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The President Speaks, The White House Cleans Up; Special Counsel Mueller Stopping, Questioning Wealthy Russians About Possible Illegal Donations to Trump Campaign. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired April 4, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We begin tonight keeping them honest with what happens after the president says and does precisely what his supporters say they elected him to say and do. The price in short of a president who speaks his mind, talks directly to the public, and shakes things up.

Now, over the last few days, he has certainly done just that. But today, we saw that many of the president's words amount to very little action. Senior officials including members of the cabinet spent the day doing cleanup, in some cases, walking back what the president has said, in other cases, scrambling to craft some kind of policy to fit what he has said.

Now, you can make a policy case for or against virtually ever issue that the president has been talking about. This isn't about whether the president's ideas are good or bad. That's for voters and of course history to decide. What we want to focus on right now is what actually happens after the president makes headlines by saying something in person or in tweets that appear to take his own administration by surprise.

It's important because it raises the question just how much weight do the words of the president of the United States now actually have. Syria, for example. Here's the president departing from prepared remarks in Ohio last Thursday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, by the way, we're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon. Very soon we're coming out.

We're going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it, sometimes referred to as land. We're taking it all back quickly, quickly. But we're going to be coming out of there real soon.


COOPER: Well, that was a surprise and, again, there's nothing especially outlandish about it from a policy standpoint. You can agree or disagree with the policy. But the question is, is what he says actually going to be the policy,

or is it the announcement of a new policy? In this case, it's as if the rest of the administration didn't know this might be the new policy.

Here's what the point man on the actual policy said yesterday.


BRETT MCGURK, SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR THE GLOBAL COALITION TO DEFEAT ISIS: In terms of our campaign in Syria, we are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission, and that mission isn't over. And we're going to complete that mission.


COOPER: Yet almost at the same time that Brett McGurk was saying that yesterday, the president was saying this.


TRUMP: I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation. We will have, as of three months ago, $7 trillion in the Middle East over the last 17 years. We get nothing, nothing out of it. Nothing.


COOPER: But today, after what CNN is reporting was a contentious and inconclusive meeting, the president, his national security staff and top military commanders, here was the walk-back from the White House.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're continuing to make progress. We're continuing to work with our allies and partners in the region. But we want to focus on transitioning to local enforcement and do that over this process to make sure that there's no re-emergence of ISIS and take away some of the progress that we've made.

And so, that's what we're moving to. As this environment has changed because of the success under the president's leadership, we're evaluating it as we go.


COOPER: Well, very soon the president said on Thursday, we're coming out very soon, which is now six days later morphed into evaluating it as we go.

Another example, the budding trade war with China. And again, wherever you stand on Chinese steel dumping or tariffs or copyright enforcement, it's a far cry from what the president's been saying, especially on Twitter, and what his chief economic adviser and his press secretary said today. Trade wars are good and easy to win. That's what the president

tweeted early last month.

Well, today responding to the president's new tariffs on goods from China, Chinese retaliated, threatening tariffs on their own on big American exports, including soybeans and cars. This morning with Wall Street poised to plunge, the president's chief economic adviser sought to downplay the trade war talk.


REPORTER: The president this morning said, $500 billion down, you can't lose. Is that your view, that you can't lose a trade war if you're already $500 billion in a trade deficit according to the president's telling?

LARRY KUDLOW, TRUMP'S CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER: I'm not sure what exactly he's referring to.

REPORTER: Could we lose a trade war?

KUDLOW: No. How is that? I'll accede to you. I don't see it that way. This is a negotiation using all the tools.


COOPER: Well, that was this morning. By afternoon, by the afternoon briefing, here was the line from the White House.


SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of the process of where we are. We're in the review process right now. But certainly we expect China to make changes and stop the unfair trade practices that they've participated in for decades.


COOPER: Again, it's a far cry from the presidential battle cries we've been seeing.

[20:05:01] Now, the same appears to be the case in the wake of this presidential statement yesterday.


TRUMP: Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military. That's a big step. We really haven't done that before, certainly not very much before.


COOPER: Well, that left a lot of people wondering why now? And it also raised questions about what kind of troops and what boots on the border really can accomplish given laws barring the actual military from domestic law enforcement functions. This afternoon, the homeland security secretary announced the National

Guard will be deployed to the southwest border. But key details seemed lacking such as the number of troops, how long they'll be deployed, and how much it's going to cost.

Tonight, the Department of Homeland Security is scrambling to answer those questions. It's the sort of thing that has been done in other administrations, the Bush administration, the Obama administration, but always before a presidential announcement was actually made.

Let's bring in the panel tonight -- Bakari Sellers, Steve Cortes, and Gloria Borger.

So, Steve, I mean, is this the way to navigate and implement policy day by day, comment by comment from this president, or is that an unfair characterization?

STEVE CORTES, FORMER TRUMP CAMAPIGN ADVISER: You know, Anderson, I think it's unfair in a way, but I get it. I get the point you're making here.

Look, this is not a conventional politician by any stretch. He's our first citizen president, meaning that he had no government experience before he was elected. He made the case to the American people that he was a disrupter, he's an entrepreneur. He's the opposite of what we're used to in Washington, which are very careful, very lawyerly, deliberative politicians.

So, we shouldn't be terribly surprised that he's approaching this in an entrepreneurial fashion which at times can seem chaotic but I think in the end produces results which are great for regular Americans, whether it's tax cuts or standing up to China or appointing judges. He's a man who does what he says.

And at times -- you're totally right, at times, he certainly puts his staff on their heels. I know as somebody in 2016 who had to go out and defend him every day during the campaign, there's times he put me on my heels where I said, oh, gosh, you know, could we have had more notice about that?

But I also think that's the way entrepreneurs and visionaries operate, and that's the kind of president he's being.

COOPER: Bakari, what about that? That this is just, you know, the entrepreneurial spirit and he's a disruptor and that's exactly what he's doing?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that those characteristics are fair, but it's also fair to say that he's a president who doesn't necessarily have the capacity. He's not one who studies at all. He doesn't study these issues.

And also even more importantly, Donald Trump's policy is usually based upon the last person he speaks to. And so, if you take this one point at a time, yes, I think it's fair to say that we have to see how these policies play out. But if you look at the tariffs, for example, and you look in Iowa,

which is the pork capital of the United States. Those industries of aluminum and steel that he set out to save, how they will now suffer, how Boeing in South Carolina and those employees, how they will now suffer. People will feel the pain of just very, very flippant policies.

And even more dangerous, we cannot have a commander in chief who just at the drop of a dime goes off-script and say we're going to withdraw from Syria, understanding that that puts our allies in the Middle East like Israel, the Kurds who are our allies in this fight against ISIS -- puts all of them in danger because of the inconsistency and the lack of a studied president. If he reads his briefs, if he gets down to the business of being president, then I think some of these policy points may actually be more fleshed out and we can have a more articulate debate about their results on the American public.


COOPER: Gloria, does it end up actually being policy?

BORGER: No. I think at ad hoc-ism at its worst. I think if you -- if you kind of look at the -- we have some stunning reporting from Elise Labott and Kevin Liptak (ph) tonight about this meeting that the president had on withdrawing from Syria.

And it's very clear that in this meeting, his entire national security team and his military complex, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including his new CIA director, including his secretary of defense, who said, you can't do this. You can't get out within six months. And here are the reasons why.

And they were all aligned against the president, who apparently got very testy and said, I want this done in six months. And this is where the reality -- this is where the reality comes into the sort of campaign promise, and they're pushing back on him. And I think it must be incredibly difficult for them.

CORTES: OK. But, Gloria --


COOPER: Steve, I understand your point about him being a disruptor. I guess the question is, if what he is disrupting, if what he's saying doesn't actually happen and, in fact, you they then have to walk it back and spend a lot of time figuring out a way to walk it back, doesn't that actually long term just hurt his credibility?

[20:10:01] That after a while, his words -- I mean, already it seems like folks on Capitol Hill don't even respond to a lot of the tweets he says because they just know it's just not going to happen.

CORTES: Right. Well, I'm not very concerned about Capitol Hill because I think the Republicans, there are in many ways as obstructionist toward this president as the Democrats are. I do think he should be a bit more deliberative with his own staff. I



CORTES: I think there should be a bit more advanced warning.

But I don't want him to stop being a disruptor.

And, you know, Gloria, you mentioned the national security staff. The national security apparatus of Washington, D.C. has gotten this country into endless, costly quagmires around the world that have cost America endless amounts of treasure and blood and this president ran largely --


CORTES: Oh, listen --

BORGER: These are his people. Secretary Mattis is his person.


BORGER: Pompeo is his person.

CORTES: Hold on. Gloria, he tolerates a lot of dissent within his White House, and I think that's a wonderful thing.

BORGER: Right.

CORTES: He has built a team of rivals. That is clear. He does not mind people disagreeing with him.

In the end, he's the president. He's the one who was elected to decide whether or not we should be in Syria. He should take their input, he should consider it seriously, but it's his call.


SELLERS: Can we have a level of expectation that at least requires our president to have the wherewithal and foresight to at least have studied the issues because I actually disagree with Anderson and Gloria saying this is not policy?

The reason that it is policy is because when these tariffs are announced, it affects real people. You have pork farmers right now in Iowa who are terrified. You have soybean farmers in this country who do not know what's going to happen, that instability, that uncertainty. These people who probably voted for Donald Trump are now asking themselves why.

And then you look at the markets. Yes, the markets do matter. They go up and down with his words. So, we cannot simply discount this as ad hoc-ism or as lack of policy. What this is, is very bad policy from a man who is --


CORTES: He promised to take on China. He promised repetitively in 2016 that he would take on China. He's doing exactly as he said. America has been completely abused by the Chinese --

SELLERS: That's not true, Steve. You cannot have open --


BORGER: Can you imagine --

SELLERS: No, no, no.

BORGER: Can you imagine --

COOPER: One at a time. Gloria, go ahead.

BORGER: Can you imagine being a senior official working for Donald Trump, like Brett McGurk, who puts his heart and his soul every day into figuring out how to defeat ISIS in Syria, and you are giving a speech where you say, we are not done. And then the next day or a few minutes later, the president of the United States is saying, we are done. We are out.

And you don't know that the president is doing that, and you don't think that affects our credibility, our stability, our predictability with our allies? I mean, it's got to be that the people who work for Trump -- these are not the outsiders. These are people he put in these jobs or he kept in these jobs. These are people who are giving him their best advice about what is good for this country if we want to defeat ISIS, and he's pushing back.


CORTES: Gloria, I'm glad -- I'm glad you mentioned the outsiders, which was my favorite book in junior high. And, by the way, team Trump, we are the outsiders. We are. We're the greasers coming into Washington, D.C.

And you're right, the D.C. socials don't like us at all, but I say, stay gold, Trump, all right? You are the disruptor in chief. You are the entrepreneur. You are the president this country wants and needs because the Washington swamp exists for its own benefit, not for --


BORGER: Don't you think there has to be a strategy behind this?

COOPER: We got to end this discussion. Sorry. We're out of time.

Steve Cortes, appreciate it. Gloria Borger and Bakari Sellers, let's end on an outsider reference.

Coming up next, a CNN exclusive: special counsel Mueller's team following the money possibly all the way from Russia into the presidential campaign. And later, Stormy Daniels' former attorney, the one she's accusing of

-- well, Karen McDougal is accusing of colluding with the president's attorney, tonight speaking out exclusively on CNN.


[20:17:44] COOPER: There's breaking news in the Russia investigation. You'll only here it here on CNN.

CNN has learned just how far special counsel Mueller's team is going to try to gather evidence, namely detaining wealthy Russians, even searching a private jet. They're apparently following the money and trying to determine whether any of it found its way illegally into the Trump campaign.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz and Kara Scannell got the exclusive. Shimon joins us now.

What can you tell us?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, certainly following the money here. We've heard a lot about that. We now know that investigators have recently targeted at least three Russian oligarchs. Our sources are telling us that they stopped one of them when he landed in his private jet at an airport in New York.

They questioned him. They had search warrants, a subpoena for him. When they searched his electronic devices, and also, there was a second person that was stopped, a Russian oligarch. He came on a recent trip to the U.S., and he was questioned by FBI agents.

Now, there is a third Russian oligarch that we know about who has voluntarily handed over some documents and has agreed to be interviewed. Certainly all of this pointing to some pretty aggressive moves by the special counsel.

COOPER: You know, we know that it's illegal for foreign nationals to donate money to U.S. political campaigns, to interfere in an election. How would they potentially have gotten around that?

PROKUPECZ: So, one of the things that we're told the special counsel and the FBI is looking at is if the Russians were using straw donors, that is, U.S. citizens perhaps that had relationships with people they may have known, some business ties, and were giving them money. And then in turn that money was going into the campaign.

That has certainly been a topic of questions that people have been asked at the special counsel. They're also looking at other people with perhaps connections to these Russian oligarchs who may have made some donations. You know, certainly, all of this -- the special counsel has had some concern for some time, and is now waiting for some of these Russian oligarchs to make their way into the U.S. on business trips where they can stop them and question them.

COOPER: So, Mueller's approach with these Russian oligarchs recently, what does it tell us about the investigation, the status of the investigation?

PROKUPECZ: Right. So really it seems to be at a point where they are focusing on some of the money. You know, as we've all been saying and as many people have said, follow the money. This seems to indicate that that is exactly what Mueller is doing.

These aggressive moves having FBI agents at the airport, waiting for these flights to come in, surprising some of these oligarchs, questioning them, giving them subpoenas, and really, it's been centered, we're told, about money and donations. Some of it has been largely focused -- the questioning has been focused on donations and money surrounding perhaps the campaign and even parts of the inauguration.

COOPER: Fascinating reporting. Shimon, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Laura Coates, Carrie Cordero, and Steve Hall.

Carrie, I mean, the fact you have a Mueller with an FBI stopping these Russian oligarchs, what does that tell you about where this investigation is now?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Anderson, a few things. First of all, I think the exploration of more investigative techniques directed against the Russian oligarchs is in some ways very consistent if in what we're seeing in other aspects of the government's approach in general. In other words, there have been treasury designations against Russian oligarchs and Russian entities, some of whom were also named in the special counsel's indictment of the Internet Research Agency and other Russian individuals and entities.

So, in some ways, we're seeing that the intelligence and investigative information that the U.S. government has obtained, whether that's FBI or in the intelligence community, is showing itself in different aspects of this overall investigation.

Second, the use of interviews at airports actually is a pretty typical investigative technique. So, executing search warrants, interviewing individuals, in my prior experience in working on counterterrorism investigations, it's not unusual for airports or transiting from overseas into the U.S., for that to be a point at which investigators can intercept people and stop them and be able to interview them. So that piece seems as a not-so-unusual investigative technique in a significant investigation.

COOPER: Laura, I mean, these men are not U.S. citizens, these oligarchs. Do they have any legal obligation to actually comply with the special counsel? Can they say, look, I'm not going to answer questions? You can search my plane, you can search electronic, you know, mobile devices, my computer, but I'm just not going to talk?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's pretty much the reason they want to do that, right? You have Mueller's team who may not want an answer. They may want the actual documentation that's found in the evidence found on those phones or on those persons or in their laptops. They may already anticipate that somebody who is not a citizen of the United States and knows full well that the reach of subpoena power and the court's jurisdiction isn't going to extend beyond the friendly skies around the United States of America.

So, in anticipating they will not be cooperative, they may want to access the information nonetheless, which is why you have these kind of surprise attacks. It's also -- George Papadopoulos had this happen to him. George Nader who attended the secret meetings in the Seychelles between the Emiratis and Erik Prince, had this happened to him. You have Ted Malloch, who is going to testify in the grand jury in upcoming weeks about what he knows of Roger Stone and WikiLeaks and the founder.

All of this is about trying to get information from people who otherwise probably will not be cooperative and also about the fleeting nature of the information that they really want to have. And remember, it didn't just happen in airports, Anderson. Paul Manafort's home in a surprise warrant execution arrived at his front door and in a no-knock and announce warrant execution went in and grabbed what? That which could be fleeting, including electronic information.

COOPER: So, Steve, I mean, given your experience in Russia and intelligence, how odd would it be for a Russian oligarch to funnel cash donations directly or indirectly into an American campaign if that is, in fact, what they were doing? And I assume they would not be doing this on their own accord -- oligarchs. They would be doing it at the behest of the Russian government.

STEVE HALL, RETIRED CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: Yes, absolutely, Anderson. I mean, these oligarchs are essentially an extension of Vladimir Putin's power. They're in essence part of the government.

They have to do what he tells them. That's part of the deal. If you're going to be a rich billionaire, you have to do what I say is where Vladimir Putin comes at them.

But imagine for a second, as I have, that you're the Russian intelligence guy back in Russia who's responsible for conducting what we already know happened which is an attack on our 2016 elections. You have sort of two choices. You can try to do it all remotely with bots and trolls from St. Petersburg and that sort of thing. Or better yet, you're going to look at boots on the ground because the American political system is a complicated thing.

So, you're going to be looking for ways to covertly and clandestinely get resources and also get people, perhaps even Americans recruited to do some of this work for you. You can't use a Russian intelligence officer or a Russian official to do that. So, you're going to want a cutout.

The oligarchs are perfect cutouts because they can deny that they're part of the Russian government. They're also very good at moving money secretly around. That's what they do to stay billionaires.

So, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Putin task an oligarch to go out and get ahold of an American political consultant or somebody else in the American political system and say, how do we do this?

[20:25:01] I have a bagful of money, if you can help me understand where the key states are, how to move the vote, how to influence people right on the ground in the United States. That seems to me consistent if I were the Russian intelligence guy who were planning this covert action.

COOPER: Carrie, it just seems like time and time again, we hear little pieces about the investigation coming out based on the gumshoe reporting of folks from CNN, "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal" -- it's just a reminder they're so much more we do not know what Mueller's team is doing. We heard about is stuff some months or even years later.

CORDERO: Well, this is a wide-ranging investigation. If we think of the whole investigation as a wheel, there's a whole bunch of different spokes, whether it's the propaganda effort and the social media angle, whether it's the in-person actions that the Russian government took where they tried to reach out to actual protesters and set up physical confrontations amongst individuals who were politically active here in the United States, or whether it is issues involving money, whether that's campaign finance or whether that is potentially providing influence on individuals who were involved in the campaign. And then there's the obstruction piece.

So, there are -- and with the other investigations, Manafort, Gates, we see separately money laundering-related issues. So, there are -- this is a big enterprise investigation that has counterintelligence and criminal investigative angles to it, and so, we're seeing in bits and pieces each of those angles play out.

But just one other legal point quickly, Anderson, on the border issue. If they are doing interviews of non-U.S. persons, then they do have a lot of legal authority to ask questions and look at devices at the border. There's a lower expectation of privacy at the border, particularly for non-U.S. persons.

COOPER: All right. Thanks, everybody. Good discussion.

Just ahead, breaking news about what went on inside a National Security Council meeting over possible withdrawal of American forces from Syria today. Yesterday.


[20:30:28] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I want to get some more perspective now on something that Gloria Borger mentioned earlier in the hour, President Trump arguing Syria policy with his top military advisers and his national security team yesterday. CNN's Elise Labott says the meeting was a turbulent. His advisers telling him that any immediate withdrawal of the American troops would be unwise. The president, sources tell CNN, asked why other countries American allies have not stepped in. He also complained about the cost. Overall, the president's demeanor was described as testy.

Joining us now right now for more is Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.

General Hertling, when you hear that the president was at odds with all of his top military and national security advisers on Syria, basically, what is -- a result of his off the cuff remarks that started last week, I'm wondering what you make of that?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), U.S. ARMY: It didn't surprise me, Anderson. In fact, I read the article that's now posted regarding what was said in the room and in fact, we were talking a little bit about that last night. You've got national security advisers, people who spent a lot of time doing this kind of thing and soldiers and Marines who spent a lot of time on the battlefield trying to persuade someone who hasn't had those kind of experiences on the implications of what a rapid pull out of forces would mean. Then hearing Sarah Sanders at the press conference this afternoon gleefully saying, well, the president wants to turn it over to the security forces on the ground. There are no security forces on the ground, that's why there's a civil war there.

So it just shows that there's a lack of understanding. We presume that the people we elect to the highest office in the land will have either a common view of national security issues or they will hear and listen to others that do and, in this case, there just seems to be a real gap between that. And then you add to that the fact that it seems to be all about the money and how much we're spending and not the understanding of what it does for America's security or America's status in the world. It just confounds me.

COOPER: Admiral Kirby, I mean, again, the policy of wanting to withdraw troops from Syria, that's -- you can be for or you can be against it. I guess, for me, my focus is more on the president announcing this without having had these -- it seems, without having had these discussions prior to announcing it.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Yes. This isn't the first time, Anderson, that we've seen policy after the fact and whatever the fact is, a tweet, an off the cuff remark, but it forces the whole rest of the interagency to then react and try to come to some sort of conclusion. Look at the transgender issue, the Muslim ban and we can go on and on where he just spouts off something and then everybody has to try to react.

To do two things, A, to develop a coherent policy going forward that factors in interagency concerns and deliberations; and B, like we've seen on this Syria remark he made, to try to walk him back off his more base or instincts. And that's what they've done here today. I mean I'm not surprised it was a testy exchange, I'm actually frankly glad that it was. And I'm glad that what actually happened was the State Department and the Pentagon apparently won and convinced him that they need to there for a little longer.

COOPER: General Hertling, you were the commanding general of the First Army Division in Iraq, can you just explain what happens when American forces or when you're trying to execute a policy and then basically an announcement has made that the policy has changed and there's not really any preamble to it. I understand when Bremer announced basically that the Iraqi army was being disbanded, a lot of the troops on the ground were unaware that this was the policy.

HERTLING: Yes. Thanks you for reminding me that story, Anderson. That occurred while I was literally talking to a group of about 400 Iraqi retired generals in an auditorium in Baghdad. This was not in 2007 when I was commandeering, but when I was working as assistant commander. And we were telling them how they were -- we were going to incorporate them into the new security forces and return Iraq in terms of a better society and they were going to help as retired general officers and they were going to be able to keep their pensions.

And an aide literally came in to me, handed me a note saying that Ambassador Bremer had just announced that the Iraqi army was disbanded, that all retirement funds were going away. And you lose that. So you then have to stand up and tell your allies or your hopeful allies that they no longer have a job, that all the things they trusted you to do is now out the window. And it causes a great feel of not only churn in your organization trying to make up for it, but it also causes some problems with trying to pull an alliance together to fight the bad guy.

[20:35:06] And that's what I think we're experiencing right now with forces on the ground who have been working with Syrian defense fighters and also the Kurds who have been depending on us to help them for a very long time.

COOPER: Admiral Kirby, it's interesting that the president was focused on Syria talking about bringing American forces home, again, they're -- you know, compared to the number of forces in say Afghanistan, it's much lower in Syria and in fact, there's, you know, the U.S. policy as I understand it is to increase the troop level into Afghanistan yet no mention is made of that.

KIRBY: Yes, that's right. I mean, again, there's not consistency here in terms of how these decisions are getting made and how the inputs are coming in and that's a real concern. You're right. The numbers are much different in Afghanistan and Syria. And I might remind you that the Pentagon was considering bolstering the troop levels in both countries until the president went out and said this.

But I want to hit on something else that General Hertling talked about and that's multilateralism. It is not about equality. We have special responsibility because we are the most powerful nation in the world. We're the ones. The United States is the one that put that coalition against ISIS together of now 75 partner nations and they're all relying on our continued leadership. And so if he just pulls out precipitously, it's very likely that coalition falls apart.

HERTLING: And it isn't just going to be today too, Anderson, if I can add to this. This is not a short-term issue. This is long-term. People are going to be saying, hey, if they do this today, they'll do it tomorrow. So this affects us over the long-term and our strategy around the world.


COOPER: Yes. General Hertling, Admiral Kirby, appreciate it. Thank you.

There's new reporting tonight in the Stormy Daniels saga. I want to tell you about that. The original attorney for both Ms. Daniels and for Karen McDougal, former "Playboy" model, both of them claim affairs with Donald Trump. The former attorney is now speaking out publicly for the very first time. He's doing exclusively here on CNN.


[20:40:45] COOPER: By now, you've probably seen and heard Michael Avenatti, who's the current attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels. In fact, he's going to join us shortly. But we haven't heard from Ms. Daniels' original lawyer Keith Davidson until now that is. Davidson, not only a represented Stormy Daniels, but also former "Playboy" model, Karen McDougal. Now CNN Sara Sidner sat down with Davidson in an exclusive interview.


KEITH DAVIDSON, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DANIELS AND MCDOUGAL: Well, Michael Cohen called me in the last week or two.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): And what did he say to you?

DAVIDSON: He called to offer his opinion as to whether or not Ms. Daniels and Ms. McDougal had breached the attorney-client privilege and thereby waived it, it was his assertion that each of them had and he was encouraging me and informing me as to his opinion -- he suggested that it would be appropriate for me to go out into the media and spill my guts.

SIDNER: Are you here at the behest of Michael Cohen?

DAVIDSON: No. No. Not in any way, shape or form.

SIDNER: But he did tell you to go out and spill your guts.

DAVIDSON: Right. Yes.

SIDNER: Why do you think that is?

DAVIDSON: Well, you'd have to ask him.

SIDNER (voice-over): Attorney Keith Davidson is one of just a handful of people involved in two of the most controversial and salacious cases involving President Donald Trump in the months before the presidential election. Davidson was hired by former "Playboy" model Karen McDougal.

COOPER: Were you in love with him?


SIDNER: And hired by porn star and director Stormy Daniels.

COOPER: Did you have sex with him again?


SIDNER: Davidson is now speaking exclusively to CNN following months of keeping quiet about these cases after both women hired new attorneys and filed separate lawsuits.

(on camera): Do you believe what Stormy Daniels has said about the sexual encounter with Mr. Trump?

DAVIDSON: You know, I believe my client.

SIDNER: And Karen McDougal?


SIDNER (voice-over): Davidson represented Daniels and McDougal when both signed different deals and accepted tens of thousands of dollars which effectively kept their relationships with Trump out of the press.

(on camera): It just seems like an awfully strange coincidence that that they both landed in your lap, don't you think?

DAVIDSON: No, not at all.

SIDNER: Why not?

DAVIDSON: No. I mean I have a very active. There are few attorneys that would go against large corporations, powerful celebrities and that's the one thing that I'm known for and these two ladies came to me.

SIDNER (voice-over): As for Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, Davidson says his first contact with the president's self identified fixer was in 2011 after Daniels asked Davidson to demand a website removed the story of her alleged affair and Davidson called Cohen.

(on camera): What was that conversation like?

DAVIDSON: Well, I think there's a lot of chest pounding. To the best of my recollection, it was a lot of, you know, how dare you and, you know, we'll chase you to the ends of the earth and this is not a true story and, you know, we're going to come and get you. I said, whoa. Hold on. Hold your horses and that's not at all the reason for our calling. And we said that Ms. Daniels does not want the story out and we're going to do our best to take that.

SIDNER (voice-over): The story was taken down and Davidson said, he, Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen all lost touch until 2016. Late that summer, Davidson represented Karen McDougal when she told her story to AMI, the parent company of the "National Enquirer" for $150,000. Then Davidson says he picked up the phone and called Cohen.

(on camera): And what did you call him to say? DAVIDSON: I think I called him as a professional courtesy to let him know that a matter was resolved and that as a professional courtesy that it may or may not have involved his client.

SIDNER: Was he involved in the deal at all?

DAVIDSON: Certainly was involved on our end, yes. And there's no basis for me to believe that he was involved or had any communication with AMI, but that's something I just don't know about.

SIDNER: So I guess the question is why call Michael Cohen if he wasn't involved in the deal?

DAVIDSON: I guess a professional courtesy.

[20:44:58] SIDNER (voice-over): McDougal eventually fired Davidson and filed a lawsuit against AMI claiming they bought her story, but never published it as favor to Donald Trump and accused Davidson of being part of a nexus to silence her.

(on camera): Do you see why Karen McDougal and her now current representation might construe that as a conspiracy behind her back that there's something else going on that Michael Cohen was behind all this, being a puppet master if you will?

DAVIDSON: I think generally speaking, I mean a conspiracy would have to involve an act that would take place before and that simply wasn't the case. My conversation with Michael Cohen took place after Ms. McDougal had already solidified the deal with AMI.

SIDNER (voice-over): Davidson says a few weeks later, it was Cohen who called him.

DAVIDSON: He says I'm hearing rumblings out there that, you know, the press is poking around about Stormy Daniels, do you have information on that?

SIDNER (on camera): Did you at the time?


SIDNER: So what did you say back?

DAVIDSON: I'll call you back.

SIDNER: Do you see how the phone call from Michael Cohen might seem nefarious and the fact that he called you?

DAVIDSON: No. Quite frankly, I really don't. I think it's a completely natural phone call for anyone to make in Mr. Cohen's position to circle back and say, "Have circumstances changed?" That was really what it was. It was an inquiry.

SIDNER (voice-over): That inquiry led to a confidentiality agreement and a $130,000 payment to Daniels just days before the election. (on camera): Did Michael Cohen ever indicate to you that he was paying this $130,000 for Stormy Daniels out of his own personal finances?


SIDNER: And back then, did he say you to, look, I'm having to take a loan out of my house to get this done. Is that a yes?

DAVIDSON: No. No, there's never any conversation about that.

SIDNER (voice-over): Days after the agreement was signed, Trump unexpectedly won the 2016 election.

DAVIDSON: What I can say is that timing is everything.

SIDNER: Daniels has filed a suit against Donald Trump, Michael Cohen and the company created by Cohen to pay her off. In it, she claims the hush agreement is not valid because Trump never signed himself.

(on camera): Mr. Avenatti has put out on Twitter a picture of a DVD or a CD giving the idea that there's a lot of evidence that they have. Can you tell us if there's anything on that DVD that you are aware of?

DAVIDSON: I have no idea what's in Mr. Avenatti's files.

SIDNER: Any video of Stormy Daniels, any sex tape perhaps between her and Donald Trump?

DAVIDSON: Again, I have no idea. I think that's a question -- best to ask for Mr. Avenatti what's in his own files and I'm sure he's doing whatever he believes is appropriate to accomplish her goals at this time.

SIDNER (voice-over): Davidson says the whole truth has not yet been told.

(on camera): Why are you sitting down with us?

DAVIDSON: You know, there's been certain things that have been, you know, written and said and I'd like the truth to come out and to the extent that I can assist in that endeavor, that's really why I'm here.

SIDNER: Is the whole truth out yet?

DAVIDSON: No, I don't believe so. I think most of it. Not the whole truth.


COOPER: Well, CNN reached out to Michael Cohen on the story, he did not want to comment on the interview.

Up next, we'll hear from Stormy Daniels current attorney Michael Avenatti and we'll get his response to what Keith Davidson has been saying and the latest on Daniel's lawsuit. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:52:40] COOPER: Before the break, you heard from Attorney Keith Davidson who used to represent both Stormy Daniels as well as Karen McDougal, both of whom say they had affairs with then citizen Donald Trump and both of whom signed deals to keep their stories from coming out publicly. Since then, they've both spoken out but Davidson says the whole truth has not come out.

Joining us now is Stormy Daniels' current attorney, Michael Avenatti.

So, Michael, I'm wondering, you hear what Davidson says. Why would Michael Cohen, President Trump's attorney who's publicly been very quiet, be calling Davidson up and encouraging him now to appear on TV?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Well, Anderson, that's a very interesting question. You know, this situation is very, very unusual to say the least. It raises a whole host of suspicions about exactly what's been going on between these two attorneys. Michael Cohen can't appear on your show or any other show to answer the most basic questions, and yet he's trying to act as a puppeteer and evidently succeeding to a certain degree as it relates to Mr. Davidson. This is very, very disturbing to say the least.

COOPER: Michael Cohen has said that he paid the money out of his own pocket. We know that by now, and that it had nothing to do with the Trump organization or with the election. Mr. Cohen's attorney and friend, attorney in another matter, was on Megyn Kelly's show recently, and I just want to play something he said because it caught our attention.


DAVID SCHWARTZ, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY AND FRIEND: Michael Cohen had great authority within that organization --


SCHWARTZ: -- to take care of things.



COOPER: So he's talking about Michael Cohen as a representative of the Trump organization. That's a point that you have been making all along that Michael Cohen did this as part of the Trump organization, which is Michael Cohen saying he did this on his own.

AVENATTI: Well, exactly. Megyn Kelly asked Mr. Schwartz last week pointblank about the $130,000. And when he went to give the explanation, he starts talking about the Trump organization and the wide latitude that Michael Cohen has within the organization.

Where I come from, Anderson, we call that check mate. It's clear as day what happened here. This was not something personal by Mr. Cohen. It had everything to do with Donald Trump and the Trump organization. And Mr. Schwartz just put his foot in his mouth and admitted it on national television last week with Megyn Kelly.

[20:55:02] COOPER: Mr. Schwartz has said that -- in television interviews that Stormy Daniels and her people are the ones who contacted Michael Cohen before the election and that's what generated ultimately this hush agreement. Keith Davidson is saying that it was Michael Cohen who called him because he had heard rumblings about a possible interview. That seems an essential difference in their stories.

AVENATTI: Well, it is an essential difference, and it's consistent, Anderson, with what we've been saying for weeks and what my client told you in the interview. That's not what happened. What happened was that Cohen contacted Davidson. It was not the other way around. This was not some shakedown effort by my client against Mr. Trump. It just didn't happen.

COOPER: Keith Davidson has said, though, that the whole story has not come out yet, that most of it has but some things haven't. He is bound by attorney-client privilege with Stormy Daniels even though he no longer represents her. Some people have said, "ell, look, why don't you release -- or why doesn't Stormy Daniels agree to release Keith Davidson from the attorney-client privilege so that he can say whatever he wants to say?"

AVENATTI: Well, I mean that's certainly something we'll consider. It's highly unusual. You know, I think if the president or Michael Cohen would waive their attorney-client privilege, we'd certainly be willing to do that. I doubt they're going to do it.

But, you know, I've been very careful in what I've said about Keith Davidson, Anderson, over the last few weeks. But I'm going to say this. Keith Davidson is an absolute tool. He is an absolute tool, and I'm going to say it on national television tonight because what he has done by giving this interview is really unheard of in the legal profession.

For him to go out and comment on two matters, one for McDougal and one for my client after he was terminated in both cases, all in an effort, I guess, to get his name out there or his face on television is really outrageous, and it's unethical, and there's going to be serious consequences that result from it. I'm shocked.

COOPER: You think he has violated attorney-client privilege?

AVENATTI: Oh, I think he's violated the attorney-client privilege for both clients. I think he's violated numerous ethical canons. I know for a fact that he was on notice from both clients that he was not to be communicating with the media. And it appears that the only reason he did it was because Mr. Cohen wanted him to do it. He was in contact with Mr. Cohen, who is encouraging him to go out on television and tell his story, presumably to support Mr. Cohen. I guess Mr. Davidson is now the new Mr. Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz has been replaced now by Mr. Davidson. It's remarkable.

COOPER: Michael Avenatti, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

AVENATTI: Thank you.

COOPER: Stay with us. A great deal to get to tonight.

In the next hour, new reporting on the Mueller team questioning Russian oligarchs about possibly illegal cash donations. Also a flurry of activity about sending National Guard troops to the U.S.- Mexico border. We'll be right back.