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Rosenstein Consulted Ethics Adviser on Recusal Issue; Former AMI Editor Describes Favor Bank of Killed Trump Stories; Comey to Kick Off Media Blitz Promoting New Book. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 15, 2018 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:13] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: 6:00 Eastern, 3:00 in the afternoon out West. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being with us.

Right now details emerging from the family of former U.S. president George H.W. Bush. The president's wife, former first lady Barbara Bush is not week this weekend. Her health as we are told is failing and they are honoring Mrs. Bush's choice to remain home instead of seeking care at a hospital.

CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel is here with more now.

Jamie, you have spent considerable time with the Bush family. The condition of the former president is much more widely known than that of Mrs. Bush. What are her health concerns this weekend?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So what we are told, this is sad news, she is in failing health. And while people know that her husband has Parkinson's and has been in a wheelchair for quite some time, what I don't think most people are aware of is that she's been suffering from COPD and from congestive heart failure for about two years now. And it has gotten progressively worse.

Now Barbara Bush is very private. So she would not -- the first thing she would say is you shouldn't be making a big fuss about me. But the reality is she's been in and out of the hospital several times recently, suffering from shortness of breath. And the fact that the COPD has progressed. She was in the hospital on Good Friday for about a week to 10 days. She got out this past Tuesday, was doing a little bit better, but I'm told the last couple of days she really has been struggling.

And so the family decided to make the decision to go public, share what's going on, and that she has decided she does not want to go back into the hospital. That she has opted for comfort care. I would -- I don't know that that's hospice care at this point, but that she is going to stay home.

CABRERA: So as I look at the statement from the Bush family, the words that they use or that the former first lady's health is again failing, that suggests her condition is not just urgent, but becoming more and more frail. Is that your understanding from your sources?

GANGEL: Yes. I really think that that's where we are. I don't think they would have put out this statement at this time. And I'm told that her children are there, three of her children, Dora, Marvin and Neil are there. Her two other sons, former George W. Bush and former Florida governor Jeb Bush have been in to visit her this past week and are staying in touch. And, of course, her husband, former president George Bush is with her. And I'm told that it's a very difficult time, very challenging.

They have been married for 73 years. And he wrote in his book, "We are two people but we are one." It's a great love affair. And I know that this is a very hard time for them.

CABRERA: Jaime, again, knowing you have spent some time with Mrs. Bush, how does this decision of hers now near the end of her life to stay home instead of going to the hospital, how does it speak to the kind of woman she is?

GANGEL: Well, I think one thing we all know about Barbara Bush is she's pretty tough cookie. I mean, her children have a nickname for her, they call her the enforcer. And I'm told when the doctors wouldn't let her out of the hospital one day last week, she put on her clothes and she gave them that look. She was -- she was not happy about it. But I also think it speaks to a class and an elegance, and she's 92 years old and she has thought about this. And this -- she's doing it on her terms, Ana.

CABRERA: Jamie Gangel, thank you. We know you'll continue to bring us updates if there are any new developments.

And now let's head to Washington where President Trump spent some time again this morning again fuming over the FBI director he fired last year. Taking to Twitter, referring to James Comey by a new nickname slippery. He writes that Comey, quote, "always ends up badly and out of whack." And that the former head of the nation's top law enforcement agency is, in the president's words, not smart.

Let's go to CNN's White House correspondent Boris Sanchez.

Boris, the president has not let up on James Comey, especially since parts of this tell-all book went public this week. Comey called the president a liar with no humanity, driven by ego. President Trump has some choice words about James Comey as well.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. You'd imagine that the White House would rather be talking about something else, whether the successful airstrikes in Syria over the weekend, the health of the economy, et cetera, et cetera.

[18:05:08] Instead, the president is on the defensive this Sunday, anticipating a harsh interview from the former FBI director as he kicks off his media tour to promote his book, "A Higher Loyalty." One in which we should mention he describes the president as being untethered from the truth.

President Trump using his preferred method, taking to Twitter early on Sunday to launch a barrage of tweets about the former FBI director, as you noted, calling him slimy, describing him as a slime ball at one point. The president clearly unhappy about the way that Comey is depicting him. At one point, even suggesting that Comey should be in prison for a number of acts that the president has taken exception to.

Now Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about that on one of the Sunday morning talk shows. She would not go as far as the president did to suggest that Comey should be imprisoned, except to say that she believes that the Department of Justice should investigate any kind of wrongdoing.

Further, the president seemed to question one specific portion of Comey's account, in which he talks about not being able to remember whether Hillary Clinton's poll numbers had any effect on him consciously deciding to announce that the FBI was reopening the investigation into her e-mails just a few days before the 2016 election.

The president seeming to misread that portion, suggesting that Comey somehow did it to curry favor with the former secretary of State. And that might somehow help him, in the president's words, get a job. Unclear how that would work considering that Clinton has admitted that Comey's announcement of the FBI reopening their investigation hurt her chances to win the presidency.

Beyond all of that, I did want to note that I reached out to the White House, speaking to several officials, to find out if they were monitoring the situation of the former first lady, Barbara Bush's first health, dependent on this breaking news that we just got about her. They have yet to get back to me, though -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Boris Sanchez at the White House. Thanks for that.

To dig into here, let's work our way through it with our next guest, David Priess. David worked with Robert Mueller as an intelligence officer and daily briefer at the CIA. He is also the author of the "President's Book of Secrets."

David, good to have you with us. Do you follow the president's logic that Comey handled this e-mail investigation the way he did because he wanted a job under Hillary Clinton?

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Hi, Ana. Good to be with you. I don't see it that way. I don't see that Comey, who -- reasonable people can disagree about whether he handled each individual decision in the campaign and in the early time of the administration correctly. That's legit. But whether he was angling to keep a job or to try to put himself in a good position, if there was, he hasn't laid out the logic that way. And there's no reason to believe that his logic is wrong.

He was looking to make sure that it didn't look like there was interference in the election by not doing what he should have done or by doing what he should not have done. You may disagree with the way in which he did that, but I don't see anything to show that his motives were impure. CABRERA: Well, he was fired by this president, which eventually

triggered the announcement of Robert Mueller to special counsel. You know Bob Mueller. We have a picture of you with him, in fact. Do you think he's paying attention to the president's tweets?

PRIESS: I think Bob Mueller is as likely to be paying attention to the president's tweets as we would be to see a National Security adviser fired within weeks. Oh, wait, now we have a problem. I really don't think that he would do that because Bob Mueller is about as focused a person as I ever worked with at CIA or FBI. When he puts his head down and starts working on something, he is tenacious. He doesn't let go. And he does not get distracted by anything.

I can't believe he's even monitoring the tweets personally, much less doing anything, reacting to them. Because let's look back. When we have had dropped indictments throughout the Mueller investigation, they have both been a surprise to most of us when they come out, and they have not been done in reactions to tweets. Often, they are on entirely different parts of the investigation. So I really don't see a correlation between the two.

CABRERA: Now according to "The New York Times," the president's team is now more worried about the investigation into his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, than they are about the Mueller investigation. What do you make of that?

PRIESS: Frankly they should be concerned about both. There are serious allegations on both sides. And we still don't know how they intersect. That's one of the great mysteries about this whole investigation by the special counsel. He's not showing his cards. His spokesperson is the person in Washington who's oddly the quietest about this whole investigation. So we don't know what those connections are. I think they're right to be worried about both.

[18:10:02] I believe I saw Congressman Trey Gowdy out there saying this is a big deal, but it's going to be covered correctly. I think it's odd that Trey Gowdy is now the voice of reason and moderation, which few people would have guessed in November 2016, but there are some true elements there that are worth listening to.

CABRERA: In fact, let's listen to what Trey Gowdy said this morning, specifically defending the raid on Cohen which happened after Mueller contacted the U.S. attorney apparently about some potential illegal actions. Let's listen.


REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't know what Mueller was supposed to do other than what he did. He came in contact with potential criminality, potential criminality. He referred it to the U.S. attorney's Office of Jurisdiction, and he did so with the permission of Rod Rosenstein. I don't know what else he could do.


CABRERA: So you agree that that was the proper course of action. And do you see any reason why Rosenstein could be in hot water at this point?

PRIESS: I don't think so. Not according to anything having to do with his actual job. Listen, Bob Mueller was tasked when the special counsel started to look into Russian election interference and related matters and to vet his decisions through the deputy attorney general. Originally the attorney general and then the recusal delegated that down to the deputy. That is what has been done. Those boxes have been checked.

And the congressman is correct, if Bob Mueller, in the investigation, came across something that was potential criminality, he is duty-bound to investigate that. Not doing that would be the scandal. The fact that he's doing that shows that he's doing the job he was selected to do.

CABRERA: But why would he have to hand it off to somebody else instead of investigating it through his team?

PRIESS: It depends. We're not clear whether he is handing it off because he wants to or he's handing it off because he has to for some reason. I don't see much evidence for the latter. I see some good reason to say, this is best placed with the Southern District of New York, maybe that is a way to pursue that without distracting from the other efforts going on. Maybe it is just the proper thing to do. I have seen many attorneys on the program talking about this kind of thing and saying, this is not unusual. This is the way these procedures are usually handled.

One thing I can tell you is, Mueller is not going to freelance. He's not going to do something that is not traditional for the sake of being novel. That ain't his style.

CABRERA: All right. David Priess, thank you so much for your insight.

PRIESS: Thank you.

CABRERA: Still to come, poisonous gas below ground, bombs falling overhead. Survivors of the latest harrowing attack in Syria speak out exclusively to CNN. We'll bring you their stories next.


[18:16:53] CABRERA: French President Emmanuel Macron now says he convinced President Trump to stay in Syria and not withdraw U.S. forces. Macron also crediting himself for convincing Trump to limit military strikes to Syria's chemical weapons capabilities.

Meanwhile, President Trump today defended his use of the phrase "mission accomplished," the same phrase haunted President George W. Bush during the Iraq war.

Here's what the president tweeted this morning. "The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out with such precision that the only way the fake news media could demean was by my use of the term mission accomplished. I knew they would seize on this, but felt it is such a great military term, it should be brought back. Use often."

Let's talk it over with California Congressman Ro Khanna, a Democrat.

Congressman, good to have you with us. I know that you did not necessarily agree with moving forward with these strikes, but I am curious what your thoughts are about what we just heard from Macron today, and that is he convinced the president to keep troops in Syria, to not withdraw.

REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: Ana, before I answer, if I can just say I speak for all my colleagues that our thoughts are with Barbara Bush and the Bush family. She really epitomizes grace and civility.

To your point about President Macron, I -- my question is, what is our strategy? The problem here is that the president shouldn't be consulting President Macron, he needs to consult the United States Congress. He didn't come to the United States Congress for authorization. Just a week ago he was talking about pulling all our troops out, now we're striking. There's no coherent strategy. And I think I speak for many Americans, many of my Republican colleagues, who don't want us in another war and want our troops back home.

CABRERA: So you call the Syria strikes a violation of the war powers act. Would you have supported the strikes if the president had come to Congress?

KHANNA: I would not have at this time because, first, I think we should have had the U.N. go in to assess where the strikes were and assess blame. Now I think Assad is a brutal person --

CABRERA: But of course Russia vetoed that. I mean, that was up for discussion at the U.N., but Russia wouldn't let that go forward.

KHANNA: Ana, you're right. Russia vetoed the two demands. When we said we wanted troops going -- people going in to figure out who did the strikes, but in terms of whether the strikes happened, we would have been able to get that through. And actually some people in Britain proposed and the Dutch and others proposed that we do it piecemeal.

If we had just gotten the U.N. in there, that would have been a first step. And I think Assad needs to be brought up on war crimes. But I don't think that striking empty buildings is going to do anything to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. I mean, Assad is just as strong. He's going to continue to bomb civilians. And if you look at some of the reports from there, Syrian civilians, they are concerned that the atrocities may actually escalate. That Assad is going to take this as license to kill more folks. So I don't think a military solution is going to save lives.

[18:20:03] CABRERA: Certainly no one can question the suffering of the Syrian people. And so far in 2018, we know the U.S. has admitted just 11 Syrian refugees. The U.S. admitted more than 3,000 the year before, more than 15,000 refugees in 2016. If this administration is concerned enough about the humanitarian crisis to launch a military strike against Syria, should they also be concerned enough to accept more victims of the situation?

KHANNA: Absolutely. And that's some of the frustrating hypocrisy. I'm glad that there are people in the administration who see the horror of what is going on in Syria. I don't question their sincerity. It's horrific what's happening. And I hope that they will reconsider allowing some of the refugees to come to the United States, like we have in the past.

As you pointed out, we took nearly 3,000 refugees in the years before President Trump took office. Now we're taking 11. There's no reason this president shouldn't allow more refugees. And what we should work towards is regional cease-fires and actually peace that is going to help the civilians in Syria, not just to show a force for symbolic reasons.

CABRERA: Now you've talked about holding Assad accountable and accepting refugees doesn't necessarily do that, right? So what is the strategy there?

KHANNA: Well, I think he's a war criminal. I think we ought to be taking it up to have him brought to the Hague. Human Rights Watch and others have called for this. I have no doubt that he has, in the past, gassed his own people. But we need to have an evidence based approach and use the full force of international law to hold him accountable. And in the meantime, I think we need to involve Russia, Turkey, even Iran in trying to get regional cease-fires in Syria.

The concern I have is, yes, we struck empty buildings. We did nothing to mitigate Assad's power. He's going to go and strike even with greater force. Then what are we going to do? I don't think the United States should get into another war. And absent us doing that, I don't see a solution other than regional cease-fires with all the multilateral players at the table.

CABRERA: Congressman Ro Khanna, we appreciate it. Thank you for being here.

KHANNA: Ana, thank you for having me back on.

CABRERA: And now this week's "Before the Bell," here's CNN Money chief business correspondent Christine Romans -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. From trade wars to real wars, Wall Street has a long list of worries, but this week investors try to turn their attention to the fundamentals.

First quarter earnings season is underway. And it is expected to be strong. Profit growth for S&P 500 is forecast to rise more than 17 percent from a year ago. That is the best growth since the first quarter of 2011.

On Friday, JPMorgan easily topped profit estimates and CEO Jamie Dimon sounded bullish on the U.S. economy saying he is optimistic about the impact of tax reform for consumers and businesses. His comments come as we saw more wild swings on the Dow last week. Trade war fears and geopolitical tensions generated plenty of risk for the markets. Adding to the volatility this week, James Comey's book tour blitz,

furious tweets from President Trump in response could unsettle the markets.

In New York, I'm Christine Romans.


[18:28:07] CABRERA: This morning ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley weighed in on the strikes launched in response to last week's suspected chemical attack the Syrian regime carried out on its own people. Listen.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We can't control what a country does to its own people. We can condemn it, we can acknowledge it, we can try and do everything at the United Nations. I think what you've seen is the president has used a lot of sanctions, whether it's been in Venezuela, whether it's been related to Syria or it's related to Russia and human rights.

There's been a lot of things that we have done and taken action. We've never sat back and watched bad things happen. We do wait and use military force as a last response to that. But we have always acted in every way related to every incident in some form, just to let them know how much the United States condemns it.


CABRERA: CNN's Arwa Damon has been following the developments. She is joining us now from a refugee camp near the Syrian-Turkish border.

And Arwa, the Assad regime has been assessing the damage from this weekend's strikes. But you have been speaking to people who fleed (sic) for their safety who survived this horrific chemical attacks. What are you learning? What has touched you?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, despite the fact that, you know, we have been covering this since the beginning, more than seven years now, there's still always something that is very visceral when you're talking to people that have had to endure this type of violence because they can barely even put it into words. They struggle to describe the depth of the fear of what it is that they have gone through, because it's not just this one most recent chemical attack.

This particular area, in fact, has been subjected to numerous alleged chemical attacks, not to mention the regular oncoming barrage whether it's airstrikes or artillery that did, in fact, force the majority of families underground for about four months leading up to that most recent chemical attack. And we spoke to one mother, a mother of two 7-year-old twins, who was telling us that the girls, they basically lost their childhood. They were about two months old when this entire revolution now turned civil war began. And one of her daughters, as they were packing up to leave their homes

before they were evacuated to this refugee camp, was putting this little blonde doll into a cardboard box and talking to the doll and telling it, look, you might not be able to breathe, your -- you might suffocate, but at least you'll be safe from the bombings.

You see the pain on the faces of the children who still, despite everything, still manage to sometimes maintain the ability to run around and laugh. You see it expressed in various different ways throughout the generations.

We also met an elderly woman who had lost so many relatives, buried so many relatives she had lost track, but among them were also her son and two grandsons. And she said that, no, she doesn't miss home because home has caused her so much suffering.

But it was when we asked her about what her favorite memory before all of the violence was, was that she actually began to break down. And what she remembered most was how, on Fridays, all the family would get together and they were all alive.

And this is the price that the Syrian population has been and continues to pay because, despite these most recent strikes by the U.S., the U.K., and France against these suspected chemical sites, they're not going to bring about a sustainable end to the violence.

They're not going to bring about some sort of resolution that is going to end the agony of the Syrian people, Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Arwa Damon, thank you for continuing to bring us their stories to shed light on this horrific situation and the suffering they're enduring. Again, reporting from the Syria/Turkish border tonight for us.

Pope Francis, by the way, says he is deeply disturbed at the current global situation. He is appealing to political leaders to create peace in Syria.

His comments coming at his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square as the Pontiff appealed to the international community to agree on common action to end violence in war-torn regions. And he says he prays incessantly for peace.

The modern papacy will be featured tonight in the series finale of "POPE: THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN HISTORY." Here's a preview.


LIAM NEESON, ACTOR: John Paul II is perhaps the most recognizable pope of the modern era.

POPE JOHN PAUL II, BISHOP OF ROME: Deliver us, Lord, from every evil.

NEESON: Often called the T.V. pope, he brings the papacy directly into the homes of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Over the course of his 28-year reign, John Paul II makes the pope an international icon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would channel anyone to think of the names of two or three popes before JPII. No pope under any circumstance has ever had the impact that JPII had.

NEESON: Before John Paul II, the papacy is a quiet vestige of an ancient tradition. Popes are religious figureheads atop a hill in Rome, notorious for their measured diplomacy in the face of war and injustice.

REP. JEFF FORTENBERRY (R), NEBRASKA: In the earlier part of the last century, secular society wouldn't listen to papal authority and the papacy became insulated.

ANTHEA BUTLER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AND GRADUATE CHAIR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: The Pope seemed to be very far away. The Pope didn't seem to be involved in your everyday life.

NEESON: But Karol Wojtyla, the young Polish scholar who will become John Paul II, changes the face of the Catholic Church forever.


CABRERA: Don't miss it. "POPE: THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN HISTORY" concludes tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM. The question of whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should recuse himself from the Mueller investigation has been flying around Washington for months, really increasing in intensity this week.

And now, we have exclusive new information on action Rosenstein took regarding his future overseeing the Russia probe. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: Right now, details emerging from the family of former U.S. President H.W. Bush. The President's wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, is not well this weekend.

Her health, as we are told, is failing. And they're honoring Mrs. Bush's choice to remain home instead of seeking care at a hospital.

[18:40:01] And we have this just in to CNN, the White House releasing a statement about Mrs. Bush. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying, quote, the President's and first lady's prayers are with all of the Bush family during this time.

Well, there is a growing chorus among President Trump's allies calling for the recusal rather than the firing of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein is Special Counsel Robert Mueller's boss, essentially.

At issue, you may remember Rosenstein wrote a memo, outlining ways then-FBI Director James Comey had flouted DOJ protocols leading up to the 2016 election. Now, that memo was then used by President Trump to justify firing Comey.

I want to bring in CNN contributor and former Director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub.

And, Walter, thank you for being with us. Our Laura Jarrett is now reporting that over the course of Mueller's investigation, Rosenstein has actually discussed with a DOJ ethics adviser whether he should recuse himself. And he apparently has followed the advice he was given.

Does that give him more legitimacy then to stay on? Should it quiet his critics?

WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR, UNITED STATES OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Well, of course, it does. There is a reason we have government ethics officials, and there is a reason the government ethics program exists.

In fact, the standards of conduct for employees of the executive branch specifically provides that if you consult an agency ethics official and rely on their advice in good faith, you cannot be disciplined or fired for doing that.

So the idea that, somehow, the fact that these people don't like Rod Rosenstein or his substantive decisions is a basis for making him recuse simply overlooks the fact that he has done what he should.

Now, on the other hand, these same people calling for his recusal, I haven't heard a single one of them call for Don McGahn, the White House counsel to recuse. And you'll recall he has also had involvement in this matter.

So any claim that Rod Rosenstein has done something inappropriate would have to sweep Don McGahn or, prior to him, Reince Priebus or Steve Bannon or any of these individuals who have had some involvement substantively in the investigation to recuse.

Because the recusal obligation is one of not participating, which means even sitting in a meeting or deliberating or offering a recommendation or just simply being there. If Rod Rosenstein had to recuse, then Don McGahn would not be able to give any advice to the President or even sit in on any briefings.

CABRERA: I mean, I hear what you're saying --

SHAUB: So it just simply is not parallel.

CABRERA: -- but Rosenstein also is the only one who is in his current position, which is to oversee the Special Counsel investigation. And yet, if ethics officials are saying he doesn't need to recuse himself --

SHAUB: Right.

CABRERA: -- does that tell you that Rosenstein isn't actually a witness in Mueller's probe? SHAUB: Well, the standard isn't witness. Remember that Jeff Sessions

recused not because he was a possible witness but because he was actually a member of the campaign for Donald Trump and communicated with Russians during that campaign period. So the fact was that he might potentially be a subject of the investigation, and they erred on the side of caution by having him recused.

It wasn't an admission that he necessarily was a subject, but the fact was that just on its face, he could potentially be a subject, and he couldn't not recuse without actually revealing the scope of the investigation.

But these agency ethics officials have more information than you and I do. They know what the scope of the investigation is. They know what Rod Rosenstein's involvement was, and they were able to do the calculation as to whether or not he needed to recuse. And again, I go back to the safe harbor provision in the regulations.

The one other thing I'd emphasize is that there's no meaningful difference in terms of the ethics roles between actually supervising the investigation by Rod Rosenstein or Don McGahn sitting in on a meeting as the White House decides how it's going to respond to the investigation.

For purposes of the ethics roles, any participation is prohibited if you have to recuse. And it's not a question of degree.

CABRERA: You'll recall, though, the President has argued that if he is under investigation for obstruction of justice for, example, that if Mueller is actually looking into Trump's firing of Comey and Rosenstein wrote that memo that Trump used to justify Comey's firing, that he would become part of the investigation. No?

SHAUB: Well, that's a fair question to ask. The -- again, I go back to the fact that the ethics officials know more than we do.

And first of all, I don't think we've ever had any official confirmation that the President is under investigation for obstruction. And if he is, the ethics officials know more detail about the extent to which Rosenstein might be subject to that.

Let's not forget that Rosenstein was the one who turned around and appointed a Special Counsel.

It'd be very hard for anybody to argue that he interfered with the investigation in an attempt to shut it down, and then immediately turned around and appointed a Special Counsel who has far more sweeping authority and cover to go after the administration.

[18:45:08] In contrast, the President went on national T.V. and admitted publicly that his intent was to shut down the Russian investigation. So I don't think they're similarly situated at all.

CABRERA: Walter Shaub, always good to have your expertise. Thank you for laying it out there for us.

SHAUB: Thanks.

CABRERA: Payouts to a porn star and a "Playboy" playmate, alleged hush money to a doorman, stories paid for to never see the light of day. How the publisher of the "National Inquirer" reportedly protected Donald Trump in a practice called catch and kill.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[18:50:11] CABRERA: Now we know of three payments made to prevent unflattering stories about Donald Trump from going public. One, to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, one to former playmate Karen McDougal, and now a doorman of Trump Tower.

The last two both reportedly paid by "National Enquirer" publisher, AMI, a company whose boss is a friend and protector of Donald Trump.

Tom Foreman has more.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Obama Wiretapped Trump." "Hillary: Corrupt! Racist Criminal!"

In lurid attacks on politicians, the "National Enquirer" hits hard, fast.

But when it comes to Donald Trump, the boxing gloves come off, and the kid gloves go on. "Trump Catches Russia's White House Spy." "Trump Must Build the Wall." "Trump Takes Charge."

Why such a difference? The man in charge of that tabloid, David Pecker, is a friend of Donald Trump. And Trump is a fan of Pecker's slash and burn tactics for taking down politicians and celebrities alike.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've always said, why didn't the "National Enquirer" get the Pulitzer Prize for Edwards and O.J. Simpson and all of these things?

FOREMAN (voice-over): The mutually beneficial relationship between the two New Yorkers started in the 1990s over their shared interest in the power and value of headlines. Ever since, they've grown closer and more protective of each other's empires.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It was mostly a one-way protection. I mean, this was -- it was really a kind of hero worship on the part of Pecker.

I mean, Pecker really looked up to Donald Trump, still does. And he put his very important magazines to work for Donald Trump's interests.

FOREMAN (voice-over): For example, when the "National Enquirer" printed a ridiculously false claim about the Kennedy assassination and the father of Ted Cruz, Trump's rival for the Republican nomination, the billionaire jumped on board.

TRUMP: On the cover of the "National Enquirer" there's a picture of him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast.

FOREMAN (voice-over): In the general election, Pecker's paper raged at Hillary Clinton, attacking her health, her credibility, while giving Trump the tabloid's first and only political endorsement.

And most importantly --

KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYMATE, PLAYBOY: I know it's wrong. Like, I'm really sorry for that. I know it's a wrong thing to do.

FOREMAN (voice-over): -- several have now said Pecker's company bought the rights to stories potentially damaging to Trump just to keep them out of the public eye, a practice called catch and kill.

And at one point, an MSNBC host claimed the White House threatened to launch a hit piece on them in the "Enquirer."

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: They said, if you call the President up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story.


CABRERA: Our thanks to Tom Foreman reporting there. We're back in just a moment.


[18:5715] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: Looking for something Mr. Cohen?

BEN STILLER, ACTOR: Robert Mueller?

DE NIRO: Why don't you have a seat Mr. Cohen?

Here. Put these on.

Have you ever used a lie detector before?

STILLER: I feel like I have.


DE NIRO: Great. Did you make a payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels?


DE NIRO: And did President Trump know about it?



DE NIRO: I think you're lying.

STILLER: It was --

DE NIRO: A little.

STILLER: Yes, it was supposed to be a surprise for Stormy, like a gift.


DE NIRO: A gift?

STILLER: Yes, a gift. Like a rock you throw through her window with a note tied to it that says, stop talking.



CABRERA: As you just saw, Robert De Niro as Special Counsel Rob Mueller, and Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen. Reunited for a "Meet the Parents" parody skit.

But one person who probably isn't laughing? President Trump.

He can't seem to escape the spoofs or the troubling headlines surrounding the Russia investigation. And it's about to get worse with former FBI Director James Comey preparing to blitz the airwaves promoting his new book.

And that's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The President's favorite executive pastime is now filled with landmines.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth.

TAPPER (voice-over): Former FBI Director James Comey is everywhere, talking about golden showers, tapes, and prostitutes.

COMEY: I don't know whether the current President of the United States was with prostitutes, peeing on each other, in Moscow in 2013.

TAPPER (voice-over): Weighing in on the President's marriage.

COMEY: He said, you know, if there's even a one percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible.

TAPPER (voice-over): And the 2016 election.

COMEY: It makes me mildly nauseous. TAPPER (voice-over): The President is boiling, calling Comey an

untruthful slimeball.

TRUMP: Look at all of the things that he's done and the lies.

TAPPER (voice-over): And the President is now trapped in a waking nightmare where no channel is safe. Not QVC.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Call now. That's three for $19.95. Call now.

TAPPER (voice-over): Not reality television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you accept this rose?

TAPPER (voice-over): Not the NBA playoffs.

TRUMP: Comey.

TAPPER (voice-over): Even the President's most trusted programs might be a risk.

ROSEANNE BARR, ACTRESS: He said he'd shake things up.

TRUMP: Look at "Roseanne."

TAPPER (voice-over): There will be no escape.

TRUMP: Oh, shut up.


CABRERA: Hello, you are in the CNN NEWSROOM. So glad you are with me this weekend. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And right now, the family of former U.S. first lady Barbara Bush is thanking the nation for prayers, for well wishes, as Mrs. Bush deals with what they are calling her failing health.

[19:00:01] Bush family sources say the former first lady is at home in Houston, being cared for there, keeping with her wishes to stay home instead of at a hospital.