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Pentagon: Strikes "Successfully Hit Every Target" In Syria; ; President Trump Does Victory Lap On Twitter After Syria Strikes; Haley To U.N.: "The Time For Talk Ended Last Night"; Haley: U.S. Strategy On Syria Has Not Changed; Trump Biographers: Trump Angry, Comey Embarrassed Him; NYT: Trump's Confidant See Cohen Probe As A Bigger Threat To Trump Than Mueller's Probe. Aired 12n-1pm ET

Aired April 14, 2018 - 12:00   ET





NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: A week has gone by in which we have talked. We've talked about the victims in Douma. We've talked about the Assad regime and its patrons Russia and Iran. We've spent a week talking about the unique horror of chemical weapons. The time for talk ended last night.


WHITFIELD: Overnight, the U.S., Britain and France launching a barrage of missiles, retaliating for last Saturday's alleged chemical attack in Douma that killed dozens. The isolated allied strikes aimed at crippling Syria's use of chemical weapons in the future. The Pentagon now saying those strikes successfully hit every target.

And this morning, President Trump is praising the joint military operations, saying mission accomplished. A grim reminder of a time his predecessor, George W. Bush, claimed a premature victory over the Iraq war.

All right. I want to bring in CNN's global affairs correspondent, Elise Labbot. So, Elise, was there any tension over the scope of these strikes in Syria?

ELISE LABOTT, GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Fred, I think there was a lot of debate you saw over the last couple of days among the National Security Council, the president and his advisers. You have the new National Security Adviser John Bolton, who is looking for a much more robust.

And I think as was Nikki Haley as well, but I think General Mattis, Defense Secretary Mattis and General Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are really trying to get the president to look at the bigger picture that they don't want to escalate with Russia.

Because, you know, you can hit and make your point, but they also wanted to make sure -- Mattis even said they didn't want this to escalate. That was the message they were saying to Russia. We're not trying for regime change. We're not trying to change the trajectory of the civil war, but the chemical weapons use has to be responded to and, you know, you just need to stand back and let us do what we're going to do.

WHITFIELD: Mattis saying this is limited in scope. The president had said he wanted it to be sustained or at least describing as a sustained mission. So, which is it?

LABOTT: I think it was a little bit of both. It was a one off right now, but the message, and you heard very quickly from Nikki Haley about the whole locked and loaded. If you want to use chemical weapons again, you just try us, because we will respond every time. That's the message I think they're giving right now.

WHITFIELD: The objective really to prevent another chemical attack, but not necessarily to undermine, remove Assad?

LABOTT: That's right. Look there are some people that do think there should be some regime change, but I think what you're going to see, and I'm sure the council's going to talk to this today, is what they need is a genuine strategy for ending the civil war.

You hear a lot about this so-called Geneva process where the regime and the opposition talk and try to have a political transition. I think there's going to be a real effort now to get the Russians on board, the U.S., everybody. Really trying to push forward for a genuine political process.

This Geneva thing has been going on for years but you're not really seeing any end because the civil war is not going to end. Even if the chemical weapons you stop, we've seen that the Syrian regime can use barrel bombs and other ways to kill its people.

So, I think now, now that they've answered this chemical weapons use, you're going to see a much more concerted effort to try to stop the violence in general.

WHITFIELD: It's the what now.

LABOTT: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: All right. Elise Labott, thank you so much. Appreciate that.

For more on the situation on the ground now, we turn to CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman live for us in Beirut. Ben, does it feel like mission accomplished, borrowing the words of President Trump?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it certainly doesn't, not from Damascus, not from Beirut and not from, it seems, most capitals in the Middle East. In fact, one is journalists describe it as instant gratification but end of the day, much ado about nothing because let's look at the basic facts. Last year, President Trump ordered an air strike on a Syrian air base after another chemical attack. That was 59 cruise missiles. Last night was 105. So, really, it's only less than half of -- less than twice as many were fired last year.

It certainly was more impressive in the sense that we did see some large bangs and flashes in Damascus, so the residents of the Syrian capital did experience a bit of shock and awe. But when the sun came up, many of them were surprised to see that their city was still intact.

That there were -- there was some damage to these facilities. But by and large what we see is that the Syrian regime still has the capability to continue to carry out its war against its armed opposition, the United States, Britain and France did act after the killing of more than 40 people in this alleged chemical attack outside of Damascus, but let's keep in mind some basic facts.

[12:05:03] More than half a million people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. The vast majority of whom were killed by conventional weapons, the use of which has never really mobilized the United States and its western allies to do much at all -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Ben Wedeman, thank you so much.

President Trump doing a victory lap on Twitter, praising the multi- country effort, a perfectly executed strike last night, he says, "Thank you to France and United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine military. Could not have had a better result. Mission accomplished."

White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez standing by now. So, Boris, besides the tweets, any sign of the president, do we anticipate any kind of follow-up to last night's strikes?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Fred. No public events for the president today. We are set to hear from the White House officials in just the next few hours. We're anticipating we're going to be talking about these strikes.

It is a very fine line they walk, as you heard from Elise Labott, for one, President Trump saying mission accomplished, very different from what he said last night, when he said that he was prepared to sustain this kind of pressure on Syria.

Quote, "Until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents." Echoing what we just heard from Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador at the United Nations, saying something very similar.

Kind of different from what we heard from the secretary of defense, James Mattis, who called this a one-time shot. There are still many questions about what kind of capability to use chemical weapons Bashar al-Assad still has and whether this kind of action will deter him from using them.

It hasn't in the past. The president though taking to Twitter again to sort of tout his record on the military and supporting the American military. He writes, quote, "So proud of our great military, which will soon be after the spending of billions of fully approved dollars the finest that our country has ever had.

There won't be anything or anyone even close. Of course, now the question is what comes next. Is the United States ready to respond if Assad does something like this? That's the indication we're getting from the White House.

Let's not forget that just a few weeks ago the president surprised allies and even administration officials when he said that he wanted the American presence in Syria gone soon. Unclear exactly what these latest developments, how these latest developments play into that vision long term for the United States and Syria -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then, Boris, in the president's tweet, he uses the phrase "mission accomplished," and many would think that's rather dangerous, given its history with a predecessor during the Iraq war. Is there an explanation or any psychology coming from the White House on that?

SANCHEZ: Not yet, Fred. It appears that it wasn't, you know, a deliberate reference to a phrase with a negative historical connotation. As you know, George W. Bush back in 2003 stood on an aircraft carrier with "mission accomplished" on a sign in the background. This is in reference to the Iraq war.

Many years before some of the deadliest days in that conflict. There's no indication from the White House that the president meant to evoke that occasion when he sent out that tweet -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Boris Sanchez, thanks so much from the White House. Appreciate it.

All right, Nikki Haley says the U.S. hasn't changed its strategy on Syria, but what is the strategy? And how do these U.S.-led strikes fit in? We're back with our coverage of the strikes in Syria next.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Just a short time ago, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley spoke at an emergency meeting of the Security Council.


HALEY: And just as the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons last weekend was not an isolated incident, our response is part of a new course chartered last year to deter future use of chemical weapons. Our Syrian strategy has not changed. However, the Syrian regime has forced us to take action based on their repeated use of chemical weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: All right, let's discuss with former CIA Director James Woolsey. He served as an adviser during President Trump's campaign. All right, good to see you. So, you just heard Nikki Haley say the U.S. strategy on Syria has not changed, but has it ever been clear to you what the strategy on Syria is?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Not completely. I was unsure whether they were going to adopt a limited strike approach, which they did or whether they might use more weapons and take out more of the Syrian infrastructure as General Jack Keen and others have urged.

But I think you have to pat them on the back. What they did worked. It worked with no losses of American or allied troops or pilots and they -- I think should get credit for having -- executed an extremely complex military operation and our armed forces did it well.

WHITFIELD: In your view, won't the efficacy of it be measured whether another chemical weapon attack happens or not?

WOOLSEY: Well, better efficacy is always better, but they brought this off without losing a plane, without losing a pilot, without, as far as we know, even losing a Russian. So, I think, you know, what -- they can't do everything 1,000 percent. I've been critical of them, as have a number of other people, on some of the decisions they made, but I've got to say, I was impressed by this execution that they pulled off.

[12:15:12] WHITFIELD: OK. And what about it impresses you? That because of its precision or accuracy on storage or even research facilities versus last year, the strikes were, you know, against any kind of launch sites, airfield? What impresses you most about this mission?

WOOLSEY: Well, they fired principally at three facilities, a laboratory and two operational buildings I think and apparently took them out and did a good job. They seemed to a year ago be firing much larger number of missiles, talk Tomahawks probably, but they were also shooting at a number of added targets.

I don't think that distinction matters that much. I think what matters is that they accomplished their mission and they did it without casualties to us. Indeed, even as far as we know, without casualties to the Russians either.

WHITFIELD: And now what do you believe, what do you believe the plan is going forward for the Department of Defense?

WOOLSEY: I don't know if it's the plan, but I know what I think would have a much larger effect on the approach toward complying with the U.N. resolutions and the rest for Iran and for Syria and for Russia, which is to work hard on lowering the price of oil down into, say, the 40s instead of up in the 60s and 70s.

Once you can do that, and I think there are good ways to do it, you have a Russia and a Syria that are about as sad as national governments get because that's all they have to sell and you drive the price down by a third of -- you have a not particularly assertive Russia and Syria I think and Iran in front of you.

WHITFIELD: Is it your view that the U.S. or this administration seems to be tougher on Russia when it pertains to Syria versus Russia as it pertains to the meddling of the U.S. election?

WOOLSEY: Well, it did not move as quickly as I would have liked to have seen with respect to the American elections, and it needs to get going really fast now in order that we can have voting machines that are not easily hackable and, if they are hackable, it can be fixed.

That sort of thing is at the essence of our republic. Whereas major forge issues such as with Syria and Russia, is important. It's important to do it right and I think, generally speaking, they did.

But I think losing our ability to have decent elections is far more serious, and we need to bring everything to bear, including making them very unhappy with the price of oil to help bring that about.

WHITFIELD: Is the timing of this strike at all curious to you one week after the alleged chemical attacks and really right in the fog of investigations heating up involving the president's personal attorney?

WOOLSEY: I don't think the General Mattis and secretary of state and president, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, were thinking at all about the Southern District of New York and filings and so forth when they made these decisions. I think they quite reasonably set those aside for somebody else to deal with and focused on the execution of this complex and successful military operation.

WHITFIELD: Can those things, in your view, be a serious distraction for the president, the commander in chief, when talking about how the U.S. engages ordeals with Syria, and at the same time, has all of these controversies involving his personal life and his orbit surrounding him?

WOOLSEY: He's got to deal with all of that, and I'm glad that it's not a range that I've had to deal with in my career in government. I've had a number of things going at once, but nothing quite as big as this.

And I -- I don't have any prediction about how the president is going to deal with this legal issue as well as the foreign policy ones. The foreign policy and strategic ones, he's dealing with well now, I think.

WHITFIELD: All right, James Woolsey, thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it.

WOOLSEY: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Much more of our coverage of the strikes on Syria and the international reaction to that attack after the break.


[12:24:29] WHITFIELD: Hello, again. Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Washington, D.C. So, just a short time ago, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley spoke at an emergency meeting of the security council and said this is not a stand along strategy on Syria.


HALEY: The United Kingdom, France and the United States acted not as revenge, not as punishment, not as a symbolic show of force. We acted to deter the future use of chemical weapons by holding the Syrian regime responsible for its atrocities against humanity.


[12:25:06] WHITFIELD: All right, joining me right now is Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, a CNN military and diplomatic analyst, and he worked in both the State Department and the Pentagon. Admiral, how did all of this unfold, in your view?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Very complicated operation but also well executed. Let's walk through it step by step. Let's first take a look at the targets that were hit. Unlike last year's attack which went after a single airfield this one went after multiple targets.

More critically, it was a more aggressive strike. It was right down the throat of Assad's chemical weapons production capabilities. Two storage facilities up in Homs were hit. Then a Barzah Research Center where research and development is done, in terms of the generation of chemical weapons.

They were effective strikes. These are pictures just released this morning. Here you can see the Barzah Research and Development Center before and then after. It's not that high resolution, but you can see those structures have well been completely destroyed.

Up in Homs, we'll look at this one. Here's a weapons storage facility. You've got three bunkers. You can see three triangles there. You can see nothing but dust and craters as a result. The second bunker they hit, you can see there's three sites here. The three red triangles. And over here, you can see those two are nothing but craters.

And this one here, way over to left. Looks like it's left untouched. That really speaks to the precision of these precision-guided missiles that were used in this attack. Now what kind of assets were used?

Well, from the sea, the president had available to him various ships and submarines. In the Mediterranean, Virginia class submarine, the "USS John Warner" fired six Tomahawks. A fringe frigate fired three from the Med.

In the Red Sea, they had the (inaudible) which fired 30 of those missiles and it was joined by the "USS Lebun" destroyer which fired seven. Another destroyer fired 23. So, lots of these Tomahawk missiles coming from the sea. He had air assets available to him as well, B-1 bombers probably out of Aludade in Qatar. They fired a missile called a joint air standoff missile, which is extremely long range of 650 miles.

Joined by British and French aircraft who also used an air launch cruise missile, it's a storm shadow they call it. In Great Britain, they call it the scalp. In France, it's the same missile, about a range of 300 miles.

What this means is all these are standoff missiles which means they can stay well out of range of any of the Russian's air defense system. Very complex operation but well execute from the sea and the air.

We talked about the sea. You've got bases all throughout the region. You can look at al Aludade (ph) was certainly a source. The French fly out of Jordan and the UAE as well so plenty of assets there in the region.

What were they up against? They were up against a significant Russian air defense system, the S-300 and S-400 which has a range of 250 miles. Puts about a 315-pound warhead. They can be easily moved around.

So, it's hard to detect them. As we can see from the results and the Pentagon saying none of their missiles were intercepted, none of these Russian air defense systems or the ones that the Syrians use had any practical value whatsoever.

WHITFIELD: Admiral, remember when you showed us the still images of that Barzah Research facility? Well, now we have some video. You're going to see the damage of the buildings. Apparently, emergency vehicles what was described to us is what you would eventually see in the imagery.

You can see the destruction that you had described this kind of, you know, precise missile attack would endure. And apparently this research facility is one that may have been paramount to the storage of these said chemicals.

KIRBY: That's what it looks hike. That's what the Pentagon talked about. It's for storage and of course, generation. This is what you call really going to the further left of the boom. Last year, they hit air facilities designed for the delivery of these chemical weapons.

This time, they went to Assad's ability to generate and store these chemicals. It had to be precise because you don't want to disperse these chemical agents into the atmosphere and cause further damage. They were precise in what they hit.

WHITFIELD: Admiral John Kirby, thanks so much for that. Appreciate it.

All right, President Trump promised a better relationship with Russia, but the past 24 hours may have dramatically changed that calculus. We'll speak with the State Department's top spokeswoman about the stakes and the potential fallout, that is next.


[12:34:15] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Washington. The U.S. is trying to use diplomatic pressure to end Syria's chemical weapons programs. The move follows a targeted joint attack with the U.S., U.K. and France overnight. The U.S. says the strikes successfully hit all intended targets in Syria. Now, diplomats are hoping the Assad regime comes to the table for a more peaceful solution.

Joining me right now by phone, State Department Spokesperson, Heather Nauert. So Heather, is that the objective that, perhaps, Assad would come to the table and diplomacy would now have a chance?

HEATHER NAUERT, STATES DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, that's what we've been pushing for all along. The United States does not take military action lightly. We have been working hard at the United Nations Security Council with the E.U. and with many of our partners and allies around the world since this president took office more than a year ago. Those efforts have failed to bear fruit so far, primarily because Russia has stepped in the way.

[12:35:11] Russia back in 2013 promised to be a guarantor, to help Syria get rid of its chemical weapons. Russia failed to do that. Russia has the ability to bring Syria to the table. Russia has failed to do so. So we call on Russia to assist Syria in helping to give up its chemical weapons. This would be a great place to start.

Syria could immediately declare all aspects of its chemical weapons program to the OPCW, that's the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons. They could destroy the remaining chemical weapons stockpiles. They could dismantle their chemical weapons program entirely. We are giving them the choice to do that. We hope they will become a responsible party.

WHITFIELD: OK. So, you underscore that there's still work to be done. So then what does the President mean when he tweets out "mission accomplished?"

NAUERT: Well, I think the President means mission accomplished in terms of, we took out insignificantly degraded three chemical weapons sites in Syria. That is significant. We hope that that will bring Syria to the table. Help Russia bring Syria to the table. We are letting them know that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.

Let's look at back -- take a look back at the number of people who have been killed. Innocent civilians in the past numerous years since this all started, 500,000. I'm here at the state department today working. I've got a book called "The Book of Dead". A list of names of Syrians that was provided to me compiled in an entire book, all these Syrians have been killed since this war started. That has got to stop.

The United States and many other countries have been pushing for the Geneva process. That's the way to get Syria eventually on the path to growing and becoming a stable country once again. It's a political solution in the long term. It's not going to happen any time soon, but that is something that we are pushing forward, pushing hard for, and that's diplomacy and that's what we're doing here at the state department.

WHITFIELD: And most globally agreed that this has got to stop except, of course, Russia and perhaps even Syria. But when you talk about --

NAUERT: And Iran, too. Yes.

WHITFIELD: Yes. But when you talk about this, perhaps, opening the door to a new day, new negotiations with Syria, this also comes on the heel of the U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley using very strong words about Russia earlier today. Take a listen.



NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We can all see that a Russian disinformation campaign is in full force this morning. But Russia's desperate attempts at deflection cannot change the facts.


WHITFIELD: So, does this represent a kind of a pivot, a new approach that the U.S. has on Russia to be harder, to be tougher on Russia, and the hope that this would be a deterrent?

NAUERT: You know, I have to tell you, at the state department from my position, I spend about 80 percent of my time just dealing with Russia disinformation and issues related to Russia. This is something that doesn't get reported on a lot, but this administration has been so tough on Russia, through many rounds of sanctions, holding Russia accountable for its bad actions in Ukraine. We've talked about the bad actions in Syria.

We know what they did in -- to the Brits up in the U.K. not long ago. We kicked out 60 diplomats. We've shut down their missions and consulates. This administration has been very tough on Russia. Some media don't like to talk about that, but it is a fact. We have been tough. And the president has personally signed off on all these Russia actions.

One of the things that I do is deal with combating Russian disinformation. There's no one better in the world about lying about U.S. role in the world than Russia is, and that's exactly what Nikki Haley was talking about.

WHITFIELD: OK. OK. Now, what about National Security Adviser John Bolton's arrival? How do you see that perhaps he is influencing this kind of tougher response or -- yes, I'd say response to what's happening in Syria?

NAUERT: We'll, I think to his response to what's happening in Syria, well, I think this is something unfortunately we've been coming to this place, because Syria has failed to become a responsible member of society. Russia has backed them in that. We have tried many times at the United Nations. Russia has stood in the way at the United Nations of holding Syria to account.

So, with incoming -- our new national security adviser, John Bolton, he recognizes the disabling activities of Russia and recognizes that Syria is a problem that has to be addressed. As responsible parties in the world, we can't stand by when a country killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in the United States and many other country, frankly, have had enough.

WHITFIELD: For Russia or even Syria to take the U.S. seriously, does it seem congruent, the messaging that the U.S. has on Russia as it pertains to Syria versus the U.S. opinion or actions from the Trump administration on Russia when it comes to the U.S. election meddling?

[12:40:04] NAUERT: Fredricka, I would welcome you to one of my state department briefings any day. I'd love to have you. And you can see how this administration is tough on Russia. In fact, Russian trolls come after me. The Russian government comes after me because I speak facts about Russia destabilizing activities all around the world.

This administration has been tough. Some don't like to see it. Some like to choose to ignore it, but it is absolutely a fact. The president has stood behind and signed off on many levels of sanctions and activities. And I just mentioned this a short while ago, I'll mention it again. We recently kicked out 60 spies who are operating here in the United States.

I am constantly calling out Russia for its activities, its maligned influence in our 2016 election campaign. We see Russia engaged in trying to influence elections all around the world, not just in the United States. And one of the things we do here at the state department is to try to harden our defenses around the world. The department of homeland security is hardening our defenses here at home with regard to election meddling.

I would welcome you anytime at the state department. I'd love to host you here.

WHITFIELD: All right. And thank you, I'd love to take you up on that.

NAUERT: Come on up (ph).

WHITFIELD: And have you also, you know, have you also mentioned, under scored, diplomacy is still key. But if this strike did not become a deterrent, if there is another chemical attack on the horizon, then what for diplomacy, then what for U.S. action?

NAUERT: Well, I'm not going to get ahead of any activities that may or may not take place. I hope that --

WHITFIELD: But you have to be anticipating that, right? I mean strategy always has a plan "b" and "c".

NAUERT: We hope that this will be the end of Syria using chemical weapons on its own civilians.

WHITFIELD: All right. Heather Nauert, thank you so much from state department, appreciate it. All right, strikes in Syria are the big headline today. But in politics, we've seen huge developments in the past 24-hours. We'll take a close look at all of that next.


[12:46:26] All right, welcome back. Lots on the breaking news of the air strikes in Syria is all the drama over the upcoming release of James Comey's new book. President Trump fired off several angry tweets about the former FBI director yesterday. And Brian Todd has more on the president's anger at the man he fired.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump calls James Comey a "weak and untruthful slime ball". Even before excerpts of Comey's new book came out, Trump publicly slammed the man he so famously fired, often calling him a leaker and a liar.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I fired Comey, well, I turned out to do the right thing. Because you look at all of the things that he's done and the lies, and you look at what's gone on with the FBI, with the insurance policy, and all of the things that happened. It turned out I did the right thing.

TODD: Trump is venting his strongest anger towards Comey, after Comey published details of how Trump asked him to investigate allegations that Russian authorities recorded Trump watching prostitutes urinate in a hotel suite.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He said, you know, if there's even a one percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible. And I remember thinking, how could your wife think there's a one percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?

TODD: Trump biographers tells CNN, that what may be at the crux of this war between Trump and Comey is the simple fact that this episode has personally embarrassed the president.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": I think the president is deeply wounded when he is humiliated. His whole life has been about promoting how big and powerful and competent he is. The thing that he dreads the most is being shown up, to being described as less than.

TODD: Biographers say it's a lifelong pattern. Former Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter, for years, publicly insulted Trump's physical traits, firing off quotes calling Trump a short-fingered Bulgarian. During the campaign, Marco Rubio got in on it.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Have you seen his hands? They're like this. And you know what they say about men with small hands?

TODD: And Trump couldn't help himself. TRUMP: And he referred to my hands, if they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem, I guarantee you.

TODD: One of Trump's most notorious public embarrassments was at the hands of President Obama at the 2011 White House correspondents' dinner.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: No one is happier, no one is prouder, to put this birth certificate matter to rest than to Donald Trump (ph). And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter. Like did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?

TODD: A seething Trump never even attempted a smile.

MARC FISHER, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP REVEALED": And people who spoke to him afterwards said he was as angry as they've ever seen him. In fact he immediately began talking much more seriously about challenging the president, about running for president himself.

TODD: But so far, Trump hasn't publicly attacked Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. There have been only denials from the White House. But those accounts of alleged affairs would appear to have embarrassed him. Why hasn't he attacked them?

D'ANTONIO: We have to think about whether they may know more than the revealed so far. And this is a president who's sensitive to his wife's experience of all this.

TODD (on camera): Trump biographers say it's possible that the president could personally go after Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal or others he's had relationships with if they cross certain thresholds, if they produce photographs or documents embarrassing to the president. If they corner him somehow, if they cross the all- important threshold of humiliating Donald Trump. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


[12:50:15] WHITFIELD: And a possibly significant development in the investigation into President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, McClatchy reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has evidence that Cohen may have traveled to Prague in the summer of 2016. And that trip was alleged in the dossier written by former British spy Christopher steel.

The dossier claims Cohen was in Prague to meet with Russian government representatives about that country's meddling in the U.S. election. Cohen denied several times he had gone on that trip and he repeated that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about your trip to Prague, does that confirm the dossier?



WHITFIELD: All right, that was today. Joining me right now, CNN Political Commentators Maria Cardona and Jack Kingston. All right, good to see you both.


WHITFIELD: All right. So, Jack, you first. Would that be a bombshell if that really is the case, that he was in Prague, did meet with the Russian representatives as the dossier alleges after he's denied it many times?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would say it's a bombshell if he went and if there was substance. I've asked Michael, he told me personally with no one else around is he's not been there.

WHITFIELD: But he denied it publicly on other occasions too.

KINGSTON: Well, I think it would be really easy to prove that somebody was in a foreign country, particularly somebody who's a lawyer can that, and a father, a friend, a neighbor. I mean, I don't think it would be that hard to trace his movements to find out if he was there or not. Hotel records, flight records. I mean, it would all --

WHITFIELD: And those could be among the things that may have been seized from his office perhaps?

KINGSTON: Well, they could be.

WHITFIELD: It's during that raise (ph).

KINGSTON: They could be. But I think the question would be that if he had gone and if he had done something secretive that he did not want revealed, I think the easiest thing was, you know, I went, it was business, I was looking at a piece of property. He could have said that. But the fact that he's saying, I did not go, I believe as a friend of Michael's, that he's telling the truth on it.

WHITFIELD: Michael Cohen out and about. You saw him in videos today. You saw the video yesterday of him outside the hotel, you know, talking with friends, et cetera. He looks pretty relaxed, but apparently the Trump administration's a lot more worried about this investigation as it relates to the personal attorney of the president then it is about Robert Mueller's investigation. Why do you suppose that is, Maria?

CARDONA: Well, I think that speaks volumes. Because he, I think, more than anybody else is as close to Trump and his business and his business dealings and his financial issues than anybody else.

I mean, the fact that he himself called -- calls himself not just "the fixer", but he himself describes what he did or what he does for Donald Trump the same way that Tom Hagen in the movie -- the mob movie "The Godfather" describe what he did. He's consigliere (ph) and we all know Tom Hagan has covered up some pretty ugly things in that movie.

So, for Michael Cohen to describe himself as that, I think kind of speaks volumes. And I'm sorry, I'm sure he denied to you that he went to Prague. But why would he tell you the truth? Hang on, I'm not done, but why would he tell you the truth? So, I understand why Trump and the people around him are so worried about what they're going to find with Michael Cohen.

Because there's one other thing I think has thrown Michael Cohen under the bus and has put Trump in jeopardy. When he told reporters on the plane that he had no idea about the 130,000, that Michael Cohen is his lawyer, that you should ask him, and then -- yes, and then he worried about the attorney-client privilege.


CARDONA: Well, if he really didn't have anything to do with the 130,000 or wasn't worried about any illegality, why would he be concerned about that raid?

WHITFIELD: So, Jack, yes this relationship, I mean it is tight, clearly. And even the president merrily reached out to Michael Cohen according to Gloria Borger's reporting.

KINGSTON: My father-in-law was a lawyer, my brother-in-law is a lawyer. I work with it --

WHITFIELD: What did they say about it?

KINGSTON: But let me say that --

WHITFIELD: -- whether they would ask or allow a --

KINGSTON: I was going to get into this.

WHITFIELD: -- client to talk to another client who's the subject of a criminal investigation?

KINGSTON: I want to say I worked with the eighth largest law firm in the world.


KINGSTON: Lawyers are fixers. They are problem solvers. People come to law firms to solve problems. So, you know, to say --

WHITFIELD: Getting the important (INAUDIBLE) with that.


KINGSTON: I think most lawyers would like to say come to me, let me fix your problems and I'm going to charge you $500 an hour and get the job done, that's not unusual. WHITFIELD: But then if you got the attorney who is now the subject of a criminal investigation, then apparently yesterday President Trump reached out to Michael Cohen. Certainly his better attorney has probably wouldn't advise that.

KINGSTON: If I had a lawyer that had been working for me for ten-plus years in all kinds of a myriad of activities, personal level, business levels, transactional stuff, I don't think I would want somebody on a witch-hunt or a fishing extradition rifling through those fires. I think that's human nature. I don't think any of us want somebody going through their drawers.

[12:55:05] WHITFIELD: Yes. But it's an arbitrary, I mean there' are so many layers in which they had to get the green light in order to execute that. So, apparently that FBI raid was done lawfully.

KINGSTON: And I'm not saying that it's not. I do think that Mueller with an unlimited budget and an unlimited staff can be reckless. And I think we all should be concerned about the heavy hand there. I do know that Michael Cohen was cooperating.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it right there for now. Jack, Maria, always wish we had more time. But we can find more time. We'll do that --


WHITFIELD: We got a lot on the table here. All right, thanks so much, good to see you guys.

All right, next hour, our coverage of the strikes on Syria. President Trump declaring mission accomplished but the story is far from over. We're seeing the damage firsthand now. While the diplomatic fight is just beginning and could decide how this potentially ends. You're in the CNN "NEWSROOM".