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Trump Breaks Silence on Stormy Daniels; EPA Administrator Under Scrutiny. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 5, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for "THE LEAD." I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM who has more on President Trump talking about Stormy Daniels. Tune in. Thanks for watching.
[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Breaking his silence. President Trump speaks out on the payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, saying he knows nothing about the $130,000 payment and referring all questions to his lawyer.
Replacing Sessions? President Trump floated the idea of replacing the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, with EPA chief Scott Pruitt as recently as this week, even though Pruitt is mired in a series of scandals. But moments ago, the president changed his tune, denying he wants to make a switch.
Refusing to answer. Stunning new details on how former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski cursed at members of Congress, refusing to answer questions as the House intelligence Russia probe collapsed into partisan rancor.
And poison spy mystery. Investigators may have caught a break as the daughter of a poisoned Russian spy, who herself was unconscious for nearly three weeks, is now awake and speaking. What could she reveal about the nerve agent attack blamed on Russia?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. CNN has learned that as recently as this week, President Trump floated the idea of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who's bogged down in scandals that seem to worsen by the day. But the president has just told reporters he doesn't want to make the switch.
That comes as the president breaks his silence on the hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, saying he knows nothing about it. We'll speak with Denny Heck of the Intelligence Committee.
And our correspondents and specialists, they are all standing by with full coverage.
But first, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, the president has answered reporters' questions aboard Air Force One.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he has, indeed. This is significant. The president has never answered a question directly about Stormy Daniels. We have asked him questions as he has walked out on the South Lawn of the White House, as he has been around this building.
But today he did break his silence on Stormy Daniels when he was flying back from West Virginia to Joint Base Andrews just a short time ago. We are waiting for that videotape, Wolf.
But from the pool reporters on the plane, we do know what the president said. He was asked directly about that payment for $130,000. You'll remember that was the payment that was made to Stormy Daniels right before the 2016 election. The president asked directly about that, he said he did not know about that payment.
And then he said you'll have to ask any questions to his lawyer, Michael Cohen. And then he was also asked about where he got the money for the payment, that $130,000. He says, "I don't know."
So Wolf, not shedding a lot of light on that. But it is significant, because the president was commenting on Stormy Daniels for the first time.
We do have the video here now. Let's take a look at this interview on Air Force One.
It is coming in, Wolf, now. But in additional to Stormy Daniels, as we wait for that video, this is just coming in, the president landing at Joint Base Andrews a short time ago, will be coming here to the White House momentarily. He did talk about Stormy Daniels as well as other matters, particularly the border wall, as well.
But it is the Stormy Daniels payment that certainly has been a question hanging over this White House. The $130,000, did the president know about that? He says he did not.
So this is certainly significant, because this also is a legal matter of course here. This has been working its way through the courts, but it's been a political cloud hanging over this White House. We've heard Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, talking again and again. The president denied the allegations. But he has never been asked about the $130,000 specifically that was paid in 2016.
So as we wait for that video, we will see that. The president, of course, has been in a mood to say something. We tried asking him questions earlier today as he was flying to West Virginia, did not talk. But coming back to the back of Air Force One where the reporters sit, he was in the mood to speak about this and some other matters, Wolf. So we will be waiting for this videotape.
He talked about this again, as well as the EPA administrator, as well as the border wall. Of course, he's been focusing and some would say obsessed by illegal -- illegal immigration this week, Wolf. BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Jeff, the timing, all of a
sudden, the president answering reporters' questions about Stormy Daniels aboard Air Force One, as you point out. We're about to get the videotape in, and we'll show it, of course, to our viewers.
But he's been shouted questions in the past about Stormy Daniels. He's always ignored that. It's interesting that today, of all days, he decides to go in the back of the plane, meet with the traveling press pool aboard Air Force One, and all of a sudden, a reporter starts asking about Stormy Daniels, and he starts answering questions. The timing is very intriguing.
[17:05:17] ZELENY: It is intriguing, Wolf. And this is something that the president again is an example of him taking matters into his own hands. He effectively is the White House communications director. He effectively is the spokesperson for this White House. He often makes these decisions in real time here. He has heard these questions again and again. I have shout them; other reporters have shouted them. He looks you directly in the eye and has always decided to not answer. He clearly wanted to get that out of the way but also wanted to talk about other matters.
And this has been something that, in effect, has been holding him up. He's not had news conferences. He's not given interviews, really, ever since this Stormy Daniels situation broke several weeks ago.
But it is clear, Wolf, that the president had several things to discuss. Again, the EPA administrator, as well as the border troops. He wants to talk about the border wall.
He's been sort of uneased here. Conservatives have been going after him about his commitment to immigration, asking him tough questions about that. That's one of the reasons he was talking about that so much in West Virginia.
Wolf, it sounded to me like he was back on the campaign trail, back in 2015, 2016, talking about how that is his central focus here. But in fact, it has slipped away him some bit. He signed that spending bill a few weeks ago. It had a fraction of the money into it.
So all of these matters clearly have fed into his mood here at the White House. He has been tweeting up a storm for several days here about immigration, but it has been Stormy Daniels. It's been a bit of a weight over him. We'll see if this changes anything as we get this videotape here, Wolf.
But important to point out, this is something that has also created a bit of an issue on other side of the White House, as well, with the first lady's office. She, of course, has been watching all of this. This has been a very uncomfortable situation here, to say the least. So certainly, these comments on Stormy Daniels, as we look at the look on the president's face as he's asked these questions and answers these questions, certainly will be interesting, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know what's also intriguing, you know, there's always a pool of reporters, a small pool of reporters -- ZELENY: Right.
BLITZER: -- aboard Air Force One, wherever the president goes. There's always a pool of reporters from the -- representing the TV networks, the wire services, the newspapers, small group of reporters with a photographer. The president knows, and he flies on Air Force One all the time. It's rare, though, that he decides to go in the back of the plane and start chatting with reporters. He knows they're going to ask questions.
And I wonder why he decided today, of all days, to go into the back of the plane and meet with the reporters. I don't know if he anticipated that there would be a question or two about Stormy Daniels.
ZELENY: Wolf, it would be impossible for him not to anticipate that question, because he knows what's on the public's mind. He watches more television than most people do. So he certainly knows what's in the news.
And I can hear Marine One is landing back here at the White House on the South Lawn. Again, he could talk to reporters, as well. We have our producers and photographers on the South Lawn of the White House in case he does.
But Wolf, I'm struck by he always makes this determination. It was about a year ago when he was flying down to Mar-a-Lago, the day that he decided to launch air strikes on Syria. He came back to the press cabin of Air Force One. I was one of the pool reporters on there. And he likes the back and forth of this. He likes to put his spin on things.
He also talked significantly, I'm told, about Amazon. This is one thing that he has been discussing of late. He believes that Amazon has been getting unfair advantages, so he did, perhaps, want to discuss that, as well, and talk about the Border Patrol and crossing.
But Wolf, I can tell you, this took some staff members here at the White House by surprise. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was not aboard Air Force One. One of her deputies was. So again, this is the president deciding to make this decision to go back and answer questions about this. We'll see if he does when he comes into the White House in a short time.
As we wait for that videotape aboard Air Force One, certainly will be interesting to see him talk about Amazon, the EPA, Stormy Daniels, and the border crossing wall.
BLITZER: I'm talking at this pool report that we just received about what the president said, the questions that were asked. I see the first part of the Q&A with the president aboard Air Force One was on camera, the part about Stormy Daniels, the part about Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief: "I think he's done a fantastic job. He's a fantastic person." That's what the president said.
But then there's a whole chunk of the Q&A between the reporters and the president off camera which he talks about Amazon, for example, talks about the National Guard. He says -- he was asked how many National Guard troops he anticipates deploying along the border with Mexico. He says, "Anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000. We're looking at a combination." He was asked how much will it cost. He said, "We're looking at it. I have a pretty good idea. Depends on what we do. Probably keep a large portion of them there until we get the wall."
[17:10:06] Do you know why some of this Q&A was on camera and some of it was off camera? It was all on the record.
ZELENY: We do not know why some of it was on camera, some of it was off camera. It was all on the record, which is the rules. I mean, when he comes back, of course, the press always wants it to be on camera. And certainly, on the record when you're talking to the president of the United States.
I do not know why some of it was off camera. It was a pretty short flight from West Virginia to Joint Base Andrews, of course, just outside Washington here. It may have been -- sometimes on those flights, Wolf as you remember from being a White House correspondent, sometimes the turbulence on Air Force One is a problem in terms of filming this. I've been on there speaking with presidents, other aides, and you're sort of shaking around here. So I don't know if that's the reason or if they asked for the cameras to not be on. We'll find that out, certainly, when we talk to other pool reporters. But we do know it was all on the record here.
So we have the president's views. But the Stormy Daniels comments and his questions were, indeed, filmed on camera. And as we await for those, certainly it's interesting. We do not know if White House aides asked for the rest of it to be off camera. We'll certainly find that out and get back to you.
But the president knows whenever he comes back to the back cabin of Air Force One, just to sort of lay it out, he's generally in the front of Air Force One, always in the front of Air Force One. You know, he has his conference room, his Oval Office, if you will, his sitting area.
And the press is in the very back of Air Force One. He has to make the decision to make that long walk back there. And he did that today.
We're told that we are going to see this videotape here in just under a couple minutes, Wolf. So certainly interesting to hear in the president's own words his thoughts on all of this.
BLITZER: It's interesting. We're about to get the videotape.
BLITZER: It's about to feed. We'll play that for our viewers. It's not very long. The exchange that the president of the United States had with reporters aboard Air Force One.
He came to the back of the plane, according to this pool report, spoke with the reporters. He asked the reporters, first of all, if they enjoyed the round table discussion he had just completed in West Virginia.
And then the camera came out. The camera came out, and reporters started asking questions, clearly, all on the record. And then there was this exchange that he had on Scott Pruitt.
BLITZER: On U.S. National Guard troops being deployed to the border with Mexico. Also on Amazon, whether or not he was asked, "Are you going to take action on Amazon?" He says, "Well, they are not on an even playing field. Tremendous lobbying effort, in addition to having the 'Washington Post,' which is, as far as I'm concerned, is a lobbying effort."
So he's continuing his assault on Amazon. He's continuing to talk about deploying National Guard troops to the border. He says 2,000 to 4,000 will be deployed. He doesn't yet know how much all of that will cost U.S. taxpayers, but he's doubling down on all of that.
And then there was this exchange that he had with the reporters on Stormy Daniels.
We're about to get the tape right now. Jeff, I want to play this for our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Here's the president aboard Air Force One.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to see what happens. The playing field has to be level for everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will make that level playing field?
TRUMP: Well, I'll study it. We're going to take a pretty serious look at that. I want it -- it's very important, it's got to be an even playing field.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael -- why did Michael Cohen make it?
TRUMP: You'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael's my attorney. You'll have to ask Michael.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know where he got the money for the payment?
TRUMP: No. I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I couldn't hear your response earlier about Scott Pruitt.
TRUMP: About who?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Scott Pruitt.
TRUMP: I think that Scott has done a fantastic job. I think he's a fantastic person. I just left coal and energy country. They love Scott Pruitt. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) And they love Scott Pruitt. Thank you very much, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we talk about Syria, Mr. President? Syria?
BLITZER: All right. Clearly, Jeff, it was hard to understand. The audio quality not very good. They're going to try to clean it up and get a better sense, although one of the pool reporters did send us a transcript.
Let me read from the transcript precisely what the president said when he walked to the back of the plane and had this Q&A with reporters.
First question was on Amazon. "So we'll see what happens. The post office is not doing well with Amazon. We're going to see what happens. The playing field has to be level for everybody. I'm going to study it. We're going to take -- we'll take a look at that."
Then the questions on Stormy Daniels started. Question: "Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?"
The president: "No."
Question: "Why did Michael Cohen, the president's private attorney and longtime friend, make it?"
You have -- Answer: "You have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen is my attorney. You'll have to ask him."
Question: "Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?"
The president: "No, I don't know."
And then there was a question on Pruitt, the EPA administrator. "I think he's done a fantastic job. He's a fantastic person. I just left coal and energy country. They love Scott Pruitt. They feel strongly and love him."
That was the exchange on camera. Then you saw the camera turn off, and then apparently, he stuck around back there, and then there were questions on other issues.
But let's talk about what he said about Stormy Daniels. Give us your assessment, Jeff.
ZELENY: Wolf, certainly significant. First and foremost because we, again, have not heard the president talk about this at all. It's been since the campaign when he was talking, of course, at the end of his campaign, which is overtaken by his comments from a year's earlier on the "Access Hollywood" tape.
He came out and, you know, said the allegations simply didn't happen. He would talk about it at campaign rally after rally. He would point to accusers and say, "Look at her. I didn't do that."
Wolf, his silence about Stormy Daniels up until now here at the White House as president has, indeed, been deafening. He's not talked about her. He's not tweeted about her. He's not responded at all.
One of the reasons, his advisers have told me, is because this is a legal issue now. Of course, her lawyers are trying to draw the president in. The president is trying to continue the hush money episode here.
Of course, we've seen her on "60 Minutes" with our Anderson Cooper talking about this. So this is significant.
The president has said he did not know about that payment, but he clearly did not elaborate, at least based on our reading of the interview there. And he said that he didn't know how Michael Cohen got that money.
The president still referring questions about something that was involving him and his campaign to Michael Cohen, a longtime outside lawyer, a longtime adviser here.
So I wouldn't necessarily say this cleared it up. But the president now is on the record saying he did not know about that payment. So of course, if this continues in a court of law, should he ever be deposed, he is on the record now saying he did not know about that payment.
And of course, it raises ethical concerns for Michael Cohen. If he was making the payment without the permission, essentially, of his client, he's facing ethical concerns as a lawyer there.
But first and foremost, the president now on the record saying he did not know about that payment. Coming just 11 days, I believe, before the 2016 campaign, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting indeed.
I want you to stick around. We've got a lot more on the breaking news. We're also following this other report that we have that, as recently as this week, the president was actually considering replacing the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, with Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator. Although now he says Pruitt is doing a fabulous, fantastic job for the American people.
Lots of breaking news. We'll be right back.
[17:22:52] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including President Trump just now breaking his silence on Stormy Daniels, saying he knows nothing about his attorney, Michael Cohen's, $130,000 payment to the porn star just before, only days before the 2016 presidential election.
And just moments ago, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, just tweeted this, and let me read it to our viewers: "We are very much -- we very much look forward to testing the truthfulness of Mr. Trump's feigned lack of knowledge concerning the $130,000 payment as stated on Air Force One. As history teaches us, it is one thing to deceive the press, and quite another to do so under oath." That tweet the reaction from Michael Avenatti, the Stormy Daniels attorney.
The president spoke to reporters after delivering some stunning, unscripted remarks in West Virginia. He's now back here in Washington. He's over at the White House, which is clearly preoccupied by the multiple scandals of his EPA chief, Scott Pruitt.
Let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown.
Pamela, it seems the president may have had some big plans for Pruitt.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you heard the president aboard Air Force One, Wolf, saying that Scott Pruitt has been doing a fantastic job, and that he would have to take a look at the reports raising these ethical concerns surrounding Pruitt.
And even as Pruitt faces a growing list of negative headlines, we have learned from sources that as early as this week, the president floated replacing his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, with his embattled EPA administrator.
BROWN (voice-over): Before arriving in West Virginia, the president voiced support for his embattled EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have confidence in Pruitt?
TRUMP: I do. I do.
BROWN: And tonight, CNN has learned that the president has so much confidence in Pruitt he has even considered him as a replacement for Attorney General Jeff Sessions as recently as this week. Such a move would put Pruitt in charge of the Russia investigation, giving him the authority to oversee and even fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump's support for Pruitt comes in the wake of a barrage of bad publicity. But as one source told CNN, Trump "was 100 percent still trying to protect Pruitt, because Pruitt is his fill-in for Sessions."
[17:25:03] A senior administration official tells CNN the president was not pleased with Pruitt's inability to button up several of his controversies in an interview with FOX News on Wednesday, opting to blame critics for his missteps.
SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Look, I do believe that as we do our work, Ed, as we're focused on these types of things, they are transformational. And any time that you do transformational things, there are critics and there are people that come against you in that regard.
BROWN: Pruitt claiming he was completely unaware two of his top aides received unapproved pay raises.
ED HENRY, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: So one of your friends from Oklahoma got a pay raise that's the median --
PRUITT: They did not get the pay raise. They did not get pay raise.
HENRY: They did. They went --
PRUITT: They did not. They did not. I stopped that yesterday.
HENRY: So you stopped it?
HENRY: Are you embarrassed that --
PRUITT: It should not have happened. Should not have happened. And the officials that were involved in that process should not have done what they did.
BROWN: Pruitt also struggling to explain his rental of an apartment from the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist when he first moved to Washington.
HENRY: President Trump said he would drain the swamp.
PRUITT: I don't --
HENRY: Is draining the swamp renting an apartment from the wife of a Washington lobbyist?
PRUITT: I don't think that that's even remotely fair to ask that question.
HENRY: OK, so why did you then accept $50 a night to rent a condo from the wife of a Washington lobbyist?
PRUITT: Well, let's talk about that. That is something that, again, has been reviewed by ethics officials here. They've said that it's market rate --
HENRY: Renting it from the wife of a lobbyist.
PRUITT: Who has no business before this agency.
HENRY: Hold on a second. So --
PRUITT: Who has no business.
HENRY: Ms. Hart is at Williams and Jensen, right? Major lobbying firm. ExxonMobil is a client. PRUITT: Mr. Hart has no clients --
HENRY: ExxonMobil has business before you, sir.
PRUITT: Mr. Hart has no clients that has business before this agency. He has --
HENRY: ExxonMobil has no firm --
PRUITT: He's a member of a law firm. To take his relationship and extend it --
HENRY: You're not answering the question.
PRUITT: It was like an AirBNB situation.
HENRY: You only pay for the nights you rent that you were there?
PRUITT: That's exactly right.
HENRY: But that's kind of a sweetheart deal --
PRUITT: No, it's not.
HENRY: I've never heard of an apartment like that. I've lived in Washington over 25 years.
TRUMP: This was going to be my remarks. It would have taken about two minutes. But what the hell?
BROWN: Meanwhile, as President Trump chose to get out of Washington, he was in his element in West Virginia.
TRUMP: No, I'm reading off the first paragraph, and I said this is boring. Come on, we have to say -- tell it like it is.
BROWN: What was supposed to be a roundtable discussion about tax reform quickly turned into a wide-ranging campaign-like speech, with the president resurrecting one of his debunked conspiracy theories.
TRUMP: In many places like California, the same person votes many times. You've probably heard about that. They always like to say, "That's a conspiracy theory." Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people.
BROWN: Trump going back to his first political speech and his favorite incendiary topic, illegal immigration.
TRUMP: And remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower when I opened. Everybody said, "Oh, he was so tough." And I used the word "rape." And yesterday it came out where this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before. They don't want to mention that. So we have to change our laws.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: Now as for the president floating this idea of replacing A.G. Sessions with Pruitt, something he has floated as early as this week, according to sources, the president said aboard Air Force One that he does not want to make any switch as it pertains to Pruitt.
And the White House said in response to our story that there are no personnel announcements at this time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: At this time. Key words. Pamela Brown, thanks very much.
We're getting extraordinary new details on how the House Intelligence Committee's Russia probe collapsed in bitter partisanship, symbolized perhaps in the foul-mouthed appearance by the final witness, the former Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who actually swore at Democratic lawmakers.
Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, you put together a picture of this train wreck. Was it really that bad?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely was, Wolf. It got increasingly contentious, all the way to the better end, and culminating in this very contentious interview with the former Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
Now, in his first appearance before the committee, Lewandowski would not answer questions about matters after he left the campaign in June 2016. But he did agree to come back for a second interview. And in that hearing, things got rather heated.
Democrats tried to press him on a range of topics, about what he knew about the firing of FBI Director James Comey, his conversations with the president, and about the White House's misleading response last year to revelations that Donald Trump Jr. Met with Russians at Trump Trump Tower during the campaign.
Now, he flatly refused to answer, and he used rather colorful language to make his point saying to Democrats, including Jackie Speier of California, "I'm not going to answer your," quote, "F'ing questions," and he actually used a swear word multiple times.
Now, when we reached out to Lewandowski, he did not dispute using those words. He said he had to repeat on multiple occasions to Democrats that there was no collusion, but he said Democrats couldn't understand, quote, "my plain English way of speaking" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You've done a lot of reporting. Excellent reporting, Manu, on all of this, how the committee's efforts simply broke down. What are you hearing about the role that the chairman, Devin Nunes, played in all of this?
RAJU: Wolf, my colleague Jeremy Herb and I did more than a dozen interviews.
HERE [17:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You've done a lot of reporting, excellent reporting, Manu, on all of this, how the committee's efforts simply broke down. What are you hearing about the role that the chairman, Devin Nunes, played in all of this?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, my colleague, Jeremy Herb, and I did more than a dozen interviews with people who were involved in this investigations on both sides of the aisle. And both sides of the aisle actually do point to Devin Nunes' decision to go to the White House in March 2017 as a turning point. Now, you recall Nunes briefed President Trump about secret intelligence that he found troubling. And that prompted democratic charges that he was out to protect Trump. And after he faced an ethics complaint, he's temporarily stepped aside from the investigation. But he maintained a major influence over the probe despite not attending any witness interviews.
Democrats said he would sit on subpoena requests and not push witnesses like Lewandowski to answer more questions. And not schedule witness interviews. Instead, would conduct side investigations including dispatching his staff to London to talk to the former British agent, Christopher Steele, whose dossier of Trump and Russia allegations remained a major focus of Nunes. Now, that move actually blindsided Democrat Adam Schiff and the Republican running the Russia probe, Mike Conaway, as they were in early talks about traveling to London together to meet with Steele.
Now, on the other side, Republicans we talked to say democratic efforts to push Nunes out was all a partisan effort, and they say that actually led to the -- all the distrust on the committee, and the Democrats themselves simply wanted to promote themselves without finding any smoking gun to prove Russian collusion. And now all of this, Wolf, resulting in two partisan reports leaving the public no closer to a conclusion of what actually happened in 2016. But as Mike Conaway, the chairman of the committee, told us, Wolf, he said I don't know if this would have ended up any differently had we have done some different things during this investigation.
BLITZER: Pretty extraordinary for the House Intelligence Committee which usually works in a bipartisan way to come up with this disastrous conclusion. Manu, thanks very much for that report.
Joining us now, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Denny Heck of Washington State. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE MEMBER: You're welcome, Sir.
BLITZER: I want to discuss all of the Manu reporting about your committee, the disaster that occurred there. But first, let me get your quick reaction to the President of the United States now breaking his silence, formally, publicly, on the record, denying that he is considering replacing his Attorney General, Scott Pruitt. He says Pruitt is doing a great job, a fantastic job of where he is. What do you make of that? HECK: Well, first of all, with respect to Stormy Daniels, I want to say that the President is, as you suggested earlier in the program, not only acting as his own communications chief, but his own lawyer and his own chief of staff, and his own human resources director. And we all know how that movie is going to end, and it's not going to end very well, frankly. This is the -- this is the president who as a candidate promised to drain the swamp, and it is prima facie not behavior consistent with that pledge of 2016 that he is overlooking Scott Pruitt's sweetheart deal for housing while in Washington, D.C., period, full stop!
BLITZER: So, well, getting back to the Stormy Daniels, you're saying you don't believe the President? He was just asked aboard Air Force One by reporters, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels? He said, no. You're saying you don't believe the President?
HECK: I receive it with as much credibility as I do a lot of his tweets and other public utterances. Look, it strains credibility beyond belief that a couple or three weeks before the election, the President's attorney, or then-candidate Trump's attorney, would on his own, out of the generosity of his heart, write a check for $130,000 in hush money to this adult film star in order to keep the story quiet without the candidate knowing about it.
BLITZER: It was actually 11 days before the election, to be very, very precise. Let's talk about Scott Pruitt for a moment. That's another important issue that's unfolding. If the president were to replace his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, would you consider that potentially obstruction of justice? Because there would be a new person, not Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general in charge, overseeing the Mueller investigation.
HECK: Well, as I've said all along and have believed for many, many months, we are inching ourselves toward a constitutional crisis. Look, this is a presidency by chaos. Here's his style: he turns over the kitchen table and breaks the dishes time and time again. And look, Wolf, you and I are both old enough to have lived through presidents that didn't have the values that reflected the American public, didn't have the competence to pull off their agenda, were ethically challenged. These are all things how I would describe President Trump. But what he is first and foremost that is most disturbing is he is reckless. He's going to turn over the kitchen table and not just break the dishes but have the kerosene lantern on top of it, enflame the house before we are over with.
[17:35:04] You know, we're about at the 100-year anniversary of World War I which as we all know engulfed the world in a war almost spontaneously because of reckless behavior. And that's what we're seeing by this president.
BLITZER: We know that President Trump have tried to fire the special counsel Robert Mueller last summer. We know he's considered firing Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General. At what point do you believe your Republican colleagues get on board with actual legislation to protect the special counsel and his investigation? HECK: I don't know that they ever will, Wolf. Truthfully, I've kind of given up hope. I think they've made their deal, they've made their pact with the devil, and they are holding on for dear life until November 6th in hopes that they can just ride this out. But I think they are significantly underestimating the attitude and belief of the American public, which is that we need to take strong measures to make sure that Russia does not interfere in any western democracy, election again, as they have continued to do from before 2016 and since.
BLITZER: You heard Manu's reporting just a few moments ago about your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, you're a key member of that committee, what can you tell the American people about this really painful breakdown in trust and basic civility between Democrats and Republicans?
HECK: Well, he characterized it as bitter. I'm not bitter, I'm just more resolved and more determined to get at the truth, as a matter of fact. But dating all the way back to March 21st of last year when the chair, Devin Nunes, went down to the White House to begin collaborating on how to protect the President, I've had not much belief for faith that the effort here was truly to get at the truth behind us. As to civility, we have an agreement in the committee not to talk about what is said during those closed-door interviews. We are allowed to comment when things aren't answered, and Mr. Lewandowski did not answer a lot of questions. But I'll give you this -- I'll give you this, Wolf, if I ever talked as a child the way Mr. Lewandowski did in committee, my mama would have washed my mouth out with soap.
BLITZER: Did he -- did he curse at your colleague, Congresswoman Jackie Speier?
HECK: I've said enough.
BLITZER: The Mueller investigation is looking into whether Russians illegally funneled money to the Trump campaign. Did you see any evidence of that in your House Intelligence Committee investigation?
HECK: Again, we are pledged not to reveal the evidence that was presented to us unless by prior agreement, the transcript would be released. But as I -- as I have also said to you many times before, where there is smoke, there is fire. And there's so much smoke you can't see the hand in front of your face. We should be reminded of why this is important. A foreign government interfering in our sovereign exercise of a free, open, and fair election, it's a violation of federal law, and it ought to be prosecuted to the fullest extent. We will know that our reaction to this is working when Russia stops their behavior, which they haven't.
And the best pathway to get to that, frankly, is to put the squeeze and put the hurt on the oligarchs who will then go whining to Vladimir Putin. We ought to adopt the sanctions against the oligarchs that Congress adopted last summer. We ought to adopt the sanctions that my own Disarm Act which I introduced last month and which, by the way, gathered 70 co-sponsors in a matter of 48 hours as I recall. We ought to adopt those right away, we ought to prohibit their travel to the U.S., we ought to freeze all their assets in the U.S., we ought to curtail their access to financial institutions throughout the world. So, they go to Putin and say, stop this, it's hurting us in the place that we least want it to hurt us which is our pocketbook.
BLITZER: Congressman Denny Heck, thanks so much for joining us.
HECK: You're welcome, Sir.
BLITZER: All right. Let's follow up and bring in our experts as we follow multiple breaking stories including President Trump now breaking his silence on Stormy Daniels, saying he knows nothing about his Attorney, Michael Cohen's, $130,000 payment to the porn star just 11 days before the 2016 Presidential Elections. Dana Bash, he was asked specifically, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. He gave a very tight answer, no.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And tried to move beyond that to other reporters who he was hoping would have other questions, and no luck at least, for a couple of those questions because they rightly wanted to follow up because as Jeff Zeleny was saying, this is the first time the President has commented on any of the Stormy Daniels situation. And that obviously is one of the key questions, did he know about the payment, did he authorize the payment, did he know where it came from? He insisted no. I thought it was very interesting that the President chose to come back on Air Force One to answer questions because he had to have known that that was going to be one of the lines of questioning that he would get from the traveling press corps.
[17:40:06] BLITZER: Yes. Well, he had a very, very positive roundtable discussion in West Virginia, maybe he was not necessarily, you know, worried about those kind of questions. But clearly, the reporters were there. You know, Joey Jackson, you're our legal analyst. So, the President says he didn't know about the $130,000 payment. He didn't actually sign that hush agreement that Michael Cohen worked out. So, how could this be -- how could this be a legal agreement if he doesn't know about the payment, he never signed the agreement?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, let me start here, I'm troubled on two fronts, really, with the President's remarks. The first thing, really, before we get to the legality of the agreement, forgetting the legality of the agreement is -- are his statements centering around the agreement? I want to bring you back 20 years ago, January 1998, where we had a president look at all of us in the eye and say, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky, I never did." right? And then, we know eight months later in August of 1998, he said, "I did, and it was wrong." Right? So, lying to the press, not a crime but to the extent that he goes on record, it's a problem. Now, to be clear, this is not a criminal investigation. It's civil in nature. Same exposure, however, in the event that Mr. Trump goes in a deposition, now that a motion to compel has been filed, I suspect Mr. Avenatti will file his papers and get a deposition, the president lies, it's a problem.
But here's the second thing that troubles me about this statement which I know his lawyers are screaming that he made. First thing we tell you is not to speak. And that is this, it contradicts the very theory I think his lawyers are pursuing. And that is -- remember, Wolf, he said Michael Cohen is my lawyer, not Michael Cohen is a longtime adviser, a family member, a dear friend, and my lawyer, but my lawyer. His attorneys are arguing, right, I think you're going to hear the argument that Michael Cohen didn't act as a lawyer, he acted as someone who was in a loving and trusting and familial relationship.
That gets him cover on the issue of informed consent because lawyers have to inform their clients when they're acting, and it gets him out from under these ethical issues that he may or may not have. So, that's a problem right there. And for the President to be speaking about this or saying anything, raises all of the concerns that I'm speaking of.
BLITZER: Yes, those are excellent points. You know, Chris Cillizza, the President was specifically asked aboard Air Force One by a reporter, why did Michael Cohen make the payment, then he said, you have to ask Michael Cohen, Michael Cohen is my attorney, you'll have to ask him. He didn't say Michael Cohen is my friend, my longtime fixer, he said, "he's my attorney."
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: That jumped out to me, too. Sort of an interesting acknowledgement of a formal relationship that he probably could have gotten away with saying, "Michael Cohen is someone I've known who's been around me for a long time. You have to ask him, I haven't talked to him about it." I don't know why Trump did this to Dana's point. I actually think, Wolf --
BLITZER: Why he went to the back of the plane and exchanged that with the reporters?
CILLIZZA: And I actually think you mentioned this, but I think there is a merit. I watched that whole Trump tax reform event talking about the tax cuts. He had a great time. There were 10 or 11 people on the dais, all of whom praised him. Thank you so much. We can now, you know, give our kid a bow and arrow lessons -- you know, archery. She's in archery. You know, all these stories that make him feel good. He's in a state that he won overwhelmingly. He may have sort of been feeling his oats and thought, well, pop back there.
Obviously, that's a question that's going to be asked on Stormy Daniels because he hasn't answered it. I just continue to come back to the same thing over and over again. We have asked Michael Cohen why he made this payment. And Michael Cohen has said, well, I didn't believe that Stormy Daniels actually -- what she said was true. But I -- so then, why did you pay her? I mean, I just keep coming back to the same thing. You paid her $130,000. No one disputes that. Why? And this is, I think, going to re-up that question to Michael Cohen.
BLITZER: Did the President just make this whole Stormy Daniels worse for him by having this exchange with reporters?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It depends on where you sit. From our optic, I'd say, yes. Why do you stir the pot? It smells more as my friends used to say in Miami. His based, though, I think is looking at this, and he's looking at this with a simple perspective. Being the liar-in-chief works. It's worked from day one. You open a campaign saying the president -- the former president isn't really an American citizen. People still believe that in this country. Within 24 to 48 hours of coming into office, you say the media's on me, they're misrepresenting how many people showed up at my inauguration. That was a lie. Governors across the country said we're not participating in this sham of a way to determine whether more people vote in the election illegally. That's a joke. People still believe that. The president talked about that within the past day or so --
BLITZER: And he said that millions of people voted illegally.
CILLIZZA: To Mr. Phil's point, I mean, this will get overshadowed because Donald Trump went to the back of the plane and answered a Stormy Daniels question. But had he not done so, we'd be taking about the fact that Donald Trump again suggested that millions of votes were cast illegally. He was talking about the context of California. And then said, they won't unlock their voter rolls. They say it's a conspiracy theory, but it's not. I mean, this is what -- this is -- whether he like him or not, he traffics in this 100 percent.
[17:45:12] BLITZER: There's a lot we need to discuss. We're going to continue all of our coverage. Stick around. Also coming up, an ex- spy's daughter breaks her silence about the attack using a Russian nerve agent that left her and her father unconscious for weeks.
[17:50:08] BLITZER: We're following a breaking news in the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Great Britain late this afternoon over at the United Nations. Russia's Ambassador warned the British. They are, quote, playing with fire and will be sorry for blaming the attempted murders on Russia and rallying the world against Russia. This comes the same day we finally are hearing from one of the victims, the ex-spy's daughter. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what is she saying?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Yulia Skripal now says that she woke up a little more than a week ago after about three weeks of being unconscious. She says her strength is growing every day and investigators are counting on that. They desperately need her accounts of the attack on her and her father.
TODD: A stunning turn tonight, and possibly a big break for investigators in the case of a poisoned former Russian spy. Sergei Skripal's daughter, Yulia, who was unconscious for about three weeks, is awake and speaking. In a statement released by London Police, she said, "I woke up over a week ago now and am glad to say my strength is growing daily."
SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N. FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: It's an astonishing thing. I'm sure it's something that's very surprising to those that ordered the killing.
TODD: Yulia Skripal's father, Sergei, is still unconscious after the March 4th attack, in critical but stable condition. They were targeted at their home in Salisbury, England. The Russians deny Britain's assertion that the Kremlin was behind the poisoning. British Police say the attackers left on the Skripal's front door a nerve agent called Novichok, believed to come from Russia. A substance so toxic, it's all the more astonishing that Yulia Skripal survived.
HAMISH DE BRETTON-GORDON, CHEMICAL WEAPONS EXPERT: A nerve agent like Novichok or like VX which are very toxic, break your nerves down and you die almost instantaneously.
TODD: Tonight, investigators have their first chance to learn what Yulia Skripal knows about the attack.
What would they want to ask her?
TOM FUENTES, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: If her father or if she was present when her father met with somebody in the recent past or received a threat and father related to her of who he thought was posing a threat to him or to them.
TODD: But it's also possible that Yulia Skripal may never have observed a threat and may not remember the poisoning itself. Tonight, there's also the question of whether Vladimir Putin will ever suffer any consequences for the attack. Russian diplomats have been expelled from countries around the world. But experts say if the British really want to punish Putin, they'll go after the assets of his cronies, like all the expensive properties they've allegedly bought in London to stash their money. Areas nicknamed "Londongrad."
MENDELSON: There will be a tightening around the Kremlin. If suddenly people say, well, how is it that it's possible that you could possibly purchase a house for billions, millions of dollars, pounds, when you're making a regular salary, that's a wake-up call, not only for Russian citizens, it's a wake-up call for those around the Kremlin who say, this deal is not going the way we thought it would be. What else is going to happen?
TODD: Meanwhile, there's concern that Yulia Skripal and her father could be targeted again.
FUENTES: Putin could have the job finished on the Skripals, go after them, continue to go after them until they're dead, and eliminate them as possible witnesses.
TODD: The Russian government seems to be claiming that the Skripals are in no danger. Russia's Ambassador to Great Britain says he's, quote, really happy about Yulia Skripal's recovery, and that he hopes she comes back to Moscow where she has a job and an apartment. As for her father, the Russian Ambassador says the Russian government has no problem with him. The Russians have always denied any involvement in the Skripal's poisoning. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian, is there any indication that the British government will actually go after those houses and other properties that Putin's friends own?
TODD: Wolf, they have hinted that they're going to, but so far, they have not done that. A short time ago, I spoke with Bill Browder, an American-born financier who's exposed a lot of Vladimir Putin's corruption. Browder lives in Britain and he says he's on Putin's target list. He says if the British do not go after those properties and seize them, Putin is going to remain confident that he can get away with these attacks and Browder says he could be the next one to be killed.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you. Coming up, the breaking news: President Trump finally breaks his silence on Stormy Daniels, saying he knows nothing about his lawyer's payment to the porn star after earlier going off message with stunning comments on illegal immigration and alleged illegal voting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was going to be my remarks. They would have taken about two minutes, but (INAUDIBLE)
TRUMP: That would have been a little boring, a little boring. All right? Now, I'm reading off the first paragraph, I said, this is boring. Come on, we have to -- we have to say -- tell it like it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news: Trump talks Stormy. The President tells reporters he knew nothing about his lawyer's payment to keep the porn star quiet. Why is he breaking his silence now?
Trading sessions? The Attorney General apparently still isn't safe from the President's wrath over the Russia investigation. CNN has learned that Mr. Trump has talked this week about possibly replacing Jeff Sessions with of all people his embattled EPA Chief, Scott Pruitt.