, abruptly resigns.

I think all of this points -- this is not a hint. This is a clear sign that the president is more and more likely to take the unacceptable step of abruptly firing Robert Mueller without cause.

BLITZER: Despite his direct attacks on Robert Mueller over the weekend, the president said today that he still wants to testify before the special counsel. Do you think that's likely?

COONS: Well, I hope that the president will continue on a path where he cooperates with the special counsel, does sit down for an interview, but I'll remind you it was just ten days ago that the president put out a tweet saying how happy he was with his entire legal team, and yet he's brought on someone new, Joe diGenova, and we see today John Dowd abruptly resigning. So this president certainly has changed his direction on significant issues over very short periods of time.

BLITZER: Sources tell CNN, Senator, that Mueller's team wants to discuss four main topics with the president. The meeting between the Russians and the Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower in 2016, the president's role in crafting a misleading public statement after that meeting, and the firings of the FBI director, James Comey, and the national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Does it look to you like Mueller is asking the right questions?

COONS: Well, those first two would be questions around collusion, and the second two, maybe even the last three, would be around obstruction of justice. I suspect those aren't all the questions he would ask, but those do define some of the core issues that have been examined both in the House and Senate in our Judiciary Committee investigation and, from what we know of it publicly, the Intelligence Committee questions. Those do strike me as some of the core issues I would expect Robert Mueller to be looking at.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, Senator, congressional investigators in the House Intelligence Committee are wrapping up their probe, the Republican majority. And as you heard Manu Raju report just a few minutes ago, Republicans on the committee simply say there's nothing left to explore. Your reaction?

COONS: I don't think that's accurate. We just had a conversation in the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier today about how many of the witnesses we should have called on a bipartisan basis, have not yet come in. Similarly in the House Intelligence Committee, there were a number of witnesses who either came in and refused to testify, or who were never called.

I don't think they've gone to the logical conclusion of their investigation. I am encouraged that the Senate Intelligence Committee continues to make forward progress on a bipartisan basis. In fact, just this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously made recommendations about how we should be strengthening our state electoral systems in advance of 2018. And in the omnibus that was just voted out by the House, there's $380 million in new grants that would help strengthen our election system. I do think there's positive progress being made by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

BLITZER: Senator Coons, thanks for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, more breaking news. President Trump says he still wants to testify before Special Counsel Robert Mueller, even as his own lead attorney on the Russia probe quits. I'll speak with former U.S. attorney, CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara.

And police fire 20 shots at an unarmed man in his grandmother's backyard. There's growing outrage as horrifying new video shows the deadly encounter.


[17:19:22] BLITZER: Our breaking news: President Trump insists he'd still like to testify before Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This comes as John Dowd, the president's lead lawyer in the Russia probe, resigns, leaving the legal team in disarray.

Let's bring in former U.S. attorney, our senior legal analyst, Preet Bharara.

Preet, thanks for joining us. You know John Dowd. You prosecuted some of his clients while you were the U.S. attorney in New York, including a rather high-profile insider trading case, which your office won. Tell us a little bit more about Dowd and his approach to the law.

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, as I think people have observed over the course of his representation of Donald Trump, he's not a shrinking violet. He's not a mild-mannered guy. He's a fighter; he's pretty pugnacious. He's pugnacious publicly; he's pugnacious in the court. He's been favored by clients who have strong personalities and are fighters themselves. He used to be John McCain's lawyer. He was, as you mentioned, a hedge fund guy's lawyer, Raj Rajaratnam, and most recently the president's lawyer.

He likes to shoot a little bit from the hip, I will say, in court proceedings and in proceedings leading up to trial, and he's got a brash style. I don't know that he has the reputation for being, you know, careful, meticulous, studied like some, you know, more mild- mannered lawyers are in learning every aspect of the case, including the minutia and the boring parts.

He also, I will say, you know, is not the most gracious loser in the world. After the Raj Rajaratnam trial, when a TV camera was put in front of him and he was asked for comment about what happened in the trial, in that case, I believe he presented one of his fingers to the camera, and I believe it was his middle finger.

BLITZER: Well, with that as background, why do you think this relationship with the president and the president's legal team did not work out?

BHARARA: There are a lot of reasons why lawyers and their clients divorce each other. It happens not infrequently in real life. Sometimes it can happen even as late as on the eve of trial. Sometimes it's the lawyer who has become discouraged, and it can be because he's not gotten paid. It can be because he didn't like the hiring of someone else who's then going to be in charge, and maybe that's true, because Joe diGenova is coming on board. It can be because they don't agree with the president's -- I mean, with their client's strategy, in this case, the president. It could be that they think that the client is not following his advice. It's not fun or interesting or gratifying to be a lawyer to a client who you give advice to, and they don't take your advice.

So it could be any one of the reasons.

And on the other side of the coin, sometimes it's the client who wants to end the relationship, because the client doesn't feel like the person is fighting for them hard enough or is not on the same page with them. You know, it's got to be a very close relationship between lawyer and client, particularly in high-stakes matters that involve the possibility of criminal exposure.

BLITZER: Let's dig a little deeper, Preet. Dowd, as you know, was the main liaison to the special counsel, Robert Mueller's office. Does this signal a shift in the president's legal strategy right now, with Dowd out?

BHARARA: That -- as lawyers like to say, that assumes a fact not in evidence. Namely, that there was, in fact, a legal strategy in place. The most consistent strategy that I've seen, not only with respect to his potential exposure in the Mueller investigation, but with respect to a lot of other things, is inconsistency.

And so, you know, you lose continuity when you lose John Dowd, but it's not clear to me at all not what this necessarily portends. I think some people speculated -- it's not unreasonable speculation -- that Donald Trump wants to be more aggressive. That's shown in some of the tweets that he sent over the past few days, and the degree to which he's now personally naming Mueller when he attacks the investigation and the way in which he sort of gloated about the firing of Andy McCabe. All of those things together suggest, I think, a more, as I said before, pugnacious posture, but unclear whether or not the departure of John Dowd is going to fuel that.

BLITZER: Is there a higher chance now, Preet, that the president will fire Mueller?

BHARARA: Look, I've heard -- I heard the senator on your show suggest that. I'm not quite as panicked as some people who think that that's necessarily going to happen in the next week or two, but I think it's a significant worry.

You know, the reporting has been -- I don't trust all the reporting, especially when it's talking about what lawyers are telling their clients in secret -- but it sounds like John Dowd was in favor of, you know, cooperating with the Mueller investigation to some degree. And it could be that one of the reasons for his departure is he thinks that the president is going to engage in something he doesn't want to be a part of, namely the firing of Bob Mueller, former ex-Marine. I don't know, but I think the threat level is high.

BLITZER: A lot of people agree with you. Preet, thanks so much for that. Preet Bharara, helping us.

BHARARA: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Coming up, President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden, they trade insults about trading punches. Is that what two top leaders in their 70s should be doing?

And disturbing images and troubling questions as newly-released video shows a deadly encounter in which police fired 20 shots at an unarmed man. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[07:29:07] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including the president's remark that he'd like to testify before the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and today's resignation of the lead attorney on the president's legal team dealing with the Russian investigation.

Let's bring in our analysts. You know, Gloria, why didn't this relationship between John Dowd and the president work out?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's very complicated, like a lot of things in life. Dowd and the president really got along in the beginning. You know, Dowd, a Marine, tough guy, he liked the president. Dowd politically is exactly where the president is. And the Dowd strategy was to kind of hang back, sit tight, this is going to be over.

And when the president saw that those buckets of questions we were reporting about, he understood that it isn't going to be over, so he either felt that he was misled or his lawyers were misled, and he started to act out and say, "We've got to -- you know, we've got to punch back."

In the end, I think what did it is a bunch of things. I think, first of all, Dowd did not want to be co-counsel with Joe diGenova. While he respects Joe diGenova, former U.S. attorney, et cetera, he believed that diGenova was conflicted. That he represents Mark Corallo, who's a former spokesperson for the --for the Trump legal team who wrangled with them a bit. His wife also represents another person who is tangentially involved in this whole Russia investigation and he felt that he conflicted. And so, in the end, I think strategy-wise, they were not on the same page, and then, he felt that legally this was very difficult for him to continue.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: So, Sabrina, do you think Dowd's removal, Joe diGenova's inclusion signals a significant shift in the president's legal strategy?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Well, certainly, the president's attorneys have really sought to control the parameters of a potential interview with the special counsel. As Gloria said, there was an approach to kind of wait and let the investigation transpire in the background. The President, of course, prefers a much more aggressive strategy. I think the problem is ultimately not the attorneys, but the President, himself. They have a client who ultimately say or do what he wants, who views this less as a legal problem, but more as a question of his legitimacy as a publicity problem. And I think that's why he's now surrounding himself by more and more people who will echo his attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department and the special counsel against, of course, the counsel of his lawyers.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, Sabrina makes a good point. Joe diGenova, he has said publicly he believes there are elements in the FBI and in the Justice Department that are actually trying to frame the President in all of this. And that would suggest why maybe the President's having some trouble getting other lawyers to join the team, some other high-profile Washington attorneys.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, how about the fact that Donald Trump is the client from hell. He think he knows more law than his lawyers. He doesn't listen to his lawyers. He fires his lawyers and stiffs his lawyers and not incidentally, he frequently stiffs his lawyers and doesn't pay them. Other than that, he's a terrific client. I mean, these lawyers, they're not stupid. They know what they're getting into, and, yes, there is tremendous appeal to being the President's lawyer, but, you know, ask John Dowd, ask, you know, Mr. Tillerson what it's like to work for Donald Trump. I mean, it is not an appealing prospect if, like, for example, Ted Olson, very distinguished republican lawyer, has a lot of other options and doesn't need this kind of aggravation and humiliation.

BLITZER: Yes, and we've heard of a few Washington lawyers turning down an opportunity to work on the President's legal team. Bianna, the, you know, the President did tell our Jeff Zeleny very briefly today that he would like -- he would still like to still appear to testify before Robert Mueller's team. Does that sound likely to you at all?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's case in point why it's so difficult to be this president's attorney, right? You never know when he's going to open his mouth and say something that you're telling him behind closed doors that he shouldn't be saying. Clearly, this was not a prepared response or a question that he anticipated, but he said, sure, I'd love to. We've heard him say that in the past, and, of course, we've had either his lawyers or his spokes people, sort of, walk that back and say, oh, you know, if certain conditions are met or what have you, we're speaking with the Mueller team, they offer a much more restrained response. But the President in typical president manner responds by saying, sure, I'd be happy to, I'd be happy to. And it's one of the frustrations that you see with his lawyers. Jeffrey is absolutely right. When was the last time that you see prominent lawyers refused to work for the President of the United States? That's probably one of the most prestigious jobs a lawyer could imagine having. That's not necessarily the case this time.

BORGER: And also, in Washington, can you imagine, in Washington, they can't find lawyers? I mean, this is -- you know, this is absurd, and they keep calling lawyers to try and add to the team, but law firms are either conflicted or they don't want to work for this president. And I -- you know, who can -- who can blame them? But I would also add that the President is making a political case here, and he is going out there and saying, of course I want to testify. And if he ends up not testifying, which I think is likely, if he ends up not testifying, they'll take it -- they'll take it to the Supreme Court. But he can then say, look, I wanted to testify, but this investigation is so corrupt and it is so contaminated, that why would I testify before these people? So he is out there now taking on Mueller, which is exactly what Dowd did not want him to do frontally.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, can Mueller, legitimately, end this case without questioning the President?

[17:34:52] TOOBIN: Well, I mean, he obviously doesn't want to, and he's going to try every way he can including subpoenaing the President. One possibility to keep in mind, one way that the President can forestall this entire controversy is very simple, which is take the Fifth. Say, my answers may incriminate me. Now, he may say that privately and publicly he's saying, oh, well, you know, the only reason I took the Fifth is because this investigation is so outrageous. But if he takes the Fifth, Mueller has no legal options. He can't go to -- go to court and say, you know, the President is, you know, resisting a subpoena. Every citizen has the right to take a Fifth. And I think that remains a definite possibility as a way of getting the President out of this.

GOLODRYGA: Until the President gives a spontaneous news interview and actually does start revealing information like he did with Lester Holt, so, I mean, that's the thing with this president. As Jeffrey said, these attorneys know what they're walking into, but in a sense, they don't know what they're walking into because they don't know which side of Donald Trump they'll be getting on -- depending on what day it is.

BLITZER: And you've heard, Sabrina, the President over the years, and I've heard it many times say people who take the Fifth, obviously, they're guilty. Otherwise, they wouldn't be taking the Fifth.

SIDDIQUI: Well, certainly, I think there'll be political implications if that were the route that he took because it would suggest, perhaps, that he does have something to hide. But I think that goes back to Gloria's point that allow the President's approach has been to try and discredit the entire investigation, so that in the court of public opinion, he can make the case that there's no reason for him to testify, that this is tainted, that they are bias against him. But, of course, he's banking on the notion that the public is not prioritizing the Russian investigation, certainly, when they go to the polls in November and beyond.


TOOBIN: What -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

BORGER: Yes, I spoke with the source today who's, sort of, very involved in this whole legal team, and I said, who is running the show here now? Who's running the legal strategy? And the answer was, the President. And I think, you know, when the client is running the legal strategy, it's a bit of a problem.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Well, no, I just think, you know, remember, the congressional republicans, they'll back Trump no matter what he does. You know, we keep prodding out Jeff Flake because he's not running for re-election. And Jeff Flake actually is someone critical of the President. But all the rest of them are like, oh, well, you know, I'm going to clear my throat and say I'm very concerned. They're not going to do anything. He could take the Fifth, he could fight Mueller in court. They're not going to turn on the President. So, I think the President has a lot of freedom to do whatever he wants to do.

BORGER: You know, I --

GOLODRYGA: And the President has the Republican House Intelligence Committee to turn to as well and say, look, they found there is no evidence of collusion.

TOOBIN: Exactly. Exactly.

BORGER: I just think Donald Trump who likes to punch back and fight and speak for himself might not want to take the Fifth. I don't -- I don't know, guys. It doesn't seem like --

BLITZER: It would be -- it would be awkward given as many public statements on that.

BORGER: -- a thing that Donald Trump would want to do but --

BLITZER: All right, everybody. Stick around.

TOOBIN: He could -- he could turn it into an aggressive -- an act of aggression taking the Fifth. He could.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's much more we're following. All of the breaking news right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with our analysts and our experts. And Sabrina, I want to get your reaction to the war of words that is -- that is emerging between the President, former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden, the other day gave a speech claiming he would have beat the hell out of Trump in high school for bragging about groping women. The President responded on Twitter earlier today. "Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy. Actually, he is weak. Both mentally and physically and yet he threatens me for the second time with physical assault. He doesn't know me, but he would go down fast and hard crying all the way. Don't threaten people, Joe." Go ahead and give me your analysis.

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think that this underscores the way in which the public discourse has changed under this president where the attacks are a lot more personal in nature. It's not really a debate over policy. This is inevitably going to lead to questions over whether or not Joe Biden is weighing a run in 2020. He certainly has expressed his regret for not running in 2016, and I think that you see, maybe perhaps a preview of what a Biden-Trump faceoff might look like. Whether or not he's the right answer to democrats' problems, that's a separate question.

BLITZER: You think it's a preview to 2020.

BORGER: I hope not. Honestly, it's ridiculous. You know, come on, guys. You know, two septuagenarians sounding like kids in a schoolyard. These guys, you know, get over that already. And it doesn't help Biden just like it didn't help Marco Rubio during the primaries to get down to that level, and just stop it, guys.

BLITZER: Let me get Bianna to weigh in. Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. Well, it certainly doesn't meet the Michelle Obama smell test.


BORGER: Exactly.

GOLODRYGA: When they go low, we go high. But at the same time, you know, Joe Biden has been known to speak his mind. That's how he's been in the past. He's has his gaffes, and I remember people even speculating if there is one person who could take the President on, given his way with words, it would be Joe Biden. But in this day and age, it sort of like enough is enough.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: You know, in the fistfight between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, I think I'm reminded of the Iran-Iraq war, where you want both sides to lose. And that's what I'd be rooting for in this particular bout.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, while I have you, let me get your thoughts on this trade war potentially that could emerge between the United States and China, and maybe other countries as well. The Dow dropped more than 700 points today after the President announced $60 billion in new tariffs involving Chinese exports to the United States. What do you think?

GOLODRYGA: Look, isn't it interesting that any other time the markets would have reacted to the Federal Reserve raising rates. And instead, it was the President coming out and unilaterally imposing these tariffs. And look, it is definitely an unfair playing field with China. This is something that the United States has been trying to fight for decades now.

[17:45:10] But I would argue that you don't do it on your own. You do it by having a relationships with your allies and organizations like the TPP, which the President got out of. And also, this hurts -- it could hurt his own constituents. I mean, the areas in the sectors that could be really affected by this are agriculture and aerospace. A lot of those sectors have voters in states that the President won in 2016.

BLITZER: Because you know that China's going to retaliate if the U.S. goes ahead with this. Everybody, stick around. There's much more urgent and angry questions after newly released video of an incident which officers fired 20 shots at an unarmed man.


[17:50:29] BLITZER: Coming up, we're going to have Anderson Cooper's exclusive interview with a former Playmate who claims she had a sexual affair with Donald Trump. Anderson will be joining us shortly. Stand by for that.

Meantime, other important news. Newly released videos are adding urgency to questions about excessive force being directed to police officials in Sacramento, California, where officers shot and killed an unarmed man. Let's get more from CNN'S Brian Todd. Brian, tell our viewers what happened.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, police officers fired 20 rounds at this man, who turned out to have only a cell phone on it. The Sacramento Police are defending their actions tonight, and they have released dramatic body cam and helicopter footage of the incident. We have to warn viewers, some of these images are a graphic.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, show me your hands! Stop! Stop!

TODD: The entire horrifying sequence unfolds in only a few seconds. The fatal police shooting of Stephan Clark Sunday night in Sacramento. Police say the officers thought he was approaching them, pointing a gun at them. But investigators say they only found a cell phone on him. The shooting took place in the backyard of Clark's distraught grandmother.

SEQUITA THOMPSON, STEPHAN CLARK'S GRANDMOTHER: He was right there, dead. And I told the officers, you are the murderers. Murderers.

TODD: The incident captured on two police body cameras and night- scope helicopter camera footage released by the Sacramento Police. 911 calls alerted police to a vandal in the neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just broke to the window, running south. Running to the south.

TODD: Sheriff's deputies in the helicopter direct officers on the ground toward the suspect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I can tell you is he's got a hoodie on.

TODD: From above, officers can be seen chasing him, crouching behind a wall, then firing multiple rounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shots fired. Shots fired.

TODD: On the ground, the police body cam video depicts more of a chaotic scene in the darkness. Only five seconds elapsed between the police yelling at Clark to show his hands and gunfire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Show me your hands! Show me your hands! Gun! Gun! Gun!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five to seven shots fired, suspect down

SGT. VANCE CHANDLER, SACRAMENTO POLICE: Well, our police officers felt that their lives were in danger. They felt that the subject had a firearm and that the subject was pointing the firearm at them.

TODD: But tonight, police are facing disturbing questions. The two officers fired a total of 20 rounds at Clark.

Did they have to fire 20 shots at him?

RON HOSKO, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: The question in the number of shots is, when you're talking about excessive is, why the police believe was required to stop the threat. And if, in that dynamic situation, over the course of three seconds, they believe the threat was still viable, it's -- then you continue to fire.

TODD: Community activist, Ryan McClinton, isn't satisfied.

RYAN MCCLINTON, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Extremely excessive. Extremely excessive. It strikes a deep chord that sets you off a little bit.

TODD: And tonight, Clark's family is asking whether police tried to hide something, because a few minutes after Clark was shot, police muted the microphones on their body cameras.


HOSKO: That would be the assumption -- is that those mics are continue to roll, that transparency is -- we thought he had a gun and it turned out there was a cell phone there. And maybe they believed that that was tantamount to an admission.

TODD: Stephan Clark's brother says Clark, a 22-year-old father of two, was not a thief and was not a threat to police.

SEVANTE CLARK, STEPHAN CLARK'S BROTHER: They will pay for this. Like, how you know (INAUDIBLE) and Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, you're going to know. You're going to know him. You know what I mean, you're going to remember this.


TODD: One of the officers has six years of experience. The other officer has eight years. When we asked if either of the officers had been disciplined in the past, Sacramento Police told us they could not release that information. Both officers have been placed on paid administrative leave while a use of force investigation proceeds. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, the Sacramento Police had to undergo reforms about a year and a half ago after another controversial shooting, right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. In late 2016, Sacramento Police shot and killed a mentally ill African American man. That led to major reforms in the department, including a requirement that all police officers now have to wear body cameras.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks for that report.

Coming up, there's breaking news. President Trump says he'd still like to testify before Special Counsel Robert Mueller as his own lead lawyer in the Russia probe, resigns.

In a CNN exclusive, former Playmate, Karen McDougal, talks to CNN's Anderson Cooper about an affair with Donald Trump and her current legal battle.

[17:54:58] And porn star, Stormy Daniels, escalates her own legal battle with the President as her lawyer issues a new demand to the Trump organization.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. No Dowd. The President's lead defense attorney in the Russia probe is calling it quits as Mr. Trump ramps up his attacks on the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Tonight, we're learning that multiple lawyers are turning their backs on the President, rejecting offers to join his team.

Ready to talk. President Trump tells CNN he'd still like to testify in Mueller's investigation, despite his frequent claims that it's a witch hunt. Are Mr. Trump and the special counsel any closer to striking an interview agreement?