Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Mueller Questions Russian Oligarch About Payments to Michael Cohen; President Trump Decides Not to Honor Iran Nuclear Deal; Secretary of State Heads to North Korea. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 8, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mission to North Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarks on a second trip to North Korea to lay the groundwork for a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. Will Pompeo be able to secure the release of three Americans being held by the Kim regime?
And flustered. Sources tell CNN that Mr. Trump is getting flustered and irritated by his new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as he creates new problems for the president with freewheeling interviews that are catching the White House off-guard. Tonight, Giuliani is pushing back.
BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following multiple breaking stories tonight and a CNN exclusive on possible new legal trouble for President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. A source tells us that special counsel Robert Mueller's team has questioned a Russian oligarch about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to Cohen after the election.
I will speak to former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara. He's standing by. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's bring in CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz and CNN reporter Kara Scannell. They're learning more about this new twist, a dramatic twist in the Mueller investigation.
Shimon, tell our viewers what you have learned.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly is dramatic, in that Mueller's investigators, we have learned, have questioned a Russian oligarch named Viktor Vekselberg about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments made to President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in 2017.
Now, the payments went from Vekselberg's New York company, it's an affiliated company, called Columbus Nova. This is a financial company that's affiliated to Viktor Vekselberg. It's run by his cousin Andrew Intrater.
And now documents that have just been posted by Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, those documents allege that $500,000 was paid to Cohen beginning in January of 2017.
Now, as you may remember, last month, the Trump administration put the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, on a list of sanctions for election interference. Now, we don't know what these payments were for. We have been told that they did have a business relationship, that there was a business relationship between Cohen and Vekselberg, but the nature of that business is not known.
We have reached out to Cohen and Vekselberg and have not heard back from them. And, of course, Wolf, this is a pretty important development here, in that we have now a situation where a Russian affiliate certain financial company, a Russian was putting money into an account belonging to Michael Cohen.
And if what -- as what Michael Avenatti has posted in those documents suggests, that this is the same account that Michael Cohen was using to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels. That is the same account, at least according to the documents that Michael Avenatti posted just moments ago.
BLITZER: The $130,000 payment he made to Stormy Daniels.
PROKUPECZ: The $130,000.
You know, Kara, what more do we know, first of all, about Vekselberg and what the FBI wanted to know from him when they questioned him?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Vekselberg is one of the most prominent businessmen in Russia. He's one of the wealthiest men also.
And he's very close to the Kremlin. And what we learned is that Vekselberg was one of the two Russian oligarchs who were stopped when their private planes landed in the U.S. earlier this year and questioned by special agents working for Mueller.
That's a very unusual move. Now, we are learning a little bit more about what was asked, in addition to questions about the payments that the U.S. affiliate made to Cohen's company. We also understand that investigators questioned Vekselberg about payments his cousin Andrew Intrater made to the Trump Victory Fund, the Trump Inauguration Fund, and the RNC in 2017.
Now, that cousin is, of course, the same -- runs that same company that made this payment to Cohen's firm. So, you can see why Mueller's investigators would be asking Vekselberg about this -- these money flows.
And, Wolf, sources also tell CNN that Mueller's investigators also questions Intrater recently as well. So we can see why Mueller's investigators are asking these questions. And now we're learning new developments about exactly what kind of money flows were happening, and exactly how big this may have been.
BLITZER: Shimon, do we know if there was anything illegal about these payments? PROKUPECZ: No, we don't know whether there's anything illegal. We
have been told by some folks that there was some kind of business arrangement. Michael Cohen's attorney has not responded to a request for comment about this and neither have the other people who are involved in this.
There are all sorts of suggestions here, obviously, Wolf, but none of which anyone has really corroborated or has made any suggestions to us in any way that Michael Cohen here was doing anything illegal.
But, however, it is important that the account that was being used to do these transactions certainly is what raised a lot of suspicion among investigators.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure that's deeply suspicious to the FBI and to the Mueller investigators.
Kara, so where do things stand with the criminal investigation under way involving Michael Cohen, the criminal investigation now led by the Southern District of New York?
SCANNELL: Well, Wolf, the -- that investigation is continuing.
As we know, the judge appointed a special master to review the horde of documents and electronic devices that the FBI seized when they raided Cohen's home, office and hotel room.
Now, the prosecutors are expected to turn over all of the information to Cohen's attorneys and that special master. They will then debate how much of it should be covered by attorney-client privilege. We may also see that some of the information about these business deals that we're talking about might come up in this case, and might end up filtering into the U.S. investigation in New York.
And we just don't know that yet. But the judge also has sent a hearing for later this month, Wolf. And we will be sure to have an update and there'll be a hearing. The prosecutors will be expected to lay out a little bit more about where they're heading.
And so we might learn some more details in about two weeks.
BLITZER: Shimon, you saw the Twitter post that Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, posted just a little while ago.
Let me read it to you and to our viewers. This is from Michael Avenatti. "After significant investigation, we have discovered that Mr. Trump's attorney, Mr. Cohen, received approximately $500,000 in the months after the election from a company controlled by a Russian oligarch with close ties to Mr. Putin. These moneys may have reimbursed the $130,000 payment."
So he's making that leap. We have not made that leap.
PROKUPECZ: We have certainly not made any kind of leaps in terms of what was the purpose of this money.
I think that's why investigators are looking at it. The issue here is central in terms of for our story is the oligarch who was affiliated with this New York company, and that's what raised the suspicion of investigators, and that that money was coming from someone who is associated with this oligarch.
We really have nothing to support what Michael Avenatti there is saying. And certainly no one we have talked to has suggested that there was anything illegal, as of right now, that was done in this situation.
BLITZER: And, Kara, Michael Avenatti also posted a document from Avenatti and Associates, his law firm, outlining all of his suspicions, all of his allegations.
He posted the executive summary, he calls it, from: "Our first preliminary report on findings may be accessed via the link below. Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen have a lot of explaining to do."
You have gone through this document. What do you think?
SCANNELL: Well, Wolf, there's a lot of information in there. We have not verified any of the allegations he's made. We have reached out to a number of the companies and individuals that are referenced there had to see if there is any additional detail they might shed on this and if they will confirm or deny these payments.
I mean, what's interesting and important to keep in mind is Michael Cohen has said in that New York court that he's had seven business clients, business and consulting clients, since he left the Trump Organization in January 2017.
These might be some of these clients. There's just a lot that we don't know. And so we have got the calls out, and we will update you when we learn a little bit more.
BLITZER: I'm sure we will be learning a lot more.
Kara, thank you very much. Shimon, thanks to you as well.
We're going to stay on top of this story. But there's other news we're following right now.
Our senior legal analyst and former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara is joining us.
And I want to get to some other developments, Preet, but what stands out to you from our most recent reporting? If you were investigating these payments, what avenues would you want to explore?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You want to explore every avenue, because it's kind of extraordinary.
I want to continue the caution of the reporters who were talking a minute ago, Shimon and Kara, to say that there's no proof of illegal activity or quid pro quo, but it's fairly extraordinary, given the lead-up to the election and after the election, that these allegations and accusations that there may have been collusion.
It's the word that the president likes to use and likes to rail about. To have money coming -- if true, money coming from directly from a Russian oligarch who is close to Vladimir Putin, who is now significant and so much on the radar screen of American officials that he's on a sanctions list, and to have money from that oligarch put directly into a lawyer's account, and that lawyer being the personal attorney for the president of the United States.
You want to know what the purpose of that payment was. What was the services that were rendered to justify that payment? It's a lot of money over a period of time that's very strange, because we said 2017. You wonder if it was before the president was sworn in or after the president was sworn in. It sounds like it was after he was made president.
So there's a lot of issues, both in terms of what other money came out of that account with respect to the payoff to Stormy Daniels' lawyer. And, also, it's just unclear what it is that the money was for.
And I think, if you're an investigator, you want to look at all sides of the transaction, want to get all sorts of documents that probably the special counsel's office or the U.S. attorney's office has.
The other thing that's odd to me is understanding the separation between the special counsel's office's investigation, because the reporting is that Bob Mueller's office and his team have been doing a lot of questioning with respect to this particular oligarch, but, at the same time, we also know that there's a portion of the investigation related to Michael Cohen that's being handled by my former office, the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.
But it does seem like there's a lot of overlap between those two, and it will be interesting to see who's handling what and why.
BLITZER: This Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, had connections, we all know, to Vladimir Putin, also, by the way, to Oleg Deripaska, an associate of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who's been charged, as you well know.
He attended that 2015 Russia Today dinner where the fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who's pleaded guilty, as you know, also appeared alongside Putin, and he's now sanctioned by the Trump administration. What does all of this say to you?
BHARARA: I think it says once again that there are a lot of contacts, there are a lot of relationships, now we know there's a lot of flow of money between and among people who it doesn't seem should have had contact with each other, particularly in light of the allegations of collusion and connection. There are appearance issues here, at a minimum, given what the
allegations have been. And, you know, you just -- you query why it is people so close to the president, whether you're talking about his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, or his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, would be associating with, taking money from, providing services to people like that oligarch.
BLITZER: The special counsel, Robert Mueller's team, they have already interviewed Vekselberg when he was stopped at an airport here in the United States upon arriving in the U.S. What do you think that might mean for Michael Cohen and, for that matter, for President Trump?
BHARARA: Well, I mean, it depends on what he said.
It depends on if he said things that were incriminating of either the president or Michael Cohen. He may not have told the truth. So, I think it's a little premature to try to draw some conclusion specifically about what the special counsel may have gleaned from that interview.
BLITZER: As the pressure clearly mounts, President Trump wanted someone to defend him more publicly. He's now getting irritated, we're told, by his new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the conflicting comments that he's made.
What happens if the president decides to get rid of Giuliani? What message does that send to Robert Mueller, for example?
BHARARA: Well, in this case, the president is right to be irritated. I think any client who had the benefit of Rudy Giuliani's ill- considered, bordering on incompetent, maybe more than bordering on incompetent, statements about not knowing the facts, focusing only on the law, being halfway familiar with some of the facts in the case, not being able to answer basic questions, and yet holding forth in an informal environment on multiple TV shows, I wouldn't retain that lawyer for much longer.
Rudy Giuliani had a storied career as the head of the office that I led more recently, but his performance, both as an optics matter, a P.R. matter, and as a legal matter, as I think everyone who has thought about it has said, has not been something that would earn the trust and satisfaction of any client.
So Donald Trump is right to be irritated. What does it say if he fires Rudy Giuliani? As I have said here many times before, on Monday, Trump loves you, on Wednesday, he hates you, on Friday, he fires you. So, it wouldn't be anything new. I don't think it signals anything other than you're going to have continued discontinuity in the president's lawyers and who represents him.
We haven't heard much from Emmet Flood. I think of all the people that have represented the president in the recent times, Emmet Flood comes with the best reputation from both sides of the aisle for being someone who's sober-reminded, understands what the law is, speaks only when he knows what he's talking about. We haven't heard much about whether -- what he's been doing, and
whether he is sort of organizing the defense in a way that is both useful to the president and also transparent with -- to the extent, you know, appropriate, transparent with the special counsel.
So, firing Giuliani, I wouldn't be surprised. But I don't think it says much of anything.
BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, Preet.
As you pointed out, Rudy Giuliani was once the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. You were the U.S. attorney for the Southern District. You have watched him in action over the years. How surprised are you by his most recent comments?
BHARARA: You know, Rudy had, again, a storied career as a prosecutor. He tried cases himself.
I think he's one of the last U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York to actually try a case personally. I don't think anyone since has. I may be wrong about that, but I don't think so.
It's just -- it's astonishing to see someone go on television, say forthrightly that they don't know what the facts are, have their client, the president of the United States, repudiate them on live national television, and say, you know, disparaging things about his lawyer, then be permitted to keep going on the air.
And one of the issues with respect to the hush payment with respect to Stormy Daniels, is whether or not -- and people are not focusing, I hope, on the personal behavior and conduct, but on whether or not that payment had to do with the election.
And so Giuliani goes on the air, as recently as Sunday, I believe, on the Sunday morning talk shows, and says in one breath that those payments were made for other reasons, personal reasons, but then also says they were also paid for campaign-related reasons.
And then he says, you know, case closed or end of case. That's not the end of the case. That's the beginning of the case. You have the words of the president's lawyer himself a linkage between a particular payment, close in time to the election. He didn't just say it on the Sean Hannity program. He said it multiple times repeatedly.
Now, the client is not always held responsible for the statements of the lawyer, but it's not a good look for him. It's not a good look for him and a good posture to be in when he's going to come in and plead a case, potentially on behalf his client, the president, with the special counsel's office.
Lawyers who don't have credibility when they come in and argue to you about how you should proceed in the case, you don't listen a lot to them, if they have said a lot of things that are self-contradictory and don't make a lot of sense. BLITZER: Finally, Preet, I want to ask you about the New York
attorney general, Eric Schneiderman.
He has resigned, as you know, only hours after that explosive article in "The New Yorker" magazine. There's already been some speculation out there that you, that you might run to replace him as the New York state attorney general. Would you consider that?
BHARARA: Wolf, if I did that, I would miss our afternoon and evening chats, so why would I give that up?
BLITZER: You could still come on the show as the attorney general of New York. We'd probably have some good questions for you. But are you serious -- are you at all serious about seeking that position?
BHARARA: Look, other people -- it's very flattering that other people have put the thought out there. I'm not putting it out there. And I'm happy doing what I'm doing right now.
BLITZER: All right. So that means maybe, is that right?
BHARARA: It means, I will let the words speak for themselves.
BLITZER: All right, Preet Bharara, whatever you decide to do, you're always welcome here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Thanks so much for joining us.
BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the Robert Mueller team's investigation of a Russian oligarch's payments to President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. How concerning is all of this for the president?
BLITZER: More now on our CNN exclusive reporting on Robert Mueller's investigation, the special counsel.
A source tells us that Mueller's team has questioned a Russian oligarch about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to President Trump's personal lawyer, longtime friend and fixer, Michael Cohen.
Let's get some more from our specialists and our analysts.
And, Michael Zeldin, from a legal perspective, what was a Russian oligarch doing funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Michael Cohen's account?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's the $64,000 question.
It could well be legitimate, that is, that the Russian oligarch was investing with Cohen. Cohen's company, to which the money, I think, flowed was set up as a real estate investment company. So it could be perfectly legitimate.
Or it could be completely illegitimate, but we just don't know yet what the facts are that underlie it, Wolf. And so we want to be careful not to reach conclusions about illegality.
BLITZER: Because the money was funneled after the election. How do you see it, Phil?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It raises two questions. And I agree with Mike we don't have answers, but we have some pretty serious questions.
That is a who and a why. Why, after an election, are you funneling money to the president's personal attorney? And a who. Who's involved with this oligarch, going back, for example, to the president's involvement with Russia and the beauty pageant? Are there people connected to the investigation who had previous connections with this individual going back years?
I tell you, there's two angles of this I'm interested in. What did Gates say and what did Flynn say? Those are two of the people who have flipped during the Mueller investigation. Are they talking about any connections with this individual during the campaign?
The second thing we're not talking about -- they're talking about interviews at the airport. There's also stories that their information, that is, their digital information, phones, for example, were mirrored. That to me says the feds have something, because that is pretty intrusive to do with somebody coming in from overseas.
ZELDIN: We do have to be careful about using words like funneled, because we don't know how the money was invested.
If it was a one -- you know, completely controlled, $500,000 or any amount, wire transfer, then that may not implicate anything that is suspicious. If it was in smaller amounts, scheduled under some reporting threshold, it's a different matter. We have to look at how the money flowed before we reach that conclusion.
BLITZER: But it's serious enough, the fact that, here, this Russian oligarch, close to Putin, a billionaire, arrives in the United States on his private jet, and Mueller's FBI team shows up and they start questioning him, because they -- I guess they must have noticed some money going to Michael Cohen.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, they must have noticed.
I agree with Michael, Wolf, that we have to be careful on a legal basis to decide whether or not anything illegal took place here. Politically, though, with each passing story, with each bit of information we get, the administration narrative that we have heard for the past year-and-a-half that, according to the president, people around him, there's nothing to see here, nothing to do with Russia, you know, the Russia investigation, a hoax, gets stretched thinner and thinner, Wolf.
Because it's harder and harder to believe -- again, we don't know if anything was illegal -- that what we're seeing is just a series of coincidences in terms of the number of folks connected to the Russian government or with ties to the Russian government having an unusual interest in the Trump administration, the Trump transition, the Trump campaign.
ZELDIN: Well, it's the interest in Cohen.
So, we haven't reached this back to Trump yet. This may be the information that Mueller received that he then gave to the Southern District of New York that opened up that investigation. We just don't know yet whether this conduct implicates the president's behavior or whether this is really at the heart of what Cohen did that has gotten himself searched and under -- serious investigation.
SWERDLICK: Well, Michael, I would say, right, we don't know if it implicates the president in anything that's a violation of the law.
But the idea, you know, based on the reporting, that money was going to the president's lawyer, his personal lawyer, someone who worked for his business, on the one hand, and also, then, I guess, the oligarch's cousin, American cousin, giving an inordinate amount of money to the president's transition committee, or rather, the inauguration committee, again, it doesn't suggest yet anything illegal.
We need to know more facts. But it does suggest that we're not just talking about a series of coincidences or that this investigation isn't on to anything.
BLITZER: And, Kaitlan, this money was put into this account, Michael Cohen's account, after, after the election, hundreds of thousands of dollars. And you cover the White House.
The president says every few hours, no collusion, no collusion, no collusion. How much of a concern, potentially, is this new information for the president?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it could be a big concern, of course, because, so far, everything that has developed with the Mueller investigation has caught the White House off-guard.
But also, separately, when the FBI raided Michael Cohen's home, office, and hotel, that also caught the White House and the president specifically off-guard. But these are two separate things, the investigation into Russian interference in the election and whether or not there was any coordination with the Trump officials and the Russians.
But, of course, it was, in part, Mueller's investigation that those investigators in New York did raid Michael Cohen's office and hotel. So that kind of brings these -- Michael Cohen to the center of these two different investigations, the Mueller investigation and the investigation into Michael Cohen in New York.
So that is the question here, the role that he plays in this. So the White House would likely have a healthy amount of concern, because, so far, they have been the last ones to find out everything. So why would we expect any differently this time?
So a healthy amount of concern, because,as we know, the president has stayed in contact with Michael Cohen throughout his time in office. I have seen Michael Cohen at the White House. Just on April 13, one of the press secretaries said, Michael Cohen was still the president's attorney.
Of course, Rudy Giuliani, his latest attorney, said on Sunday that he is no longer representing him. But it does raise a whole round of questions about whether or not -- what the president knew and what Michael Cohen was doing.
BLITZER: Let's not forget, you know, Phil Mudd, Viktor Vekselberg, this billionaire, this Russian oligarch who transferred funds into Michael Cohen's account there, he's now on the Trump administration's sanctioned list.
He's been sanctioned by the U.S. government.
MUDD: And you have got to ask a question, you know, when Mr. Cohen was talking about potential clients, I realize these are legal clients, but these names never came up.
When you look at the judicial authorization to go into Michael Cohen's hotel room, office, and home, presumably, some of that was because people had suspicions about these contacts. A judge is not going to authorize those searches, nor is a judge going to authorize you mirroring somebody's phone, going into an airport in New York, unless there's some sort of probable cause.
So, you're right, we don't know what's happened legally, but we know there's at least some smoke here to be these investigations into Michael Cohen's hotel, office, and home, and an invasion of a foreigner coming into the United States, saying, we're going to mirror your phone.
ZELDIN: I think it's more likely than not, Phil, that these were not his legal clients, that these were business relationships.
And it's that business relationship that, as you say, is at the heart of the -- sort of the roads leading between the two investigations.
And, Wolf, we have talked about if Michael Cohen were to flip, on what evidence might he be talking? And we may have a hint here, if there's something untoward, that it is something like this upon which he could provide Mueller and his team, or, rather, in this case, the Southern District of New York, that evidence that they're looking for.
COLLINS: And we know that Mueller questioned this Russian oligarch.
So, the question is, what did he say to him? What was his account of his relationship with Michael Cohen and that U.S. affiliate and how that money got to Michael Cohen's account? So that is certainly a level of concern for Michael Cohen, especially, it could come back to be a concern for the White House, because it could relate to them in that manner, that Michael Cohen may -- the president may know nothing about this, but he may know other things about President Trump that he could then reveal to investigators.
ZELDIN: And that's right. And you have to look at, not only where did the money come into, where did it come from or where did it come into, but where did it go out to and how did it go out.
COLLINS: And what was the purpose?
BLITZER: And what was the purpose of that hundreds of thousands of dollars going to Michael Cohen's account? Why was this guy, Viktor Vekselberg, sending all that money?
And it does underscore to me, David, and I assume to you as well, that Robert Mueller and his team, they have so much more knowledge, so much more information than any of us have. They have got a ton of information, probably, about every little penny that anyone got involved with in this investigation.
I mean, it's -- what seems clear from the outside looking in is that they are putting together a big puzzle, and they have got a lot of pieces, and they're slowly falling into place. Michael and I have talked about this many times over the course of the last month. That a good prosecutor -- correct me if I'm wrong -- will sort of know in advance where they're going before they start questioning people, before they start revealing information in indictment documents or in court-charging documents about what questions they want to ask or what pleadings they're going to file with the court. They've got more information than the subjects of the investigation.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. And it will be interesting, Wolf, to see whether or not the banks involved in these transactions filed suspicious activity reports and what it was that gave rise to their suspicion. Mueller will likely get that. The Southern District will likely get that, and that will lead to further indications of criminal behavior or innocent behavior.
BLITZER: As we reported, Phil, the cousin of this oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, he used an American company that he had to donate large sums of money to President Trump. Those donations, we're told, were a sharp increase from his donations in previous election cycles. You know that Mueller and his team, they've got all that data.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: And this is why this takes so long. Let me give you a quick snapshot. Think of different timelines. One is a money timeline. And you're
talking about different donations to the campaign or different financial transfers to Michael Cohen.
Overlay that by years of text messages, years of e-mails. And then you've got dozens and dozens of interviews, some of which will be lies, as we know already. You've got four or five layers of data and interviews here.
You can tell over the course of five, six, seven years, why it's so hard to determine what the truth is. Every time you swing a bat here, you hit a Russian, and you can't figure out what the end game is.
BLITZER: And once again, we're waiting for a response from Viktor Vekselberg and from Michael Cohen to get a statement. We've reached out to them. So far, no response.
There's a lot more breaking news we're following. President Trump pulls the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. How will the Iranians respond?
And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a second mission right now to North Korea. Will he bring home three Americans being held by the Kim regime?
[18:36:52] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, deep concern among some of America's closest allies after President Trump announced he's pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.
Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us.
Jim, Iran has now responded by putting its nuclear program, we're told, on standby to resume. What's the latest?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Iran is sending those signals tonight, and President Trump is rolling the nuclear dice, putting the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal.
National security adviser John Bolton told reporters earlier this afternoon that sanctions on Iran are now in the process of being reimposed. But by all appearances, the Trump administration does not have much of a plan for stopping Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons at this point. As one top European official put it, there doesn't appear to be a Plan B.
ACOSTA (voice-over): For the U.S., it's a deal no more, as President Trump abruptly pulled the U.S. out of the agreement designed by the Obama administration to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iran deal is defective at its core. Therefore, I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
ACOSTA: The president didn't hide why he's scrapping the Iran deal.
TRUMP: The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump is delivering on one of his first campaign promises: to abandon a deal he repeatedly savaged at his rallies.
TRUMP: It could go down as one of the worst deals in history.
ACOSTA: The president accused Iran of lying about its participation in the agreement despite the fact that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified at his confirmation hearing that he had no proof that Tehran was not in compliance with the deal.
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: With the information that I've been provided, I have no -- I've seen no evidence that they are not in compliance today.
ACOSTA: The Iran deal is the latest Obama policy dumped by the president, joining the Paris climate agreement, the Trans-Pacific trade deal, the DACA program protecting the DREAMers and the Obamacare individual mandate.
Obama's former secretary of state, John Kerry, who helped broker the Iran agreement, tried in vain to save the deal.
JOHN KERRY, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Our friends are safer if we stay in this agreement. We made an agreement. Iran is living by the agreement. Yes, we have concerns on the missiles, on Yemen, other things, but we should be working on those.
ACOSTA: The president instead sided with Iran deal critics like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and against leaders from important U.S. allies like France, Germany and Britain, who pleaded with Mr. Trump to stay in the deal.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: We think that what you can do is be tougher on Iran, address the concerns of the president, and not throw the baby out with the bath water, not junk a deal. Because as I say, Plan B does not seem to me to be particularly well-developed at this stage.
ACOSTA: As the president is pulling back from the Iran deal, he's moving toward his own nuclear agreement with North Korea, announcing Pompeo will meet with regime leaders to continue working on an upcoming summit.
TRUMP: We have our meeting set. The location is picked. The time and date, everything is picked, and we look forward to have a very great success.
ACOSTA: But Democrats worry the president is sending the wrong message to the North Koreans by signaling to the world that U.S. commitments are only good for one administration at a time. [18:40:05] SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: You're making
it harder to go after Hezbollah. You're making it harder to go after Iranian activities that are really dangerous. And you're probably making it harder to come to a North Korea deal.
ACOSTA: Now as for North Korea, the president was asked about the fate of the Americans being held prisoner there. Mr. Trump hinted there could be an announcement on the detainees soon. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he's in the region right now, working on their release. But he told reporters earlier this afternoon that might not be a done deal yet.
Now as for the Iran deal, there are already mixed signals coming out of Iran that they may resume their enrichment activities, while still continuing to work with the other world powers that crafted that original agreement with the Obama administration. That outcome, Wolf, may mean Iran restarts its nuclear program while isolating the U.S. from future negotiations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta with the very latest at the White House. Thanks very much.
Our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is now in the Iranian capital of Tehran. He's joining us on the phone.
So Fred, what's been the reaction so far?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, there's a lot of anger here, obviously, Wolf. And I think a lot of people -- met a lot of Iranian people who are quite disappointed by this, as well.
But I also think the Iranian government really doesn't know how it's going to react to this yet. I mean, Jim was just saying that the Iranians are saying they might try to work this deal with the other partners that are part of it, the other countries that are part of it, as some were saying they would start enriching uranium again.
I think the big wild card in all this, Wolf, is going to be the hardliners here in Iraq. One of the things that we still talk about is that for Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, it was very difficult to sell this deal here in Iran to the supreme leader and to the Revolutionary Guard. They've been saying they believe Iran got the shorter part of the stick, the shorter end of the stick in all this. And that Iran is giving up way too much in this deal.
So they've been saying, if the deal is off, the deal is off. Iran is going to have a hard line, and they will retaliate. That is certainly something that could happen.
At the same time, Wolf, you have a lot of people here in Iran who are deeply disappointed. A lot of Iranian-Americans, also, who came back to Iran, started businesses here, wanted to start businesses here in Iran once again, and they are now feeling that they're not going to have any chance.
So a lot of disappointment among many people here in Iran. And the hardliners certainly a lot stronger than they were when the deal was still in place, Wolf.
BLITZER: The president says he's willing to negotiate a new deal with Iran, if they forever give up any ambition for nuclear weapons, eliminate ballistic missiles, stop terrorism, and stop what he calls menacing actions in the Middle East. How are they going to respond to that?
PLEITGEN: Well, I think they're going to laugh that off. I mean, we're still waiting to hear what the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is going to say about this nuclear agreement, or the U.S. exiting the nuclear agreement, but it certainly seems as though Iran is going to have a harder line on pretty much all of these issues. At least in the near-term future.
Whether or not in the longer term there might be chances for some sort of new agreement, very difficult to say.
I think the first thing right now for the Iranians, Wolf, is they are going to try initially to maybe salvage this deal with the Europeans, if they feel that's something that's going to work. If they think America is going to put pressure, for instance, on European companies not to do business in Iran, then that's not going to happen. Then that deal is essentially going to be dead in the water.
And the Iranians are most probably, then, going to start their nuclear program again, going to start enriching again. Certainly right now, I think we're very, very far away from the Iranians even thinking about talking to America or trying to start some sort of new agreement for the future, Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen is on the ground for us now in Tehran. Fred, thanks very much.
There's more breaking news we're following. Getting new details from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's mission to North Korea. Will he meet again with Kim Jong-un?
[18:48:26] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: More now on the breaking news. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to North Korea in preparation for the summit between the president and the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.
Our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is over at the State Department, working the story for us.
What's the latest, Michelle? What are you learning?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, Pompeo has already landed in Pyongyang or is soon to land. We don't know for sure, but he's brought two reporters with him on the plane that were hand-picked by the administration. They are only able to get information out as communications allow.
So, so far, they've been able to talk to senior administration officials on the plane, and they kept referring to this upcoming summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as possible meeting. They kept using the word "possible." In fact, they said that the time and location of it has not even yet been nailed down.
When they were pressed by reporters on this and told, you know, that's exactly the opposite of what President Trump himself has said, they told reporters they would need to check on that, but the secretary of state himself said that was one of the main goals of this trip, was to nail down those details and establish a framework for what this discussion would look like.
Pompeo said he doesn't even know who he's going to meet with in North Korea until he lands, but he wants to make sure that the stance has truly changed, that North Korea is willing to denuclearize and he said that the administration wants to see bold steps from them, although nobody would elaborate on what bold steps would look like exactly or be, but he said he doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of the past, Wolf.
[18:50:03] BLITZER: Michelle, what about the three American detainees being held in North Korea? Is the secretary of state optimistic he can secure their release?
KOSINSKI: Right, that's key here. In fact, when we first heard about this trip days ago, it was presented to us by a source as Pompeo going over there and bringing the detainees home. But the State Department now that they've confirmed the trip at all is framing it to set the table for the Trump-Kim summit.
So, the detainees is not being presented as front and center. When Pompeo was asked about it by reporters today, he said that he has not gotten a commitment from North Korea on that issue, but was going to, of course, bring it up again and hope that North Korea did the right thing.
You know, when I talked to former State Department person who's a Korea expert, he said he can't imagine the administration going ahead with this meeting without the detainees being brought home or at least a commitment. So, you can imagine, Wolf, how much of goal that is here.
BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski over at the State Department, we'll watch it together with you very, very closely.
There's more breaking news. We'll be right back.
[18:55:49] BLITZER: More on tonight's breaking news. Kaitlan, the president has now withdrawn the U.S. from the Iran
nuclear deal. You've been getting some briefings over there at the White House. Is there a plan B? Now, what?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: There's no really concrete plan B. I mean, the administration all along has expected to do this. The president has made very clear this is something he wanted to do for months.
Of course, he renewed the sanctions for a while or the waiver for a while, and then he had new leadership in there, John Bolton, several others. The ones had convinced him to continue doing it, to stay in it, are now gone -- Rex Tillerson, McMaster, those groups.
But now the question is, what do they do going forward? How does that affect their relationship with European allies? Of course, the White House issued a readout not too long ago of President Trump's call with the French president today, French President Emmanuel Macron was at the White House last week, trying to convince the president to stay in this deal.
Today, a French diplomat said the call was very disappointing. You get that sense from readout because it's like two dozen words, and it doesn't really illuminate what they discussed. So, a lot of implications here on the table. What happens with that relationship going forward?
One thing that a lot of skeptics have said that withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal could affect is North Korea and those negotiations going forward, how is North Korea going to trust the United States? John Bolton, the new national security advisor told reporters today they weren't concerned about that. They think it sends a strong message to North Korea that the United States won't enter into inadequate deals.
That's not exactly the feeling that a lot of critics get, but that is what the White House is maintaining for right now.
BLITZER: Were you surprised -- I was wondering, because you spent a career in the intelligence community over at the CIA. Were you surprised that the president referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli intelligence for all this latest information as opposed to U.S. intelligence?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I was for a couple of Republicans. One, we had now the secretary of state, formerly the CIA Director Mike Pompeo, out recently not long ago saying, I don't see anything that suggests Iran is not complying.
Now, tomorrow, we haven't been putting two and two together. Tomorrow, the CIA nominee supported by the White House, Gina Haspel, is going to be up in an open hearing. What would you ask if you were a U.S. senator?
I can tell you what I would ask her. Why didn't he cite American intelligence? Do you agree with the Israelis that Iran is not in compliance with this deal, or do you agree with Mike Pompeo, the president just stuck his CIA nominee with a really difficult question tomorrow, and I suspect she's going to say something slightly different than what Netanyahu said.
BLITZER: So, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Mike Pompeo, now the secretary of state, former CIA director, they both said Iran is complying with the Iran nuclear deal. Just like the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors it, says the Iranian are complying as well.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right and I think the president tried to make the case this was about more than just Iranian compliance within this strict terms within the four corners of the deal document and about their behavior on the international stage. The problem though is now he's outside of a deal with a lot less leverage to bring him back to the table and negotiate a new deal.
And I think when that carries, as you were saying, to the North Korea deal, Wolf, you know, you have North Korea now able to say, look, one theory of the case is President Trump has no deal with either North Korea or Iran now. Maybe he'll be more eager to make some kind of a deal with North Korea. On the other hand, they may say look, as you said, can't go into a negotiation expecting to get out of President Trump because he's playing to a domestic audience.
BLITZER: As Pompeo is now in Pyongyang, North Korea, how do you think the North Koreans are reacting to all of this?
MUDD: I think they're looking at this saying, we knew this was going to happen all along. I think their motivations have nothing to do with their expectations out of Iran and everything to do about what we don't know. How does Kim Jong-un view his stability? What are the Chinese whispering in his ear?
One quick point, I think this really has a lot to do with Pompeo's credibility. If the president really wants a deal and Pompeo looks at this and says, this is a little squirrely, what's he going to say?
BLITZER: He's got to bring out those American detainees on this visit, right?
MUDD: You cannot --
BLITZER: The secretary of state doesn't go there unless he gets something out of it.
MUDD: Or at the very least, there's no way the president either walks into a summit and walks out and says, we have an agreement on inspections of North Korean nuclear facilities, but we don't have an agreement to bring home Americans. You can't do that.
COLLINS: And this is even heightened by the president's own attorney. The president himself tweeting "stay tuned" to see if they'll come home. Rudy Giuliani saying they're going to be released.
BLITZER: Keywords "stay tuned". We're going to stay tuned as well. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.