Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Stormy's Contracts; Mueller Questioning Russian Oligarchs; Interview With Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes; Sources: Trump Gets Testy as National Security Team Warns of Risk of Syria Withdrawal; U.S. Suspects "Rogue" Cell Phones Spying Devices in D.C. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 4, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking tonight in the Russia investigation, CNN has learned that the special counsel has intensified his focus on the potential flow of illegal cash from Russia into the Trump campaign.

Robert Mueller's team now taking the unusual step of stopping and questioning wealthy Russian oligarchs traveling to the United States. I will get reaction from Congressman Jim Himes. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are all standing by, including CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

But first let's go to our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, what can you tell us about all these late-breaking developments?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have learned that investigators have recently targeted at least three oligarchs.

Sources tell CNN they stopped one of them, stopped by the FBI when he landed in his private jet at a New York area airport. They also questioned him and even searched his electronic devices. We're told that investigators stopped a second Russian oligarch on a recent trip to the U.S. and also questioned him.

And then we have learned, Wolf, that there was a third Russian who has come to Mueller who has agreed to voluntarily turn over documents and provide information.

BLITZER: We know it's illegal for foreign nationals to make political contributions to political campaigns here in the United States, so how potentially could these Russian oligarchs get around that?

PROKUPECZ: One of the big things that we're told investigators have been looking at is whether the Russians were using straw donors, that is, American citizens perhaps and giving them the money and through them those donations were being made to the campaign, maybe even some of the stuff that was going on during the inauguration.

That is one of the key things that the Mueller team and the FBI is now focusing on.

BLITZER: His interest now, Mueller's interest in those Russian oligarchs, what does that say about the broader Mueller Russia probe?

PROKUPECZ: Well, certainly, it gives us indications that this thing is not slowing down any time soon and there has been, as we have all been saying, focus on the money. There's been a lot of talk of, look at the money, look at the money.

And it certainly seems by all of these actions -- and some of these are quite aggressive actions by the Mueller team, by the FBI, stopping people at airports. The fact that they're keeping track of when some of the people that they want to question are coming to the United States and then meeting them at airports with search warrants, with subpoenas, is pretty aggressive and just tells you the way in which the Mueller team is conducting...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So they go through their documents, they go through their cell phone, they make copies, they do what they want?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. We have seen this with other people, with George Nader. We've seen this with some of the other folks. George Papadopoulos was stopped at the airport. So we have seen this kind of activity by the Mueller team.

But when you are going and stopping and questioning these wealthy businessmen, these wealthy oligarchs from Russia who are traveling here to do business, they have business in the United States and they're allowed to travel here, which is one of the reasons in which I'm told some of them are cooperating with the Mueller team.

BLITZER: How significant, Jim, is this?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You have heard from President Trump, his supporters frequently declaring closed a whole host of lines of inquiry by the special counsel, when in fact there are many indicators coming out of this investigation that those lines of inquiry are at least still open.

We don't know that they will establish any nefarious connections between Trump and the financial dealings of these oligarchs or on the collusion area other issues. But we at least know that he's asking questions about this. He's taking hard steps. He's stopping people at airports.

He's trying to find out if there's evidence there. And when he delivers his final report, we will know the answer to those questions.

BLITZER: And all this is happening as the president's attorneys have been told by Robert Mueller and his team that the president is not a target, a criminal target of this investigation, but he is a subject of the investigation.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, seemed to welcome this news today. She said it was not a surprise and she repeated the administration's claims that there was no collusion.

But even Republican lawmakers note that a subject can become the target of an investigation if that's where the evidence leads. Not certain that it's going to lead that way, but certainly still an open question as Robert Mueller continues his work.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): President Trump is not a criminal target in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation right now. This according to sources familiar with the matter.

However, his legal team believes he remains a subject of the probe due to his involvement in some of the matters being looked at. It's a distinction that legal experts say does not mean that Trump is safe.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The president sits there in the middle of this car wreck as a person of interest to the grand jury. That's what he started out as. There's no guarantee if you start out as a subject, you don't end up as a target.

SCIUTTO: Trump's attorneys learned of the president's status during discussions with investigators last month over a potential interview with the president. Trump has not settled on whether he wants to speak to the special counsel, but according to one source, he considers it a positive development that he is not currently a target of the investigation.

[18:05:17]

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was no collusion and we will continue to be cooperative until it comes to a full conclusion, which we hope is soon.

SCIUTTO: Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, however, cautions it does not put the president in the clear.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: One witness can take from you being a subject to a target. If you have nothing to hide, sit down. Assuming a fair prosecutor, and I think Mueller is, sit down and tell him what you know.

SCIUTTO: Several Trump associates continue to be questioned in the ongoing Mueller and congressional probes. Today, former Trump business partner Felix Sater is being interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee investigators, who are scrutinizing his communications with Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

In 2015, Sater, who is Russian-born, was brokering a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, though the project stalled shortly before the 2016 primaries. In interviews, Sater has denied any wrongdoing relating to the election and said that he never served as a link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

And new tonight, CNN has uncovered audio from August 4, 2016, of Trump associate Roger Stone on the Infowars radio show predicting devastating disclosures about the Clinton Foundation.

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: I think Julian Assange has that proof and I think he is going to furnish it to the American people.

SCIUTTO: His prediction came more than two months before WikiLeaks would release more than 20,000 pages of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's e-mails, e-mails stolen by Russia.

Stone's radio appearance came the very same day he sent an e-mail claiming he had dinner with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange the night before, this according to a source familiar with that e-mail exchange. Stone now denies that he met with Assange.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Stone calls that timing just a coincidence.

Of course, it's not the only coincidence as this investigation has unfolded. You will remember, of course, before the famous June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting, two days before President Trump himself had said he has a big speech coming up to talk about Hillary Clinton and all the bad things she did.

Claimed in retrospect that was just a coincidence of timing. It could very well be a coincidence, but it at least raises the question, how do the pieces of this web come together? And an open question is, was there the possibility that some in the Trump orbit had some advance warning of some of these releases?

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, Shimon Prokupecz, you guys are doing excellent reporting for us, as always. Thank you so much.

Also breaking right now, President Trump ordering the immediate deployment of U.S. National Guard forces to the southwest border with Mexico. The homeland security secretary saying the troops could arrive as soon as tonight.

Our White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez, is standing by.

Boris, the president brought this idea up suddenly earlier in the week and now all of a sudden officials appear to be scrambling to carry it out.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And despite that comment from Secretary Nielsen that we could see these National Guard forces moving to the southern border with Mexico tonight, a senior administration official tells CNN there is no date yet set for their deployment. They say this is still in the early planning stages and they still have to coordinate with state and local officials before this plan unfolds.

But we are told it is one that the president is committed to.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ (voice-over): The White House announced the plan to send National Guard troops to the border immediately, but they couldn't say how many troops would be deployed or how much it would cost.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen saying details need to be worked out with states' governors, but troops could be sent as soon as tonight.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: The president is frustrated. I think what you're seeing is the president taking his job very seriously in terms of securing our border and doing everything we can without Congress to do just that, but I do hope as soon as Congress comes back that I can work with them.

SANCHEZ: The White House also pressed for answers on the president's stance on Russia.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have.

SANCHEZ: After defending his record Tuesday, President Trump was contradicted by his outgoing national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, at a meeting of the Atlantic Council, saying the United States has not done enough to counter the Kremlin's aggression.

H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Russia brazenly and implausibly denies its actions, and we have failed to impose sufficient costs.

SANCHEZ: Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defended the president, saying the United States would benefit from a positive relationship with Putin.

The White House also tried to tamp down fears about a different kind of aggression, a possible trade war with China, as Beijing threatened to hit the United States with $50 billion in retaliatory trade tariffs on 106 different exports, like airplane parts, medical supplies, and pork,

[18:10:03]

President Trump sent mixed messages via Twitter writing -- quote -- "We are not in a trade war with China," but then adding -- quote -- "We have a trade deficit of $500 billion a year with intellectual property theft of another $300 billion. We cannot let this continue."

As financial markets reacted with uncertainty, the White House argued that China started the stand-off.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We may have a little bit of short-term pain, but we're certainly going to have long-term success and we're focused on long-term economic principles and making sure that we have a strong and stable economy and that's exactly what the president is doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Wolf, back on the issue of the border wall, both Secretary Nielsen and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders were asked why the urgency, why the president is demanding that this unfold as soon as possible.

They said this has been part of a long-running, continuing effort from the president to secure the border, but they wouldn't answer directly whether this move comes after the president potentially watched a FOX News report over the weekend on immigration.

Sources also telling CNN that the president met with some outside advisers, some cable news hosts, who apparently told him that his base believes he's getting soft on immigration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's moving now very, very quickly together with the administration. Thanks so much, Boris Sanchez at the White House.

Joining us now, Congressman Jim Himes. He's a Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, what does it tell you, getting back to our top breaking story, that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is now questioning Russian oligarchs as they arrive here in the United States?

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, it's not surprising, Wolf, because, remember, Russian oligarchs are oligarchs because Putin lets them be oligarchs.

They are agents, if you will, of the Russian state. So when Vladimir Putin or his intelligence community decides to destabilize, you know, a Western democracy, as they have with lots of Western democracies, one of the things he will do is he will deploy those oligarchs to send money here, to convey messages to this person.

It's sort of hard to fully understand if you think of an economy and of wealthy people the way we do in this country, where a wealthy American obviously isn't an agent of the state. That is not true in Russia.

So it doesn't surprise me at all. The names keep coming up, the businesses keep coming up. In our own investigation on the Intelligence Committee, Russian banks, Russian businesses and oligarchs kept coming up as circling around the campaign and the election in general.

BLITZER: The Trump campaign, you're referring to.

Did you see information or documents in your House Intelligence Committee investigation, Congressman, that would merit questioning these Russians, or do you think Robert Mueller might have on his hands other documents, other secretive information?

HIMES: Well, sure, there's all sorts of intriguing leads.

I will give you one example, you know, because it's in public testimony, testimony before my committee that was made public. You know, Erik Prince is in the Seychelles, Erik Prince, of course, brother of a Cabinet secretary and a supporter of the president.

He is in the Seychelles, and he has a meeting with a Russian oligarch, tells us that it's a meeting of no consequence, but, again, a Russian oligarch just happens to be there, and sits down with somebody closely connected to the administration.

I'm not saying that that necessarily proves anything. And one of the reasons that the House investigation never should have been ended is that we don't know exactly what happened in that meeting, but that's one example obviously of oligarchs in odd places around people associated with the Trump campaign.

BLITZER: Why do you believe the special counsel's team has told White House lawyers, the president's lawyers that the president is not a target in their investigation?

HIMES: Well, first and most importantly, I think that's probably true.

And as you in your previous segment pointed out, you know, a subject -- I guess my colleague Trey Gowdy pointed out -- a subject can become a target in a New York minute. And so I'm not sure this is something to celebrate for the president of the United States, though I'm sure he will.

But the other thing, what I was thinking about when I heard this, look, Mueller has to understand that there is some risk that the president does what we all hope he won't, which is fire him and end his investigation.

And I have to believe that if the president were a target, that it's not something that he would casually throw out there, that he would be very thoughtful about doing something that would potentially cause a national crisis because it might cause the president to fire the deputy attorney general or to end the investigation.

BLITZER: What do you expect from this possible interim report, interim report from the Mueller team on allegations of obstruction of justice?

HIMES: Well, it made me -- I should say it ended one of the worries that I had. Remember Mueller is under no obligation to issue a report. You know, if he finds no wrongdoing beyond the indictments he's already issued, beyond the guilty pleas that he's already secured -- I actually think that's probably an unlikely outcome, given all the work he's doing.

[18:15:07] But he's under no obligation to tell the American people what he's been up to, even if he didn't find something that rose to the standard of a criminal charge. But, my God, where would that leave the country?

And so the notion that just -- you will remember back to the Clinton investigation with special counsel Starr issuing a very, very comprehensive, even salacious report on the Clinton investigation.

I think that having, at the end of the day, whatever the outcome is, no further indictments, no further wrongdoing or shenanigans, this has been enough of a trauma for the American people that a report from Robert Mueller just saying here's what we found is going to be the only way we're going to get closure on this whole chapter in our history.

BLITZER: Congressman Jim Himes, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, our CNN exclusive. The special counsel's team has been questioning wealthy Russians, asking if they illegally funneled money into the Trump campaign. And we're learning the president's lawyers now believe he is a subject of the Russia probe.

Plus, the former lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels talks exclusively to CNN about the hush agreement he brokered and his contacts with the president's lawyer Michael Cohen. But why does Cohen want him to speak out now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:00]

BLITZER: We're back with breaking news.

CNN has learned that Robert Mueller's team is taking an unusual step in its investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Sources revealing that investigators have stopped and questioned wealthy Russians traveling to the United States, asking if they illegally funneled money to the Trump campaign.

Let's talk a little bit more about this with former U.S. attorney, CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara.

Preet, thanks for joining us.

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.

BLITZER: What sort of information or documents might have led the Mueller team to start questioning these Russian oligarchs?

BHARARA: You can't know for certain. But what you do know about Bob Mueller and any competent and reasonable prosecutor's office is they don't proceed unless they have real information. They don't proceed on a whim or on a hunch when you're talking about

something that is as important and dynamic a step as questioning oligarchs who are coming into an airport or leaving out through an airport.

So it could be that they have testimonial evidence. It could be they have documentary evidence. We know that they have been issuing subpoenas for financial information for quite some time. And they're following the flow of money. And if they saw money coming from certain sources, including pass-throughs that lead to Russian oligarchs who are trying to influence the election by contributing money to campaigns that they should not have been, well, they're going to be taking a look at that.

But I think the bottom line that people should understand is, it's a significant step. The Mueller team knows what it's doing and it's making very targeted approaches to people who come within the jurisdiction of the United States.

BLITZER: Are there additional steps or extra sensitivity, shall we say, when you question these very wealthy foreign nationals?

BHARARA: Yes, there can be if you're worried about diplomatic issues, for example.

But we're in a posture now where we're basically -- everyone who's reasonable and has looked at the intelligence is accusing Russia and the Russian government of doing a very dramatic thing, which is interfering in our election.

And I think the Americans are also in a back and forth and a tit for tat with respect to diplomatic expulsions. In that context, I don't think you need to worry too much about offending sensibilities of people in Russia, given what's at stake.

You will also notice based on the reporting that the questioning of Russian oligarchs has been only with respect to those who have decided to travel to the United States and the reporting indicates some questioning at airports. I'm sure that the Mueller team would like to have an opportunity to question oligarchs and others in Russia, Russian nationals who are still located in Russia and haven't traveled.

That presents a very, very difficult bar and barrier to get information and testimony from people who are abroad. It's very hard to reach them.

BLITZER: Yes, it's probably impossible right now, given the current climate.

The question is whether Russians were illegally funneling significant sums of money to the Trump campaign. If any Americans, Preet, were caught up in this somehow, what would be the implications? Is that collusion?

BHARARA: Well, collusion is a English noun that doesn't stand for any particular crime, but it might be conspiracy.

As everyone should understand, it is not lawful and it is in fact illegal for someone from another country, a foreign national, to vote in one of our elections or to submit campaign funds to a campaign in one of our elections.

And if someone was aiding another party, conspiring with them in some way, helping them try and disguise the payments, requesting the payments in some way, those people would also be guilty of conspiracy to violate American law.

BLITZER: The special counsel's team says President Trump is more than a simple witness in their investigation, but he's not a target. What does that mean in layman's terms?

BHARARA: Well, I think it means, based on the reporting I have seen, that the president is not out of hot water.

The particular term that I have heard used in the reporting is that Donald Trump has been told and his lawyers have been told that he's a subject, not a target. And there's a distinction that a lot of people get confused about.

But if you're a subject of an investigation, what people should understand is that means you are under investigation. It may not have reached the point where a prosecutor's office has determined with absolute certainty that you're going to be charged with a crime.

[18:25:00]

But if you're told you're a subject, that means you're something more than a witness, and people are taking a deep look at whether or not you have committed a crime.

Now, the separate issue here, of course, is whether or not the president can be charged with a crime, because there's legal authority that says he cannot. And so maybe it's impossible to call the president a target because of that legal obstacle.

But to say that the president is a subject and for that to have been communicated, as reported by the Mueller team to the Trump legal team, that's a very significant thing.

BLITZER: What I have heard is that a target is almost certainly going to be charged with some criminal violation.

BHARARA: Yes.

BLITZER: Whereas a subject may down the road be charged, but not necessarily. Is that a good analysis?

BHARARA: Yes. That's pretty on target. Sorry for the pun.

BLITZER: Yes.

All right, the deputy attorney general's memo, Rod Rosenstein's memo, outlines that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has the authority to investigate, and I'm quoting now, "allegations that Paul Manafort," the former Trump campaign chairman, "committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials."

How do you read that? Is Rosenstein saying that collusion is indeed a crime?

BHARARA: I don't know if he's saying that. People have been arguing semantically about what collusion means.

The crime that you charge someone with that relates to engaging in conduct that might constitute, as a layperson understands it, collusion is conspiracy, having an agreement or meeting of the minds by or between one or more people to violate the laws of the United States, whether that's campaign finance laws or anything else.

I do think it does suggest that people on -- at the Justice Department do believe that things that we laypeople refer to as collusion can constitute a crime. But I think lots of people have been saying that for a long time. But now you see some more specific proof of that sentiment.

BLITZER: It certainly in that memo seems to suggest that.

Preet, thanks so much for joining us.

BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, CNN's exclusive interview with Stormy Daniels' former lawyer. He's speaking out now for the first time about the hush deal he brokered with President Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Can you tell me about the payment? Did Michael Cohen ever indicate to you that he was paying this $130,000 for Stormy Daniels out of his own personal finances?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

QUESTION: And back then, did he say to you, look, I'm having to take a loan out of my house to get this done?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, there was never any conversation about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight a CNN exclusive: the first interview with the lawyer who represented both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, the porn star and the "Playboy" model, who both say they had affairs with Donald Trump.

[18:32:20] Keith Davidson revealing new information about his contacts with the president's lawyer, Michael Cohen, including a recent call in which he says Cohen urged him to go public and spill his guts.

Let's go to our national correspondent, Sara Sidner.

Sara, you spoke with Davidson. What did you learn?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Keith Davidson talked to us exclusively, and he talked about whether or not he believed his former clients, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, as to whether they each had an affair with Donald Trump.

He also talked to us about the numerous times that he had conversations with Michael Cohen. That's Donald Trump's personal attorney. It turns out that those conversations did not end, even though he no longer represented either of those women.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): Keith Davidson calls it a coincidence that, just before the presidential election, he was involved in the deals for not one, but two women who claimed to have had affairs with Donald Trump, effectively keeping their stories secret.

(on camera): Do you believe what Stormy Daniels has said about the sexual encounter with Mr. Trump?

KEITH DAVIDSON, FORMER LAWYER OF STORMY DANIELS AND KAREN MCDOUGAL: You know, I believe my client.

SIDNER: And Karen McDougal?

DAVIDSON: Yes.

SIDNER (voice-over): For the first time Davidson is speaking exclusively to CNN, saying he is constrained by attorney/client privilege but still giving new details about how the deals came about.

Stormy Daniels' confidentiality deal, signed just days before the election, started with a phone call from Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

(on camera): And Michael Cohen calls you up and says what about Stormy Daniels?

DAVIDSON: He says, "I'm hearing rumblings out there that, you know, the press is poking around about Stormy Daniels. Do you have any information on that?"

SIDNER: Did you at the time?

DAVIDSON: No.

SIDNER: So what did you say back?

DAVIDSON: "I will call you back."

SIDNER: And what happened in between that time? DAVIDSON: Well, that's -- that's where, really, the communications

get in between my client and I, and what I can and cannot disclose and everything else.

SIDNER: Do you see how the phone call from Michael Cohen might seem nefarious in the fact that he called you?

DAVIDSON: No. Quite frankly, I really don't. You know, Mr. Cohen and I had a discussion in 2011. There was a website that posted a story about Miss Daniels in 2011. I used my best efforts to get that story taken down, pursuant to my client's wishes. We were successful in doing that.

And five years later, the story percolates up again. I think it's a completely natural phone call for anyone to make in Mr. Cohen's position, to circle back and say, "Have circumstances changed?" That was really what it was. It was an inquiry.

SIDNER (voice-over): That inquiry led to Daniels signing an agreement not to talk about the affair in exchange for $130,000.

[18:35:07] (on camera): Can you tell me about the payment? Did Michael Cohen ever indicate to you that he was paying this $130,000 for Stormy Daniels out of his own personal finances?

DAVIDSON: Yes.

SIDNER: And back then, did he say to you, "Look, I'm having to take a loan out of my house to get this done"?

DAVIDSON: No, there was never any conversation about that.

SIDNER (voice-over): And it was just one of a number of contacts between Cohen and Davidson. A few weeks earlier, Davidson says he himself reached out to Cohen after brokering an agreement between "Playboy" Playmate Karen McDougal, who sold the rights to her story to AMI, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," for $150,000.

DAVIDSON: I think I called him as a professional courtesy to let him know that a matter was resolved and that, as a professional courtesy, that it may or may not have involved his client.

SIDNER: Was he involved in the deal at all?

DAVIDSON: Certainly, wasn't involved on our end, and there's no basis for me to believe that he was involved or had any communication with AMI.

SIDNER: Do you see why Karen McDougal and her now current representation might construe that as a conspiracy behind her back, that there's something else going on, that Michael Cohen was behind all this, being a puppet master, if you will?

DAVIDSON: I think, generally speaking, I mean, a conspiracy would have to involve an act that would take place before. And that simply wasn't the case. My conversation with Michael Cohen took place after Ms. McDougal had already solidified the deal with AMI.

SIDNER (voice-over): Davidson says he and Cohen met in person this year more than once to discuss potential violations of the nondisclosure contract.

(on camera): Have you spoken to Michael Cohen since?

DAVIDSON: Yes.

SIDNER: And what did he say to you?

DAVIDSON: The last conversation I had with Michael Cohen, he called to offer his opinion as to whether or not Ms. Daniels and Ms. McDougal had breached the attorney/client privilege and thereby waived it. And it was his assertion that each of them had, and he was encouraging me and informing me as to his opinion that they, in fact, had waived the attorney/client privilege. And he suggested that it would be appropriate for me to go out into the media and spill my guts.

SIDNER: Are you here at the behest of Michael Cohen?

DAVIDSON: No, no. No. Not in any way, shape or form.

SIDNER (voice-over): Davidson was eventually fired by both women, who then hired new attorneys and filed suit to get out of their deals.

(on camera): Why are you here?

DAVIDSON: You know, there's been certain things that have been, you know, written and said. And I'd like the truth to come out. To the extent that I can assist in that endeavor, that's really why I'm here.

SIDNER: Is the whole truth out yet?

DAVIDSON: I don't believe so. I think most of it. Not the whole truth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Michael Avenatti, Stormy's current attorney, had something to say about that. He said that Mr. Davidson should not be making any comments to the press relating to the matter or a client that has terminated him, including Ms. Daniels.

He also said that, obviously, all of that, the facts, have not been put out there, which he has been saying for weeks.

Mr. Cohen did not have a comment for us for this story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Sidner, good work. Thanks so much for that report.

Just ahead, the Russian money trail. Now that CNN has learned the special counsel's team is stopping and questioning Russian oligarchs, what does it tell us about the direction of the investigation?

And the president's lawyers have been told he's not a criminal target right now. What could that mean for a possible interview between the president and Robert Mueller?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:43:43] BLITZER: Our analysts are here. We're talking more about CNN's exclusive new reporting. We're told that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has intensified his focus on the potential flow of illegal cash from Russia into the Trump campaign. Wealthy Russian oligarchs are now being stopped and questioned as they arrived here in the United States.

Let's get to our panel, and Samantha Vinograd, you're a national security expert. You work in this area. "The Washington Post" has just posted another breaking news story, saying the U.S. is expected to impose additional sanctions on Russia by Friday. The sanctions are, in their words, "economic and designed to target oligarchs with ties to Putin. The official said the final number of officials facing punitive action remains fluid but is expected to include at least a half a dozen people under sanctions powers given to the president by Congress."

This is a significant development, going after these millionaires and billionaires so close to Putin.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Most definitely. And I hope that the story is true, because these are finally sanctions that Vladimir Putin would care about.

The oligarchs are arms of the Russian government. They are wealthy people that Putin controls. And so when we think about what these sanctions might actually mean, now remember, Congress passed bipartisan legislation several months ago that required the Department of the Treasury to list oligarchs out, and they did not impose sanctions on these oligarchs back in January. They came under a lot of criticism.

So what we could be seeing is the next phase of sanctions implementation.

And my gut is, Wolf, if these sanctions go forward, Vladimir Putin is not just going to have a tit for tat response, he's going to be really miffed and he'll probably retaliate.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes, because the president until recently was dragging his feet on these sanctions, even though sanctions were very strongly voted overwhelmingly in the House and Senate. The timing of this decision to go after oligarchs with these new decisions, Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And, you know, don't forget, last night, H.R. McMaster, who's the outgoing national security advisor said, and I quote: We have failed to impose sufficient costs on Moscow.

Now, he's saying that. He's outgoing, I'm sure it wasn't -- the president wasn't thrilled that he did that. And maybe some people in the military weren't thrilled because it's a political statement. But in any case, it seems to me that the president has said, I've been tougher, and now the administration is sort of catching up with that and trying to say, OK, yes, we're going to be tough on these oligarchs.

Don't forget you had the indictments by Mueller, the 13 indictments against the Russians involved in election hacking early on. And so, I think this sort of follows along that whole chain, which is we need to hold these oligarchs responsible and then you have CNN's reporting tonight that these oligarchs are being stopped at the airports and being questioned.

BLITZER: When they arrive here in the United States.

BORGER: When they arrive.

BLITZER: You know, this is going to deeply anger Putin. He's very close to these oligarchs, David.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And this is all about finding those pressure points. If you were to take President Trump out of this equation and think of a traditional foreign policy approach, Wolf, this is just a logical step in ratcheting up pressure. Where can you apply that pressure, as Sam said, to Putin with the oligarchs who he relies on and who rely on him to make them feel pain for whatever we want to move them on on foreign policy.

You put Trump back into it and I'm curious to see how much the president either embraces this or distances himself from this rhetorically. Just yesterday in the East Room when he said, look, wouldn't it be great if we could find a way to be friends with Russia. So, I think we'll see how that plays out in the next day or two.

BLITZER: You know, Joey Jackson, you're a legal analyst. You see our exclusive reporting that Mueller's team is going after these oligarchs as they arrive in the United States. They've got search warrants and they question them at airports.

What do you think of this tactic?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the special counsel certainly is doing what they need to do to get accountability and to get at the truth and to follow the money, right? Money is the root of all evil. You follow the money, you get to that evil.

But just briefly, I think there's an important distinction to be made between an administration imposing sanctions and going after oligarchs on the one hand in order to get accountability and to punish, you know, for what Russia did, and on the other hand, the special counsel using these aggressive tactics in order to surprise people who when they fly into these United States, guess what, Wolf, they're under the jurisdiction of the United States and must, therefore, be subject to its laws. It's one thing.

Gloria mentioned the issue of the 13 indictments previously. We may never see justice there because they're in Russia. But when you step foot here as a Russian or anyone else for business interests, then certainly, you know, there's accountability. The final thing is whenever you get to the money, look at the mandate

of the special counsel. If you're going to determine if there's collusion, if you're going to determine what, if any, involvement the Trump campaign had with the Russians, you have to look at the money. How was it spent, where was it spent, who was it spent on, when was it spent? Was it spent by nationals? Was it otherwise pumped in and Americans assisted in that effort to spend the money?

And so, I think in looking at the finances, you're going to get a lot of questions answered that need to be answered to make important determinations here.

BLITZER: And very quickly, Samantha, because you're an expert in this area as well, the U.S. expelled 60 Russian diplomats. They expelled 60 American diplomats. We shut down their consulate in Seattle. They shut down the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg.

Now, they're questioning oligarchs as they arrive in the United States. They're about to impose sanctions on oligarchs, these billionaires in Russia close to Putin. You know that Putin is going to respond and do the same thing to Americans.

VINOGRAD: Most definitely. And we saw this happen after the Magnitsky sanctions back in 2012 which again Putin really cared about. He stopped U.S. adoptions of Russian children because he knew that would really hurt the American people. So, I do think we're going to see a counter-response. But at this point, we can't just not do anything substantial because we're worried about how Putin will retaliate.

BORGER: There's also political component to this, which is that you have a lot of Republicans in Congress who are angry that the administration has not done more, not to mention Democrats. But you have people who are heading into the 2018 midterm elections who need to answer the question, this is what we have done to stop the Russians from election meddling or to punish them for what they have done. And now, they can start making a list that they can tell their constituents about.

BLITZER: Yes, if you think U.S./Russia relations are strained right now, just wait to see what happens in the coming days or weeks.

Just ahead, someone or some group is spying on cell phones right here in Washington, D.C., the nation's capital. Who is it? How are they doing it and why?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:08] BLITZER: Right now, we have some breaking news on President Trump's Syria policy. Let's go straight to our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Elise, what are you learning?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're hearing a lot more about President Trump's meeting with his top military and national security advisors yesterday on Syria in which he talked about his wishes for the U.S. to get out of Syria, to pull troops out.

We understand it was a very testy meeting. President Trump going on about the amount of money it is taking for U.S. to have this commitment. He wants troops to come home. He wants to end the U.S. commitment there.

Essentially, all his military advisors, chief of Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, Defense Secretary Mattis and others, saying that the job against ISIS is not done. ISIS is not defeated. President Trump telling his military advisors he wants U.S. troops out within six months. Finish the job within six months so that U.S. troops can go home.

We understand that, you know, General Dunford did explain to President Trump that taking troops out too hastily would allow Russia, Iran, Turkey to advance their own interests in Syria, but at the same time , President Trump saying he promised his supporters he would be pulling troops out. He wants them to get the job done.

And also, Wolf, wants other countries, rich gulf nations, other Middle Eastern countries to take up more of the burden. Something you've heard this president say about many international crises.

BLITZER: Very interesting and very significant developments, the ramifications of all of this debate could be enormous in that part of the world.

Elise, good reporting. Thank you very much.

Now to a disturbing story. Could foreign agents or even some domestic security service be intercepting phone calls right here in the Washington, D.C. area? Federal authorities say they have detected evidence -- evidence of mobile snooping devices throughout the area.

Let's go do CNN's Tom Foreman. He's been digging into this for us.

What are you learning, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is like something straight out of a spy novel, but it could be very serious with very big consequence. The Department of Homeland Security says someone appears to be using something to spy on cell phones here in the nation's capital, but who and what and why?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: The information that cell phones in D.C. are possibly being secretly tracked came as a response to questions from Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. He asked Homeland Security if they had any evidence of foreign government was using what is commonly called stingray devices, and the department said, it has observed activity in the national capital region that appears to be consistent with international mobile subscriber identity catchers, stingrays.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need to get hold of a stingray.

FOREMAN: On shows such as "Homeland", they are a popular high tech trove.

So, what are they? Stingrays and similar devices are about the size of a briefer case and emit a signal mimicking a cell phone tower, tricking phones into connecting with the stingray, even when those phones are not in use. Meaning even when no one is talking -- well, we called counter espionage expert Kevin Murray in New Jersey.

KEVIN MURRAY, COUNTERESPIONAGE CONSULTANT: These things have the capability of tracking, so if you wanted to pick a person in, say, let's see where they go and who they talk to during the day, that might give you just enough intelligence to make some decisions without even doing eavesdropping. But if the person is careless enough to make phone calls and discuss secrets over the phone, that's a real problem, especially on a government level.

FOREMAN: A few years ago, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates said cell site simulators, stingrays, are a critical tool for us finding fugitives and finding kidnapping victims and drug cases. Still, she also acknowledged the need for restraint.

The American Civil Liberties Union said law enforcement agencies in at least 25 states and D.C. have stingrays. And the ACLU argues their use often constitutes a type of illegal search and invasion of privacy with innocent people and their phones swept up in the electronic net.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: So, that's what these devices are and that's what they do. But still unanswered, who has been using them in the nation's capital? Is it a foreign government, terrorist, some super secret police operation?

Homeland Security either doesn't know or isn't letting on, but the confirmation that someone has been snooping with these things is setting off alarm bells -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to be hearing a lot more about all of these snooping devices, no doubt about that, very, very worrisome.

Tom Foreman, thanks for that report.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.