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Trump Shakes Up Legal Team, Taking Stronger Stance Against Mueller; Former Trump Campaign Aide Meets with Mueller Team. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired May 2, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm @JimSciutto. That is it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Jake Tapper today, and I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Flood's zone. In an ominous shake-up, President Trump replaces White House lawyer Ty Cobb with attorney Emmet Flood who worked on President Clinton's legal impeachment team. What does that move say about the president's strategy for the Russia probe?

Hours not days. Top Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani indicates the president may still sit down with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, even as Mr. Trump fires off a new round of furious tweets. But Giuliani insists any interview with Mueller wouldn't last more than three hours. Would that be enough to satisfy the special counsel?

Mueller's new witness. Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo meets with the special counsel's team one day after slamming the Senate Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation in the strongest terms. Why is Caputo describing his meeting with the Mueller team as difficult?

And scandal score card. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt facing almost a dozen probes related to allegations of unethical behavior. Was one of those expensive foreign trips arranged by a lobbyist and registered foreign agent?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, including a dramatic new shake-up of the president's legal team. White House lawyer Ty Cobb is leaving after weeks of what a source describes as clashes with the president over his attacks on the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, Russia investigation.

At the same time, the White House says Emmet Flood will join the president's legal team. Flood represented former president Bill Clinton during his impeachment process.

Also breaking, former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo tells CNN he talked with Mueller's investigators today. Caputo describes the meeting as, quote, "difficult but fair." We'll talk about all the breaking news and more with Senator Richard

Blumenthal of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. And our reporters and experts, they are all standing by.

Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, you're learning new information about these very significant changes in the Trump legal team.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump's legal team is changing again, as you said. This time it's White House lawyer Ty Cobb who's stepping down. He had advocated caution on the president's legal team, but a source tells CNN Cobb was clashing with the president over his attacks on the special counsel's investigation.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It could be the most ominous shake-up on the Trump legal team yet. Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer who had counseled the president for months to stop attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is out.

Cobb told CNN, "I've done what I came to do in terms of managing the White House response to the special counsel's requests. I'm extremely grateful to the president and chief of staff John Kelly for the opportunity to serve my country."

But a source familiar with Cobb's departure tells CNN the White House lawyer was uncomfortable with the president's tweets hammering Mueller and wanted no part of a mudslinging campaign, making it clear he "can't go down that path."

Replacing Cobb, attorney Emmet Flood, who joins a legal team that has changed dramatically in recent weeks, adding former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and losing both Cobb and outside attorney John Dowd. Flood had worked on the legal team defending former president Bill Clinton against impeachment.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It depends upon what the meaning of the word "is" is.

ACOSTA: Democrats are pouncing on the latest chaos in Trump world.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: Nobody can stay around Donald Trump long who has a conscious and who has character and who believes in ethics. I think that's probably why Dowd left. That's why Ty Cobb left, and that's why Mr. Flood's time is limited.

ACOSTA: The president's latest tweets on the Mueller probe are a sign his legal team is getting more aggressive. Hinting he could shut down the investigation Mr. Trump tweeted, "At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the presidency and get involved."

The president is escalating his attacks on the Justice Department after Mueller warned earlier this year he may subpoena Mr. Trump to force his testimony. Democrats argue a subpoena may be necessary.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Do I want to see it? No. But if it's necessary, it should be done.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What would make it necessary?

NADLER: If he refuses to answer the questions that the special counsel deems necessary to be answered.

ACOSTA: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, told CNN's Laura Jarrett his investigators are not backing down.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: There have been people who have been making threats, privately and publicly against me for quite some time, and I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.

ACOSTA: That puts even more pressure on the president, who has told reporters repeatedly he wants to cooperate with Mueller's team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you still like testify to Special counsel Robert Mueller, sir?



TRUMP: I would like to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would do it under oath?

TRUMP: I would do it under oath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Robert Mueller will be fair to you in this larger investigation?

TRUMP: We're going to find out. Because here's what we'll say and everybody says, no collusion. There's no collusion.


ACOSTA: This latest shake-up come after the president tweeted just last month that he was happy with his legal team, calling Ty Cobb, the person who just stepped down, his quote, "special counsel." All of the indications now are pointing to the president's legal team becoming much more combative in dealing with the Russia investigation, Wolf. As one source told CNN, playing nice has not gotten them anywhere -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta over at the White House.

Let's get some more on the breaking news right now. CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is joining us. Shimon, what does the latest shake-up of the Trump legal team tell you

about which direction all this is heading?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, there is concern here that there's a subpoena now looming, perhaps, over the president. And there is every indication that by -- with this shake-up, that the president wants to take a more aggressive position and in terms of his relationship in terms of some of the back and forth that has been going on with the Mueller team.

It's very clear that Ty Cobb all along has been more of the -- on the position that they should be cooperative. All the paperwork, all the e-mails, all the records that Mueller has been requesting have gone through the White House. And his position has always been "We should give them what they ask." There are other people who are close to the president and some of the president's own attorneys who have always felt that they should be more combative and not as cooperative with the special counsel in turning over a lot of the documents that have already been turned over.

But when you think about some of the things -- when our sources that we've talked to today and how they described the relationship between the president and Ty Cobb, saying that it was a -- just kind of not a very good environment, at one point saying how there is a rancid atmosphere between Mueller and the White House; and that Ty Cobb just didn't want to be part of it anymore, you know.

And also in the end, that Ty Cobb just didn't want to continue with this playing hardball with Mueller. Ty Cobb has always been on the side of "Let's be cooperative."

So this definitely signals that the president here wants to fight and wants to fight all of the requests and then perhaps subpoena that we're about -- we could see soon.

BLITZER: The president's other new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, he told "The Washington Post" today that a Trump interview, a sit-down interview with Robert Mueller and his investigators, according to Giuliani, would need to be, quote, "max two to three hours around a narrow set of questions." Is that realistic?

PROKUPECZ: I mean, it is realistic if the prosecutors and the investigators agree to it. Right? They could be negotiating. They could be using the threat of a subpoena as a way to negotiate an interview.

But think about this, Wolf. If the president goes before a grand jury, there's a chance he could be in there all alone with prosecutors. If he's all alone, what happens then? Does he take the Fifth? Does he plead the Fifth on some of these questions? That has been something that the president's attorneys have considered.

But if he's doing an interview with prosecutors and the investigators, his attorneys are more likely to be there with him and can protect him. So yes, it is possible. But in the end, it's really going to be up to what the special counsel wants and whether or not they would agree to those kinds of conditions.

BLITZER: Yes. There's still a lot of questions unanswered. Shimon, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of the breaking news. Joining us, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.

So as you know, Senator, the departing, now, White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, says in an interview with -- and says an interview with Mueller still, he says, is on the table, but you know, Rudy Giuliani says any interview with the president would have to be a maximum of two to three hours around a narrow set of questions. Do you think Mueller should agree to Giuliani's terms?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There is no way, based on my experience as a federal prosecutor and state attorney general, that he should agree to two or three hours maximum for this interview. It should go as long as is necessary for him to be satisfied that Donald Trump is answering his questions.

He's submitted 49 questions that give Trump a road map to the topics. But not the follow-up questions.

And here's the basic truth. The president of the United States has really boxed himself into a corner. Because he has lied repeatedly and consistently in public. And Robert Mueller is going to ask questions about why he fired Jim Comey, why he gave a false statement in the interviews that he's done, if he backtracked on it, why he concocted an explanation of the June Trump Tower meeting that seems false; and these questions are going to put him in a very, very difficult position.

[17:10:02] And the turnover in his lawyers simply attests to how often and consistently he rejects the advice of his lawyers.

BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty extraordinary this turnover, especially at critical moments like this. Do you believe, Senator, that Robert Mueller should subpoena the president if he doesn't agree to an interview?

BLUMENTHAL: What's really stunning, Wolf, is that the president of the United States is refusing to cooperate in a lawful investigation.

Remember, this investigation has already produced four convictions and many more indictments, so it is far from a hoax or a witch hunt. And, yes, a subpoena will be necessary if the president fails to submit to an interview that is unlimited in length or subject matter. And that subpoena now seems increasingly necessary and unavoidable.

My hope is that Republican colleagues will stand up and speak out against the clearly mounting effort on the part of the president's surrogates in Congress to try to stifle or stymie this investigation by these frivolous requests, in fact, obstructionist requests for documents.

BLITZER: Do you believe Mueller is willing to take that step, issuing a subpoena to the president of the United States?

BLUMENTHAL: Based on the way he's conducted this investigation so far, methodically, professionally, discretely but very systematically and determinately, I believe that he will. I think he knows that Donald Trump has to submit to an interview or this investigation cannot be finished. And if he refuses, a subpoena is absolutely appropriate.

Remember the history here also in terms of legal precedent. Richard Nixon tried to defy a subpoena and the United States Supreme Court told him unanimously that no one is above the law, and he eventually complied.

Likewise, President Clinton in Clinton vs. Jones tried to resist a subpoena, and the courts rules against him. And going back to the earliest days of our Republican, Thomas Jefferson said that he, as president, couldn't be subpoenaed, and the Supreme Court told him otherwise.

So there is a body of law that supports Robert Mueller. It is consistent with his obligation. Again I come back to the spectacle of the president of the United States, who took an oath of office to faithfully execute the laws, thumbing his nose at the rule of law.

BLITZER: At the same time the Department of Justice, as you know, is refusing to hand over to Congress the Rosenstein memo detailing the scope of the special counsel's investigation. The Department of Justice says it pertains to an active criminal probe. That's why they don't want to release it, even in the face of conservative Republican pressure to get that document.

The president tweeted this this morning. I'll put it up on the screen. "A rigged system. They don't want to turn over documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why should unequal 'justice'?" "Justice" in quotes. "At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the presidency and get involved."

That certainly, to me, sounds like an ominous threat to the Department of Justice. What do you think he means by "get involved"?

BLUMENTHAL: It is more than ominous. It is severely threatening. It is a virtually over indication that he is seriously contemplating interference in this investigation, in fact, possibly firing Rosenstein. Because remember that those Republican members who were asking for these documents are threatening to impeach Rod Rosenstein.

And these threats and intimidation from Republican members of Congress are, in fact, arguably obstruction of justice. And the president's raising this possibility has no purpose except to intimidate and bully the professionalism and the dedication of the FBI and the Department of Justice, who are doing their job.

As Rod Rosenstein said just yesterday in his speech -- I believe at the Press Club -- the Department of Justice will not be extorted. It will not abandon the rule of law, because no one is above the law. And the effort to get these documents, remember, is an interference in

the investigation. They're asking for evidence that -- that inculpates individuals who may be subjects or targets so that it could be made available to those potential defendants and thereby enable them to avoid the investigation. And Donald Trump's threats, I think, are more evidence of obstruction of justice, just as his allusions to pardons may be and other actions that he's taking.

[17:15:06] BLITZER: The Rosenstein event was at the Newseum here in Washington, down at the National Press Club, just to be precise on that front.

But I have in front of me here the memorandum that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is overseeing the Mueller probe, gave to Robert Mueller, the special counsel, dated August 2, 2017. You could see it up on the screen right there. You see huge chunks of it blacked out. The Department of Justice says they have to do it to protect this criminal investigation that's going on.

But as you know, Senator, the president of the United States can declassify anything he wants. That's totally legal. He can decide this is not classified information. He could release it if he wants to. What could you do in response to that?

BLUMENTHAL: That's a great question, Wolf. And it highlights the distinction that has to be made here. We're not talking about classified material that may be useful to some foreign adversary or enemy. We're talking about evidence of a crime that could compromise an investigation. Because it's useful to a potential defendant and enables that person to evade justice.

Again, it's about the rule of law. Their refusal to disclose evidence from an ongoing investigation is perfectly proper and appropriate. And Rod Rosenstein is bending over backwards -- the department is doing its level-headed best -- to satisfy the requests from Congress consistent with its obligation. And that obligation is to do law enforcement without fear or favor, without improper disclosure to potential defendants or to Congress.

BLITZER: Senator Richard Blumenthal, thanks for -- thanks for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. A former Trump campaign aide talks to the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, team. Why is he describing the meeting as difficult?


[17:21:28] BLITZER: There's more breaking news this hour. The former Trump campaign aide, Michael Caputo, meeting with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team as part of the Russia investigation.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. He's working the story for us. Manu, this comes, what, one day after Caputo talked to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia probe. Update our viewers.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Michael Caputo, former Trump campaign advisor, did meet behind closed doors with the special counsel's team earlier today, and this comes after Caputo did meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday.

Now, Caputo told me that this is a, quote, "difficult but fair" encounter that he had with the special counsel's investigation. And we do know that Michael Caputo was very close over the years and still is close with Roger Stone.

Stone is a long-time friend of President Trump. And Stone himself has come under scrutiny over contacts that he had through an intermediary with Julian Assange, head of WikiLeaks, which of course, released those hacked Clinton e-mails in the 2016 campaign season. And as well as has come to light that Stone has told associates in 2016 that he dinner with Julian Assange, something that he later said was a joke.

But undoubtedly, those are things investigators are looking at now. Caputo said he has done -- absolutely done nothing wrong. He actually released a rather scathing statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee when he met with investigators with that panel behind closed doors yesterday.

In that statement, he said that he's racking up legal bills to the tune of $125,000. He may have to relocate from upstate New York to a bigger city so he can pay off these legal bills. And he closed that -- that statement with some rather strong language and excuse my language, I'm quoting from his statement, where he told the investigators, to quote, "God damn you to Hell" because of the way that this investigation has just swept him in. When he said he's that he's done -- absolutely done nothing wrong, and he claims that there is no evidence whatsoever of collusion.

No word yet if he had those same words to Bob Mueller's team meeting behind closed doors, but he did describe it as fair, even if it was difficult -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Manu, as you know, two key Republican House members are continuing to dual with the Trump Justice Department over the Mueller investigation. What's the latest on that front?

RAJU: Yes, Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, two top members of the House Freedom Caucus, have been demanding documents for some time from Rod Rosenstein, as well as the Justice Department writ large. They've been joined by other top Republicans who chair key committees who have threatened subpoenas for a number of documents.

They have gotten a lot of documents, but Republicans want more. And these two conservatives in particular met with Rosenstein last month and demanded a very significant document that Rod Rosenstein wrote detailing the scope of the Mueller investigation. That document had been heavily redacted in court filings.

Well, those two members say they want to see an unredacted version of that -- that memo to determine the scope of the Mueller probe. Now we're getting word that, in fact, the Justice Department is saying

no. They will not provide them with the access to that document, because this investigation is ongoing.

Now at the same time, those members and a few others are demanding Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, to tell them whether or not he signed off on the raid of Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, that occurred last month. No word yet from the attorney general of whether or not he did sign off on that. But no matter how he answers that question, he will get -- could face more pressure from the president, who's been very critical of his attorney general and his deputy attorney general, as these members of Congress who are allies of the president, Wolf, they really take aim at the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, asking at least Rosenstein to step aside or at least wrap up the Mueller investigation, Wolf.

[17:25:07] BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Manu, thank you.

There's more breaking news just ahead. Why President Trump's new legal team could be a sign he's about to step up his attacks on Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Plus, the EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, facing at least 11 -- yes, 11 -- ethics investigations. And now we're learning must details of one of his expensive foreign trips.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following important news over at the White House right now, where today's newly-announced change in President Trump's legal team apparently signals a more aggressive approach to the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, investigation.

[17:30:20] Let's bring in our experts, and Susan Hennessey, you're a lawyer. You've studied this closely. Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani is now one of the president's lawyers. He wants to narrow the scope of any possible sit-down interview with Mueller and his team and the president of the United States. He says no more than two or three hours on specific questions. Can he do that? Can he make a demand like that of the president?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. So certainly Mueller is going to be negotiating with them for -- to setting limits on the topics and the time in order to -- in exchange for that, sort of that voluntary cooperation. But the notion here that Mueller is going to agree to something that isn't going to be sufficient to get him the answers that he needs, that's just not going to happen.

And so we've already seen those more than four dozen topic areas, not in the individual questions. Those are just the topics that Robert Mueller wants to touch on. The idea that two to three hours is going to be even close to enough time for him to get those answers, that just isn't plausible. BLITZER: Yes, those 49 questions that were released the other day,

those are just the start. Every one of those questions can have multiple follow-ups. Every one of those questions could go on and on and on.

So this is a problem that the president potentially has. And let's say he refuses to comply with Mueller's request, Jeff. I guess the -- Mueller could go ahead and issue a subpoena.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He could. And I think that that's probably, you know, one likely scenario here.

And the president could maybe win the political fight on this, which he clearly is trying to already work on. He's trying to discredit this investigation -- really every day multiple times a day, on social media and conversations. But I think, you know, a legal fight is risky for him, to say the least here.

Now the question is how long would this take? He has always said he wants to get this over with as quickly as possible. It's one of the reasons just a couple of months ago he said, "I will sit down with Bob Mueller."

But, you know, we don't know how the Supreme Court will rule on this, but I think, you know, it's certainly a risk for him.

But what we saw today at the White House, you know, the rearranging of lawyers and bringing on, you know, someone who's very skilled both inside the House and on impeachment proceedings, I think that that's a sign the White House -- the president is taking this very seriously. He calls it a witch hunt, but he lawyered up today in a very big way, and there is a fight brewing. You know, we don't know how it will end.

BLITZER: Yes. We certainly don't. Go ahead.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One thing, you don't bring in Rudy Giuliani to de-escalate. That's probably not -- And I think --

ZELENY: Or Mr. Flood.

BROWNSTEIN: Right, exactly. I think, look, there's a lot of risk on the political side, as well. The idea of the president defying a subpoena or refusing to testify, he is, as Jeff said, making progress in discrediting the investigation among his core supporters.

But if you look at the broader electorate, a majority of Americans still clearly believe that this is a legitimate inquiry on an important subject. If you think about the trajectory of the election so far, both the special elections and the scheduled elections in 2017, the dominant force, the driving force has been the intensity of the voters who believe that Trump is unfit to be president and Republicans are not doing anything to check him or constrain him. And if they go down this road, I think it may or may not increase his own risk in 2020, but he would clearly increase the risk for Republicans in 2018.

BLITZER: A source tells us, Nia, tells CNN that Ty Cobb, who's now leaving the White House on his own, was, quote, "uncomfortable" with the Mueller tweets by the president, calling this a witch hunt and a ruse, all of that, didn't want to be part of what he called a mudslinging campaign against the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Does that suggest to you that the attacks on Mueller, the whole Russia probe are now going to even intensify?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL WRITER: Most likely. And I think part of that was Rudy Giuliani, right, who also came on in the last couple of weeks. We saw the president for the first time in March talk about the -- talk about Mueller, name him and talk about this probe being -- not having -- should not have started in the first place. And he's surrounded himself with all these Democrats.

And with the addition of this other lawyer who, as you said, has experience with impeachment there, in for the long haul, I think, looking at the long haul, looking at what might happen if some of those forces that Ron talked about happened and the House is taken over by Democrats.

So I do think you're going to see a more aggressive posturing from this team. We'll see what that means for the president. Is it more tweeting? Is it more naming Mueller in the way that he has in tweets before? And you certainly see more aggression from his allies, as well. Folks in the House, Republicans side as well as kind of talking heads on TV, basically ramping up and wanting to have this political fight. Whether it works legally, we'll see.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, his political North Star has always been rallying his base and taking the posture that most energizes and enflames his base. Why would we think in the end this will prove any different?

[17:35:04] BLITZER: You know what? Stand by. Because we're getting some new breaking news right now. Another legal battle facing the president of the United States, this time going back to his days on "The Apprentice." Stand by. We'll update you on this.


BLITZER: Breaking news. A former "Apprentice" contestant who's suing President Trump for defamation is asking for remaining recordings of his interactions with women while taping.

[17:40:04] Let's go to our national correspondent, Athena Jones.

Athena, what are you learning?


Well, this is a big deal here if this subpoena -- if these records are obtained. Summer Zervos's attorney is asking Metro Goldwyn Mayer and also the Beverly Hills Hotel for records in this defamation suit against the president. Metro Goldwyn Mayer own the archives of "The Apprentice." And they want the company to hand over all documents, video or audio that feature Summer Zervos or Trump talking about Zervos, and any recording in which Trump speaks of women in, quote, "any sexual or inappropriate manner."

That is, of course, very important, because we all remember the now infamous "Access Hollywood" tape in which the president is heard speaking in vulgar manner about women, talking about grabbing them by the genitals and saying that if you're a star, they let you do it.

Summer Zervos, when she came forward to accuse Trump of assaulting her and groping her in 2007, she came forward right before the election, October of 2016. And she -- she said, she quoted -- the then- candidate Trump speaking in the way he spoke on "Access Hollywood." And she said, "Look, you can't treat people -- you can't treat women as sexual objects simply because you're a star."

So they're hoping that those recordings will help prove that the president lied when he -- when he denied having groped Summer Zervos. The other records they're seeking are from the Beverly Hills Hotel. That is the site of one of the incidents that Zervos says -- in which Zervos says that Trump groped her. They want records of any stay by Mr. Trump from 2005 to 2009 and any documents related to Keith Schiller, his long-time bodyguard; Rhona Graff, his longtime assistant; or Ms. Zervos.

Zervos's lawyer, Mariann Wang, told me, "We are gathering evidence that will prove that defendant Trump lied when he falsely denigrated Ms. Zervos and denied sexually assaulting her." So if they receive these "Apprentice" archives, it's going to a big deal to see what else Mr. Trump has said.

BLITZER: Another legal headache for the president and his team. Thanks very much for that. Athena Jones reporting.

So Susan, you're a lawyer. What do you think? What kind of case does Summer have?

HENNESSEY: The legal question here is going to be one of presidential immunity. That doesn't expend to purely private acts. This is something that occurred before he was president. The defamatory comments were actually made during the campaign, so before he was even president of the United States.

I think what it really does show, though, is that discovery is the name of the game here and that even if he isn't -- even if he might ultimately prevail at the end, you know, he -- there might be a lot of damage done to him sort of in the interim.

BLITZER: So there's three women now with legal suits against the president. Summer Zervos, Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal. It seems to be growing.

HENDERSON: Yes, it seems to be growing. And we'll see where it goes.

In terms of the tapes from "The Apprentice," I mean, if you remember back in the campaign and even since then, those were seen as sort of the holy grail of sort of finds in terms of the campaign, in terms of seeing what Donald Trump says kind of off the record. Whether or not he said disparaging things about women, whether he said disparaging things about minority groups. So it will be interesting to see.

And you're right, I mean, this is -- this is kind of the fear of these lawsuits. Do you, in the discovery phase, and then do you get the president on the stand at some point? Because if we remember what happened with Bill Clinton, he was -- a similar thing, where he had to talk about what happened with Monica Lewinsky as part of a different lawsuit, the Paula Jones lawsuit, and that eventually got him in trouble.

BLITZER: The "Access Hollywood" videotape and audiotape among his base, among his supporters really didn't change anything. So let's say there's some more tapes that are released now from "The Apprentice." Do you think that, among his base, is really going to make much of a difference?

BROWNSTEIN: Probably not among his base. But there is a reason that his approval rating is around 40 percent when unemployment is around 4 percent. I mean, there is -- there are doubts about him personally that are inhibiting his ability to grow to the extent you would expect, given the good news in the economy.

Having said that, I think more Democrats kind of recognize that the share of voters who are going to pull away from Trump because they view him as personally unfit is pretty close to being maxed out and that, in the end, they would be more -- they have better opportunities in the 2018 election if they could fight it on the grounds of health care and the tax cut and whether he has delivered on his core promise that he would be a champion of average people.

I mean, I think -- it's not that the personal doubts haven't hurt him. It's that they may have hurt him about as much as they are going to, and if there's further erosion, it's going to be more likely to come from undercutting his argument that he is someone really looking out for average families and, in fact, has produced an agenda that is aimed more at people like him, the very top.

BLITZER: He's got, the president of the United States, he's got so many legal cases right now that he's got to deal with. Of course, the Robert Mueller probe, the separate probe in New York, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, a criminal investigation of Michael Cohen, his longtime lawyer and fixer, and all these women who are filing these lawsuits. There are a lot of legal issues the president has got to deal with.

ZELENY: No question. And he's used to this. I mean, before he was president, he was in so many lawsuits. But of course, now he has a day job and it's significantly different.

But I think the reality here, I mean, I think Ron is right in the sense that they, you know, maybe tapped out potentially in terms of his base. But I do wonder, with so many stories, would that -- you know, are they all sort of getting confusing to people and watering down the individual cases?

So we'll just have to see how these play out. I mean, important to what you said, sometimes a certain case can go in a different direction. So, boy, if he would ever get on the witness stand or through discovery, that could be a whole new ball game because his words here have come back to haunt him in some respects -- in some cases. So probably, we'll have --



BROWNSTEIN: Like the travel ban.

ZELENY: Like the travel ban, to try an example.

BROWNSTEIN: Right, yes.

ZELENY: So everything is not necessarily going to be like that "Access Hollywood" tape at the end of 2016 because, at that point, the voters were deciding between him and someone they viewed as unacceptable. It could be different now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. That's why so many of the serious lawyers don't want him to tweet. Don't even want him to talk too much right now except with teleprompter, scripted speeches, if you will.

Standby. There is more news we're following. Vice President Pence praises a convicted and pardoned former sheriff as a champion of the rule of law, raising important questions about President Trump's pardoning powers.


[17:50:56] BLITZER: Tonight, because of some eye-opening comments by Vice President Pence, there are new questions emerging about President Trump's power to issue pardons.

CNN's Brian Todd is here. Brian, tell us more about what the Vice President said to stir up this latest controversy.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Vice President Pence had a lot of compliments for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. Arpaio was convicted for contempt of court and pardoned by President Trump in a very controversial move.

The President is certainly not bashful about pardoning people. And tonight, there are serious questions over whether he might use that power to skirt the Russia investigation.


TODD (voice-over): In Arizona, Vice President Pence pays tribute to a popular former sheriff, now a Senate candidate. A man Pence called a great friend of the President. MICHAEL PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tireless champion

of strong borders and the rule of law, spent a lifetime in law enforcement, Sheriff Joe Arpaio! I'm honored to have you here.


TODD (voice-over): But that champion of the rule of law, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, was convicted for contempt of court for ignoring a judge's order to stop detaining people he suspected of being undocumented immigrants.

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Vice President Pence, he praised on the Sheriff as if he had not broken a federal law.

TODD (voice-over): President Trump pardoned Arpaio last year before Arpaio was sentenced. And tonight, a key question is being raised. Could Trump pardon his way out of the Mueller investigation?

"The New York Times" recently reported that Trump's White House attorneys last year approached lawyers for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort with the idea that Trump might pardon both of them. That was while Robert Mueller was building cases against both men. White House lawyers denied making those overtures.

Manafort has since been indicted for financial crimes and pleaded not guilty. How could a Manafort pardon help Trump in the Mueller probe?

JED SHUGERMAN, PROFESSOR OF LAW, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Pardoning Manafort would make sure that Manafort would not need to cooperate with Mueller to stay out of federal prison.

TODD (voice-over): Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and cooperated with prosecutors. But experts say, as he awaits sentencing, a pardon could still be in play for Flynn and could still help Trump in the Russia investigation.

SHUGERMAN: They would still need Flynn's cooperation, following up on any documents or any statements he's given to Mueller for a trial or for further investigation.

TODD (voice-over): Trump's lawyers consistently deny discussing pardons for anyone involved in the Russia investigation. But some legal experts say Trump could pardon Flynn and Manafort if he wanted to stymie the Mueller probe.

JAMIL JAFFER, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: The President has the ability to take whatever action he deems fit, pretty much for the reasons he sees fit. And he doesn't also have to really explain them, even. He just simply just decide to issue a pardon, and he could issue it at any point in the process.

TODD (voice-over): But other analysts say there's one part in the constitution that would prevent Trump from pardoning Flynn and Manafort, the part saying Trump has to, quote, faithfully execute the Office of the President.

SHUGERMAN: Those are duties against self-protection and self-dealing. If the President uses a pardon to get co-conspirators off the hook and so that they don't have to participate in a prosecution, that, too, would be a faithless use of the pardon power for self-dealing or self- protection against the public interest.


TODD: Now, analysts say if President Trump does pardon Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, or others, that could actually bring him political heat later on.

They say those people would be free from legal jeopardy, but they would also be -- it would also be much harder for them to plead the Fifth, harder for them not to spill what they know about the President's dealings if they're hauled before Congress for impeachment proceedings or other investigations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Brian, if the President decides to pardon Manafort or Flynn, is there anyone who would have the power to stop him?

TODD: There could be, Wolf. Legal experts say a prosecutor could actually go to a judge and say to the judge to ignore the pardon because it's not valid.

The prosecutor and then the judge could cite that part of the constitution, on the faithful execution of the Office of the President, to declare the President violated that clause and the pardon is not valid.

We don't know that that's ever been done and it may not get to that point, but it's certainly worth thinking about.

[17:55:02] BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Breaking news ahead, a top White House lawyer quits and the President hires a former Clinton impeachment lawyer. What it all means for the Russia investigation, we have new details. That's next.


BLITZER: Happening now. Lawyering up. President Trump is hiring an attorney who knows a thing or two about impeachment as a top member of his legal team calls it quits. New warnings tonight that Mr. Trump and his lawyers are ready to play hardball with the Special Counsel.

[17:59:56] Setting a timer. New Trump team member Rudy Giuliani is offering ground rules for Robert Mueller to question the President, insisting it could last only for a few hours at most. Might that persuade Mueller to make good on his subpoena threat?