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Mueller Subpoenas Trump Organization in Russia Probe; Trump Administration Finally Slaps Sanctions on Russia; Top U.S. Diplomat: North Korea "Surprised" When Trump Agreed To Meet With Kim Jong-un. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for the show today. I turn you over toe Wolf Blitzer, right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Urgent rescues underway. A new pedestrian bridge collapses in Miami, crushing several vehicles underneath. Police say there are multiple victims. What went wrong?

New Russia subpoena. Special Counsel Robert Mueller moves on the Trump Organization, ordering the president's business to turn over documents. Did Mueller just cross a red line set by the president?

Moving on Moscow. The U.S. finally imposes sanctions on Russia for election meddling and cyber-attacks, including all 13 individuals indicted by the special counsel. The White House vows to be tough on Russia, but why won't it say whether Vladimir Putin is a U.S. friend or foe?

And North Korea's surprise. In a CNN exclusive, a newly retired top U.S. diplomat says Kim Jong-un's regime was surprised by the president's agreement to talk with the North Korean dictator. With both sides scrambling to get ready, what happens if the talks don't work out?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, the Russian probe special counsel subpoenas the Trump Organization. A source says Robert Mueller has ordered the president's business to turn over documents. That comes as the Trump administration finally announces sanctions on Russia, including individuals indicted last month by Mueller.

I'll speak with Jake Sullivan, the former national security adviser to Vice President Biden. And our correspondents and specialists, they're all standing by with full coverage.

But let's begin with the breaking news, as Russian probe Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, and our CNN political correspondent, Sarah Murray.

Evan, what is Mueller's latest move all about?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in the last few weeks, the Trump Organization has received a subpoena from Special Counsel Mueller asking for documents. Now we don't know a lot about what the specific request is to the Trump Organization, but we know that, in the last few months, the Trump Organization has said that they had turned over thousands of pages of documents to the special counsel related to the Trump Organization's businesses.

Now, this means that the special counsel either believes that there is information that was not turned over or, Wolf, they're trying to make sure that there's nothing missing from the documents that were turned over previously.

We did get a statement from Alan Futerfas, the lawyer for the Trump Organization, and he says in part, "Since July 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump Organization is fully cooperative with all investigations, including the special counsel, and is responding to their requests. This is old news, and our assistance and cooperation with various investigations remains the same today."

Now, obviously, Wolf, the fact is we've asked this -- the organization before about whether or not they had received any requests from the special counsel. They had said no. This has, obviously, changed in the recent weeks, so this is very much new news, and it indicates, at least, that there's much more investigation to be done here.

BLITZER: Because the president's lawyers have repeatedly suggested it looks like this whole investigation is coming to a close pretty soon. They said at the end of Thanksgiving, then Christmas, end of the year. Now, with this latest subpoena, it seems -- correct me if I'm wrong -- like it's going to go on and on and on.

PEREZ: Right, exactly. There's a lot of indications here that this is an investigation that's going to continue well into the end of the year. Obviously, we have a trial upcoming with Paul Manafort, the chairman of the Trump campaign, who is going to be facing trial in Virginia and in D.C. later this year.

So we know at a minimum, the special counsel is going to be in business through the end of this year, well past the 2018 elections.

Wolf, the further issue here is that the president is being told by his legal team that this is almost over, and the fact that this subpoena arrived in recent weeks tells us that there's a lot more to be done here in this investigation.

BLITZER: As you know, Sarah, the president has suggested previously that going after his business dealings or his family's business dealings would cross what he called a red line. So that's a significant warning right there to the special counsel.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a significant warning, not necessarily one that special counsel is going to heed, and Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, was asked about this today, whether this move crosses the red line, and she's said there is no collusion, but she wouldn't say whether or not this sort of violates the red line that Trump drew for himself.

I mean, one thing that's notable is, yes, we know that this subpoena had to do with documents related to potential Russian deals, but "The New York Times" story -- and they broke this news first -- indicates that it could be broader than that.

So in that sense, yes, it could -- it could cross Trump's red line. It is an indication, as you guys just pointed out, that this is not wrapping up soon. And one of the things we've seen from Trump's lawyers is that they are willing to sort of try anything to bring an end to this as quickly as possible, including thinking of the notion of putting the president in a room to sit down with Robert Mueller. It will be interesting to see if this changes that calculus.

BLITZER: Any idea, Evan, what Mueller is looking for?

PEREZ: Well, Wolf, I mean, I think there's a lot we don't know about the exact nature of the subpoena, but I've got to tell you, at the top of the list for these documents request has to be the 2015 proposal that the Trump Organization was pursuing to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Obviously, that is a very key period here.

The campaign was getting started in 2015, for the 2016 presidential race. So there is a lot of questions that the special counsel has to have about that deal. It obviously did not happen. It did not go through. But we know that there have been witnesses who have been brought before the special counsel who have been asked about that deal in particular. So you've got to think that that has to be at the top of the list for their request for documents.

BLITZER: Could it include his tax returns? We know how sensitive he has been about not releasing those tax returns.

PEREZ: Right. It very well could. I mean, we don't know, but, again, this is something that the special counsel has a great deal of leverage on. He has the ability to go wherever he needs to go to get to the bottom of this investigation.

BLITZER: Because we have learned, Sarah -- I know you've reported this -- that the Mueller investigation, they have been looking into the Trump companies, corporations, the business dealings, previous business dealings in Russia.

MURRAY: Right, and I think one of the things that's interesting, you know, we know that Bob Mueller's initial sort of mandate was to look into collusion but also to look into anything that comes up as a result of that investigation.

So when you hear that witnesses are being asked, you know, when did Donald Trump decide that he was going to run for president, even if he wasn't saying it publicly.

What was the deal with this Moscow Trump Tower? Why did this fall through? And what was the deal with holding this Miss Universe pageant in Russia, before you start to sort wonder whether this is a broader investigation in -- potentially into the president's finances or whether this could be Bob Mueller trying to draw a line. If there was collusion, did it start, potentially, earlier than we thought? Was there a reason that the Russians were so interested in this president and a reason that Trump was so kind to Vladimir Putin throughout the campaign? And could Russian officials have any compromising information, not just on President Trump, but on people who are sort of in his inner circle? These are all questions that Mueller's team could be looking at.

BLITZER: Lots of questions. You know, what jumped out at me, Evan, and I assume at you, as well, the Mueller team, they could have simply asked the Trump companies for all of this information, but instead of simply asking for it, they subpoenaed it. They issued a court subpoena. What does that say to you?

PEREZ: Well, you know, keep in mind, Wolf, again, that they had previously voluntarily turned over thousands and thousands of pages of documents. So that tells us that the special counsel either believes that not everything was turned over or they are trying to make sure, again, by compelling this, and it's a very forceful act to send a subpoena. There is -- that's no joke. So it's clearly -- they are trying to make the impression that there is nothing they want left turned over.

BLITZER: Good reporting, Evan and Sara. Thank you very much.

This special counsel's move against the Trump Organization comes as the White House finally moves forward with sanctions against Russia. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, the president has warned against close scrutiny of his business. That's going on, but there's a lot of other developments unfolding.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. The president has been long concerned by the scope of this special counsel's investigation, particularly as it relates to his family business.

But at the White House tonight, they are wondering how long this investigation will go on on a day where they thought they were turning the page on Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump said last year Special Counsel Mueller would cross a red line if his investigation looked into Trump family finances unrelated to Russia. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not repeat that today.

(on camera): Does he draw a distinction, do you know, between a red line on family finances separately from family finances or business finances relating to Russia as it pertains to this case?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes very strongly there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We're going to continue to cooperate with the special counsel.

ZELENY (voice-over): The special counsel's subpoena, first reported by "The New York Times" and confirmed by CNN, came as the Trump administration took its toughest stand yet against Russia, imposing sanctions as retaliation for interfering in the 2016 election and accusing Moscow of plotting a nerve gas attack in the U.K.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a very sad situation. It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it. Something that should never, ever happen, and we're taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.

ZELENY: Tonight, the one-two punch is part of an effort to punish Russia, which the president has seemed reluctant to do for more than a year.

The five Russian organizations and 19 people sanctioned today by the Treasury Department for malicious cyber-attacks is a near mirror image of the indictments announced last month by the special counsel. All names on this February indictment are included on today's sanction list.

The administration also making a new accusation. Russia tried to hack the U.S. energy grid.

Tonight, Democrats are wondering what took the administration so long, and why the president's words are softer than his sanctions.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Why can't the president, himself, call out the bad actions of Russia? And it -- it is an ongoing question.

ZELENY: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said this when asked if Vladimir Putin was a friend or foe.

SANDERS: I think that's something that Russia is going to have to make that determination. They're going to have to decide whether or not they want to be a good actor or a bad actor.

ZELENY: The United States also joining the U.K., France, and Germany in condemning Russia for its apparent role in a nerve gas attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil. The four allies saying in a joint statement, "We share the United Kingdom's assessment that there's no plausible alternative explanation and note that Russia's failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia's responsibility."

Meanwhile, the president admitted fabricating facts in a meeting with another key ally, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At a private fundraiser Wednesday night in St. Louis, the president blamed Canada for having a trade deficit with the U.S., which isn't true.

In a recording obtained by "The Washington Post" and confirmed to CNN by an attendee, the president said, "He's a good guy, Justin. He said, 'No, no, we have no trade deficit with you. We have none. Donald, please.' 'Wrong, Justin, you do.' I didn't even know. I had no idea. I just said, 'You're wrong.'"

The president doubled down today on Twitter, saying, "We do have a trade deficit with Canada as we do with almost all countries, some of them massive."

But here are the facts. Trump's own Commerce Department says the U.S. ran a nearly $2.8 billion surplus with Canada for 2017.

All this as staff turnover in the Trump administration is causing turmoil. Meeting with the Irish prime minister today in the Oval Office, the president downplaying the suggestion a major shakeup is imminent, but change, he said, is good.

TRUMP: There'll always be change, and I think you want to see change, and I want to also see different ideas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So the president leaving it at that. There will always be change. And Wolf, that has certainly led to the anxiety and the feeling of apprehension here at the White House and indeed, across agencies across Washington, wondering who is the next cabinet secretary or top adviser potentially to be shown the door.

We do know that the president is eyeing potential replacements for the Veterans Affairs Department, eyeing a new secretary there, as well as other people, including a national security adviser. Wolf, many of these changes often happen on Friday. So keep an eye out on what happens here tomorrow.

BLITZER: We'll see if it happens tomorrow. We'll see if they wait until after the markets close at 4 p.m. Eastern --

ZELENY: Indeed.

BLITZER: -- to make some of those announcements tomorrow. They always do that on a Friday. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Jake Sullivan. He served as Vice President Biden's national security adviser. He was also director of policy planning at the State Department, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton.

Jake, thanks so much for coming in.

JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR FOR VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Want to talk about sanctions and some other material in just a moment, but the fact that the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, has now issued a subpoena to the Trump Organization for business-related documents, even though the president told "The New York Times" not that long ago that going after his business would cross a red line. What's your thought?

SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, it's Investigation 101 to follow the money. Secondly, we've known for a long time now that, even though Donald

Trump has said repeatedly, "I'm not invested in Russia. I have no investments in Russia," that Russia and Russians have been invested in him. His own son said that a few years ago, that Russian money was pouring in. Russian oligarchs have been purchasing his properties.

So I think it's only right and reasonable that Bob Mueller would be looking at the question of whether any financial ties between the Trump Organization and Russia can help us get to the bottom, both of what happened in 2016 and what's going on now with President -- with President Trump still unwilling to seriously confront or consider confronting Vladimir Putin.

BLITZER: So you think what they're really interested in right now, at least this part of the investigation, involves alleged money laundering? That's what Steve Bannon once said, that that could be the next frontier, if you will, for the Mueller investigation.

SULLIVAN: Well, it certainly is straight out of the Russian playbook to use various American businessmen to engage in money laundering, so I wouldn't put that out of the question. But it's hard for me to speculate on what exactly Robert Mueller's honing in on.

What it does appear, though, is that Mueller has real questions, serious questions about whether financial ties between Russians and Donald Trump have something to do with what we've witnessed here over the last couple of years.

BLITZER: Since the president warned that going after his business records would cross a so-called red line, could this decision by Mueller put his whole investigation in jeopardy if the president decides to get rid of him?

[17:15:02] SULLIVAN: Well, every step that Mueller takes that gets you closer to the White House that involves people closer to President Trump puts him in some jeopardy, because you have a president who's already fired an FBI director, who's already threatened his attorney general, who's already issued threats against the special counsel, himself.

But I think what Robert Mueller's going to do is follow the facts where they lead, and leave Donald Trump to make his own decisions. And at the end of the day, I have confidence that Bob Mueller will do a professional and standup job in the investigation.

BLITZER: Let's get to the other big story today, the administration finally going ahead and imposing sanctions on Russians and Russian entities because of its election meddling. It's the law of the land. It was passed by the House and Senate overwhelmingly last August, reluctantly signed into law by the president. Now, finally, after all these months, he's beginning to do something about it, the Treasury Department. Are they tough enough?

SULLIVAN: Well, they're not tough enough. Now, on the one hand, it's a good thing that the Treasury Department has reinforced and reaffirmed what Bob Mueller said. I mean, they have now put sanctions on exactly the same individuals and entities that Mueller has charged. That's a good thing.

But in terms of being tough enough, none of these will have any economic impact whatsoever in Russia. Ask any sanctions expert, and they will tell you that, until you actually go after banks and financial institutions and the real assets of real oligarchs, people aren't going to feel the pinch in Russia. Putin certainly won't.

So this is a good step. It's positive. It should be welcomed. But it's not nearly far enough, and what President Trump really should do is implement the bipartisan sanctions that passed the Congress overwhelmingly last year.

BLITZER: The sanctions -- the new sanctions today come on the same day that the U.S., several of the allies issued a strong statement condemning the Russians for the poisoning of that British -- that Russian double agent in Britain and his daughter, as well. They're still in pretty serious condition. A police officer is in serious condition, as well. Is the administration getting tougher on Russia right now?

SULLIVAN: Well, Vladimir Putin is making it very difficult for Trump to do what he wants to do, which is turn a blind eye. I mean, when you so brazenly execute an attack with a military-grade nerve agent the way that the Russians did in Britain, even Donald Trump has to let his government do something about it

But I don't think that this has yet fundamentally changed the president's posture towards Russia. Even what he said today in the Oval Office was a far cry from what you'd hope to hear from an American president when our ally is under attack in the way that Britain's been under attack.

BLITZER: Much tougher statement from Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. yesterday. And tougher statements, as well, released by the press secretary, the office of the press secretary at the White House.

SULLIVAN: Right.

BLITZER: Jake Sullivan, thanks for coming in.

SULLIVAN: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Much more coming up, including more breaking news. The Trump administration finally hitting Russia with sanctions for election meddling and joining U.S. allies in blaming Russia for that chemical attack in Britain. We're going live to Moscow. We'll get reaction.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:22:24] BLITZER: Our breaking news: the Trump administration finally slaps sanctions on Russia for election meddling and cyber- attacks, and is joining with U.S. allies in blaming Russia for the nerve agent attack in Britain.

Let's go live to Moscow right now. Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is following these developments.

Fred, people are saying this is Trump finally getting tough, but is he really?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't really think that the Russians believe that he is, Wolf. We've had some statements from the Russian foreign ministry. They came out very quickly, and they said that they are going to respond to these new sanctions, but they also said that they are calm in the face of these sanctions, and, certainly, we can see why.

In that some of the entities that are on that new sanctions list, like for instance the Internet Research Agency, which of course, was that big troll factory that meddled in the U.S. election, even sent operatives to the U.S. in 2016 to try and start fake events and things like that. That hasn't actually existed as a legal entity here in Russia since late 2016. So it's hard to see how it would be hit by sanctions.

And then, Wolf, you have the main guy who's on this new sanctions list, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who's a very powerful oligarch very close to Vladimir Putin. He came out just a couple of minutes ago, and he was mocking these new sanctions. I want to quote from you -- from what he said in an interview.

He said, "Concord" -- which is sort of the company, the super structure of all of his companies, including that troll factory -- "has already been under sanctions three times; I, myself, three or four times. I'm bored and -- of counting and don't remember. I do not have any business in the USA with the Americans. It doesn't bother me. I will stop going to McDonald's," he says, obviously, putting the icing on the cake of his mockery of these new sanctions.

And there's two other entities that I want to mention, as well, Wolf. One of them is the FSB, which is, of course, Russia's intelligence agency, and then the GRU, which is Russia's military intelligence agency. Those have also been sanctioned by the U.S. several times. That, of course, Wolf, didn't stop their top officials a couple of months ago going to the U.S., going to the -- to D.C. And meeting with some top U.S. intelligence officials.

So hard to see how these sanctions are going to actually hit the Russian state, and certainly doesn't seem as though the Russians at this point are quaking in their boots, even though they say they are going to respond. They also say, Wolf, that they're very calm. We're still waiting to see when that response is going to happen. They've said it's going to happen soon. We'll obviously keep you posted if we hear more from Moscow tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Fred, let us know. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us. Thanks.

Coming up, more breaking news. Special Counsel Robert Mueller moves on the Trump Organization, ordering the president's business to turn over documents. Did Mueller just cross the president's red line?

[17:25:06] Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller's subpoenaing the Trump Organization for business documents. The first publicly known time Mueller demanded that the documents related to the president's businesses be subpoenaed.

Let's bring in our experts to assess. Chris Cillizza, is Mueller crossing that so-called red line that the president earlier drew, don't go after my business; don't go after my family's business?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Right.. So, let's look, Wolf, at the exact quotes that -- this is from a New York Times interview in July, Mike Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, the question was asked, Trump did not use the language, red line, but Trump was asked, would going into your personal finances excluding any Russia ties, because we know that Trump organization has invested in Russia and bought some things in Russia here and there, does that count as a red line? And he says, I would think so. Now, how do you define what looking into your personal finances excluding Russia means, that's one piece. So, how does Donald Trump define red line, we don't really know.

The other piece is this is something the Russia investigation, Bob Mueller, the whole thing, the Congressional Committee is looking into it that sticks in Donald Trump's craw. We know this. His Twitter outbursts, accusations he makes, he calls it a -- he's called it a hoax, he's called it a witch hunt. This is something that gets to him emotionally as opposed to intellectually, and so I don't even know if defining what "red line" necessarily means to Donald Trump is as important as does he see this as a provocation? Forget redline, does he see this as a provocation? Does he strike back whether it's on Twitter or does he do something like (INAUDIBLE) a reason or a why to get rid of Jeff Sessions? Does he do something which I think would be political suicide, but does he do something like get rid of Bob Mueller because of this?

BLITZER: And once again, let's not forget, he didn't just ask Mueller for the documents, the business --

CILLIZZA: He subpoenaed them.

BLITZER: He issued a subpoena. That's a powerful --.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- yes, a powerful signal. And Nia, let's also remember the special counsel, when he received his instructions, Robert Mueller, he's investigating alleged collusion or cooperation between the campaign, Trump campaign, and Russia, but also he has the authority to investigate -- I'm reading now from the letter he received, any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation. Meaning, he could investigate anything he wants that may be criminal, may be suspicious even if it has nothing to do with Russia. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And Donald Trump doesn't get to draw any red lines or to decide what crosses them or what the purview of this -- of this investigation should be, nor does he get to fire him directly. That's up to Rod Rosenstein. Rod Rosenstein just recently gave an interview to "USA Today". He said that he didn't feel like this investigation was an unguided missile, and he feels like there's no cause to remove Mueller. So, I mean, I think, we'll consistently see this President get wrinkled, and be frustrated, and upset with this investigation. Folks around him have promised that it's going to end, it's going to end, they were saying that last year. Of course, it's still going on. And this indicates this recent subpoena that there could be many more months to this investigation, meaning more much months of a frustrated Donald Trump.

BLITZER: It could continue this entire year, in fact. How do you think, David Axelrod, the President is going to react, is going to responds to this?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm sure, Wolf, he'll receive it with his customary equanimity, but look, I mean, I think that the real issue here is, what is his frame of mind right now? You know, we've seen in the last few weeks kind of unchained Donald Trump for more than a year, it seemed like he felt like he was bridled by those people around him who kept telling him that he couldn't do the things that he wanted to do. And, lately, he's been basically ignoring that advice. We saw it on tariffs, we saw it on North Korea. He's been told by his lawyers and others, do not touch Sessions, do not go after Mueller. And the question is, if Mueller gets closer to something like money laundering, for example, by the Trump organization, is Donald Trump going to sit still for that or will he again throw off the advice of his advisers and do the thing that everybody says he would never do.

BLITZER: What -- Bianna, what sort of information involving Russia, for example, might Mueller be looking for in the subpoena?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think there's a lot, Wolf. I've said this before, I'll say it again, given my heritage and my background, I know a lot of Russians, and from day one, I have said the President and those in his association know more Russians than I do. I just look back to a few years ago in an interview where Eric Trump maybe jokingly, maybe not, but he said unprompted that he doesn't need American banks because they rely so heavily on Russian banks. We know that they relied a lot on Russian banks and Russian funding when they were going through their own financial crisis in the 90s, and then, again, through the financial crisis in 2008. Felix Sater, another Russian-American had -- have told the President and had told others that he was hoping to make deals between the Trump organization and Russia as well.

[17:35:08] Many Russian oligarchs invested in Trump properties in Florida. There are a lot of dots to connect here, but so many of them unlike any other country, seem to be pointing to Russia. And as we always say, Bob Mueller knows a lot more than we do on the Trump -- on Donald Trump's connections, and now, he's going to find out on Trump's finances as well.

BLITZER: He's going to find out a lot, I mean, presumably knows a lot, a lot more than we know. Everyone, stick around, there's more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:10] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts. And Bianna, let's turn to another top story. Finally, after all these months, the Trump administration Treasury Department sanctioning Russia because of its election meddling here in the United States. Do these sanctions announced today really have teeth?

GOLODRYGA: I mean, the biggest headline is that they finally came out, right? And you look at who was sanctioned, among the individuals, 13 that Mueller had originally indicted of the 19, 13 are on this list as well. SO, you do see the administration acknowledging that Mueller was actually on to something in corroborating with Mueller's investigation. But for the larger picture, you know, going after a troll farm and those that work for it isn't going to scare Vladimir Putin. The two things that anger Vladimir Putin most in the last few years all involved money. That was the release of the Panama papers and of course, the Magnitsky Act or the so-called adoption law.

Going after those around him, those oligarchs, their funding, the amount of money that they send to London, you don't have a poor and middleclass Russians traveling to London, you have some Russia's richest and closest inner circle to Vladimir Putin. You start sanctioning some of his inner circle and not just Prigozhin, his chef, who ran that troll farm, you start sanctioning others, you start identifying Vladimir Putin's accounts overseas and not just the 13 bank accounts he says he has in Russia with a total of $300,000, then you're going to start hurting him because then you're going to start seeing pressure on him from those oligarchs that he keeps and props up because of the money that they're allowed to spend abroad.

BLITZER: David, how do you see it?

AXELROD: Look, I agree with Bianna, I think that these sanctions were important only in that they certified the fact that the Trump administration was embracing Mueller's conclusions in that indictment, so it's hard to dismiss an investigation as a witch hunt and a hoax and on the other hand, act on the information that was in the -- in the indictments, but, you know, Jake raised a good point -- Sullivan -- earlier, which is, we haven't really heard from the President on this. Nikki Haley who spoke today very strongly at the U.N. and has in the past was at my Institute of Politics in University of Chicago, and asked her why the President hasn't spoken as strongly as she has, and her answer was, well, you'll have to ask him that. So, you know, the question remains, why is the President of the United States so timid? Why won't he unfurl the full fury of these sanctions as Bianna suggests, and why won't he even call out Vladimir Putin in the way that even members of his own administration has been willing to do?

BLITZER: All right. Good question. Chris Cillizza has the answers.

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: Thanks. I think that that -- look, so much of the presidency is symbolism, and it's where you choose to step out as David has noted, where you choose to step out and be forceful and where you hold back. Donald Trump continually, he's done it several times this week in relation to the use of the nerve agent in Britain, he's said, well, that's what it looks like as -- well, we think, Russia, that's what it sort of looks like, or someone else. He always adds the little thing here, and you would think that someone as cognizant of his media personality or how he's perceived as Donald Trump is would understand that this is actually an opportunity to say, look, our Intelligence Community has said they meddled actively in the election. I'm with our Intelligence Community. Instead, he's undermine them at every turn, publicly and privately. And he's now seized on the conclusion by -- I'm not going to say all the Republicans in the House Intelligence Committee because you see Mike Conaway from Texas and Trey Gowdy from South Carolina say, well, I actually think that Russia was trying to help Donald Trump. He seized on what some of them have said, and in all caps, blasted out via Twitter, "See, this is proof that I am right."

Now, the question is, is that about his obsession with being right, which we know he has --

HENDERSON: Right.

CILLIZZA: Facts not important, or is it about something bigger here that he's keeping him from speaking out about.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, one of the things we know is that any talk of Russia, any talk of Russian meddling, if you're Donald Trump, it seems like you're talking about undermining the legitimacy of his election victory in November 2016, so that's why he doesn't want to go there. I think if you're on Congress, if you are a Governor, if you are somebody who is looking at having an election in 2018, you are worried that this administration hasn't done more to safeguard the election system. You know, that Russia's already meddling in -- or never really even stopped meddling, right, so that's a concern that not only he's not using the bully pulpit in that way, but that the administration isn't actively trying to --

CILLIZZA: And that's very important, Wolf. That's super important. He's so focused on the past.

[17:45:00] AXELROD: Can I just -- can I just --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Very quickly. Very quickly.

AXELROD: Chris, I just want to say he's the Commander in Chief. The Russian's have attacked our democracy in a very direct way. He has responsibilities here. He ought to fulfill them.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around.

GOLODRYGA: And the Russians have used a nerve agent on European soil for the first time since World War II. This is not a small message that Vladimir Putin is sending. He passed a law a few years ago that allowed Russia to go after those who were so-called treasonists within Russia, and this is a way that this president is testing the West to see how we react and how far he can be pressed.

BLITZER: Good point as usual. Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following, including new developments in the porn star Stormy Daniels legal fight to tell her story. Why is an attorney for the Trump organization now involved?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:50:30] BLITZER: In an exclusive interview, a top U.S. diplomat who's been dealing with the North Koreans for years tells CNN he isn't surprised that President Trump quickly agreed to an offer to sit down with Kim Jong-un but the North Koreans were surprised when the President said yes.

Let's get some more from our Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott. Elise, what did this diplomat tell you?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in our exclusive interview, Joe Yun said that both President Trump and Kim Jong-un have wanted to meet for the past year, but infighting in the Trump administration between those who are pushing military action and those who favored diplomacy held it up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER UNITED STATES SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: Right now, the most important thing is to reduce tensions.

LABOTT: America's former top diplomat on North Korea says while he didn't expect it, he doesn't think there is anything wrong with President Trump sitting down with Kim Jong-un.

YUN: I would have loved to bring it forward. And this is a great outcome.

LABOTT: Joe Yun said he's not surprised Trump agreed to the meeting but says National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster pushed a different strategy.

So, why has it taken a whole year for this invite to come?

YUN: I think -- I think that's a good question. I think one reason is really we could never get all of the administration together on our side. And on their side, let's not forget, Elise, they have been relentless in testing missiles, nuclear devices so this is not easy. It's a complicated problem. But I know we're getting a great start if we start off with a summit. LABOTT: When you say that you couldn't get all the administration on the same side, do you mean that some were more favoring military action?

YUN: Well, I think there was obviously voices within the administration.

LABOTT: Like who?

YUN: And it is -- it is natural to have different voices who are more aggressive and those who wanted more of a diplomatic solution.

LABOTT: like the National Security Adviser who had advocated a bloody nose so to speak? Yes?

YUN: Well, I mean, it's really in an administration, you're going to have different views. But I think time has now come really to speak with one single unified voice. And that voice has to be that of the President.

LABOTT: Yun who has decades of experience working on North Korea, dismissed critics who worried by meeting with Kim Jong-un. Trump will only give Kim what he wants, legitimacy on the world stage.

YUN: I don't think there is anything wrong in acknowledging that he's a leader of North Korea who has nuclear weapons.

LABOTT: Do you think that the President is going to get played by Kim Jong-un in this meeting and agree to things that the U.S. should not?

YUN: I don't think so. Really not at all.

LABOTT: We know that the President likes to make his own decisions at the spur of a moment. Are you afraid that the North Korean leader will pull him into something that he's not ready for?

YUN: I don't think so. I think the goals are obvious. And homework, I know there's a ton of homework getting done as we speak.

LABOTT: We're talking about a meeting that the North Koreans have not even acknowledged that they offered. Why have we not heard from them yet?

YUN: I think, to be frank with you, I think they were a little bit surprised that Washington, that President Trump, readily accepted. They thought it would take a little time. So they were not completely prepared. So I think they're preparing at the moment --

LABOTT: Scrambling?

YUN: Scrambling, you might say, on how best to respond. And so I think -- I think you would see that in coming days, something coming out.

LABOTT: You've talked to the North Koreans? YUN: I've talked to North Koreans and just -- I sent a single message to them which was that this was an amazing opportunity for both sides. And they need to respond.

LABOTT: But he warns that if the meeting between Trump and Kim doesn't go well --

YUN: It will increase tensions and we're back to where we were, same (INAUDIBLE 54:35) and -- or even worse.

LABOTT: As Yun looks back on his time at the State Department, the retired diplomat may not be able to resist a return to the action.

There has to be a little bit of regret. What if the President said, Joe, I need you to come back for this, would you do it?

YUN: You know, when a President asks you to do something, you really have to give it serious thought. You know, and that's what I will do.

[17:55:01] LABOTT: That must be tempting, though, to be there for this historic meeting.

YUN: Of course, it's tempting. Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: And Yun said that he left the State Department over the gap between state and a White House pointing to Rex Tillerson's firing this week. He predicts a more unified message, Wolf, with Mike Pompeo as a Secretary of State.

BLITZER: Very smart guy. He's got a lot, a lot of experience. Thanks very much for that, Elise.

Coming up, breaking news. Special Counsel Robert Mueller moves on the Trump organization, ordering the President's business to turn over documents. Did Robert Mueller just cross a red line set by the President?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:00:01] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Mueller moves in. CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump organization for business documents as part of his Russia investigation.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for the show today. I turn you over toe Wolf Blitzer, right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Urgent rescues underway. A new pedestrian bridge collapses in Miami, crushing several vehicles underneath. Police say there are multiple victims. What went wrong?

New Russia subpoena. Special Counsel Robert Mueller moves on the Trump Organization, ordering the president's business to turn over documents. Did Mueller just cross a red line set by the president?

Moving on Moscow. The U.S. finally imposes sanctions on Russia for election meddling and cyber-attacks, including all 13 individuals indicted by the special counsel. The White House vows to be tough on Russia, but why won't it say whether Vladimir Putin is a U.S. friend or foe?

And North Korea's surprise. In a CNN exclusive, a newly retired top U.S. diplomat says Kim Jong-un's regime was surprised by the president's agreement to talk with the North Korean dictator. With both sides scrambling to get ready, what happens if the talks don't work out?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, the Russian probe special counsel subpoenas the Trump Organization. A source says Robert Mueller has ordered the president's business to turn over documents. That comes as the Trump administration finally announces sanctions on Russia, including individuals indicted last month by Mueller.

I'll speak with Jake Sullivan, the former national security adviser to Vice President Biden. And our correspondents and specialists, they're all standing by with full coverage.

But let's begin with the breaking news, as Russian probe Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, and our CNN political correspondent, Sarah Murray.

Evan, what is Mueller's latest move all about?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in the last few weeks, the Trump Organization has received a subpoena from Special Counsel Mueller asking for documents. Now we don't know a lot about what the specific request is to the Trump Organization, but we know that, in the last few months, the Trump Organization has said that they had turned over thousands of pages of documents to the special counsel related to the Trump Organization's businesses.

Now, this means that the special counsel either believes that there is information that was not turned over or, Wolf, they're trying to make sure that there's nothing missing from the documents that were turned over previously.

We did get a statement from Alan Futerfas, the lawyer for the Trump Organization, and he says in part, "Since July 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump Organization is fully cooperative with all investigations, including the special counsel, and is responding to their requests. This is old news, and our assistance and cooperation with various investigations remains the same today."

Now, obviously, Wolf, the fact is we've asked this -- the organization before about whether or not they had received any requests from the special counsel. They had said no. This has, obviously, changed in the recent weeks, so this is very much new news, and it indicates, at least, that there's much more investigation to be done here.

BLITZER: Because the president's lawyers have repeatedly suggested it looks like this whole investigation is coming to a close pretty soon. They said at the end of Thanksgiving, then Christmas, end of the year. Now, with this latest subpoena, it seems -- correct me if I'm wrong -- like it's going to go on and on and on.

PEREZ: Right, exactly. There's a lot of indications here that this is an investigation that's going to continue well into the end of the year. Obviously, we have a trial upcoming with Paul Manafort, the chairman of the Trump campaign, who is going to be facing trial in Virginia and in D.C. later this year.

So we know at a minimum, the special counsel is going to be in business through the end of this year, well past the 2018 elections.

Wolf, the further issue here is that the president is being told by his legal team that this is almost over, and the fact that this subpoena arrived in recent weeks tells us that there's a lot more to be done here in this investigation.

BLITZER: As you know, Sarah, the president has suggested previously that going after his business dealings or his family's business dealings would cross what he called a red line. So that's a significant warning right there to the special counsel.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a significant warning, not necessarily one that special counsel is going to heed, and Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, was asked about this today, whether this move crosses the red line, and she's said there is no collusion, but she wouldn't say whether or not this sort of violates the red line that Trump drew for himself. I mean, one thing that's notable is, yes, we know that this subpoena

had to do with documents related to potential Russian deals, but "The New York Times" story -- and they broke this news first -- indicates that it could be broader than that.

So in that sense, yes, it could -- it could cross Trump's red line. It is an indication, as you guys just pointed out, that this is not wrapping up soon. And one of the things we've seen from Trump's lawyers is that they are willing to sort of try anything to bring an end to this as quickly as possible, including thinking of the notion of putting the president in a room to sit down with Robert Mueller. It will be interesting to see if this changes that calculus.

BLITZER: Any idea, Evan, what Mueller is looking for?

PEREZ: Well, Wolf, I mean, I think there's a lot we don't know about the exact nature of the subpoena, but I've got to tell you, at the top of the list for these documents request has to be the 2015 proposal that the Trump Organization was pursuing to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Obviously, that is a very key period here.

The campaign was getting started in 2015, for the 2016 presidential race. So there is a lot of questions that the special counsel has to have about that deal. It obviously did not happen. It did not go through. But we know that there have been witnesses who have been brought before the special counsel who have been asked about that deal in particular. So you've got to think that that has to be at the top of the list for their request for documents.

BLITZER: Could it include his tax returns? We know how sensitive he has been about not releasing those tax returns.

PEREZ: Right. It very well could. I mean, we don't know, but, again, this is something that the special counsel has a great deal of leverage on. He has the ability to go wherever he needs to go to get to the bottom of this investigation.

BLITZER: Because we have learned, Sarah -- I know you've reported this -- that the Mueller investigation, they have been looking into the Trump companies, corporations, the business dealings, previous business dealings in Russia.

MURRAY: Right, and I think one of the things that's interesting, you know, we know that Bob Mueller's initial sort of mandate was to look into collusion but also to look into anything that comes up as a result of that investigation.

So when you hear that witnesses are being asked, you know, when did Donald Trump decide that he was going to run for president, even if he wasn't saying it publicly.

What was the deal with this Moscow Trump Tower? Why did this fall through? And what was the deal with holding this Miss Universe pageant in Russia, before you start to sort wonder whether this is a broader investigation in -- potentially into the president's finances or whether this could be Bob Mueller trying to draw a line. If there was collusion, did it start, potentially, earlier than we thought? Was there a reason that the Russians were so interested in this president and a reason that Trump was so kind to Vladimir Putin throughout the campaign? And could Russian officials have any compromising information, not just on President Trump, but on people who are sort of in his inner circle? These are all questions that Mueller's team could be looking at.

BLITZER: Lots of questions. You know, what jumped out at me, Evan, and I assume at you, as well, the Mueller team, they could have simply asked the Trump companies for all of this information, but instead of simply asking for it, they subpoenaed it. They issued a court subpoena. What does that say to you?

PEREZ: Well, you know, keep in mind, Wolf, again, that they had previously voluntarily turned over thousands and thousands of pages of documents. So that tells us that the special counsel either believes that not everything was turned over or they are trying to make sure, again, by compelling this, and it's a very forceful act to send a subpoena. There is -- that's no joke. So it's clearly -- they are trying to make the impression that there is nothing they want left turned over.

BLITZER: Good reporting, Evan and Sara. Thank you very much.

This special counsel's move against the Trump Organization comes as the White House finally moves forward with sanctions against Russia. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, the president has warned against close scrutiny of his business. That's going on, but there's a lot of other developments unfolding.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. The president has been long concerned by the scope of this special counsel's investigation, particularly as it relates to his family business.

But at the White House tonight, they are wondering how long this investigation will go on on a day where they thought they were turning the page on Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump said last year Special Counsel Mueller would cross a red line if his investigation looked into Trump family finances unrelated to Russia. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not repeat that today.

(on camera): Does he draw a distinction, do you know, between a red line on family finances separately from family finances or business finances relating to Russia as it pertains to this case?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes very strongly there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We're going to continue to cooperate with the special counsel.

ZELENY (voice-over): The special counsel's subpoena, first reported by "The New York Times" and confirmed by CNN, came as the Trump administration took its toughest stand yet against Russia, imposing sanctions as retaliation for interfering in the 2016 election and accusing Moscow of plotting a nerve gas attack in the U.K.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a very sad situation. It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it. Something that should never, ever happen, and we're taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.

ZELENY: Tonight, the one-two punch is part of an effort to punish Russia, which the president has seemed reluctant to do for more than a year.

The five Russian organizations and 19 people sanctioned today by the Treasury Department for malicious cyber-attacks is a near mirror image of the indictments announced last month by the special counsel. All names on this February indictment are included on today's sanction list.

The administration also making a new accusation. Russia tried to hack the U.S. energy grid.

Tonight, Democrats are wondering what took the administration so long, and why the president's words are softer than his sanctions.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Why can't the president, himself, call out the bad actions of Russia? And it -- it is an ongoing question.

ZELENY: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said this when asked if Vladimir Putin was a friend or foe.

SANDERS: I think that's something that Russia is going to have to make that determination. They're going to have to decide whether or not they want to be a good actor or a bad actor.

ZELENY: The United States also joining the U.K., France, and Germany in condemning Russia for its apparent role in a nerve gas attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil. The four allies saying in a joint statement, "We share the United Kingdom's assessment that there's no plausible alternative explanation and note that Russia's failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia's responsibility."

Meanwhile, the president admitted fabricating facts in a meeting with another key ally, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At a private fundraiser Wednesday night in St. Louis, the president blamed Canada for having a trade deficit with the U.S., which isn't true.

In a recording obtained by "The Washington Post" and confirmed to CNN by an attendee, the president said, "He's a good guy, Justin. He said, 'No, no, we have no trade deficit with you. We have none. Donald, please.' 'Wrong, Justin, you do.' I didn't even know. I had no idea. I just said, 'You're wrong.'"

The president doubled down today on Twitter, saying, "We do have a trade deficit with Canada as we do with almost all countries, some of them massive."

But here are the facts. Trump's own Commerce Department says the U.S. ran a nearly $2.8 billion surplus with Canada for 2017.

All this as staff turnover in the Trump administration is causing turmoil. Meeting with the Irish prime minister today in the Oval Office, the president downplaying the suggestion a major shakeup is imminent, but change, he said, is good.

TRUMP: There'll always be change, and I think you want to see change, and I want to also see different ideas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So the president leaving it at that. There will always be change. And Wolf, that has certainly led to the anxiety and the feeling of apprehension here at the White House and indeed, across agencies across Washington, wondering who is the next cabinet secretary or top adviser potentially to be shown the door.

We do know that the president is eyeing potential replacements for the Veterans Affairs Department, eyeing a new secretary there, as well as other people, including a national security adviser. Wolf, many of these changes often happen on Friday. So keep an eye out on what happens here tomorrow.

BLITZER: We'll see if it happens tomorrow. We'll see if they wait until after the markets close at 4 p.m. Eastern --

ZELENY: Indeed.

BLITZER: -- to make some of those announcements tomorrow. They always do that on a Friday. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Jake Sullivan. He served as Vice President Biden's national security adviser. He was also director of policy planning at the State Department, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton.

Jake, thanks so much for coming in.

JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR FOR VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Want to talk about sanctions and some other material in just a moment, but the fact that the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, has now issued a subpoena to the Trump Organization for business-related documents, even though the president told "The New York Times" not that long ago that going after his business would cross a red line. What's your thought?

SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, it's Investigation 101 to follow the money.

Secondly, we've known for a long time now that, even though Donald Trump has said repeatedly, "I'm not invested in Russia. I have no investments in Russia," that Russia and Russians have been invested in him. His own son said that a few years ago, that Russian money was pouring in. Russian oligarchs have been purchasing his properties.

So I think it's only right and reasonable that Bob Mueller would be looking at the question of whether any financial ties between the Trump Organization and Russia can help us get to the bottom, both of what happened in 2016 and what's going on now with President -- with President Trump still unwilling to seriously confront or consider confronting Vladimir Putin.

BLITZER: So you think what they're really interested in right now, at least this part of the investigation, involves alleged money laundering? That's what Steve Bannon once said, that that could be the next frontier, if you will, for the Mueller investigation.

SULLIVAN: Well, it certainly is straight out of the Russian playbook to use various American businessmen to engage in money laundering, so I wouldn't put that out of the question. But it's hard for me to speculate on what exactly Robert Mueller's honing in on.

What it does appear, though, is that Mueller has real questions, serious questions about whether financial ties between Russians and Donald Trump have something to do with what we've witnessed here over the last couple of years.

BLITZER: Since the president warned that going after his business records would cross a so-called red line, could this decision by Mueller put his whole investigation in jeopardy if the president decides to get rid of him?

[17:15:02] SULLIVAN: Well, every step that Mueller takes that gets you closer to the White House that involves people closer to President Trump puts him in some jeopardy, because you have a president who's already fired an FBI director, who's already threatened his attorney general, who's already issued threats against the special counsel, himself.

But I think what Robert Mueller's going to do is follow the facts where they lead, and leave Donald Trump to make his own decisions. And at the end of the day, I have confidence that Bob Mueller will do a professional and standup job in the investigation.

BLITZER: Let's get to the other big story today, the administration finally going ahead and imposing sanctions on Russians and Russian entities because of its election meddling. It's the law of the land. It was passed by the House and Senate overwhelmingly last August, reluctantly signed into law by the president. Now, finally, after all these months, he's beginning to do something about it, the Treasury Department. Are they tough enough?

SULLIVAN: Well, they're not tough enough. Now, on the one hand, it's a good thing that the Treasury Department has reinforced and reaffirmed what Bob Mueller said. I mean, they have now put sanctions on exactly the same individuals and entities that Mueller has charged. That's a good thing.

But in terms of being tough enough, none of these will have any economic impact whatsoever in Russia. Ask any sanctions expert, and they will tell you that, until you actually go after banks and financial institutions and the real assets of real oligarchs, people aren't going to feel the pinch in Russia. Putin certainly won't.

So this is a good step. It's positive. It should be welcomed. But it's not nearly far enough, and what President Trump really should do is implement the bipartisan sanctions that passed the Congress overwhelmingly last year.

BLITZER: The sanctions -- the new sanctions today come on the same day that the U.S., several of the allies issued a strong statement condemning the Russians for the poisoning of that British -- that Russian double agent in Britain and his daughter, as well. They're still in pretty serious condition. A police officer is in serious condition, as well. Is the administration getting tougher on Russia right now?

SULLIVAN: Well, Vladimir Putin is making it very difficult for Trump to do what he wants to do, which is turn a blind eye. I mean, when you so brazenly execute an attack with a military-grade nerve agent the way that the Russians did in Britain, even Donald Trump has to let his government do something about it

But I don't think that this has yet fundamentally changed the president's posture towards Russia. Even what he said today in the Oval Office was a far cry from what you'd hope to hear from an American president when our ally is under attack in the way that Britain's been under attack.

BLITZER: Much tougher statement from Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. yesterday. And tougher statements, as well, released by the press secretary, the office of the press secretary at the White House.

SULLIVAN: Right.

BLITZER: Jake Sullivan, thanks for coming in.

SULLIVAN: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Much more coming up, including more breaking news. The Trump administration finally hitting Russia with sanctions for election meddling and joining U.S. allies in blaming Russia for that chemical attack in Britain. We're going live to Moscow. We'll get reaction.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:22:24] BLITZER: Our breaking news: the Trump administration finally slaps sanctions on Russia for election meddling and cyber- attacks, and is joining with U.S. allies in blaming Russia for the nerve agent attack in Britain.

Let's go live to Moscow right now. Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is following these developments.

Fred, people are saying this is Trump finally getting tough, but is he really?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't really think that the Russians believe that he is, Wolf. We've had some statements from the Russian foreign ministry. They came out very quickly, and they said that they are going to respond to these new sanctions, but they also said that they are calm in the face of these sanctions, and, certainly, we can see why.

In that some of the entities that are on that new sanctions list, like for instance the Internet Research Agency, which of course, was that big troll factory that meddled in the U.S. election, even sent operatives to the U.S. in 2016 to try and start fake events and things like that. That hasn't actually existed as a legal entity here in Russia since late 2016. So it's hard to see how it would be hit by sanctions.

And then, Wolf, you have the main guy who's on this new sanctions list, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who's a very powerful oligarch very close to Vladimir Putin. He came out just a couple of minutes ago, and he was mocking these new sanctions. I want to quote from you -- from what he said in an interview.

He said, "Concord" -- which is sort of the company, the super structure of all of his companies, including that troll factory -- "has already been under sanctions three times; I, myself, three or four times. I'm bored and -- of counting and don't remember. I do not have any business in the USA with the Americans. It doesn't bother me. I will stop going to McDonald's," he says, obviously, putting the icing on the cake of his mockery of these new sanctions.

And there's two other entities that I want to mention, as well, Wolf. One of them is the FSB, which is, of course, Russia's intelligence agency, and then the GRU, which is Russia's military intelligence agency. Those have also been sanctioned by the U.S. several times. That, of course, Wolf, didn't stop their top officials a couple of months ago going to the U.S., going to the -- to D.C. And meeting with some top U.S. intelligence officials.

So hard to see how these sanctions are going to actually hit the Russian state, and certainly doesn't seem as though the Russians at this point are quaking in their boots, even though they say they are going to respond. They also say, Wolf, that they're very calm. We're still waiting to see when that response is going to happen. They've said it's going to happen soon. We'll obviously keep you posted if we hear more from Moscow tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Fred, let us know. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us. Thanks.

Coming up, more breaking news. Special Counsel Robert Mueller moves on the Trump Organization, ordering the president's business to turn over documents. Did Mueller just cross the president's red line?

[17:25:06] Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller's subpoenaing the Trump Organization for business documents. The first publicly known time Mueller demanded that the documents related to the president's businesses be subpoenaed.

Let's bring in our experts to assess. Chris Cillizza, is Mueller crossing that so-called red line that the president earlier drew, don't go after my business; don't go after my family's business?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Right.. So, let's look, Wolf, at the exact quotes that -- this is from a New York Times interview in July, Mike Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, the question was asked, Trump did not use the language, red line, but Trump was asked, would going into your personal finances excluding any Russia ties, because we know that Trump organization has invested in Russia and bought some things in Russia here and there, does that count as a red line? And he says, I would think so. Now, how do you define what looking into your personal finances excluding Russia means, that's one piece. So, how does Donald Trump define red line, we don't really know.

The other piece is this is something the Russia investigation, Bob Mueller, the whole thing, the Congressional Committee is looking into it that sticks in Donald Trump's craw. We know this. His Twitter outbursts, accusations he makes, he calls it a -- he's called it a hoax, he's called it a witch hunt. This is something that gets to him emotionally as opposed to intellectually, and so I don't even know if defining what "red line" necessarily means to Donald Trump is as important as does he see this as a provocation? Forget redline, does he see this as a provocation? Does he strike back whether it's on Twitter or does he do something like (INAUDIBLE) a reason or a why to get rid of Jeff Sessions? Does he do something which I think would be political suicide, but does he do something like get rid of Bob Mueller because of this?

BLITZER: And once again, let's not forget, he didn't just ask Mueller for the documents, the business --

CILLIZZA: He subpoenaed them.

BLITZER: He issued a subpoena. That's a powerful --.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- yes, a powerful signal. And Nia, let's also remember the special counsel, when he received his instructions, Robert Mueller, he's investigating alleged collusion or cooperation between the campaign, Trump campaign, and Russia, but also he has the authority to investigate -- I'm reading now from the letter he received, any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation. Meaning, he could investigate anything he wants that may be criminal, may be suspicious even if it has nothing to do with Russia.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And Donald Trump doesn't get to draw any red lines or to decide what crosses them or what the purview of this -- of this investigation should be, nor does he get to fire him directly. That's up to Rod Rosenstein. Rod Rosenstein just recently gave an interview to "USA Today". He said that he didn't feel like this investigation was an unguided missile, and he feels like there's no cause to remove Mueller. So, I mean, I think, we'll consistently see this President get wrinkled, and be frustrated, and upset with this investigation. Folks around him have promised that it's going to end, it's going to end, they were saying that last year. Of course, it's still going on. And this indicates this recent subpoena that there could be many more months to this investigation, meaning more much months of a frustrated Donald Trump.

BLITZER: It could continue this entire year, in fact. How do you think, David Axelrod, the President is going to react, is going to responds to this?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm sure, Wolf, he'll receive it with his customary equanimity, but look, I mean, I think that the real issue here is, what is his frame of mind right now? You know, we've seen in the last few weeks kind of unchained Donald Trump for more than a year, it seemed like he felt like he was bridled by those people around him who kept telling him that he couldn't do the things that he wanted to do. And, lately, he's been basically ignoring that advice. We saw it on tariffs, we saw it on North Korea. He's been told by his lawyers and others, do not touch Sessions, do not go after Mueller. And the question is, if Mueller gets closer to something like money laundering, for example, by the Trump organization, is Donald Trump going to sit still for that or will he again throw off the advice of his advisers and do the thing that everybody says he would never do.

BLITZER: What -- Bianna, what sort of information involving Russia, for example, might Mueller be looking for in the subpoena?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think there's a lot, Wolf. I've said this before, I'll say it again, given my heritage and my background, I know a lot of Russians, and from day one, I have said the President and those in his association know more Russians than I do. I just look back to a few years ago in an interview where Eric Trump maybe jokingly, maybe not, but he said unprompted that he doesn't need American banks because they rely so heavily on Russian banks. We know that they relied a lot on Russian banks and Russian funding when they were going through their own financial crisis in the 90s, and then, again, through the financial crisis in 2008. Felix Sater, another Russian-American had -- have told the President and had told others that he was hoping to make deals between the Trump organization and Russia as well.

[17:35:08] Many Russian oligarchs invested in Trump properties in Florida. There are a lot of dots to connect here, but so many of them unlike any other country, seem to be pointing to Russia. And as we always say, Bob Mueller knows a lot more than we do on the Trump -- on Donald Trump's connections, and now, he's going to find out on Trump's finances as well.

BLITZER: He's going to find out a lot, I mean, presumably knows a lot, a lot more than we know. Everyone, stick around, there's more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:10] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts. And Bianna, let's turn to another top story. Finally, after all these months, the Trump administration Treasury Department sanctioning Russia because of its election meddling here in the United States. Do these sanctions announced today really have teeth?

GOLODRYGA: I mean, the biggest headline is that they finally came out, right? And you look at who was sanctioned, among the individuals, 13 that Mueller had originally indicted of the 19, 13 are on this list as well. SO, you do see the administration acknowledging that Mueller was actually on to something in corroborating with Mueller's investigation. But for the larger picture, you know, going after a troll farm and those that work for it isn't going to scare Vladimir Putin. The two things that anger Vladimir Putin most in the last few years all involved money. That was the release of the Panama papers and of course, the Magnitsky Act or the so-called adoption law.

Going after those around him, those oligarchs, their funding, the amount of money that they send to London, you don't have a poor and middleclass Russians traveling to London, you have some Russia's richest and closest inner circle to Vladimir Putin. You start sanctioning some of his inner circle and not just Prigozhin, his chef, who ran that troll farm, you start sanctioning others, you start identifying Vladimir Putin's accounts overseas and not just the 13 bank accounts he says he has in Russia with a total of $300,000, then you're going to start hurting him because then you're going to start seeing pressure on him from those oligarchs that he keeps and props up because of the money that they're allowed to spend abroad.

BLITZER: David, how do you see it?

AXELROD: Look, I agree with Bianna, I think that these sanctions were important only in that they certified the fact that the Trump administration was embracing Mueller's conclusions in that indictment, so it's hard to dismiss an investigation as a witch hunt and a hoax and on the other hand, act on the information that was in the -- in the indictments, but, you know, Jake raised a good point -- Sullivan -- earlier, which is, we haven't really heard from the President on this. Nikki Haley who spoke today very strongly at the U.N. and has in the past was at my Institute of Politics in University of Chicago, and asked her why the President hasn't spoken as strongly as she has, and her answer was, well, you'll have to ask him that. So, you know, the question remains, why is the President of the United States so timid? Why won't he unfurl the full fury of these sanctions as Bianna suggests, and why won't he even call out Vladimir Putin in the way that even members of his own administration has been willing to do?

BLITZER: All right. Good question. Chris Cillizza has the answers.

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: Thanks. I think that that -- look, so much of the presidency is symbolism, and it's where you choose to step out as David has noted, where you choose to step out and be forceful and where you hold back. Donald Trump continually, he's done it several times this week in relation to the use of the nerve agent in Britain, he's said, well, that's what it looks like as -- well, we think, Russia, that's what it sort of looks like, or someone else. He always adds the little thing here, and you would think that someone as cognizant of his media personality or how he's perceived as Donald Trump is would understand that this is actually an opportunity to say, look, our Intelligence Community has said they meddled actively in the election. I'm with our Intelligence Community. Instead, he's undermine them at every turn, publicly and privately. And he's now seized on the conclusion by -- I'm not going to say all the Republicans in the House Intelligence Committee because you see Mike Conaway from Texas and Trey Gowdy from South Carolina say, well, I actually think that Russia was trying to help Donald Trump. He seized on what some of them have said, and in all caps, blasted out via Twitter, "See, this is proof that I am right."

Now, the question is, is that about his obsession with being right, which we know he has --

HENDERSON: Right.

CILLIZZA: Facts not important, or is it about something bigger here that he's keeping him from speaking out about.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, one of the things we know is that any talk of Russia, any talk of Russian meddling, if you're Donald Trump, it seems like you're talking about undermining the legitimacy of his election victory in November 2016, so that's why he doesn't want to go there. I think if you're on Congress, if you are a Governor, if you are somebody who is looking at having an election in 2018, you are worried that this administration hasn't done more to safeguard the election system. You know, that Russia's already meddling in -- or never really even stopped meddling, right, so that's a concern that not only he's not using the bully pulpit in that way, but that the administration isn't actively trying to --

CILLIZZA: And that's very important, Wolf. That's super important. He's so focused on the past.

[17:45:00] AXELROD: Can I just -- can I just --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Very quickly. Very quickly.

AXELROD: Chris, I just want to say he's the Commander in Chief. The Russian's have attacked our democracy in a very direct way. He has responsibilities here. He ought to fulfill them.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around.

GOLODRYGA: And the Russians have used a nerve agent on European soil for the first time since World War II. This is not a small message that Vladimir Putin is sending. He passed a law a few years ago that allowed Russia to go after those who were so-called treasonists within Russia, and this is a way that this president is testing the West to see how we react and how far he can be pressed.

BLITZER: Good point as usual. Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following, including new developments in the porn star Stormy Daniels legal fight to tell her story. Why is an attorney for the Trump organization now involved?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:50:30] BLITZER: In an exclusive interview, a top U.S. diplomat who's been dealing with the North Koreans for years tells CNN he isn't surprised that President Trump quickly agreed to an offer to sit down with Kim Jong-un but the North Koreans were surprised when the President said yes.

Let's get some more from our Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott. Elise, what did this diplomat tell you?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in our exclusive interview, Joe Yun said that both President Trump and Kim Jong-un have wanted to meet for the past year, but infighting in the Trump administration between those who are pushing military action and those who favored diplomacy held it up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER UNITED STATES SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: Right now, the most important thing is to reduce tensions.

LABOTT: America's former top diplomat on North Korea says while he didn't expect it, he doesn't think there is anything wrong with President Trump sitting down with Kim Jong-un.

YUN: I would have loved to bring it forward. And this is a great outcome.

LABOTT: Joe Yun said he's not surprised Trump agreed to the meeting but says National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster pushed a different strategy.

So, why has it taken a whole year for this invite to come?

YUN: I think -- I think that's a good question. I think one reason is really we could never get all of the administration together on our side. And on their side, let's not forget, Elise, they have been relentless in testing missiles, nuclear devices so this is not easy. It's a complicated problem. But I know we're getting a great start if we start off with a summit.

LABOTT: When you say that you couldn't get all the administration on the same side, do you mean that some were more favoring military action?

YUN: Well, I think there was obviously voices within the administration.

LABOTT: Like who?

YUN: And it is -- it is natural to have different voices who are more aggressive and those who wanted more of a diplomatic solution.

LABOTT: like the National Security Adviser who had advocated a bloody nose so to speak? Yes?

YUN: Well, I mean, it's really in an administration, you're going to have different views. But I think time has now come really to speak with one single unified voice. And that voice has to be that of the President.

LABOTT: Yun who has decades of experience working on North Korea, dismissed critics who worried by meeting with Kim Jong-un. Trump will only give Kim what he wants, legitimacy on the world stage.

YUN: I don't think there is anything wrong in acknowledging that he's a leader of North Korea who has nuclear weapons.

LABOTT: Do you think that the President is going to get played by Kim Jong-un in this meeting and agree to things that the U.S. should not?

YUN: I don't think so. Really not at all.

LABOTT: We know that the President likes to make his own decisions at the spur of a moment. Are you afraid that the North Korean leader will pull him into something that he's not ready for?

YUN: I don't think so. I think the goals are obvious. And homework, I know there's a ton of homework getting done as we speak.

LABOTT: We're talking about a meeting that the North Koreans have not even acknowledged that they offered. Why have we not heard from them yet?

YUN: I think, to be frank with you, I think they were a little bit surprised that Washington, that President Trump, readily accepted. They thought it would take a little time. So they were not completely prepared. So I think they're preparing at the moment --

LABOTT: Scrambling?

YUN: Scrambling, you might say, on how best to respond. And so I think -- I think you would see that in coming days, something coming out.

LABOTT: You've talked to the North Koreans?

YUN: I've talked to North Koreans and just -- I sent a single message to them which was that this was an amazing opportunity for both sides. And they need to respond.

LABOTT: But he warns that if the meeting between Trump and Kim doesn't go well -- YUN: It will increase tensions and we're back to where we were, same

(INAUDIBLE 54:35) and -- or even worse.

LABOTT: As Yun looks back on his time at the State Department, the retired diplomat may not be able to resist a return to the action.

There has to be a little bit of regret. What if the President said, Joe, I need you to come back for this, would you do it?

YUN: You know, when a President asks you to do something, you really have to give it serious thought. You know, and that's what I will do.

[17:55:01] LABOTT: That must be tempting, though, to be there for this historic meeting.

YUN: Of course, it's tempting. Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: And Yun said that he left the State Department over the gap between state and a White House pointing to Rex Tillerson's firing this week. He predicts a more unified message, Wolf, with Mike Pompeo as a Secretary of State.

BLITZER: Very smart guy. He's got a lot, a lot of experience. Thanks very much for that, Elise.

Coming up, breaking news. Special Counsel Robert Mueller moves on the Trump organization, ordering the President's business to turn over documents. Did Robert Mueller just cross a red line set by the President?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:00:01] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Mueller moves in. CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump organization for business documents as part of his Russia investigation.