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Should Trump Testify in Mueller Probe?; Trump Silent on Stormy Daniels; California Suing Trump Administration Over Census Citizenship Question; Serial Abuser's Ex-Boss Charged with Sex Crimes. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 27, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Now in the rather unusual position of downplaying his silence, insisting he's incredibly engaged.

Even if that's true behind the scenes, Mr. Trump remains quiet in public about two very sensitive subjects, Russia and porn star Stormy Daniels.

Our correspondents, analysts and experts are all standing by as we cover all the new developments.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president is letting his aides do the talking.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He seems to be holding his fire, Wolf, that's right.

And perhaps it's the calm before the tweetstorm, but President Trump, as you said, has been uncharacteristically silent over the last couple of days. The White House continued to make the case today that the president is getting tough on Russia over the poisoning of ex-Russian spy on British soil.

But aides to the president are also struggling to explain why the president is not speaking out more on Moscow's bad behavior or even allegations of his own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): This week, President Trump has been the commander in brief, steering clear of any major comments on two issues nagging his administration, Russia and Stormy Daniels, pulling his punches, instead of delivering them.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has still been incredibly engaged. He gives us messages to come out and deliver on his behalf on the regular basis, but he's also put out a number of tweets over the last week. He also has a country to run and he's doing a great job with that. Sometimes, he chooses to specifically engage and punch back and sometimes he doesn't. ACOSTA: Once again, the president left it up to his press office to

insist that his administration is doing enough to punish Russia, touting this week's announcement that 60 Russian diplomats are being kicked out of the U.S.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We're applying pressure on Russia. We're certainly encouraging and working with our allies and partners also to do so.

ACOSTA: But critics are wondering why Mr. Trump isn't sounding off on Vladimir Putin, who is suspected of being behind the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain, a subject the president did not raise in their phone call last week.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory.

ACOSTA: The White House has also exaggerated its actions on Russia, with one spokesman claiming that the U.S. had sanctioned oligarchs tied to Putin.

(on camera): Would this president considered sanctioning Vladimir Putin or his cronies?

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The United States has issued sanctions on key Russian oligarchs in response to the meddling in the 2016 election.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Only to have another spokesman clarify that hasn't happened yet.

MICHAEL ANTON, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESMAN: These actions take a while to develop. We can't just sanction people spontaneously.

ACOSTA: Even Republicans wish the president would say more.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I think the president needs to be speaking more forcefully and treating Russia as the foe that it is. It's a bad actor. It's becoming a bit of a pariah state, frankly, and I think we should be doing more on the cyber side.

ACOSTA: The president also appears to be leery of addressing the saga of Stormy Daniels, the porn star who says she was paid off to cover up her affair with Mr. Trump.

Daniels' lawyer sounded Trump-like, boasting about his client's ratings on "60 Minutes," tweeting: "Since this is what really matters, LOL, the ratings for my client's Stormy Daniels appearance on '60 Minutes' crushed by millions any 'Apprentice' show in the last 10 years as well as Mr. Trump's November 2016 appearance."

An attorney for the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who allegedly made the porn star payment, is firing back.

DAVID SCHWARTZ, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY: Stormy Daniels was shopping the best deal she could possibly shop, so people call it hush money. I call it legal extortion.

ACOSTA: As for the president's legal team, the White House brushed off questions about why so many high-profile attorneys are turning down a chance to defend Mr. Trump.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president has a highly qualified team with several individuals that have been part of this process, Ty Cobb, Jay Sekulow.

ACOSTA: The president is also scrambling a way to pay for the wall on the border, floating the idea of taking the money from the just approved budget for Pentagon. The White House wouldn't confirm that.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I can't get into the specifics of that at this point, but I can tell you that the continuation of building the wall is ongoing and we are going to continue moving forward in that process.

ACOSTA: Perhaps because that would be a sign of a key campaign promise that's tumbling down.

TRUMP: And who's going to pay for the wall?

AUDIENCE: Mexico!

TRUMP: One hundred percent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the president suggested the idea of having the Pentagon pay for the wall to House Speaker Paul Ryan last week but part of the problem with that idea is that the administration simply cannot just take the money away from the military. That would require another vote from Congress.

But, Wolf, it seems clear the president has given up on making Mexico pay for the wall and he's trying to figure out how to stick all of us with the tab -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us, thanks.

We have more now on the Russia investigation, the gaping holes in the president's legal team.

Let's bring in our CNN White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, who is working the story for us.

Pamela, two more lawyers apparently now have turned down requests to join this legal team.

Are you getting any indication why the list of no's keeps on growing?

[18:05:01]

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, the list, you're talking about at least five big law firms who have now turned down offers to represent the president.

Here are a list of some of those high-profile lawyers in those firms, including Ted Olson, Emmet Flood, and this latest case, they said they turned it down because of "business conflicts." That has been cited in other situations, particularly at Ted Olson's firm, where they represent Fusion GPS and Facebook.

So that has been a consistent theme, but sources tell us, Wolf, that there are other factors at play here, including the fact that some lawyers are concerned how it would impact their reputation. It could be politically unpopular. The concern that the president wouldn't listen to legal advice.

And just watching how John Dowd left last week, abruptly, I think that has also added to the concern. Now, I did speak to sources close to the president's legal team who say that basically this narrative that all these lawyers are turning down is not exactly right in context, that they're also receiving several offers from lawyers reaching out to them across the country from New York as well as Chicago, and that it's an ongoing process, but that they're trying to figure out who can join the team.

It probably won't happen this week. And as the president himself, as you know, Wolf, has also tweeted that there's been no issue at all, but I can tell you it is a small shop now. You have Jay Sekulow now sort of the one-man show with Mueller's team representing the president, and Ty Cobb, as well as some of his deputies, though Jay Sekulow does have a U.S. attorney that works closely with him that's more involved.

But it's a very small team to be involved in such a big case, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Pamela. I want to bring in our analysts, Joey Jackson, Michael Zeldin.

So, Joey, let's talk about this. Why is the president apparently having so much time -- so much trouble bringing in these high-powered lawyers?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good evening, Wolf. They're conflicting schools of thought on that.

But I will tell you the process I go through and I think what these lawyers are going through in assessing it. In practicing in state and federal court, there's really three things I consider in deciding whether to take on a case. The first is a legal consideration. Are there any conflict of interests involved? Like what?

Do I represent another client whose interests would have to be subservient, right, to the client that is looking to retain me? Is there any business interests that the firm might have that might be evaluated or looked at from an ethical standpoint that may otherwise conflict me out?

And then you go to the practical consideration before the personal, and the practical consideration is one of as follows, what is the time commitment to this case, what would it do to my practice in the event that I delved into this case.

We know that this case would be all-consuming, and that is a concern. Also a practical consideration, Pamela Brown mentioned it, you know, how will you be viewed? How will it affect your reputation, if at all? And then the final analysis that I engage in and many of my colleagues is a personal one.

Will this client be susceptible to your advice and your counsel? Will they listen? Some clients are their own worst enemy. Won't listen to a thing. When things go south, it's all your fault.

And so make no mistake about it. While Donald Trump certainly knows a lot of things, very smart businessman, maybe successful in one thing, he's not an attorney and should stay out of his attorneys' way. There's sometimes you need a client, Wolf, to show up and to otherwise be their own advocate, they're going to testify.

There are other times you need the client to stay out of their way and go have a Coke and a smile. And he seems to be a person who's very engaged, very active and is telling their clients what to do, and us lawyers and being strategic thinkers think that we can plan the strategy that's winning, we don't necessarily need the client to tell us how to do that. And I think that represents an issue with this president.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a good point.

Michael Zeldin, compare the current Trump legal team to what Mueller has assembled, some of the most, I guess, brilliant lawyers in the business, prosecutors that he's put together.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right.

And actually the best comparison is, what did Bill Clinton have as his outside counsel? David Kendall, the forces of Williams and Connolly. They had a dream team that matched up equally with Ken Starr's team.

Here, you have Jay Sekulow, who's really a communications guy, and Ty Cobb, who's in the White House, and so he's circumscribed by in some respect virtue of his government service. And so if you compare and contrast these two, the last two independent counsel investigations against presidents of the United States, you see how far behind the Trump legal team is from his predecessor, Bill Clinton's legal team.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They got to work quickly to get that dream team, that legal team together.

David, some people have suggested that the disarray among the legal team is similar to what's going on elsewhere in the overall Trump administration.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Here's the difference, though. Donald Trump, while new to managing a West Wing and dealing with that, is not new to dealing with lawyers in his life. This is somebody who feels that he has his own legal expertise and

experience to bring to bear here in a way that he didn't early on in the administration, that's how they feel, with understanding how to run a West Wing.

[18:10:01]

I think a lot of that chaos that we have seen, and I know Gloria Borger and others have reported this, we're now seeing a president sort of feeling like he's more confident in the job.

Well, on the legal front, he's always felt very comfortable with lawyers, so I don't necessarily compare the two, Wolf. I think that the chaos in the West Wing was a president getting familiar with the job. The legal strategy is one that the client thinks he serves himself as well as the lawyers.

BLITZER: Pamela, I remember you were in the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's office. There was a briefing going on for journalists and all of a sudden the president of the United States walks in, told you and your colleagues, yes, he wants to testify before Mueller's team. He said it since then as well.

What's the latest? Is that going to happen?

BROWN: He did say that since then. In fact, just on Friday, he said that to my colleague Jeff Zeleny when he asked, do you still want to testify?

But we're told behind closed doors actually, Wolf, that the president has vacillated on whether he wants to testify. I think, as it's becoming increasingly clear that this probe doesn't appear to be wrapping up any time soon, that what he thought in his head, based on what his lawyers told him, wasn't really coming to fruition, and seeing all these various people being charged with lying to the FBI and other situations in the Mueller probe, that that has caused some hesitancy on the part of the president, despite what he is saying publicly.

Also behind the scenes, before John Dowd had left, there were these ongoing delicate negotiations between the lawyers and Robert Mueller's team to figure out what an interview might look like. I'm told no decision has been made. And John Dowd leaving abruptly like this has sort of set the lawyers back in trying to figure out, OK, well, this is the most critical time.

One of our lead lawyers just left, here we are with a major void, how do we proceed from here and make this decision of whether to allow the president to testify?

BLITZER: Joey, I assume there are pros and cons of the president actually sitting down and answering questions under oath from the prosecutors. What do you think is going to happen?

JACKSON: Wolf, I don't see any pro to it at all. I just don't see it. As an attorney, you're going to counsel your client. Again, this one

doesn't listen. He appears -- and it's one thing to be comfortable with lawyers based on your business dealings, based upon having sat through a deposition multiple times, as we know he has in his business ventures.

It's another thing to be a lawyer and to be a strategist and to know your job. The president knows his job. It's business, right? Lawyers know our job, and there's no way, given the fact that this president plays -- let's call it for what it is. There are multiple misrepresentations that come out of him every day.

When you're sitting down with someone from a federal perspective, what you say, if it's a misrepresentation, it's a lie, it's a crime. So what could he possibly say to help himself?

Final point, Wolf, I have to bring it up, the trial of the century, right, O.J. Simpson, they said, don't testify, sit here quietly in a corner, we got this. I think the same strategy needs to be employed. He needs to listen to his lawyers and not say a word. He's not going to help himself. That's my view.

BLITZER: What do you think, Michael Zeldin? Is Mueller going to be successful in getting the president to answer questions?

ZELDIN: So the difference I think in this case vs. what Joey said, which I agree with broadly speaking, is that Bob Mueller has a grand jury and a grand jury subpoena that he can serve on the president.

And it seems pretty clear -- there may be some room for wiggle, but it seems pretty clear that the Nixon case in the Supreme Court says that the president cannot resist that subpoena. And so while they may try to narrow the scope, the topics, the location of the meetings, all that stuff, in the end, I don't think they can avoid it, unless, of course, what they want to do as a legal strategy is say, we're not going to reply, take us to court.

We will spend the next two years litigating this in the Supreme Court and then we will have your interview.

BLITZER: What if he pleads the Fifth?

ZELDIN: He can plead the Fifth.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If he pleads the Fifth, he doesn't have to testify.

ZELDIN: Doesn't have to testify.

That doesn't mean Mueller's investigation ends. He just goes forward without the testimony of the witness.

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: Exactly. ZELDIN: And that's his privilege.

JACKSON: Which needs to happen here. The Fifth Amendment is there for a reason. And I know he knows better than everyone else and Donald Trump, he knows what he's doing and he wants to direct traffic and tell lawyers what to do.

But I just don't think there's any value at all outside of him getting a perjury charge to say anything to the special counsel. Please the Fifth, period.

ZELDIN: The one difference is, of course, this is a legal case in a political context, and you can't sort of counsel your client in strict legal terms and be unaware of the political consequences of taking the Fifth Amendment.

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: The base is going to think it's a witch-hunt is the bottom line, so why testify to a witch-hunt? And everybody who believes Donald Trump's guilty is going to say he's guilty. So, what's the political benefit?

BLITZER: Well, let's ask our political director.

CHALIAN: Well, overwhelmingly, the American people say that if Mueller seeks to get testimony from him or subpoena him that he absolutely should comply with that, beyond just Democrats saying that, that crosses party lines. That is a majority of Americans and a pretty big majority that believes he should be doing that.

[18:15:01]

And that poll number has been pretty consistent all along. So, I do think there is going to be some political pressure for him to speak if Mueller makes clear he wants to speak to him.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more news we're following, including Stormy Daniels' lawyer. He tells me that more women have now come forward to him who have stories to tell that are similar, he says, to the porn star's claim of an affair to Donald Trump and a payoff to stay quiet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:02]

BLITZER: We're back with our legal analysts. We're following the breaking news on the Stormy Daniels scandal.

Her lawyer tells me that the president knows the porn star is telling the truth when she claims she had an affair with Mr. Trump, despite continued White House denials.

Let's go to our national correspondent, Sara Sidner. She's working the story for us. Sara, I spoke with Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, just a little

while ago, but we haven't been hearing anything about Daniels from President Trump.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not a word, Wolf. And I know he also told you, Michael Avenatti, that Stormy Daniels didn't go to the police to talk about her threat, but she did tell some friends, so there are clearly some people out there that could corroborate her story about the threat in 2011.

Meantime, Stormy Daniels has added Michael Cohen to her lawsuit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): For a president who tweets about almost everything, Donald Trump remains silent on porn star Stormy Daniels' accusations of an affair and alleged threats against her.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sometimes, he chooses to specifically engage and punch back and sometimes he doesn't.

SIDNER: Instead, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sticking with the denial the president himself hasn't given.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president's denied the allegations.

SIDNER: The White House continuing to say Daniels has been inconsistent and the claims she made during Sunday's "60 Minutes" interview with Anderson Cooper are inaccurate.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: How do we know you're telling the truth?

STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: Because I have no reason to lie. I'm opening myself up for, you know, possible danger and definitely a whole lot of (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

SIDNER: Now Daniels is adding to her lawsuit by naming the president's attorney Michael Cohen as a defendant, suing him for defamation.

She claims he suggested she was a liar back in February, which Cohen's friend And attorney in another matter, David Schwartz, objected to.

SCHWARTZ: On defamation, a judge will look at that statement. It doesn't even pass the smell test.

SIDNER: Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, also claiming in the amended lawsuit that the $130,000 hush money payment she received is a violation of campaign finance laws and therefore illegal, all the while Avenatti says they're receiving new leads on who was behind the alleged 2011 physical threat in a Vegas parking lot that Daniels described on Sunday.

DANIELS: 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'd be a shame if something happened to her mom." And then he was gone.

SIDNER: Avenatti tweeting: "We are making progress on the assault/stalking that occurred around the same time that Mr. Cohen threatened 'In Touch Weekly' magazine in may 2011. #Cover-up. #Basta," which means enough.

Though Avenatti says it was not directly carried out by Trump, his bodyguard Keith Schiller or Michael Cohen, he claims it must have been at the behest of either Trump or Cohen.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: He's a thug. Your friend is a thug.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ: Thank you. That's a million dollars.

(CROSSTALK)

AVENATTI: Thug, thug.

SIDNER: Cohen has vehemently denied he ever threatened or even contacted Daniels.

SCHWARTZ: What did we learn from that "60 Minutes" interview? That 12 years ago some guy came up to her in a parking lot and threatened her? What this guy says is a threat is a complete fiction. I don't know where he's from where, but you're from Queens and I'm from Brooklyn. That ain't a threat where we're from.

SIDNER: Cohen asked for a retraction and told Daniels to cease and desist from making false claims, saying she defamed him during her interview on "60 Minutes."

And during that interview, she did admit to lying about these two statements she signed, saying there was no hush money because there was no affair.

COOPER: That's a lie.

DANIELS: Yes.

SIDNER: But she says she only signed those statements because she was pressured by her former attorney and manager.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now, you heard Michael Cohen's attorney, David Schwartz, saying a million dollars, a million dollars.

What he's referring to in that nondisclosure agreement there's a clause in there saying if she breaches it, she should pay million dollars per breach. And Donald Trump's lawyer say she has breached it more than 20 times. We're talking a $20 million threat, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Sidner reporting, thank you. We have more breaking news in the Stormy Daniels case. Her lawyer,

Michael Avenatti, tells me that he's in contact with two more women with stories similar to what we have heard from the porn star.

Listen to what he told me just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AVENATTI: We're still exploring their stories. We are going to be very careful and deliberate, Wolf, but I can announce that the number's not six. It's now eight.

BLITZER: And how credible are their stories and are they similar to what your client, what Karen McDougal have suggested?

AVENATTI: There are similarities, but again we have not fully vetted them. And, as you know, Wolf, when you have something of this nature, people come out of the woodwork and say all kinds of things. And so we have an ethical responsibility to make sure that we cross our T's and dot our I's before we start trotting out allegations against Mr. Cohen or the president.

[18:25:05]

BLITZER: A couple more questions.

Do you know if any of these eight women who have come to you, have come forward to you also signed confidentiality or hush agreements?

AVENATTI: We understand that two of them have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's get back to our analysts.

Michael Zeldin, what do you think? If this is true, that's potentially another huge headache for the president and Michael Cohen.

ZELDIN: This whole case say huge headache, whether it's this alleged defamation count that has just been added to the indictment, whether or not they're behind the threat in the parking lot, her credibility, which seemed to me as an observer of witnesses to be pretty good.

The whole thing is a mess for them which they have in some sense created for themselves, just as they created for other messes. The only thing that the president is doing which is good from a legal standpoint is being quiet, because if he talks and accuses her of being a liar, then he's going to be charged with a real defamation lawsuit.

The defamation against Cohen I think is a bit on the margins. It's the statement of sometimes you say things that are true, even though they're not, they can be injurious if they're true, but that's not really what defamation amounts to. It's a bit of a bootstrap.

BLITZER: Let me ask you Joey Jackson, how do you see this unfolding? JACKSON: It's interesting, Wolf. I always thought that Bob Mueller

might be the one to take down the president. It looks like Michael Avenatti might do that.

And let me explain why. You talk about Kryptonite and, what is it, Superman and finding the anecdote. This is a guy who is as equally aggressive as the president is, the president counterpunches, he counterpunches. The president uses media, he uses media. The president likes to embarrass people, he's embarrassing people.

Let me tell you what he's doing. What he's doing by filing this action is now the president, in responding to it, now you're in litigation, so are we going to go to depositions where we are going to find out where the source of the money came from? Was it sanctioned by the president? What money am I speaking about? The hush money we're talking about.

You, Michael Cohen alone on your own accord paid this money out of a home equity line? Did the president have anything to do with it? Was it sanctioned by him? And so in the event you get into that, now you get into campaign finance potential violations, now you get into the Department of Justice issues, now you get into depositions where you give sworn testimony under oath which could be false.

And now you get into legal traps. What the president needs to do is just settle the case, resolve it. He won't. And this will cause him major headaches and problems of a legal dimension that equate with Bob Mueller's investigation. And I'm not overstating it.

BLITZER: David, the editorial board of "The Wall Street Journal," a conservative group on the whole, they had an editorial today. Let me read a couple sentences.

"The Stormy Daniels case is typical of Mr. Trump's pre-presidential behavior in thinking he can with enough threats and dissembling get away with anything. He's never understood that a president can't behave that way and this may be the cause of his downfall."

Those are -- for the editorial page of "The Wall Street Journal," that's a real significant statement.

CHALIAN: It is, not that the editorial page of "The Wall Street Journal" has always been synched up with Donald Trump over the last three years, but it is significant coming from his own team, if you will.

And it does -- they are on to something. This does raise questions about this kind of behavior that may have worked in the private sector and is that going to hold up when you're in this position of president of the United States?

I will say on this matter, Wolf, what is still perplexing to me is that we have not heard definitively, correct me if I am wrong, Pamela, but I have been looking at this, we have not heard definitively from this White House, from the podium as to whether or not the president had any knowledge of the payment of $130,000. We have heard a lot of from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, not that I'm aware of, but we have not heard a definitive word, yes or no, was the president aware of a payment to Stormy Daniels? And I think that is a big question. Why hasn't the White House answered that question?

BLITZER: Because that could potentially be an in-kind campaign contribution, in violation of federal campaign law.

CHALIAN: Yes. Exactly.

BLITZER: It's a big deal.

You cover the White House for us, Pamela. The president has been silent on all of this. Why?

BROWN: Noticeably silent for a president that likes to counterpunch, as Joey was trying.

Now, today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about this. She said, look, he doesn't counterpunch on everything. But the thing is when it comes to sex allegations, he has in the past. So, normally, past is a good predictor of future behavior, and in this case he isn't.

Jeff Zeleny, my colleague, pressed him on it -- pressed Sarah Huckabee Sanders today, saying, in the past, he said claims were fabricated, that he didn't know these women, that they were lying.

But on Stormy Daniels, he has been noticeably silent. I'm told by sources close to the president that's because he is being advised by those around him, including lawyers, that he's only going to make matters worse, that he's going to add fuel to the fire, and potentially set him up -- set himself up for defamation if he does wade into this.

And so that is a big reason why he is staying noticeably silent.

[18:30:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Joey, when I spoke to Michael Avenatti, the Stormy Daniels lawyer, he said, yes, there were contemporaneous statements that she made about this threat in the parking lot from some individual, unknown individual. And they're getting more information as we speak.

How significant, potentially, could that be if they find this person?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's very significant. And I think that everyone who saw the interview could evaluate credibility, was -- is what she was saying, was that accurate, was it credible, was it believable, was it relatable? And I think most people came away saying, "You know what? It really is."

The missing component, though, is that threat. Now in the event that you told someone, it's called a recent outcry. In the event you told someone about the threat, told a number of people about the threat, they can also come forward as witnesses to otherwise corroborate. In the event you can find someone, you know, who could otherwise support the fact that that occurred it's also significant, as well. And so it goes to the issue of credibility overall, which is very significant in any legal case.

BLITZER: But the -- one of the points, Michael -- I'm interested to hear what you think -- is that when she heard this alleged threat she didn't go to the police. She went to her exercise class.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right, and one would expect under those circumstances to go to the police. Her answer was, "I was too afraid to go to the police." And people have to evaluate whether that's credible or not credible. And it'll play out.

The thing about this case, the Stormy Daniels case, is that this is pre-presidential activity, so it's not going to rise, I think, to an impeachable offense like the Mueller investigation, obstruction of justice, could. It's a private, civil action that will result in damages at the end of the day.

I think Joey is right. They should have settled this thing long ago. I think the person who's got the most legal liability in this case so far, from the publicly available evidence, is Cohen. Cohen has potentially violated the federal election laws. He has potentially defamed her, and perhaps the president is just leaving his friend out to dry.

BLITZER: So you think Mueller could look in -- you think Mueller could look into Cohen?

ZELDIN: I think that -- two things about that. First is that Cohen is for sure a person of interest to Mueller with respect to Trump Tower in Moscow and the Steele dossier, where he's mentioned. So if Mueller was to use potential federal election campaign violations as a leverage point, he's going to have to go to Rosenstein and say, "What do you want me to do about this," because it's disconnected.

BLITZER: Pamela, go ahead.

BROWN: I will say I spoke to a source last night about the whole situation, why the president's being silent. This person also mentioned the Cohen aspect, that part of this is he's been advised, "Look, stay back. This looks really bad for Cohen. Let the -- let the story sort of shine a light on Cohen's bad behavior" --

ZELDIN: Exactly.

BROWN: -- if you want to put it that way, "and then you stay out of it. It will be less heat on you." That is what he's been advised.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's why we need to know if he had any knowledge of a payment.

BROWN: Exactly. And you know, the White House today, Sarah Sanders said at the podium, "Well, the White House has addressed this extensively." That's simply not true. The White House has not addressed it extensively. The White House hasn't answered the question about whether the president knew about this $130,000 payment. The White House didn't say whether the president watched the Stormy Daniels interview. There are a lot of outstanding questions that have not been addressed.

BLITZER: Joey, is Michael Cohen, the president's attorney, in trouble?

JACKSON: It would certainly appear that way. Now where, you know, loads away from having that question answered definitively. But I just think things just don't add up and make sense with respect to paying -- making a payment out of the goodness of your heart.

I mean, I've been admitted to practice for two decades, love my clients, work hard for them, will just not decide, "Hey, I want to take out from my home equity line and make a payment." And so, is that a lie? Well, you at home will have to evaluate that. Most people think so.

Was it in excess of the campaign contribution and limits? Well, definitively, it absolutely was by a whole lot.

And now you get into the other defamation issue. You get into ethical issues, and so I think there could be some exposure there.

CHALIAN: He said he did it to protect Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Because he -- because he loved Donald Trump, loves Donald Trump, very loyal to Donald Trump, has been not just his lawyer but his friend. That's why he says he did it.

CHALIAN: But protecting Donald Trump in October 2016 is in the context of a campaign. And a political contribution.

BROWN: That's exactly right.

ZELDIN: But the thing to keep in mind is that, in these federal election in-kind violation cases, typically, they're settled by a fine of the campaign.

To get them to go into the Justice Department as a criminal illegal act is a pretty big step. And so we'll see whether this is, in the end, just a fine of the Trump campaign, whether Trump knew about it or not, or whether we can prove some illegal intent that the public integrity sections of justice will have to look at and make a determine with respect to.

JACKSON: Or if he lies under oath in a deposition if the matter goes that far, I mean, he's going to be asked that question. What was the source of the money? What were you doing? How did you get it? When did you get it? Where did you get it?

It's one thing, Wolf, to talk to the press about matters. It's another thing to raise your hand and to make statements when you're admitted to practice law. And I can tell you the bar, New York state and every state throughout the country, they take lying very seriously.

[18:35:11] BLITZER: And we'll see if Robert Mueller decides to take up this matter, as well. Everybody stick around. There's more news. Just ahead, the president

is floating a new idea for funding his border wall with Mexico. Should the Pentagon pay for it, since Mexico won't?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:06] BLITZER: Tonight the White House won't say if the president wants to tap into the U.S. military's budget to build his border wall with Mexico. Sources confirm to CNN that the president is privately floated the idea as a way to get the funding since he hasn't made good on his promise to make Mexico pay.

Our political and national security experts are joining us. And Kaitlan, the president can only use military money if Congress passes separate appropriations legislation.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm not sure he really fully -- fully realizes exactly how this works. He just sees that the Pentagon has this big old budget, and he thinks he can take money from that in order to get this border wall built.

But to get money from the 2018 budget, it would literally require an act of Congress, and to get money from the 2019 defense budget, he would have to submit a budget amendment and still get 60 votes. So it's not some easy process here to just switch that money over.

But this goes to show just how determined the president is to follow through on his campaign promise. Of course, that was a very different campaign promise, where he said time and time again Mexico is going to pay for this wall. He never said the U.S. military is going to pay for this wall, and now he's trying to find all of these alternatives to get them to pay it.

And we saw his frustration with this on Friday when he threatened to veto that spending bill when he realized how little money for the border wall is in that bill, something he pitched a fit over, essentially. But he ended up signing the bill anyway.

BLITZER: There was a deal on the table for a DREAMers, the DACA recipients. They would have a pathway to citizenship in exchange for billions of dollars for the wall, but the president added other elements to that -- to that arrangement. And the Democrats walked away.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was an opportunity for the president to sort of flip that issue on Democrats and also probably get several more billions of dollars for the border wall. He didn't take that opportunity in subsequent statements and tweets, Wolf. He's tried to pin this on Democrats, saying that they don't care about DREAMers; they don't care about the immigration issue.

There are some issues where the president and Republicans have been effective at trying to pin that on Democrats. Nobody believes that Republicans and Trump are more concerned about the DREAMers than the leadership of the Democrats. BLITZER: Phil, I'm anxious to get your thoughts on Kim Jong-un. We

don't know for sure whether or not he was in Beijing on that mysterious train, which is now heading back to North Korea. And a lot of speculation that he was. But potentially, it sets the stage for Kim Jong-un's meeting with the South Korean president, President Moon, and the president of the United States.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I -- I can't imagine any other reason he would go there. Look, the Chinese went to Mar-a-Lago. They have an idea of not only how the president thinks but what he's like in person.

The North Koreans have three generations -- grandfather, father and now son -- dealing with the Americans on nonproliferation issues going back to the Clinton administration. I've got to believe, if this is true, that if Kim Jong-un was in China, he's going to ask a simple question, "Look, the president of the United States is not that detail-oriented. We've been dealing with the Americans for decades on this issue." I think he's going to ask a simple question, "How do we work the Americans? How do we get into detail that the president doesn't want to handle? How do I game this conversation with the American president?"

BLITZER: What are you hearing from your sources at the White House? Is there going to be a meeting with Kim Jong-un?

COLLINS: Well, the White House publicly from the podium is very skeptical to give any kind of hard line for when this meeting is going to happen. Of course, they've said -- we've heard that May deadline, and we heard end of May. And it doesn't seem like they're ready to offer anything definitive.

But you have to keep in mind, the president caught a lot of people off-guard when he agreed to this meeting very quickly after it was offered to him during that meeting in the Oval Office. So they're scrambling, essentially, to figure out where they're going to meet, how they're going to meet, how this is going to work out, because this is the president. They're going to have to give these guidelines to. But I do think some advisers are worried he will not follow those guidelines.

He was also seen not only the secretary of state but the national security adviser depart in recent days. So we've got an entire new outlook on that that is advising the president on how to deal with this meeting. So it will be very interesting to see what John Bolton's got to suggest going forward.

BLITZER: Yes. New team coming into place at a critical moment like this.

Just ahead, the White House is defending a move to put a controversial question back into the U.S. census, asking if people are U.S. citizens or not. There could be a serious long-term consequence for immigrants and for Democrats. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:48:55] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: New tonight, Democrats are accusing the Trump administration of hijacking the 2020 census for political purposes. At issue, the plan to put a controversial question back into the census asking people whether or not they're American citizens.

Our senior national correspondent Kyung Lah is in Los Angeles.

Kyung, I understand the state of California is suing to block the move.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're suing to stop this question from ever appearing on the census on the 2020 Census. They say what is at stake here is a decade of political ramifications, the number of seats each state has in Congress as well as electoral votes in the presidential race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

XAVIER BECERRA, CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We're not going to stop. And we're going to defend every one of our rights to make sure that every one of our people who's worked hard to make California the sixth largest economy in the state is counted.

LAH (voice-over): California's attorney general suing the Trump administration over that count. The U.S. Census, the form you fill out. Making sure the country has an accurate count of the people who live here.

The Justice Department requesting a seemingly simple question be asked, asking, are you a U.S. citizen?

California says it's much more than that. At the heart designed to cheat this anti-Trump.

ALEJANDRO PADILLA, CALIFORNIA SECRETARY OF STATE: It literally diminishes our voice in our federal government and compromises our fair representation that's called for in the Constitution and in federal law. That's exactly what's at stake here.

LAH: In California, undocumented immigrants make up nearly 2 million to 3 million people. Under the Trump presidency, fear in these communities has grown.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Frankly, it's a disgrace. The sanctuary city situation.

LAH: Trump giving more teeth to immigration enforcement. Under Trump, arrests of non-criminal immigrants more than doubled in 2017 as compared to the year before.

Video of ICE arrests parents like this father have gone viral. A father arrested on 10-year-old DUI charge was released.

California lawmakers say that deters undocumented immigrants from declaring their status on any documents. Fewer people counted in California, fewer federal dollars and potentially fewer in Congress.

The Trump reelection campaign endorsed the DOJ's move.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a letter reinstating the citizenship question on the 2020 Census writes: For the approximately 90 percent of the population who are citizens, this question is no additional imposition.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

SARAH HUCKAEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a question that's been in included in every census since 1965 with the exception of 2010 when it was removed. This is -- we have contained this question that provided data that's necessary for the Department of Justice to protect voters and specifically help us comply with the Voting Rights Act which is that is important and a part of this process.

LAH: Ohio Congressman Warren Davidson says it's about making representation among states more fair.

REP. WARREN DAVISON (R), OHIO: We don't have as many illegal people in Ohio. Ohio is losing representation to states like California. And if California illegal population is two to three million, then they have three to five members of Congress that wouldn't be there if they only counted citizens.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: And his math may be a little generous there, it could be one to three seats in California. But, Wolf, we are talking about blue states here who say that they are at risk. And there are others joining in.

New York's attorney general announcing that he will lead a multi-state lawsuit on this very issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots going to happen, I'm sure. Kyung Lah, thank you.

Just ahead, he was the boss of Larry Nassar, the Olympic doctor convicted of horrific serial abuse. Now, he's also been charged with sex crimes from assault to work place porn.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:31] BLITZER: Tonight, stunning new charges stemming from the U.S. gymnastics sex abuse scandal at Michigan State University. The former dean who was the boss of convicted of serial molester Dr. Larry Nassar now is formally accused of sex crimes himself, including sexual assault, harassment and storing nude photos on his work computer.

CNN's Jean Casarez is joining us from Lansing, Michigan.

Jean, the former dean, William Strampel, I understand he was in court just a little while ago. JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. His initial court

appearance, it was his arraignment. He was released on his own recognizance but there were conditions of bail. He cannot speak with any of the victims that are alleged in the complaint. He can't speak with any witnesses or any medical students right here at MSU present or past.

You know, one of those charges is criminal sexual conduct. It's alleged in the complaint that there are four victims. They're all female, all medical students, saying between 2006 and 2017, that this dean here at MSU, the boss of Larry Nassar actually touched them inappropriately, propositioned them, told them if you do favors for me, I'll do favors for you.

Listen to the special prosecutor of the attorney general's office here in Michigan, William Forsyth today at the press conference.

(BREGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM FORSYTH, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE: As dean of the college, Strampel used his office to harass, discriminate, demean, sexually proposition and sexually assault female students. Strampel abused the authority of his public office to threats of manipulation, to solicit, receive, possess pornographic images of women who appear to be MSU students in violation of statutory duty as a public officer.

Counts three and four apply to his supervision or quite frankly his lack of supervision of Larry Nassar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CASAREZ: And a forensic analysis was done of his computer here at Michigan State University. What did they find on it? Pornography, images of women, nude partially nude, pornographic videos, many selfies that were of a sexual nature believed to have been by female students here at MSU.

And additionally in all of that, it appeared as though there was an intent to delete some of those images. It could not be done, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jean, thanks for that report. Very serious charges indeed. Jean Casarez in Lansing, Michigan.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.