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Interview With Maine Senator Angus King; Cambridge Analytica CEO Suspended; Stormy Daniels' Polygraph; Trump Congratulates Putin for Election Victory; White House Insists Trump "Not Considering" Firing Mueller; Fear of Serial Bomber Grows as Package Explodes at Texas FedEx Facility. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 20, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Did Cambridge Analytica win the election for the president? And were laws broken along the way?
Praising Putin. President Trump is facing backlash tonight for calling the Russian leader to congratulate him on his reelection. Why didn't Mr. Trump bring up Moscow's interference in the U.S. election or other alleged crimes with links to the Kremlin?
Stormy's truth. We now have the results of polygraph tests taken by the porn star. They indicate her claim of a past affair with President Trump is true. And, tonight, Stormy Daniels is tweeting about whether she slept with Mr. Trump.
And Playboy model sues. Another woman who allegedly had an affair with Mr. Trump is going to court, fighting to be released from an agreement to stay silent about their relationship. Will the president pay a price for these multiple lawsuits and scandals?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news this hour. The White House is doubling down on its denial that President Trump is considering or even discussing firing special counsel Robert Mueller.
After launching a new tirade against the Russia investigation, the president could soon find himself face-to-face with Mueller or a member of his team. I will get reaction from Senator Angus King. He is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are all standing by.
First, let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, we're learning more about the prospect that Mr. Trump will be interviewed by the special counsel's office. What's the latest?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We heard about a meeting that occurred between Trump attorneys and
special counsel Mueller's investigators last week where they discussed a range of topics to discuss as part of any potential interview with President Trump, including the firing of FBI Director James Comey, what the president knew about Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador's conversations with President Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Now, we also know that the White House is eager to end this Mueller investigation. And a lot of Republicans are watching anxiously, even as the president warns -- the White House tries to reassure them that special counsel Mueller will not be fired.
RAJU (voice-over): Tonight, the White House insisting that special counsel Robert Mueller will not be fired, but once again calling for a swift end to the inquiry.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have not been shy about the fact that there is frustration of this process. We would like it to end quickly and soon.
RAJU: Trump himself has made no secret of his anger, launching a tweetstorm lashing out at Mueller's investigation, repeatedly calling it a witch-hunt. And then the president added a new attorney to his legal team, Joseph diGenova.
JOE DIGENOVA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: They plotted to ruin him.
RAJU: which floating a conspiracy theory that Trump has been framed by the Justice Department.
Breaking his silence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed back at Trump's attacks.
(on camera): Are you comfortable with the president going after the special counsel in such a direct way?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, look, I agree with the president's lawyers that Bob Mueller should be allowed to finish his job. I think it was an excellent appointment. I think he will lead -- he will go wherever the facts lead him. And I think he will have great credibility with the American people when he reaches the conclusion of this investigation.
RAJU (voice-over): Now one prominent Republican telling Hugh Hewitt that the firing of Mueller could be an impeachable offense.
QUESTION: If the president fired Robert Mueller, do you think that would be an impeachable offense?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Probably so, if he did it without cause, yes. I think what the president will have done is stopped an investigation into whether or not his campaign colluded with the Russians, what effect the Russians had on the 2016 campaign. I can't see it being anything other than a corrupt purpose.
RAJU: Still, McConnell and many other Republicans said today they saw no need to pass legislation to protect Mueller, something that might antagonize the president.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: It's just not necessary. It's not necessary. I don't believe the president will fire him.
RAJU (on camera): Yesterday, you said you don't think it's necessary to pick that fight. What do you mean by that?
CORNYN: I pick only necessary fights. I pick only necessary fights.
RAJU (voice-over): Other Republicans downplayed the president's escalating attacks against Mueller.
(on camera): Do you think the president should back off in any way?
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: You know, I have said this before. I have enough trouble padding my own canoe. I think the Mueller issue is really more of a tempest in a teapot. I know what the president said. But what counts is what he does. And I don't think Mr. Mueller will be terminated.
RAJU (voice-over): And the House speaker himself said he had gotten assurances Trump won't fire Mueller, but declined to say from whom.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The special counsel should be free to follow through his investigation to its completion without interference. I received assurances that his firing is not even under consideration.
RAJU: Now, Wolf, there has been a push by some members to include the legislation to protect Robert Mueller in this must-pass spending bill that would clear Congress by the end of the week in order to keep the government open.
But what's become very clear is there is no real effort and no appetite among Republican leaders to add that in there. They hope the president won't fire Robert Mueller. They don't know for sure whether or not he will. No one really knows. But they're just hoping right now he does not take that step, because if he does do that, it could prompt a major revolt on Capitol Hill.
But the president may not really care, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
We're also following breaking news on the exploding scandal surrounding a data firm that worked for President Trump's 2016 campaign. Cambridge Analytica already is under investigation for its use of Facebook users' information. Now officials with the firm have been caught on camera boasting about their role in Mr. Trump's campaign, claiming their work was integral in winning the election, and suggesting the laws may have been broken.
Let's bring in our political correspondent, Sara Murray. She is working the story for us.
Sara, you have some new revelations about this undercover effort to find out what was going on.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf.
Obviously, we know this is a firm that has already been under plenty of scrutiny. But it goes further in this latest undercover video that came out suggesting that perhaps Cambridge Analytica may have played some kind of role in coordination between the Trump campaign and outside groups that could be potentially illegal, but also shedding light on some of the firm's business practices.
Of course, the big question here is how important was Cambridge Analytica to the Trump campaign? Were they just a bit player, or were they essential to Trump's victory? Tonight, they're taking plenty of credit.
MURRAY (voice-over): Top executives at Cambridge Analytica, the controversial data firm hired by Donald Trump's presidential campaign, now appear to be taking credit for Trump's stunning 2016 victory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you met Mr. Trump?
ALEXANDER NIX, CEO, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: Many times.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have?
NIX: We did all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign, television campaign. And our data informed all the strategy.
MURRAY: An undercover interview by Channel 4 News in London shows Cambridge Analytica executives, including CEO Alexander Nix, boasting about the company's role in Trump's win and even claiming the firm created the slogan defeat crooked Hillary, a Trump campaign staple.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Crooked Hillary, right? She is crooked as you can be.
MURRAY: In the past, Nix has also claimed his company's data led the Trump campaign to victory in Wisconsin, a state no Republican presidential candidate had won since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
NIX: We were able to use data to identify there was very large quantities of persuadable voters there that could be influenced to vote for the Trump campaign. And so much so, the Trump campaign had five rallies there. Those five rallies probably gave Trump contact with some 60,000 or 70,000 voters.
MURRAY: Former Trump campaign officials are disputing that Cambridge played a major role. They say the campaign never used the firm for voter targeting or persuasion. One person familiar with the arrangement said Cambridge provided some polling which helped the campaign decide where to invest its resources.
Cambridge also used data provided by the Republican National Committee to build visualization tools to help decide where to send Trump for campaign rallies. All told, the Trump campaign paid Cambridge less than $6 million for its service throughout the campaign.
The series of undercover interviews by Channel 4 News also caught Nix on tape talking about potential bribery and entrapment.
Tonight, Cambridge Analytica has suspended its CEO and launched an independent investigation, saying "Mr. Nix's secret comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm. And his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation."
The firm has come under fire in recent days for questionable data practices. That's after it came to light that a Russian-American researcher provided data on tens of millions of Americans to Cambridge's parent company. The data was supposed to be collected for research purposes. But it may have been used to influence American voters.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Nix was peddling a so-called psychographic model. It relied on data sets, including from Facebook, to model someone's personality type and how they could best be swayed, according to people who saw the presentation.
Trump campaign officials have long claimed they never bought into that model.
BRAD PARSCALE, FORMER TRUMP DIGITAL MEDIA DIRECTOR: I don't believe it's sinister.
QUESTION: No? OK. You just don't think it works?
PARSCALE: I just don't think it works.
MURRAY: Now, Brad Parscale, who you just saw there, was the head of the digital operation for Trump in 2016. He is also the campaign manager for Trump's reelection campaign.
He's firing back on Twitter this evening, saying, "Another day of people taking credit for Donald Trump's victory. So incredibly false and ridiculous. Let them say that under oath. Just an overblown sales pitch."
[18:10:03] And then Brad of course refers back to that "60 Minutes" interview where they downplayed the role that Cambridge Analytica played in the 2016 campaign.
BLITZER: Yes, potential there for a lot of investigation into this story. Thanks very much, Sara Murray, reporting.
As the Russia probe heats up, the White House is defending the president's new phone call to Vladimir Putin congratulating him on his reelection.
Mr. Trump apparently ignoring allegations the Kremlin leader won through widespread fraud, not to mention Moscow's meddling in the U.S. election.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, President Trump spoke earlier about his phone call with Putin.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And President Trump said he had a very good call with President Putin of Russia congratulating him on his election victory.
Now, as you know, Wolf, the president has said he has been tougher on Russia than his predecessor. But we learned from the White House today that the president did not bring up Russian election meddling from 2016 or looking ahead to the U.S. election in 2018.
And he didn't bring up the poisoning in the U.K. either, raising the question of whether the president will confront Putin about these issues when they meet in person, as he says they will. Here is more of what he said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory. The call had to do also with the fact that we will probably get together in the not-too-distant future so that we can discuss arms. We can discuss the arms race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: The president faced swift backlash for congratulating Vladimir Putin.
Senator John McCain said: "An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections."
Now, today, during the White House press briefing, Sarah Sanders declined to say whether the White House believes Russia had a fair and free election. She would only say that the U.S. does not dictate how other countries operate.
And here is what Senator Mitch McConnell had to say about the matter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCONNELL: The president can call whomever he chooses. When I look at a Russian election, what I see is the lack of credibility in tallying the results.
I'm always reminded of the elections they used to have in almost every communist country where whoever the dictator was at the moment always got a huge percentage of the vote. So calling him wouldn't have been high on my list.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: We should point out, Wolf, that President Trump isn't the only one to call and congratulate Vladimir Putin. In fact, back in 2012, as you may recall, President Obama called to congratulate him on his election victory.
And just recently, leaders of our allies such as French President Macron also called Vladimir Putin to congratulate him -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Pamela, thanks very much.
Let's talk about all these breaking stories. Joining us, Senator Angus King. He is an independent who serves on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Sure, Wolf. How are you?
BLITZER: I'm good. Thank you.
The White House today said they don't think firing Robert Mueller would be productive. They indicated that President Trump will continue to cooperate with the investigation. But are you seeing signs that the president is getting ready to go on the offensive against Robert Mueller?
KING: Well, I think it's significant.
Number one, I'm delighted to hear those comments today and those reassurances. I would like to hear them from the president himself.
But there was no comment from the White House and from the president in his tweets about Mueller for months and months, three or four months. And then all of the sudden over the weekend there came this whole bunch of tweets that came out that were very critical, calling it a witch-hunt, mentioning Mueller by name.
And I think that's what worried everyone. And I hear the various people saying, well, it's not necessary. We have been assured it's not going happen.
The problem is, if it does happen and there is nothing in place in the way of legislation, then I don't know what happens. I don't know how we respond. That's why I signed on some time ago, and I think Lindsey Graham is one of the people that sponsored it, a bill that would protect the special counsel with proper safeguards.
And that could be in place. And it could be passed this weekend if it was appended to the spending bill. I think, you know, with the circumstances that we have seen in the last month -- year-and-a-half saying that we have got assurances it won't happen doesn't necessarily mean it won't happen. So I think we ought to be prepared.
BLITZER: Yes, it doesn't look like the Republican leadership wants to attach that kind of legislation to the spending bill. But we will see over the next few days.
Do you still think, Senator, the president will agree to an interview with the special counsel?
KING: I think that's entirely up to the president and his lawyers. I think it's a -- it's a kind of high-wire act because whatever he says is going to be subject to a great deal of checking.
And if you will recall, some of -- Mr. Flynn, for example, ended up getting into trouble for not telling the truth to federal investigators. That in itself is a crime.
So he's got to be very careful if he is going to have that interview. And, you know, if I were betting, I would be inclined to think that they probably will not have that kind of sit-down. But we will see.
I know that they're doing some negotiating with the special counsel right now.
BLITZER: Yes. And the president is really clearly getting irritated by some of the subjects that are likely to come up in such an interview. That's why he has apparently gone a little bit more on the offensive.
Your committee, Senator, the Senate Intelligence Committee, is unified in your recommendations for election security here in the United States. Were you surprised President Trump didn't bring up this issue in his phone call with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, today?
KING: Well, I wish he had. I wish he would bring it up with the American people. One of the problems with this whole situation is that the president won't separate the issue of what the Russians did from whether or not his campaign was involved.
Those are two entirely different issues. And if he is maintaining, as he has his right, that nothing, there was no collusion, no cooperation, that doesn't change what they did. I read a 40-page classified report just this afternoon, Wolf, on the Russian efforts to intervene in state election systems, 21 states.
And it was positively chilling. And it was -- there is no doubt that they did it. And I wish he would bring it up with President Putin. Of course, in the past, he has brought it up. President Putin told him he didn't do it, and the president has said, well, President Putin said he didn't do it. And that's been the end of it.
But I wish he would make this statement to the American people, because we're not going to be able to defend ourselves against this kind of aggression unless we have a national consensus that we have to confront it. And right now, the country is divided.
Occasionally, I get e-mails from people saying, why are you wasting all this time on this Russian thing? It's a witch-hunt or it's a hoax. And that's what they're hearing from the president.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a very serious issue that needs to be investigated.
Senator King, thanks so much for joining us.
KING: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the timing and the terms of Robert Mueller's potential interview with the president. How might Mr. Trump's anger at Mueller figure into all of this?
And we're also getting new details right now on Stormy Daniels' polygraph test, as the porn star is now tweeting about her alleged affair with the president.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight.
The White House is defending President Trump's congratulatory phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the wake of his reelection. But many, including some top Republicans, they are bitterly criticizing the call, which comes amid warnings of continued Russian efforts to meddle in U.S. politics and upcoming elections.
Let's bring in our experts and our analysts.
And, David Chalian, we saw quite a contrast today. The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Republican chairman, the Democratic vice-chairman, they came out and they said the Russians are trying to interfere again, even as the White House was announcing that the president had this congratulatory phone call to Putin, didn't even raise those issues of Russian interference.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes.
It's not only a contrast with the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee leaders. It's a contrast where this White House was itself last week in announcing sanctions in response to the indictments that came down from Mueller, looking like they were and touting and beating their chest about we can be tough on Russia.
And then get on the phone, make a congratulatory phone call. Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, said, it's not or place to dictate how other countries run their elections.
OK. That may be true. We can't dictate it. But we certainly don't have to endorse sham elections around the world. The United States does indeed have a pretty big voice on the world stage to call out a sham election when one occurs.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, let me read to you the statement that John McCain, the Republican senator, put out: "An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country's future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin's regime."
That's a pretty strong, condemnatory statement from Senator McCain.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is.
And the White House was asked directly about it today, and Sarah Sanders was saying that dialogue with Russia is a good thing and shouldn't be criticized. But Senator John McCain is not criticizing dialogue with Russia. He is not saying that President Trump should never speak to Vladimir Putin.
He is saying that he doesn't call Vladimir Putin, who was essentially running unopposed in this race. There was no suspense whatsoever who was going to win that election, and congratulate him on that election like it was some hard-fought victory.
And also, along with saying that we shouldn't dictate what other countries are going to do and whatnot, also, the president is calling to not only congratulate him, but he did not bring up Russian meddling in the election. And Sarah Sanders during that briefing today said that the White House is instead focused on free and fair elections here at home.
But why didn't he bring up Russia meddling in the election? And we should also note that Sarah Sanders and the White House, the other deputy press secretary yesterday have been asked three times in the past 36 or so hours whether or not they believe Russia had a free and fair election. They did not answer that question. And last week, when they were asked if the president saw Vladimir Putin as a friend or a foe, they could not answer that question either.
And it comes at a time when the president is attacking Robert Mueller and his investigation, the Russia probe investigation. And the White House is insisting, you know what? He is not going to fire him, anything along those lines. But a lot of people don't buy it.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, I'm not sure if I don't buy it either, Wolf. The White House says all the time that senior officials, there is no truth to any rumors or reports that they're going to be dismissed or asked to resign. And then it turns out that, in days, weeks, or months later that they
do resign. The president is the boss of the attorney general or, in the case of a recused Jeff Sessions, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation.
So at any point, the president can change his mind and either get rid of Mueller via Rod Rosenstein or direct a new deputy attorney general to direct the investigation in a different direction.
BLITZER: Are we entering a new phase, Laura, on the president's strategy in dealing with the Russia investigation?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think in two ways.
Number one, the gloves have come off. And certainly the muzzle has come off over the weekend about the president now naming Mueller in his criticism of the overall investigation. We certainly have seen a pattern of him attacking the credibility of the investigation, hoping that in some way it will make the public, whatever the result comes out, tell them not to believe it, if it is obviously bad for the president.
If it's good for the president, maybe he will spin it a different way. But you're entering a strategy now when there's a new mouthpiece. Remember when he hired diGenova, talking -- who is known to have not only conspiracy theories, but also to talk about the notion that he is anti the Mueller investigation. It's one big claim of conspiracy, trying to condemn the president of the United States and trying to make him look bad.
Well, now he has somebody who can be his mouthpiece. The reason that's so important, Wolf, is because, remember, the Fourth and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have looked at the president of the United States' comments and tweets, with respect to the travel ban and different iterations, and it was used against him in their consideration.
Now the president is aware of that. He can have a mouthpiece who it won't be used against him in the event that Mueller's case goes forward against himself or the inner circle.
BLITZER: And even the White House says those presidential tweets are official presidential statements that we should not ignore.
Stand by, guys. There is more we need to discuss, including Stormy Daniels now tweeting about her relationship with the president, as the results of a polygraph test she took are now revealed. We're going have a full report.
And we will also have the latest on a growing terror in Texas, with a serial bomber on the loose and another package exploding.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There is breaking news tonight in the Stormy Daniels scandal. The porn star tweeting just a little while ago about her relationship with Donald Trump.
[18:32:11] Our national correspondent Sara Sidner is working the story for us.
Sara, the tweet comes after Daniels's lawyer released a photo of her taking a lie detector test, as well as the results.
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does. And this is actually, Wolf, the first time since the lawsuit was filed that Stormy Daniels is talking about details of her alleged relationship with Donald Trump.
Here is the tweet that she just put out just an hour ago or so. It says, "Technically, I didn't sleep with POTUS 12 years ago. There was no sleeping, hee-hee, and he was just a goofy reality star back then. But I digress. People do care that he lied about it, had me bullied, broke laws to cover it up. And P.S., I am not going anywhere."
Those are her words and her allegations against the president.
And we do know that Michael Cohen, his personal attorney, has said that Donald Trump knew nothing about any threats, nothing about any deals. And there was no affair, according to Cohen.
SIDNER: Stormy Daniels's lawyer says this photo shows the porn star in 2011 taking a polygraph test to try to prove she was telling the truth about a sexual relationship she says she had with Donald Trump. The picture is part of a video of the polygraph test that Daniels's lawyer told CNN he bought for $25,000.
In this sworn affidavit from the polygraph examiner signed this month, he says Daniels was honest when she said she had unprotected sex with Trump in 2006 at a charity golf event in Lake Tahoe. Daniels took the test to help confirm what she said in an interview with "Life and Style" magazine back in 2011.
Jordi Lippe-McGraw was the reporter on that story.
JORDI LIPPE-MCGRAW, FORMER REPORTER, "IN TOUCH MAGAZINE": We obviously had her take it after I did the interview, because we had all this information. We wanted to make sure she was telling the truth.
SIDNER: McGraw told CNN Daniels wasn't the only one to agree to the polygraph.
LIPPE-MCGRAW: From what I remember, a couple of other people close to her, like her ex-husband, also took the test, and I believe he passed, as well.
SIDNER: McGraw's interview with Daniels was allegedly spiked shortly after Trump's lawyer threatened a lawsuit. But the transcript resurfaced in "In Touch Weekly" earlier this year. Today's release of the polygraph results are the latest salvo in
Daniels's attempt to free herself from a $130,000 hush money agreement she was offered by Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, in the days before the presidential election. Cohen has acknowledged making the payment but says the money was his from a home equity loan, and that Trump knew nothing about the agreement.
Daniels has sued to end the deal. Cohen and Trump are trying to scuttle her suit.
STORMY DANIELS, SUING DONALD TRUMP OVER CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENT: I want to be able to defend myself. That's the worst part, is at this moment I can't defend myself.
SIDNER: But tonight it's not just Daniels that is asking a court to let her speak out. In a new lawsuit, "Playboy" Playmate Karen McDougal says she wants out of an agreement she signed with American Media, the publisher of "The National Enquirer."
[18:35:08] The owner on "The Enquirer," David Pecker, a close friend of President Trump, allegedly had the company pay the former Playmate $150,000 for the rights to her personal story, including details about any affairs she had, including an alleged sexual relationship with Donald Trump.
But "The Enquirer" never published her story, and McDougal reportedly said Pecker backed out of letting her write fitness columns in the tabloid. She now says the agreement was really just to keep her from talking about Trump.
STU ZAKIM, AMERICAN MEDIA: As far as these stories being killed, bought and killed. It is something that's been going on for a very long time at not only these magazines, but other publications. What it really means is it takes the story out of the market so it won't see light of day.
SIDNER: American Media denies it buried the story to help Donald Trump. And while McDougal's diary was recently excerpted in "The New Yorker" story, American Media says McDougal did not have enough evidence to back up her story.
SIDNER: Now, we spoke to Mr. Avenatti about why he paid $25,000 for that polygraph test video. He told us that he did so to ensure that it would be maintained and kept safely during the litigation, making sure that the video, which is also a file, would not be destroyed or tampered with, and said they did so after learning various parties, including mainstream media, tried to get ahold of it to use it for nefarious reasons.
We also should mention that when it comes to polygraph tests, generally, they're not admissible in court -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sara Sidner reporting for us. Thanks for that report.
Let's bring back our analysts. And Laura Coates, you're our legal analyst. How strong of a case, legal case do these women have?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, a variety of reasons here they may not have strong cases.
Stormy Daniels, of course, has to overcome the fact that she entered into a contract that may, in fact, be valid. And what's trying to happen now is to figure out whether or not it's what the public would like to know versus what she's able to say.
But a court is not persuaded by the fact that the underlying facts in the non-disclosure agreement may, in fact, be true. That's not what's persuasive. What will persuade the court is whether or not there is some reason to get out of an otherwise valid contract.
So you have to keep it separate from whether you actually care about the information and whether she's entitled to say it.
With respect to Karen McDougal, that's a different sort of NDA. It's not between a David Dennison, a.k.a. Donald Trump. It's not between Michael Cohen. It's between a media company who had the right to do that whole, you know, catch and kill. They don't have to ever publish it.
And in fact, the contract essentially says that she is required not to speak, but they're never required to publish it.
What you have here is the very reason that Donald Trump has gone out and gotten a very aggressive attorney by the name of Charles Harter who is known for being the person to defend Hulk Hogan in the gawker litigation. Because the whole point of that was to send a message to anybody else who has a story to tell with a contract that says you can't say anything, they have to send a very clear message.
And remember, in that case, it was $100 million plus jury verdict for having disclosed -- having the information out there. So you have a very uphill battle here.
But you have to keep separate the court of public opinion, what would persuade us to believe or not believe an affair, and what a court is going to say about "I want to actually want to revisit a bad contract, not a voidable one, but a bad one."
BLITZER: Yes, Karen McDougal, the Playboy model says she was silenced by the "National Enquirer," the $150,000 hush money payment. But she believes Michael Cohen, the president's long-time personal lawyer, the fixer, as some have called him, was secretly involved in that deal, as well. What do you make of that?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. So, Wolf, I want to associate myself with everything that Laura just said. But just add one thing.
SWERDLICK: About McDougal, which is that in her case, she may be able to say to make the case that the contract is not valid, because it was not and, in fact, an arm's length negotiation between the parties.
If you read "The New York Times" report on this today, it seems that perhaps her original attorney was playing both sides of the fence on this. You also have the issue of whether or not Michael Cohen was working behind the scenes, even though she thought she was dealing with American Media/"National Enquirer."
And you also have the fact that there are some facts of her story that are out there in the public space in a way that's different than Stephanie -- excuse me, I was going to say Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels's case.
BLITZER: Yes. And David Chalian, a third one, Summer Zervos, has filed another lawsuit now against the president. Three women are going after the president in this legal battle. How much of a price, potentially, is he paying right now, politically speaking, or will pay?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: So let's separate this out. We know what the country knew about Donald Trump when it elected Donald Trump president. They didn't think he was a truth teller. They thought he lied about things. He wasn't seen as sort of the moral leadership in the country.
So the country, the electorate understood they were taking a reality show star and a businessman and putting him in the Oval Office.
That does not negate that some old rules about politics still apply. The fact that two of your four headlines at the top of this broadcast were about a porn star and a "Playboy" Playmate, that is not welcome news in any White House, including this one. This is a problem.
[18:40:08] The other thing I would note that is so interesting. This president lashes out and pushes back on every single negative headline and story out there, from Robert Mueller this weekend to bad poll numbers, to anything.
What's the one story line out there that he does not push back on himself on Twitter in his own voice? It's all of these women and their accusations.
BLITZER: How do they explain at the White House, Kaitlan, the strong evangelical support he gets despite these headlines?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've said before, not specifically relating to Stormy Daniels, because of course, that did not come out before the election. But of the women who accused the president of sexual assault, sexual harassment, misconduct, and the president on tape obviously, those "Access Hollywood" comments, that the American people made up their minds about that when they voted, which could be true for those evangelical voters. They chose Trump even though they heard him on tape say that.
But I do think that they are getting nervous inside the White House about how much this story has had staying power in the headlines. Obviously, the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, kind of tripped over her own foot at that press briefing, where she did acknowledge that the president won arbitration against Stormy Daniels, which brought it closer to him than it had ever been before.
But also, there are other people inside the White House that I've spoken with who are slightly concerned that there could be more women like this to come forward against the president. And they don't doubt that this story could be true. They're not denying it, because of course, this happened long before they worked for him in the White House.
But that is correct. The president has not commented on this, which is not usual of his characteristics. But I did think maybe the one thing that could bring him to comment on this is Stormy Daniels's latest tweet, which you read earlier on air, where she called him a goofy reality star. The president does not like to be criticized or insulted. I thought that was the one thing that he could respond to.
COATES: But you know, the woman of the hour is actually Summer Zervos, because she's the person who has a court saying that the president of the United States, although he's a sitting incumbent, can now be subject to a civil lawsuit in a state court. That opens the floodgates of so many others.
Last year in October, there were 75-plus cases that are potentially against the president of the United States. And this is very different than what happened in the Clinton v. Jones scandal, when they said that the president could not be -- it was only held to the federal cases. Now we have the state opening for this. This is going to have huge implications. If you're fearing the Achilles heel of a deposition or an interview with Robert Mueller, imagine what happens in deposition with Summer Zervos.
BLITZER: I want to point out American Media, the owner of "The National Enquirer," they've insisted they have not tried to silence Karen McDougal, the former "Playboy" model.
Summer Zervos, she appeared on "The Apprentice," the reality TV star. You're saying the lawsuit she filed could force the president to actually sit down for a deposition or testify.
COATES: Absolutely. And that would be huge. Because then you could have the opening for any other person who wants to come forward. And remember what you do for a defamation. She's not suing as to whether or not there was actually a sexual assault. She's suing because he called her a liar, because he did come out and comment on it very, very quickly on the campaign trail, and not as an opinion, but as a fact.
And so in order to win that lawsuit, they're going to have to litigate whether or not it actually happened.
BLITZER: She says he defamed her, and it's cost her as a result.
All right. Everybody, stick around. An important programming note to all of our viewers. Thursday night our Anderson Cooper sits down for an exclusive interview with a former Playmate, Karen McDougal. That's Thursday, 8 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.
Just ahead, top Republican senators raise the specter of impeachment, warning President Trump against firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
[18:48:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following multiple breaking stories including the newest White House denial that President Trump is considering firing the special counsel Robert Mueller. A member of the president's own party, Senator Lindsey Graham is warning that removing Mueller would be an impeachable offense.
Let's bring in our senior legal analyst and former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara.
Preet, I want to get to that, but I want to play for you a clip. NBC News and Pete Williams had a sit down with Christopher Wray, the FBI director. Listen to this exchange.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It's been reported that you threatened to resign over being urged to fire people. Is that correct?
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: You know, have I been very clear from the minute I was nominated to the minute I walked in the door to countless opportunities since then that I am unwaveringly committed to doing this job by the book, independently, following our rules and our processes free from political or partisan influence.
WILLIAMS: So it sounds like you're saying those reports are not wrong?
WRAY: I'm not going to talk about specific conversations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So, Preet, what's your reaction?
BHARARA: My reaction is it's good that Chris Wray is saying the things that he is saying. That's just a small snippet. I haven't seen the full interview.
But I think at a time when people have concerns that there is political interference, a time when people are concerned that the president is telling people what to do and the FBI is not handling his responsibilities in an arm's length way, it's incredibly important for the leader of the FBI to make clear, look the American people in the eye like he did -- he appears to have done in that interview and say that he is above politics and he is not going to be interfered with for any reason having to do with politics. So, you know, I hope he means it. Everything I know about Chris Wray
suggests that he is a person of integrity and independence, and he has to really care about not only what the public thinks about the FBI, but what the internal folks at the FBI who are charged with keeping us safe every day from all sorts of harm, what they think about it.
[18:50:07] And so, I thought from what I saw, that's a powerful, important and much needed statement.
BLITZER: At the same time, Preet, we're seeing the former CIA Director Brennan, the fired FBI director James Comey, the fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. They are speaking out. Is it appropriate considering their roles right now in the Mueller investigation?
BHARARA: Well, they are all speaking out to different degrees. I think John Brennan has done interviews and sent some tweets that are strongly worded. Andy McCabe has done a couple of interviews. Jim Comey has a book coming out, that's a little bit, you know, lengthier statement that he's making.
I think anybody who is involved in things that are being investigated, they need to be careful. These are fairly professional folks, whatever you think about each of them, and errors you think they may have committed along the way. So, as long as they are careful what they can talk about, they can speak their mind. And I'm sure there are some people don't want them talking at all, and one of those people is Donald Trump.
BLITZER: The White House says Trump doesn't want to fire the special counsel Robert Mueller but the president attacked Mueller by name, the White House had to clean up the statement from one of his personal lawyers who said he prays for Rod Rosenstein to end the investigation. The president hired a new lawyer who has argued in the past that officials at the FBI and the Justice Department were trying to frame the president.
What does that tell you?
BHARARA: Well, the fact that the White House has said belatedly, I guess, today, according to your question, that they don't want to fire Bob Mueller tells me absolutely nothing at all. And in fact, it seems to be incomplete contravention of the truth. The question is whether or not the president will fire or cause to be fired Bob Mueller.
I think any reasonable person watching the action of this president knows and believes, and I'm sure that people around him know and believe that the president could do so without a lot of blowback would absolutely shut down the investigation. The second point, I'll make is statements by White House press people that try to explain what's in the president's mind on any given day had been proven to be false over and over and over again.
We know from credible reporting that the president has on many multiple occasions thought about getting rid of his attorney general. We know that on at least one or two occasions, he claimed that he had no interest in getting rid of Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state. And that proved to be false, demonstrably so, because he then fired him a couple of months later, three or four months later.
So, you know, statements that are intended to assure us after the president speaks his mind, typing with his own fingers on his smart phone, tweets that indicate he wants the investigation to go away, and he thinks Bob Mueller is not doing the job he's supposed to do don't give me any comfort at all.
BLITZER: Preet Bharara, thanks so much for joining us.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news. The search for serial bomber picks up new urgency tonight with another explosion.
[18:57:33] BLITZER: More breaking news tonight. Investigators in Texas fear a serial bomber may have struck again, this time with a package that exploded at a FedEx sorting center near San Antonio.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Austin.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Authorities in Texas are on high alert tonight after a bomb blew up in a FedEx facility overnight. In Schertz, Texas, 64 miles south of Austin, the one that blew up overnight was moving along an automatic conveyor belt. A worker nearby suffered minor injuries.
FedEx says they turned over extensive evidence relating to the package, including information about the person who shipped them.
Speaking outside the building, Schertz chief of police, Michael Hansen, believes the distribution facility was not the intended target but would not explain why.
CHIEF MICHAEL HANSEN, SCHERTZ, TEXAS, POLICE: It's very early in the investigation, obviously. But we're confident that neither this facility nor any location in the Schertz area was a target.
LAVANDERA: As investigators try to determine if there is a connection to the four Austin bombing and the package found at the shirts FedEx location, they are also coming through a FedEx drop point in Austin, where they believe the Schertz package was mailed from.
And at the White House during a meeting with the Saudi Arabian crown prince, President Trump made his first remarks about the recent bombings this afternoon.
REPORTER: Are the bombings in Austin an act of domestic terror or hate crime? Any comment on the bombings in Austin, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's terrible. The bombings in Austin are terrible. Local, state and federal are working hand in hand to get to the bottom of it. This is obviously a very, very sick individual or maybe individuals.
LAVANDERA: Police are also calling on the public to remain vigilant.
OFC. DESTINY WINSTON, AUSTIN, TEXAS, POLICE: If you didn't order something, if you are not expecting a package, if it's something that doesn't have an official label on it or really not just a package itself, if there's anything out of the ordinary, we are asking the community to please call 911, let our officers come out, let us handle it.
LAVANDERA: Wolf, we are at location where just after 6:00 this morning, a suspicious package was phoned in, Austin police brought out the bomb squad. They spent much of the day out here. But things have settled down and we haven't had any update from Austin police officials as to any kind of context or any kind of idea of what was eventually discovered and what has occurred here at this facility. We'll continue to do that.
Meanwhile, they continue to urge people across the city to call in anything suspicious. And by all accounts, folks here in Austin have done that. More than 1,300 calls in the last week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Lavandera, thanks for that report.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.