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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson; Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; New Revelations Emerge on Michael Cohen Raid; Will U.S. Attack Syria; House Speaker Paul Ryan: No Plans to Seek Any Other Office After Retiring from Congress in 2019. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 11, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: Seeking access. We're learning the FBI raid on the president's lawyer sought communications between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen about the infamous "Access Hollywood" videotape in which Trump boasted of assaulting women. Did they try to cover it up on the eve of the election?
Other than. President Trump declares on Twitter that there's no obstruction of justice, other than that he fights back. As he attacks everyone tied to the Russia investigation, is the president openly admitting to obstructing the Mueller probe?
They will be coming. Pentagon chiefs huddle at the White House after President Trump via Twitter warns Russia to get ready for a missile strike in Syria, saying the missiles will be -- quote -- "nice and new and smart."
After promising never to telegraph military moves, isn't that what the president is doing?
And work it out. The judge in the Stormy Daniels case orders lawyers for the porn star, President Trump and other parties to meet and work out their differences over a jury trial for the lawsuit against the president.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news, the notorious video that jolted the Trump campaign is back. Sources tell CNN that the FBI raid on the president's personal lawyer sought communications between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump about the "Access Hollywood" tape with its lewd comments about women.
I will speaker with Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are standing by.
Let's begin with CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz and CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez.
Evan, first to you. Why is it significant that agents were looking for information involving that "Access Hollywood" tape.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is very significant, because this is the first time that we're hearing the specific reference to Donald Trump in any search warrant in what is now two investigations, one by special counsel Robert Mueller and one being carried out by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
And according to sources who talked to CNN, the agents were specifically looking for communications between Donald Trump and his personal attorney Michael Cohen regarding this "Access Hollywood" tape which came out just before the 2016 election.
Obviously, this means that is now a subject of the investigation, at least the investigation that is being carried by the prosecutors in Manhattan, Wolf.
And here's what -- in addition to the "Access Hollywood" tape, it also says that the warrant specifically mentions an investigation that involves wire fraud and bank fraud. And it also talks about agents looking for information about the campaign and the candidate were trying to suppress, trying to keep out of the public eye right before the election.
Again, all of this significant because this is now basically two investigations that we have ongoing, one involving Russia and collusion, potential collusion between the Trump campaign. That's being done by Robert Mueller's office here in Washington. And now this new front in New York by the U.S. attorney there.
BLITZER: Shimon, why are investigators looking into these various communications, really sensitive material?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think, as Evan was just saying, in terms of the suppression, there is an issue here clearly something has come up during the Robert Mueller investigation, special counsel investigation that perhaps points or suggests something else was going on here.
And that seems to be the issue, whether or not anyone close to the president did anything illegal to try and suppress that. For the FBI to come in on an investigation like this, there would have to be an extortion or some kind of intimidation.
There could be also potentially be campaign finance laws that were broken here. And that could be something that they're looking at. But in order to get this kind of a search warrant on someone's communications from their lawyer, given a political candidate at the time, now the president, would certainly require extraordinary measures, and would indicate -- at least indicates to us that they already have some information sort of that they have placed in this affidavit to get this warrant that they would have to get permission from a judge to go ahead and do this.
This is an extraordinary, aggressive move here by these investigators.
BLITZER: What are you hearing, Evan, from Trump team?
PEREZ: Well, look, I think the fact that Donald Trump's name appears in these documents that were left behind with Michael Cohen and his lawyers really is like a shot across the bow.
And I think they are reacting exactly like you would expect. They believe this is now aimed squarely not at Michael Cohen, but at bringing down the president. I think people close to the president believe this is still -- they still believe a fishing expedition.
They say they there's nothing here. Michael Cohen certainly and his attorneys believe there's nothing here that warrants this investigation. Wolf, and keep in mind, none of this happens without the blessing, without the say-so, the sign-off of Rod Rosenstein, the acting attorney general for the purposes of these investigations.
This is why you're hearing so much criticism of him and whether or not the time has come for the president to fire him. You're hearing that from people who are close to the president and people who are seeing him and this is why you're seeing the president tweet about this.
BLITZER: Yes. What's Michael Cohen's next move?
PROKUPECZ: Well, I think Michael Cohen and certainly people close to him are concerned he's in a lot of trouble here. We're told he's trying to hire another attorney, someone in New York. He does have some Washington attorneys, but he's going to probably need an attorney in New York that is going to be able to deal with this.
But I think everyone now feels, the people close to him, people close to the president feel he's in a lot of trouble.
The pattern here, Wolf, that we see from the materials that were left behind in this search warrant, in these raids by the FBI indicates they are cobbling together this picture of a pattern of these types of trying to suppress stories again before the election.
This has to do not only with the "Access Hollywood" tape, but also the payment to Stormy Daniels, the payment to the Playboy Playmate. All of these payments happening right before the election. And, again, as Shimon said, it raises the possibility that has to do with election law violations, but it also could be a lot more and a lot we don't know about.
PROKUPECZ: But everyone is baffled by the "Access Hollywood."
Certainly, people I have talked to today and Evan has talked to and Gloria Borger, who was reporting on a lot of this, are baffled by this. The notion that the FBI is asking questions about the "Access Hollywood" tape I think has really caught a lot of people by surprise. BLITZER: Now the president has to worry about two investigations, the
Robert Mueller investigation, the Russia probe, as it's called, but also now this separate investigation being conducted by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and Manhattan.
PROKUPECZ: Yes. And he could potentially be a witness in this case. We don't know where this is going. We don't know what they are going to recover now and from these search warrants, from the materials they have gathered. They are certainly review it and then we will see.
PEREZ: They might want to talk to the president.
PEREZ: Keep in mind, Wolf, there's still these negotiations to try to determine whether the president will give an interview to Robert Mueller's investigators. Well, what about the prosecutors?
BLITZER: Do we know specifically what Robert Mueller and his team saw that resulted in their referring this case to the U.S. attorney in New York?
PEREZ: We do not know. But sources we've talked have told us this was again in part a referral from Robert Mueller.
That also indicates the prosecutors in Manhattan had their own thing going. Perhaps they had already opened their own case. Certainly the search warrant information, they took information regarding taxi medallion investments by Michael Cohen.
But, Wolf, what this indicates is that Mueller saw something. We don't know what it is, but there's something that he believed was outside the scope of his investigation, Russia collusion, and that was better handled by this prosecutor in Manhattan.
PROKUPECZ: Sam Nunberg, right, remember when he went he and he -- they asked him this before a grand jury. So something perhaps there may have come up that Robert Mueller decided needed to be further investigated.
BLITZER: I suspect we will know sooner, rather than later.
Guys, thanks. Terrific reporting.
There's more breaking news tonight, as the White House insists all options are on the table for responding to a chemical attack in Syria, despite the president's taunting of Russia, warning in a tweet that missiles will be coming.
Let's go live to CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, is the commander if chief giving away his plans via Twitter? JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It sounds like it,
Over the last 12 hours, we have gone from the president essentially declaring war on Twitter to the White House trying to walk back that tweet later on this afternoon saying that all options are on the table.
Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Joints Chief chairman, we should point out, Joe Dunford, they were all spotted at the White House here earlier today as the president was essentially telegraphing an upcoming military strike on Syria, something he swore he would never do during the campaign.
But the president has other topics on his mind. You mentioned one of them, the Mueller investigation. But there's also the prospect of the party, Republican Party, losing control of Congress in the fall as House Speaker Paul Ryan says goodbye.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Avoiding questions from the press, President Trump all but declared war on Twitter, previewing airstrikes aimed at Syria while tweeting a warning to Russia.
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming. Nice and new and smart. You shouldn't be partners with a gas killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it."
The president's vow to take action while in response to the suspected gas attack allegedly carried out by Syria also violates his past pledges to never telegraph his next move.
(on camera): When the president says get ready Russia, they will be coming, the missiles are coming, how is that anything but an announcement of a pending airstrike?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's certainly one option, but that doesn't mean it's the only option or the only thing that the president may or may not do.
Just because he does one thing doesn't mean he can't do a number of other actions as well, and he hasn't laid out the timetable which would be broadcasting his intentions.
ACOSTA (voice-over): When former President Barack Obama faced the question of striking Syria in 2013, Mr. Trump tweeted: "I would not go into Syria, but if I did it would be by surprise and not blurt it all over the media like fools," something he promised against during the campaign.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a substantial chance of winning. If I win, I don't want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is.
ACOSTA: The president is blaming the bad blood with Russia on what he called the fake and corrupt Russia investigation.
The latest twist, federal investigators who raided the office of the president's personal attorney Michael Cohen are interested in finding any information about Mr. Trump's infamous comments to "Access Hollywood" that nearly cost him the election.
CNN has learned the president and his legal team are now reevaluating whether Mr. Trump will sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators.
But Mueller has his defenders, who are out with a new ad.
NARRATOR: Robert Mueller rescued fallen Marines under enemy fire and was awarded a Bronze Star for valor. As a prosecutor, he spent decades going after corruption, financial fraud and terrorism. As the head of the FBI under George W. Bush, Mueller has been trusted by Republicans to put America first.
ACOSTA: The White House still insists the president has the power to fire Mueller or even top officials at the Justice Department, a move that could lead to a shakeup at the special counsel's office.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president certainly has been clear that he has a very deep concern about the direction that the special counsel and other investigations have taken. This investigation started off as Russia collusion, of which there was none. It has been very clear that nothing has come up over the last year.
ACOSTA: The questions about the Mueller probe come as Republicans are in search of a new leader in the House, as Speaker Paul Ryan announced he's retiring at the end of his term, a departure that's fueling fears of a Democratic wave in the midterms.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Yes, I really -- I gave it some consideration, but I really do not believe whether I stay or go in 2019 is going to affect a person's individual race for Congress.
ACOSTA: As for the upcoming midterms, there's growing worries inside the White House and among top GOP congressional officials that Democrats will immediately seek to impeach President Trump should Republicans lose control of the House this November.
Multiple officials, Wolf, tell us that the president is aware of this concern among his advisers. As one White House source described it to me earlier today, Wolf, there's a -- quote -- "anticipation of death" about the November elections.
There's some serious hand-wringing over these midterms inside the White House tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of nervous tension right now. No doubt about that. Jim Acosta, thank you.
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.
Thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, what does it tell you that FBI agents are looking at records related to that infamous "Access Hollywood" videotape?
BLUMENTHAL: What it tells me -- and we have no certain knowledge because the investigation has been conducted with very methodical and systematic confidentiality -- is that they are looking at obstruction of justice, both in New York by Michael Cohen, concealment and hiding of evidence, money laundering, bank fraud, as well as obstruction of justice in Washington, D.C., by the president of the United States.
But there's also a link in the timing of those payments to Stormy Daniels and others, insofar as the tape's release at the time imperiled the campaign. And those payments may have been related to trying to hide or conceal that kind of evidence.
BLITZER: But could any of that, whether the Stormy Daniels, the Karen McDougal, former Playmate, or the "Access Hollywood" videotape, have any connection with the Russia probe?
BLUMENTHAL: They have possible connection to the president.
We're learning about those conversations now as a result of the excellent reporting that you have just indicated. And whether it relates to the Russia probe or not is still unknown.
BLITZER: But if it were connected to the Russia probe, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, would not have referred it, presumably, to the U.S. attorney in New York.
BLUMENTHAL: He might have asked the U.S. attorney simply to do the search warrant and conduct the raid, because logistically it might have been easier to do it in that way. Prosecutors frequently do.
But remember also, Wolf, Michael Cohen was involved in the Trump hotel negotiations in Russia. He represented Donald Trump and the Trump Organization in connection with potentially other financial transactions involving Deutsche Bank, money laundering by Russia to Deutsche Bank, which Deutsche Bank has already acknowledged. That was Donald Trump's bank.
There's a variety of potential connections to Russian collusion, but I think one of most likely connections concerns the hiding of material evidence, obstruction of evidence, potential destruction of documents, which is the reason why the FBI would have conducted this raid, not only that evidence existed, but that it was in danger of destruction. BLITZER: Does this raise the chances, do you believe, that the
president might fire Jeff Sessions, for example, the attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, Robert Mueller, the special counsel?
BLUMENTHAL: That's the timely and important question of the day.
It's the reason we have reintroduced legislation that would protect the special counsel. And, yes, it increases the threat level, clearly. The president is in substantial turmoil, upset, upheaval.
The rant and tirade that he conducted just the other day in the presence of his generals, supposedly considering the Syrian strike, indicates that he is really deeply troubled. And so it raises the very possible prospect that is also affecting my colleagues on the Republican side that he would do something rash and impulsive.
BLITZER: If the president were to fire Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is overseeing the Mueller probe, would it be possible if somebody new came in that we might never see the bottom- line collusion of Mueller's report?
Because he has to submit it to the deputy attorney general. Sessions, the attorney general, has recused himself. And then that deputy attorney general, whoever it might be, decides whether to release it, send it to Congress or whatever.
BLUMENTHAL: Firing Rod Rosenstein, in my view, would be evidence of obstruction of justice on the part of the president, because it would possibly have the effect of suppressing a report and continuing to conceal evidence, impede the investigation, intimidate the investigators, so it would be an act of very serious legal consequence, in my view, evidence of obstruction of justice.
BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news. With the president already deeply agitated about the direction of this entire Russia probe, will the focus on the "Access Hollywood" videotape infuriate him even more?
And that "Access Hollywood" bombshell first appeared right after the Obama administration revealed Russia's election cyber-attacks. Did the Trump tape overshadow the evidence of Russian meddling in the election?
I will ask the former Obama homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson. He's standing by live.
BLITZER: Our breaking news, sources tell CNN the FBI raid in New York targeting the president's lawyer sought communications between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen about that infamous "Access Hollywood" videotape, on which Mr. Trump boasted of assaulting women.
Joining us now, the former Homeland Security Secretary during the Obama administration Jeh Johnson.
Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Thanks for having me on, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, you remember October 7, 2017, very vividly.
That was the day you and the director of national intelligence issued the statement in which you concluded that the U.S. intelligence community is confidence the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, and you included U.S. political organizations.
It was a very significant day. And I will show you the timeline. We will put it up on the screen. You released that statement with James Clapper, the DNI, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. At 4:03, "The Washington Post" released the "Access Hollywood" videotape, 4:03 p.m., half-an- hour later.
And then within a half-an-hour, WikiLeaks released for the first time the John Podesta, the Hillary Clinton campaign chairman, his e-mails. What do you make of that timeline?
JOHNSON: Well, you actually left some things out about Friday, October 7.
We were also dealing with Hurricane Matthew on the Florida coast and dealing with the response there. A lot of people have found that timeline to be interesting and tend to believe that it's not coincidental.
BLITZER: What do you believe?
JOHNSON: Well, no one outside of government could have had a heads-up that at 3:30 we were going to issue that statement, which, by the way, I thought it was going to be big news, above-the-fold news.
I tend to believe that an actor, a cyber-actor, could not have acted so quickly within just a 30-minute window after that statement was released. And so I do tend to believe that it was a confluence of events that all happened to occur on Friday, October 7.
BLITZER: But do you think it was just a coincidence that WikiLeaks -- and you believe, the U.S. government believes Russia was involved in those WikiLeaks, the hacking of those confidential documents -- that it was just a coincidence that they released the Podesta e-mails an hour after you released your very damning report?
JOHNSON: I tend to believe that it was a confluence of events.
I tend not to believe that whoever released Podesta's e-mails was able to act that quickly. They were probably planning all along to release the e-mails that day.
But, as you pointed out, and others have pointed out, our statement did not get the attention that it frankly deserved, because the public and frankly the press' attention was drawn toward the "Access Hollywood" for the next several days after that.
BLITZER: What is your explanation why the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York -- and you once worked in that office when Rudy Giuliani was the U.S. attorney -- why do you believe they are so interested right now?
They raided the office, the home, the hotel room of Michael Cohen looking for information involving that "Access Hollywood" tape.
JOHNSON: That's a good question.
Prosecutors and agents do not issue search warrants on attorneys for their files, for their client files, lightly because of the attorney- client privilege. They tend to work through subpoena, request for documents.
A search warrant on an attorney's is extremely rare. And they must have viewed it as something that they really needed to do for matters of urgency. And a judge must have signed off on a search warrant authorizing that action. So, it must have been a pretty significant case that led them to act with that kind of dispatch.
BLITZER: Because it's not every day, as you correctly point out, that they go after an attorney and look for communications with the client, especially when the attorney happens to be the attorney of the president of the United States.
JOHNSON: The attorney-client privilege is generally regarded as an unqualified privilege, and law enforcement rarely goes after things that are likely to be attorney-client privilege.
BLITZER: So, how much trouble is Michael Cohen in right now?
JOHNSON: I'm not sure I would want to be in his shoes right now, and I hope he has a good lawyer.
BLITZER: Because would you conclude he was a subject of this investigation or a target of the investigation? Those are significant differences.
JOHNSON: In U.S. attorney vocabulary -- and it's hard for me to know, because I'm not involved in the investigation, but somebody who is the target of a search warrant is generally at least a subject, if not a target.
BLITZER: Yes, and potentially could be charged with some crimes.
So, how vulnerable, how much trouble is the president in right now?
JOHNSON: It's hard to say.
And I have to say it's plain that the special counsel is doing a very, very thorough investigation. And if the president has confidence in the bottom-line conclusion that there was no collusion, he ought to just see it through, let it play out. And then when Director Mueller is concluded, the president will be able to say he conducted a thorough investigation and they found nothing.
BLITZER: What do you think should happen if the president decides to fire Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, or Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, or Robert Mueller, for that matter, the special counsel?
JOHNSON: I would be very concerned.
BLITZER: Why? Tell us why.
JOHNSON: I think that would be a game-changer.
A special counsel, an independent counsel should be allowed to complete his investigation. And even Republicans in Congress, Republicans in the Senate are saying, this would be a real game- changer. And I sincerely hope the president does not go there.
BLITZER: You were the secretary of homeland security, you were federal prosecutor. You were also counsel at the Department of Defense at the Pentagon.
I want to you read this tweet. The president's really blaming this whole Russia probe on the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations. "Much of the bad blood," he tweets, "with Russia is caused by the fake and corrupt Russia investigation headed up by the all-Democrat loyalists or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all, except Rosenstein, who signed FISA and Comey letter. No collusion, so they go crazy."
The president is blaming this Russia investigation for this deterioration in U.S.-Russia relations right now, which is very dangerous.
JOHNSON: Well, I disagree with the statement.
You have to look at what prompted the investigation in the first place, which was that the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin, made a serious attempt to interfere in our democracy in 2016.
And we have to respond to that. I'm pleased that the Trump administration's Treasury Department is taking steps to respond to that, and so it's that and a variety of other things, including the situation in Syria, that is lending to the tension right now.
BLITZER: The tension is enormous. And he tweeted this earlier this morning on possibly going to war over there in Syria. He tweeted: "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at
Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming nice and new and smart. You shouldn't be partners with a gas killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it."
CNN has learned that no final decision has yet been made, but the president went ahead and telegraphed what he wants to do in that tweet this morning. What's your reaction?
JOHNSON: Which I find puzzling, given what the president has said in the past about telegraphing your military actions.
I was pleased to see from Secretary Mattis that we're still evaluating the intelligence, and it appears that no final decision has been made yet. And this will be a very, very difficult decision for the president to have to make.
BLITZER: Because, at the Department of Defense, when you were counsel over at the Department of Defense, you had to authorize military action and say it was legal, right?
JOHNSON: Absolutely. Correct.
BLITZER: So walk us through the process right now. And the joint chiefs, they have to go through, in order for the commander in chief, presumably, to go ahead and attack.
JOHNSON: Well, first, the slaughter of innocent men, women and children in this manner, I can think of no more moral imperative to take action.
But second, you've got to know what the legal authority is from a domestic and international legal basis and, probably most important, we have to know what the ramifications of military action in Syria will be. It's like a chess game, where if you take one move, you have to know what the others involved are going to do in response and be able to evaluate it in that way. And that conversation, I hope, is going on in the situation room right now.
BLITZER: Final question, a totally unrelated matter. The president's decision to order National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico right now. What's your reaction to that?
JOHNSON: There's a law against what we refer to as a Posse Comitatus. It's a law on the books since 1878, where the military cannot serve in civilian law enforcement positions. They can serve in support positions.
And so we've done this before. We did this in 2010. We did this in the Bush years, and the Guard can only serve in support situations.
Now, the president is right to note that illegal apprehensions on our southern border are down significantly from where they were 17, 18 years ago. And we ought to be focusing on the push factors in Central America that lead women and children to come to the United States in the first place. BLITZER: So put your -- you've served in various critically important
roles in the U.S. government whether the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security, federal prosecutor. When you look at all of these developments whether Syria, and the Russia probe, what's going on in the U.S.-Mexico border, all of the other issues that have come up, what worries you the most?
JOHNSON: The sheer instability of it. I worry that, in this atmosphere, the president does not have the -- I worry that he's not getting the right advice. And I worry that it may be that a lot of people right now are telling him what he wants to hear.
I have a lot of confidence in Jim Mattis, and I have a lot of confidence in John Kelly. Both of them are friends of mine. I think it's critical in this environment, when you're dealing with a serious national security issue concerning Syria, that he gets the right advice and he's able to sort it out and he gets the right mix of views. And I'm worried that right now in this environment, where he's plainly distracted by the special counsel's investigation, that he'd be able to make the right decision.
BLITZER: He may be getting a lot of good advice, but he may be ignoring a lot of that good advice, as well, from General Mattis.
JOHNSON: I hope not.
BLITZER: Yes. We'll see what happens. It's a very serious, dangerous situation that's unfolding, especially in Syria right now.
Thanks so much, Mr. Secretary, for joining us. Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of homeland security.
There's more breaking news we're following with new details of the role of the "Access Hollywood" videotape. What role did it play in the FBI raids on President Trump's lawyer in New York?
Plus, the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, now said to be on what's described as a downward slide in the West Wing. We're standing by. We're getting new information on that. We'll be right back.
[18:38:12] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight. New details of the FBI raids targeting President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Sources are now telling CNN that agents were looking for communications between Mr. Trump and Cohen regarding that infamous "Access Hollywood" videotape that captured Donald Trump boasting about groping women.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, major new developments in the story tonight. Update our viewers.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. This is another indication of just how far prosecutors are going to find out what, if anything, Donald Trump knew about the efforts to suppress the alleged Stormy Daniels affair and possibly other information. We're also hearing tonight from former prosecutors that they believe
Michael Cohen is in serious legal trouble and he could face charges.
MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: So you asked me who I was having lunch with?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you have for lunch?
COHEN: His name is Tommy Deutsche.
TODD (voice-over): Michael Cohen talks about his lunch but not his legal problems as journalists track him through Manhattan.
COHEN: All right. So before you knock each other over, you're all good?
TODD: Cohen's dodge comes as CNN is learning that FBI agents who raided Cohen's office and other properties this week were looking for communications that Donald Trump may have had with Cohen related to Trump's infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, how are you? Hi.
TODD: "The New York Times" reports the FBI was also looking for evidence of whether Cohen tried to prevent damaging information about Trump from being revealed in the run-up to the 2016 election.
Tonight, former federal prosecutors tell CNN they believe Trump's personal attorney is in a serious legal jam.
SCOTT FREDERICKSON, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: This is a bizarre situation. You know, if you wrote a script about this, no one would believe it.
TODD: One key question regards comments by the president last week aboard Air Force One.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
TRUMP: No. No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael -- why did Michael Cohen make it, if there was no truth to the allegations?
TRUMP: You have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney, and you'll have to ask Michael.
[18:40:09] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: I don't know. TODD: Former prosecutors say they don't think Trump's comments on Air
Force One precipitated the FBI raid on Cohen, but they say Trump's remarks could complicate the Stormy Daniels case against Cohen.
FREDERICKSON: Well, the natural question is then, if the president didn't know about it, did he authorize it some other way? These payments to Stormy Daniels? If he didn't, why were these payments made?
TODD: Tonight former prosecutors say by conducting that raid, federal investigators must have had significant evidence on Cohen, and he could be a legal target.
PREET BHARARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: If they decided they had enough evidence to engage in very aggressive -- a very aggressive move, that the likelihood that Michael Cohen is going to be charged is high.
TODD (on camera): If Cohen is charged, what do you think he'll be charged with?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Most likely election violations, payment of money so close to the election to be an influencer of the outcome of that election.
FREDERICKSON: The other charges would be bank fraud, wire fraud. Was the bank told the truth, the purpose for obtaining these funds? If the bank was not, if there are misrepresentations, there's potential bank frauds.
TODD: Now, if Michael Cohen is charged, experts say President Trump could be drawn into some legal jeopardy in Cohen's case, if investigators find communications or other evidence that Trump knew about the payments to women or other sensitive matters.
Cohen has told CNN that he believes, in the end, it will be found that he did nothing illegal. The White House has not commented for our story -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thanks very much.
Let's get some more on the breaking news. With us, our correspondents and analysts. Dana, how concerning is this news for President Trump?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, to be named in a search warrant. It's a little bit obvious, when the FBI made such an aggressive move against his personal attorney. But, you know, Michael Cohen does other things in his life.
The fact that the president is named. The fact it is related to "Access Hollywood" is a huge deal. And it gives us a little bit more of an indication about why the president has gone so berserk about this. Because it's not -- there's no -- we don't have suspicion anymore that this is related to Donald Trump. We know.
BLITZER: Yes. It's a big deal indeed.
You know, Phil Mudd, the "Access Hollywood" videotape was released on the same day as there were other significant developments unfolding. Take a look at this graphic.
At 3:30 p.m. on October 7, 2016, the U.S. officially blames Russia for the Democratic National Committee hacks. At 4:03 p.m., "Access Hollywood" videotape released by "The Washington Post." At 4:30 p.m., WikiLeaks releases John Podesta, the Hillary Clinton campaign chairman's e-mails.
So you're smiling.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'm smiling because, look, if WikiLeaks was efficient enough to release the e-mails an hour and a half after that statement, they look a lot better than the U.S. government does. I don't buy that.
But step back. I think the issue is more significant. If you're running this investigation, one of the most significant things you're doing is putting together a three-dimensional time line over the course of a year or two.
When were there initial contacts if there were? And we know there were some between WikiLeaks and people affiliated with the Trump campaign. What happened with those contacts over time, including the release of the Podesta e-mails? And then in the midst of that year or two time line, you've got the release of e-mails in this case.
BLITZER: But I was more suspicious, not so much of the statement by the U.S. government blaming Russia for the hack, but the "Access Hollywood" videotape, which was so damning. Trump officials knew that it was coming, because "The Washington Post" alerted them earlier that they had this videotape. They wanted reaction. And then a half an hour later, the WikiLeaks dump goes forward.
MUDD: Look, I just do not believe that disjointed campaign was efficient enough to manage that kind of cooperation.
BASH: You think it was a coincidence?
MUDD: I do. There is a strategic piece that's more significant. I do not believe, over the course of months of WikiLeaks accessing this information, that the release of the e-mails in general over time was a coincidence. They were trying to influence the campaign. Whether or not they responded within 60 minutes or two hours of a government statement, I question that. That seems a little bit too efficient for me. Maybe that's just because I work in government.
BASH: Unless they find out that, as part of this raid, that they knew about this "Access Hollywood" tape prior to that and had more time than 30 minutes to plan.
BLITZER: In one of the president's tweets today, Laura, he wrote this. He said, "No collusion or obstruction," parentheses -- "(other than I fight back)." I want you to listen to a previous comment that the president made. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Here's what we'll say and everybody says. No collusion. There's no collusion. Now they're saying, "Oh, well, did he fight back." If you fight back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What does "no collusion" mean?
TRUMP: If you fight back, "Oh, it's obstruction."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is he acknowledging here that fighting back might be seen as obstruction of justice.
COATES: I think he acknowledges people have that perception but with all due respect Mr. President, that's why people are saying you are obstructing justice. There's the firing of James Comey that had something to do with that accusation.
Also, the idea there that you can always profess your innocence. No one has ever told anyone you can not come to your own defense and say that I am presumed innocent until proven guilty. He goes much further than that.
Well, you cannot do in obstruction law is try to influence, intimidate, interfere with an election in away even if you think you are entitled to do so by commenting on it. It's that bridge too far that makes people question whether he obstructed. Not simply the idea of saying, excuse me, I'm innocent.
And in fact, it was Trey Gowdy who even said if you really are innocent, you should allow it to unfold. It was never the idea you can't say and proclaim it. But you cannot try to interfere with an investigation that may, in fact, exonerate you or may convict you in some way.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, you've been doing some reporting on John Kelly, the White House chief of staff. What's the latest you're hearing?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, we're seeing how limited John Kelly's ability to influence the president truly is and though he was brought in to really in this chaotic West Wing and restrained our very impulsive president, it's been on full display this week that he just is unable to do that. And that was very evident with the president's outburst during that dinner with senior military leaders this week where he went off on the special counsel, the deputy attorney general, the attorney general, and my colleague Kevin Liptak is now reporting that John Kelly was actually horrified by that outburst.
But it's not just his standing with the president. It's also his standing in the West Wing seems to have been fractured. He's holding fewer senior staff meetings. They used to do them Monday, Wednesday, Friday. They now are only doing them one day a week.
And also, he seems to be second guessing his standing with the president, as these new staffers, Larry Kudlow and John Bolton are coming in because after we reported that the president was emboldening Anthony Scaramucci to go on cable news and attack him, John Kelly was very frustrated by that, I'm told.
So, we're seeing all this happened and we reported time and time again how John Kelly has been on thin ice, how his job has been in danger and it's ironic because he was brought in to really rein in the chaos in the West Wing. But time and time again, it's been the chaos that's saved John Kelly's job.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is ironic. You're absolutely right.
The one thing I was told is he is expressing a little bit of -- I don't know if it's remorse or just kind of an analysis of himself and of the role that the expectations when he came in were so incredibly high that he would be able to seize control, that he would be able to change not just the White House but the president and it's just not possible. It's not possible. But it is noteworthy that we haven't seen a lot of John Kelly.
COLLINS: Much less visible and much engaged.
BASH: Much more behind the scenes.
BLITZER: Phil, I'm anxious to get your thoughts because he seems to realize his days probably as the White House chief of staff are numbered right now. And I agree and I've heard the same thing that Kaitlan has heard. Not only -- and he's a retired general but the chairman of the joint chiefs, the U.S. military central commander, all the combatant commanders that are in that room with the president -- they are meeting about what to do involving Syria, and he opens it up in front of the cameras with this blistering attack on law enforcement on the special counsel. He goes after them, goes after the attorney general. That was so awkward.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let me take you in this game. I spent 25 years in that business. When you're sitting around the table with political leaders, we -- when I was in the business, used to view politics as necessary but dirty.
When you look at the advice that you give as a national security professional to politicians, the way this works is you go in and say, whether it's Syria, whether it's Iran, whether it's North Korea, here is the advice, we recognize you have a dirty job on the camera with Congress, with the American people. Sometimes it involves language that we wouldn't use but that's separate from a private conversation among professionals about what our national security advice is there.
To sit around the table, to have the president assault the American democracy in front of people who are sworn to serve Democrats, Republicans, whoever the American people elect and for him to draw them into politics as a former practitioner, you sit back and say, they've got to be saying, I have to go home and have a cocktail.
BLITZER: Because he was saying and I'm paraphrasing now, Laura, he was saying that the raids in New York on his attorney Michael Cohen was an assault on our country. He was going after the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who made a referral from the special counsel to go ahead and check this out.
COATES: And he said the attack on our nation as he's flanked by military officials. An attack our nation was the date that will live in infamy, Pearl Harbor, other things come to mind that were the attacks on our nation.
COATES: 9/11, you can go on.
Unfortunately, in more than one date that will live in infamy the United States of America. And to suggest in a personal problem to put it on the same level as an attack on our nation, as somebody who has a personal attorney issue, it shows that he lacks perspective and his own narcissism and myopia is affecting his judgment.
BLITZER: And it brings you back to Kaitlan because you would think that the president would consult with his White House chief of staff, who's a retired general himself sitting there.
[18:50:05] You would think he would say, you know, I'm going to open this meeting with all these generals and talk about the raid in New York, but if he did -- I don't know if he did or he didn't consult with John Kelly, but it was pretty humiliating.
COLLINS: Well, even if he did consult with John Kelly, he clearly didn't listen to him because that was quite an outburst. And we've reported for months how frustrated the president is with the special counsel and all of this.
And with that raid of Michael Cohen's office, his personal attorney, it really hit home for him, because Michael Cohen knows so much about the president. He's more than just a lawyer. He's like a pit bull for Donald Trump.
And he was just overheard telling someone he would rather jump out of a building than turn on the president. It just goes to show just how much he values Michael Cohen and how he knows what Michael Cohen knows and how this really hit home for him. But it also shows how much John Kelly can't influence the president, can't talk to him about not --
BLITZER: And, Dana, if the president wants to make a statement like this, don't do it in front of the generals.
BLITZER: Go into the Roosevelt Room, go into the briefing room, call the pool, the network pool to come in with the cameras, make your statement, and then move on. You don't do that in front of a meeting where you're plotting military strategy in Syria. BASH: It goes to what you were talking about with Jeh Johnson before
we came on, which is, advice. It's not necessarily that he doesn't have good people around him who have the ability to give him advice, like, please don't do this. John Kelly obviously has the ability, wherewithal, and understanding. It's a question of whether or not he listens.
Which is why, circling back to the whole notion of, will he or won't he fire Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who is in charge of the Mueller investigation, never mind Robert Mueller, that is why that is still a very open question, despite the House Speaker saying he's got assurances and other Republicans on Capitol Hill and even within the White House saying that they don't think it's going to happen. Because who knows?
COLLINS: And that's what the White House couldn't even say today, who gave Paul Ryan those assurances that the president is not going to fire the special counsel or the deputy attorney general, because they know that even though people in the White House say, oh, he's not going to fire him, they have no idea. They also said he was going to sign the spending bill and the next day on Twitter, he's threatening to veto it. Of course, he did sign it in the end. But it just goes to show you how people in this White House cannot predict at any time what the president is going to do and if they say they can, they're probably wrong.
BLITZER: And if they think they can influence the president, not necessarily the case.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more breaking news we're following in the connection between that infamous "Access Hollywood" videotape and the FBI raids on the president's lawyer. We're learning some new information tonight.
[18:57:11] BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight. The House Speaker, Paul Ryan, telling CNN that he has no plans to run for any other office. Ryan announced earlier in the day that he won't seek re-election and will leave Congress at the end of his term in January.
About 200 days to go, Dana, before the midterm elections. What does this mean for Republicans going into those House races?
BASH: We already are seeing a record number of House Republicans retiring, because they are just so afraid of the tsunami coming, they just want to evacuate. And now that includes the House speaker himself. Now, he did give believable, legitimate reasons why he's done, about his kids, about the fact they're teenagers. He doesn't just want to be a weekend dad. He lost his father when he was a teenager. That's all real and true.
But he also sees what is going on with having to do with the president of the United States and potentially with -- probably, at this point, with losing the majority in the House. So, look, they -- he is saying he's still going to fundraise. I talked to somebody in the party who said they're actually excited because the fight for who's going to be the next leader will mean that they're going to all want to out-raise each other, which is going to benefit the party.
But it's certainly tough. There's no question.
BLITZER: How does this change, if it does, Kaitlan, the president's view of this upcoming midterm election?
COLLINS: Well, he's certainly going to be concerned, even though he's very confident he can help pull these people over the line. So far, any race he's endorsed someone or gone to a rally for, he has not been table to help any of those candidates. So, it's very interesting to see what the White House is going to do looking ahead to this.
We know that the president is going to be discussing this. He had several dinners including one last week with Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, those two former campaign aides. It will be very interesting to see how that happens. Also, who the next house speaker is and how the president interacts with them. He had a very rocky relationship with Paul Ryan at times. So, it's very interesting to see how --
BASH: But he has good relations with Steve Scalise, who's --
BASH: -- the whip right now, and Kevin McCarthy.
BLITZER: And a lot can happen, Phil, between now and November in the Mueller/Russia probe that can have a big impact on the midterm elections, as well.
MUDD: Yes, but this is not about midterm elections. This is about the heart of America. America has seen itself for years as centrist, whether you're Democrat or Republican.
This is an indicator, whether you like Paul Ryan or not, he's a sensible, humane man. He's an indication of the loss of centrists, a loss of middle ground in America, in the decision about, are you for or against this? That's what the president is pushing. No compromise if you're not with me, get out. That's what happened to Paul Ryan, I think.
BLITZER: It's a sensitive moment right now, Laura.
COATES: It is. I think he jumped ship and people are going to view it as that and it's going to further demoralize the Republican Party, but the midterms will tell us more about that.
BLITZER: Get ready. It's going to be exciting few months, guys.
BASH: We're always ready, Wolf.
BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.