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Trump Backs Down From Veto Threat, Signs Spending Bill; Ex- Playmate Details Alleged Affair With Trump; John Bolton Super PAC Linked to Cambridge Analytica; Keeping Watch of the Nuclear Strategic Command. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 23, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:05]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following breaking news on President Trump giving Washington a new case of whiplash by threatening to veto a massive spending bill and then signing it anyway.

It was a familiar Trump-style drama, but with it also an attempt at distraction, as two women who claim they had past sexual relations with Mr. Trump are speaking out.

This hour, I will talk live with lawyers the representing former porn star Stormy Daniels and ex-playboy model Karen McDougal. Attorneys Michael Avenatti and Peter Stris, they are both standing by, along with our correspondents and our analysts.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, the president ultimately avoided a government shutdown, but he kept everyone guessing for several hours.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening.

He did avoid that government shutdown, which was probably how this was always going to end. But the president did sort of create a stir here in Washington by suggesting he could veto that $1.3 trillion spending bill.

Now, that was probably always a far-fetched scenario, but you never know with the president. He clearly was responding some to outrage from fiscal conservatives. They thought 1.3, again, trillion dollar simply too much money here.

But the reality is, the president was not that all that involved in the spending up until seeing some of the coverage on it this morning, so he certainly was lashing out at that. But finally he signed that bill shortly after lunchtime here. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Therefore, as a matter of national security, I've signed this omnibus budget bill. There are a lot of things that I'm unhappy about in this bill. There are a lot of things that we shouldn't have had in this bill, but we were, in a sense, forced -- if we want to build our military -- we were forced to have. There are some things that we should have in the bill.

But I say to Congress: I will never sign another bill like this again. I'm not going to do it again. Nobody read it. It's only hours old.

We looked at it to veto. I looked very seriously at the veto. I was thinking about doing the veto. But because of the incredible gains that we've been able to make for the military, that overrode any of our thinking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So it certainly was that military spending, a dramatic increase in 2017, that led the president to ultimately sign it.

But it's almost as if he was not taking responsibility for the White House's role in this. Of course, Republicans do indeed control the House, the Senate and the White House here. But he simply was signing this omnibus bill, which does certainly by definition mean essentially a kitchen pot of everything here.

So he did not like how that process worked. He wanted to voice some of that outrage. But simply it was an unusual couple of hours here, something we have certainly have seen before he wanted to perhaps inject some drama into it. Wolf, at the end of the day, the spending bill signed, the government is staying open, and the president has flown off for a weekend in Florida.

BLITZER: Yes. The government will be open until at least the end of September.

The Justice Department, Jeff, has just announced a new move on guns. Tell us about that.

ZELENY: Wolf, they have indeed. Around 5:00 or so, about an hour ago here in the East, shortly before the close of business, the Department of Justice announced it was going to do a ban on bump stocks. Of course, those are the devices that turn legal weapons essentially into assault or military-style semiautomatic weapons.

Of course, that was the device that was used in that Las Vegas shooting last October. Not much action until that shooting in Parkland, Florida. Of course, the president wanted to take action on that. So his Justice Department has indeed done that.

Of course, this is coming on the eve of that major march here that is coming in Washington, the March for Our Lives. Tens of thousands of people gathering from across the country here. So certainly the timing is indicated right before that, Wolf.

BLITZER: A good point, indeed. All right, Jeff, thanks very much for that. Now to the e porn star, the Playmate and their claims of past affairs with President Trump. In just a moment, I will speak to the lawyers of both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, the two women who are going public with bombshell TV interviews even as they battle to break agreements designed to keep them quiet.

Let's bring in our national correspondent, Sara Sidner.

Sara, Karen McDougal spoke exclusively to CNN. And we're going to here from Stormy Daniels this weekend.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, we have looked at the details of these two women, and as they talk the details of their cases, we have heard from Stormy Daniels' attorney, we have read some of what she has told "In Touch" magazine, and then we heard through the interview with Anderson Cooper what Karen McDougal said.

The details of their stories about their relationship with Donald Trump strikingly similar.

[18:05:00]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): Tonight, Stormy Daniels' attorney taunting President Trump with a picture of a DVD, hinting it contains more evidence to prove Daniels' case against the president and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

Michael Avenatti tweeting: "If a picture is worth 1,000 words, how many words is this worth? #60Minutes #PleaseDenyIt #Basta," which means enough, this as the former Playboy model Karen McDougal is telling the story of her alleged 10-month affair to CNN, claiming the first time she and Donald Trump allegedly had sex was at this bungalow in a Beverly Hills hotel in 2006.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did he actually try to hand you money?

KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY PLAYMATE: MCDOUGAL: He did. He did.

And I said -- I mean, I just had this look of, I don't know, just -- I don't even know how to describe it. The look on my face must have been so sad, because I had never been offered money like that before, number one. But, number two, I thought, does he think that I'm in this for money or why I'm here tonight? Or is this a normal thing?

I didn't know, but I looked at him and said: "That's not me. I'm not that kind of girl."

SIDNER: She says there was a real relationship there and they were intimate many dozens of times.

COOPER: Were you in love with him?

MCDOUGAL: I was, yes.

COOPER: And do you think he was in love with you?

MCDOUGAL: He was, yes.

COOPER: Did Donald Trump ever say to you that he loved you?

MCDOUGAL: All the time. He always told me he loved me, yes, of course.

SIDNER: McDougal also sharing intimate details of their alleged affair.

COOPER: Did he ever use protection?

MCDOUGAL: No. No, he didn't.

SIDNER: And describing her first visit to Trump Tower.

COOPER: And he showed you around the apartment?

MCDOUGAL: He did.

COOPER: Did he reference Melania at that point?

MCDOUGAL: He did. We passed a room, and he said it's Melania's room. She likes to have her alone time or to get her way to read or something like that. I'm like, oh, OK. That's when I kind of thought, maybe they're having issues. I didn't ask. It's not my business.

SIDNER: McDougal apologizes to Melania Trump during the interview.

MCDOUGAL: What can you say except I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I wouldn't want it done to me. I'm sorry.

SIDNER: The former Playmate is also raising questions about the timeline of her alleged relationship, which took place around the same time Stormy Daniels claimed to be having an affair with Trump.

COOPER: Does it -- what do you think when you heard that?

MCDOUGAL: My first thought is how could she have been with him when I was with him? The only time we weren't together on that particular trip was when I -- he was on the golf course golfing. I didn't go, clearly, but I went to every event, every after thing, parties, daytime things, I was there. That's why I can't understand.

Now, I do remember him saying, he came in one day and said, oh, there are a bunch of porn stars out there. They were wanting pictures of me. And I'm like, oh, that's funny, you know, that's cute, whatever. I do remember him saying that, but I can't imagine when he found the time except for maybe the day I left.

SIDNER: McDougal went to several events when they were together, she says. She even has a photo of one with Melania and Ivanka.

McDougal also attended Trump's vodka release event in Los Angeles. Stormy Daniels was also there, invited, her friends say, by Trump.

Just before the election, when the two women decided they wanted to tell their stories, they somehow ended up with the same attorney, Keith Davidson. He brokered the deal for Daniels with Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to pay $130,000 as part of this confidentiality agreement.

And both women say they were later intimidated to keep from talking. In McDougal's case, she says it's by the parent company of "The National Enquirer," who she sold her story to.

COOPER: AMI has put out a statement saying that you can talk to the media, that you're free.

MCDOUGAL: Yes. I saw that statement, too, but according to their attorney, I can't. There will be financial ruin.

SIDNER: Trump, Cohen and AMI have all disputed the affairs. Cohen says Trump denies the affairs ever took place and knew nothing of the deals. He says doesn't remember any e-mails coming from AMI to him in McDougal's case and denies intimidating anyone.

AMI denied the allegation that there was a coordinated campaign to convince McDougal that she would be sued or her reputation would be besmirched if she told the truth. They say: "That's not true, American Media has never threatened to sue Karen. In fact, she sued us."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now, that Keith Davidson, we heard from a spokesperson, he was the attorney back then for Stormy Daniels and the attorney for Karen McDougal, unbeknownst to McDougal as well.

[18:10:01]

We heard from his spokesperson, saying that he would like to talk, but that he can't because of attorney-client privilege.

And we should mention that Stormy Daniels has said publicly now on her Twitter feed she was lied to, that she was lied about and that she was bullied, and she was talking about President Trump -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you, Sara Sidner reporting.

Joining us now, Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti.

Michael, thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Wolf, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: You put out this tweet which seems to show a DVD.

And I will put it up on the screen. And you write, "A picture is worth 1,000 words. How many words is this worth? #60Minutes #PleaseDenyIt #Basta."

Tell our viewers what you're teasing exactly.

AVENATTI: Well, I'm not teasing anything, Wolf.

That DVD contains evidence substantiating the relationship. And the tweet is a warning shot. I want to be really clear about this. It's a warning shot. And it's a warning shot to Michael Cohen and anyone else associated with President Trump that they better be very, very careful after Sunday night relating to what they say about my client and what spin or lies they attempt to tell the American people.

But make no mistake about it, it is a warning shot.

BLITZER: Could we assume that that DVD contains evidence to back up Stormy Daniels' position?

AVENATTI: Yes.

BLITZER: Can you give us a little example, some examples of what's on the DVD?

AVENATTI: I'm not going to give any further examples or say anymore than what I have said. I think I have been crystal clear.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise also. You're only going to release if there are denials following the "60 Minutes" program? Is that right?

AVENATTI: I didn't say that. What I have said is, it's a warning shot.

People better be honest, because they haven't been honest in the past, relating to this relationship, relating to the bullying tactics, relating to the threats and the intimidation, period. It is time to come clean. Basta, as they say, enough with the nonsense.

BLITZER: You say people better be honest. Who are you talking about?

AVENATTI: Well, I think I have been pretty clear, Wolf.

Michael Cohen, the president, surrogates of the president, Keith Schiller, who absolutely knows where all the bodies are buried, whether it be with my client, Ms. McDougal or others. He's a treasure trove of information, no doubt. And the list goes on and on. So anyone that's going to come out and attack my client or her credibility, they better be really careful in what they say, and they better be 100 percent honest with the American people.

BLITZER: Otherwise, you will release that DVD?

AVENATTI: Look, I think I have been clear, Wolf, in our position.

We want people to start telling the truth as it relates to my client and what she's been put through and what happened. It's just that simple. We have been consistent for weeks. We want the American people to have all of the facts.

To the extent the president or Michael Cohen have a separate set of facts or a separate narrative, let them come forward and tell the American people that. But we demand one thing and one thing only, and that is the truth. This is a search for the truth, period.

BLITZER: How should people know there's anything on that DVD?

AVENATTI: I'm sorry?

BLITZER: How should people know there's anything on that DVD?

AVENATTI: Well, if people think I'm bluffing, they should ask the opponents in countless cases I have had over the last 15 years if I'm generally a guy that bluffs.

BLITZER: All right. Well, that's a fair point.

Let's talk about the buildup to this "60 Minutes" interview. What happen next after it airs Sunday night? What are the next steps in this case?

AVENATTI: Well, there are going to be a number of steps that are going to occur in the case, Wolf.

And I want to be really clear about something. While certainly there are some salacious details relating to this relationship and certain people among the citizens of the American public or citizens of America are interested in the details relating to the sex, if you will, between my client and Mr. Trump, there's a whole other part of this that in our view is far more important.

And that other part relates to the intimidation and the bullying tactics, and, quite frankly, the cover-up that has occurred relating to this $130,000 payment, the misstatements that Mr. Cohen has attempted to tell the American public and the media.

And we're going to get to the bottom of this. The "60 Minutes" interview is not the end by any stretch of the imagination.

BLITZER: Can you name names? Who intimidated? Who threatened?

AVENATTI: I think again, Wolf, as I have made clear over the last few days, my client is going to speak to that on "60 Minutes." I don't know what CBS ultimately is going to include or not include.

I have had no editorial control over the piece. As you know, what they include or not include is entirely up to them. But I'm confident that after Sunday night the American public is going to come away with a very different view of what my client has been through and her credibility. That, I am sure of.

[18:15:08]

BLITZER: Has Michael Cohen or anyone in the Trump orbit actually reached out to you or to "60 Minutes," as far as you know, to try to stop the interview from airing?

AVENATTI: Not that I know of.

BLITZER: You wrote letters to the Trump Organization yesterday asking them to preserve records, records related to that $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen made to your client just a few days before the presidential election. Have you received a response?

AVENATTI: We haven't received a response. We don't expect a response.

We're hopeful that they are busy preserving those documents and those records which we believe are going to show there's been a concentrated cover-up. And the statements that have been made by Mr. Cohen and others are patently false.

BLITZER: Your client and Karen McDougal, the Playboy model, shared the same lawyer, at least at the beginning, Keith Davidson. He brokered their deals that have kept them quiet. Do you believe he acted in good faith on behalf of your client?

AVENATTI: I'm not going to comment on that issue at this time, Wolf. But what I will say that I would have done things quite a bit differently.

BLITZER: Was it just a coincidence that both of these women had the same attorney?

AVENATTI: I can't speak to that.

BLITZER: You haven't asked your client about that?

AVENATTI: Well, I'm not going to get into what I have asked my client about.

BLITZER: All right, let me have to listen to McDougal's response to a question last night from Anderson Cooper about your client's relationship with President Trump.

Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: When you have heard the stories of Stormy Daniels who has come forward who said that she was at the Tahoe Club as well and others who said that they were there, you didn't know about that at the time.

MCDOUGAL: No, I did not know.

COOPER: Does it -- what do you think when you heard that?

MCDOUGAL: My first thought is how could she have been with him when I was with him? The only time we weren't together on that particular trip was when I -- he was on the golf course golfing. I didn't go, clearly, but I went to every event, every after thing, parties, daytime things, I was there. That's why I can't understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Michael, what's your response to that?

AVENATTI: Well, my response is that I think that my client is credible when she describes the events that took place in Lake Tahoe in 2006.

I believe the American people are going to find her credible. She passed a lie detector test in 2011 during which this specific question was asked. I can't speak to Ms. McDougal's recollection of events, et cetera.

I'm sure she believes she's telling the truth when she gave that statement or that answer to Anderson Cooper. That's my response.

BLITZER: Michael Avenatti, thanks so much for joining us.

AVENATTI: Thanks for having me, Wolf. Have a good weekend.

BLITZER: You too. I'm sure you will be busy all weekend and the weeks to come following the "60 Minutes" program.

Just ahead, I will speak to the lawyer for Karen McDougal about the former Playmate's exclusive interview with CNN about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump and what comes next.

Will she pay a price for opening up?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:48]

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, Stormy Daniels' lawyer just told me that the porn star has evidence of her alleged affair with President Trump on a DVD and his tweet showing the disc is -- quote -- "a warning shot" to Mr. Trump and his lawyer.

Let's hear from the attorney now for another woman speaking out claiming she had an affair with Mr. Trump. That would be the former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Her lawyer, Peter Stris, is joining us live right now.

Peter, thanks for joining us.

PETER STRIS, ATTORNEY FOR KAREN MCDOUGAL: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: We heard your client, Peter, tell Anderson Cooper last night that she just wants her life rights back, her words. But why did she choose to come forward now?

STRIS: Well, I guess, let me start by saying that Karen told her story to Anderson last night, and it was her job to tell her story, not to argue a legal case. But in telling her story, I think it's pretty clear that she was

direct, she was authentic, and, you know, she was relatable. And that's one of the reasons we're proud to represent her.

BLITZER: And the decision to come forward now?

STRIS: Now, the decision to come forward now has everything to do with the fact that she wants to be able to defend herself. And for the past year, AMI -- that's the parent company of "The National Enquirer" -- it has said one thing publicly and done very different things privately.

And so the fact that they say she was always able to come forward, she could respond to the media, that's not how they behaved. They spent a year manipulating her and intimidating her with this contract. And Karen felt that the only way she was going to be able to tell her story in her words, in her voice was essentially to bring this lawsuit, and she wants out.

BLITZER: And it does seem, though, and you have heard this, I'm sure, that she seems to be trying to capitalize on her story in light of everything that's happening with Stormy Daniels. You want to respond to that?

STRIS: Yes, I absolutely do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. And I want to be clear about this. Karen wants out of this contract. And she will give the money back. If people are concerned that she's going to get a book deal or a movie deal, we will set up a nonprofit that money can be assigned to. I mean, whatever structure that's needed to make people comfortable that it's not about money, that can be done.

[18:25:08]

But let me be clear. AMI essentially, they have two choices. They can void this contract or they can face the music. And I can tell you what that song is going to look like. We're going to litigate and we're going to do what we need to do get to the bottom of the extent to which there was collusion between this quarter-billion dollar company that's owned by a personal friend of Mr. Trump, a lawyer that, not coincidentally, represented the players here who are negotiating with Trump people, and Michael Cohen.

And, you know, this information, to answer your question, Wolf, it was only through reporting recently that Karen even began to understand the extent to which this collusion existed. And so it was definitely a primary impetus for her coming forward now.

But now that she's come forward, she's going to get out of this contract.

BLITZER: Well, Peter, that word collusion, a pretty powerful word right now. I want you to go in detail. Tell us what you mean. Who was colluding with him whom?

STRIS: Sure.

Karen hired Keith Davidson to represent her. And Keith did a number of things. He took her, for example, to ABC. And they were very close to actually working with Karen and having her come forward, kind of similar to the way she did last night with Anderson Cooper, in telling her story, not to be paid, but just to be able to tell her side of the story.

At the last minute, he steered her toward AMI. And AMI presented her with a contract to sign very quickly. She was pressured into it. She didn't understand virtually anything about the core features of the contract.

And we have come to learn that, basically, as soon -- the day the contract was signed an e-mail was sent from Keith Davidson to Michael Cohen saying, call me. And there was a phone conversation where Michael Cohen was informed that the McDougal deal was done. And is after the fact that AMI looped in Trump's people when Karen first went to them and kind of gave information about the relationship.

This is just totally backwards, the idea that Karen was represented by someone who essentially was feeding information and working with not only counterparties to this deal, but, you know, representatives of Trump who weren't even part of the transaction. It's really kind of shocking what happened to her.

BLITZER: Well, Keith Davidson was also representing Stormy Daniels in the hush agreement that she worked out with Michael Cohen. So be specific. What are you alleging against this attorney Keith Davidson?

STRIS: We're not alleging anything against anyone other than AMI.

And the reason for that is very simple. Karen wants one thing and one thing only. She wants to be able to defend herself either now or in the future. If people come forward and they say that she's a liar and this relationship didn't happen, if they say she's a gold digger and she's motivated by money, she wants to be able in her own words, in her own voice to say that's not true and to explain where people are saying things that are wrong.

This contract even as amended is being held over her head. She is being told by AMI that she cannot respond to legitimate press inquiries in ways that allow her to defend herself. So there's no reason to sue anyone other than AMI.

And, frankly, there's no reason to have any litigation if AMI is reasonable and comes forward and voids this contract that never should have existed in the first place.

BLITZER: I want to bring in our Jeffrey Toobin, Peter. He's got a question for you as well.

Go ahead, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I still don't understand this lawsuit at all. You're saying she wants to defend herself. That's what she did with Anderson Cooper. She gave this interview. But, look, what are you asking for that she hasn't already done?

(CROSSTALK)

STRIS: So, Jeffrey, I actually don't think that's fair. And let me tell you why.

Up until we sued, Karen was terrified. And I agree with you. I agree with you that right now, because we have shone the light on this, AMI is not going to sue or take action. It's not going to be a Stormy Daniels situation where there's going to be a $20 million lawsuit.

TOOBIN: Right. So what's the problem?

(CROSSTALK)

STRIS: There's a serious problem.

TOOBIN: Why are you in court?

STRIS: There's a serious problem.

And the problem is that these rights exist in perpetuity. And so in the future, when the situation is not as prominent, there's no way for Karen to know if AMI is going to go back to the circumstances that she was in before, where they suggest that there's going to be financial ruin or other consequences if she -- speak out. That's number one.

[18:30:07] Number two, Jeffrey, she gave a lot of information to AMI. That -- a lot of questions were asked during the process, details that, you know, are not along the lines of what was discussed with Anderson Cooper. She does not want this company that took advantage of her, that defrauded her, that cheated her in her view and in our view, to have the right to profit from and to control that information. I think anyone in her position would feel the same way.

TOOBIN: But I mean, she got $150,000. I mean why shouldn't -- I mean, isn't that a pretty good deal? I mean, what's wrong with that? I mean, she made -- you're attacking her lawyer. He went to ABC, and he got her nothing. Then he got her $150,000, and that makes him a bad guy?

STRIS: I don't know if you're playing devil's advocate or not but that's definitely not fair. This is the same lawyer who told her AMI had put $500,000 in an escrow account, and they were going to pay her a seven-figure amount. We lay this out in the complaint.

TOOBIN: But I just don't understand what harm she is suffering at this point. I mean, you know, she's telling her story. That's -- and that's what you supposedly want out of this lawsuit.

STRIS: Well, look, I'm not -- I'm going to agree with you to one extent, which is we are very pleased that, as a result of this lawsuit, she was able to do that interview and do it free of consequences. So to that extent, I guess that's where we'll agree, but at that point we're going to part company, and I'll tell you why. If you accept our underlying view of what happened, which is,, you

know, just really shameful treatment of Karen on the part of AMI's executives and -- and basically everyone on that side of the table, then I think any reasonable person in her position would not want to be tied to that company and would believe that the deal should be unwound.

You know, you say, "Oh, well, she got $150,000." Well, that presumes that you accept that the deal was fair in the first place. She's a very successful model. She was doing a modeling contract. She was promised a number of things that were supposed to be the primary consideration here.

Your question, Jeffrey, presumes shat she was paid $150,000 to shut up. And our core position is she was not. This was not a hush agreement. This was not money for not speaking. It's absolutely true that she understood that "The Enquirer" was not going to publish the story, but she thought that that's because they wanted to preserve her reputation, that they wanted her to be a partner. We have a fundamental disconnect in terms of how she was treated, and that's what we should be able to litigate in court.

If at the end of the day, you know, the court sees it the way it appears that you do and thinks that this was a fair deal, and that she wasn't cheated and that there wasn't underlying illegality, then we should lose. But that's for -- that's for someone that's going to go through the process and look at the facts to conclude.

BLITZER: Peter, we're going to continue this conversation in the days to come. Jeffrey will join in on the conversation, as well. We've got to leave at it at this point, but thanks so much for joining us.

STRIS: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Peter Stris, the attorney for Karen McDougal.

Just ahead we heard from the lawyers. Now our experts are getting ready to weigh in on the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal cases and the possible fallout for President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:38:18] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news from my interviews with the lawyers for the porn star and the Playmate who claim they had past affairs with President Trump.

Stormy Daniels' lawyer confirming to me tonight that a DVD he says contains evidence of his client's claims about her relationship with Mr. Trump. He says he tweeted a photo of the disk as a warning shot to the president and his lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Let's bring in our experts. And Jeffrey Toobin, let me get you to respond to what Stormy Daniels's attorney told us about this warning shot.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, it's a bit of stagecraft. But you know, I think the lawsuits here are interesting, but they're mostly sidelights. I mean, what people should care about is -- are there really the undisputed facts here?

Is that people associated with Donald Trump paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep these women quiet before the election. That's significant. That's news. That's what people are going to have to decide whether they care about.

You know, this litigation is -- you know, is interesting to those of us who follow such things. But the idea that the presidency may have been decided, this very close election, by the fact that these women were paid by Trump associates to be quiet, that's a sobering thing to think about.

BLITZER: The White House, the president, they've been thunderously silent on all of this, which is unusual for the president. When he's attacked, he responds pretty ferociously.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Very quickly, as we saw with Joe Biden this week. And the White House has been very quiet on this. As you saw, the president held that news conference today where he did not take questions from reporters. But as he walked out of the room, he passed a few reporters, went up to them, and a few of them shouted questions to him.

He answered questions about the omnibus spending bill that he had just signed, which he had threatened to veto hours earlier. But when someone asked about the affairs, he did not respond. So that's very important to note.

[18:40:08] The president typically responds to anything like that. He can typically discern what certain people are saying and chooses to ignore questions like that, but they have been very silent about this, especially since the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, kind of tripped over her own foot when she said that the president had won arbitration against one of these women.

BLITZER: If he weren't president -- Shawn, you worked in this area for a long time -- a private citizen applying for a national security position in the government, would he get security clearances with these kinds of allegations?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely not. I mean, look, our adversaries are always looking for ways to exercise some sort of leverage over leaders and that's what really concerns me here. Is that the president has put himself in a situation where, if you look at what Michael Avenatti is doing, Michael Avenatti's holding up a CD, and he's saying, "You better do what we want you to do, or we're going to release some information that you won't like."

That's the very same kind of thing that our adversaries will do. So there's absolutely no way the president or anyone on his team would be able to get a security clearance with, you know, scandals like this hanging over their head.

BLITZER: Where is this going, Ryan? RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The first thing I would say, I would disagree a little bit with Jeff on whether this would have impacted the election or not. I mean, there were far more serious allegations that came out during the campaign and Trump and people he he won. So I don't think the fact he had consensual relationships with and it had -- it had no impact. He won, right?

So I don't think the fact that he had consensual relationships with these two women during the campaign would have, you know, led to Hillary Clinton winning.

And I do think that the legal cases matter. I mean, we saw what happened in the Clinton era when a legitimate civil lawsuit takes off, and the president responds in a way that -- if, you know, Trump gets into a deposition on one of these lawsuits and doesn't tell the truth, that can be a big problem. I think that's -- that's the thing -- and then there is the FEC side of this. There is the issue of whether those payments during the election could be FEC violations.

BLITZER: In kind paying contributions.

Stand by, everyone. We're also tracking the connection between Mr. Trump's incoming national security advisor and the controversial Trump campaign data firm that's now under investigation.

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[18:46:50] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight we're getting new information about a link between the president's incoming National Security adviser and the controversial Trump campaign data firm that's now under intense scrutiny.

Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has been digging into this. He's gone off to London to do some serious reporting.

What are you learning, Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, UK's Information Commission's office tonight is executing a search warrant on the headquarters of the data firm Cambridge Analytica here in London. That firm as you said under fire for allegedly misusing data from tens of millions of Facebook users. And as we've learned one of its very first clients is the president's new National Security adviser.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Cambridge Analytica's work for the John Bolton super PAC was the very beginning of using improperly obtained Facebook data from tens of millions of Americans according to whistleblower Chris Wylie.

CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, FORMER CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA EMPLOYEE: They were one of the first clients of Cambridge Analytica to buy into the psychographic messaging that was developed using the 50 million Facebook profiles that were misappropriated. GRIFFIN: A spokesman for John Bolton's super PAC denies knowing of

any alleged impropriety by Cambridge Analytica and the contract stipulates that Cambridge Analytica would follow the law and obtained all necessary permits.

That contract obtained by CNN shows the Bolton super PAC in 2014 initially paid Cambridge Analytica more than $450,000 for behavioral microtargeting with psychographic messaging. In other words, using data in an entirely new way.

(On camera): So you're not trying to change people's votes or win people's votes at that time.

WYLIE: Or change their --

GRIFFIN: To feed their minds?

WYLIE: We want to change their perspective. We want to change their perspective and change how they see things. This is really a key element of what Cambridge Analytica does.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): For example, Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to identify groups in Arkansas, like this so-called Cluster, mostly male, 40 to 60 years old, that would be most influenced by imagery that depicts politicians getting jobs done with subjects like economy and national security.

According to Wylie that information from Facebook was then used to create specific ads targeting those people whose personality traits they had just uncovered like this 2014 ad Bolton's super PAC created to support Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton in his race for Senate.

JOHN BOLTON, INCOMING NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He'll project U.S. strength at home and abroad.

GRIFFIN (on camera): So one neighbor might get a different message from the second neighbor?

WYLIE: Yes, exactly. It's not even neighbors. It might be people in the same house get a different message. The messaging would be crafted to pick at underlying mental vulnerabilities.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Cambridge Analytica was the brainchild of Steve Bannon and funded by Republican conservative billionaires Rebekah and Robert Mercer. Since 2014 Robert Mercer has donated $5 million to John Bolton's super PAC. The super PAC in turn has spent $1.2 million on contracts with Cambridge Analytica.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:50:03] GRIFFIN: And Wolf, Cambridge Analytica sent to CNN a statement late this afternoon saying the recent media frenzy, as they call it, about the company is distressing and saying, "The source of the allegations against the company is not a whistleblower or a founder of the company," calling Christopher Wylie a part-time contractor who left in July 2014 with no direct knowledge of our work or practices since that date.

Well, meanwhile lawmakers here in London and in the United States are demanding Cambridge Analytica explain exactly what its practices are. And, Wolf, where all that personal data came from -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of questions. Good reporting, Drew. Thank you very much.

Just ahead a CNN exclusive. Inside the underground command center where the U.S. military is on alert for a nuclear attack.

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[18:55:30] BLITZER: The U.S. Strategic Command is ready for any eventuality and on alert for nuclear missiles around the world and around the clock.

CNN got exclusive access. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She spoke to the commander.

Barbara, this is the man who would be responsible for launching American nuclear missiles if President Trump ordered a strike.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf. We met with General John Hyten, the man who's trying to keep America's worst day from ever happening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): If a nuclear tipped missile is launched anywhere in the world, the U.S. military instantly responds. Four-star General John Hyten is alerted as soon as any missile threat is detected. He comes out of his office, heads down these downstairs to his bunker deep underground in Omaha, Nebraska.

GEN. JOHN HYTEN, COMMANDER, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND: This is the battle neck and you're a strategic man.

STARR: General Hyten, in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, watches along with his highly disciplined staff 24-7 for all incoming ballistic missiles.

HYTEN: I have six computer screens in my office. They all go off. There's a verbal alarm that goes off. There's people that are telling me, an exec who's telling me, there's about ten different ways to make sure the commander knows that it's time to move.

STARR: Ready to advise President Trump on how to deter enemy and if needed launch a U.S. attack.

CNN was given exclusive access to the general. We were there when an actual missile alert sounded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the real world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry, we have to ask you to leave for a moment.

STARR: The op center had just picked up signals of likely Russian missiles fired in Syria. Every time the alarm sounds, highly classified data detailing the threat is sent instantly to General Hyten. In this case the launch was quickly assessed as not a threat to the U.S.

HYTEN: Our strategic forces are always ready to respond. And everybody should know that. That they are ready this minute, under the ground, under the sea, in the air, we are ready to respond to any threat. And the adversaries of the world including Kim Jong-un have to know that.

STARR: Hyten watches the diplomatic action carefully but worries about missiles and bombs North Korea's Kim Jong-un still may have hidden away.

(On camera): Your gut tells you he's kept the building?

HYTEN: Well, I'm confident that he didn't stop building things when he stopped launching things. Now I can't go into the intelligence, but I've worked with rockets a long time. I know how long they take to build.

STARR (voice-over): Strategic Command is also keeping a close eye on Vladimir Putin's claim of new, high speed Russian intercontinental attack weapons.

HYTEN: We have very good intelligence capabilities and we watch very closely, so nothing he said surprised me.

STARR: In a real world emergency, there is an urgent scramble.

COL. CAROLYN BIRD, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND: We can get the president of the United States on the phone.

STARR (on camera): Secretary of Defense?

BIRD: Secretary of Defense, yes, ma'am.

STARR: Secretary of State?

BIRD: Yes, ma'am.

STARR: CIA director?

BIRD: CIA director.

STARR: There's nobody you can't?

BIRD: No, ma'am, there's nobody we can't get on the phone.

STARR (voice-over): General Hyten can rapidly brief the president.

HYTEN: Pictures that we see on the screen will tell me exactly where the missile is, how high it is, how fast it is going, where the impact point is, all those kind of issues happen in a matter of a small number of minutes.

STARR: And if a missile is headed for the U.S., that's when this safe, which sits under a desk, gets opened. Inside, an exact copy of President Trump's nuclear launch checklists.

BIRD: In this room there are only two people that can have access to that safe, and that is me as the battle watch commander and my strike adviser. Nobody else can touch it. One of us has to be in this room at all times.

STARR: General Hyten would be one of the first to know if President Trump orders a nuclear launch.

HYTEN: He asked me very hard questions. He wants to know exactly how it would work.

STARR: But for the general and his team, success is never taking the nuclear code out of the safe because that means deterrence has worked.

HYTEN: If somebody launches a nuclear weapon against us, we launch one back. They launch another, we launch another, they launched two, we launch. You're on this escalation matter that ends up nowhere. The key is to stop that behavior before it gets bad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So the bottom line, ready for whatever comes and hoping it never happens -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very tense situation indeed. But very critically important at the same time.

Barbara, thanks so much for that report. An exclusive report, I should add. Good reporting.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, the art of the distraction. What lengths will the president go to avoid --