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Interview With Texas Congressman Will Hurd; Trump Defends Scandal-Plagued EPA Chief; Federal Agents Raid Offices of Trump Attorney; Source: FBI Search of Trump Attorney's Office Mostly Related to Porn Star, Warrant Mentioned Election Laws. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 9, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And ethics review. A federal watchdog alerts the EPA that its boss may be using his office for personal gain. As the scandal surrounding Scott Pruitt grows, why is the president still defending him?
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, the feds go after the president's fixer, conducting raids targeting his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
We're told documents seized by FBI agents included information related to Stormy Daniels, who was paid by Cohen to stay silent about her alleged affair with the president. It's a major new twist in the Daniels case that's even more dramatic because the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, played a role in making this raid happen.
I will reaction from Congressman Will Hurd. He's a Republican member of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they are all standing by.
First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, and our law enforcement analyst, Josh Campbell, a former FBI special agent.
Evan, what more are you learning about this extraordinary raid?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Extraordinary raid is exactly the point here, Wolf. Michael Cohen's office, we know, has been raided by the FBI. It was carried out under the authority of the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
And according to Stephen Ryan, Michael Cohen's attorney, he says this was done as a referral, in other words, the referral from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who apparently has uncovered additional information, Wolf, that merited additional investigation by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
And this now, of course, means that there are two investigations that affect Michael Cohen and potentially the president of the United States. Michael Cohen obviously not only the president's personal -- longtime personal attorney, but also involved in a lot of parts of his business, as well as helping to fund-raise for the RNC.
We will read a part of the statement from Stephen Ryan, who is Michael Cohen's attorney. He says: "The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York executed a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications between my client Michael Cohen and his clients. I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is in part a referral by the office of special counsel, Robert Mueller."
Wolf, what this means is that Robert Mueller in the course of his investigation uncovered something that he believed was outside of the jurisdiction of his investigation, which is to look into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and he decided to consult with Rod Rosenstein, who's the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation.
He oversees all of this and they decided to kick it over to federal prosecutors in New York who carried out the raid. Now, we're told that one of the locations that was raided was Michael Cohen's office in 30 Rockefeller Center, which is where NBC is located, obviously.
It's inside an office -- a law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, which said -- put out a statement saying they had nothing to do with this, simply that he was renting office space from this law firm.
We don't know what other locations the FBI and U.S. attorney's office there conducted searches of today, but according to Stephen Ryan, the attorney for Michael Cohen, there were multiple locations, at least according to his statement.
He also says that the search warrant in his view is completely inaccurate -- inappropriate and unnecessary and he says that that's partly because Michael Cohen has been cooperating with investigators, federal investigators. He's referring to congressional investigators.
Michael Cohen has already spoken to them. We don't know whether -- what interaction they have had with special counsel Robert Mueller or the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
BLITZER: Yes, the attorney for Michael Cohen saying he had been providing thousands of non-privileged documents, sitting for depositions under oath, but clearly they were looking for privileged documents at the same time.
PEREZ: Right. And keep in mind, Wolf, again, there's a lot of unanswered questions about this Stormy Daniels payment that was made days before the election.
According to reporting from Gloria Borger, that at least some of the documents that were being sought in the search warrant that was served today at the office of Michael Cohen related to this payment that was made, $130,000, to Stormy Daniels in the days before the election. We have heard multiple explanations for the money, that he borrowed
the money, that President Trump was not informed at all about it. This raises obviously some questions about election law and possible tax laws.
So you can see why Robert Mueller's special counsel's office would have determined that maybe this does not have to do with the Russian meddling investigation, but it is certainly something that raises potential criminal violations, and this is why someone this close to the president is now under a serious, serious cloud as part of this investigation.
BLITZER: Very serious, indeed.
Josh Campbell, you're a former FBI special agent.
Walk us through how a raid like this, A, is authorized and, B, conducted.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: A lot to unpack for our viewers here.
Let's start with the fact that the initiation of a spinoff investigation and any type of enforcement action, so in today's events we saw execution of a search warrant, both of those are going to be coordinated at the highest levels of the Department of Justice, particularly when you're involving an individual who is the attorney for the president of the United States.
So once it appears as though there's probable cause to search a facility in order to go after evidence, that will take place in the Southern District of New York in the U.S. Attorney's Office, working in concert with the FBI.
An FBI agent will actually go before an independent magistrate and swear out an affidavit indicating that there is probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime exists in the location described and will describe what they're looking for. After the judge and then makes a determination that, yes, there is probable cause here, that we do have authorization, FBI agents will conduct the search and they will go to the facility and gather that evidence.
I think it's important to remember two things here, Wolf, the first of which being this notion that these are privileged communications that are off-limits, that's not something that the person being searched gets to determine.
The old adage tell it to the judge, that will ultimately be determined by the judge, what is actually relevant and what can be used down the line. You don't get to say, FBI, you can't take this because this is privileged.
Also, it's important to know that Mr. Cohen will know exactly what was taken, because in the United States of America when an FBI search is conducted, the friendly FBI agent searching your residence or your location will actually leave you with a receipt telling you exactly what was taken.
BLITZER: Documents and all sorts of C.D.s Who knows.
And, Wolf, this can't be a huge surprise to Michael Cohen. Obviously, he's known now for at least some time that there was a suspicious activity report that was generated by the bank flagging this transaction, this payment as something that was suspicious. Again, this is money laundering laws that are specifically set up to flag suspicious payments.
And so this bank flagged this payment. This is months ago in 2016 and so none of this is likely a surprise to Michael Cohen. He knew that somebody was going to take a deeper look at this. It was just a matter of when.
BLITZER: Computers, laptops, all sorts of stuff.
PEREZ: Bank records.
BLITZER: Cell phones, they can take any of that.
PEREZ: Exactly. They want communications records, they want e-mails, they want bank records, all of this. It would be a very broad request, but there would be specific things that they are looking for. And one of the things, Gloria Borger is told, relates specifically to this payment to Stormy Daniels in the days before the election.
BLITZER: All right, guys, everybody, stand by. We will get more information.
I want to go to the White House.
Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is working his sources.
First of all, any reaction from the White House, from the president to the breaking news?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Wolf.
A couple of things on that. The president is about to be in a situation where the White House pool will be going in to ask him a couple of questions potentially. He's meeting with military leaders this evening, dining with military leaders this evening. And so he potentially could be asked this question about this raid that was conducted at the office of Michael Cohen.
The other thing we should point out, Wolf, is, we have asked the White House press office for a response to all of this. Keep in mind in the past, even the president himself last week said, talk to my attorney Michael Cohen about Stormy Daniels. Well, Michael Cohen was obviously the subject of a raid, so that's not
exactly possible, so we're waiting to find out if there's some kind of comment coming out of the White House.
In the meantime, Wolf, I can tell you that inside Trump world here, they are not happy with this development today. I talked to one source close to the White House earlier today who said based on his own conversations with the president, close advisers to the president, that this kind of action, this kind of course being taken by the FBI to raid the offices of his personal attorney could push the president in the direction of firing the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to make sure that Robert Mueller is off of this case.
That obviously is a potential for something that could take place. We don't know whether or not the president will indeed do that, but in the words of this source close to the White House, Robert Mueller has gone rogue.
That was how it was put to me by the source close to the White House, Wolf. So they are obviously very concerned about all of this, and of course that raises the specter of essentially a constitutional clash between the White House and Capitol Hill.
We have heard -- we have long heard from lawmakers in both parties that if the president were to take some kind of action to elbow Robert Mueller out of this investigation that that could potentially lead to impeachment proceedings up on Capitol Hill or lawmakers taking into their own hands and trying to elect or vote on a piece of legislation that would appoint a special prosecutor, their own special prosecutor in all of this.
How all of that would unfold in the days, weeks, months to come, that's just uncharted waters or waters we haven't been in for a very long time.
But, Wolf, undoubtedly -- and I don't think this should come as any surprise -- the fact that the FBI, even though it was through the U.S. Attorney's Office and not directly from the special counsel, the fact that this kind of action was taken is rattling people inside Trump world, people close to the president.
And, as I said, this one source close to the White House, even though the facts don't really match up with that, because the U.S. Attorney's Office directed this to take place, not exactly the special counsel, but in the words of this one source close to the White House, they believe Robert Mueller has gone rogue in this investigation. It's not about Russia meddling or Russian collusion anymore if they're talking about Stormy Daniels, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, we will get back to you.
I want to go to New York, where the FBI raided Michael Cohen's offices.
Our national correspondent, Athena Jones, is just outside where that all took place.
Athena, what happened where you are and is there any reaction coming in, at least so far, from Stormy Daniels' lawyer?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
There is. You're right. We are at one of the locations of one of the raids that took place this morning at the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, which is on the 23rd floor of Rockefeller Center behind me.
We spoke with a security guard who said the floor was inaccessible today. We can imagine why. Cohen had formed a strategic alliance with the law firm to develop business after he left the Trump Organization last year, so the firm doesn't represent President Trump, it doesn't represent Michael Cohen.
And the firm put out a statement saying they concluded their agreement with Cohen, this raid doesn't have anything to do with them, but they have been in touch with federal authorities.
But, as we've been talking about, Gloria Borger says among the many documents and the records that were collected as part of these raids were documents related to this Stormy Daniels case. This is, of course, the case of the porn star that Michael Cohen said he paid $130,000 to just weeks before the election.
So that is apparently part of the reason for this raid. Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, is practically gleeful on Twitter. He tweeted out an article, "The New York Times" article about this raid, and he followed up saying: "See below and review my comments and predictions last week on CNN and MSNBC. An enormous amount of misplaced faith has been placed on Michael Cohen's shoulders, in my opinion. If he does not hold up, this could end very, very badly for Donald J. Trump and others."
And then you have to article that he was referring folks to. So this is clearly a very big deal, and remember this is a case that is still ongoing. It's really just getting under way. Michael Avenatti has now asked twice. He refiled a request with the judge to question Michael Cohen and also President Trump under oath about this $130,000 payment, about the deal itself.
So this is really a big deal to see this office be raided like this today in the midst of all of this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And what is it like over there where you are, Athena? Big crowds are developing? What do you see?
JONES: Well, you wouldn't really know that anything has taken place walking by here, including inside.
We were told by that security guard that the 23rd floor where this law office is located was inaccessible, but otherwise it looks like a normal day, a normal afternoon. Sort of I guess the middle of rush hour here in New York, you can't tell anything happened up there this morning -- Wolf. BLITZER: Athena, stand by.
Jeffrey Toobin is with us.
Jeffrey, you're a former federal prosecutor. Give us your analysis of this extraordinary moment.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's important to emphasize how unusual it is to get a search warrant of a lawyer's office.
The Justice Department does do it on occasion, but they're very reluctant to give prosecutors permission to ask for -- to ask for search warrants of lawyers offices because there are so many complicated issues relating to the attorney-client privilege in obtaining documents that might violate that privilege.
So they only allow these searches in rare circumstances. So this makes this moment actually even more extraordinary. It's not just that someone so close to the president had his offices searched, but someone who is a lawyer, which means that the Justice Department felt very strongly that there was probable cause related to evidence of crimes in Michael Cohen's office and a magistrate judge agreed.
Now, the answer to what they are looking for is in a document called the affidavit in support of the search warrant, but that's under seal. This is a breaking investigation. So, unfortunately, we're left to speculate, I hope intelligently, about what they were actually looking for.
BLITZER: Gloria, you're working your sources too. You're getting some more information.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I think it's more of what we were saying before, that I have just been told from a source who is close to this case that this is overwhelmingly about Stormy Daniels, that there may have been some tertiary requests that amount to his business dealings, et cetera, in New York.
But I think it's about -- I think it's about the payments. I think it's largely -- including the payments to Stormy, but this source said largely about the payments to Stormy. And I do believe that it also covers communications that he may have had with the president.
BLITZER: That's a pretty sensitive issue. How do you see it, Laura?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There's a couple issues.
Number one, obviously, attorney-client privilege communications are sacrosanct, but there's a crime fraud exception which says that if it's something being used or in furtherance of a crime, that privilege could possibly go away. We don't know if that's the case here, but certainly his comments about going rogue and not knowing -- not including the president of the United States, his client, in a decision regarding a campaign contribution perhaps or a donation would be a problem.
But the larger issue to think about, Wolf, is that, remember, just 10 months ago or a little over 10 months ago, the sitting FDNY U.S. attorney was fired by Donald Trump. And last October, Jeff Sessions sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee and said the president that the United States had a hand in selecting or interviewing the successors.
Now, this person, Geoffrey, I believe, Berman, is his name, is somebody who was formerly with the Iran-Contra, worked under the independent counsel, and his same office is the one not only that includes of course Trump Tower, where that infamous Don Jr. with Natalia Veselnitskaya took place, but it also includes the Manafort investigation.
So, looking at overwhelmingly about the role the special counsel may have had in this or in that particular office, it's almost seems as though a real bite in the proverbial for the president of the United States, who would have been involved in the selection of this person.
But, still, we have to get over the hurdle of privileged communication, but there is quite an exception for it.
BLITZER: Anne Milgram, you're a former federal prosecutor as well.
"The Wall Street Journal" is now reporting that his home was raided by the FBI as well. He also had a room at the Loews Regency Hotel. That was raided. We know the office he had at this law firm was raided in New York.
We're told -- CNN has learned a dozen FBI agents were involved in these respective raids. What does that all say to you?
ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL: It says that they had reason to believe there was evidence in all of those places.
Remember, to get an affidavit signed by a federal judge, to execute a search warrant, the assistant U.S. attorney has to basically be able to say to the judge, we have probable cause to believe that a crime was committed by this individual, and we believe that evidence will be in each of these specific locations.
So it must be that Mr. Cohen has significant ties to all those offices, had computers potentially or documents stored. And there's reason to believe that there would be evidence in any one of those places.
BLITZER: Josh Campbell, how do you see it? Multiple raids, various locations, FBI agents all over the place. Clearly, they had search warrants.
CAMPBELL: It shows you the breadth of the investigation and it also shows that they're trying to do these searches simultaneously, which would make sense.
An investigation, if you have a target who has potentially evidence in different locations, you would want to hit all those targets at the same time or in very short order, because you don't want a defendant or someone that may know him destroying evidence. So, that is going to take place.
An FBI search, it is on the FBI's side. Time is on the FBI's side, so they are going to take as many agents as they think necessary in order to secure a location and in order to gather the evidence and the information they're looking for.
Let me just say the notion that we have heard a little bit earlier that because Mr. Cohen is cooperating that all of this is unnecessary I think should be addressed. My former colleagues there who were former prosecutors and attorneys know that in law enforcement we don't look at the world and say I trust this person because he's giving me reason to trust him.
We look at the individuals, especially defendants, and say, do I have reason to distrust this person? And with this particular individual when you look at the $130,000 payment and a lot of other things that we have seen reported, an investigator is going to look at him and say, this isn't someone is who is necessarily going to cooperate and hand us over exactly what we are going to want.
So we are going to go to a judge, an independent magistrate, and get the government to demand that those records be turned over and they do that via the search.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, I can only imagine how angry the president is when he see all of this is unfolding. We had been told earlier he was watching cable TV, watching all the breaking news. Is this the red line that potentially could result in his decision to fire Rod Rosenstein, the acting -- the deputy attorney general, or Robert Mueller, for that matter?
TOOBIN: I can only think of one thing that Robert Mueller could have done that would have enraged the president more and that would have been to search the home of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Michael Cohen is that close to the president. And when you think that a search warrant is a license to rummage in the private papers and e- mails and electronic records and cell phone records of the person who described himself and whose lawyer described himself as the president's fixer, think how vulnerable that must make the president feel.
Think how enraged that must make him feel. This has to be a moment where if he's considering firing Mueller, this will be something that prompts it.
BORGER: And we also know that the president invited Michael Cohen to Mar-a-Lago a week ago, they publicly had dinner. The president said publicly he is my attorney.
And if this is indeed largely related to the Stormy Daniels payoffs, we know that the bank, as Evan Perez was saying earlier, we know it was flagged. We know this kind of movement of money is very much flagged by banks, so you have to ask yourself a question. Why are they looking at this so closely?
Were there more? Were there other businesses Michael Cohen had that had some issues? Perhaps tax issues? How much of this is related to Trump? We believe that the warrant included some communications with the president. We don't know what that is. We know the president doesn't do e-mail, for example.
But I agree with Jeffrey. I think the president's got to be pretty upset about this.
BLITZER: The president of the United States is now commenting on these late-breaking developments.
Let's go to Jim Acosta over at the White House.
What is he saying, Jim?
ACOSTA: Wolf, we can tell you the White House press pool is in with the president right now. They may be coming out at this very moment, the president meeting with some military leaders here this evening.
And we can tell you that in just the last several minutes, he commented on all of this. He was asked about the Michael Cohen raid and the president saying -- quote -- "It's a disgraceful situation. It's an attack on our country," the president said, "what we all stand for."
He said, going on here: "I have this witch-hunt that is constantly going on." He referred to the special counsel, and we should caution, these are the initial quotes coming out of this pool spray. We are going to have to wait for the exact verbatim.
But this is what we're getting so far, but referring to the special counsel, the president said just moments ago according to the initial read from the White House pool that the special counsel is "the most conflicted group of people I have ever seen."
The president went on to criticize Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself in the Russia investigation. As you know, that is something that really gets under the president's skin. He repeatedly said that no one is looking at the other side, referring to Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
Wolf, this is obviously more to come on all of this. We going to be hearing just a few moments, when this tape comes out, this is what we call a tape turn. As soon as that tape is ready, Wolf, that video is going to come out and you are going to hear the president of the United States responding very emotionally, responding very viscerally to what is undoubtedly some very negative news in this investigation.
You can see reporters. They are coming out of this meeting with the president that was just happening a few moments ago, so you will be seeing that video shortly, but, undoubtedly, Wolf, this is a president who is deeply upset by these developments today, that the FBI would raid the offices and hotel room and so on of his personal attorney.
When the president of the United States is referring to something like this happening so last-minute as a disgrace, that is obviously going to make a lot of news. The other thing we should point out, in one of the other pool notes to come out of the room here with the one of the other reporters who was in the room, the president also appeared to say that he learned about all of this as we did.
And so it sounds as if this came as very much of a surprise to people at the White House. Again, this video should play out shortly and we are going to get a better read of exactly what the president said, as you can see these reporters filing into the press room right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we have just learned, Jim, that some of the communications that were seized by the FBI agents in the course of these raids in New York today involving Michael Cohen included some of Michael Cohen's communications with the president himself.
This will further anger the president. As you point out, the president just now calling all of this a disgraceful situation, a witch-hunt. He says, as you point out, it's an attack on our own country, what we stand for.
ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf.
And the president knows history all too well. He knows what happened during the Whitewater investigation of the late '90s, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, how that started off as an investigation into real estate property transactions involving the Clintons and ended up becoming a sex scandal for President Bill Clinton.
And obviously the president is mindful of what took place today, if the reports are accurate, that communications pertaining to the Stormy Daniels case were seized by the FBI. The president may be feeling like this is deja vu all over again.
And, again, referring to what the source close to the White House told me this evening, Wolf, the feeling is inside the inner circle of the president's advisers, people who work here in the White House, people who talk to him on a daily basis, if those people are telling the president, Mr. President, the time is now, Robert Mueller has stepped outside the bounds of this investigation, yes, they can say they handed it over to the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York and, yes, they can say that Robert Mueller did not go into the offices of Michael Cohen, his hotel room and so on.
But they obviously -- and you can hear this in the president's voice, in these words in a few moments when he play this out, he obviously feels that this is an attack on his presidency, an attack on himself.
And this is very ominous what you're hearing from the president right now when he's describing in the this kind of language, that this is an attack. He feels under attack right now, Wolf. BLITZER: And the context, the president is meeting with his military
leaders to discuss a U.S. reaction to what has happened in Syria, a poison gas attack on children and others suspected by the Syrian regime and the president at the top.
And we're going to get this tape momentarily. The president right at the top blasts what happened today in New York involving his attorney and longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, calling it a disgraceful situation. We are going to get that tape momentarily. Our viewers will hear it.
Let me go to Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, sounds to me like this is a potential turning point right now. You can see how angry the president is. He says it's an attack on our own country, what we all stand for.
TOOBIN: We heard that shortly after Robert Mueller was appointed, that the president wanted to fire on him. And Don McGahn, the White House counsel, threatened to quit if, in fact, the president fired Robert Mueller and the president backed off.
Certainly, this initial response from the president suggests that the firing of Robert Mueller is right again on the table. And the question is, will Don McGahn talk him out of it? Will General Kelly, the White House chief of staff, talk him out of it or will he simply go ahead and do it?
Because if you listen to those comments -- and we have only -- we haven't heard them firsthand, but we have heard them from Jim -- it sounds like a man who wants to fire Robert Mueller. I don't know what other interpretation you could make.
And if that happens, we're talking about a constitutional crisis. We're talking about impeachment hitting Congress. Even with a Republican Congress, there will be Republicans who want to impeach him, to say nothing of virtually every Democrat.
BLITZER: Yes. It sounds, Laura, like a president -- we're only a minute or so away from hearing the president's comments -- it sounds like the president not only would like to fire Robert Mueller, but Rod Rosenstein and maybe Jeff Sessions as well, the attorney general, for recusing himself from this whole Russia probe.
COATES: Well, the domino effect is in full force.
He's of course looking at Jeff Sessions as the impetus behind all of these different actions and of course Comey as well. But, remember, he can't simply just fire Robert Mueller without having any recourse with Congress. There has to be a due cause or a reason to do so.
But, remember, Robert Mueller has given himself, oddly enough, some political cover here, Wolf. He's referred to the Southern District of New York, not himself, trying to avoid the very ire of the president of the United States by saying it's not under my purview, in my wheelhouse at this time, I'm handing it over to somebody else who has prosecutorial prerogative in this jurisdiction. And that was somebody he himself chose after firing and cleaning house of the 96 U.S. attorneys, include Preet Bharara. So the president has in a way, unlike he's accepting, invited a lot of this happening, but there's much more of a disconnect of what Robert Mueller has done as part of the so-called witch-hunt and what the FDNY is doing right now.
BLITZER: The president speaking moments ago at an event, at a speaking with his national security team, his military leaders, talking about a possible U.S. response to what's been going on in Syria. Here's the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, a good man, and it's a disgraceful situation.
It's a total witch-hunt. I have been saying it for a long time. I have wanted to keep it down. We have given, I believe, over a million pages' worth of documents to the special counsel. They continue to just go forward.
And here we are talking about Syria. We're talking about a lot of serious things with the greatest fighting force ever. And I have this witch-hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now, and actually much more than that. You could say it was right after I won the nomination, it started.
And it's a disgrace. It's, frankly, a real disgrace. It's an attack on our country in a true sense. It's an attack on what we all stand for.
So, when I saw this and when I heard it, I heard it like you did, I said that is really now in a whole new level of unfairness. So, this has been going on.
I saw one of the reporters who is not necessarily a fan of mine, not necessarily very good to me. He said, in effect, that this is ridiculous. This is now getting ridiculous.
[18:30:18] They found no collusion whatsoever with Russia. The reason they found it is there was no collusion at all. No collusion.
This is the most biased group of people. These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I've ever seen. Democrats all -- or just about all, either Democrats or a couple of Republicans that worked for President Obama.
They're not looking at the other side. They're not looking at the Hillary Clinton, horrible things that she did and all of the crimes that were committed. They're not looking at all of the things that happened that everybody is very angry about, I can tell you, from the Republican side and I think even the independent side. They only keep looking at us.
So they find no collusion. And then they go from there, and they say, "Well, let's keep going," and they raid an office of a personal attorney early in the morning. And I think it's a disgrace. So we'll be talking about it more.
But this is the most conflicted group of people I've ever seen. The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself. Or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself, and we would have used a -- put a different attorney general in. So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country, but you'll figure that out.
All I can say is after looking for a long period of time, not even before the special counsel, because it really started just about from the time I won the nomination. And you look at what took place and what happened; and it's a disgrace. It's a disgrace.
I've been president now for what seems like a lengthy period of time. We've done a fantastic job. We've beaten ISIS. We have just about 100 percent of the caliphate or the land. Our economy is incredible. The stock market dropped a lot today, as soon as they heard the noise, this nonsense that is going on. It dropped a lot. It was up, way up and then it dropped quite a bit at the end. A lot.
But that we have to go through that, we've had that hanging over us now from the very, very beginning. And yet the other side, they don't even bother looking. And the other side is where there are crimes, and those crimes are obvious. Lies under oath all over the place. E- mails that are knocked out, that are acid washed and deleted, nobody's ever seen -- 33,000 e-mails are deleted after getting a subpoena for Congress. and nobody bothers looking at that. And many, many other things.
So I just think it's a disgrace that a thing like this can happen. With all of that being said, we are here to discuss Syria tonight. We're the greatest fighting force anywhere in the world. These gentlemen and ladies are incredible people, incredible talent. And we're making a decision as to what we do with respect to the horrible attack that was made near Damascus. And it will be met, and it will be met forcefully.
And when I will not say because I don't like talking about timing. But we are developing the greatest force that we've ever had. We've had $700 billion just approved, which was the reason I went along with that budget, because we had to fix our military. General Mattis would tell you that above anybody, we had to fix our military. And right now we're in a big process of doing that, $700 million and then $716 billion next year.
So we're going to make a decision tonight or very shortly thereafter, and you'll be hearing the decision. But we can't let atrocities like we all witnessed -- and you can see that and it's horrible. We can't let that happen in our world. We can't let that happen. Especially when we're able to, because of the power of the United States, because of the power of our country, we're able to stop it.
I want to thank Ambassador John Bolton for joining us. I think he's going to be a fantastic representative of our team. He's highly respected by everybody in this room and John I want to thank you very much, this is going to be a lot of work. Interesting day. He picked today as his first day so generals, I think he picked the right day. So generals, I think you picked the right day. But certainly, you're going to find it very exciting, because we are going to do a fantastic job and I appreciate you joining us.
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Thank you, it's an honor to be here.
TRUMP: Thank you.
Thank you all very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't you just fire Mueller?
TRUMP: Why don't I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it's a disgrace, what's going on. We'll see what happens. But I think it's really a sad situation when you look at what happened.
And many people have said, "You should fire him." Again, they found nothing, and in finding nothing that's a big statement. If you know the person who's in charge of the investigation, you know all about that, Deputy Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, he wrote the letter very critical of Comey. One of the things I said I fired Comey, well, I turned out to do the right thing, because you look at all of the things that he's done and the lies. And you look at what's gone on at the FBI with the insurance policy and all of the things that happened. Turned out I did the right thing.
But he signed, as you know, he also signed the FISA warrant. So Rod Rosenstein, who's in charge of this, signed a FISA warrant. And he also -- he also signed a letter that was essentially saying to fire James Comey, and he was right about that. He was absolutely right.
So we'll see what happens. I think it's disgraceful, and so does a lot of other people. This is a pure and simple witch-hunt.
Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, everyone, thank you all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we get more clarity on (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
TRUMP: We are getting clarity on that, who was responsible for the weapons attack. We are getting some very good clarity, actually. We have some pretty good answers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are your options?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, thank you.
TRUMP: We have a lot of options militarily, and we'll -- we'll be letting you know pretty soon. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone. Thank you all.
TRUMP: Probably after the fact.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
TRUMP: Thank you all very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.
BLITZER: A truly extraordinary moment right there, dare I say an extraordinary moment in American history, sitting with his vice president, his national security adviser, and all of the military brass, ostensibly to discuss what to do in Syria, the president went after the special counsel, Robert Mueller, went after the investigation.
He said the FBI broke into the offices. He used the words "broke into the offices" of Michael Cohen, his long-time fixer and attorney in New York. "A disgraceful situation." He repeatedly said this was a witch-hunt that was going on. He then went and said, "This is an attack on our country." He said he heard about it "like all of you did, a real disgrace." Repeated those words several times.
He accused Robert Mueller and his team of being the most biased group of people. Almost all of them, he said are Democrats. They found absolutely no collusion over the past year or so, he said; as a result they're looking into all of this. He went after his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who he said made a very, very terrible mistake by recusing himself.
He was asked at the end, "Are you going to fire Robert Mueller?" he didn't give a decisive answer.
Jeffrey Toobin, when I say this is a moment in American history we're watching, we can only anticipate what happens next.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: We can anticipate but we may not be right. I mean, it is a -- you know, to have the president of the United States attacking a prosecutor who is investigating his lawyer today, it's just something that's never happened before.
I mean, you know, so much of the Trump presidency, whether it's claiming falsely that millions of people voted fraudulently; whether it's claiming -- you know, insisting that his political enemies, as he did today again, should be criminally investigated, this is without precedent in modern American history.
But what we saw today is a president who, at least to my appearances, looks like he's itching to fire Robert Mueller. Now, whether someone will talk him out of it, I don't know. They've talked him out of it in the past, but I mean, he seemed very, very willing to do that.
And keep in mind, not only was this Robert Mueller who sought this search warrant. It was Jeffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York appointed very recently by Donald Trump. And it was magistrates and judges who said these search warrants were justified.
[18:40:16] So the idea that this is some witch-hunt, that this is Robert Mueller going off on his own without any supervision and a vendetta and a wish hunt is simply not true when you look at all the people who were involved in the decision today.
So you know, the president can say what -- can say what he says, but I think we have to have the obligation -- we have the obligation here to tell the truth about what's really going on.
BLITZER: Anne Milgram, you're the former attorney general of New Jersey, a former federal prosecutor. Have you ever seen anything like this before?
ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I have not seen anything like this. And I would just add to what Jeff just said, if we look at the facts here, the facts are that Robert Mueller has been empowered to conduct an investigation. As part of that he allegedly -- we have reason to believe he found evidence of criminal activity that he believed should be referred to another law enforcement agency, to the U.S. attorney's office.
And as Jeff just said, the decision of whether or not to have sought that search warrant was not made by Robert Mueller, and this is a really important point. That decision was made by the existing -- the current U.S. attorney who Donald Trump appointed, by the current FBI, the head of whom Donald Trump appointed. And so to say that this is about Robert Mueller could not be farther from the truth.
Mueller is engaged in this larger investigation, but you get criminal referrals all the time. When I was attorney general, we got referrals constantly. Sometimes we got them from citizens, sometimes from other law enforcement agencies. And then we had to decide did we believe there was sufficient evidence to move forward to seek search warrants.
And so this is really about the people who are sitting in those chairs at the U.S. attorney and at the FBI right now. So for Donald Trump to basically make this about Robert Mueller just doesn't square with the facts as we know them.
TOOBIN: And if I can just add, it's not just the prosecutors. It's not just Robert Mueller and Berman, the U.S. attorney in New York. It's the judges who approved the search warrant.
MILGRAM: True. Yes.
TOOBIN: They also were a check on the process. So the idea that this was just Robert Mueller is simply not true.
BLITZER: Everybody stand by. We have a lot to assess, but right now I want to bring in Congressman Will Hurd. He's a Republican member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much.
BLITZER: -- a former clandestine officer for the CIA.
What's your reaction to what we just heard from the president of the United States, Congressman?
REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Well, I think Bob Mueller should stay. He should be allowed to turn over every rock, pursue every lead.
And this was obviously -- you know, if you're investigating something and you find some potential criminal misconduct, you can refer that. But as all of the previous speakers and guests have highlighted, this was done by the U.S. attorney in New York City, and a judge there is the one that agreed that there was probable cause for -- for going into the lawyer's office and -- and home.
So it's been -- it's been a pretty wild day in New York City. You have this going on, and then you have the U.N. Security Council debating the issues in Syria. So New York is the seat of a lot of activity today.
BLITZER: I can only imagine how uncomfortable those military brass must have felt at that event there, hearing the president say this is a disgraceful situation; the FBI broke into the offices of Michael Cohen, his attorney. And then he said, congressman, "This is an attack on our country and what we all stand for." Are you uncomfortable with those comments?
COHEN: Well, I don't know what he was referring to so you would have to ask the president. I'm sure --
BLITZER: He was referring to what happened in New York today when they -- when they had a search warrant, and they went in, collected all these documents.
COHEN: Yes. Having a search warrant is definitely not breaking in somewhere. And the bottom line is, I'm sure my colleagues from the national security apparatus were uncomfortable, because they're there trying to talk about what an appropriate response to the chemical weapons attack that happened in Syria, and having a response is important; and to get sidetracked from this is unfortunate.
BLITZER: I would have thought the president would not have put the military brass in that awkward situation. If he wanted to make a statement, which of course, is his right, he could have called the pool at a separate event without putting the generals, the admirals in that kind of a situation, his national security team.
But when he says it's a witch-hunt, when he says it's a disgrace, a real disgrace, when he says, "These are the most conflicted group of ever people I have ever seen," referring to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team, "the most biased group of people," saying they're almost all Democrats when the attorney general is a Republican, the deputy attorney general is a Republican, Mueller is a Republican. Is the special counsel, in your opinion, Congressman, safe right now? [18:45:08]
REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: I think he is because I think Bob Mueller is going to continue to do his work and to pursue any lead and turn over every single rock. I think many of us in Congress have made it clear that Bob Mueller should be able to continue his investigation when it comes to what happened with the -- our elections in 2016. This is obviously a referral that was made to the U.S. attorney in New York City. So, I look at that as a separate issue from the work that Bob Mueller is doing on his investigation.
BLITZER: What would you do, Congressman, if he fired Robert Mueller and/or the deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein?
HURD: Well, I think everybody recognizes that this situation would get even crazier than if he were to actually fire one of those two individuals. So, I don't think Bob Mueller has done anything to warrant a firing and I think many of us in Congress on both sides of the aisle believe that is the case. That he should be allowed to continue his work and pursue leads.
BLITZER: I want to get your thoughts on the breaking news involving Syria. The president was meeting with his military brass to discuss what the U.S. should do in the aftermath of this poison gas attack.
Do you believe, Congressman, the president should seek authorization from Congress to use military force right now to respond?
HURD: I think a response and using military force is something that is within his capabilities. We do have troops in the region and this is something that should be coordinated with the rest of the international community. That's why the debates are happening right now at the U.N. Security Council, we should be working with the French, we should be working with the Israelis and we should also be putting pressure on the Russians because the fact that the Russian ambassador to the U.N. is trying to act as if this was something that was staged and that Russia had sent people in to investigate and didn't find any chemical weapons use, you know, this is an example of information warfare and disinformation that the Russian government continues to put out not only in Syria but in places like Moldova and Georgia and Ukraine and this kind of activity needs to stop.
If anybody wants to see what happened, just look at the White Helmets Twitter feed. This is -- this is a group of civilians that go into places in Syria to help rescue people when there's an attack and it's obvious that young kids were being poisoned and were suffocating in their own fluids because of a chemical attack. And this is something that Russia should pay for this as well because they're the ones that are helping to prop up Bashar al Assad and the Iranians are duplicitous in this, too, because of their support for that regime.
I think our response should be to make sure we severely degreed Bashar al Assad's ability to conduct chemical warfare attack throughout the country of Syria.
BLITZER: We always appreciate you joining us Congressman Will Hurd of Texas, thank you so much.
HURD: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's get back to what we heard from the president of the United States, the FBI raiding the offices of Michael Cohen, broke into their offices, the president says, a disgraceful situation, a witch-hunt, Phil Mudd, he says, the president of the United States, this is an attack on our country, what we all stand for.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It is an attack on our country and it is disgraceful and that's on the part of the president of the United States. This is high school civics, what we call the balance of forces in this country, legislative, judicial. A judge decided outside the Mueller investigation that it was appropriate for federal investigators to go into this office. That's a judge separate from the Mueller investigation.
If a mayor gets a speeding ticket from the police chief in a small town, he gets the same treatment the carpenter does in the small town. You don't get to put your finger on the scales of justice whether you're the mayor or the president. What the president just said, which is a disgrace, is that he believes he should be able to determine who is in investigated in this country. That's what dictators do. That's not what democracies do. That's a disgrace.
BLITZER: How do you see it, Matthew?
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NEW YORK TIMES: I -- look, there's a lot here. That statement from the oval office where Phil is right, he's going after the FBI, going after the entire apparatus of our law enforcement, saying, you know, it's a witch-hunt, they're coming to get me, they're breaking into my lawyer's office, I don't know where you start with that.
And we don't even know what this investigation is about. You know, they seized tax documents, business records, of course, the Stormy Daniels issue and, of course, the larger Russia probe THAT Mueller is running.
[18:50:04] There's a whole range of issues here. We have no idea. But we do know, the president is out there almost threatening to fire people over this.
BLITZER: He says, the president, this is the most biased group of people, almost all Democrats, referring to Robert Mueller's team, which isn't true.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, Wolf, the president threw in everything but the kitchen sink: It was almost like watching the Saturday Night Live version of what we saw while we were seeing it live in the first place. He threw in the Democrats, blaming the FBI for not investigating the, quote/unquote, "other side", blamed -- he called -- he called his own attorney general a mistake, he threw in ISIS, he threw in the stock market. It was an attempt as he does so often, to chum the waters and get off
the basic fact that Michael Cohen, someone who he described more than once in that press availability, as his attorney, not his friend as we're hearing the last couple of weeks, as a threat to the United States, rather than as Phil says, the duly prosecuted investigation of someone who's involved with the special prosecutor and with the New York attorney general.
BLITZER: The attorney general is a Republican, the deputy attorney general is a Republican, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, a Republican, Robert Mueller, a Republican.
Everybody, stand by, we're getting new information. We got to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[18:55:57] BLITZER: We get some more on the breaking news we're following, the FBI raid targeting the president's personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Our senior legal analyst, former U.S. attorney in New York, Preet Bharara, is joining us.
But, first, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is back with new reporting.
What are you learning now, Gloria?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we're learning that the search warrant was largely about Stormy Daniels. I was told that it has a number of requests, all of which are subsections of this big request, as it was described to me by a source with knowledge, that is, the payments to Stormy Daniels, communications with the president about this, and communications with the campaign about this. The warrant also includes some kind of smaller investment issues, that could be related or unrelated to the Stormy Daniels issue.
My source was not sure, but interestingly enough, Wolf, it does mention election laws. And we know that Michael Cohen took out this private loan and paid it on behalf of the president.
I also know from sources who are close to the president that they believe that they crossed a line. And you heard that in the president today, that this is his personal attorney. They believe they have been playing nice and cooperating with the special counsel and I think they now believe the special counsel has escalated this. So that's over.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a major moment right now.
Preet, you heard the president, he reacted angrily to the raid on Michael Cohen and his offices, saying this is a whole new level, the president said, of unfairness. He called it repeatedly a disgrace. He said it's an attack on our country in a true sense, his words. He said, an attack on what we all stand for. What's your reaction when you hear the president blast all of these
individuals along those lines?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's not different from what we've seen before. He doesn't like investigations that touch on him or his associates or his family, or his dealings in any way, shape or form. It's probably not a great idea for him to be, you know, blasting folks this way because it continues to lay the foundation that he doesn't like investigations and he might do things to stop them.
I think what's really important to note here, and maybe it's already been discussed, because I'm coming at the tail end of the show, but sort of everyone involved, if the reporting is true, particularly the part about this being approved by the southern district of New York, the attorney's office, which I used to lead, are all people who are Republican and all people who have basically hand-picked by Donald Trump.
I left office, my deputy took over, Joon Kim. And then he was removed specifically for Donald Trump to put in the United States attorney who is now acting there, Geoff Berman. He hand-picked him, there were reports that he personally interviewed him. And for folks who don't appreciate this, to do a search on an attorney's files, residence, office, that's a very sensitive thing that requires the personal approval of the United States attorney himself in consultation with main justice, folks in the criminal division in main justice, the acting criminal division head is a gentleman by the name of John Cronin (ph), who also used to work in my old office.
So if it's true that the southern district of New York has taken over this part of the investigation based on a referral from Bob Mueller's office, it's being done because people think it's very serious, people think it's totally warranted and people think there's evidence that's of significant enough nature that you're going to risk doing something sensitive like raiding a law office.
BLITZER: At the end of that Q&A, the president was answering a few reporter's questions. He was asked about the special counsel Robert Mueller. One reporter said, why don't you just fire Mueller? And he said, well, I think it's a disgrace what's going on, we'll see what happens.
Do you think he might fire him?
BHARARA: I thought all along he might fire him. But if this portion of the investigation has been, you know, sort of lopped off and now resides in the U.S. attorney's office for the southern district of New York, and I appreciate and continue to appreciate and respect the absolute independence of that office, that is not something you can shut down so easily, no matter who you remove from that office. They're on their third U.S. attorney in 14 months. You can put another in. I think the career professionals, if it's appropriate to do, will pursue the evidence to wherever it's supposed to.
BLITZER: We'll see where it goes next. Preet, thanks very much. That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.