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Russian Diplomats Expelled; Russian Ambassador on Expulsion; Daniels Threatened About Story. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Poison payback. President Trump expelling 60 Russian diplomats and closing the Russian consulate in a major American city over the nerve agent attack in the U.K. Now, Moscow responds.

The Stormy saga takes a dramatic turn as the porn star speaks out on her alleged affair with citizen Trump. Serious new questions about whether the hush money she received broke the law.

And a stunning new revelation. The father of the Pulse Nightclub gunman was a secret FBI informant for a decade before the massacre in Orlando, Florida, according to newly released court documents. You're going to hear why.

All that coming up.

But let's start with the united front against Russia right now. The Trump administration joining more than a dozen other nations in kidding Russian diplomats out of their countries. The U.S. now expelling 60 Russians, 48 from the Russian embassy right here in Washington, D.C., and 12 from the United Nations. President Trump also ordered the closing of the Russian consulate in Seattle, Washington.

It's all a response to the poisoning in the United Kingdom of a former Russian spy and his daughter. Moscow has been blamed for the nerve gas attack. The U.K., by the way, expelled 23 Russian diplomats over the poisoning.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's over at the White House.

Jim, a strong message from the White House. What are you hearing specifically?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is obviously a shift in tone, a shift in course for the Trump administration, taking this kind of action against the Russians, expelling those 60 diplomats, as you mentioned, and closing that consulate in Seattle because of its proximity, we're told, to a submarine base. And so, you know this is obviously -- that's something that's going to come up at the briefing with Raj Shah, the principle deputy press secretary coming up here at 2:00 this afternoon mainly because this is such a big change in course for the Trump administration.

As you know, when the president spoke to Vladimir Putin recently, this conversation about the nerve agent attack in Great Britain did not come up during that phone call. It raised a lot of eyebrows here in the U.S., here in Washington, of course, up on Capitol Hill. And the question, of course, will be, you know, one of the questions I think that will be asked Wolf is why the president himself is not saying anything publicly about this at this point. But, of course, it is not out of the ordinary, obviously, to have spokespeople put out this sort of message from the White House. But at the same time, because of the president's reluctance to publicly criticize Vladimir Putin, really say anything at all tough about the Russians over the last year and a half, that question will certainly come up during the briefing.

BLITZER: So there's been no direct statement, no tweet, no message -- no specific statement from the president, at least not yet, on the expulsion of these Russian diplomats, is that right?

ACOSTA: Not that we know of as of yet. It has provoked a pretty sharp response from the Russian ambassador to the U.S., who put out a statement just in the last couple of hours describing these actions as a grave mistake and warning that the U.S. is essentially engaging in a diplomatic battle that's only going to escalate. Of course, you know, the question -- you know, I think the question is obviously going to be asked, how serious is the Trump administration about this expelling diplomats, as you know, from hearing -- from national security and diplomatic experts. That is sort of the beginning stage in this sort of process when something like this happens. But it does show a great deal of unanimity when the U.S. and these other allies in Europe and around the world take these kinds of steps to dispel diplomats. That does not happen, obviously, on a -- on an everyday basis. And it's something that's certainly grabbing the attention of the Russians. The question whether or not, Wolf, and it's awfully quiet over here at the White House, the president's been very quiet over the last 72 hours, is whether the president decides to address this directly.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta over at the White House. We'll see what they say at the briefing as well. We'll see if the president personally, specifically makes a statement, either on Twitter or someplace else.

The decision by the president and his advisers to expel dozens of Russian diplomats from the United States is significant.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is joining us now live from Moscow.

Matthew, what's the response from the Kremlin?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Kremlin have said this is a provocation. They've called it an unfriendly act. And they're not just talking about the United States. They're talking about the expulsions that have come from the various European nations well. Now there's 18 nations in total, of course, have expelled -- I think the figure is 132 Russian diplomats over the course of this crisis, over the nerve agent attack of the Skripals, Sergei and Yulia Skripal on the streets of Salisbury in southern England.

They haven't issued exactly what they're going to do yet, but it's the principal of reciprocity, which as they always talk about, about, you know, how they reserve the right to respond in kind. And so the expectation is that we will see a similar number of U.S. diplomats expelled from Russia and a similar number of other diplomats in those other countries as well expelled.

[13:05:14] In fact, the U.S. embassy in Washington has -- sorry, the Russian embassy in Washington has already launched this sort of strange online competition. So it's saying which of the U.S. consulates in Russia would you close down, giving a -- giving a choice of three. And so it's already sort of indicating quite strongly in that off-hand way that it will respond in kind, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure they will. They always do. There was one exception, as we know, during the transition when the incoming Trump administration suggested maybe they delay the response. They did delay a response in the aftermath of what the Obama administration ordered in the face of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Matthew, thank you very much. We'll get the news from you as soon as it comes in.

Let's bring in Heather Conley into this conversation. She's the former deputy assistant secretary of state. And Bob Baer, he's a CNN intelligence and security analyst, a former CIA operative.

So what do you think, Heather, a big deal, little deal, the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the United States, coordinated with what other allied nations are doing.

HEALTH CONLEY, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: It is a big deal. Sixty diplomats. It's the largest U.S. expulsion in our history of Russian diplomats. But you combine them with 17 other European countries, 14 E.U. members, Ukraine, Canada, it's over 100 -- this is a strong message of solidarity because a nerve agent was used on NATO territory. It deserves this strong message from the international community.

BLITZER: Bob Baer, what do you think?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Oh, it's strong. Absolutely. And I think it's just the beginning because we're going to see an explanation. He is going to expel diplomats. Putin, I've heard, is very displeased with this president at this point and will continue this offensive. So I think it's just the beginning of it, but it's a strong message. And if the president would just come out and say support it, in a presser, it would be great.

BLITZER: And they go -- when they announced that 60 Russian diplomats, 12 from the Russian mission to the United Nations, 48 from the Russian embassy here in Washington, shutting down the Russian consulate in Seattle, but I assume they're going to move those diplomats to elsewhere here in the United States, maybe New York or Washington, they have -- they've named names. They say this Sergei and this Anatoli (ph), they are out and they suspect they're, what, Russian intelligence operatives?

CONLEY: Right. There use the diplomatic cover to continue to do espionage activities. And we've really seen, over the last decade, an incredible uptick and very aggressive espionage tactics from the U.N., Washington, the Maryland suburbs, and certainly in the West Coast. So this is exposing that diplomatic cover and ending them home.

BLITZER: And the response from the Russians is there are going to be 60 U.S. diplomats that they suspect of being CIA or other intelligence operatives working undercover in Russia. They're going to be expelled as well.

BAER: And there's CIAs there. They know who they are. They'll expel them. They'll expel the political officers. Anybody they don't happen to like. People dealing with dissidence. It's going to hurt our embassy there a lot.

But, Wolf, I have to say that most of the attacks in this country from Russia have been done, not through diplomatic missions, not through the U.N., not through the embassy here in Washington, but private citizens. And, you know, the Internet stuff, money going into the NRA from Russians, this is all being done by oligarchs. So at some point we're going to have to address this sort of, you know, criminalization of the KGB, which I call it, which we haven't so far.

BLITZER: These are individuals who are very close, many of them --


BLITZER: To Putin, of course, as well. But many of them are very, very wealthy, these oligarchs. They have a lot of influence.

There's going to be a new secretary of state, the CIA director, Mike Pompeo. A new national security adviser, John Bolton. Both of them have been pretty tough on the Russians, in contrast to the president of the United States.

CONLEY: Yes, absolutely. I think Director Pompeo's congressional hearing, his confirmation hearing, is really going to have to be explicit about where we're going, where is this relationship, because it stands in such stark contrast to the president's phone call with President Vladimir Putin last week. He was talking about a coming arms race, talking about a high level summit with Vladimir Putin after today's actions. So I think we'll see that.

John Bolton, when he becomes national security adviser on April 9th, is a Russia hawk. So you do have that strength there. But, again, the president just seems to be out of sync publicly in his statements with very vigorous action that the administration has taken.

BLITZER: Well, won't (INAUDIBLE) Pompeo, much tougher as far as the Russians are concerned than General McMaster was, for example, at the National Security Council or Rex Tillerson over at the State Department.

BAER: Oh, absolutely. Bolton is a believer and he's not going to put up with this. And he recognizes what happened during the elections. And he's going to come back with the Russians. That's my prediction.

[13:10:04] BLITZER: That's a beginning. We'll see what -- how the Russians respond and see what happens after that.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

There's more news we're following, including news on Stormy Daniels. She's speaking out about her alleged affair with citizen Trump more than a decade ago, and the significant payoff she received. And now the president's lawyers, they are responding with a new threat.

Plus, did Michael Cohen's hush money break campaign finance law. We'll discuss that.

And the striking similarities between Stormy Daniels' interview and the interview by the former playmate who also spoke out, including what President Trump is accused of saying about his daughter Ivanka during the alleged affairs.


BLITZER: Intimacy and intimidation. Both parts of the rather sordid revelations from the adult film actress Stormy Daniels, recounting her alleged affair with then private citizen Donald Trump. Among the details, that incident that she saw as a message to keep quiet about the alleged affair.

[13:15:04] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STORMY DANIELS, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: I was in a parking lot going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. I was taking, you know, the seat's facing backwards in the backseat, diaper bag, you know, getting all the stuff out, and a guy walked up on me and said to me, leave Trump alone. Forget the story. And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, a beautiful little girl. It would be a shame if something happened to her mom. And then he was gone.

ANDERSON COOPER, "60 MINUTES": You took it as a direct threat?

DANIELS: Absolutely. I was rattled. I remember going into the workout class, and my hands were shaking so much I was afraid I was going to drop her.

COOPER: Did you ever see the person again?

DANIELS: No. But I -- if I did, I would know it right away. I'll never forget --

COOPER: You'll be able to -- you'd be able to recognize that person?

DANIELS: One hundred percent. Even now, all these years later. If he walked in this door right now, I would instantly know. COOPER: Did you go to the police?



DANIELS: Because I was scared.


BLITZER: Here with us right now is Adav Noti. He's a former attorney for the Federal Election Commission, and CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

She believes, we just heard her, that that threat to her when she was in the parking lot came from someone within the Trump organization. What do you think of that claim that she makes there, because that's a very serious threat.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the question is, who was it? If she said that she would recognize the person, it would seem to me that at some point when people deal with her, they're going to have to show her pictures of people who might be within the Trump organization that perhaps, you know, perhaps it was. We know that Michael Cohen says that he did not -- that he was not the person who threatened her. But, you know, I am sure it is somebody who may be familiar to her lawyer, and at some point he's going to reveal who it is. We just don't know at this point.

BLITZER: Well, that will be a significant moment --

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: If, in fact, that happens.

Adav, you're now with the Campaign Legal Center here in Washington. You look at potential violations of campaign finance laws. What did you hear last night in the interview on "60 Minutes" that raised some red flags in your mind?

ADAV NOTI, FORMER FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION ATTORNEY: All right, well, I think the timing and the circumstances of the payment raise a number of red flags. At a minimum, the timing indicates that the payment was made -- the $130,000 payment was made to influence the election --

BLITZER: It was 11 days before the election, at the end of October of 2016, the election early November.

NOTI: Right. So with that timing, it strongly suggest that the payment was made to influence the election, to conceal information from voters that they would have found important. And a payment to influence an election is a campaign expenditure that needs to be reported under federal law.

BLITZER: So who would be potentially in violation of the law? Michael Cohen has said the money came basically from his own money, he took a loan out, a home equity loan, $130,000, and transferred it to her.

NOTI: Right. So at a minimum, Mr. Cohen made an expenditure and didn't report it. And I -- it's hard to see any agreement to the contrary.

Then, in addition, if he was reimbursed later, and it's actually unclear whether he was reimbursed, he has said he wasn't reimbursed by the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign. But there's any number of other people, including the president himself, who may have reimbursed Mr. Cohen. Any of those people are potentially on the hook for violations as well.

BLITZER: Karoun, how do you see those potential violations unfolding right now, because usually if the Federal Election Commission investigates something like this, it takes a long, long time.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it does. I mean I think that the -- the Stormy Daniels side may make additional moves before that sort of investigation is completed at this point. As you raise, there's all of these -- we don't know exactly who made what move yet to say, this is the person that is liable, right, and that's what the investigation would likely reveal. But, at the same time, you know, Stormy Daniels' lawyer is teasing that he has more information. She is doing these interviews. And the president hasn't commented on it yet, right? If the president starts tweeting about Stormy Daniels or saying, you know, she's lying, that adds another legal element of, you know, will she try to bring some sort of defamation claim. And -- there's just a lot of unanswered questions. And if it takes a long time, a lot more could happen that kind of shifts the scales of who's actually most responsible here or most -- has the most exposure.

BLITZER: And, clearly, Gloria, what has to worry the president is, if there is going to be a formal investigation by the Federal Election Commission, or let's say Robert Mueller, the special counsel, decides he wants to take a look at this as well, they could ask the president to testify and answer questions.

BORGER: So they could depose. I mean it --

BLITZER: Very sensitive questions.

BORGER: Yes, I think the dangerous part is any kind of deposition for the president, which I think they want to avoid at all costs. But this is -- this case is now in federal court. So we don't -- you know, we don't know.

What we do know -- and I thought it was really interesting -- was that Saturday night the president had dinner with Michael Cohen at Mar-a- Lago. And -- which was kind of a show of support, I would argue, for Michael Cohen, that the president, who is not known for his loyalty, hadn't sort of disbanded him. But, in fact, brought him to Florida to talk with him about all of this. And people saw them publically together. So it seems to me that Michael Cohen is still fighting the fight on behalf of the president.

[13:20:18] BLITZER: And he's -- Michael Cohen is very loyal to the president and has been for a long time. BORGER: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: There's a cease and desist letter that was sent by Michael Cohen's attorney. And we all have a copy of it. Brent Blakely (ph) wrote this letter to Michael Avenatti, who's the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, among other things. Mr. Cohen had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any such person or incident and does not even believe that any such person exists or that such incident ever occurred, referring to the alleged threat in the parking lot to Stormy Daniels.

You've read this letter, Adav. What do you think?

NOTI: Well, I mean, I think there's two distinct legal issues here. There is the -- the issue about the contract that was signed and whether it's being adhered to or violated or whether it's even valid based on who signed it.

BLITZER: You think that contract is valid, that a hush agreement is valid, even though the president personally never signed it, Michael Cohen signed it?

NOTI: Well, that's really an issue for the state courts to decide in the jurisdiction where it was signed. I mean it's a distinct question from the one about campaign finance law, which is a question for the Federal Election Commission and ultimately potentially for federal courts, where I think there's a lot more clarity in the law that there's been a violation.

BLITZER: So there's a lot of still unanswered questions.

Everyone stand by. We're going to talk a little bit more about what Stormy Daniels and the former playmate both said about the president, comparing them to his daughter Ivanka, among other things.

Plus, Melania Trump's staying in Florida right now on a previously scheduled trip, but her spokeswoman issuing a rather candid and blunt tweet.

Stay with us.


[13:25:57] BLITZER: Stormy Daniels dishing the dirt on her alleged affair with President Trump. Earlier we heard about how Daniels felt threatened at one point to keep quiet, but she also talked about their time together, and she had this to say. Listen to this.


STORMY DANIELS, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: It started off all about him, just talking about himself. And he's like, have you seen my new magazines?

ANDERSON COOPER, "650 MINUTES": He was showing you his own picture on the cover of magazines? DANIELS: Right. Right. And so like does this -- does this normally

work for you? And he looked very taken aback, but he didn't really understand what I was saying. I was like, does just, you know, talking about yourself normally work? And I was like, someone should take that magazine and spank you with it. And I'll never forget the look on his face. And he was like --

COOPER: What was the look?

DANIELS: Just, I don't think anyone's ever spoken to him like that, especially, you know, a young woman who looked like me. And I said, you know, give me that. And he -- I just remember him going, you wouldn't. So I was like, hand it over. And so he did. And I was like, turn around, drop 'em.

COOPER: You told Donald Trump to turn around and take off his pants?


COOPER: And did he?

DANIELS: Yes. So he turned around and pulled his pants down a little. And, you know, he had underwear on and stuff, and I just gave him a couple swats.

COOPER: This was done in a joking manner?

DANIELS: Yes. And from that moment on he was a completely different person.

COOPER: How so?

DANIELS: He quit talking about himself and he asked me things and I asked him things and it just became like, you know, more appropriate.

COOPER: It became more comfortable?


COOPER: Melania Trump had recently given birth to a son just a few months before. Did he mention a wife or child at all in this?

DANIELS: I asked, and he brushed it aside and said, oh, yeah, yeah, you know, don't worry about that. We don't even -- we have separate rooms and stuff.

COOPER: Did you two go out for dinner that night?


COOPER: You had dinner in the room?


COOPER: What happened next? DANIELS: I asked him if I could use his restroom. And he said, yes,

you know, it's through those -- you know, through the bedroom, you'll see it. So I excused myself and I went to the restroom. You know, I was in there for a little bit and came out and he was sitting, you know, on the edge of the bed when I walked out. Perched.

COOPER: And when you saw that, what went through your mind?

DANIELS: I realized exactly what I had gotten myself into. And I was like, ugh, here we go. And I just felt like maybe it was sort of -- I had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone's room alone. And I just heard the voice in my head, well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this.

COOPER: And you had sex with him?


COOPER: You were 27. He was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?


COOPER: Not at all?


COOPER: Did you want to have sex with him?

DANIELS: No. But I didn't -- I didn't say no. I'm not a victim. I'm not --

COOPER: It was entirely consensual.

DANIELS: Oh, yes. Yes.

COOPER: You work in an industry where condom use is an issue. Did the -- did he use a condom?


COOPER: Did you ask him to? DANIELS: No. I honestly didn't say anything.


BLITZER: All right, Karoun and Gloria are still with us.

So what stood out to you from that lengthy interview on "60 Minutes"?

BORGER: It sounded so warm and loving, didn't it, Wolf?


BORGER: I think if Trump were watching this, it's going to drive him crazy, because she wasn't attracted to him, she says she wasn't a victim, but that she made a mistake. It makes him look cartoonish in a -- in a sad way, actually. And what we know about this now, quite honestly, is that not only was he cheating on his wife, but he was cheating on his mistress at the time he -- at the time he had this moment with Stormy Daniels.

BLITZER: Alleged -- alleged moment.

BORGER: Alleged moment. And her story is quite believable. But we don't know what the president has to say specifically about it, because, oddly enough, although he said during the campaign that all the women who had accused him of various degrees of sexual harassment or involvement were lying, he has been held back from commenting on this. Presumably good advice, I would think, from his -- from his attorneys.