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More Scandals For EPA Chief; More Republicans Rejecting Trump's Conspiracy Theory?; Interview With Senator Mark Warner. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 7, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Birth of a conspiracy. CNN investigates the origins of the president's FBI spy claim, as more top Republicans reject the bogus theory. We're untangling the web of false claims embraced by the tweeter in chief.

And secretary of cheap. Senators are demanding another investigation of the EPA chief, as we're learning more ways that Scott Pruitt has tried to save his own money at taxpayers' expense. Did his demand for discount meals give the White House food for thought?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the lead-up to President Trump's summit with Kim Jong-un. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declaring that Mr. Trump will be prepared shortly after the president said he doesn't need much preparation for the historic talks.

Pompeo also is trying to defuse Rudy Giuliani's provocative statement that Kim Jong-un begged for the summit, insisting that the president's lawyer doesn't speak for the administration.

This as more Republicans are now publicly rejecting the president's FBI spy conspiracy theory.

I will get reaction from Senator Mark Warner. He's the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, the president says this summit is about attitude.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He sure does. He struck an optimistic tone during that joint press conference today, saying that he believes it will be a great success.

And in terms of what he thinks it will take to make it successful, he says it's about attitude, not being overly prepared, Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BROWN (voice-over): President Trump meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will be a pretty crowded number of days, but very exciting. And I think a lot of good results can come about.

BROWN: It's just five days from Trump's highly anticipated summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: I think I'm very well-prepared. I don't think you have to prepare very much. It's about attitude. It's about willingness to get things done. But I think I have been preparing for the summit for a long time, as has the other side.

BROWN: The president today knocking the notion the Singapore summit is just a photo-op.

TRUMP: It's going to be more than a photo-op. I think it's a process. They have to denuke. If they don't denuclearize, that will not be acceptable. We cannot take sanctions off. The sanctions are extraordinarily powerful. We cannot. And I could add a lot more, but I don't -- I have chosen not to do that at this time. But that may happen.

BROWN: Trump later telling reporters that he someday hopes for a global relationship with North Korea.

TRUMP: Normalizing relations is something that I would expect to do. I would hope to do when everything is complete. We would hope to do that.

BROWN: And even said Kim Jong-un may be invited to visit the White House if all goes well.

TRUMP: Certainly, if it goes well. And I think it would be well- received. I think he would look at it very favorably. So, I think that could happen.

BROWN: And while President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani may have ruffled feathers with his North Korea comments yesterday.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Kim Jong-un got back on his hands and knees and begged for it, which is exactly the position you want to put him in.

BROWN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shrugged off the comments today.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I know Rudy. Rudy doesn't speak for the administration when it comes to this negotiation and this set of issues.

BROWN: But, first, Trump travels to Quebec for the annual G7 summit, coming face to face with key allies at an awkward tie, many at odds with the president over his recent trade decisions. EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): For me, it's

a question of principles. We can't wager trade war between friends.

BROWN: This as the president is seemingly more willing to engage with potential adversaries, today striking a controversial deal to ease sanctions that brought ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications company, to the brink of collapse.

Trump's top economic adviser dismissed tensions with G7 leaders on Wednesday.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We're talking everything through. There may be disagreements. I regard this as much like a family quarrel. I'm always the optimist. I believe it can be worked out.


BROWN: And sources are familiar with the matter say that there has been some internal debate ahead of the president's globe-trotting. He has questioned to aides whether it's really necessary for him to go to Canada, whether anything worthwhile will come out of the meetings in this remote part of Quebec.

He has been told by his aides that it's very important for him to go to Canada. So, that will be his first stop, Wolf, and then he will be heading to Singapore on Saturday. And it's clear that is really what he's most looking forward to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pam, I understand you are getting some new information about the White House communications staff?


BROWN: That's right, Wolf.

Sources familiar with the matter say that the White House is poised to purge several lower-level junior staffers from the White House communications staff.

As you know, just a couple of days ago, the director of White House surrogates, Kelly Sadler, who made that comment about a dying John McCain in a White House meeting, she was let go from the White House.

That's just the beginning, we're told. The president has increasingly viewed the communications office as obsolete. And so there has been some restructuring going on. There was an audit done to figure out how they can thin the ranks.

And the initial plan was to do it all at once to remove some of these staffers, put them in other parts of the administration. That's expected to happen very soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks for that, Pamela Brown at the White House.

Now to the Russia investigation and President Trump's campaign to discredit it.

Tonight, there's even more Republican pushback against the president's claim that an FBI spy infiltrated his campaign.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, you have been investigating the origins of this spy conspiracy theory. I know you are going to have much more on that coming up later this hour.

But, right now, you have some breaking news on Republicans increasingly speaking out against the president's position on this issue.


Republican after Republican are saying that there's really just nothing there behind the president's claims that spies infiltrating his campaign. A number of Republicans have told me that they hope the president essentially drops this and focuses on other issues going forward, saying it's a distraction. There's nothing to actually base these allegations on.

Now, one Republican, even some of the president's own allies, like Senator Lindsey Graham, saying today, Wolf, that the president really doesn't have any evidence to back up this claim.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I haven't looked at the evidence, but I have seen no indication that a confidential informant was placed inside the Trump campaign that acted as a spy. I don't see any evidence that.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It doesn't do our country any good to put forward conspiracy theories like this, to downplay our -- and denigrate our institutions, like the FBI and the Department of Justice.

And to continually refer to 13 angry Democrats, when that's obviously not the case, that's not a good thing.


RAJU: And, Wolf, some news that just broke just moments ago.

The House Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, just sent a letter to Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, asking him to provide interview transcripts of all those people who came through their committee to Bob Mueller's investigation, saying that it could help with the Mueller investigation and perhaps he -- Schiff is raising concerns that some of these witnesses may have lied to the committee.

And he wants Mueller to investigate further. We will see if the Republicans agree to release these transcripts to the special counsel. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: A sensitive issue, indeed.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, I understand, overnight has agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department on something else that is pretty sensitive.

RAJU: Yes, very sensitive, a very unusual move last night.

The Senate quietly passed a resolution authorizing the Senate Intelligence Committee to share information with the Justice Department. It's part of an investigation about a former staffer of the Senate Intelligence Committee about unauthorized disclosure of information.

We're hearing that there's some charges that may be being prepared by the Justice Department about this very issue. It's still uncertain who this individual is and exactly the nature of the disclosure of this classified information, but an unusual move.

And Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, told me earlier today that this is a very rare for something like this to happen, to share information from the Senate Intelligence Committee to the Justice Department. But they say they're fully cooperating with this request.

BLITZER: Because the stakes are pretty significant in this particular case.

Manu Raju, thank you very much.

Manu is going to be back in a little while. He's done some serious investigation of the president's spy claim, how it originated. We are going to have the report. That's coming up as well.

But, right now, joining us, Democratic Senator Mark Warner. He's the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, quickly, if you can, what can you tell us about what Manu just reported on this former staffer of your committee?

WARNER: This is an ongoing legal proceeding. It's now in the hands of the Department of Justice. And I will have nothing to add today.

BLITZER: Is it a -- what, can you give us, without getting into specifics, just the nature of the investigation?

WARNER: Wolf, Wolf, I -- I just -- this is a legal proceeding that is being carried out, and I have got no comment today. No further comment today.

BLITZER: All right. I will let you go on this. But can you just tell us if it involves the overall Russia


WARNER: Wolf, you can ask it a half-dozen different ways. I got nothing else for you on this matter today.


BLITZER: Obviously a very sensitive issue. We totally understand.

We now have heard the chairman of your committee, Senator Richard Burr -- and I know you work very closely with him -- the House speaker, Paul Ryan, Senator Lindsey Graham, among other Republicans, rejecting the president's claim that the FBI planted a spy in his presidential campaign.


Why won't these Republicans say this directly, though, to the president?

WARNER: Wolf, that's a great question.

I mean, the truth is, we all came out. We all heard the same pieces of information. The FBI acted totally appropriately.

And what is outrageous, though, and, frankly, should have gotten more attention was that the White House and at least one of the allies were trying to force the director of the FBI, the head of the direction of national intelligence, and the deputy attorney general to disclose classified information about an individual in a partisan-only setting, bypassing the way the process has been set up.

If there's top-secret classified information that needs to be relayed, it's relayed bipartisan to the so-called Gang of Eight. Unfortunately, this White House was trying to completely bypass, run a fast one by the Gang of Eight and force the head of the FBI to reveal classified information on an individual's name.

Luckily, the heads of our intelligence community and FBI stood true to their oath of office and did not reveal information. And I think everyone, other than perhaps the White House, agrees that there was no there there.

BLITZER: Can you tell us who this ally that the president, the White House had who wanted to do this?

WARNER: There's been speculation on that. I will just leave it at what I have said. It was the White House and one of their allies.

But, other than that, everybody else heard the same message. And I give a great deal of credit to my not only Democratic, but Republican colleagues as well who have been willing to push back on the president's latest fantasy.

BLITZER: I assume you're talking about Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Can you tell us if that's the case?

WARNER: I'm going to leave it where I stated.

BLITZER: All right.

You have also written to the FBI director and the deputy attorney general for confirmation that none of the information that the so- called Gang of Eight received at that highly classified briefing about the FBI confidential source made its way into the hands of the president's legal team. Have you received a response?

WARNER: We have not received a response.

As a matter of fact, again, one of the things that was so inappropriate about this attempted end-run around the Gang of Eight and trying to share and force classified information to a partisan- only meeting was that the president's -- not only his chief of staff, but his lawyer, his lawyer who is involved with his potential collusion activities, was trying to show up at this Gang of Eight meeting.

Completely inappropriate and, frankly, a little bit embarrassing.

BLITZER: The Justice Department's inspector general report is expected in the coming days to fault James Comey, the fired FBI director, his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. Do you accept that James Comey violated protocol?

WARNER: Wolf, I would like to actually see the inspector general's report before I comment on it.

I know pieces have been leaking out. As I have tried throughout this whole investigation, I would like that reserve judgment until I look at the whole report. There was clearly a lot of controversy about how Mr. Comey handled the Clinton tapes, the Clinton e-mails. But let's hear what the I.G. has to say first.

BLITZER: Earlier today, the president tweeted this.

I will read it to you: "When will people start saying thank you, Mr. President, for firing James Comey?"

If the inspector general's report is really very tough on Comey in a bunch of areas involving the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, will you agree with the president that he was right to fire him?

WARNER: Listen, I will look at the inspector general's report, but what we know from the president's own lips on national TV was the reason he fired Jim Comey was to try to get rid of the Russia investigation or get rid of the whole Russia thing.

And I think that firing was completely inappropriate if he was trying to stop an ongoing investigation of his or people affiliated with him activities in terms of potentially being involved with Russia and their interference in the 2016 elections. BLITZER: Yes, we're told this inspector general's report -- Michael

Horowitz is highly respected, the inspector general over at the Justice Department -- he's prepared some 500 pages, going through all of what Comey and others did in that Hillary Clinton investigation.

It's going to be very tough, we're told, on Comey. Does it weaken Comey's standing, though, as a potential witness in the Mueller investigation?

WARNER: You know, Wolf, fair question.

I think there was, obviously, a lot of consternation about Comey's reopening of the Hillary Clinton e-mail so close to the election, and then closing it back up literally three or four days before the election.

I'm not going to -- I want to see the inspector general's report before I make that -- any comment. People -- your characterization or others. Nobody has seen the actual report.


But what we know is that this president fired Jim Comey, told the Russians that he fired him because he thought he was a -- involved with the Russian thing, went on national TV and said he fired Jim Comey because of the Russia thing.

And that was because there was an investigation into Russian interference in the election, also any collusion with the Trump campaign. The firing, I still think, was terribly inappropriate.

And let's face it, that was what birthed, in many ways, the Mueller investigation. If you look at the president's actions, if you look at his constant haranguing of Mueller, if you look at his unhappiness with the fact that the attorney general recused himself, if you look at him trying to force out these false stories about spy gate or whatever he wants to call it, these are not the actions of somebody who says he's got nothing to hide.

So, this is going to continue to play out. Our bipartisan investigation will continue to play out. The Mueller investigation will continue to play out. I want it to be done as soon as it can be. But we have got to have all the facts.

BLITZER: I assume you agree, though, that Comey was wrong in revealing all the information from the FBI investigation, whether in July or only a few days before the election.

Usually, the FBI makes recommendations, but it's up to the Justice Department, the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, or a U.S. prosecutor or U.S. attorney to announce whether or not charges are filed.

Will Comey's behavior undermine the entire Mueller investigation as a result? WARNER: First of all, I do think it's appropriate. It's traditional

that the FBI doesn't comment when they simply -- particularly when they don't proceed on a case.

But let's -- we're going to get this inspector general's report in appropriate due time. I think some people have said, you know, tomorrow or early next week. Let's look at that, and then I will be happy to comment.

But the Mueller investigation, which was started because -- it wasn't started by Jim Comey. It was started by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who drew a conclusion that there needed to be an investigation to carry on an investigation that, obviously, the president had tried to stop by firing Jim Comey into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

And I'm glad that investigation has gone on, because what we know now, a year-and-a-half later, is that the Russians massively intervened. They did it to help Trump and hurt Clinton. Trump intelligence officials have confirmed that. We as -- our committee has confirmed that. They touched 21 states' electoral systems. And we're still not fully secure for the elections come this fall.

They used social media in ways that were unprecedented. And we still need to get our arms around that and put some guardrails going forward. And we know that so far out of the Mueller investigation, there's been 15 indictments, including the indictment of the president's campaign manager, and four guilty pleas.

So, there's been a lot of production already from the Mueller team. And, obviously, if there's already guilty pleas, that was necessary to take place.

BLITZER: All right, I want to talk to you about ZTE, the Chinese telecom company.

But I just will point out Comey himself testified before Congress that he launched the investigation in July of 2016, when they got some suspicions of some Russian activities going on involving the Trump campaign.

Let's talk about ZTE for a moment. As you know, there's a deal been reached between the U.S. government and the Chinese that the Chinese will pay $1 billion, $400 million, in escrow, allow U.S. experts to oversee what is going on.

And as a result, ZTE is going to be back in business. Is this a good deal?

WARNER: Wolf, this is a horrible deal for our country's national security.

And don't take my word. Take the word of Trump's CIA director. Take the word of Trump's director of national intelligence. Take of the word of the fact that the Pentagon, which has in effect banned ZTE equipment. Take the word of all the folks that say this is compromised equipment. My And Background was in the wireless industry, in the telecommunications business. When those experts say don't, buy this equipment, I would follow that advice.

And, candidly, I was pleased when the president first put these strict requirements on ZTE and said we were going to stop purchasing this kind of equipment. What concerned me was, he immediately buckled once the Chinese pushed back.

And I understand he's trying to start or engage in a trade war with China. Use other items other than national security concerns like this equipment vendor that is penetrating many of our networks now as a trading chip.

The idea that a billion-dollar fine and putting some compliance officers into this company just doesn't cut the mustard.

BLITZER: Senator Warner, thanks so much for joining us.

WARNER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, from the secretary of state to the first lady's office, new admissions that Rudy Giuliani is talking about things he simply doesn't know anything about.


We're going to talk about the reprimand and whether the president's lawyer can or should be muzzled.


BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo insisting President Trump will be prepared for his summit with Kim Jong-un next week, despite the president's suggestion that there's not much preparing to do.

Let's dig deeper with our specialists and our analysts.

And, Sabrina Siddiqui, listen to what the president said earlier in the day. Listen to this.



TRUMP: I think I'm very well-prepared. I don't think you have to prepare very much. It's about attitude. It's about willingness to get things done. But I think I have been preparing for the summit for a long time, as has the other side.

They have been preparing for a long time also. So, this is not a question of preparation. It's a question of whether or not people want it to happen. And we will know that very quickly.


BLITZER: What does that tell you about the president's mind-set as he gets ready for the summit?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, this is one of the most high stakes meetings that this president, any U.S. president, for that matter, will be a part of.

And I think when he says he's not really concerned with preparation, that reinforces the notion that he's not involved in the particulars when it comes to the substance of these negotiations. Now, his administrations has for months been preparing for the summit behind the scenes.

But I think his comments serve as somewhat of a reminder that this is a president who often places more value on optics than he does substance. And so regardless of what preparations his team has made, if he doesn't believe that he's winning, he's prone to quickly reversing course.

I also think it reflects his attitude toward international relations in general. You have seen it with the Iran nuclear deal. You have seen it with the steel and aluminum tariffs. He likes to project this aura of toughness, because he believes that is what will get the other party to bend to the United States and its will.

That's obviously a gambit. And we will see if it's successful in Pyongyang. Certainly, so far, it's been somewhat problematic for his administration.

BLITZER: Really a sensitive moment, Samantha, right now, in the lead- up to this summit, especially after the president's new national security adviser, John Bolton, said they were looking at the Libyan model, when Gadhafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction. A few years later, there was no more Gadhafi.

Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, followed up with this.



GIULIANI: Well, Kim Jong-un got back on his hands and knees and begged for it, which is exactly the position you want to put him in.


BLITZER: And watch how the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, reacted just a little while ago.


POMPEO: I think he was -- it was a bit in jest.


QUESTION: ... summit, or...

POMPEO: Oh, we're moving forward. We're focused on the important things. I know Rudy. Rudy doesn't speak for the administration when it comes to this negotiation and this set of issues.


BLITZER: Sloppy.

How sensitive is this?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think even the North Koreans know at this point that Rudy Giuliani doesn't speak for anyone, except maybe the voice in his head. And so I think they're probably going to discount it.

It does raise the point, though, of who the administration is putting out ahead of the Singapore summit to represent our strategy. Pompeo has become the point man on everything, diplomacy and deterrence. He gave a speech today where he talked about maximum pressure.

We have not seen Ambassador John Bolton. We haven't really seen Secretary Mattis. We haven't seen Secretary Mnuchin. So, at this point, it does appear a little bit like we're putting all our eggs in the diplomatic basket and not really letting these other members of the administration speak.

BLITZER: Good point.

Jeffrey Toobin, how do you see it.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, he doesn't -- this is -- I'm sorry, Wolf. I was distracted. I didn't hear you properly. Why don't you ask Ron Brownstein?

BLITZER: Let me ask a specific question.

TOOBIN: He's a smart guy.

BLITZER: All right, Ron Brownstein.

I will get back to Jeffrey Toobin in a moment.

TOOBIN: Sorry. I...

BLITZER: How do you see this current dance that is unfolding?

Historic summit about to take place in Singapore, and all a sudden the president's personal lawyer weighs in with a pretty derogatory explanation, statement about the North Korean leader.


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's just another example of how beyond the traditional bounds this administration is in so many ways. And somewhat even more revealing is, if you look at the first half of

the president's travel schedule before Singapore, when he's due to go meet with the G7 leaders, with whom he's in kind of an unbridled state of tension, and I think if you juxtapose these two events, this one kind of travel itinerary, it actually gives you a very revealing insight into the president's view of the world.

And he views our relationships with other nations essentially as transactional, as what they can do for you at any given moment.

Every U.S. president from Franklin Roosevelt through Barack Obama, Republicans like Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, as much as Democrats like Harry Truman, believe that there was value in the U.S. being the leader of a globally based system built on rules, structured around alliances.

The president really doesn't seem to see it that way. He views each interaction as essentially a zero sum game. What can you do for me? What can I get out of it? And thus the entire process is just strewn with much more division and uncertainty than we're accustomed to in foreign policy. Maybe that's the way he wants it.

BLITZER: Because, Jeffrey, the president clearly seems more anxious to meet with Kim Jong-un than with some of America's closest allies at the G7 in Canada tomorrow.


I mean, it really is remarkable, because, you know, there have been, you know, these divisions in American history between, you know, isolationism and internationalism. And the president seems to sort of move back and forth between them.

[18:30:09] When it comes to our allies in trade, he's, you know, "America first. We don't need allies. We don't need alliances."

But when it comes to military matters, you know, he has been more on the sort of neoconservative side. You know, threatening Iran. And, you know, at least initially threatening -- threatening North Korea.

This is why our allies are having a hard time predicting which way he'll go. I think, you know, one of the very open questions about this summit is, you know, which Donald Trump will show up. Is it the one who seems deeply, deeply anxious to make a deal or the fellow at the U.N. who was calling him Little Rocket Man? I don't -- I certainly don't know.

BLITZER: It's interesting on the eve of the summit, Sabrina. President Macron of France, he says it could be at the G-7, there could be a G-6 statement plus one, meaning the United States is not involved. A pretty tough statement he put out just a little while ago on the eve of the summit.

The president just tweeted, "Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the U.S. massive tariffs and create nonmonetary barriers. The E.U. trade surplus with the U.S. is $151 billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out. Look forward to seeing them tomorrow."

Pretty awkward this -- these exchanges on the eve of this summit.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": I think it's remarkable. I think in the first year and a half of this administration, many world leaders were reluctant to outwardly criticize the president. They didn't want to be on his bad side. They sought a relationship with him and his administration.

But they are now seeing that he is willing to take action without much concern over these longstanding U.S. alliances. And I think you're going to start seeing more and more of them now speak out and be more willing to increasingly isolate the U.S., which has great implications, of course, for it standing on the global stage.

BLITZER: We'll have extensively live coverage of all of this. Stick around, everybody. There's more news we're following. Rudy Giuliani now tells CNN he stand stands by his very harsh and rather demeaning remarks about Stormy Daniels. Her lawyer, he's here to respond.


[18:36:44] BLITZER: Tonight Rudy Giuliani tells CNN he stands by his very harsh and rather demeaning remarks about Stormy Daniels. He says the porn star has no reputation and can't be defamed, because she sold her body, he says with, for money.

We're joined now by Stormy Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti. Michael, thanks very much for joining us. And let me get right to the first question. I want to play for you precisely what Rudy Giuliani said in Israel about your client.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I'm sorry, I don't respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman or a woman of substance. Or a woman who has great respect for herself as a woman and as a person, that isn't going to sell her body for sexual exploitation.


BLITZER: All right. You've said that he's a pig. I'm quoting you now. Are these attacks, though, likely to undermine the credibility of your client?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORY DANIELS: Wolf, I don't think so. I don't think that Mr. Rudy Giuliani's attacks are going to go anywhere. Because I think women around the world and in America can see through them. And see him really for what he is.

You know, I do want to go back on what I said, though. You know, I called him a pig last night and this morning and earlier today. An apology, actually, Wolf, is in order. But not for Mr. -- or not to Mr. Rudy Giuliani but rather to the pig. I owe an apology to the pig for associating Mr. Giuliani with a pig. This guy is a disgrace. It's disgusting. It has no place in American

society or anywhere else, for that matter, and he should have already been fired. And the fact that he wasn't shows a complete lack of leadership and moral compass on the part of the president.

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani not only stood by his remarks, but he went further when he spoke with CNN's Dana Bash earlier in the day. Let me put up on the screen precisely what he said. "If you're involved in the sort of slimy business, that says something about you. Says something about how far you'll go to make money. Our real point about her is that she's not just generally uncredible [SIC], she's uncredible [SIC] from the point of view of wanting to get money. She's a con artist."

So your reaction?

AVENATTI: Again, look, this guy has got no credibility. I mean, I think he's lost his marbles. These comments are so outside the realm of normalcy and logic that it is astounding. It is shocking.

And the fact that he would double down on these comments, triple down on them today on two separate occasions, it's just shocking to me. I just don't get it. And I don't understand why this president continues to employ somebody of this nature. This guy is a disaster.

BLITZER: But is it the goal of your client to make money, as he alleges? He says she's trying to make money through her body.

AVENATTI: That's just not true, Wolf. And it's just a personal attack.

And look, Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Cohen and their lawyers, they have engaged in an attempted character assassination on my client and me personally over the last two weeks. And it's not going to work.

And the reason why they're doing it is because they don't want to answer the tough questions. They can't fight us on the facts and the evidence. So they want to distract by demeaning us, calling us names, et cetera. It's not going to work.

[18:40:12] BLITZER: Let me ask you about the lawsuit that you and Stormy Daniels filed yesterday, accusing her former lawyer, Keith Davidson, of working with Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer and fixer, to manipulate Daniels to help President Trump. Is this more of a blow, from your legal perspective, to Keith Davidson than it is to Michael Cohen?

AVENATTI: No, Wolf. I think it's a blow to both of them equally. I think it shows the desperation that Michael Cohen was willing to resort to in order to protect Mr. Trump and cover up what happened here.

But, you know, this raises a good point, Wolf. If my client was not to be believed and she had no credibility, then why did Michael Cohen pay her $130,000? Why did Michael Cohen arrange for her to go on the Sean Hannity show and desperately try to get her to go on the Sean Hannity show in January of this year if, in fact, they believed my client had no credibility?

BLITZER: All of us have now read the lawsuit that you filed, including all the text messages that you had between Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson. Can you tell us where you got access to those text messages?

AVENATTI: We finally got access to those text messages, Wolf, after months of demands placed on Mr. Davidson. He gave us a portion of his file, a portion of the text messages. He refused, without legal justification, to give us the balance of the file, the balance of the text messages. He's refused to give us anything, for instance, after March 2.

And we think the reason is clear. And that is because these text messages and the balance of the file are going to paint a very ugly picture for both Mr. Davidson and Mr. Cohen. And we're going to get to the bottom of it.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, one final question. Have you identified the man in the sketch that you say threatened Stormy Daniels? That tip line, as you know, has been open for some time.

AVENATTI: It has been. And we've run a lot of leads to ground. And I think we are getting very, very close. We believe that we may have someone that, in fact, may be the individual that threatened her, but we're not ready to announce it quite yet.

BLITZER: When do you you'll have it?

AVENATTI: Well, we don't know. We're going to be careful because, as you know, I mean, we don't want to be wrong about this. And we don't want to out someone who is innocent. Because of the ramifications of that on that person's life. So we're going to be really, really careful before we make an announcement.

BLITZER: Michael Avenatti, thanks for joining us.

AVENATTI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, the birth of a conspiracy theory. What led President Trump to claim the FBI planted a spy in his campaign?


[18:47:29] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following breaking news on the growing list of Republican lawmakers who aren't buying President Trump's claim about an FBI spy infiltrating his campaign.

Tonight, CNN is digging deeper, investigating Mr. Trump's penchant for promoting bogus conspiracies as though they were fact.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.

Manu, you've been looking into the president's newest claims about the FBI. What are you finding out?


Trump's latest claim came this week when he tweeted that the FBI began spying in December 2015. But it appears the president was not relying on classified intelligence but instead unsubstantiated reports. And there's no basis to support the president's allegation.


RAJU (voice-over): It was a stunning claim from the president, a tweet suggesting that the FBI investigation in campaign actually started way back in December of 2015, something not supported by the evidence or by the testimony of the former FBI director who said it began seven months later.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: This investigation began in late July.

RAJU: The president's proof? Text messages between two FBI officials. Trump tweeted about discovery, spygate is in full force.

But this may be where the president learned about the claim.

LOU DOBBS, FOX BUSINESS NEWS ANCHOR: Unredacted texts that reveal how the FBI may have initiated a number of spies into the Trump campaign as early as December, December of 2015.

RAJU: That Fox report came after the far right Website, Gateway Pundit, seized on a Twitter user who took a photo of the text to claim the FBI was using, quote, foreign agents against Trump. That got picked up by a Reddit forum. But a CNN review of those text messages between the officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page show no evidence to back up the claim that the Russia investigation started in December 2015.

The texts in question are not even knew, the same text messages had actually been sitting on a Senate committee website for four months.

The revelation shines a light on how Trump seizes on conspiracy theories to further his political arguments. Like when he falsely claimed Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States.

To his latest, leveling unsubstantiated charges that spies have been placed in his campaign to help Hillary Clinton.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So how do you like the fact there are people infiltrating our campaign? Can you imagine? Can you imagine?

RAJU: His critics are alarmed.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It doesn't do our country any good to put forward conspiracy theories like this.

[18:50:05] To downplay our -- and denigrate our institutions like the FBI and the Department of Justice.

RAJU: The latest conspiracy theory appears to have no basis in reality. The text messages in question focus on an exchange between Strzok and Page, a former FBI lawyer. The two traded thousands of texts while having an extramarital affair and their messages have been used by conservative critics to argue that the Mueller investigation is biased against Trump.

In December 2015, Strzok texted Page. You get all our oconus lures approved? The term "oconus" refers to outside the continental United States, and according to Justice Department guidelines, lures are first to enticing a defendant to leave a foreign country so they can be arrested and prosecuted in the U.S., a common practice by the FBI.

Page responded to that text, no, it's just implicated a much bigger policy issue. I'll explain later. Might even be able to use it as a pretext for a call.

But none of the text messages from that same time period in December 2015 discussed any kind of an investigation into Trump or Russia. Though one time Page did share a news article about Trump and called him an utter idiot.

Congressional sources from both parties who have reviewed the texts said they have no reason to believe the text is referring to counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.

Still that's not how Trump friendly media portrayed it.

DOBBS: This becomes revelatory when we take a look at what is happening at the FBI.

RAJU: About an hour later, Trump sent his tweet to his 52 million followers.

Then the conspiracy flourished on FOX New that evening.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: It certainly appears that they were looking to put more lures into the campaign in 2015.

RAJU: Republican Congresswoman Ron DeSantis, who has joined the president's attacks against the special counsel, said this.

REP. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: So, this did not just start on the 31st.

INGRAHAM: Comey testified in May of 2017.

DESANTIS: And I think he has -- yes. I think he has exposures as a result of that testimony.

RAJU: But on Capitol Hill on Thursday, some Republicans scratched their heads at the president's latest conspiracies.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I haven't looked at the evidence but I have seen no indication that a confidential informant placed in the Trump campaign that acted as a spy. I don't see any evidence of that. I'm not going down the road saying this is some kind of an exercise to frame the president. I have no reason to believe that.


RAJU: Now, Wolf, next week, the Justice Department will brief the top leaders of Congress about the intelligence drawn and the use of a confidential FBI source. This time, they'll see records after being told of contents last month, and, of course, that satisfied most of the members.

BLITZER: Excellent reporting, Manu. Thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, CNN's Chris Cuomo presses Sarah Sanders on her credibility, her defense and Chris's reaction. There you see him. We'll discuss when we come back.


[18:57:01] BLITZER: The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders force to do defend her credibility in a powerful interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, the host of "CUOMO PRIME TIME". He joins us right now.

Chris, last night, you interviewed the White House press secretary about her credibility, and she said the fact she sat down and took questions from you shows that she has credibility. But credibility is about more than just showing up, right?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": I think that's absolutely right, Wolf. I mean, I was really hoping that it was going to be an opportunity for what I call a positive pivot. You know, let's talk about why this was said, let's clear it up and let's move forward. She didn't take that opportunity.

My guess is she's in a rough spot and she's been handcuffed. There's no answer that's good for her or the administration, and she's been instructed to just give him this one fat line about referring to counsel.

The problem is, it's illogical because she doesn't need to refer to external counsel for something she said in her capacity as press secretary. Jay Sekulow is not her attorney. He's the personal attorney for the president of the United States with respect to a legal matter. So, it doesn't make any sense.

And it just engenders more of this deception connection when it comes to covering the White House.

BLITZER: The best case scenario I thought of from her perspective is if her lawyers or if she has a lawyer, said to her, you know what, don't say anything else, just remain silent on this.

You went to law school. What do you think?

CUOMO: No. I think that -- first of all, we have no indication she has counsel set up for that purpose, and even so, it doesn't make sense. This is her representative capacity as an employee of the White House. She's working for the American people. Of course, she's got to take the president's position, that's her job.

But no, there is no legal accommodation here going on. I think this is just straight message control, and I just think it's breeding more discontent because the media has to ask questions. It's not enough just to give an answer.

She said, you just don't like my answer. It was nonresponsive. It was nonresponsive. She should explain why she said it the first time she was on the plane when they drafted the response.

So, you know, she has some proximity to this situation. She could maybe understand how it got miscommunicated or whatever. At least say she wishes she had cleared it up sooner. But she didn't take that opportunity.

All I could do was offer.

BLITZER: You had a different Sanders on tonight, Senator Bernie Sanders. Also Corey Lewandowski, the president's campaign manager. What do you want to hear from them?

CUOMO: Bernie Sanders -- the fate and state of the Democratic candidate in the midterms. What are they selling and why should people buy? What does he feel about this perceived credibility crisis within the White House? Does he believe that theory and does he believe that it's bleeding into proper governance?

And then I want to have a series of conversations with these people who are at the front of the parties about what they believe in most. So, tonight, with Bernie Sanders as part of his empowerment agenda, I want to take a much deeper look at what he believes health care should be, his single-payer, Medicare for all.

We've done a lot of homework and I think we can simplify it for people and give them a better sense of the pluses and minuses.

BLITZER: Looking forward to the show. Chris, thank you very much.

"CUOMO PRIME TIME" tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Once again, Bernie Sanders among his guests.

That's it for me.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.