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CNN TONIGHT

AT&T Paid Michael Cohen $600,000; Cohen Pitched Himself Promising Access To Trump; Daniels' Lawyer Reveals E-mail Cohen Sent Days After FBI Raid To Porn Star Ex-Attorney; Guiliani Leaves His Law Firm; CNN: Alt-Right Web Domain Names Registered To Company That Paid Cohen; Rod Rosenstein Under Fire From Congress and White House; Pentagon Releases Report On Deadly Niger Ambush. Aired 11-12a ET

Aired May 10, 2018 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. It is 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast, live with all the new developments tonight. We're learning that AT&T paid more, a lot more to Michael Cohen than we originally thought. A whopping $600,000 for virtually all of last year. So what did they think they were getting for all that money?

The company confirming tonight that they paid Cohen to advice on the purchase of Time Warner among other issues. And in the face of all these new details about how Cohen promised access to the President, the White House insists tonight that Trump, quote, makes up his own mind about policy matters.

So the agreement between Michael Cohen and AT&T was made public this week by Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti who joins me now. Good evening to you, sir.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIEL'S ATTORNEY: Good evening.

LEMON: So the AT&T spokesman confirmed to CNN, and I just want to make sure I get all this legally correct here, that they hired Michael Cohen for consulting on the Time Warner merger, FCC regulations and tax reform. And then today we saw the reporting of the $600,000 not $200,000. You said that you knew they had more. Why did you -- were you just hanging onto that and what do you think of these new developments?

AVENATTI: We knew that AT&T had paid $600, we disclosed $200, because we wanted to see what was going to happen. Frankly, and the same thing with Novartis. We knew that they have paid more than approximately $400,000. We knew they paid north of the million dollars and again we wanted to see what happen. We wanted to see what Michael Cohen did, we want to see what his council did. We wanted to see what this company did. I mean, look, we are in this for long game, this is a strategic play. We are playing chess, not tic-tac- toe, and you know, look, Don, here's the bottom-line.

And this is really what it comes down to at this point, somebody's lying. There's no question about that. All right. I going to call it like I see it. Somebody's lying, either the President is lying about what he knew as it related to what Michael Cohen was doing or these companies are lying as to why they bought access from Michael Cohen and the true purposes. I mean, let's just review all the -- look, I'm just a lawyer. I'm a country lawyer so you have to bear with me here for a minute.

LEMON: From California.

2AVENATTI: From country California, country California -- I'm kidding. Michael Cohen, he is a merger specialist. He is a tax specialist. He is an FCC specialist. He is accountant. He is an aerospace specialist. He is a real estate specialist. I mean, this guy is unbelievable.

LEMON: That is why I want to talk to you about.

AVENATTI: This is all -- it is all bullshit.

LEMON: Let's talk about the AT&T --

AVENATTI: Warren cable, it's all bullshit.

LEMON: OK. So, let's talk about the AT&T part. Because AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner now. You know that is in the court, right? That has been and so the idea that AT&T would pay Michael Cohen $600,000 as -- as they said to advise them, consulting on the Time Warner merger and FCC regulations and tax reform, so take it from there. He's -- how would he -- how would he know about that?

AVENATTI: That is not -- that is not what they're purchasing. What they're buying is access. What they're buying is the ear of the President. They don't -- they're not buying access to Michael Cohen. They're not buying the ear of Michael Cohen, because Michael Cohen is not in the administration, he is not in government. Michael Cohen doesn't make decisions. They're buying on entree into the highest office in the land. I mean, it is clear as day, that is what all these companies were buying and you know what, it would be refreshing if they just came out and said that, because that is the truth.

LEMON: So, the President's spokesperson said, it was Rudy Giuliani I should say, he's lawyer said that he doesn't believe the President knew what Michael Cohen was up to, but the President also said, that he didn't know about the Stormy Daniels payoff, but as it turns out, Rudy Guiliani admit it that he did. So, who do we believe?

AVENATTI: Well, I don't believe that Mr. Trump have no idea what Michael Cohen was doing, had no idea what he was up to for the better part of January 2017 up through April of this year. I mean, you're talking about a 16-month time period. And during that time period Michael Cohen is holding himself out as the personal counsel to the President of the United States, and the President is agreeing with that all the way up through April of this year on Air Force One.

LEMON: But he is also calling himself the President's personal lawyer in e-mails. Because you put out this e-mail today and tweeted it out. It is from Michael Cohen sent -- that he sent to Keith Davidson, to Stormy Daniels' former attorney, this is on April 11 of 2018. Let's put it up there. And Michael Cohen writes, "I lost all my contacts as I had to get a new phone. Please send me all your contact information. Also why did Anthony back out of ABC to do the story? Let me know how you want to communicate." And again, what does it says his personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump.

[23:05:06] AVENATTI: Right, he is holding himself out, and this is two days after the FBI raid. So even within 48 hours after the FBI raid, he is continuing to represent himself as the President's personal attorney, his right-hand guy, if you will and --

LEMON: You too also tweeted that out and you explain, right, why, here is what you tweeted out, you said on April 9th, the FBI raided Mr. Cohen's home, office and hotel room. Within 48 hours Mr. Cohen sent the below e-mail to Mr. Davidson. Why? They had no ongoing legal matter at the time. Was it part of an attempt by Mr. Cohen to obstruct justice or worse? And then you did #basta. Do you know why they are emailing each other, walk us through why you think this e- mail -- what you think this email shows.

AVENATTI: Well, I think the e-mail shows that Michael Cohen is reaching out to Keith Davidson in an attempt to communicate with him about something. I mean this e-mail did not just come out of the blue. Now, let's back up and look at the time line. As of this date the alleged deal related to Mr. Brady (ph) is done. We know that, because the money has already started flowing, OK? Part of the report we issued. The deal with Susan McDougal -- Karen McDougal is long before finished. The deal with my client is long before finished.

So if they had an ongoing legal matter together, evidently there's a fourth woman that we haven't heard about or something else that we haven't heard about. I doubt that it's above board. So they have no reason to be communicating. Michael Cohen has no reason to be reaching out by email within 48 hours of the FBI raids. It doesn't make any sense.

LEMON: Well, here is what the spokesman for Keith Davidson told CNN, I quote, "Any suggestion that they didn't have legitimate business to discuss is patently false," and just for context Davidson told CNN, this is back in April, that he and Cohen had talked by phone after Stormy Daniels' 60 Minutes interview, and then we reported the two had worked together on a handful of cases, most recently that $1.6 million payoff to 2017, to the former Playboy model that you talked about that he had an affair with. That he alleged had an affair with -- with the top GOP donor who was rep by Cohen. So, what do you think? Do you think they -- you don't think they had legit business to discuss?

AVENATTI: What -- I mean, what was the legit business? They should come on your show, they should explain it. I mean, making these broad sweeping statements without anything to back it up means absolutely nothing. And look, I've had friends on the opposite side of cases in the past, you closed out a case, you move on, you may remain friends, but you're not as close as these two attorneys. This is highly unusual and it is highly suspect especially within 48 hours of three FBI raids.

LEMON: Keith Davidson says he is bound by attorney-client privilege, but you want him to come out and talk about this. Is that correct?

AVENATTI: No. We don't need Keith Davidson to come out and talk about per se. Why doesn't Michael Cohen come out and talk about it. I mean, first of all, Keith Davidson could come out and disclosed whatever the legal matter that he suggest that he had -- that he was dealing with Michael Cohen about that? That is not our privilege to waive. I don't know, that must be a fourth or fifth woman. I don't know what that issue is, but I am even more interested perhaps.

LEMON: So, then, that phrase at the end of the e-mail. That phrase says, let me know how you want to communicate. What does that indicate to you since they already -- they had other -- each other's e-mail?

AVENATTI: Well, that suggests that they're trying to figure out a way to communicate that is not necessarily being monitored by the FBI or law enforcement.

LEMON: How did you get this e-mail?

AVENATTI: We got it from Keith Davidson, because we've been after Keith Davidson for months now. To produce all the documents relating to my client. All the communications. We had to go through a lot, he keeps telling us that he has given us everything. Ultimately we press him more and get more information and finally we got this produce to us.

LEMON: You know, what's been scrutinized now and the way Michael Cohen and his attorneys are fighting back now, they are saying that somehow in some nefarious way that you obtained the documents yesterday, you know, through his financial documents which should not have been put out there. Where did you get them?

AVENATTI: Now, look, we're not going to disclose our sources under our work product doctrine just like any good journalist wouldn't disclose his or her sources. But look, we've done nothing wrong. If the inspector general wants to investigate where the information came from, so be it. We've got no problem with that. We're going to be proven to be completely above board. Nothing illegal took place.

And look, you know, this all about blast the messenger. They want to now take shots at our credibility, because they can't deal with the facts and evidence. They should be working on trying to explain to you and others and the American people why they're taking a half a million dollars from a Russian oligarch, why are they taking all of this money, promising this access at the same time that they want the American people to believe that Michael Cohen is a personal attorney of the President of the United States. That is where the concentration should be.

LEMON: You know what's weird to me, there is $130,000, and you think about everything that is been -- that has been uncovered. $130,000 is just let her talk and be over with.

[23:10:05]AVENATTI: But, Don, this is what happens and I said this a long time ago. This is -- you know, you pull-on a string and you don't always know where it's going to end. And history is replete with instances of this. And guess what? This is going to be the next one.

LEMON: Thank you, sir. I appreciate your time.

AVENATTI: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, why White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, says in an interview that the President is embarrassed by the Russia investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We just heard Michael Avenatti say, he thinks it's his words, highly suspect that Stormy Daniels' former attorney e-mailed Michael Cohen just two days after the FBI raid on Cohen.

I want to bring in now CNN Legal Analyst, Areva Martin, and civil rights attorney and author of "Make It Rain," also Defense Attorney, Joe Tacopina, and former Federal Prosecutor, Renato Mariotti. I like that. Martin, Tacopina and Mariotti. That is a great law firm, right there.

(LAUGHTER)

I would go to that law firm. Good evening everyone. Joe, tell us your view, there is a lot swirling around, you know, about Michael Cohen, Michael Avenatti has a lot to say about him. What's your reaction from what you just heard from him?

JOE TACOPINA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Look, my reaction is, Michael Cohen is in deeper than he could ever imagined. He is not going to come out of this. He will get indicted. The self-inflicted wounds from that camp between Cohen, Giuliani, Trump is mind-boggling.

[23:15:00] Michael Avenatti is, you know, doing what he thinks is best for his client. But I, you know, honestly I think it's time now to all stay in our lanes. He is representing a porn star that had a consensual one night, you know, affair with a guy, the President who paid her $130,000. She now sued him to have that agreement set aside.

I'm not sure why he is talking about AT&T, paying Michael Cohen. The suspect is aisle thick as it is, because he was holding himself as lawyer for the President. You know, I'm just not sure where all that ties into Stormy Daniels. That is my initial reaction, Don, to be quite frank to you. That doesn't change the facts.

LEMON: What I said to him is $130,000. You always -- you always have to manage or think about weigh the risk versus the reward. So --

TACOPINA: Yes, you know, I said this to you the first time I was on your show about this, what is he fighting about? Does anyone think, I mean, is his base, and is his constituency, the ones who vote for him going to be offended that he had a one night affair with a porn star?

LEMON: No. TACOPINA: That means -- it's sort of track record stuff? Right?

LEMON: It's built into it. It is already doesn't -- well, I think it's, well, I mean, maybe it's -- listen, Areva, maybe he doesn't want to shake the tree or I don't know. Maybe -- I have no idea. What do you think?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know, Don. You had this lawsuit been settled months ago had Michael Cohen not removed the civil lawsuit that was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court to Federal Court, had all of those things not happened maybe we wouldn't be here today talking about this pay for play. But look, we are here.

And the reality is Trump ran on a platform of draining the swamp, and now what we know is Trump and Michael Cohen, they are the swamp. And I agree with Joe, there doesn't seem to be a lot of relationship between these payments that Michael Cohen got from these large corporations to gain access to Donald Trump to the nondisclosure agreement which led to this lawsuit. But I think the American public wants to know and wants to know further about these payments in terms of who got the money, where this money went, and what it means politically. So I agree, legally not seemingly much, you know, that has to do with the lawsuit. But a lot to do with the American people.

LEMON: Well, that is what I said.

MARTIN: I'd like to know what our President is doing and what his personal lawyer is doing to sell essentially the White House.

LEMON: That -- you're making my point. The risk versus the reward. Listen, think about it Renato, all this stuff about AT&T, about -- abo Novartis, about Columbus Nova, all this stuff, that came from Stormy Daniels' attorney, OK? So had this been settled we may not have known about that. That is what all I'm saying now.

TACOPINA: Well, no. Go ahead.

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, right. What I would say, Don, is just that, you know, really, you know, if I'm Michael Cohen sitting at home, I'm thinking to myself, I really need a new legal team, I need a better legal team. You know, really if I was on the opposite side of Michael Avenatti in this case I would have just settled this case very early on and just let her talk.

I mean, she -- now what's the end result here, she is ended up telling her story everywhere on television every day. This has dragged out. It's created a lot of problems for Cohen and Trump. They may have a deposition down the line. They're going to have discovery.

Cohen is facing -- you know, he is got a much bigger fish to fry. He is facing potential indictment in the Southern District of New York. And this is like death by a thousand cuts. Really, you know, what they should have done is settled early on, given her what she wanted, let her tell her dang story and then, just been silent and given Avenatti nothing to talk about. And you know, as a result of their foolish strategy, we're here on television months later still talking about this lawsuit and everything he said.

LEMON: Amen. So we knew about this, I think in November or December. At least the Special Counsel knew about it, right? Because he contacted AT&T, which is confirmed AT&T, they said, you know, they didn't contact me after that. And so we talk the matters over, we don't know. Maybe Mueller would never reveal this -- there is nothing there, who knows? But now, look, it's everywhere. Everyone knows about it.

So today the Vice President called for Mueller to wrap up his investigation for the good of the country. And just a short while ago, Chief of Staff, John Kelly, spoke to NPR about the Russia investigation saying the President was somewhat embarrassed by it. I mean it's an interesting choice of words, and I would imagine that the President might take issue with that. Do you think so, Joe?

TACOPINA: Yes, of course. I mean, you know, his closest advisers, his chief lawyer now says something contrary to what he says. You know, go on every television show known to man and then learn the facts. Normally it's the other way around. Normally we learn the facts about the case and then go on every television show known to man.

[23:20:10] Now his Chief of Staff, who quite frankly seems to be -- to be the guy of moderate reason in that place, I mean seems to be the sanest guy in the camp, you know, said something that undoubtedly is going to get him tongue lashed tonight, because the President hasn't said he is embarrassed by it. He says there is no Russia investigation, there is no collusion. It is a whole hoax, it is a nonsense investigation. Not that he is embarrassed by it, he is angered by it. Embarrassed is very, very different word.

LEMON: Hey, Areva, I have short time here, but I want to make sure I get this in. Because -- also Giuliani's law firm are parting ways, he said, you know that he was not in the firm is taking issue of what this comments made by Guiliani, the payments to Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels. They say speaking for ourselves, we would not condone payments of the nature of alleged to have been made or otherwise without the knowledge and direction of a client.

So it was CNN's Dana Bash, who spoke with Giuliani and who responded to the firm's statement saying, he was talking about nondisclosure agreements. But again all along people have been saying, Areva, no one is going to do that. Make that sort of thing without the knowledge of their client. And then now the law firm is saying, essentially saying the same thing.

MARTIN: All lawyers, Don, all law firms would absolutely agree. No lawyer work his self, his or hers self would ever enter into this kind of agreement without the consent, without the knowledge. That is why this entire story has always been a farce. No one has ever believed that Donald Trump didn't know what Michael Cohen was doing, that he didn't know there was a negotiation happening, that there was a payment being made. This whole story has been an absolute farce. And the American people, we've seen through it from the beginning of the story and has been proven to be an absolute misrepresentation. TACOPINA: It's illegal, by the way.

LEMON: Thank you. I appreciate it. When we come back, why Columbus Nova, the company that paid Michael Cohen half a million dollars registered at least eight website domain names related to the alt- right.

[23:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Another strange twist tonight for Columbus Nova, the firm with ties to a Russian oligarch that paid President Trump's attorney Michael Cohen $500,000. CNN's Senior Investigative Correspondent, Drew Griffin, has that. Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, the ties between Cohen, a Russian oligarch and that half million dollar payment are complicated and now some Web site domain names registered by the company are raising new questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Investment Company Columbus Nova, has been on the defense, since admitting it paid Michael Cohen $500,000. CNN has learned the company has trying to distance itself from its Russian ties for months in SEC filings from 2007. Columbus Nova is described as the U.S. based affiliate of the Renova Group. That is Russian company owned by oligarch Victor Vekselberg. Vekselberg was just sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for alleged Russian election meddling and other hostile acts.

The web page which described Columbus Nova CEO as the former director and current member of the executive board of Renova Group has now been changed removing all references to the Russian firm. A page on Renova's Web site once listed Columbus Nova as part of its group structure. As recently as November of last year that too is gone. Now CNN has found three website domain names using the word Renova, registered to Columbus Nova and still active today.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The fact this American company is indeed connected to a Russian company owned by a significant oligarch, Vekselberg in this particular case is really an important thing and I think probably why Mueller's team was very interested in Mr. Vekselberg.

GRIFFIN: Columbus Nova released a statement saying it has been and continues to be 100 percent owned by Americans and has never been owned by Victor Vekselberg or the Renova Group. But it is hard to erase family ties. Columbus Nova's CEO is Vekselberg's cousin Andrew Intrater. Vekselberg's other cousin, Frederick Intrater, also works at Columbus Nova and is the one who registered dozens of Web site domain names to the company.

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW IN NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: They need to be able to explain what the relationship is, but it certainly looks like we are closely tied together and not only by the fact that this is -- there's a family connection here, but there is also a long-standing business connection.

GRIFFIN: In all, there were nearly a hundred domain names registered by Frederick Intrater on behalf of Columbus Nova. Including eight with some variation of the words alt-right. They were domain names made within two days of a speech by Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not conservativism as we've known it, this is not Republicanism as we've known it. These are racist ideas, race baiting ideas, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women all key tenants making up the emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Late today Frederick Intrater released a statement saying he bought the domain names with the aim of eventually selling them for profit and the only connection to Columbus Nova is that I work there. I never told my brother or anyone else at Columbus Nova that I had done this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Don, those domain names in fact were never used to build any alt-right Web sites. They did expire, but it's just another curious episode surrounding this company with ties to a Russian oligarch and a half million dollar contract with Michael Cohen, Don.

LEMON: Drew griffin, thank you very much. I want to bring in CNN Political Commentator, Matt Lewis and National Security Analyst, Steve Hall. Retire chief of CIA Russian operations. You saw -- you just saw him in Drew's story there.

[23:30:00] So good evening, gentlemen. Steve, you're in a story in this report. Why is this issue of domain names of interest?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The domain name are of interest Don, because what we are talking about again, if you recall back to the Russian's influence operation in the attack on our 2016 presidential election here in the United States, one of the goals of that operation was to sew dissent and to open up fissures in U.S. society as well as in U.S. politics.

So there is a certain hot button topics that most of us are familiar with now, and of course the alt-right issue is a big hot button issue. So the Russians would have been interested in having access to those domain names, and that's probably why that was done.

LEMON: So, Matt, within two days of Hillary Clinton using the phrase alt-right in a speech, Frederick Intrater at Columbus Nova registered eight domain names containing the phrase alt-right and a few variations of it using his work e-mail.

Frederick claims his brother, who was a CEO of Columbus Nova, knew nothing of what he was up to. You have written a lot about the rise of the alt-right. What do you make of the timing of all of this?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, so, you know, the alt- right was known for a month. I think I mentioned the alt-right on your show months before Hillary Clinton brought it up during the campaign that summer. It's interesting that the domains were purchased a couple days after her speech.

And one, there's the sort of maybe naive but also maybe plausible theory that this guy is watching TV, he sees Hillary Clinton mentioned the alt-right, and he is a splatter (ph). He is going to just buy domains and try to sell them later. Maybe this alt-right thing becomes a big deal, right? It's possible. It's plausible.

But when you factor in all the other stuff that we're hearing about this company, their ties to Russia, and then the context of course, I think it's absolutely right. I mean, Russia was potentially trying to sew discord in America. At the very least, it's very curious.

LEMON: Yeah. I mean, we say alt-right, I remember discussing it. It's sort of a re-branding of really just racist and white supremacists, right?

LEWIS: Yeah, that's a big, big part of it. There's other, you know, elements. There's sort of amends rights aspect to it.

LEMON: All right. I want to talk -- let's stick with the domain names. Let's stick with the domain names. Because Frederick Intrater also claims that he doesn't support white supremacy and he is Jewish and a son of a holocaust survivor. But he says his plan was to register these domains and sell them for a profit. Does that make sense to you, Matt?

LEWIS: Yeah. I mean, it's possible. That happens. That happens.

LEMON: So Steve, aside from the alt-right domains is the fact that domain names for Renova, for Viktor Vekselberg's company, were opened and renewed in 2016 and 2017. Does that poke holes in Columbus Nova's claims that these companies aren't really that closely related?

HALL: I mean, absolutely, Don. I think the easiest way to think about this when you strip away all of the, you know, the American tendency to, you know, give everybody a fair shake and yeah maybe they had these domain names because they just wanted to make some money, that's a very American and very western approach to things.

But when you strip all that away and think about it like the Russians would think about it, first of all, there is a direct line between Vekselberg and Cohen. Those companies that are in between, they need to be structured in a certain way. We might have this idea of corporate independence. And in America, we do things a certain way.

In Russia, it's a mafia. Vekselberg was trying to do something here. My sense is because the alt-right issue was a flash point issue, I think a very significant oligarch -- and by the way there's elected (ph) Jewish oligarchs too, so that doesn't necessarily mean anything. They all work for Putin. I think that this particular oligarch decided that what he was going to do was use this line that he had to get a hold of these domain names which he thought might be useful sometime in the future. It was a bit clumsy and so it's possible that there wasn't a direct Russian intelligence service behind this.

They probably would have been a little more sophisticated in trying to cover their tracks.

LEMON: Yeah.

HALL: But nevertheless, this is part of a pattern. I mean, you've got all of these guys that are associated with the Trump team, very close to him, that all seemed to lead back to Russia, and this is just another example of that.

LEMON: That's got to be the last word, Matt.

LEWIS: All right.

LEMON: I'm short on time. Thank you very much. When we come back, a close look at the man overseeing the Russia investigation and what his chances are of being fired by the president.

[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: There's no question Rod Rosenstein has one of the most difficult jobs in America. As deputy attorney general, he is overseeing Robert Mueller's investigation of Russia interference in the 2016 election. And that has made him a constant target of President Trump's fury.

But CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger reports Rosenstein seems to be unruffled by the situation he is in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice over): If the president is your boss, this is not what you want to hear when he's asked if he'll fire you.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You'll figure that one out.

BORGER (voice over): Trump was dissing his own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, for whom every day can be a near death experience, as a frustrated president lashes out at the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch hunt and there is no collusion.

BORGER (voice over): Rosenstein became the man in charge once the attorney general recused himself. So he's the one who hired the special counsel, which leaves him as the man in the middle between Trump and any move to fire Robert Mueller, a precarious place. Oddly enough, Rosenstein started out as a teacher's pet.

TRUMP: He is highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him, the Republicans like him.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This guy is man of upstanding character and essentially the gold standard at the Department of Justice.

[23:40:01] BORGER (voice over): Rosenstein's stock rose even higher when after just two weeks on the job, he wrote a now infamous memo at the request of the president, land-basing (ph) FBI Director James Comey for mishandling the Clinton e-mail investigation.

ANDY WHITE, FRIEND AND FORMER COLLEAGUE OF ROD ROSENSTEIN: If the president asks you to -- to look at this and give me your thoughts, you can't say no.

BORGER (on camera): So he writes the memo.

WHITE: He writes the memo.

BORGER (voice over): And then?

WHITE: And hell breaks loose.

(APPLAUSE)

BORGER (voice over): The president loved it. Almost as much as he hated Comey. So much, in fact, that he received it, released it, and fired Comey all on the same day last May.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): This is CNN breaking news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, we have major breaking news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States has terminated the director of the FBI, James Comey.

BORGER (voice over): Josh Campbell, a close Comey aide, was with him in Los Angeles when Comey learned, watching CNN, that he had been fired.

JOSH CAMPBELL, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO JAMES COMEY: They said, we have a letter from the president that was dropped off at the visitor's center at FBI headquarters.

BORGER (on camera): Visitor's center.

CAMPBELL: At the visitor's center, indicating you'd been fired. They said, there's something else. There's something attached to this letter. There's a lengthy explanation from the deputy attorney general laying out a case against you.

BORGER (on camera): Was he surprised at Rosenstein?

CAMPBELL: He was very surprised at Rosenstein. And again not that they were chummy or friends or you would know what to expect, because none of this was telegraphed.

BORGER (on camera): Do you think he knew that this was going to be used by the president as the rationale publicly for firing James Comey?

WHITE: Well, I think he had to know it was going to be used in some degree. I don't think that he realized that the president was going to put greyhound bus tracks on his back with that memo. I don't think that he realized it was going to be used in that way.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: My memo truthfully reflects my views. I'm not in position to comment on anybody else. So from my perspective, senator, that memo is about what it's about. I do not know what was on anybody else's mind.

BORGER (voice over): But in Comey world, Rosenstein is seen as a Trump collaborator, not an independent actor.

BORGER (on camera): So what's the motive?

CAMPBELL: I think the motive is to keep his job.

BORGER (on camera): What's Rosenstein's rep now?

CAMPBELL: There's conflict there. He's someone that people are suspicious of, but in these interesting times, people are looking at him and thinking he might be the last best hope that we have to ensure that Bob Mueller is allowed to do his job, which is a strange place to be in.

BORGER (voice over): Rosenstein is 53, married with two teenage daughters.

WHITE: He's a dad. You know, his world has changed a lot because of this.

ROSENSTEIN: My younger daughter was 14 at the time when she heard I was going to become deputy. She asked me a very important question. She said, dad, does this mean you'll get your picture in the paper?

(LAUGHTER)

ROSENSTEIN: And I said, no.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER (voice over): But he keeps his own counsel even with his friends.

WHITE: With Rod, you scratch the surface and you get more surface.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITE: But that's him. He is inscrutable publicly. Professionally, he is devastatingly effective. He is methodical. He is thorough. BORGER (voice over): A career Justice Department official with a Harvard law pedigree, a former U.S. attorney from Maryland for a dozen years, a Republican appointed by George W. Bush.

JAMES TRUSTY, FRIEND AND FORMER COLLEAGUE OF ROD ROSENSTEIN: He's been presiding over a small district that was bringing every case you could imagine from material support of terrorism to public corruption to MS-13 to corrupt jails where almost all the guards get indicted. I mean, he's been aggressive and he has not shied away from the political spotlight when it comes to prosecutorial decisions.

BORGER (voice over): He was confirmed for his current job last April 94-6, but the shine wore off quickly after the Mueller appointment. And then Rosenstein further enraged Trump by not stopping the Michael Cohen raid.

TRUMP: So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, good man. And it's a disgraceful situation.

BORGER (voice over): And an increasingly tenuous one for Rosenstein.

SALLY YATES, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: No one is above the law even the president.

BORGER (voice over): Obama appointee Sally Yates is a former deputy attorney general fired by Trump last year.

YATES: The president can't fire a prosecutor because he's mad that he authorized a search warrant of his lawyer's home and office.

BORGER (on camera): He can be mad about it.

YATES: Sure, he can be mad about it, as long as he's not trying to influence his conduct.

BORGER (voice over): At a recent meeting with the president, Rosenstein himself volunteered that the Cohen raid did not put Trump in any legal jeopardy, but the president remained furious.

[23:45:02] TRUMP (voice over): I'm very disappointed in my Justice Department. But because of of the fact that it's going on and I think you'll understand this, I have decided that I won't be involved. I may change my mind at some point because what's going on is a disgrace.

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I believe Attorney General Sessions, my good friend, and Rosenstein, who I don't know, I believe they should in the interest of justice in this investigation.

WHITE: If he asks Rod to fire Mr. Mueller, Rod would resign, is my guess. Because at that point, it untenable. You have a president who is not respecting the process, not respecting the constitution. He won't do it.

BORGER (on camera): He will not?

WHITE: No. YATES: It would be a red line for the president to fire Bob Mueller. But it should equally be crossing a red line if he were to fire Rod Rosenstein as well.

BORGER (on camera): And what red line is that?

YATES: Well, it's a red line in terms of totally turning the rule of law on its head.

BORGER (voice over): Some Republicans would see it as a step in the right direction, calling Rosenstein conflicted because he wrote the Comey memo. They also fume he won't provide his unredacted internal memo detailing the scope of the Mueller investigation.

The president himself again threatening, at some point, I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the presidency and get involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you afraid of President Trump firing you?

ROSENSTEIN: No, I'm not, congressman.

TRUSTY: Rod is -- he's like shockingly fatalistic.

ROSENSTEIN: 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.

WHITE: He is a career public servant. He is a career prosecutor. Whatever Mr. Trump wants to say, frankly, can only make his reputation go up.

BORGER (on camera): Even if he gets fired?

WHITE: Especially if he gets fired.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Thank you, Gloria. When we come back, the Pentagon releasing a report on the deadly military operation in Niger. I'm going to bring you the details of why that mission went so wrong.

[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The Pentagon today released its report on the deadly ISIS ambush last October in Niger. The report blamed multiple failures and deficiencies including a lack of adequate training for the deaths of Staff Sergeant Dustin M. Wright, Staff Sergeant Bryan C. Black, and Sergeant La David T. Johnson.

Joining me now is Sergeant La David Johnson's Congresswoman, Frederica Wilson. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us. Before we get into the report -- good evening, by the way -- on the Pentagon, I have to ask you, have you spoken to Sergeant Johnson's widow, Myeisha, and how is she holding up? REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: She is doing pretty good. We -- I attended the briefing in Miami at Southcom with the family. That was two weeks ago. So, I saw the briefing and it was very disturbing. And they were just so unsettled and not satisfied at all.

LEMON: So, let's talk about this report that was released. It was released today on the operation in Niger that led to the death of four American soldiers, including Sergeant La David Johnson, constituent of yours.

The Pentagon says that some of the key failures were lack of proper training before the mission began. The team on the ground became separated and ground unit reinforcements took four hours to arrive. Are you shocked that one mission could go so horribly wrong? And are you satisfied with the Pentagon's explanation, congresswoman?

WILSON: Well, the dots don't seem to connect. And I'm not one to just go along to get along because I love my gold star family, and I love my hero. And I am truly, truly disturbed as to what I saw. And we actually saw the body that they showed us and he was laying on his back with his hands prone. And then they said he was shot 16 times and was shot four times in the back. That doesn't even make sense.

LEMON: Oh, my gosh.

WILSON: Nothing they said made sense.

LEMON: So, when you were talking about it, that, you know, seeing his body, I have to say, the report goes -- details about -- it goes into details about Sergeant Johnson's action that he took on that terrible day, you said you saw the body, it says that he fought courageously until the very end. I wonder if the family at least was able to take some heart in his passing, hearing just how brave he was?

WILSON: I think they never had any doubt about his bravery. You have to be brave, first of all, to join the armed forces. And so, we always knew that he was a hero. What their concern is, the neglect and the fault of the armed forces and what could have been done that wasn't done. That is what has them disturbed. It's not that we don't think that he was a hero, he's a hero in our community.

LEMON: Well, the report at least shows that he was alive -- he wasn't alive while in enemy hands, and so that he wasn't captured and killed which is --

WILSON: That's not proven.

LEMON: That's not proven?

WILSON: No, that's not proven. We don't know that. We don't know that yet. And I think the part that has me disturbed is the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff had a press conference shortly after the fire fight in Niger. And he said that about an hour into the battle, they called for help and the U.S. sent out a drone and the drone captured the video of the battlefield. So, if it captured a video of the battlefield, I want to see this video. I want to see if Sergeant La David Johnson happens to be in this video and what was he doing in those final moments. When I asked about the video, they said, congresswoman, we will show it to you tonight. We were there for eight hours at Southcom.

[23:55:02] I never saw the video.

LEMON: You never saw it?

WILSON: So I said, well then, I'll see it when I get to D.C. I went to D.C., asked the same thing in the briefing, and they said they would show it to me. And then at the end, they said, there is no video. Now, you tell me if you would be satisfied.

LEMON: What about the falsified documents, as well? Because they said they went into the field after falsified documents were used in approving the mission?

WILSON: Well, they cut and paste the orders and that was against the rules and now they're saying it was OK, that the captain had the authority to do this. But at first, it was an abomination. So, these dots do not connect. There's so much that's still unanswered.

And we will continue to ask and maybe legislation, I'm not sure what the family has in mind, but they are truly disturbed and upset and they're still grieving. They don't feel that they had any closure at all.

LEMON: Well, give our thoughts and prayers to the family.

WILSON: Thank you.

LEMON: Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

WILSON: You're welcome.

LEMON: That is it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow.

[24:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)