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Trump Orders Expulsion of Russian Diplomats; Stormy Daniels Sues President Trump's Lawyer for Defamation. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 26, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You can follow the show on Facebook and Twitter on @TheLeadCNN. That is all for us today. I'm John Berman, in for Jake. Now time for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Expelled. The Trump administration expels 60 Russian diplomats identified as intelligence officers and orders the closure of a Russian consulate in response to the nerve agent attack in Britain. Russia says the United States is making a grave mistake. So what's the next move?

Rebound. Our new poll is out, and President Trump's approval rating rebounds to its highest point in nearly a year, but that's still only 42 percent. Apart from the economy, the reviews are negative; and most Americans say they believe the women alleging affairs with Donald Trump, although only 21 percent believe the president.

And Stormy sues. Porn star Stormy Daniels sues the president's lawyer for defamation, accusing Michael Cohen of calling her a liar. As Daniels goes public about her alleged affair with Donald Trump and says she was threatened, the White House says the president still denies an affair and rejects her claims.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. As President Trump orders the expulsion of 60 Russians in response to the nerve agent poisoning in Britain, the White House says it's not closing any doors on direct action against Russia's President Putin.

And while the White House says the president still denies the claims by porn star Stormy Daniels, a new CNN poll finds just 21 percent of Americans believe the president's denials of the affair.

I'll speak with Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary Committee and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and specialists, they're standing by with full coverage.

First let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats sends a strong message.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It really does, Wolf. The Trump administration abruptly changed course on Russia today, getting tough with this announcement that Russian diplomats will be expelled from the U.S.

But the president was oddly silent on this subject, as he was on another matter, Stormy Daniels. But sources tell me, Wolf, that the president was advised to avoid commenting on Stormy Daniels, because he, quote, "knows the stakes."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's the kind of move critics of President Trump from both parties have been demanding. In response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil, the Trump administration announced 60 Russian diplomats are being expelled from the U.S., as well as the closure of a Russian consulate in Seattle because of its close proximity to a submarine base.

The White House held out the possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who's suspected of ordering the attack on the ex-spy, could be sanctioned himself.

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I wouldn't close any doors. I wouldn't preclude any potential action, but the president doesn't telegraph his moves.

ACOSTA: The administration's retaliation against Russia was somewhat unexpected after the president neglected to mention the poisoning to Putin during a phone call last week. White House spokesman Raj Shah didn't really answer why that didn't come up in their conversation.

SHAH: The president has made his position and the country's position pretty clear.

ACOSTA: The expulsions are also aimed at showing solidarity with more than a dozen another countries taking similar steps, as the British prime minister again scolded Moscow over the attempted murders.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain critically ill in hospital. Sadly, late last week, doctors indicated that their condition is unlikely to change in the near future, and they may never recover fully.

ACOSTA: Russia's ambassador to the U.S. indicated Moscow is likely to retaliate.

ANATOLY ANTONOV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: I am sure that time will come. They will understand what kind of grave mistake they did.

ACOSTA: But even some of the president's critics welcomed the news, with GOP Senator Ben Sasse saying in a statement, "Good, this is kind of strong and unambiguous message the United States ought to be sending."

Still, the president did not tweet about the expulsions, instead opting for another attack on the media: "So much fake news. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great."

That appeared to be a swipe at the "60 Minutes" interview with porn star Stormy Daniels, who has alleged an affair with the president and a payoff to buy her silence. The lawyer says more is on the way.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: It is just the beginning. We have a whole host of evidence. This is not going away. And Mr. Cohen and the president better come clean with the American people, and they'd better do it quick will.

ACOSTA: A new CNN poll finds most Americans believe the president is dishonest. Still, the White House wants Americans to trust Mr. Trump and not Daniels.

SHAH: The president doesn't believe that any of the claims that Ms. Daniels made last night in the interview are accurate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the White House did confirm one thing in connection with the Stormy Daniels story, saying that over the weekend, the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who allegedly paid off Daniels, did in fact, have dinner with the president at his resort at Mar-a-Lago.

[17:05:05] And as for the perpetual White House chaos we've been seeing over that we've been seeing over the last several weeks, Wolf, we should also point out that the White House did not exactly give a ringing endorsement to David Shulkin, the secretary of veterans affairs. When asked about his future, the White House spokesman here said there are no cabinet announcements at this time, Wolf. Of course, it's only Monday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, not exactly a ringing endorsement, indeed. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta at the White House.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. Jim, how significant is this move? And what kind of message is the U.S. now sending to Russia?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's significant. It's interesting. You here that even from members of the Obama administration. I spoke to Lisa Monaco short time ago, and she said this is a significant move and a change from the Trump administration, which as you know and we've spoken about this a number of times, has not been particularly forward leaning in its criticism of Moscow, particularly from the president himself. So significant in that sense. Big statement from the U.S.

Significant that it came from multiple western allies at the same time. So these are dozens of diplomats, quote unquote, diplomats who are really intelligence officials, operatives in these countries who can no longer be able to operate there and gather intelligence. That's a big deal.

Now, on the flip side, of course, Russia's going to pay back, right? It's going to expel Americans. It's going to expel British diplomats, et cetera, so there will be a payment, in effect, a cost to this. But significant it's happening at the same time.

The finer point I would make is this. When you look at this attack, this was an attack, not just on that former Russian spy and his daughter walking through the streets. But as Theresa May, the U.K. prime minister, noted today, there are dozens of bystanders, citizens, passersby who were contaminated, as well, with what is a nerve agent. This was, in effect, a chemical weapons attack on British soil by Russia. And in a very top-heavy organization in Russian, where you would have to guess that this, to some degree, had the approval of the president, the Russian president himself. It was a significant attack, and that's why you're seeing this significant response.

BLITZER: Yes, 48 Russian diplomats -- quote, "diplomats" -- here in Washington and their families. Another dozen at the Russian mission to the United Nations. They're shutting down the Russian consulate in Seattle, Washington.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BLITZER: But as you point out, Russia will retaliate and do the same thing to American diplomats in Moscow and elsewhere and probably shut down a U.S. consulate, as well. That will reduce U.S. intelligence- gathering capabilities.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And you note the move in Seattle. Why Seattle, folks at home might say? There's a major U.S. submarine base there. There's a big competition going on under the waves around the world. We did some reporting on this, and it appears to be sensitivity about the possibility of Russian surveillance of that base may lead to that connection with those expulsions there.

BLITZER: A lot of high-tech companies in Seattle, as well, that the Russians presumably are interested in. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.

Senator, you've been a critical of the Trump administration's treatment of Russia, suggesting it's been too weak. Do they deserve credit now for a tougher response?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: This response is significant, no question. Not only because it involves 60 intelligence agents expelled out of 100 that there are estimated to be in the United States, probably a low figure, but also because it's coordinated with our allies.

Remember that president Trump has been very dismissive of NATO, of our allies. And this coordinated response is significant.

But the president's silence speaks volumes. Because his failure to use the White House as a bully pulpit against Putin, against this Russian aggression against the continued, concerted attack on our democracy, is profoundly significant, maybe even as significant as the expulsion.

BLITZER: The Russians have promised, as you know, to respond in kind. How do you think Putin will retaliate?

BLUMENTHAL: I think Putin will retaliate by expelling some of our diplomats, some of our intelligence agents. But remember, what Putin did here -- and there's no question he did it personally -- was order a chemical attack, poison military-grade chemicals, on the soil of one of our closest, maybe our closest ally. The U.K. was attacked by the use of this military-grade poison.

Imagine what past president Ronald Reagan, for example, would have said about that kind of attack. Or any of our Republican, Democratic president. The president's silence, I think, is aimed at maybe reducing the significance of the response by Putin. What we should be doing right now is preparing to use sanctions on the oligarchs, attacking financial institutions as well as using cyber. We have a lot of tools at our disposal, regardless of what Putin does in response.

[17:10:03] BLITZER: When the Russians expel -- and I assume they will -- several dozen American diplomats, and some of them presumably will be CIA clandestine officers, spies, how much damage to U.S. intelligence capability do you think will be impacted?

BLUMENTHAL: It will be damaging. But at this point, without going into classified briefings, there are a lot of means we have to do surveillance and intelligence gathering through cyber and aerial surveillance, space, and other means, that are important to us. But obviously, the human intelligence is very important, as well. So it will degrade our intelligence gathering activities but by no means cripple them severely.

BLITZER: As far as we know, Senator, the administration still hasn't taken any direct action against those Russia agencies responsible for election meddling here in the United States. What specific steps does the president, from your perspective, need to take, in addition to what was just done today?

BLUMENTHAL: There are some very clear steps that need to be taken. No. 1, to crack down on the financial dealings of his oligarchs, the Russian business people who actually finance the Internet Research Agency that was the agency attacking our democracy.

So using the kind of sanctions on finance institutions that so far have not been imposed. They were authorized by Congress. The president has not used them in the degree or dimension that he should.

Second, the use of cyber, which really, we have been very laggard and lax in applying. We have the tools, but we simply haven't used them. They're using cyber against us.

I've raised this issue repeatedly in Armed Services Committee hearings, as have a number of my colleagues. John McCain has been very vocal on this topic. And so I think steps in those domains and defining what is an act of war. In my view, the Russians actually committed an act of war. They said it was informational warfare, and we need to respond much more robustly.

BLITZER: The president's incoming national security adviser, John Bolton, as you know, he's a hard liner when it comes to Russia. Do you think he'll be able to change the president's thinking, the president's words? Will we see the president actually say something personally critical of Putin, start tweeting about the Russians?

BLUMENTHAL: The Russian policy of the United States must change. John Bolton can be a change agent, and that may be one of the bright spots of his appointment. His hawkishness and warmongering with respect to North Korea and Iran, obviously, are extremely concerning and I think will be met by strong and vigorous opposition on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress.

BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. The porn star, Stormy Daniels suing the president's lawyer, Michael Cohen, for defamation, saying he cast her as a liar for alleging an affair with Donald Trump. That comes after Daniels goes public, saying she was threatened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STORMY DANIELS, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: I was in a parking lot going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. And a guy walked up on me and said to me, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story." And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, "That's a beautiful little girl. It would be a shame if something happened to her mom." And then he was gone.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Your took it as a direct threat?

DANIELS: Absolutely.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More breaking news now. Porn star Stormy Daniels is suing President Trump's lawyer for defamation, arguing that the attorney, Michael Cohen, made her out to be a liar. That comes as the White House says the president is still denying her claim of an affair.

Let's go live to our national correspondent, Sara Sidner. Sara, update our viewers on the latest.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is an aggressive move by Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stormy Daniels. Now adding Michael Cohen by name in the suit. Not just Michael Cohen, as the owner of the business that ended up being put together to pay Stormy Daniels. He's saying that Michael Cohen defamed his client back in February.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SIDNER (voice-over): Just hours after millions watched porn actress Stormy Daniels tell the world about her alleged affair with Donald Trump, the White House today once again denying those allegations.

SHAH: He's denied the accusations that she made last night and has been consistent in doing so. She has not.

SIDNER: The president himself hasn't directly talked about the Daniels scandal, instead this morning taking to Twitter to decry what he called fake news, cryptically tweeting, "So much fake news. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great."

Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, making a vigorous public defense.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: If she's not telling the truth, let the president take to the podium and call her a liar.

SIDNER: One of the more troubling aspects of Daniels' story was something she says occurred in 2011 in Las Vegas, a short time after Daniels gave an interview to a sister publication of "InTouch Weekly," an incident Daniels says rattled her.

DANIELS: I was in a parking lot, going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. And a guy walked up on me and said to me, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story." And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, "A beautiful little girl. It would be a shame if something happened to her mom." And then he was gone.

COOPER: You took it as a direct threat?

DANIELS: Absolutely.

SIDNER: Immediately following the "60 Minutes" interview, Michael Cohen's attorney responding with a cease and desist letter, accusing Daniels of defamation and demanding a retraction, insisting Cohen had "absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any such person or incident and does not even believe that any sufficient person exists or that such incident ever occurred."

[17:20:18] AVENATTI: Michael Cohen needs to stop hiding behind pieces of paper and come clean with the American public. He wants the American people to believe that Donald Trump knew nothing of this agreement, that he advanced $130,000. It's laughable. It's not believable.

SIDNER: Daniels's story left little to the imagination, offering details of an alleged sexual encounter which occurred shortly after they first met in 2006.

DANIELS: And he was like, "Have you seen my new magazine?"

COOPER: He was showing you his own picture on the cover on the cover of a magazine?

DANIELS: Right, right. And so, like "Does this -- does this normally work for you?" And I was, like, "Someone should take that magazine and spank you with it."

And I'll never forget the look on his face. And I said, you know, "Give me that." And I turned around.

Like, "You wouldn't."

"Hand it over." And so he did. And I was like, "Turn around. Drop them."

COOPER: You told Donald Trump to turn around and take off his pants?

DANIELS: Yes.

COOPER: And did he?

DANIELS: Yes.

SIDNER: Eventually, the joking stopped, and she says she and Trump had sex for the first and only time during their relationship.

COOPER: And you had sex with him?

DANIELS: Yes.

COOPER: Did you want to have sex with him?

DANIELS: No. But I didn't -- I didn't say no. I'm not a victim. I'm not --

COOPER: It was entirely consensual?

DANIELS: Yes. Yes.

COOPER: You work in an industry where condom use is an issue. Did he use a condom?

DANIELS: No.

COOPER: Melania Trump had recently given birth to a son just a few months before. Did he mention his wife or child at all in this?

DANIELS: I asked, and he brushed it aside. He said, "Oh, yes, yes. You know, don't worry about that. We don't even -- we have separate rooms and stuff."

SIDNER: Daniels also gave a similar account to that of former Playmate Karen McDougal, who says Trump offered a glowing comparison of her to his daughter, Ivanka.

DANIELS: He was like, "Wow, you -- you are special. You remind me of my daughter. You know, he's like, you're smart, beautiful, and a woman to be reckoned with. And I like you. I like you."

SIDNER: Daniels also talked about the confidentiality agreement she signed with Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, just before the 2016 presidential election. COOPER: Was it hush money to stay silent?

DANIELS: Yes. The story was coming out again. I was concerned for my family and their safety.

COOPER: I think some people watching this are going to doubt that you entered into this negotiation because you feared for your safety. They're going to think that you saw an opportunity.

DANIELS: I think the fact that I didn't even negotiate. I just quickly said yes to this very, you know, strict contract and what most people will agree with me, extremely low number, is all the proof I need.

SIDNER: But Daniels herself said she has lied about the affair. In these two letters that she signed and made public, she denied the affair with Trump ever took place.

COOPER: That's a lie.

DANIELS: Yes.

COOPER: If it was untruthful, why did you sign it?

DANIELS: Because they made it sound like I had no choice.

COOPER: I mean, no one was putting a gun to your head.

DANIELS: Not physical violence, no.

COOPER: You thought that there would be some sort of legal repercussion if you didn't sign?

DANIELS: Correct. As a matter of fact, the exact sentence used was, "They can make your life hell in many different ways."

COOPER: "They" being?

DANIELS: I'm not exactly sure who "they" were. I believe it to be Michael Cohen.

SIDNER: Daniels telling Cooper she was pressured by her manager and attorney at the time, a claim her former lawyer denies, saying he does not believe it was a fair and accurate description of the situation. And her former manager says she did not actually say those words herself in the "60 Minutes" piece.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now, we should tell you that the amended information in the lawsuit, which includes now defamation against Michael Cohen by Stormy Daniels, now Stormy Daniels's attorney has also said that they have broken campaign finance laws. That is now in the federal lawsuit.

BLITZER: Sara Sidner, reporting for us. Thanks very much. By the way, to our viewers, you can see the full Stormy Daniels

interview with Anderson Cooper later tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern, "AC 360."

Coming up, there's more breaking news. Stormy Daniels suing the president -- the president's lawyer, Michael Cohen, arguing he cast her as a liar. We're going to have much more on the lawsuit going through these numerous pages right now.

And I'll speak with the lawyer for former Playmate Karen McDougal, also claiming an affair. Stay with us. Lots of news. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:29:21] BLITZER: Tonight's breaking news, the Stormy Daniels controversy. The porn star today sued President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for defamation.

Let's bring in our reporters and analysts. And Laura Coates, you're our legal analyst. What's your reaction to the breaking news? Is this a serious lawsuit against Michael Cohen?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it was seriously filed. But it's straight out of the playbook of Summer Zervos's attorney, Gloria Allred. Remember, what it is, is the idea of -- it's now litigating the underlining claim outright. It's not deciding whether or not there was a sexual interaction. It's not talking about the contract.

What they're trying to have an end -- you know, round game to say, "Listen, we're going to litigate whether or not you're calling me a liar." Summer Zervos had the same sort of playbook when she filed against Donald Trump for him calling her a liar on the campaign trail.

It continued till today. There's actually a New York state court saying that the sitting president can now be deposed to defend himself in an action like that. So they were trying to compel this exact result.

However, his statement is much more nebulous than one that's outright calling her a liar, and that's going to be the biggest uphill battle. He said something about false statements like this can be settled all the time, where you can settle out of court if it's false, without outright calling her a liar. That's going to be the biggest challenge about her defamation suit to her reputation in any way, shape or form.

BLITZER: You know, David Chalian, we -- a lot of build-up to the "60 Minutes" interview. Did she come across to you as credible?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think that's the question that every voter and every American who watched the interview last night is going to decide.

And clearly, the White House is doing its effort to try to chip away at any credibility that they think she had on display yesterday by pointing out the inconsistencies with her signing statements that say she did not have an affair but then claiming to have an affair. So they're concerned about her getting some traction with credibility.

She clearly presented herself as somebody who had nothing to lose here at this point. And so I think the fact that she had that kind of approach to it, matched with the fact that some of her story with Donald Trump and what their relationship entailed, matched up with what we heard from Karen McDougal, I think hearing it from multiple women but similar telling -- the way he talked about Ivanka or Melania, boosts her credibility, as well. But it is precisely that question, Wolf, that every American will sort of judge for themselves.

BLITZER: You know, and Sabrina, the White House responded to the "60 Minutes" interview. You heard the deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, say that the White House did not engage in any wrongdoing, and they said that they don't believe anything she was saying because of the inconsistencies in her statements.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Right. And I think that somewhere the White House has been contradictory in its response to this. You had Sarah Sanders a couple weeks ago saying that the president had won arbitration in one of the restraining orders that he team had filed against Stormy Daniels to prevent her from speaking out. That suggested that perhaps there was something there.

But I think overall, this is not a story about whether or not the president engaged in extra-marital affairs. It's a story about people close to the president trying to pay or, in some cases, potentially intimidate women into silence. And the question, I think, on everyone's mind, is are there going to be more women who come forward? And at what point are we going to have to hear from the president directly with respect to these allegations, and is there going to continue to be a pattern where there was potentially hush money provided to more and more women?

BLITZER: Bianna, what's your analysis?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, remember Stormy Daniels's attorney, Michael Avenatti, had said that some six women had approached him, seeking representation that had similar claims to Stormy Daniels.

And look, I don't think many people are questioning her story as much as they're wondering why she's speaking out now and why it matters? And so when it comes to the Trump voter and supporter, you can go back to the campaign, where we knew that there had been allegations about the president and his relationship with other women. And yet voters still went to the polls for him, regardless of that.

So what differentiates that from what we're hearing today, other than fantastic representation that we're seeing more and more of from these women. But also, the fact that there are now threats and anything tangible that's sort of being hinted at now. Are there pictures? Is there video? That's sort of what's being teased at and why, I think, so many more Americans are really paying attention to these stories.

BLITZER: Because a new element, you know, Laura, in the "60 Minutes" interview was this allegation from Stormy Daniels that back this 2011, she was threatened by some unknown man who told her to drop the whole Trump story. What's the legal impact of that? It's going to be clearly very hard to prove.

COATES: Well, the key words here in your question were "unknown man." It's very difficult back in seven years ago for her to identify that person. Although she does say that if she ever saw that person again, she could. Well, maybe if she could do that, she'd have a claim against that person, but it's really, really an attenuated thing. Whether that is a link to Michael Cohen or a member of the Trump Organization or somebody who could be linked in some way, even tangentially to the president of the United States. That's the real key here.

And so I would be asking, if I wanted to prove that claim or if I wanted to try to dismantle that claim who did you tell? She told Anderson Cooper that she had her child in her hand. She almost dropped the baby she was so fearful. She walked into a fitness class. Did she tell anybody there? Was she married at the time? Did she tell her husband? All of those things, those contemporaneous statements that she would have made, could boost her credibility.

But still, at this point in time, from the interview alone, there was no hard, concrete evidence to suggest that it actually attached to Michael Cohen. But her presumption that, in fact, he may have been involved in some way later down the line. That's not going to cut it for the court.

And simply, the question still remains, are you able to talk about any of this, Stormy Daniels? If the court has not said you can yet, she has got herself in a bit of a legal pickle.

BLITZER: Go ahead, David.

[17:35:05] CHALIAN: We did hear, I thought, for the first time from the White House today, something new in what Raj Shah said. When you mentioned before, he said false charges are settled out of court all the time. That was the first time I heard the White House from the podium justify the payment. That's a justification for the $130,000 payment in hush money. I hadn't heard that before officially from the White House, and I thought that was sort of an interesting development.

BLITZER: Yes, Raj Shah specifically said, "False charges are settled out of court all the time. This is not out of the ordinary" in explaining why $130,000 was paid to Stormy Daniels from Michael Cohen.

Everybody, stand by. We've got -- we're going to continue this conversation. We're also going to dig deeper into some brand-new CNN poll numbers which shows President Trump's approval rating going up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:36] BLITZER: We're back with our experts. Let's get to some brand-new CNN poll numbers just coming in. And David Chalian, you're our political director. Take a look at this as far as the president's overall approval rating. How is President Trump handling his job as president? Forty-two percent approve, 54 percent disapprove. But that 42 percent is up from 35 percent in February. Forty-two is sort of consistent with some other acceptable polls, as well.

CHALIAN: Yes. It sort of fits what we've been seeing the last ten days of polling. And if you look at where the movement is coming from, among Republicans, he's up six points since last month in our poll. Among independents, he's up six months -- six points since last month in the poll. So that's where we saw the movement, Wolf.

We still see remarkable consistency. The strongest -- people who feel the strongest in approving or disapproving, they're staying there. What we're seeing when there's movement between month to month are some of the less solid people. They move around a bit more. And as I said, some of the Republicans who drifted away, some of the independents who drifted away are now back with him.

BLITZER: It's a very interesting fact. Forty-two percent, pretty good number for the president at this point.

Sabrina, he's getting pretty good marks when it comes to the economy. "How is President Trump handling the economy?" Forty-eight percent approve of the job he's doing; 45 percent disapprove. So on the economy, he's doing better than a lot of people anticipated, presumably.

SIDDIQUI: Yes, and certainly, the economists I've spoken with have said that this president inherited a steady economic recovery from his predecessor, from President Obama, and the Trump administration has been able to keep that economic momentum going.

I think that one of the telling data points in the poll is that 38 percent -- only 38 percent approve of the recent trade actions that Trump has announced which have a direct impact on the economic outlook. Fifty percent of Americans said they disapprove of some of those recent announcements, which include, of course, the tariff on steel imports as well as the tariffs on certain Chinese goods. A lot of economists say that those could not only kick off a global trade war but have potentially catastrophic consequences for the U.S. economy. So if you wanted to keep those numbers up, a lot of those economists warn against some of the recent policy decisions.

BLITZER: The Dow Jones today was up about almost 700 points. Although last Thursday and Friday, it was down more than 1,400 points. So it's going up; it's going down. That's what happens.

Bianna, some other interesting poll numbers. On allegations of infidelity, the public sides with the women who are making these allegations. Sixty-three percent say they believe the women. Twenty- one percent believe President Trump. Sixteen percent unsure. That looks like a potentially serious problem for the president. Is it?

GOLODRYGA: Well, it's a problem he's been having for the past year, Wolf. Let's not forget that white women had a huge part in electing President Trump. And since he's been elected, we've seen his support among educated white women really take a dip. Going back to what David had been saying. You're losing moderates,

some of the Obama coalition that had taken a chance to vote for the president. And a lot of this self-inflicted. The more we hear headlines like Stormy Daniels. Some of the volatility that we're seeing from the president. This doesn't sit well with a lot of women.

So going back to our earlier conversation about how Stormy Daniels came across in her interview, most people, I would say, probably viewed her as credible. But again, questioned, you know, her motives, what have you.

The more of these type of stories that we see, the harder it is going to be for the president to win back some of the women support, female support that he's starting to lose.

BLITZER: Yes, very interesting. And Laura, it looks like the president is losing the P.R. battles over these alleged affairs. Is that legally potentially significant down the road?

COATES: Well, we face and straddle two different courts. The court of public opinion, it may be significant for him whether he can pull the potential jury pool of future voters. But in the court of law, it doesn't move the needle in any direction whatsoever. The court is completely indifferent to whether the sexual interactions occurred. Their only inquiry is whether or not Stormy Daniels is about to speak about it or Karen McDougal is able to speak about the issues, or whether or not there was a contract at all.

But remember, this is a president who was elected when there were more than a dozen women who made accusations against him. And frankly, even the "Access Hollywood" did not move the needle. So the numbers you're talking about in the polling are shockingly consistent and unsurprising if you follow it actually the way that Bianna talked about. But I think in both areas, the Stormy Daniels case does not move the needle about public opinion about the president of the United States unless it attaches to a legal issue like the campaign finance.

GOLODRYGA: And Wolf, if I can just jump in quickly about his approval ratings with regards to the economy, though we've seen them go up given where the economy is now, and where unemployment is, 48 percent is a relatively low number when it comes to the president's approval rating. And the stock market should not be the number one indicator here.

But since the President seems to focus on it arbitrarily when it suits his purposes, a lot of the swings that we have seen have directly come from statements and some of the actions that he has made. So, again, a lot of this really being self-inflicted.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You could say that about the 42 percent job approval overall too. It's not a great number for presidents if you look at the history. It's still below all the modern predecessors. But if you're grading on the Trump scale, just like the economy is his

best performing issue, this 42 percent is the best number we've seen for him since the 100-day mark last April.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot better than 32 or 33 or 34 percent.

All right, guys, everybody stick around. There's more breaking news. The President changing course to punish Russia for poisoning an ex- spy. Will it change Vladimir Putin's behavior?

Also coming up next, the latest legal moves by the porn star Stormy Daniels and allegations by former playmate Karen McDougal. A closer look at how anyone but Donald Trump would have problems getting a high-level security clearance. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:55] BLITZER: Our breaking news, the porn star Stormy Daniels now is suing President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, claiming defamation.

Meanwhile, the allegations made by Daniels and a former "Playboy" playmate are raising new questions about the rules that prevent people from obtaining security clearances for very sensitive government jobs.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're getting some worrisome new information tonight from former U.S. intelligence officials and from attorneys who handled those top security clearance applications.

They're telling us that given the accusations Daniels and Karen McDougal have made and the allegations of hush money and cover-ups, even though Trump's attorneys have denied much of this, there is no way Donald Trump would get a top security clearance if he had any other job in the government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Stormy Daniels says she got a clear sense once Donald Trump won the 2016 Republican nomination for president just how badly Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, wanted to keep their alleged sexual encounter secret.

The porn star told "60 Minutes" that after that a few years of believing her story had faded, offers started coming in.

STORMY DANIELS, ACTRESS ALLEGING SEXUAL ENCOUNTER WITH DONALD TRUMP: Suddenly, people are reaching out to me again, offering me money. Large amounts of money.

Was I tempted? Yes. I struggled with it. And then I get the call, I think I have the best deal for you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: From your lawyer?

DANIELS: Yes.

TODD (voice-over): That offer she says was for Michael Cohen. The $130,000 payment Cohen now says he facilitated to Daniels from his own funds.

Tonight, a key question, if Donald Trump had any other position in the government that required a top-secret security clearance, with those alleged affairs and attempted cover-ups, would he get that clearance?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It's highly unlikely that someone with these types of incidents or activities in their past would get a security clearance.

TODD (voice-over): That's because of the potential for blackmail.

Mary Kuntz, a lawyer whose firm has handled hundreds of top-secret clearance applications, says even if Trump were subject to vetting, which is he is not as president, the alleged sexual relationships themselves might not disqualify him.

MARY KUNTZ, PARTNER, KALIJARVI, CHUZI, NEWMAN & FITCH, P.C.: But the paying them off suggests an awareness of being vulnerable to coercion.

TODD (voice-over): Cohen has said Trump wasn't aware of the payment to Daniels. Kuntz says government agencies conduct what they call a whole person analysis among people seeking top-secret clearances.

KUNTZ: And they will try to see whether, taken as a whole, the person's life, whether there's a repeated pattern of poor judgment, a repeated pattern of irresponsibility.

TODD (voice-over): Karen McDougal, the former "Playboy" model, told Anderson Cooper about the length she says Trump and his aides went to to keep their alleged affair secret.

COOPER: Why would he have you book all the travel and the hotel rooms?

KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY MODEL ALLEGING AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: Well, there was no paper trail.

COOPER: And id -- did you realize that at the time?

MCDOUGAL: Yes, I did.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, security experts are warning of other information the Russians or other U.S. adversaries might be looking for.

TURNER: What we don't know is whether or not there are other individuals out there who may have, at some point, had relationships or relations with the President.

And if those individuals have some sort of evidence, particularly if a foreign government or foreign adversary has evidence of those relationships, then that is absolutely the kind of thing that can be used against the President as a leverage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Outside the question of whether there are other people out there with compromising information on President Trump, the President is still not out of the woods, of course, in the Stormy Daniels case.

Daniel's attorney, Michael Avenatti, says we can expect him to reveal more evidence of the alleged affair and the alleged hush money. Both Michael Cohen and the White House have said President Trump has denied affairs with both women, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.

Coming up, the breaking news. The Trump administration expels 60 Russians in response to the poisoning attack in Britain. But will the President dare to make a direct move against Vladimir Putin?

And as porn star Stormy Daniels talks about an affair with Donald Trump and sues the President's lawyer, a former playmate is also speaking out about an alleged affair. We're going to hear directly from her attorney.

[17:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Stormy fires back. The porn star is taking new legal action tonight as the White House tries to portray her big T.V. interview about the President as a big lie.

This hour, I'll get reaction from the lawyer from the -- for the "Playboy" model who also claims she had a past affair with Mr. Trump.

Punishing Putin. The White House says dozens of Russian diplomats are being kicked out of the United States for brazen and reckless attacks. Why is the Trump administration suddenly getting tougher with the Kremlin and why isn't President Trump talking about it?

[17:59:57] And surprise visit? There's intense speculation tonight that Kim Jong-un may have secretly left North Korea for China. We're digging on what would be an unprecedented trip if confirmed. Is there any connection to plans for Kim Jong-un to meet with President Trump?