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Comey Unleashes Character Assault on Trump in New Book; Reports: Tabloid Paid Trump Tower Doorman, Buried Trump Love Child Rumor; White House Prepping an Effort to Undermine Rosenstein; Report: Trump Allies Fear Feds Have Tapes of Cohen's Conversations; Interview with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D), Oregon. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 12, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in The SITUATION ROOM. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, breaking news. Comey unleashed. New excerpts from the fired FBI director slamming the president's character, accusing Trump of being fixated with disproving specific lewd details in the Russia dossier.

And more breaking news this hour, a CNN exclusive, inside a White House plan to discredit Rod Rosenstein.

Plus, a former Trump Tower doorman reportedly paid for his silence is now speaking out about rumors of Trump and an illegitimate child. Was the doorman another example of Team Trump paying hush money?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news. Untethered to truth, a skating depiction tonight of President Trump from the former FBI Director James Comey, excerpts from his new book just being released.

And in the book, Comey ripping into the president, writing that he is, quote, untethered to truth. Calling the way he leads, quote, ego driven and about personal loyalty.

According to "The Washington Post," Comey details his interactions with President Trump, writing that Trump pressured him about the investigation into Russian election interference. He also writes about his surprising firing. Of course Comey was fired in May of last year by the president, who actually sent his personal bodyguard to do it. Here's what Trump said at the time.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a showboat. He's a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that. I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had made the decision before they came in the room?

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. There's no good time to do it.


BURNETT: According to the Washington Post, Comey also writes the president was fixated on the Russia dossier and in particular, certain salacious details within it. It is a report of course that the president has railed against.


TRUMP: I think it's very sad what they've done with this fake dossier. It was made up. That dossier, which is totally fake and made up, it's like a novel. But that dossier is a disgrace and it should not have been allowed to be used.


BURNETT: Well, according to Comey, the president wanted him to prove one of the infamous allegations specifically in the dossier, the golden showers issue, that's how he referred to it, the president did, according to Comey, as made up. According to Comey, Trump brought that incident up about prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room four times, asking Comey to prove it false in part for Melania's sake.

Comey also writes that then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, now Trump's chief of staff, offered to quit out of a sense of disgust as to how Comey was fired. The Daily Beast reporting Kelly called Trump at the time "dishonorable." That's his word.

It was Comey's firing that set the stage for Bob Mueller to be appointed as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. And we've got a whole lot more details and quotes coming out from this book. We are learning as they do that the White House and the RNC have a plan to fight back. They have a Web site up, "Lyin' Comey." It's spelled the Trump way, that means without a "g", dot com. It is a far cry from the days of the 2016 campaign when Trump and Pence, do you remember how much they loved Comey, because he reopened the Hillary e-mail investigation. Unless you forgot, here they are.


TRUMP: It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made. Good job by the FBI. I have respect that the FBI has given it a second chance. There's little doubt that FBI Director Comey and the great special agents of the FBI will be able to collect more than enough evidence to garner indictments against Hillary Clinton.


BURNETT: Now he's lying Comey. And our Jeff Zeleny is live at the White House.

So Jeff, obviously, as this is all coming out and all of the details about what the president said, according to Jim Comey and his obsession with the women issues and the Moscow prostitutes, what are you hearing about Trump's response right now?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, there is a bit of a pins and needles sense here at the White House. I can tell you, one is White House staffers and other allies of the president are largely seeing this book as everyone else is, through news media reports. It's not actually coming out until next week. Some five days from now.

I am told by a couple of White House officials they have not seen it. The question is, when the president is going to respond? Not a matter of if, likely when. Could it be this evening? White House officials say they don't expect that. But of course that is entirely up to him.

The question here is the Republican National Committee is essentially taking over the battle plan for this. Their main plan is to discredit, try at least to discredit James Comey. Pointing out that it was Democrats who had many questions about him.

[19:05:00] They're using words from Democrats through digital advertising, again trying to undermine the former FBI director. They're even going to release, I'm told, a book, a cover later this evening, and sort of playing off a higher loyalty, which is the name of the memoir, saying a higher loyalty to me and myself and I.

But, Erin, the reality here is, there's nothing they can do to respond to the substance of this matter because James Comey was a part to these conversations, and the president was a part to these conversations. No one else was. So for all the spin, for all the, you know, things they're trying to do, the reality here is, what does the president do, and what does his response actually influence or impact the Mueller investigation?

We don't know the answer to that. But I can tell you when these started coming out about an hour, hour and a half ago, people here are wondering, gosh, what's the man upstairs here in the residence of the White House, what's he going to say about it? Erin, we don't know the answer to that.

BURNETT: Not yet. Of course we will. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny.

And let's go through a lot more of what we know is in this book because there are some very detailed quotes and I want to share them with all of you. A friend of Donald Trump for more than 15 years, Rob Astorino joins me, and Former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Juliette Kayyem is with us, Politics Editor for "The New York Times," Patrick Healy, and Josh Campbell, law enforcement analyst and former FBI supervisory special agent who served as special assistant to James Comey, so you know him well.

All right, let me start with you, Patrick, you're next to me. I would say there's no question the president is reading these excerpts, whether he's reading the Washington Post article or reading the lower thirds on our screens or going to see all these full screens that are about to come up on television. He's reading it.


BURNETT: But so far he has been silent.

HEALY: Right.

Nothing upsets him more, look, than disloyalty. And he made clear -- James Comey made it clear in the book at several points, that Donald Trump as a candidate, and then when he was coming into office, was basically looking for loyalty for all the people around him, and then basically asked James Comey, are you willing to be a made man as Comey put it in the book. Are you willing to kiss the ring, as Comey puts it in the book, and basically pledge loyalty to me?

Now, I remember covering Donald Trump throughout the campaign, personal loyalty from people like from Michael Cohen, Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, incredibly important to him. And now, you know, you're seeing these excerpts coming out and, you know, President Trump's silence. It's not going to be for long. I mean, he really has been loaded for bear for months now. He's going after James Comey, and as Jeff pointed out, he was the other party to these conversations. And, you know, he's -- I'm pretty certain he's going to have a 180-degree difference on it.

BURNETT: Right. Now of course Comey took extensive notes, Trump said he had tapes, now they said there are no tapes.

Rob, let me read the part where Trump is compared to a mob boss by Comey. All right, according to the Washington Post, Comey says it brought back, and I read you the except, "Flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The us-versus-them world view. The lying about all things large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth."

It's a pretty damning comparison.

ROB ASTORINO, FORMER COUNTY EXECUTIVE, WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NEW YORK: I think Comey has done more damage to the FBI, not I think since Hoover. And seriously because we've had Hillary Clinton and Democrats, Republicans, and Trump all going after Comey for I think very valid reasons. Here's a guy who injected himself into a political campaign. Here's a guy who leaked information to try to set up a special prosecutor --

BURNETT: But to be fair, they loved him when it was helping them.

ASTORINO: Yes, the both sides. And, you know -- but -- and I think a lot of damaging things to the FBI as an institution has happened under Comey. He has proven with this book, what he's saying in this book and writing. And a lot of these were just personal conversations between the president and he, which is uncorroborated. It's now he said, he said.

So I think Comey has done more to damage the FBI, who now unfortunately is becoming a political --

HEALY: What about how much Donald Trump loved Comey in the last 10 days the election?

ASTORINO: Forget that for a second. I'm talking about the --

BURNETT: You can't forget that. It's when he likes he used to say he likes him, and when he doesn't, he doesn't, Rob. How can you say that (INAUDIBLE)?

HEALY: He's trashing the intelligence services repeatedly but Comey was the one who held up.

ASTORINO: I think what's happening here is, people -- the FBI, and unfortunately the agents aren't the issue here, it was Comey, and we see now an investigation which is going all over, raiding -- there's three things that should be (INAUDIBLE), right. Something between a husband and wife, a priest and a confessor, and an attorney and a client. And that has been barged into a door looking for sex tapes now.

BURNETT: The last person is beating his wife or the person is committing crimes with their attorney, I can think of exceptions to all of those rules unfortunately, which is what is possibly on the table.

Juliette and Josh. Josh, Comey goes on to say to the point that Rob's taking issue with, quote, the forest fire that is the Trump presidency, what is happening now is not normal, it is not fake news, it is not OK. Forest fires are very significant word to use.

2Josh, you know him though. Does he think that there is concern, that he is going too far, that he is injecting too much his subjective view?

[19:10:01] JOSH CAMPBELL: I think he is. I mean, if you look at -- I wouldn't say between two things, first of all. I can mention I know Jim Comey well, I had the honor of serving for him. I was a career agent to serve then as his assistant.

There's two things we have to distinguish between -- and the first is -- or the first of the decisions that he made throughout the election period up until the election of Donald Trump, that's one set. The second thing we have to focus on is the character assassination that people who disagree with him are attempting to do. You can disagree with the decisions he made, that's fine. You know, you don't have to believe what he says. You can listen to, read what he says, and, you know, make up your own mind.

But this character assassination is the thing is so stunning. And I set here, I listen to Rob, I mean, this linguistic leap in logic here that we hear, you know, the hypocrisy goes around. One day people like him when, you know, their ox is not being gored by, you know, seemingly what the FBI is doing, the next day, you know, they hate him, he's a devil incarnate.

And if you saw that hypocrisy -- I was in the FBI throughout this period, and a major head spin because you saw all this going round and round. I think what we're seeing here is finally Jim Comey able to tell his side of the story. He is someone, you know, he's been ridiculed as sanctimonious, which, you know, I think a lot of people in Washington look at him and say, well, this is someone who is too tethered to the truth and ethics, he's not one of us, so we're going to go after him.

So, it's anathema to a lot of these people to hear someone that is so tethered to the truth, you know, take issue when he's called a liar. Where, you know, other people, they call liar and it just rolls off their back. So I think this is his time to really tell his story.

BURNETT: Juliette, there's -- so as he goes in, one thing that he talks about, and there's a lot in here, but, is Trump's obsession with the Russia dossier. All right, he says Trump raised the issue of Moscow prostitutes urinating in front of him at least four times. Look, it remains awkward to discuss this on the show but the president apparently referred to this as the golden shower issue and he brought it up at least four times. According to Comey, he writes, he "Strongly denied the allegations asking rhetorically, I assumed whether he seemed like a guy who needed the service of prostitutes. I'm a germophobe. There's no way I'd let people pee on each other around me. No way.

"The Post" goes on to, quote, they said that the president-elect argued it couldn't be true because he had not stayed overnight in Moscow to which Comey writes, quote, I decided not to tell him that the activity alleged did not seem to require either an overnight stay or even being in proximity to the participants. In fact, though, I didn't know for sure, I imagined the presidential suite of the Ritz- Carlton in Moscow was large enough for a germophobe to be at a safe distance from the activity.

That appears to be obviously the tongue in cheek. What do you make of that, Juliette? Not just of Trump's obsession according to Comey with this, but the way that Comey handles it?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: So I think this piece of the conversations between Trump and Comey is fascinating because for two reasons. One is, what is Trump not denying? Remember, the dossier is a document that most of it is about collusion and relationships between the Trump campaign and Trump affiliates with the Russians. That's about 98 percent of the dossier. The last two percent is this stuff, and, you know, the stuff that we focus on.

So it's interesting that Trump doesn't seem to deny that or even be concerned that there's allegations about that. And then the second thing is, you know, whether it's, you know, it's hard to talk about or whatever, but, you know, these tapes and what happened in the hotel room are somewhat irrelevant. The only thing that's relevant is whether the president is compromised. And that is the question --

BURNETT: In terms of blackmail, right?

KAYYEM: -- that the dossier seems to answer. Exactly, whatever happened in that room, honestly, who cares, right? And who wants to know. But, seriously, the question that the dossier or the questions that the dossier asks are, is the president of the United States compromised? And the question that Mueller is asking is, not only is he compromised, has the president obstructed justice to protect his family and himself? And it seems to me there's nothing we've seen so far out of Comey's book that actually undermines that theory, that the president's compromised and that he obstructed justice.

BURNETT: Rob, what do you make of his obsession with this?

ASTORINO: With the Russia?

BURNETT: The prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room and women in general. Comey refers to his knowledge of -- you know, he seemed to know every single detail of every allegation against him by every woman.

ASTORINO: I honestly have no idea. I think, you know, now we're talking about a doorman who heard one day about an extra marital affair and a child. I mean, this is front page now because it's fun to talk about. But, there's some serious issues here, and the point I was trying to make about Comey is, the FBI has, in many ways, the public has lost a lot of -- there's a lot of credibility that's been lost by the FBI.

BURNETT: And why is that?

ASTORINO: Because of everything going on, the way it was --

BURNETT: Or because of a certain person talking about the FBI?

ASTORINO: No. Because of Comey injecting himself into the race. I mean, a lot of this started from Hillary Clinton. I read her book, she absolutely blames the FBI, and specifically Comey, for her losing the election.


ASTORINO: And so, you have a situation now where it's red hot right now. Why would Comey drop all this stuff right now? Especially if he cared so much about his agency --

CAMPBELL: Because he's the victim of character assassination. That's why. When is a good time? When someone is saying you're a liar, when someone is questioning everything that you've done, when is a good time?

[19:15:00] Think about this, Rob. Think about this, Rob. How many people in the United States of America of 300-plus million people, have had an opinion formed about them without being able to tell their side of the story? We hear from the president all the time. We hear from other elected leaders all the time.

Jim Comey has been working on putting together a thoughtful piece to tell his story, and now is his time to do that. So now we're hearing people, look at today, the Republican National Committee, the quote unquote party of law enforcement, launching an all-out aggressive campaign on Jim Comey to further this character assassination. So, you tell me, when is a good time to tell your story when you're under attack?

ASTORINO: Let's not make him to be St. James here.

CAMPBELL: I don't think I said that but answer my question. When is a good time to tell your side of the story?

HEALY: I don't think it's about St. James, it's about here was James Comey who was FBI director, who had contemporaneous notes and diaries about direct conversations with the president of the United States --


HEALY: Well, he's turned them over to Robert Mueller. I don't know why someone lies in a diary about this. I mean, ultimately, Mueller will go to secondary sources and ask about whether Comey describes him in these meetings, as we know -- you know, he did to Andrew McCabe and others but, you know, we'll see what comes up. And it just seems as if, at least right now, Comey's doing what is a Washington tradition. He's putting the together his book, he's putting out his side of the story.

You know, President Trump has been attacking him for months and will probably keep continuing. I'm surprised actually that the RNC is willing to be, you know, sort of like -- I don't know what the word is --

BURNETT: You mean with "Lyin Comey"?


ASTORINO: Somebody's got to fight back because this is going to be one-sided.


KAYYEM: Can I just say something about, Patrick?

BURNETT: Go ahead, Juliette.

KAYYEM: I just want to say something about Patrick because it's important for people to remember. The FBI Director Comey thought he was going to be around for eight or nine more years, right? So the fact that -- so this idea that he kept notes because he knew he was going to get fired and try to undermine Trump is ridiculous. He actually believed, and I believe this because everyone knew that he was shocked when he got fired, that he was just keeping a written record of what was happening as FBI director. So those weren't created to undermine Trump. He thought he was going to be FBI director until you and all of us were long gone.

I mean, he has --


CAMPBELL: Can I say something, Erin, just along with what Juliette's saying that, you know, we are in a post-truth world right now. I mean, if you look at the things that we've heard people, you know, essentially lie about, let's go back to the Trump Tower meeting. I was there with the staff whenever that meeting took place with the intelligence leaders and the president-elect. And, you know, staff, we weren't allowed in the meeting but the principals met.

And then after the meeting, if you recall from the reporting, the intelligence officials left, and Comey did a one-on-one meeting with the president-elect in order to present him with information. And the reason that decision was made, it wasn't so he'd hold something over Trump's head, it was because the information being reported was so private he didn't want to embarrass the president-elect by sitting there in an audience full of people to go through these salacious details.

But if you'll recall, they couldn't even tell the truth about being briefed on the dossier. I think it was Reince Priebus that said, you know, I was there, I wasn't briefed. Not mentioning that there was a second meeting. So the things that they don't say is what's important.

The last thing too, and let me just say this if I can. Today, it was reported in the Daily Beast that when Comey was fired, on the day he was fired in Los Angeles, I was right there with him that he talked to John Kelly. And the reporting said that even John Kelly said, you know, I'm so sick of this, I'm going to resign about. And Comey told him, no, we need good people like you there.

And today in the reporting the White House said, no, that never happened. He never said he'll resign. I was there, I heard the conversation and, you know, was briefed on it afterwards in full. They can't even tell the truth about the little smallest things. So if you're Jim Comey, of course you're going to keep notes.

BURNETT: One quick question for you, Patrick on that point that Jim Comey says in the book, he said he didn't want to work for dishonorable people who would treat someone like me in such a manner, referring to Kelly and his offer to quit because of Comey being fired. What does that mean for Kelly now when the president reads this? When he says he doesn't believe anything Comey says but he's going to believe this?

HEALY: Sure. I mean, these words do stick with President Trump. I mean, there's been reporting about, you know, when Rex Tillerson supposedly called him a moron. You know, that really like stuck with him. So -- I mean, the degree to which honor -- look, honor is important to President Trump. He considers himself an honorable man. He sees everyone around him lying about him, and it's deeply frustrating him.

Dishonorable coming from John Kelly, the chief of staff, that's a very tough word. And I'm sure it's going to be something that's said.

BURNETT: All right, thank you all very much.

And, you're going to hear more of the story directly from Jim Comey. He will be on CNN talking with Jake one week from today on The Lead at 4:00 Eastern.

And next, a Trump Tower doorman speaking out amid reports he was paid to keep quiet about his claim that Trump fathered an illegitimate child. The payoff behind that next.

Plus, targeting Rod Rosenstein. The White House has a plan for Trump allies to undermine the man who's overseeing Bob Mueller and the whole Russia investigation.

And a very rough round one today for Mike Pompeo.


MIKE POMPEO, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Senator, I don't recall. I don't recall. He has never asked me to do anything that I considered remotely improper.


[19:20:02] BURNETT: That testimony today amid growing signs Pompeo lacks the support to be confirmed as the next secretary of state. A senator with a crucial vote is OUTFRONT tonight.


BURNETT: Breaking news. Reports of a new payoff to protect President Trump. According to "The New Yorker," a former Trump doorman was paid $30,000 by the publisher of the "National Enquirer" for his story about Trump fathering a child with an employee at Trump Tower in the late 1980s. The doorman, Dino Sajudin, telling CNN, quote, I can confirm that while working at Trump World Tower I was instructed not to criticize President Trump's former housekeeper due to a prior relationship she had with President Trump which produced a child.

Now his story, of course, has not been proven, and it never ran. And according to "The New Yorker," it was David Pecker, the publisher of the "National Enquirer" and a long-time friend and Trump ally who killed the story. The report also claims the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was also in close contact with executives at the publisher during this time.

Brynn Gingras is OUTFRONT. And Brynn, the Trump Organization and AMI are firmly pushing back on this report but you're talking to former workers at AMI who have a different story?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erin. Basically these former workers are saying, this happened that hush money was paid to Sajudin and the story was killed. That's according to the New Yorker.

[19:25:01] Now, Radar Online, a tabloid also owned by AMI, published a story outlining the deal with Sajudin. It included a memo, an e-mail, and a report of a lie detector test which they say Sajudin took of December 2015 after he made his claims. Now the tabloid says he passed that test. AMI, which also owns the National Enquirer of course says the story was buried because it wasn't true. As you've already pointed out, remember, the head of AMI is David Pecker, well-known friend of Trump's. And the publisher had this to say in a statement today, quote, AMI categorically denies that Donald Trump or Michael Cohen had anything to do with its decision not to pursue a story about a, quote, love child, that it determined was not credible.

It's important no note as you did as well, Erin, that CNN or any other media outlet at this point has not proved Sajudin's claims. But, of course, it certainly speaks to a pattern here. This is a concept of catching and killing stories to help Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. You know, we're hearing it now with Sajudin, we heard it with Stormy Daniels, and we heard it with former Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal. She also says she was paid by AMI for her story about an affair with Trump but it was never published.

Going back to Sajudin, the White House hasn't commented about this but the Trump Organization did had something to say, basically calling the former doorman a liar, saying, quote, this, a simple internet search shows that Mr. Sajudin is alleged to have a long history of peddling false and malicious stories for his own benefit.


BURNETT: All right, Brynn, thank you very much.

So as Brynn pointed out, the pattern, we now know of three payments made to prevent unflattering stories about the president from going public. One to Stormy Daniels, one to the former playmate Karen McDougal, and now to a Trump doorman. Those last two both reportedly paid by the "National Enquirer" publisher AMI, the company whose boss is a friend and protector of Trump's.

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Obama Wiretapped Trump!" "Hillary Corrupt!" "Racist Criminal!" And lurid attacks on politicians, the National Enquirer hits hard, fast. But when it comes to Donald Trump the boxing gloves come off and the kid gloves go on.

"Trump Catches Russia's White House Spy!" Trump Must Build The Wall!" "Trump Takes Charge!"

Why such a difference? The man in charge of that tabloid, David Pecker, is a friend of Donald Trump, and Trump is a fan of Pecker's slash and burn tactics for taking down politicians and celebrities alike.

TRUMP: I've always said why didn't the National Enquirer get the Pulitzer Prize for Edwards and O.J. Simpson and all these things?

FOREMAN (voice-over): The mutually beneficial relationship between the two New Yorkers started in the 1990s over their shared interest in the power and value of headlines. Ever since, they've grown closer and more protective of each other's empires.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It was mostly a one-way protection. I mean, this was -- it was really a kind of hero worship on the part of Pecker. I mean, Pecker really looked up to Donald Trump. Still does. And he put his very important magazines to work for Donald Trump's interests.

FOREMAN (voice-over): For example, when the National Enquirer printed a ridiculously false claim about the Kennedy assassination and the father of Ted Cruz, Trump's rival for the Republican nomination, the billionaire jumped on board.

TRUMP: On the cover of the National Enquirer, there was a picture of him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast.

FOREMAN (voice-over): In the general election, Pecker's paper raged at Hillary Clinton attacking her health, her credibility, while giving Trump the tabloid's first and only political endorsement. And most importantly --

KAREN MCDOUGAL, HAD AN ALLEGED AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: I know it's wrong, like I'm really sorry for that, I know it's the wrong thing to do.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Several people have now said Pecker's company bought the right to stories potentially damaging to Trump just to keep them out of the public eye, a practice called "catch and kill." And at one point, MSNBC hosts claimed the White House threatened to launch a hit piece on them in the Enquirer.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: They said, if you call the president up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story.


FOREMAN: Pecker's company, American Media Incorporated, denies any wrongdoing, dismissing such accusations as laughable. But the political implications are spurring serious questions about this relationship between the politician and the publisher.


BURNETT: All right, Tom, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT now, Stu Zakim, former SVP of communications for American Media Inc. which of course own the National Enquirer. Obviously, you were not there when this doorman incident story happened. But first, Donald Trump and David Pecker, they do go way back. What do you know about their relationship?

STU ZAKIM, FORMER SVP OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS, AMERICAN MEDIA INC.: Well, they were long-time friends. They were happening in New York City in the '90s when magazines ruled the city. So Mr. Pecker was a logical person for Donald Trump to try and become friends with and they hit it off well and that relationship has continued all these years.

BURNETT: And, so now we see that. Now of course -- now, the question about the doorman.

So, does paying a doorman $30,000 for the rights to his story about Donald Trump fathering an illegitimate child, which is the story that the doorman was telling, doing that with the purpose of, you know, paying the guy $30,000 to essentially kill the story and not run it, does that sound like something David Pecker would do as part of this relationship or protecting of Trump?

ZAKIM: Well, the "Enquirer" has been known to pay sources and they've always admitted that and been quite proud of it. So, the fact that they paid this doorman -- once again, I know nothing about this story.


ZAKIM: But from standard operating procedure type of perspective, paying the doorman for -- as a source is not unusual. Now, everybody who is a source in an AMI publication is vetted twice internally before they go ahead with the story. So, you'd have to imagine if they paid the guy $30,000 or whatever money was paid to anybody bringing the story to them, there must be some validity, once they pass through that process.

BURNETT: Because that's the question I have. You know, "The New Yorker" quotes a source saying the "National Enquirer" who worked there saying, quote, we didn't pay thousands for non-stories, let alone ten of thousands." This, of course, was $30,000. I mean, would they have paid that for a story that they really did think was completely untrue?

ZAKIM: Well, you can only draw conclusions by what happened and didn't happen.

BURNETT: Right. So, you're saying they would go through a process and they would use that to make a decision, it's worth buying or not worth buying it?

ZAKIM: Right, right.

BURNETT: They would have had to have thought there was validity to it?

ZAKIM: At that point, for sure.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Stu. I appreciate your time. As I said, Stu Zakim is former SVP of corporate communications for American Media.

Next, is the point man for the Russia investigation on ice? New details of a White House effort to undermine the credibility of Rod Rosenstein. And tonight, new information about the FBI's interest in the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Now, we're learning it goes beyond just making secret payments to women.


[19:35:20] BURNETT: Breaking news: The White House is preparing a plan to undermine Rod Rosenstein's credibility. Sources familiar with the plan tell CNN that the president's allies will try to portray the deputy attorney general as too conflicted to oversee the Russia investigation.

Pamela Brown is OUTFRONT live at the White House.

And, Pamela, you're breaking this story. What more are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have learned, Erin, that the White House has been preparing talking points to undermine the deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a source telling my colleague Sara Murray that the plan is for allies of President Trump to cast Rosenstein as someone who is simply too conflicted to continue to oversee the Mueller investigation.

All of this coming about, of course, in the wake of the raid on the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, that has angered the president as well as those around him. And we're already seeing some of Trump's allies on the airwaves, calling on the president to fire Rod Rosenstein. Now, the White House preparing these talking points. And what they want the allies to highlight is Rod Rosenstein's role in the firing of James Comey. Of course, as you'll recall, he was the one that prepared that memo that was used as justification to fire Comey. So, they want to say they want to make the point that he is a material witness, and therefore should not be overseeing the probe.

They also want allies to cast the two as friends, the two as in Rosenstein and Comey, which makes you have to question how that could be if Rosenstein was the one to write that memo justifying Comey's firing. But that is what they want allies to do.

Now, all of this happening as the president weighs firing him and that Rosenstein himself was here at the White House today, meeting face-to- face with the president. Now an official says it was preplanned, it was just official business that was discussed. But you have to wonder if other things were brought up, considering all that has been going on this week -- Erin.

BURNETT: Absolutely. All right. Pamela, thank you very much.

And, of course, you know, with Pamela's reporting, you know, you say, gosh, exactly as she did, if they want conflict of interest based on the memo he wrote that supported their point of view, it's a hard argument to make. But they are trying.

And OUTFRONT now, Renato Mariotti, former prosecutor, and, Michael Zeldin, Bob Mueller's special assistant at Department of Justice. Both join me.

Michael, what do you make of these attacks on Rosenstein, this now coordinated effort to put out the message he's conflicted, he's got to go? MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think it's a valid

conflict. The argument goes first, he's the day-to-day supervisor of Mueller and he can't be a supervisor and a witness. But, of course, the regulations specifically say, he is not the day-to-day supervisor of Mueller, nobody in the Justice Department is the day-to-day supervisor of Mueller, he's more of a consultant to Mueller when Mueller needs to consult.

Second, OLC, the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, has a policy which says, you cannot indict a sitting president. So, there is no trial here that could take place while President Trump is president.

Second -- third, rather, I guess -- most people say that you cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for firing somebody he has a constitutional right to fire, that is, Comey.

So if there's no indictment, he can't be charged with obstruction for firing somebody, has a constitutional right to fire, in what case is Rosenstein a potential witness? There is no case there, because the only case that there would be would be an impeachment hearing, which got nothing to do with Mueller.

So, I think it's made up. They're trying to interfere with the investigation by finding a reason to get rid of Rosenstein, decapitate it, and that's not good.

BURNETT: No, it's not. But, Renato, this is what they're doing, and they're doing it to where they think the audience is going to be friendly to the argument. Here are the president's allies on Fox News.


JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It is also very clear that Rod Rosenstein is so incompetent, compromised, and conflicted, that he can no longer serve as the deputy attorney general.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Rod Rosenstein has not done his job, he has not supervised Mueller. This whole thing is an absurdity.


BURNETT: Incompetent, compromised, conflicted, absurd, it goes on and on, Renato. But look, here's the thing, for the first time we have a poll today, a majority of Republican voters, 54 percent, now believe Mueller is not conducting a fair investigation. That is up 10 percentage points over the past six months according to Quinnipiac.

That's pretty stunning. That would seem like the president's attacks on Mueller, on Rosenstein, are working.

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: They certainly appear to be. And it's amazing. Newt Gingrich is criticizing Bob Mueller saying he's not doing a good job supervising Rosenstein, how the heck does he know? [19:40:00] Unless he's violating the law and learning secret grand

jury information, he has no idea what Rod Rosenstein and Bob Mueller are doing.

Look, I don't think anyone watching this telecast believes, or anyone who's been following this really believes that Donald Trump is so deeply concerned about conflicts of interest that he's considering doing something about Rosenstein, because he has such a high version of ethics. I mean, the reality is he was angry at Attorney General Sessions for recusing himself, which he was bound to do ethically, when he had an actual conflict.

So, look, there is something to the fact that Rosenstein would be a witness as to the firing of Comey, certainly he was involved in that -- of course, at the request of the president. But that's not what's really going on here. This is a very -- as you point out, an effective way to try to undermine an ongoing investigation.

BURNETT: Right. Thank you both very much. Of course, if that really was an issue, he could have gotten rid of Rosenstein ten months ago. But now -- only wants to do it now. Thank you.

And next, breaking news on the FBI raid of the president's personal lawyer. "The Washington Post" reporting at this moment, just breaking, that Trump allies are worried the feds may have taped recordings, taped recordings between Michael Cohen, the president's lawyer, and Trump associates.

Plus, Mike Pompeo on the hot seat. How his transformation from the CIA to the State Department could actually be in jeopardy tonight.


[19:45:39] BURNETT: Breaking news: new details of the raid on President Trump's long-time attorney Michael Cohen. "The Washington Post" with this report tonight, that Michael Cohen taped conversations with associates. And now, some of those people are worried that those recordings are in the hands of federal investigators, that this could have been seized during the raid on Monday.

OUTFRONT now, Tom Hamburger, reporter with "The Washington Post," who broke the story.

And, Tom, this is pretty incredible. You're talking about Cohen who's worked with Trump for a dozen years. And now, you're learning may have taped conversations.

TOM HAMBURGER, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, Michael Cohen was a very loyal guy, is and was a very loyal guy, loyal to Donald Trump. And Donald Trump used to indicate and did, in fact, publicly recently, that he would sometimes tape conversations. We don't know that he actually did. But he would talk about it and use it as a sort of tactic of leverage, as leverage.

And Michael Cohen, from those that we talked to, suggested -- suggests that he did much the same thing. And in some cases actually did record conversations and at least in a couple of instances replayed them for a small audience.

BURNETT: I mean, yes, you have a story in here where during the presidential race, Cohen we know technically wasn't involved, although of course he was advocating for Trump regularly, had a reputation among campaign staff as someone to avoid because he did tape conversations and he played a conversation back at one point to somebody.

So, do you have any knowledge, Tom, as to who might have been taped and what sorts of things might be on these recordings?

HAMBURGER: You know, first of all, I want to make clear, we know only that Michael Cohen was widely known to have taped, and there is one person who was familiar with him who told us he stored them in digital fashion on his computers. The FBI in this raid early this week seized Michael Cohen's computers. And so, if there were recordings on there, these digital recordings would be available to investigators after going through a couple of legal hoops that are necessarily before prosecutors can get their hands on these tapes.

But it was very disconcerting to several people we talked to in Trump world because they'd heard the rumors, promoted sometimes by Michael Cohen himself that he occasionally recorded calls or recorded visits with people in his office.

BURNETT: All right. Tom, thank you very much.


BURNETT: Tom Hamburger with his breaking news.

Harry Sandick joins me now, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

All right. So, if there are tapes of anybody talking to Michael Cohen, how big is this?

HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: It's fantastic evidence for prosecutors. There's no form of evidence that prosecutors like more than audiotapes. You can play them to a jury, they're easy to understand, they're not dependant on a cooperating witness, do you believe this person? Everyone can hear the tapes and can make up their own mind.

BURNETT: And, of course, in the state of New York, only one person who's on the conversation has to know or agree to it being taped, in this case, Michael Cohen, it's Michael Cohen, so it's perfectly legal.

But the question would be why was he taping things and could there be things on here that could be incriminating to himself or to the president?

SANDICK: Yes, there are lots of reasons why somebody might tape conversations, but none of them are really necessarily very good. It sounds as if he might have taped conversations with business partners, people who he was doing business with. In order to try to record the conversations and use them as leverage in some fashion. It's possible that he recorded the conversations in order to then play them back for other people so that he could explain the context of some conversations that he's had.

And unless he's talking to his own clients, which a lawyer really should not be recording --

BURNETT: I.e., Donald Trump, in this case.

SANDICK: That's right, that's right. If he's not recording -- if he's not recording his clients, these tapes have nothing to do with attorney-client privilege. They should be readily admissible because they're with people who he doesn't represent.

BURNETT: So, I mean, again, we don't know who was exactly recorded or for what reason. But if there were recordings, maybe some of them were -- or him trying to maybe be able to play back to his boss, to Donald Trump, look at how tough I was with this person, look what I did, look how I handled it. That then opens a door, if that is what some of these may be.

SANDICK: It absolutely opens a door. And we know from some of Michael Cohen's written communications that he has a tendency sometimes to write colorfully when dealing with certain journalists or people who he's upset with.

[19:50:01] And it may well be that he was engaged in some sort of stagecraft in these calls so that he could play it back to a client, maybe the president, and say, look how tough I've been, look what I've done to these people, and now, those tapes could be used as evidence against him or others in a criminal case.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Harry. As you say, you know, a huge development as you say, fantastic for prosecutors --

SANDICK: Very good.

BURNETT: Thank you.

SANDICK: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, Trump's national security team meeting tonight about Syria. Are those missile strikes about to happen?


BURNETT: Tonight, President Trump's pick for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in jeopardy. Senators grilling Pompeo, who had a nonsensical answer when asked about a March 2017 meeting between himself, the president and the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. The headline in "The Washington Post" about that meeting read: Top intelligence officials told Trump -- told associates Trump asked him if he could intervene with Comey on FBI/Russia probe.

So, Pompeo was asked about it today, and here's the exchange.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: What did President Trump say to you and Director Coats in that meeting?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Senator, I'm not going to talk about the conversations the president and I had. I think -- I think it's -- in this setting appropriate for a president to have an opportunity to talk with his senior leaders.

[19:55:10] I'll do that throughout the day. But I will tell this, the article's suggestion that he asked me to do anything that was improper is false.

MENENDEZ: Did he ask you to do anything as it relates to that investigation?

POMPEO: Senator, I don't recall. I don't recall what he asked me that day precisely, but I have to tell you, I'm with the president an awful lot. He's never asked me to do anything that I considered remotely improper.


BURNETT: So, Pompeo says he doesn't remember what happened in the meeting, but he does remember, because it wasn't improper.

OUTFRONT now, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which, of course, held today's meeting. So, you are there, Senator.

There were a lot of questions in the hearing about Pompeo's relationship with Trump, whether it was too close, whether he was willing to do the president's bidding when it comes to Russia. You just heard that exchange there.

What did you make of it?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Well, certainly, I understand that he didn't want to disclose a personal conversation, probably, there was no expectation that he would disclose it. But what really the hearing came down to was whether Mike Pompeo, teaming up with John Bolton, is a war cabinet that is going to not exercise appropriate restraint and diplomacy in international affairs.

BURNETT: So, obviously we have a big question tonight on Syria, but I want to ask you about a couple other things that came up here. When Mike Pompeo, who, of course, is CIA director currently, he was asked whether he spoken to Special Counsel Bob Mueller, and he said yes, he had. He had been interviewed and he had answered Mueller's questions. He didn't reveal what they discussed.

Did you have any concern that he wouldn't reveal it? Were you surprised that he'd been interviewed?

MERKLEY: I was surprised he'd been interviewed, but I know those interviews are wide sweeping. I mean, it wasn't a sort of a shocking surprise, but the -- you heard him -- if you played a tape of all the times he said, "I don't remember," "I can't share that with you", "I don't want to talk about it," it comprised a good share of the hearing.

BURNETT: So you were disappointed?

MERKLEY: Well, I was really concerned about this question of how he viewed the ability of the president to take us into war without the constraints imposed by the Constitution. The Constitution says that that power rests with Congress. It says that only way he can act without Congress --


MERKLEY: -- is if there's an emergency in which the United States or our forces or assets are attacked. And he said explicitly today that he felt the president can act even beyond that power -- in any case. And that's extremely scary.

BURNETT: That was scary to you. What about what's happening in Syria right now? You know, the national security meeting just wrapped up, of course, on what they're going to do. The president yesterday, you know, said to Russia, you know, basically, get ready, the missiles are coming. Today, he said, you know, never said, maybe very soon, maybe not at all.

Are strikes imminent? And do you think he has the authority to call for them?

MERKLEY: I think strikes are probably imminent. Many of us have asked Mike Pompeo about a Syria strategy, what are the basic principles.

And the fact is we are in complete chaos. A couple weeks ago, the president said we have troops in Syria, in pursuit of ISIS, but I want to pull them out. Now, he's talking about announcing to Russia in advance, I'm going to strike Syria.

Today, it made clearer by Mike Pompeo, he doesn't think there's any constraint on the degree that the president can act without permission of Congress, but there's no coherent plan on how you get to the point of trying to restore civil governance in that nation.

BURNETT: Does Pompeo have the votes in your committee right now? We know Rand Paul is a no. Tim Kaine and Jeanne Shaheen on the Democrats have issues with him. Is Pompeo going to get a yes to move ahead as secretary of state?

MERKLEY: It is still in question whether he can get the votes.

BURNETT: Still in question. I mean, that's pretty significant.

And finally before we go --

MERKLEY: Yes. BURNETT: -- I don't know if you've seen, Senator, these reports

coming out about the book, Jim Comey's book, what he says about the president. Do you have any reaction to what he is saying the president said, you know, referring to him as wanting a mob boss-like loyalty, asking Jim Comey about the lurid allegations in the Russian dossier about prostitutes in Moscow up to four times?

MERKLEY: Yes, I think it certainly reinforces the story that we've been hearing and seeing time and time again. When he was talking about -- when Comey was talking about the Trump in the context of being like a mob boss, he said it comes down to this issue of loyalty, and that that's how he conducts himself. And we saw that cabinet meeting that I think symbolized that, where he went around to each cabinet member and each one had to genuflect to a president, which was just a sorry sight to see in a democracy.

BURNETT: All right. Senator Merkley, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

MERKLEY: Thank you.

BURNETT: And thanks to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" with Anderson Cooper starts right now.