Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Congressman Ted Lieu; Judge Rules Against Stormy Daniels; Russia Retaliates; CNN: Mueller Pushed for Trump Campaign Deputy's Help in Probe of Possible Collusion with Russia; Mattis Meets Bolton, Jokingly Calls Him "Devil Incarnate". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: This as a lawyer allied with the Trump team is making new claims that could potentially hurt the president's own case.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We have breaking news this hour on the special counsel's investigation of possible collusion between the Trump camp and Russia.

We're getting new information on the role of a key witness who's now cooperating with Robert Mueller's team. That would be the former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates.

I will get reaction from the House Judiciary Committee member Congressman Ted Lieu. And our correspondents and analysts, they are all standing by.

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

Evan, what are you learning about Rick Gates and what Mueller wants from him?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this came between discussions of Rick Gates and special prosecutor -- special counsel Robert Mueller. And this is months before Rick Gates pleaded guilty to charges in the special counsel's investigation.

According to sources who talked to Kaitlan Collins, a court writer, Mueller told Gates that he had plenty of evidence against Paul Manafort. Of course, Paul Manafort was the former campaign chairman of the Trump campaign and as well as Gates' former business partner. He said he had plenty of evidence against Manafort.

What he needed Gates' help with was the core mission of the special counsel, which is the ties between the Trump campaign -- alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And, Wolf, what this means is that the special counsel is looking specifically at making the case of Russian collusion, that it has not gone away, despite what you hear from President Trump and from his allies.

BLITZER: From Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee. They just wrapped up their own investigation.

Are there any indications of how this is playing out with Gates?

PEREZ: Well, we're beginning to see a little bit of that. We don't know exactly what Rick Gates has told the special counsel, but we're beginning to see this in some court filings this week, Wolf, especially in a separate case against a lawyer who has pleaded guilty to lying to the special prosecutor.

In that court filing, the special counsel said that Rick Gates was in constant contact or is in frequent contact with someone who was known to be a Russian spy, essentially.

And so what this tells us is, now we're seeing Robert Mueller is connecting the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort, directly to Russian spies. This is again the central mission that Robert Mueller was appointed to, which was to look into whether or not there were any ties, any special -- any coordination, illegal coordination, between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.

BLITZER: What is it, Sara, that Gates might know that might be of specific interest to Robert Mueller, the special counsel?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's clear the special counsel thinks that Gates is going to be useful beyond just his business ties to Paul Manafort, beyond just flipping on his former business partner, and that he may have information about potential collusion or coordination between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian officials.

One of the things to remember about Rick Gates is, President Trump was never particularly fond of him personally. He was obviously very close to Paul Manafort. He was also close to Tom Barrack, who is a close friend of President Trump.

So, when they were on the campaign together, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, Rick Gates wasn't necessarily in every meeting, every top strategy meeting. But he made it his business to know what was going on. So, for instance, during that summer, where there was the meeting at Trump Tower with a number of Russians, he may not have been in that meeting, but he may very well have heard about it.

He may very well have heard about whether those Russians who were there for that meeting met with anyone else in the building. And the other thing to remember is that Gates stayed on the campaign longer than Manafort did. Even after he got fired, Gates still stuck around and he continued to remain in the Trump orbit and went on to work on the inauguration with Tom Barrack.

BLITZER: He was there during the transition as well.

So what could all this mean for the president?

MURRAY: Well, obviously, we have heard the president call this investigation a witch-hunt. We have heard him complain that none of the charges that have come out so far have anything to do with collusion, anything to do with him and Russia, because, of course, Rick Gates and Paul Manafort are facing criminal charges that have to do with their business activities before 2016.

But the fact that you now have this link between Rick Gates, between Paul Manafort, between this other person with ties to Russian intelligence, that tells you that there really is an investigation into collusion going on.

This is the first sort of big sign that that is still something that Mueller is looking into seriously that's going to take some steam, I think, out of this argument that Mueller is looking into a bunch of things that have nothing to do with Russian collusion.

BLITZER: Very interesting and very significant indeed. Guys, good reporting, as usual.

Thank you very much.

Also breaking tonight, the embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions resisting a lot of pressure to appoint a new special counsel to investigate allegations of misconduct within the FBI and the Justice Department.

[18:05:04]

Sessions opting instead to name a federal prosecutor to look into conservative claims of anti-Trump bias.

Let's go to our justice reporter Laura Jarrett, who is working this story for us.

Laura, tell us more about Sessions' announcement just a little while ago.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Sessions has managed to sidestep really a growing chorus of calls from Republicans on Capitol Hill who wanted a special counsel in the vein of Robert Mueller, and instead Sessions has opted to name a prosecutor in Utah.

He's a veteran career prosecutor, John Huber, who was first appointed U.S. attorney There in Utah under the Obama administration and then reappointed under Trump. And he received wide bipartisan support at the time, but things have clearly changed and he's now entering this fierce partisan battle, with Democrats saying anything that distracts from Mueller is illegitimate, whereas Republicans say the Justice Department simply cannot investigate itself.

Now, Sessions spent at least four pages explaining his decision here tonight, Wolf, explaining that Huber is a career federal prosecutor, but also outlining the standards for appointing a special prosecutor and the extreme bar that there is to appoint one, and clearly intimating here the standard is just not met.

Now, he didn't foreclose the door completely. He explained that Huber has the ability to come to him and say that the circumstances warrant appointment of a special counsel, but that's clearly not the move right now. At least at this point, Wolf, we haven't heard anything from Capitol Hill. No Republicans from Congress have responded to the news and neither has the president.

BLITZER: And I'm sure there will. There will be a lot of disappointment among these conservative Republicans and some leading figures in the conservative news media as well who insisted that a second special counsel was needed because you can't trust the career Justice Department officials to really get the job done.

That was their allegation.

Laura, thank you very much for that report.

Let's talk about all these breaking stories with Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, how significant is it that the second special counsel that so many Republicans wanted was denied today by the attorney general?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for your question.

I think it is significant. This is basically a signal from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he doesn't think there's a lot there for the appointment of a special counsel. And the Uranium One scandal, whether it's a scandal or not, has been looked at repeatedly.

The Republicans do seem like they want to spend a lot of time trying to impeach Hillary Clinton, but she is not our president. She is a private citizen. They're trying to distract from the special counsel's investigation, and that's what we really need to be focused on.

BLITZER: On the other breaking news that we had at the top of the hour, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, he's looking into information from Rick Gates, who has pled guilty, as you know, on possible collusion, not so interested on what Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman did, but on possible collusion. How significant is that?

LIEU: That is very significant. Keep in mind that Rick Gates was also the deputy campaign manager for the Trump campaign.

He could have seen and heard a lot. He also stayed on with the campaign even after Manafort left. He was in contact with a person known to be a Russian spy and he knew to be a Russian agent. Let's see what Rick Gates says.

There's also reporting today by Reuters that says the Mueller probe is looking into Russian contacts at the Republican National Convention. It's very clear Robert Mueller is looking at the collusion issue actively.

BLITZER: What questions do you have right now about collusion between -- the alleged collusion, I should say, between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

LIEU: Well, we know that George Papadopoulos had advanced knowledge that the Russians had Hillary's e-mails.

Who else in the Trump campaign knew that? We know that George Papadopoulos was communicating with some of the highest levels of the folks at the Trump campaign. Did any of them know about Hillary Clinton's e-mails that Russia had and were going to release, and did they act on that? Because, if they did, then that's conspiracy, that's collusion.

BLITZER: As you know, Reuters is reporting that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is also investigating Russia's role and possible influence at the 2016 Republican National Convention, when the then Senator Jeff Sessions, now attorney general, met with the Russian ambassador, Kislyak, among others.

What does that tell you?

LIEU: So, there's been 1,000 stories on Russia. It can be quite complicated, but there are three things that are not disputed.

One is that the Russians interfered with the U.S. elections in 2016 and they benefited the Trump campaign. We know the Trump campaign benefited Russia at the Republican National Convention by taking out language favorable to Ukraine and unfavorable to Russia.

And thanks to a free press, we now know there's been communications between the two sides. The issue now is, was there some sort of understanding or quid pro quo between the Trump campaign and the Russians that they would mutually benefit each other?

[18:10:09]

BLITZER: And getting back to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, now ruling out a second special counsel, at least for now, I want you to listen to what the president's allies have been saying in recent days. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The chairman and I have looked real close at the FBI investigation of the Clinton e-mail scandal.

And I have come away believing that it was shoddily done, that there were conflicts of interest, that there was political bias that may have resulted in giving Clinton a pass. The Steele dossier was paid for by the Democratic Party through Fusion GPS.

Mr. Steele had associates in Russia that could have easily compromised him. And we believe the FISA warrant process was abused. And the reason we want a special counsel is, I think crimes may have been committed.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I call on us appointing a special counsel, a second one, to investigate the investigators.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: You're supposed to give the court the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I don't think they gave them the truth, so this needs investigating. The only remedy is a second special counsel.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: The FBI and Department of Justice aren't going to be putting the handcuffs on themselves. So, we need a second special counsel.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Sources telling us tonight that there is a very high probability that Sessions in fact will act and that he will appoint a second special counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Well, he did not do that today.

Do you believe, Congressman, the attorney general can survive in light of all that?

LIEU: I do.

I have looked at a lot of the same evidence that these Republicans are alleging, and there's just not a lot "there" there in terms of the scandal, in terms of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Whether or not anything improper happened, it's been looked at repeatedly.

And then when it comes to the FISA warrant, we know that, from the Democratic memo, the Steele dossier was corroborated by multiple independent sources. That just ends the matter. So it's not clear to me why we need a special counsel to look at that matter again.

I think Attorney General Sessions did absolutely the right thing.

BLITZER: Well, when you say it was corroborated, you don't mean all the salacious details, the allegations in there? Was that corroborated?

LIEU: The parts that were used in the FISA warrant were corroborated.

BLITZER: But none of the salacious details in there?

LIEU: That's correct.

But as we sit here today, no one has actually said the Steele dossier is false. What they have said is, it's salacious. And more and more parts of it keep getting corroborated as time goes along.

BLITZER: What would you do, Congressman, if the president were to fire the attorney general, Jeff Sessions?

LIEU: That would be obstruction of justice. And the only reason he would be doing that is to try to meddle with special counsel Robert Mueller.

That would be an act that would be violative of the rule of law. I think people would take to the streets. And I urge the president not to do it. And, by the way, Senator Lindsey Graham, who you had played, also said the president should not do that as well.

BLITZER: You're talking about firing Jeff Sessions or firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller?

LIEU: Right. Both.

BLITZER: Both. OK.

Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks very much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will more on this new twist in Robert Mueller's investigation, what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is trying to learn from a cooperating witness and former Trump campaign official Rick Gates.

And a federal judge denies a move by Stormy Daniels' attorney to question President Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, about a hush money deal with the porn star. Is it just a temporary setback?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:18:13]

BLITZER: Just moments ago, we saw President Trump arrive at the Palm Beach International Airport. He's getting ready to spend the long holiday weekend at his resort of Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.

We're following the breaking news tonight. CNN has new information that the special counsel, Robert Mueller's prosecutors made it clear to Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates very early on they wanted his help in investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

It's the first indication of how prosecutors are getting help from Gates and using it to tie his former boss Paul Manafort directly to a Russian operative.

Joining us now, Jake Sullivan, a foreign policy expert, former top adviser to both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Jake, thanks very much for joining us.

How troubling is all of this for President Trump right now?

JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: This is pretty troubling. This is a serious new revelation.

The indications are not just that Mueller is systematically looking at the question of collusion, but that they have evidence that suggests that Rick Gates, who was the deputy campaign manager, was in contact with somebody connected to the GRU, the Russian intelligence.

You know, that puts this pretty squarely in perspective of what we're dealing with here. And they're now working Rick Gates to get as much out of him as they possibly can through that cooperative arrangement.

BLITZER: He's pleaded guilty and he's cooperating with Robert Mueller.

SULLIVAN: Right.

BLITZER: What does it also tell you that, according to Reuters, Mueller is also looking very, very closely right now at what was happening at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and contacts between Russians, specifically the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Kislyak, and the then Senator Jeff Sessions?

SULLIVAN: I think it stands to reason, because, remember, at the Republican National Convention, we saw the unusual move of the Republicans watering down their platform in ways that would make Putin happy, taking out references to support for Ukraine and the like.

[18:20:05]

That's raised a lot of eyebrows. Why did they do that?

Then we learned of a number of interactions between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials that those campaign officials later lied about. With all those questions swirling, it's only appropriate for Robert Mueller to say, what the heck was going on in Cleveland at the RNC in 2016?

BLITZER: As you know, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has rejected, at least for now, the strong push by a lot of Republicans in Congress, a lot of members by the conservative news media to name a second special counsel to investigate the FBI and the Justice Department during the Obama administration.

Some are suggesting this might be the last straw for him, that the president could be very disappointed.

SULLIVAN: Well, that is certainly possible.

The president has made it very clear on Twitter and a whole lot of other ways that he wants Jeff Sessions to spend all of his time going after Trump's political opponents, like Hillary Clinton and others. And the fact that Jeff Sessions has stood up to him and said, no, we're not going to have a special counsel, A, that tells you something, that if even Jeff Sessions can say no, just how absurd it was to appoint a second special counsel.

But, B, I think it puts him in the hot seat. And that then raises question about how secure Mueller is in his job, because once you take out Sessions, the ball might start rolling down the hill.

BLITZER: Yes, not naming a second special counsel will deeply anger a lot of these Republicans, a lot of members of the conservative news media who really wanted it. We heard a clip -- a bunch of clips earlier.

As you know, one day, the president says he wants to have another meeting with Vladimir Putin, there's lots of areas to discuss, areas where they can cooperate, and now we see the expulsion of Russian diplomats, expulsion of American diplomats from Moscow.

What message is going on right now, these sort of conflicting tones coming in from the president?

SULLIVAN: Well, what's really interesting to me is, I think the president took a good step in working with the rest of the Western world to expel a significant number of Russian diplomats. That was the right thing to do.

That was in response to the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy on British soil. What has the president done in response to Russia actively interfering in the American election? Almost nothing. And I think that that's the key signal that's being sent to Putin right now, which is, he can continue to interfere in the United States with relative impunity.

We will stand up with our friends and partners when it comes to things like toxic chemicals in the U.K.

BLITZER: On North Korea, the president in his speech in Ohio today said he's looking forward to a meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Listen to this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're moving along very nicely with North Korea. We will see what happens. Certainly, the rhetoric has calmed down just a little bit, wouldn't you say? Would you say? And we will see how it all turns out.

Maybe it will be good, and maybe it won't. And if it's no good, we're walking. And if it's good, we will embrace it. But it's going to be very interesting over the next period of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you make of that?

SULLIVAN: I think Donald Trump has a flair for the dramatic. I think he's really looking forward to a sit-down with Kim Jong-un, because the eyes of the world will be on it. There will be pomp, there will be pageantry, there will be photo-ops. And for Trump, that's manna from heaven.

What I don't think will happen is that Trump will seriously think about the substance as he goes into that meeting. So, what concerns me is that he could be dealing with a sophisticated actor on the other side and not be ready and fall into a trap that Kim lays for him.

BLITZER: Let's hope that doesn't happen.

Thanks so much, Jake Sullivan, for joining us.

SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the breaking news. The special counsel focuses in on collusion in the questioning of former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates, who's now a cooperating witness. Where will all this lead?

And a setback for Stormy Daniels? A federal judge denies the move by the porn star's attorney to question President Trump about a deal to keep quiet about an alleged affair.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:28:31]

BLITZER: Tonight, a new ruling in Stormy Daniels' legal battle with President Trump. A judge denying a motion by the porn star's lawyer to question Mr. Trump and his attorney, Michael Cohen, under oath.

I spoke with Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, and he is insisting this is just a temporary setback.

Our national correspondent, Athena Jones, is covering all these late- breaking developments for us.

Athena, this round apparently goes to the president.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. That's right.

The president and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, won a legal victory in federal court today. A judge ruling they will not have to sit and answer questions under oath from Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, at least not yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): A federal judge in California is denying a move by Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, to question President Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, under oath about a $130,000 deal reached with Daniels before the 2016 election to keep her quiet, the judge calling the request premature.

Avenatti playing down the ruling.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: This is just a procedural ruling. It really means nothing. Basically, what the court has said is that we have to wait until the president and Mr. Cohen file their motion to compel arbitration. And as soon as we do that -- or as soon as they do that, we can refile this motion.

And that's exactly what we're going to do.

JONES: Avenatti also denied a suggestion by Cohen spokesman David Schwartz that Daniels' first lawyer, Keith Davidson, sought out Cohen to make a deal 12 days before the election. That spokesman claiming Daniels was shopping her story to different

media outlets.

DAVID SCHWARTZ, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY: The other Stormy Daniels attorney approached Michael Cohen.

JONES: Schwartz adding that Davidson said it would take $130,000 for Daniels to stay quiet. Davidson wouldn't confirm the claim to CNN, citing attorney-client privilege, which Daniels hasn't let him out of.

Avenatti talked to Wolf about that earlier.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will your client, Stormy Daniels, release Keith Davidson, her first lawyer, from what he describes as attorney- client privilege that prevents him from discussing all this publicly?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: I don't know, Wolf. We haven't discussed it.

BLITZER: Why not release him and let him tell everything he knows publicly?

AVENATTI: I'll tell you what, Wolf. We'll make this challenge. If Michael Cohen and the president will waive the attorney-client privilege relating to this NDA and all of the others, my client will, as well. How about that?

BLITZER: And in a case playing out in the court of public opinion --

AVENATTI: Where is he?

SCHWARTZ: I --

AVENATTI: No, no, where is this guy? Why won't he come to say --

SCHWARTZ: Oh, he'll come.

AVENATTI: Why won't he come --

JONES: Cohen has been largely silent, with his friend and lawyer in another matter, David Schwartz, doing the talking for him. But Schwartz may be making matters worse for Cohen and for Trump, arguing points that support Avenatti, who says the hush agreement is invalid, because Trump did not sign on the line reserved for him under a pseudonym.

SCHWARTZ: The president was not aware of the agreement. At least Michael Cohen never told him about the agreement. I can tell you that. And you asked a whole bunch of questions. So let me -- let me cover that. So you asked about 12 days before --

ERIC BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: No, I'm aware about the agreement. What about the money?

SCHWARTZ: He was not aware about any of it.

JONES: Schwartz also suggested Cohen did these sorts of deals without Trump's knowledge frequently.

SCHWARTZ: Because he's that close to him, he had great latitude to handle these matters. Michael was the fixer. We all know Mike.

JONES: Yes.

SCHWARTZ: So it could be anything. It's not that this -- there were a ton of matters that took place that Michael fixed, and Donald Trump wasn't involved in every single matter.

JONES: Former federal prosecutor Renato Maniotti, who watched and tweeted about the interview with CNN's Erin Burnett, says Schwartz's admission supports the idea that the deal is void.

RENATO MANIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You cannot bind another person to a contract without their informed concept, and it is unethical for a lawyer to enter into a contract on their client's behalf without their informed concept.

JONES: And he says Schwartz's statements are hurting Cohen.

MANIOTTI: I question what that attorney was doing, because he essentially admitted that his client committed major ethical violations and hurt his client's position in the litigation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now for his part, Schwartz says he's not surprised that California judge ruled against the motion to question the president and Cohen under oath. Schwartz called the motion frivolous and untimely and says the judge made the proper decision.

As for whether he's helping the other side by saying Cohen never told Trump about the nondisclosure argument, Schwartz repeated his argument that Trump was a third-party beneficiary of the deal, and he called the agreement rock solid -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Athena, thank you.

Let's get to our analysts to assess. And Joey Jackson, did Schwartz misstep here?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think he did, Wolf. Good evening to you. And here's why.

In the interest of full disclosure, I know David Schwartz. He's a friend of mine. I know him personally, professionally. I spoke to him yesterday for a bit. Having that said, here's the argument to be made.

No. 1, we have to understand that everything a lawyer says, we do opening statements in court, we do closing statements, and the judge reminds the jury, "Ladies and gentlemen, none of what they say has any bearing. It's not evidence; it's argument. Same thing when you talk to the press. It's arguments." But here's the essence of the issue going to the legal argument. You

could look at it one way and say, "Yes, it's a major misstep," because a contract is the intent to be bound between two parties, and if the other party is unaware, how could it be a contract? And by the way, he's a lawyer. There's no informed consent. You have to notify your client.

But let's be clear the argument they're making. They're making the argument that Trump's people, that he was a third party beneficiary. What does that mean in English?

It means that if I purchase a car for my son, he's not aware of the purchase, I'm going to surprise him. The contract is as between myself and the dealership. To the extent that the car is never delivered, my son now has rights and can sue the car dealership, even though he wasn't a party to the contract.

That's what a third-party beneficiary contract is. Now, to be clear finally to the other argument, they're not going to argue -- that is Trump's people -- that Michael Cohen was acting as his lawyer. They're making the argument that it was a father/son relationship.

He was the fixer. Again, I'm purchasing the car for my son. And so they're going to argue that the ethical rules relating to informed consent and the attorney and making your client aware are not applicable.

Now, will that argument carry the day? That's a question for another time and place. But that's the argument they're going to make in order to sustain Trump's rights to enforce the contract while making the argument that he had no idea that the contract existed.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask David Swerdlick, what do you think? Because there's a lot of lawyers out there who disagree with Joey. You think that what Schwartz said really will wind up not only hurting Michael Cohen but the president himself?

[18:35:04] DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: OK, well, Wolf, I tend to agree with Joey's analysis that this is a contract. Right?

Apparently, Stormy Daniels accepted $130,000 to keep quiet about something. So you have an offer, acceptance, consideration. There may be some specific intent provisions in the contract that required a signature, but the basic bargain of silence for money, I think, also is enforceable.

Where I think Schwartz may have gotten President Trump or Michael Cohen into trouble is politically by the way he described to Erin in that interview that Michael Cohen was this fixer, and this is just how they did things. I referred to Michael Cohen on your air as a henchman or a flunky. That's what a henchman and a flunky does: routinely fix stuff for the principle. In this case, presumably President Trump.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, Schwartz has said many times it's a father/son relationship. It blows hot and cold but that Cohen would do anything -- and he says this himself, he would do anything for Donald Trump.

You know, the question is, doesn't it strain credulity that these people -- Cohen's office is two doors down from the president. It's 11 days before the election. This crap is going to hit the fan, and he doesn't tell the president, "Don't worry. We've got a problem. I'm fixing it. You don't need to know all the details, but I'm going to fix it for you, and this is what -- this is what it involves."

And as an attorney, it's different from a car salesman. I mean, I'm not a lawyer, Joey, I get it. But it's different from being a car salesman. This is somebody who's legally representing you and your interests, and in your interest is to keep this quiet so close to the election.

BLITZER: Because the argument, as you know, Joey, is if a lawyer makes a payment on behalf of a client, the client has to authorize that.

JACKSON: No, they do. But again, to my point, the argument is going to be made -- and Gloria is absolutely right, a whole different thing from a car sales person. What we do in law is we make analogies to some things and we distinguish others.

And what they're going to do, in order to establish that Trump had no idea, is you have to, from a legal perspective, get this out of the realm of "I'm his lawyer" and get it into the realm that "I'm his fixer. I have a strong relationship with him. It is like a familial relationship."

And to that extent, now the informed consent argument goes out the window, and the third-party beneficiary argument is the one that you're going to urge upon the court. Does it strain credibility? Is it sort of a stretch? It can be, but that's the legal argument they are going to make in order to establish that Trump has rights to enforce this contract and that otherwise, you know, this is the way in which it was laid out.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria.

BORGER: Look, I feel that if you listen to all of these arguments about Trump didn't know about this. He took one minute to sign the letter of intent for Trump Tower Moscow, really didn't pay any attention to it. He knew nothing about the meeting in Trump Tower Don Jr. had with the Russians. You have to believe that Donald Trump didn't know anything.

And this is a man -- this is a man who micromanaged the Trump Organization. He knew everything that was going on. And so it seems to me that he also kind of micromanaged his campaign to a great degree. So it's kind of hard to believe that, in the 11th hour, particularly, when everything mattered so much, that he wouldn't -- that he wouldn't know.

BLITZER: And he seems to be doing the same thing right now in the White House, micromanaging everything.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: He doesn't need a chief of staff, we're told. He doesn't need a communications director. He's in charge.

SWERDLICK: Right. The president likes to be in the loop.

Wolf, if I can go back to Gloria's previous point about Michael Cohen. Yes, maybe, as Joey says, he was -- he wants to argue that he was acting as a friend, but he is an attorney. He's not a used car salesman. He's not just a friend. He also is, in fact, a licensed attorney who worked as an attorney for the Trump Organization. So if this ever does come before a judge in open court, I think they will have to at least mount an argument that he was -- and explain in detail that he was not acting as a lawyer.

BLITZER: So Joey, where is this heading right now?

JACKSON: I think clearly, even though with this setback -- and it was a procedural setback to Michael Avenatti's point. If you look at the motion papers that he filed speaking about deposing the president, he said in those motion papers that he anticipates that there will be a motion to compel arbitration.

And remind you, Wolf, that what was happening was is he was saying that, "Listen, I don't even think the arbitration agreement" -- that is Avenatti and Stormy Daniels -- "is valid. Therefore, we need a hearing to determine its validity. In order to determine its validity, we need to determine how it was made, who was involved, what Trump knew, what he didn't know, and that gets you to the deposition."

And so if there's a motion to compel arbitration, as he believes, Avenatti, that there will be, then you're going to see the refiling of the motion and you're going to have a judge make a ruling on the merits as to whether he can depose the president.

I will repeat, this is a bad area for the president to be in legally. In the event that Avenatti gets him in front of a deposition, gets him to raise his right hand, the president then subjects himself to having to tell the truth. And we know and have past experience that that's not always the case with this president, and I'm putting that mildly.

BORGER: And you know, it may not happen right away, because the judge made it very clear that this isn't the most important issue facing America or the court. And so the judge, kind of reading between the lines, said why should this jump to the top of the docket? It seems to me that they're just going to have to wait.

BLITZER: This was a federal judge, too.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more we have developing right now. We have more on the breaking news about Rick Gates' role in Robert Mueller's probe of possible collusion. What's the special counsel getting from the former Trump campaign deputy? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:28] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts.

We're following breaking news on a key witness in the Russia investigation. CNN has new information that Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates was told early on that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, wanted his help in investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians more than he wanted Gates' help in the case against his former boss, Paul Manafort.

Let's get back to our analysts and discuss all of this.

You know, Phil Mudd, what does it tell you about the direction right now of the special counsel's investigation?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I love this piece. Look, I don't think the special counsel will use the word collusion with Rick Gates.

Let me give you a couple words he will use.

Number one, facts. Tell me how the campaign was organized, who talked to whom, if there was a meeting organized with Kislyak, how would that have been discussed. I want your laptop. I want to see if the facts you're describing are backed up about your laptop, your calendar, et cetera.

There's a second issue that will come up, timelines. I want to know every date you remember. I want to know who was in that meeting so when you go into a conversation with someone like the president, his son-in-law and son, and you say talk to me about the lead-up to the Kislyak meeting and who might have been involved, you know 80 percent of the answer already.

That's why people get wrapped up in lying to federal officers charges. They don't think the feds know the answer before the feds ask the question. That's what gates is going to give him, the facts around --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And they know that Gates met, according to Caitlyn and Evan Perez's reporting, Gates met with a known Russian agent so they want to know everything about that. They want to know when he met with him, why did he meet with him, did he know he was a Russian agent at the time, what was the conversation about. Don't forget, Gates was a part of the campaign. He was Manafort's deputy.

So, this does tie the campaign. Again, you don't have to use the word collusion. This does -- it sort of is a solid link between the campaign and Russian intelligence. And that's really important.

BLITZER: That's very significant, David, because Gates was the deputy campaign chairman, Paul Manafort's deputy. Even after Paul Manafort left the campaign, was removed for whatever reason, Gates stayed on through the transition, was getting ready for the inauguration. He knows a lot that was going on. So this new development that we're

reporting tonight is presumably a source of some serious concern to the White House and the president.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, to Phil's point, the questions being asked are who knew what when and who talked to whom. Gates worked with Manafort both in their private consulting practice and as Gloria said, one was the deputy to the other on the campaign. One thing to add to that long list of connections was the fact that this Russian intelligence guy, the GRU guy, was connected to Oleg Deripaska, who was one of the Russian billionaires or millionaires that's connected to Vladimir Putin. That is a nexus that is probably being investigated, whether or not there was any tie there and whether or not any communication there was related to the Trump campaign.

BLITZER: There are also -- "Reuters" is reporting that Mueller is looking very closely right now at what was going on at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and meetings Jeff Sessions had with the Russian ambassador of the United States, Kislyak, that this has become a focus of his investigation and specifically whether or not the Republican Party platform was made more pro-Russian as a result.

MUDD: I mean, you got to triangulate a bunch of information. Flynn lied about his contacts related to sanctions. The platform was changed. Gates is going to know about conversations around the campaign about whether there was going to be a deal. Is there a deal during, for example, the convention? All these players who have decided to flip are going to offer their timelines, their facts to the special counsel about things like the convention.

Then the special counsel comes into another witness and says, what happened at the convention about that platform? And somebody says, well, we never talked about it or it was accidental, and you got a bunch of individuals who have flipped, who actually said that's not the true story. That's how you wrap up a witness.

BLITZER: Some anti-Russian language was removed from the platform. They're trying to figure out why that happened.

Listen to this, Gloria. The attorney general announcing today he's not going to name a second special counsel despite what so many conservative Republicans and conservative media representatives wanted.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The chairman and I have looked real close at the FBI investigation of the Clinton e-mail scandal and I've come away believing that it was shoddily done, that there were conflicts of interest, that there was political bias that may have resulted in giving Clinton a pass.

[18:50:05] The Steele dossier was paid for by the Democratic Party though Fusion GPS. Mr. Steele had associates in Russia that could have easily compromised him. And we believe the FISA warrant process was abused and the reason we want a special counsel is I think crimes may have been committed.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I call on us appointing a special counsel, a second one to investigate the investigators.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: You are supposed to do the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I don't think they gave him the whole truth. So, this needs investigating. The only remedy is second special counsel.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: The FBI and Department of Justice aren't going to be putting the handcuffs on themselves, so lead a second special counsel.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Sources telling us tonight there is a very high probability that Sessions in fact will act and he will appoint a second special counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Well, he didn't appoint a second special counsel today. What's going to be the fallout?

BORGER: Well, you know, the president is likely be upset by this. I think that's no surprise. But I want to point out Senator Grassley in a footnote March 15th letter said to Sessions that if a special counsel appointment would not be necessary or appropriate, we urge to designate a disinterested U.S. attorney to look into this, which is exactly what Sessions did.

And I will remind everybody who is going to complain about this that the prosecutor is allowed to levy charges. So you don't have a special counsel, but you do have a well-respected U.S. attorney looking into this who can say, this is, you know, we ought to charge so and so with a crime. So, it's not as if Sessions has abandoned this completely.

That's not going to be enough for a lot of people who wanted to see a special counsel for a special counsel kind of equality there, I guess, to -- with Robert Mueller. But it is serious.

BLITZER: Yes, they really wanted -- the conservative media and these Republicans, somebody from the outside to come in.

BORGER: Right, this is certainly not nothing.

BLITZER: This is certainly not nothing.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: It's an important development. But they didn't think that career Justice Department officials could investigate what was going on in the FBI or the Justice Department. They wanted somebody to come in from outside. That was their argument and they're going to be deeply disappointed.

BORGER: He's from Utah, right?

BLITZER: But he's a career official.

All right, guys, stick around. There's more news we are following. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:10] BLITZER: Tonight, as other high level administration officials are shown the door, Defense Secretary James Mattis is holding on and digging in. He met today with Trump's hawkish new national security adviser John Bolton promising partnership despite their potential clashes over policy.

As CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reports, Mattis is making light of speculation that he and Bolton won't get along.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Defense Secretary James Mattis welcoming incoming security adviser John Bolton at the Pentagon for their first meeting.

Mattis joking about Bolton's reputation.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I've heard that you are actually the devil incarnate and I wanted to meet that.

STARR: Humor aside, the defense secretary taking an unusually public role, insisting it will be all team work with Bolton.

MATTIS: I'll tell you right upfront, it's going to be a partnership. It's going to -- we're going to go forward. I hope that there's some different world views. That's the normal thing you want unless you want group think.

DANA WHITE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: This will be the first time they've met. But it's a very routine meeting, just to start to get to know each other.

MATTIS: But for Mattis, the stakes are huge having Bolton in the West Wing every day.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: With Mr. Bolton being the adviser, he's going to have more access to the president at least initially.

Secretary Mattis is going to have to adjust his style to degree in terms of getting things in front of the president and going through Mr. Bolton. But I think Secretary Mattis is pretty savvy in those kinds of procedures.

STARR: The two men have stark differences.

MATTIS: As far as the situation with Korea, it is firmly in the diplomatic lane.

JOHN BOLTON, INCOMING NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think the only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea by effectively having the South take it over.

STARR: Mattis has long taken a hard line on the Iranian regime, but several top generals along with his secretary now advocates staying in the nuclear agreement that the president soon may terminate.

Bolton also agrees with the president.

BOLTON: What I would recommend is get out of the deal completely.

STARR: Bolton and Mattis both will now have to find a way to overcome their differences.

BOLTON: I've never been shy about what my views are. But, frankly, what I've said in private now is behind me at least effective April 9th.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So, now the ice is broken. Now the two men have to figure out how to work to the and how to advise Donald Trump -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see how that works out in the coming weeks and months.

Barbara, thanks very much. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.