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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah; Interview With Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley; White House Attacks James Comey; Trump's Personal Attorney Under Criminal Investigation. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 13, 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 HOST: Paying off a Playmate. A new bombshell tonight about Michael Cohen's efforts to silence another Playboy model. This one had an affair with a Republican donor. How many hush money deals has Cohen arranged?
Flailing. Sources tell CNN that the president is angry and unmanageable as he rants about James Comey's new book, trading very personal attacks with his fired FBI director. Comey now suggesting that one of the most salacious allegations against Mr. Trump might be true.
And pardon shot. The president wipes the slate clean for a former Bush administration official convicted of perjury and obstruction. Did Mr. Trump pardon Scooter Libby to send a clear message about Robert Mueller's investigation
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
The president's lawyer Michael Cohen in serious legal peril tonight, as federal prosecutors reveal he's under criminal investigation that's been going on for months. We're told Mr. Trump has called Mr. Cohen to check in on his, even as the president leads a new campaign to trash James Comey.
The fired FBI director now talking publicly about his tell-all book, blasting the president in very personal terms. This hour, I will get reaction from a top White House spokesman and from a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Quigley.
And our correspondents and analysts, they are all standing by.
First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez. He's here, ad our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. He's outside the federal courthouse in New York.
Shimon, a hearing on Michael Cohen on that case just ended a little while ago.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
Ended a little while ago with really no resolution. The judge putting here pressure on Michael Cohen's attorneys to provide information about some of his clients. So far through this day, he has not been able to do so.
The judge has grown frustrated through the day and is now giving him until Monday to come up with that list of clients. More importantly here today, we learned some of the measures that the prosecutors here and the FBI went through in this investigation. We learned there's a grand jury that's been impaneled here in New York that's listening to evidence.
They also explained why they needed to do the search warrant and in court papers they filed and made public late today, including that there was concern that Michael Cohen or that documents that they were looking for were going to be deleted or destroyed.
And so therefore they needed to get these documents in the way that they did. Searching his home, searching his office and searching that hotel room. They also revealed they went and entering his safe deposit boxes. They took electronic devices. And then, Wolf, we also learned they had Michael Cohen under covert surveillance.
They had access covertly into his e-mails, where they say they learned that really he wasn't doing any legal work outside of really for Donald Trump. That is an issue in this case. That's why the prosecutors want information about what clients he claims could potentially be affected by privilege, which would essentially prevent -- he wants to prevent the government from looking at the evidence that they obtained in those search warrants, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting.
Evan, "The New York Times" just published this story. Let me read to you the first sentence. "President Trump's advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation in New York,' that's the case that Shimon was just referring to, 'posing a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the special counsel's investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump."
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think that's plainly clear, Wolf.
I think we've been sort of talking a little bit about this, because the fact now that the president has been talking the Russia investigation, Russian collusion investigation. But we have always thought there was a very low likelihood they would actually be able to close the loop on some of that information.
Some of that is highly classified information they've been able to collect. And there's stuff that happened as a result of the disclosure of that investigation that suddenly the FBI was not able to keep an eye on anymore.
The greater danger since the disclosure that the Southern District of New York had its own investigation going on, we have always thought this is the investigation that has much bigger consequences, much bigger potential consequences, not only for Michael Cohen, but also for the president himself, the reason being you have a greater number of criminal laws that could apply here.
In the Russia investigation, the Mueller investigation, he has a much narrower scope, right, to look into whether or not there was actually any illegal coordination between the Trump campaign and Russians.
In New York, what they're looking at, according to the papers that have been filed, is they're looking at bank fraud, tax fraud. These are things that Mueller could not focus on.
If I was the White House, I absolutely would be more concerned about the New York investigation. Keep in mind, if he fires Robert Mueller, maybe he can try to shut down that investigation. He cannot shut down the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. That's a completely different district.
And the complaints that he has about the special counsel do not apply in Manhattan. I think I would agree with what "The New York Times" is reporting, certainly. And certainly if you look at the papers today filed in the Cohen case, it's clear that Cohen is not the only one here under the microscope of these investigators.
BLITZER: Because if you go through the documents the U.S. attorney general in New York submitted to the court, they have blacked out, they have redacted certain sections that could have some very damaging information for the president of the United States.
PEREZ: That's right.
But also the reference in the court documents is essentially that they believe Michael Cohen only has one client. And that is the president of the United States. And one of the things that we know, according to the search warrant that they served on him, they say that one of the things they are investigating is this $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels which was done to protect and to shield information from coming out into the public before the 2016 election.
Again, this is to protect Donald Trump. And, ironically, The reason why this might be even worse for Michael Cohen and perhaps the president is that the president, in that video that we have now shown a few times, told reporters on Air Force One last week, I believe, that he had not spoken to Michael Cohen about this, that he knew nothing about it.
And what that means is this is not protected by attorney-client privilege. As Shimon is just describing, the judge essentially is poking holes in that very idea.
BLITZER: How much trouble is Michael Cohen in right now?
PEREZ: A great deal of trouble.
I think the fact is he -- at least from what we can tell, the judge is very skeptical that any of this can be protected by attorney-client privilege. And so that means this is an incredible amount of information they have that, electronics, years of bank records and so on, things he's clearly very worried about.
BLITZER: Shimon, we're also learning from our own Gloria Borger that the president spoke on the phone with Cohen today. Does that further complicate this case?
PROKUPECZ: Look, Wolf, it certainly can.
Remember, you have a grand jury that's been impaneled to hear evidence regarding a criminal investigation on Michael Cohen. Now the president is calling him to check on him.
Certainly, that's going to raise some concern. I will tell you being in court here today, it seemed his attorneys were not really communicating with him. There seemed to be some miscommunication. The judge was growing frustrated. She was not just understanding why the attorneys came in today for this emergency relief, this motion that they have filed late last night asking prosecutors not to have access to what they call privileged information, but yet when they came in here to court today, they were not prepared to argue their position.
They couldn't provide key information. And then she sent them back during the recess to go and talk to Michael Cohen and then they came back and they still didn't have that information. Now basically the judge has ordered Michael Cohen to appear here in court on Monday.
And then I should note that Michael Avenatti, who is Stormy Daniels' attorney, he was here as well today. He's telling us that he may bring Stormy Daniels here. You may have Michael Cohen here on court on Monday, Michael Avenatti and then Stormy Daniels all here together probably for the first time on Monday afternoon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will see what happens then. Guys, stick around. I know you're working your sources.
Also tonight, sources tell CNN that President Trump is angrier than ever to the point where he's flailing around and becoming even more unmanageable.
Mr. Trump's fury growing as his fired FBI director is out selling his provocative new tell-all book.
Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the president is leading an all-out Republican effort to discredit Comey.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The White House is escalating its attacks on James Comey in response
to the allegations in the former FBI director's new book. But the president is facing plenty of new questions of his own after he pardoned a key official from the George W. Bush administration, an action that Democrats believe is a signal to witnesses cooperating in the Russia investigation.
ACOSTA (voice-over): At the White House, a steady series of insults for former FBI Director James Comey.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The American people see right through the blatant lies of a self-admitted leaker. This is nothing more than a poorly executed P.R. stunt by Comey to desperately rehabilitate his tattered reputation and enrich his own bank account by peddling a book that belongs in the bargain bin of the fiction section.
Instead of being remembered as a dedicated servant in the pursuit of justice, like so many of his other colleagues at the FBI, Comey will be forever known as a disgraced partisan hack that broke his sacred trust with the president of the United States.
ACOSTA: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders channeled a furious President Trump, who is said to be outraged over the flow of damaging anecdotes in Comey's new book.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.
ACOSTA: The president fired back, tweeting: "James Comey is a proven leaker and liar. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did until he was in fact fired. He's weak and untruthful slimeball. It was my great honor to fire James Comey."
(on camera): But you probably have seen this tweet as -- it was a tweet that you posted before the election in 2016: "When you are attacking FBI agents because you are under criminal investigation, you are losing."
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Yes.
ACOSTA: What do you make of that now? Isn't that...
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The rank-and-file FBI are some of the greatest people in this country. We have repeated that time and time again, and certainly have the full support of this administration.
I think that we have been very clear, though, how we feel about some of the leadership at the FBI, particularly James Comey. ACOSTA (voice-over): The president is making other waves, announcing
a full pardon for Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was convicted of perjury in the investigation into the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose husband, Joe Wilson, tried to sound the alarm about the faulty case used by the George W. Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA AGENT: My personal sense is that I didn't think any contempt for Donald Trump could go lower, but he surprises me each and every day.
ACOSTA: It's an odd move for the president, given his past comments about the Bush administration during the campaign.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You call it whatever you want. I want to tell you, they lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.
ACOSTA: Libby's attorney Victoria Toensing and her husband, Joe diGenova, recently considered joining the president's legal team in the Russia investigation; diGenova is also a fierce critic of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, slamming Comey.
JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: James Comey is a dirty cop. He's a completely dirty cop.
ACOSTA: And Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia probe.
DIGENOVA: Rod Rosenstein is so incompetent, compromised and conflicted that he can no longer serve as the deputy attorney general, and Jeff Sessions now has an obligation to the president of the United States to fire Rod Rosenstein.
ACOSTA: Democrats are accusing the president of using the Libby pardon to send a signal to witnesses cooperating in the Mueller probe.
REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: I think it does telegraph what he will probably do with Flynn and Manafort and he will be using his pardon power, like he did with Arpaio. He doesn't use it in most discreet way. He does it for political purposes and he wants to cover his people.
ACOSTA: The White House insisted there's no connection.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: One thing has nothing to do with the other.
ACOSTA: Now, given all the White House attacks on James Comey for being a liar and a leaker, it's worth noting that Scooter Libby, who was pardoned by the president today, was convicted of lying to federal investigators in a case that involved the leaking of the identity of a CIA operative.
That's a level of apparent hypocrisy that many Americans will find hard to pardon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.
These are really, really significant moments that are unfolding right now. We're having trouble keeping up with all of these developments. But we're going to get more information right now.
Let's talk a little bit about all of these developments, including "The New York Times"' report that the president's advisers now consider the corruption investigation in New York City a greater threat to the president than the Robert Mueller probe himself.
"The New York Times" reporting very significantly in the headline, "Isolated and unnerved, Trump sees New York inquiry as a greater threat than Mueller."
The White House deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, is joining us right now.
Raj, thanks so much for joining us.
RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon, Wolf. And thanks for having me on.
BLITZER: Is the president more concerned about the investigation of his personal lawyer, what's going on in New York City right now involving Michael Cohen, than the Robert Mueller probe?
SHAH: Well, as the president has said and many of us have said, with respect to the special counsel, there was no collusion with Russia.
And there's going to be no findings of wrongdoing. And he has expressed very serious concern about the direction of the investigation. It was supposed to be about Russia collusion. Now it's moving into totally different territory.
I'm not going to discuss this "New York Times" report or anything else regarding it. Michael Cohen's legal problems and issues are his own. But the president has been accused of, has not done anything wrong.
BLITZER: But the president did phone Michael Cohen today. CNN is now reporting that. Other news organizations are as well. Why?
SHAH: Well, CNN and other news organizations have been right or wrong about these things in the past. We're not going to read out any types of phone conversations between the president and his attorney on this or any other matter.
BLITZER: Are you saying that our information is wrong when we say that the president and Michael Cohen had a phone conversation today?
SHAH: What I'm saying is, I'm not going to get into it.
BLITZER: Is Michael Cohen still the president's personal attorney?
As you know they have been very close for a decade.
SHAH: Yes, last I have heard, he continues to be. That's correct.
BLITZER: Even though he's under criminal investigation?
SHAH: Yes, and there's been no finding of wrongdoing against Michael Cohen either. He can answer -- he and his attorney can answer for the issues up in New York.
But the president has maintained that there's been no collusion with Russia, there's no wrongdoing. And the special counsel won't find any wrongdoing.
BLITZER: Because in this document that the U.S. attorney in New York submitted to the federal court today, they said that a federal judge has found -- quote -- "probable cause to believe that the premises and devices searched contained evidence, fruits and instrumentalities of conduct for which Cohen is under criminal investigation."
So, I just want to be precise, Raj. The president still regards Michael Cohen as his personal attorney, even though the U.S. attorney in New York says he's under criminal investigation?
SHAH: Look, that's correct. Again, Michael Cohen and his attorney can answer for these issues up in New York. I'm here to speak on behalf of the president and the White House.
BLITZER: Well, you are speaking on behalf of the president and the White House.
Does the White House know what might be in the documents, the electronic equipment seized from Michael Cohen's home, his office?
SHAH: Wolf, let me stop you here.
SHAH: This is a matter up in New York that Michael Cohen and his attorney can address. I'm not here to address it. I don't know the nature of whatever the prosecutors up in New York are looking into.
I'm here to talk on behalf of the White House. We have a lot of issues, a lot of big issues con fronting this country. We have got potential action with regard to Syria. We have got all sorts of issues with the economy, with trade. I'm happy to address any of those, but I cannot comment on what Michael Cohen is addressing right now.
BLITZER: Well, let just me get your point on this. Does the president regard both of these criminal inquiries, what's
potentially going on in the Robert Mueller investigation, what is going on with the U.S. attorney in New York, does he see them as separate or combined?
SHAH: Well, obviously, one has led to another. And the president has viewed the entire approach as a witch-hunt. He said that there was no collusion. And there's been no evidence whatsoever to substantiate allegations of collusion.
And we think that, after a year of investigating this matter, the special counsel has found nothing and he will continue to find nothing.
BLITZER: Well, we don't know what he's found or hasn't found because he isn't telling us yet.
We're just waiting for the special counsel to wind up his investigation.
As you know, Raj, "The New York Times" is reporting tonight that prosecutors are demanding all communication with the Trump campaign, including Corey Lewandowski and Hope Hicks.
Is the president -- and you speak for the president -- concerned about that?
SHAH: Again, we have been cooperating with the special counsel. We have been producing, as the president said, over a million pages of documents. We have been entirely cooperative.
Let me add that is different from the approach that President Clinton took toward the special counsel in the 1990s. He was confrontational. He objected to witnesses. This president has been cooperating.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise. You're cooperating with the special counsel, Robert Mueller. You say that.
Are you also cooperating with the U.S. attorney in New York in this separate criminal probe of Michael Cohen?
SHAH: And, as I said, Michael Cohen and his attorney can address those matters.
BLITZER: But is the White House cooperating, is the White House cooperating with the U.S. attorney in New York?
SHAH: Well, Wolf, I'm not aware of the U.S. attorney in New York asking the White House for anything. So, what I will just -- what I will simply state is that matters
pertained to Michael Cohen and his -- Michael Cohen -- can be answered by him and his attorney.
BLITZER: But is the president concerned about this broadening of the investigation?
SHAH: You're asking the same question 30 different ways.
What I can tell you is that Michael Cohen and his attorney can respond to questions about Michael Cohen. I'm here to talk about the other issues that everybody of the 300 million Americans that don't work for CNN actually care about.
BLITZER: I ask these questions, Raj. And I know you're getting frustrated. I totally understand.
SHAH: You're asking the same question over and over again. Please ask me a different question.
BLITZER: No, no, no, but -- well, why did the president have a lawyer in the court today, in the federal court in New York? Why was the president represented by a new attorney? She showed up in court today as well speaking on behalf of the president.
SHAH: Well, I don't know all the details concerning that matter. Obviously, the president wants to maintain attorney-client privilege with his attorney and some documents or materials that may have been seized by the authorities in New York.
But, again, Michael Cohen and his attorney can respond to questions about Michael Cohen and the matter going on in New York.
BLITZER: Yes, the only reason I'm asking is because the president did have an attorney in New York in that courtroom, that federal courtroom today.
Let's get to another sensitive issue. I want to get your sense.
The president today issued a full pardon of Scooter Libby. He was the chief of staff to then Vice President Dick Cheney. Was that designed to send a message out there, maybe to Michael Cohen, maybe to Paul Manafort, maybe to others?
SHAH: No, not at all.
That pardon was based on the merits, based on the fact that the conviction of Scooter Libby was based on testimony that the individual, "The New York Times" reporter Judith Miller, has since recanted.
She said that she was misled by investigators, that her testimony no longer holds. And, in fact, you wouldn't have to ask me or even the president. It's the D.C. court which has reinstated Scooter Libby's law license. It's him being reinstated, having his right to vote reinstated. This is really a sad chapter in Scooter Libby's life.
He was wrongfully convicted, and the president set it right with today's action.
BLITZER: There's no doubt the president has the full authority to issue a pardon like this, and there's a debate whether or not he should.
But the reason I'm asking is the timing. Why now? This has been going on for years involving Scooter Libby. As you know, former George W. Bush, he offered him clemency, didn't make him serve any time, but he refused to give him a full pardon.
So, the question is, why did the president decide to do this right now at this sensitive moment?
SHAH: Well, I guess you could find any moment and call it sensitive.
The president, on the advice of many individuals who have been spoken to him about this matter -- and this has been a matter that has been widely discussed in the legal community. Scooter Libby was convicted based on the testimony of an individual who has since recanted that testimony.
And there was a unanimous vote by the D.C. court to reinstate his law license. So, on the merits, the president made the decision that Scooter Libby's conviction shouldn't stand and he deserved a full pardon.
BLITZER: The president, as you know, he recently met at the White House with U.S. attorney Joe diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, who represents, by the way, Scooter Libby.
Did they ask the president for the pardon?
SHAH: I don't know what came up in that meeting. I wasn't a part of it.
What I will say, though, is the pardon of Scooter Libby should be judged on the merits. Again, when the lead witness recants their testimony, when many individuals, legal scholars both on the right and the left that understand this case, step out and speak on behalf of Scooter Libby -- this is an individual who prior to that had never been accused of doing anything wrong, since has never been accused of doing anything wrong.
He was wrongfully convicted, and the president made the right step today.
BLITZER: Yes, the only reason I'm asking is not so much on the merits, but the timing, which is potentially significant.
Let's get to another issue while I have you, Raj.
BLITZER: What does the president hope to accomplish by calling the fired FBI Director James Comey a slimeball?
SHAH: Well, I think the president's tweets and the comments earlier today by the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, were pretty clear.
James Comey has a proven record of lying. He has a proven record of leaking. He made statements to Congress which are contradicted by comments in his book. He has a credibility problem. And the president was making that clear.
There are very few things in Washington these days that figures on the left and agree on. You have got everybody from Maxine Waters to Mark Meadows, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to the president who think that James Comey doesn't have credibility, that he was the wrong man to lead the FBI.
And the president, as he said in his tweets, was happy and honored to have fired him.
BLITZER: Let me ask you about Syria right now, because everyone is bracing for some sort of U.S. military action. Did the president narrow his options on Syria by tweeting that missiles will be coming?
SHAH: Well, I won't get ahead of any announcements that may or may not occur with respect to Syria.
The president has had ongoing discussions with his national security team. He's also been discussing this with a number of American allies both in the region and in Europe. We're preparing for a potential action and response.
As the president said, he's going to hold the Syrian government accountable. He's going to hold the Russians and the Iranians who are propping up this regime responsible. Remember, Russia in 2013 guaranteed that Syria's chemical weapons would be removed from the country and guaranteed that they would not be used.
We have seen them cross what was previously President Obama's red line in the past. This president acted last year and he's prepared to hold Syria as well as Russia and Iran accountable.
BLITZER: You understand fully, Raj, that the potential dangers if you go not just after Bashar al-Assad's regime, his airfields, but if Russians or Iranians or others are killed in the process.
SHAH: Of course the president is aware, and listening to his national security team to ensure that any response is carried out effectively, it's carried out efficiently and preserves American national security interests.
Again, Syria and Assad's actions cannot stand in the civilized world. The use of chemical weapons on civilian populations will never be tolerated by this president. And he's preparing, planning with both our allies and his national security team for further action.
BLITZER: I suspect it will be sooner, rather than later. I know you don't want to tell us when it is going to happen.
But we appreciate your joining us. Raj Shah from the White House, thank you very much.
SHAH: Thanks for having me on, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, I will get a Democrat's response to all the breaking news, including the criminal investigation now under way involving the president's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
House Intelligence member Mike Quigley is standing by live. There you see him. We will discuss with him right after a break.
BLITZER: There's other news that's breaking tonight. "The New York Times" reports that President Trump's advisors now see the criminal investigation of his lawyer, Michael Cohen, as a greater threat than Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
[18:31:20] This as the White House is echoing President Trump's new rant against James Comey, accusing the fired director of being a leaker and a liar. For his part, Comey is offering a blistering on- camera account of his exchanges with the president going beyond what he reveals in his new tell-all book. In a few minutes I'll speak with "New Yorker" contributing writer Ronan Farrow. He's standing by.
But first, let's bring in CNN political correspondent Sara Murray.
Sara, Comey is now speaking out about some of the most salacious parts of that so-called dossier.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And in Comey's book he offers substantive criticism of the president, as well as some pettier pot shots, some swipes at the president's appearance. He is clearly prepared to tell all at a time when the White House is trying to downplay him as a disgruntled ex-employee.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It was almost an out-of-body experience for me. I was floating above myself, looking down, saying, "You're sitting here briefing the incoming president of the United States about prostitutes in Moscow."
MURRAY (voice-over): Ousted FBI Director James Comey assailing President Donald Trump's leadership style as he describes a newly- elected world leader, more preoccupied with the salacious allegations against him than a hostile foreign government meddling in America's election.
In describing President-elect Trump's briefing in January 2017 by intelligence chiefs on Russia's election interference, Comey said this was Trump's top concern.
COMEY: President-elect Trump's first question was to confirm that it had no impact on the election. And then the conversation, to my surprise, moved into a P.R. conversation. No one to my recollection asked, "So what's coming next from the Russians? How might we stop it?"
MURRAY: Comey's comments comes as he sells his forthcoming book, "A Higher Loyalty," which casts Trump as a narcissist who runs the White House like a mafia boss. "This president is unethical and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego-driven and about personal loyalty," Comey writes.
The president soured long ago on the FBI director he fired last May.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No collusion. No obstruction. He's a leaker.
MURRAY: Now Comey is rehashing the fit-for-a-tabloid moment when he briefed Trump on the now-infamous dossier.
COMEY: I started telling him about the allegation was that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013 during a visit for the Miss Universe pageant and that the Russians had filmed the episode. And he interrupted very defensively and started talking about, "Do I look like a guy who needs hookers?"
MURRAY: Trump's insistence that he doesn't need to pay for women particularly striking in the face of the latest allegations of infidelity he's facing.
KAREN MCDOUGAL, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: After we had been intimate, he tried to pay me. And I actually did not know how to take that.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did he actually try to hand you money?
MCDOUGAL: He did. He did, I said -- I mean, I just had this look of -- I don't know just -- I don't even know how to describe it. The look on my face must have been so sad, because I had never been offered money like that before, No. 1. And No. 2, I thought, "Does he think that I'm in this for money or why I'm here tonight, or is this a normal thing?" I didn't know.
MURRAY: By Comey's telling Trump couldn't get over the unsubstantiated claim that he invited Russian prostitutes to his Moscow suite and watched them pee on one another.
COMEY: He says he may want me to investigate to prove that it didn't happen. And then he says something that distracted me. Because he said, you know, "If there's even a 1 percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible." And I remember thinking, "How could your wife think there's a 1
percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?"
[18:35:07] I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.
MURRAY: Now James Comey has emerged as a divisive figure among Republicans, as well as Democrats. And Wolf, this is just the beginning of his publicity tour.
BLITZER: Yes. Get ready. It's going to be intense.
Thanks very much, Sara Murray, for that report.
Joining us now, Congressman Mike Quigley. He's a Democrat. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us. I want to get to Comey's book in a moment. But first, do you believe the president is more vulnerable in the Cohen investigation in New York than in the Robert Mueller Russia probe?
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: You know, it's hard to tell. I'm just getting bits and pieces of information on that.
I heard someone say earlier that one directed the other or the president thinks that the Comey investigation instigated the New York investigation. There's no way in the world he could possibly know that. Obviously, there's possibilities that information comes to Mr. Mueller's attention and probable cause of criminal activities, and he refers it to the proper jurisdiction. I think that speaks to the integrity of what he's doing, not an attack on it, as I think the president intends.
BLITZER: Because you know, the president spoke on the phone with Michael Cohen today. What do you think he hoped to get out of that phone call?
QUIGLEY: I did criminal defense ten years. I can only surmise he's getting worried. If you follow his tweets and his language that he's used in the last few weeks as this investigation continues to move forward, he seems frenetic. So if I had to guess he's panicked and wants to come home and find out exactly what's taking place with his attorney.
BLITZER: "The New York Times" is reporting that prosecutors have now demanded all communication with the Trump campaign, including Corey Lewandowski and Hope Hicks. What does that tell you?
QUIGLEY: It tells me that we never should have shut down the House investigation. A lot has happened just since then. Look, Watergate took over a year to get to the bottom of. Here we are
dealing with what I think is an obstructive president and a House Select Committee on Intelligence, on the Republican side, that has obstructed this. But they're still getting the job done. They're moving from the periphery of the investigation toward the center.
And obviously, it has the president, in no other words, freaked out. So as we move forward, Mueller's doing the right thing. He's asking for more information.
I do think these things are all tied in a sense. Mr. Cohen testified before the House Select Committee on Intelligence, and since then we've acquired information that tells us he ought to come back. Or at least provide greater and more information as it relates to the Trump Tower project that was proposed in Moscow. And information about his travel records. As is true with a lot of the witnesses that have come forward.
BLITZER: Let me you about the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. If the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is investigating the Comey firing -- and Rosenstein actually played a role in that firing -- is it appropriate for Mueller to report to Rosenstein?
QUIGLEY: Well, it does get conflicted. But this is the house that they created.
I have full faith that Mr. Mueller will figure out a way to do this appropriately. But they created this scenario. I certainly don't want to give them the opportunity to strike down what the investigation is doing and how it's moving forward because of a situation that they created.
BLITZER: Congressman Mike Quigley, thanks so much for joining us.
QUIGLEY: Any time. Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Let's get some more on all the breaking news, including the revelation of a criminal investigation against the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen and new revelations that Cohen facilitated a payment deal involving another "Playboy" Playmate.
Joining us now, "New Yorker" contributing writer Ronan Farrow, who has written about some of these alleged pay-offs.
Thanks so much, Ronan, for joining us.
RONAN FARROW, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": Good to be here.
BLITZER: Just today we learned about another payment arranged by Michael Cohen for a top Republican donor, who had an affair with a "Playboy" Playmate. Does this connect back to President Trump?
FARROW: Well, it shows a pattern of behavior, Wolf. And this is what legal experts told us in many of our stories. That many of the law enforcement officials involved in the various federal probes that are now ongoing would be looking at. That those adjacent to the president had a pattern that has been documented of paying off people to silence stories.
And even if you just look at the examples that directly involve stories that would have been unflattering to the president. That does not include this new revelation today, which as you said, was about a major Republican donor. But just the president's stories that were silenced or there was an effort to silence them by his associates, that would be, now, three examples.
[18:40:11] You know, you have this direct transaction, allegedly, between Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels. You have the AMI transactions. This is the parent company of "The National Enquirer." And reported on two of those, Karen McDougal. And also, just the other day we also reported this news story about a former doorman at the Trump organization who had a wild claim about the president and also received a pay-out for a story that was never run.
So legal experts said that this is germane to several ongoing investigations and, indeed, many outlets have now reported that one of the aims of the FBI raids was to look at communications between Cohen and "The National Inquirer."
BLITZER: Yes. That's clearly one of the -- one of the points that came to the fore.
According to the government's court filing, and I'm sure you have gone through it by now, Ronan. Michael Cohen also told a witness that President Trump is his only client. What do you make of that?
FARROW: Well, it's relevant, because part of the rational of these investigators, when they talked about the basis for the way that this raid was handled -- and it was handled by a search warrant -- was that they said this was not material protected by attorney-client privilege, because essentially, this was not an individual acting as an attorney in the traditional sense. This was a business associate, in many respects.
You know, look, I'm an attorney, but I'm not doing legal commentary on this. I'm reporting out the facts. I'll leave it to others to decide who prevails in that debate. But it's apparent, in talking to sources close to the president and close to "The National Enquirer," that, you know, this was an individual who was a go-between for business transactions, not just the traditional work of an attorney.
BLITZER: Here's something very intriguing and interesting. The lawyer Keith Davidson represented this newest Playmate in this deal. As you know, he also handled the original hush agreement between Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen. He handled the agreement between Karen McDougal and American Media Inc., the parent company of "The National Enquirer."
How do you assess his role in all of this?
FARROW: Multiple sources close to AMI, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," said to us that this was a routine relationship that they had. That he was involved in many individuals' cases that ultimately became stories that "The National Enquirer" caught and killed, to use the term that has now become common in describing this activity.
BLITZER: A former editor at American Media Inc. says its chief, David Pecker, bought so many stories to protect Donald Trump that he, the editor, called it, quote, "favor -- a favor bank." What did Pecker get out of all of this?
FARROW: So I'll be very careful to stick to what we've reported in "The New Yorker." And I won't speculate on how many more there may or may not be. But certainly, we now know that there were at least two transactions on behalf of the president or to the benefit of the president.
Now, AMI denies that that was the purpose. But the multiple AMI sources we spoke to seemed adamant about that. With the aim of silencing stories that could have been unflattering to the president.
BLITZER: I know you're doing a lot of reporting on this, Ronan. Are there more to come out, more payments, you think?
FARROW: Again, I won't speculate on how many more there are to come, but I will say that the pattern we've established now, Wolf, is certainly sufficient that legal experts tell me this has serious ramifications, potentially, for election law, potentially for criminal law and, certainly, as to what the AMI side of this gets out of the transaction. What we report in this latest story is that, you know, sources told us this was a deepening, very close relationship to a man who is now president of the United States, ad that that certainly may have resulted in introductions to individuals who could have helped AMI.
BLITZER: We'll continue our conversations. Ronan, thanks so much for joining us.
FARROW: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the breaking news right after this.
[18:48:48] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: "The New York Times" reporting deep concern inside the White House over newly revealed criminal investigation of President Trump's long time personal lawyer, confidant, friend, Michael Cohen.
Let's get some more from our reporters and our analysts.
And, David Axelrod, what do you make of this other "New York Times" report suggesting that the president potentially faces a greater threat from the Cohen probe in New York than the Robert Mueller probe here in Washington? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Listen, Wolf, if you have a guy who is identified as your fixer and he is under criminal investigation and they've seized all his records, that is cause for concern. Donald Trump has spent his career pushing the edges of norms and rules and laws and institutions and, Michael Cohen holds the key to some of that, at least for the last 12 years or so.
This has to be a source of enormous concern and when you add to it the fact that this happened in New York and could be fodder for state prosecutors there, which is beyond the reach of a presidential pardon, these are big issues.
[18:50:03] BLITZER: You know, Kaitlan, "The New York Times" also reporting that prosecutors have now demanded all communication between the Trump campaign, including communication involving Corey Lewandowski, at one point was the campaign manager, Hope Hicks, was the president's long time aide. How worrying is this for the president?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's a very key line in this story. It's a little bit further down, but certainly very important because, of course, we know this is a president who doesn't use e-mail. He's not big on that. He's on the phone all the time talking with people. That's how he communicates.
But if they are looking into this communication that Michael Cohen had with people like Hope Hicks and Corey Lewandowski, people who knew a lot when in their roles either in the campaign or in administration, Hope Hicks left recently, then that takes a whole other turn. It could be in those e-mails when they're talking about what the president said to Cohen and he's relaying it to Hope Hicks or vice versa, so it certainly raises questions there.
But also, we've kind of seen the White House try to distance themselves from Cohen recently. Of course, Bradshaw says he is still the president's attorney, but today, Sarah Sanders, earlier this week, she all wouldn't say as much.
This is someone very close to the president. They have very candid conversations together, I'm told, and Michael Cohen actually has been at the White House with some regularity. I've seen him there many times, once when he was having lunch with the First Lady Melania Trump.
So, he certainly knows a lot, certainly very close to the president, and it would be very interesting to see what is in those communications.
BLITZER: You know, Joey Jackson is with us, our legal analyst.
Gloria Borger reporting that the president had a phone conversation today with Michael Cohen. How legally speaking could that be a problematic?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it certainly could be to the extent there could be some type of wiretapping going on. But, you know, just backing up from that, I just really wonder, obviously, we know Michael Cohen is being investigated for more than campaign finance, right? You look at business dealings, you look at money laundering, you'll get tax evasion.
But I'm wondering -- let's talk Scooter Libby for a minute, right? How much was the Scooter Libby pardon, today of all days, and we can argue the merits of it. You know, we have a judicial process.
He was convicted, got a 30-month sentence. George Bush commutes his sentence. Doesn't pardon him.
How much of that is a message to Michael Cohen, you know a whole lot, but you know what I can do in the event you stay the course and the event you stay with me, guess what, you get a pardon, too. Because if he talks, that is Michael Cohen, who knows what could be revealed and if the end game is to squeeze Cohen, who knows so much about Trump, boy, that could bring down the presidency.
Final word, this whole hearing that's unveiling in front Kimba Wood, I should say I appeared before Kimba Wood before. She's a good judge.
BLITZER: She's the judge -- the federal judge in New York.
JACKSON: The federal judge in New York. She is a, you know, she is very thorough. She's receptive. She's fair. She's open to argument.
So, it's not a surprise to me that the hearing is ongoing. It's not a surprise that the parties are coming back because she's one that evaluates all the information. All we ever ask as defense attorneys, you don't have to agree with me, but just listen to what I'm saying. She'll listen and render a fair and equitable ruling.
But at the end of the day, that Trump power, right, of the pardon, I think plays big with regard to whether or not Michael Cohen speaks or whether he doesn't speak in terms of revealing information that he knows about Trump's dealings that may be not too, that may be somewhat untoward, let's put it that way.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, you want to make a point.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, boy, as someone who used to watch investigations, I feel like I'm salivating. Joey just hit on something really important. It's a little behind the curtain but if you think that phone call is benign in the wake of that, in the wake of that -- the presidential pardon today, what if there is one sentence where the president said don't worry about it, it's all going to end up OK? How would you interpret that if you're on the other end of the line, Michael Cohen? I would interpret as the president winking at me saying, I'm going to pardon you.
The second quick point, Lewandowski and Hope Hicks showing up in those, in possibly documents or emails, for example in the Cohen raid, they've already been interviewed. Again, as a guy who looked at investigations, they'd better be hoping tonight that there was nothing that was captured today that says something different than what they said when they're in an interview, because that means they're going to get re-interviewed and told, why did you lie to us first time around?
BLITZER: David Axelrod, you want to make a point.
AXELROD: No, I just want to agree with what Phil just said. I think the pardon itself is suspect coming as when it did. But the pardon combined with the call makes even more so. Clearly, there could be a message associated with that. And there's no one the president wants the talk least than Michael Cohen, who knows more than anyone else.
BLITZER: Let's not forget Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: And leaking. And the president tweeted about another purported leaker this morning, Jim Comey.
But just to do a reality check here, this is how the president of the United States spent his day today. We're on the edge of our seats waiting to hear about a potential Syria decision and what did the president do? He fumed over a Jim Comey book.
[18:55:01] He called Michael Cohen and he's trying to figure out how to poke everybody else in the eye over these legal issues that are unfolding.
Is this the kind of mindset that we really want to have for the president when he's literally making life and death decisions? That doesn't -- that doesn't make me sleep very good at night.
BLITZER: Well, there is a life and death decision he's going to be making maybe -- as soon as within the next few days, if not the next few hours, whether or not to go after some targets in Syria.
MUDD: I disagree. I think the decision was already made. I think the question was about the extent of the strike. There's no way you can critique Obama for not striking, but you can strike early in your administration from Mar-a-Lago, that you can tweet it's coming hot and heavy, and that you then say, well --
VINOGRAD: I don't think he had any idea what it meant, though. I think he issued this tweet. I don't think he knew what the targets were. I don't think he knew how you actually implement a strike.
MUDD: I agree.
VINOGRAD: And it was off the cuff.
MUDD: The one thing to watch, Wolf, I think the question will be, some of his advisers say if you hit too hard, be careful about what the Russians think and Iranians do, and the president unshackled might want to say, I want to lock and load.
BLITZER: Yes, because there are Russians on the ground there. Iranians on the ground there and you've got to worry about escalating this into a major conflict.
What are you hearing, Kaitlan, about the president's anger right now?
COLLINS: Well, the president is very angry. We can see that evidently. It's funny to see how this is playing out because in the past, we've reported on the president being privately angry, what he's saying to his friends, his allies on the phone, late at night when he's up in the West Wing, or the, excuse me, in the White House alone. But now, we're seeing the president spill out into public view.
So, this "New York Times" story says that the president is more concerned about what's going on with Michael Cohen than he is with the special counsel's investigation. And we kind of saw that this week because before, we had not seen the president go off about the special counsel in the manner he went off this week when they brought the president to that dinner where they're supposed to be focusing on Syria, with senior military leaders and instead, he unprompted, went on a rant about these raids, saying they broke into Michael Cohen's office, which obviously they did not break in. They had a warrant to get in there.
So, we really saw the president's anger spill into public view. That's something that we're continuing to see.
And we should note, the president was supposed to leave the country today to go on an international trip, but instead, he stayed home to monitor the American response to Syria. But instead, he's pardoning Scooter Libby. He's tweeting about James Comey and clearly calling his personal attorney.
BLITZER: He's clearly about it.
What about that? What does it say, David Axelrod, about the president's mindset right now, going into a possible military retaliation in Syria?
AXELROD: Well, think about this. I mean, he is going to give an order that could very possibly lead to the death of human beings. He is going to give an order that could very possibly enmesh the U.S. in further military involvement in that region.
This is a hugely consequential decision. And I agree that the fact that he is so consumed by this other stuff that we don't even hear about it. Maybe it's better as opposed to what we saw earlier in the week. But it's hard b to believe that his mind is on what it should be on when everything coming from the White House and everything emanating from his tweet is about these other matters.
BLITZER: And, Joey, how worried legally speaking should the president be right now?
JACKSON: I think there's a significant worry and I think we saw that again play out by virtue of a pardon. Now of all time, we have significant matters going on, not the least of which is Syria. Obviously, I think we're all concerned as to whether or not his actions as it relates to the things that are happening in the ream region and what their response will be. Will anything be motivated about issues of distortion, distraction, right? There's a lot of things. Deflection?
And so, is your intent to deal with a matter in a way it should be or to take everybody else's eye off of this prize? But I think clearly, he's worried about it, which is why you heard and saw or came to know he called Michael Cohen then we have this pardon issue, which in my view, clearly, look, I don't fancy myself a genius, but when you have investigations everywhere, we know the president's contempt for judicial process. We know about Flynn and, we know about, you know, Manafort and everyone else, he's letting his person know you've been with me all this time, stay with me. I have you. You have me. We're going to get out of this because I can pardon you.
Just seems suspicious in terms of the timing, so I think his mind is twisted and wrapped around this. I think if Cohen talks, it's very problematic for the president.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Sam, you worked on the national security counsel. What do you think?
VINOGRAD: I think you need a lot of focus and attention when making complex decisions about striking Syria. I think the president's angry and he literal has his finger on the missile button.
BLITZER: Lots going on and doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon.
Guys, thanks very much for joining us. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.