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Trump Raises Trade War Fears by Announcing Tariffs; White House Struggles with Porn Star Scandal; Trump: Major Announcement on North Korea Coming Soon. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 17:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, declaring a trade war. Against the advice of key aides and hundreds of members of his own party, President Trump signs new tariffs on imports, almost certainly setting up a trade war as U.S. allies vow to retaliate against American products.

[17:00:24] Stormy silenced. An arbitration order silences Stormy Daniels, but the porn star is offering new revelations in strip club performances as the president rages about the performance of his own press secretary.

Refusing to answer. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski goes back before the House Intelligence Committee but refuses to answer key questions. The panel's top Democrat now wants to subpoena him.

And Putin's poison? Russia suspected on the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy who became a spy for Britain. Tonight, an ominous new warning from the Kremlin.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump may have just started a trade war that could harm U.S. consumers. The move has angered fellow Republicans, infuriating U.S. allies, scared investors, and let the economic adviser quit.

The White House is winging. Even as it struggles with the scandal involving the president's alleged affair with a porn star and his lawyer's attempts to keep her quiet.

I'll talk to congressman Ruben Gallego. And our correspondents and specialists, they are standing by with full coverage.

Republicans are calling the president's move on tariffs chaotic and confusing. Let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, with the Russia probe, top staff departures, a porn star scandal, can the White House handle any more chaos? JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Potentially trading chaos, Wolf. Top

Republicans on Capitol Hill slammed the president's decision to impose tough new tariffs on U.S. trading partners today. The president tried to soften the blow of these tariffs by saying he will be exempting some countries from the administration's new trading policy.

But there are other storm clouds on the horizon for the president, namely a porn star named Stormy Daniels and the Russia investigation.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's been a taxing week for President Trump, who signed a proclamation initiating new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports coming into the U.S., a move that's likely to spark a trade backlash from American allies.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Steel is steel. You don't have steel, you don't have a country.

It was not fair.

ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, the president took note of the collateral damage caused by his new tariffs, the sudden resignation of his top economic advisor, Gary Cohen, a fierce critic of free trade policies. Mr. Trump poked fun at Cohen, who strongly opposed the tariffs, describing his outgoing aide as a globalist.

TRUMP: He may be a globalist, but I still like him. He is seriously a globalist. There's no question, but you know what? In his own way, he's a naturalist, because he loves our country. And -- where is Gary? You love our country.

ACOSTA: But for all this tough talk, the president signaled he is making exceptions in applying some tariffs.

TRUMP: We're negotiating with Canada and the NAFTA, and depending on whether or not we reach a deal, also very much involved with that is national defense. But if we reach a deal, it's most likely that we won't be charging those two countries the tariffs.

ACOSTA: A much softer tone than he had last week.

TRUMP: People have no idea how badly our country has been treated. They've destroyed the steel industry. They've destroyed the aluminum industry.

ACOSTA: But the president has unleashed some of his fury behind the scenes, venting that he is not happy that press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed that he's been in arbitration with porn star Stormy Daniels, who alleges she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can share that that arbitration was won in the president's favor.

ACOSTA: A source close to the White House said the president believes Sarah gave the Stormy Daniels story line steroids. But White House officials pushed back on that, insisting the president has no issue with Sanders.

Democrats are taking note of the lack of GOP outrage over the Stormy story.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: You can be sure if any of that were happening with the Democrat, the Republicans would be very involved in it, but our time should be spent making the future better for the American people.

ACOSTA: The White House is also grappling with the president's loose talk in the Russia investigation. A White House official confirmed a report in "The New York Times" that the president has discussed the probe with former chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House counsel Don McGahn after they spoke with the special counsel's office. The official told CNN chief of staff John Kelly has warned the president to be careful, saying, "It's pretty clear that Kelly admonishes him constantly, and he's not the only one."

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Sending the message, not just to those that may have been questioned, but those that would be questioned in the future, that what they say would be commented upon or they'd be queried by the president. That's not a good practice. I think John Kelly's advice is sound advice.


[17:05:06] ACOSTA: Now as for his tariffs announcement, the president singled out Canada, Mexico, and potentially Australia as allies that may be able to avoid these tariffs. But consider some of the countries that may very well be affected: Japan, Germany, even South Korea, which is currently working with the U.S. to solve the very dangerous situation in North Korea, Wolf. That is why some top Republicans like Jeff Flake are talking about nullifying these tariffs. So this battle over this tariff issue is not over yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is not. All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

There's more news we're following as Stormy Daniels's lawyer slams the latest legal effort to silence here. The adult entertainer is taking full advantage of the latest publicity about here alleged affair with Donald Trump.

Let's bring in our national correspondent. Sara Sidner is also working the story for us.

Stormy Daniels a savvy businesswoman, because she's been able to make money off her alleged affair with Donald Trump without saying anything about it. The question is, will this new lawsuit allow her to do just that?


SIDNER (voice-over): Tonight, Stormy Daniels may be barred by an arbitrator to talk, that does not stop her from baring it all. The porn star turned alleged paramour of Donald Trump is on the strip club circuit, billed as Donald Trump's mistress, making money off her newfound fame.


SIDNER: Daniels, whose real name in Stephanie Clifford, was ordered by a retired judge not to discuss the hush money deal negotiated with her by President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, but it may be too late after a series of TV appearances by her lawyer, who says the restraining order is not valid.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: There were three parties to the agreement.

SIDNER: And a lawsuit she filed in Los Angeles that detailed the specifics of the non-disparagement agreement she signed in exchange for $130,000.

Among the requirements of the deal: that she turn over to Trump's lawyer images and text messages allegedly exchanged between Daniels and Trump, which the non-disparagement agreement suggests were previously presented to Trump's lawyer to exist.

Her lawyer is being coy about just what evidence his client has and if she's willing to share it publicly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does he still has photos, images, text messages, documents that verify this claim.

AVENATTI: That's a question that Ms. Daniels will have to ultimately answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know the answer to that question?

AVENATTI: I do know the answer, and I'm not at liberty to disclose that this morning.

SIDNER: in a 2011 interview with "InTouch" magazine, Daniels detailed her first alleged sexual encounter with Donald Trump, and how he continued contacting her between 2006 and 2007.

"He always called me from a blocked number," she told the magazine. "He gave me -- of course, I had Keith, his bodyguard's number -- he gave me his secretary's number, Rona, which is his direct office line. Any time I needed to get hold of him, he always took my call or called me back within ten minutes if he was on another call or wasn't there."

Jordi Lippe-McGraw is the reporter who interviewed Daniels in 2011.

JORDI LIPPE-MCGRAW, INTERVIEWED STORMY DANIELS: We had all this information. We wanted to make sure she was telling the truth. Then the results came back that she was, in fact, telling the truth.

SIDNER: And she says Daniels wasn't the only one listening when Trump would call her.

LIPPE-MCGRAW: She would actually put him on speakerphone sometimes, because she thought it was kind of crazy that Donald Trump was calling her. So she would put the phone on speakerphone and let her boyfriend at the time listen.

SIDNER: It's not clear if Daniels' lawsuit asking to be freed of the hush money agreement, will move forward. A judge has not yet been assigned.

What is clear is that, even without speaking publicly herself, Daniels' story has not been silenced.

DANIELS: I want to be able to defend myself. That's the worst part, is at this moment I can't defend myself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's got to be incredibly frustrating.

DANIELS: It's incredibly frustrating. Especially for someone like me --


DANIELS: -- who is, you know, has no problem, usually, defending herself.



SIDNER: Now, there's mentioning at the White House; and Trump's personal attorney have said over and over again that there was no affair. The question is, though, why would they go to such great lengths to stop her from talking? And that is the question everyone wants to know the answer to, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Only a few days before the election. All right, Sarah, thank you very much. Sara Sidner reporting.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get to all these issues, but tariffs first. Why do -- what does it say to you that the president of the United States is ignoring the concerns of so many fellow Republicans and other economists by going forward with these steel and aluminum tariffs?

GALLEGO: Well, it tells again what we all know the president is not ready for prime time. He claims the reason that we are issuing our new policies on tariffs is because of national security. If this is a true national security issue, why are you doing it in a manner that is so temperamental and basically just lashing out like an adolescent?

True national security issues should be -- should go through a process. You should talk to your allies. You should actually know and weigh the consequences. You're going to affect people's lives. There are a lot of people that are going to lose their jobs because of the president's essential, you know, acting like a teenager, because he wanted to just act out because he was having a bad day, and that's not how you govern.

[17:10:04] BLITZER: We're hearing so many of the president's national security advisers were opposed to this decision, not just his chief economic adviser, but so many of the -- the secretary of state, secretary of defense, the national security adviser, General McMaster, among others.

What's going to be the impact, assuming there is a trade war now as a result of these tariffs, on American consumers?

GALLEGO: Well, certainly, prices are going to go up on American consumers. There are going to be people that are going to lose jobs. I, for example, have an aluminum plant in my district that will be affected by this if the price goes up in my -- for that plant. People are probably going to start losing their jobs because, again, the president didn't thoroughly think this out.

BLITZER: But if that aluminum plant in your district is able to sell more, then presumably they could hire more workers.

GALLEGO: The problem is, like, it's not as simple as the president thinks. There's a lot of mixtures of different types of, you know, aluminum. There's aluminum coating, everything else like that.

So again, the president is trying to simply something very difficult, and he essentially did this decision without actually thinking it through. Because in the end, he really has no core convictions. And had he actually stuck to at least some core convictions, thoroughly talked about it with his economic advisors and his national security advisors, they would have told him that you need to go at this slowly and not lash out like -- like an immature leader.

BLITZER: Because the fear among so many economists right now, so many Republicans, especially in the House and the Senate, is that consumers are going to have to spend more for cars, for all sorts of other products if there is this full-scale trade war of some of these other countries that are going to be impacted by the steel and aluminum tariffs, decide to go after U.S. exports.

GALLEGO: And when that happens -- and again, that's when consumers stop buying, it actually affects the American worker. Whether it's the person that's selling the product, or the person that's actually making the product. Because, again, there are a lot of products that are made from all parts of the world, from different -- with different types of products.

And had the president taken the time, acted like a leader, and actually focused on this issue, he probably could have done something in a more responsible matter. But, instead, he was having a bad day. He decided to lash out. It's really scary when it really comes to a real national security issue, when it comes to one of our countries that we're potentially going to go to war with, that this president is leading in this manner. BLITZER: Let's go through some other issues right now, the Stormy

Daniels scandal, the payment, the controversy. Nancy Pelosi, your leader, the minority leader in the House, says this is not something the House of Representatives should be involved in right now. Do you agree with her?

GALLEGO: Well, for me, it's just shocking, like, had this happened under President Obama's presidency, this would have been the biggest scandal of his presidency.

For Trump this is not the biggest scandal this week, and that tells you what's going on in this administration.

Look, I do believe that if there was anything done illegal, and especially if there was any violations, especially when it came to the campaign finance laws, where it looks like the president's personal lawyer paid off, using funds or promises of funds, this -- this woman, then that needs to be investigated. And the reason that needs to be investigated is because there was an actual violation of the law.

The president should stop acting, if he did anything wrong -- but from what we're seeing, and I think what the public is seeing, he's acting as if there was something that either the lawyer did or he did that was bad.

BLITZER: Do you agree -- I assume you agree with your Democratic colleagues, Kathleen Rice and Ted Lieu, who've both written a letter saying the payments might have been a violation of federal election law in-kind campaign contributions: for example, $130,000 that was never reported as a campaign contribution. They want the FBI to investigate. Do you want the FBI to investigate?

GALLEGO: I would want whatever investigative body actually has jurisdiction over this, specifically if the FBI has jurisdiction over FEC violations, absolutely.

But, again, what we have to look at is strictly is what was the violation? What occurred? We don't want to sensationalize whatever the president's private life is, but if a fact if he actually did anything, knowingly, to violate the law, especially during a campaign, the public has a right to know.

BLITZER: You believe the president knew that his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was taking these actions only days before the election and transferring $130,000 to this woman?

GALLEGO: I personally believe so. Look, this president gets into the weeds when it comes to these types of issues, whether it's with his family or his own personal brand. And I don't know of any person, any lawyer that personally spends $130,000 without some guarantee of compensation at some point.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Congressman. We have major breaking news.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. BLITZER: Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff

Zeleny. Jeff, tell our viewers what you're learning.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, certainly an interesting development here. Within the last few moments, President Trump stuck his head into the White House briefing room and said that there would be a major announcement coming this evening. He said around 7, presumably Eastern Time, from South Korea. He said there would be a major announcement. He was speaking as a few reporters, including me, walked up to him. And I said, "Mr. President, what is the announcement going to be on?" And he said, "North Korea."

[17:15:09] So we are hearing from the president directly that he said South Korea is going to be making a major announcement about North Korea, of course, the nuclear ambitions, et cetera, tonight at 7 p.m.

But of course, Wolf, this comes on the high -- on the heels of some meetings over here this afternoon. The South Korea delegation has been here meeting with officials. We did not have a readout of the outcome of those meetings, but the president deciding to make this announcement himself.

We tried to answer or asked him other questions about this. He smiled, he waved, and he walked back into the wing of the White House. But for about, I would say 20 seconds or so, he made this announcement. Very unusual, Wolf. It's the first time I can recall the president coming into the briefing room since he's been in office, and, certainly, the first time making any type of announcement like this.

Of course, it was in a bit of a dramatic fashion. People were rushing around. We do not know what the substance of this is. We are checking with White House aides right now to see if they can shed any more light on this. But, again, all the president's saying is, though he was essentially issuing a preview or a commercial, if you will, to tune in at 7 p.m., he says, for a major announcement from South Korea.

BLITZER: So he says --

ZELENY: That's all we know right now.

BLITZER: Yes. He says the South Koreans will have an announcement around 7 p.m. Eastern Time, which is, you know, hours -- it's already going to be Friday over there in Seoul, South Korea.

It comes on this day when just a few hours ago, there was a very high- level delegation from South Korea that came over to the West Wing of the White House. A delegation that included individuals who met with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang --

ZELENY: Right.

BLITZER: -- just days ago. They came -- they came here to Washington, we're told, to deliver a specific message from Kim Jong-un to the United States specifically to President Trump himself. We showed our viewers some video of that delegation arriving over

there at the West Wing of the White House. What, if anything, do we know? I assume the president learned something from this delegation, and as a result, he's telling us, get ready for a major announcement on North Korea from South Korea around 7 p.m. Eastern?

ZELENY: Wolf, this would certainly seem to be related. The president did not say that specifically, but it certainly comes on a day, in fact just hours after the delegation arrived here. And it does come just several days after the president was expressing a new level of optimism that North Korea would be willing to discuss, you know, the future of their nuclear weapons and the regime.

The president did not say specifically it was about this meeting. I asked him if it was about, you know -- the subject. We tried pressing him, and he would not give any more than that. He certainly seemed to be relishing the idea that he was making this announcement. There were not any cameras there, at least as far as I know. I was standing about, I would say, two feet or so from him, Wolf. But he said it was about North Korea, not anything else.

So the reality here, though, is, Wolf, this is something that the president has certainly changed his tone on, which is a sign that there have been some serious discussions underway behind the scenes. We have not seen the president talk about Rocket Man. We've not seen him talking about "fire and fury unlike the world has ever seen." Of course, that was his very aggressive posture that he was taking some months ago. So he certainly has modulated his words and speaking toward Kim Jong-un.

So we will see, A, what this announcement is, and, B, what, if anything the U.S. had to do with it, Wolf. But certainly an interesting preview, if you will, from the president himself.

BLITZER: Yes, it's clearly something the president is happy about. Otherwise, he wouldn't have done -- we're showing our viewers a picture when he simply walked into the briefing room over there, the press briefing room at the White House to tell reporters, get ready, there will be an announcement from South Korea around 7 p.m. Eastern. He didn't say what that announcement would be. But, clearly, he said it would involve North Korea, but I don't think the president would have walked into that briefing room and tell reporters to get an excited about an announcement if he wasn't pleased with what that announcement was going to be.

ZELENY: Right.

BLITZER: I want you to go, Jeff. I know you're going to work your sources. We'll try to find out what the South Korean announcement is. The president is getting everyone anticipating that announcement. We'll get back to you as soon as you get more information.


BLITZER: We're checking with our bureau in Seoul, South Korea, as well, and elsewhere to see what this South Korean announcement about North Korea entails. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

Ruben Gallego is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. You guys spent a lot of time worrying about the Korean Peninsula, the nuclear threat.

GALLEGO: I just got back there.

BLITZER: You were just there. Clearly, the president is excited about this. Otherwise he wouldn't have done this extraordinary thing. He personally went into the briefing room and told reporters, "Get excited."

[17:20:07] GALLEGO: Well, first of all, I hope this is good news. I mean, I think we'd all like to see a stable Korean Peninsula and a stable, just in general, Far East.

You know, I think it's a little out of the president's -- you know, it's like the announcement of who's getting fired on "The Apprentice." This is a very serious issue, very serious consequences. I think he should treat it in a presidential manner that it deserves.

But, again, you know, I hope this is good news. We need good news out there. It is a very dangerous situation that has not been handled very well.

BLITZER: Are you encouraged that there was this direct dialogue now between North Korea and South Korea, a South Korean delegations, high- ranking intelligence officials among others going to Pyongyang and actually sitting down with Kim Jong-un, and now coming to Washington to deliver a message from the North Korean leader?

GALLEGO: Certainly encouraged, I think. But we also have to recognize the history of North Korea playing these types of games where they will, you know, basically talk about peace, but in the meantime, still continue either developing their weapons or essentially, you know, just restarting it at a later point.

But, again, I hope this is good news. I think for this country, for the world, we want to see stability over there, and I'm anxious to hear what happens.

BLITZER: Yes, we're working our sources here in Washington, in Seoul, South Korea, in Beijing, elsewhere to try to figure out what the president is talking about. He simply stuck his head into the briefing room and said to reporters, "There will be an announcement from South Korea. Let's see what that announcement is."

Congressman Gallego, thanks, as usual for joining us.

GALLEGO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're staying on top of the breaking new. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:26:07] BLITZER: Breaking stories, the president says a major announcement on North Korea is coming very, very soon. This comes amid new headaches for the White House as the Stormy Daniel hush money scandal hangs over the president and his longtime personal attorney.

Plus, the president formalizes new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, a move the White House claims is necessary for national security but one that's facing intense pushback from so many Republican lawmakers and so many business leaders.

Let's get right to all of this with our experts and reporters who are with us.

Kaitlan, pretty unusual. The president of the United States in the middle of the day decides he's going to step into the White House briefing room, stick his head in there. A few reporters mulling around, nothing going on, no briefing, and says, get ready around 7 p.m. Eastern, an hour and a half or so from now. That would be 8 a.m. in Seoul, South Korea. The South Korean government is going to make a major announcement on North Korea. He said, "Just watch." He doesn't tell us what it is. It's pretty extraordinary.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's incredibly extraordinary. And I should point out to the viewers that the president rarely, and if ever, has been in the briefing room --


COLLINS: -- to my knowledge, we've never seen him in the briefing room of the White House, which is not typical of other past presidents. But this president has never been in.

So he just pops in. There's no warning. He tells a few reporters who happened to be in the briefing room that this big announcement is coming.

But we should get some background as to what led up to this. Because we know that the South Korean and the North Koreans met recently. They had talks. The South Koreans said that the North Koreans had said they were willing to talk with the United States about denuclearizing and whatnot.

And the president actually expressed cautious optimism after those reports surfaced. It wasn't something I believe the North Koreans ever confirmed, but the South Koreans did say that.

And we should note that the South Koreans officials were at the White House today, essentially briefing the administration on what they had discussed with North Korea. We know that they met specifically with the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

So that was what was going on behind the scenes here at the White House today as the president was signing those tariffs. That was going on. And then the president just comes out at the last minute, pops out and says this major announcement is coming on behalf of South Korea on a big subject, meaning North Korea. BLITZER: And that delegation, Abby, from South Korea that came over

to the White House today. He met with General McMaster. For all we know, they met with others, maybe even with the president himself.

They not only were part of a delegation from South Korea that went to Pyongyang, North Korea. They actually sat down with Kim Jong-un for a meeting.


BLITZER: And supposedly, they were bringing a message to the president, to President Trump from Kim Jong-un.

PHILLIP: That's right. And the West Wing is a pretty small place. So it's entirely possible that the president could have been around when these briefings were happening.

And this could be a key moment. We don't know exactly what it's going to be, but it's significant enough that President Trump thought it was important to kind of scoop the South Koreans on their own announcements before they could even announce that they were making some big happen.

And this president has been what Kaitlan just said, cautious in kind of an uncharacteristic way in dealing with these developments out of North Korea. Now we're seeing the potential for him to maybe take a victory lap if there is something to take a victory lap for.

BLITZER: Very quickly.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: I mean, I think president as hype man. You know, he -- this is the sort of thing he does.

And Kaitlan mentioned this. He sort of -- he's saying not "We're going to announce something," but "Hey, FYI, South Korea is going to say something about all this" to draw attention to it. And yes, I think, gain some level of credit for it, which if there is some real development, he probably deserves some level of credit for it, even though his approach publicly -- Little Rocket Man, "fire and fury" is certainly unorthodox.

BLITZER: He's obviously very happy with whatever announcement is going to be made.

I want everybody to stand by. Bianna, we're going to get back to you in just a few moments. We're getting more information on the breaking news. The president of the United States telling us that around 7 p.m. Eastern Time -- that would be 8 a.m., already Friday morning in Seoul, South Korea -- the South Korean government will make a major announcement on North Korea. Clearly, the President is very excited, very pleased about it, otherwise, it wouldn't have jumped into that the briefing room and alerted reporters. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:35:00] BLITZER: The breaking news we're following, the President

of the United States just popped his head into the White House briefing room, only a few moments ago, to tell reporters that there will be a major announcement on North Korea coming very soon. He said that it would happen around 7:00 p.m. Eastern. He didn't say what it would be, but clearly, the President is very pleased by this announcement that follows a delegation from South Korea visiting the White House today. We're going to have much more on this story, coming up.

There's other news we're following in the meantime as well including the latest developments on this whole Stormy Daniels' scandal that is erupting. Bianna, there are so many unanswered questions right now and it's hovering over at the White House at a very, very delicate time.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, yes, yes. You're not kidding, Wolf. I mean, I didn't know if I was going to be talking about trade, North Korea, or Stormy Daniels, not sure necessarily what I can contribute, what new information we have on that other than this became an issue which was maybe something we covered at the last segment of a show to now becoming something that's front and center, and you're seeing a White House really not equipped to handle it. The reports you were reporting on CNN about the President being upset with how Sarah Sanders addressed the issue, and, obviously, we have yet to hear from Michael Cohen and the people who know the truth, and that may only include the President and Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels. But clearly, this is something that came front and center and the President would much rather talk about tariffs or even North Korea and any developments with regards to that situation there, but you have Republicans and Republican leadership, Paul Ryan, saying something along the lines of this isn't, you know, something he looks at or he -- that he's focused on, when clearly you know, whether he likes it or not, this is something that the Republican Party is having to face.


CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: A classic Trumpian day in some ways. The big thing that they wanted to do today, tariffs, even though lots of people in his administration and almost every Republican in Congress is against it. Stormy Daniels, the story they don't want. And then, of course, Donald Trump, reality television star and producer, the story no one expected, the cliff hanger, stay tuned, South Korea announcement on North Korea. I mean, this is -- this is the Trump presidency in the space of, you know, five hours.

On Stormy Daniels in particular, I talked to Jeff Toobin, our colleague, who I think is a brilliant legal mind, asked him about what's the -- what is the end -- what is the outcome of this lawsuit that Stormy Daniels filed earlier in the week? And he said it's his belief that we will get Stormy Daniels' full story on Donald Trump. That she will be able to speak on it and tell that full story. Maybe the White House doesn't feel compelled this second to say anything more than what Sarah Sanders says, which is, look, we've said everything we can say and, you know, we're not going to talk about it. It's a settled matter. If she comes out and tells her story with details, with -- you know, I think it's hard to just ignore it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I also think that it's a real story. I mean, for a long time, this White House was denying that this thing even was real, and now we know it's real. Now, we know that as recently as a week ago, there was ongoing litigation in this case, according to Sarah Sanders, in the President's favor, were her words, but this is a case that directly involves the President of the United States and a porn actress who is accusing him of paying her off 11 days before the election. I think that that is to put us putting aside everything about whether or not this matters for the President's political future. There is a real interest here in identifying what the truth is, and we are far from done with that.

BLITZER: How irritated is the President with his press secretary?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it's unclear. The president definitely -- I mean, she waded into this argument by say, she brought the President directly into it. So far, it looks like what the White House has said. They said we've already addressed this, we've already settled this, we're moving on. They refused to really elaborate. That briefing yesterday was really the first time that Sarah Sanders gotten into the details where she did start to bring up the arbitration which raised the questions of what arbitration are you talking about? So, it was something that we hadn't known. And typically, a press secretary doesn't give details like that and typically manage what's already out there. But, certainly, there was that, but it definitely brought this -- that much closer to the President as they both just made that point, so it certainly brings the President back into it.

And the question now is what is the President going to say? Because that is one thing we did hear a lot yesterday, that the President has denied these allegations. We've already heard from the President, and that's simply not true. The President has not addressed this. He certainly hasn't addressed this since Stephanie Clifford filed that lawsuit against the President. So, we haven't heard from this on this subject, we've only heard from Michael Cohen, his private attorney, so far, but I'm sure he was not pleased about it.

GOLODRYGA: And Wolf, it really tests --

BLITZER: Stephanie Clifford, AKA Stormy Daniels. Very quickly.

[17:39:52] GOLODRYGA: It really tests how loyal his base can be to him. And it goes back to the, I can walk on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and nothing will happen. You hear the President, apparently, really focusing on tariffs to appease his base and that's something he ran on. You know, how much longer can evangelicals, a large part of his base as well, remain quiet as we now -- as you've mentioned come to deal with this issue as a definite as opposed to a maybe.

BLITZER: Everybody standby. There's more news we're following.

Investigators now say 21 people have received treatment after a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned by a nerve agent at a shopper center in the United Kingdom


[17:45:03] BLITZER: British authorities now say 21 people received treatment for exposure to a nerve agent after the attack that left the former Russian spy and his daughter in critical condition. A policeman is said to be improving. A western intelligence official says Russia is the leading suspect given similar attacks in the past. Russia is denying any responsibility.

Let's go live to our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen, joining us from Moscow. Fred, what are you learning?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. We've obtained some information from the Russian spy agency, the FSB, and they believe that this man, Sergei Skripal, this agent who was poisoned there in Britain, was cultivated by Britain's intelligence service, the MI6, sometime in the 1990s. The MI6 is, of course, the same intelligence service where Christopher Steele also came from, the man behind the Trump dossier. And you know, Wolf, you mentioned that the Russians are saying they weren't behind all this, but that doesn't mean that Russian state media isn't gloating about it. I want you to listen to what one Russian anchor said on state T.V. today. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The traitor's profession is one the most dangerous in the world. According to statistics, it is much more dangerous than being a drug courier. Those who choose it rarely live in peace and tranquillity to a venerable old age. Alcoholism and drug addiction, stress, severe nervous breakdown, and depression are the inevitable occupational illnesses of the traitor. And as a result, heart attacks, strokes, traffic accidents, and finally, suicide.


PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, you already mentioned that the Brits have now massively expanded the number of people who are receiving treatment for allegedly being exposed to this nerve agent, and the Brits are also saying once they confirm who's actually behind this attack, that there will be a robust response. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Fred Pleitgen, reporting for us from Moscow. We'll stay on top of the story.

Coming up, he'll do whatever he has to do on behalf of his client. His client being, Donald Trump. The President's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is known as the "fixer," but can he fix this Stormy Daniels scandal?


[1:51:47] BLITZER: After more than a decade working for President Trump, Michael Cohen, the President's long-time personal attorney, suddenly finds himself at the center of the Stormy Daniels controversy. Our Brian Todd has been working this story. He's got details on

Cohen's role in the hush money scandal and how he came to be one of the President's most trusted confidants. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you just mentioned, again, Michael Cohen tonight at the center of controversy surrounding the Daniels story. Tonight, he's criticized for his legal and P.R. handling of the case. But those who know him say, don't think Michael Cohen won't fight his way through all of this.


MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: The next president of the United States of America.

TODD: Michael Cohen says he will always protect his client, Donald Trump.

COHEN: He's a good man. He's a man who cares deeply about this country.

TODD: For 12 years, Cohen has been Trump's personal attorney, or as many call him, Trump's fixer. One former Trump campaign official says Cohen is a less cool version of Ray Donovan, Showtime's fictional Hollywood fixer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No! No! Oh, Jesus, Ray.

TODD: But if Cohen is less cool than Donovan, observers say, he's every bit as tenacious.

MARC FISHER, "TRUMP REVEALED" CO-AUTHOR: Michael Cohen is not adverse to threatening people. He's a guy who carries a pistol in an ankle holster. He makes it clear to people that he's a tough guy.

TODD: From sometimes ruthlessly maneuvering against people who have damaging information on Trump to trying to facilitate business deals for his boss, observers say Michael Cohen consistently doggedly displays the one characteristic Donald Trump values most.

FISHER: There's very little in the world that's more important to Donald Trump than loyalty and Michael Cohen has shown for more than a decade that he will hold confidences and that he will fight for Trump in the way that Trump likes, and that is to hit hard. To always hit back harder than you've been hit.

TODD: But tonight, Michael Cohen faces criticism for his handling of the Stormy Daniels case. Daniels attorney says the agreement Cohen drew up for Daniels to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump was, quote, sloppy.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIEL'S LAWYER: The way that this was handled and the documentation, quite honestly, this was amateur hour.

TODD: Cohen recently said he used his own personal funds to, quote, facilitate a payment to the porn star shortly before the 2016 election without Trump's knowledge or reimbursement. Something legal experts say is almost unheard of.

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is extraordinary, and I would -- I would tell you that probably 99.9 percent of the lawyers in America would never even contemplate doing this.

TODD: In response, Cohen tells CNN, his legal arguments and documents in the Daniels' case are airtight and that he believes it's Daniels who's now liable for millions in damages based on her conduct. But Cohen's also being criticized from a pure public relations standpoint.

MICHAEL RUBIN, CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST: I think the entire thing was either reckless, naive, or completely incompetent.

TODD: Crisis Communication Specialist Michael Rubin says it was a bad idea to believe paying Daniels off would make her go away. What should Cohen have told Trump?

RUBIN: Tell him this isn't going to work. That's what he -- that's what he really should have done. There was nothing they could have done to make this go away. So, dealing with it honestly is pretty much the only choice they have.


[17:54:57] TODD: Cohen defends himself on that score, as well, telling us, he hopes Daniels and her attorney are enjoying their 15 minutes of fame. That he thinks that will diminish, significantly, when a judgment is entered against her. As to the allegations of an affair, Mr. Cohen reiterated to us his strong denial of the affair on three separate occasions. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, the breaking news. President Trump raises trade war fears by announcing import tariffs. But the move comes as the White House struggles with the Stormy Daniels scandal. Can the White House handle anymore chaos?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Surprise announcement. President Trump throws a curveball at reporters promising an announcement that could impact the nuclear standoff from North Korea. Will it live up to the President's hype? We're going to tell you what we're learning this hour.