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Haley: U.S. "Locked & Loaded" If Syria Uses Poison Gas Again; Trump on Syria Airstrikes: "Mission Accomplished"; ; CNN Exclusive: FBI Seized Recordings Between Trump's Lawyer And Stormy Daniels' Former Lawyer; FBI Seized Recorded Conversations Between Cohen and Ex Attorney of Daniels, McDougall; Comey Takes on Clinton in 1st Big TV Interview; Michael Cohen Knowns as Trump's "Fixer". Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 14, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:00:22]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, mission accomplished. After the U.S. and its allies launched missiles at Syrian chemical weapons sites, President Trump rushes to declare mission accomplished. But officials concede the Syrian threat may not have been eliminated and Nikki Haley says the U.S. remains locked and loaded. So, which is it?

Weak response. Some in the president's own party say the U.S. response to the horrific chemical attack was too weak, and that Syria's dictator is paying too small a price. Should the U.S. be trying to remove him from power?

Secret recordings. CNN learns the FBI has tapes of talks between President Trump's lawyer and the former lawyer for a porn star and a playmate who have claimed affairs with Donald Trump. What does that mean for one of the president's closest confidants?

And stormy hearing. A court orders a Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, to appear with his client list Monday and the lawyer for Stormy Daniels says she may also show up saying the forecast looks very stormy.

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

President Trump calls allied missile strikes on Syrian targets perfectly executed and quickly proclaims mission accomplished. At an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, the U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warns the United States is locked and loaded if Syria uses chemical weapons again.

And in a CNN exclusive, CNN has learned the FBI seized recordings President Trump's lawyer made of conversations with a lawyer who represented a porn star and a playmate alleging affairs with Donald Trump. I'll speak with Congressman Ruben Gallego of the Armed Services Committee.

Our respondents are standing by with full coverage. The Trump administration is calling the strikes on Syria a success but is not ruling out further military action. Let's begin over at the Pentagon. Barbara Starr is standing by. Barbara, the smoke has cleared in Syria. What's the assessment?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after a night of U.S.-led bombing, U.S. officials know that Bashar al-Assad still has plenty of chemical weapons in hand. It was a very limited strike. Nobody's predicting it's the end of him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR ((voice-over): A message from Donald Trump to Bashar al-Assad and his Russian masters. Firing more than 100 missiles into the heart of Syria's chemical weapons program.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I spoke to the president this morning. He said if the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded.

STARR: Defense Secretary James Mattis in the late night Pentagon briefing not shutting the door to future military action but also not saying what would lead to more air strikes.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Right now, this is a one-time shot, and I believe it's sent a very strong message to deter him from doing this again.

STARR: It was shortly after these horrific videos emerged of an April 7th chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb that the Pentagon began planning for military strikes. The target list, a chemical research center in Damascus and two chemical weapons and equipment storage facilities located west of homes.

After first light as a damage emerged, the Pentagon said there were no reports of civilian casualties and all the military objectives for this strike were achieved.

LT. GENERAL KENNETH MCKENZIE, JOINT STAFF DIRECTOR: I believe that we took the heart of it out with the attacks that we accomplished last night. I'm not going to say they're going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future. I suspect, hour, they'll think long and hard about it after based on the activities of last night.

STARR: The strike on Syria began at 4:00 a.m. with a barrage of 105 missiles launched by the U.S., French, and British militaries. It was carried out by three U.S. warships and a U.S. submarine. The French also launched missiles from a ship.

In the air, two B-1 bombers launched strikes along with French and British fighter jets. One site, the Bharza Chemical Research and Development facility is located in Damascus. Missiles made it past heavy air defenses without being shot down.

MCKENZIE: As you can see, it does not exist anymore. We believe they've lost a lot of equipment. They've lost a lot of material, and it's going to have a significant effect on them. I think the words cripple and degrade are good accurate words.

[17:05:08] STARR: But as Bashar al-Assad calmly walked into work today, it's unclear if he is hearing those words.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Wolf, behind the scenes the concern at the Pentagon all along had been a response from the Russians, some sort of Russian military escalation. After the air strikes, the Pentagon said they had seen no real response from the Russians. They'd seen nothing of concern to them, but still, they are watching closely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, far only angry rhetoric from the Russians. Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon, thank you very much. Let's turn to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, after the missile strikes, the president quickly declared victory. Was that a bit premature?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It may have been, Wolf. The White House is putting the Syrian government on notice as Barbara said, that there could be more air strikes if chemical weapons are once again used against innocent civilians in Syria.

That's despite the fact that President Trump tweeted this morning as you said, that it was mission accomplished in Syria. Mission accomplished a phrase that was once used by former President George W. Bush in Iraq before that war dragged on for years.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It was a sobering message delivered to Syria -- backed by U.S. military might.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.

ACOSTA: While the Pentagon insists U.S. forces along with Britain and France achieve their objectives in striking Syrian chemical weapons targets, it's one of president Trump's tweets that may have misfired.

Celebrating the operation, the president tweeted, "A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine military. Could not have had a better result. Mission accomplished."

That phrase, mission accomplished, was a flash back to 2003 when then President Bush landed on an aircraft carrier and declared victory in Iraq. A war that continued for eight more years. Over Bush's shoulder was a banner reading, mission accomplished.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended and the battle of Iraq, the United States, and our allies have prevailed.

ACOSTA: Even Mr. President Trump's supporters are cringing. Former Bush press secretary, Ari Fleischer, weighed in on Mr. Trump's tweet saying, "I would have recommending ending this tweet with not those words." Asked about the president's confidence, the Pentagon didn't disagree with the commander in chief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last night operations were very successful. We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chemical weapons program. So, it was mission accomplished.

ACOSTA: Still on a conference call with reporters, a senior administration official conceded the air strikes may not have neutralized the chemical weapons threat in Syria. Saying if this does not succeed, we'll be prepared to act again. Which means the questions have returned, how does the U.S. define success and how long will that take? Two weeks after Mr. Trump raised the prospect of removing U.S. troops from Syria --

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I want to get out and bring our troops home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.

ACOSTA: Democrats are raising questions.

REPRESENTATIVE BRENDAN BOYLE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I cannot tell you what this administration's policy is towards Syria. One week ago, he was talking about entirely pulling out. That ended up giving -- appeared to give a green light to Assad and you saw how Assad took that green light and ran with it in terms of gassing innocents, including women and children.

ACOSTA: The other looming question is how to handle Syria's two biggest backers, Russia and Iran.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: To Iran and to Russia, I ask, what kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children.

ACOSTA: Vice President Pence continued that tough talk at the Summit of the Americas in Peru.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT TO THE UNITED STATES: Our message is Russia is you're on the wrong side of history.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now President Trump will face more of these questions about Syria next week when he meets with the Japanese prime minister down at Mar-a-Lago, but the president will be splitting his time discussing the fate of another rogue regime with weapons of mass destruction, North Korea. Another foreign policy crisis with no easy answers.

But Wolf, as to the conversation about the phrase mission accomplished, there's another phrase that's always worrisome to administrations, and that is mission creep -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Good point. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. He's also an Iraq war veteran, a U.S. Marine. Congressman, did the president make the right call with this order to launch this missile -- these missiles into Syria?

REPRESENTATIVE RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I don't think so. I mean, number one, he hasn't clearly outlined the mission or end goal, how this all ends, what the follow-up action is.

[17:10:05] Number two, I don't believe he has the authority to do this under the operating AUMF that we're working on in the Middle East in terms of fighting ISIS. Syria is not mentioned in there. Specifically, we don't mention any state actors because that is an act of war. You have to come to Congress.

There's a bipartisan sentiment that I'm saying right now. That the president should come and talk to us before he launches these strikes. Clearly, what Assad did is horrible. There's beyond a doubt, I don't think anyone could disagree.

But you need to come up with a plan. You need to tell us the end state game is and the same time, we also can't be hypocrites. We can't be launching strikes into Syria and saying we really care about Syrians, but at the same time, we only let 14 Syrians into this country as refugees so far this year. We need to have a full forward approach to this.

BLITZER: I understand your concerns. But did the strikes and you've heard the battle damage assessment coming in from the U.S., the U.K., the French. Did the strikes actually change anything as far as chemical weapons capabilities on the part of the Syrian regime. Did it change anything on the ground?

GALLEGO: I don't think so. Certainly, the last strikes prior to these did not do anything. The airfield they attacked was up and running within 24 hours. I think Assad will have his capability. Not only that but the alliance between Iran and Russia with Assad is just as strong.

And anything that we should have done should be to essentially weaken that alliance. Isolate Assad, bring him to -- bring him as a war criminal to the tribunal. At the end of the day, bring some kind of peace to Syria, but this was not the way to do it.

BLITZER: Civil war has been going on as you know for seven years, and maybe half a million people have been killed, and who knows how many have been injured? Millions have been made homeless refugees. You've criticized the president for not having what you call a strategy in Syria. What would you like to see that strategy be?

GALLEGO: Well, it certainly has to depend on what the immediate end goal is. If it's just to basically assure Assad will no longer use weapons of mass destruction or chemicals, then we need to figure out how to take out the assistance coming from Russia and Iran, and then the delivery systems and any other types of ways that they do that -- BLITZER: Let me interrupt a moment. Congressman, are you saying the

U.S. should engage in military operations against the Russians and Iranians in Syria?

GALLEGO: No, what I was saying is we need to figure out how to actually separate them from Syria. And you could do that through economic and diplomatic sanctions over the long time with a lot of allies in the world.

Right now, we're not doing that. I think that's a strong weapon that we're not using at this point. Secondly, if we're going to involve ourselves in Syria, there needs to be an end goal. What is it? Is it the removal of Assad? What replaces Assad? What kind of government is going to be there?

And are we going to occupy it to stabilize it? These are the things I don't think the American public wants to do. But if you're going to even consider this, you need to come and talk to Congress. This is why we are authorized to do this under Congress to actually be the initiators of war.

BLITZER: At the Pentagon this morning a top military planner general said the U.S. goal in Syria to eliminate ISIS. What's not what he called regime change meaning get rid of Bashar al-Assad, the dictator there. What's your reaction to that?

GALLEGO: Well, that's the case, then you should come back to Congress. You're attacking Assad which has nothing to do with the authorization of use of military force that you're using to talk Assad. Essentially, you're waging war against another country. You need to get permission from Congress to do that.

BLITZER: As you know, some of your Democratic colleagues raised serious questions about the timing of these U.S. strikes. They pointed out it happened on the same day the president pardoned Scooter Libby.

His lawyer, Michael Cohen, was revealed to be under criminal investigation for the past many months that the former FBI director was on tv talking about allegations of the president and prostitutes in Moscow. What's your reaction to that criticism coming from some of your Democratic colleagues?

GALLEGO: Well, I hate to disagree with them. The problem with what's going on here is the president is so unstable and the administration is so unstable that any time he does anything, we'll have to question it. It's a lack of basically his leadership. It's a lack of him being a mature president.

That's causing everyone to actually question his actions. So, in some regards, I disagree. I don't think this is a wag the dog situation. But I understand why they think that because this presidency has acted irrational. You don't really trust the decisions that are coming out of this administration.

Just two weeks ago, this president wanted to unilaterally pull out of Syria, and now we're bombing Syria. He's creating a scenario where people are questioning him because he's acting irrationally and is not making good decisions.

[17:15:13] BLITZER: Do you give him some credit for getting France and the U.K. involved, working with the U.S. military together in the strikes?

GALLEGO: Well, look, any time you act, especially in the Middle East, it's always good to act -- with as many partners and allies as possible. But the one thing that's most important is that I know the Constitution of the United States.

And it says he has to come and talk to us to ask permission to bomb a country that we have not authorized you to engage in war. I can't control France and I can't control Britain, but if he wants to continue to engage in that, he needs to come and ask for permission from Congress.

BLITZER: Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

GALLEGO: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. CNN learns the FBI has tapes of conversations between President Trump's personal lawyer and a former lawyer for a porn star and a playmate, who have claimed affairs with Donald Trump.

And the lawyer for Stormy Daniels says she may show up in court on Monday when President Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen has been ordered to appear with his client list.

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[17:00:40]

BLITZER: A CNN exclusive, the FBI seized recordings of conversations between President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and the former lawyer for porn star, Stormy Daniels, and "Playboy" model, Karen McDougal. Both of whom allege affairs with Donald Trump.

Let's bring in our CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. Cohen is under criminal investigation as you know, how important is this late development?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Wolf, we know from the search warrants based on the reporting this is an issue that the FBI is looking into, the payments, specifically, there was questions about the "Access Hollywood" tape.

There were other issues that came up in that search warrant that the FBI is asking questions about. And these tapes could potentially be a treasure-trove of information for the FBI in terms of trying to find out the conversations that Michael Cohen was having with these lawyers about these deals, about the payoffs.

What tactics was he using? What was he saying? There's always this idea the FBI in this case could be looking into whether there was some kind of extortion or there were any threats made. Why he would record the conversations is a good question that we really when you ask legal experts, they're all questioning what is he thinking by recording these conversations?

Certainly, Michael Cohen never expected the FBI to get ahold of these conversations. And now they have them, they have not been able to access them. That's what's going on in a Manhattan courtroom. They're trying to get access to them. Certainly, this could potentially create a lot of problems for Michael Cohen.

BLITZER: Michael Cohen has been ordered to appear before this judge in federal court on Monday. What's that all about?

PROKUPECZ: It's about this privileged information that he claims the information that the FBI obtained in the search warrants on his home, his boxes at the bank, his cell phones, his office, all this information is privileged information.

And that the FBI specifically the U.S. attorney's, the prosecutors, should not have access to some of that information because it violates his rights, his client's rights, privileged information that really the FBI, he's arguing, should not have access to.

However, the judge in this case keeps asking him who are your clients? Tell us who your clients are that could be potentially impacted by this. And so far, I mean, I was in court all day yesterday watching this unfold.

And each adjournment -- there were two or three adjournments all day, and the judge kept asking his attorneys who are these clients and the government's position on this is that all they know of is that Michael Cohen has one client, that's the president.

The president, other than that, he has no other clients. And up until about 4:00 when the judge kept asking Michael Cohen's attorneys for the claims of these clients, they had not provided her with any of those claims.

So, now, she said, OK, I'm giving you until Monday to do this, because the government needs to know who is affected by this privilege that you're arguing?

BLITZER: It's going to be quite a spectacle when Stormy Daniels shows up too in the courtroom on Monday as well. I know you're going back to New York. You'll be there for us. Shimon, thanks very much.

Coming up, President Trump declares mission accomplished after the U.S. and its allies fire missiles at Syrian chemical weapons sites. Why does the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, say the U.S. military remains, quote, "locked and loaded?"

Plus, a possible showdown as President Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, is ordered to appear in court and the lawyer for porn star, Stormy Daniels, says she may also be showing up as well. We're now told she will be there. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:28:54]

BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, a sharp warning to Syria in the wake of the American, British, and French strikes on targets associated with Syrian chemical weapons. President Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, says the United States is, quote, "locked and loaded" to attack again if the Bashar al-Assad regime launches another chemical attack.

Let's get some more from our reporters and analysts. Matthew Rosenberg, do these strikes that we saw last night, early this morning, local time, really change the situation on the ground?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, they change it for Bashar al-Assad. Now he knows that chemical weapons will provoke a U.S. attack, but nothing else will. He has a large arsenal. There are all kinds of weapons, barrel bombs. Other horrific weapons deployed against civilians in the war. The message is clear now. Use those, no problem. Just don't use chemical weapons. That could change the situation.

BLITZER: He used chemical weapons recently and killed 40 or 50 Syrians, children included, but half a million Syrians have been killed over the last seven years, mostly with conventional weapons.

ROSENBERG: I think the message is clear. If you use those, the U.S. will not attack you, and do what you will there, and that's a pretty clear message have sent to him.

[17:30:10] BLITZER: There's been some confusion, David, about the president's strategy because, only 12 days ago, we remember the president saying the U.S. has to get out of Syria, quote, "very soon." And then, all of a sudden, the U.S. engaged in a military operation with Britain and France and Syria.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: Right. Well, in the intervening days was the attack last saturday and the images that came from that attack that the president apparently kept bringing up again and again all week. What is clear here, there is no Trump policy as it comes to Syria. We're in a one-off kind of policy situation. If the images are horrific enough and can captivate the world's attention in a certain way that the day in and day out warfare cannot, then perhaps the United States and its allies with galvanize together and act. When the president said that, Wolf, I think the president was giving us his preferred option. This is the president who does not want to be involved so much in external affairs like that. He really doesn't want the U.S. to be mired in another war. He's said it time again. He felt compelled to act now, but as you see from the rhetoric, Mattis, I think, said this is a one-and-done thing. The president is adamant to not get mired in this.

BLITZER: The president has often said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a total waste of blood and treasure. He wouldn't have done it. He says that very often. He also tweeted this, Kaitlan, earlier this morning: "A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine military. Could not have had a better result. Mission accomplished."

Maybe not necessarily those last two words the best choice of words.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think almost everyone cringed when they saw the president tweeted that. Maybe he didn't pick up on it himself. He was genuinely saying it. President Bush said the Iraq war was over when it was not with that phrase. I think that was a cringe worthy statement. A negative connotation for a lot of people. But overall, besides that, it does raise the question of what is the president's mission here? The Pentagon backed the president up saying the mission last night was accomplished, that they did achieve their objectives. The question is, what is the larger strategy? Of course, the president does want to get out of Syria. He doesn't want those troops there fighting ISIS. How does he square that with the allied air strike he had last night and what is his administration's policy going to be going forward and every time they use chemical weapons if they use them again, which they certainly could, is he going to strike every single time? And if it doesn't work, as a deterrent, what do they do going forward? There are a lot of questions facing the administration right now?

BLITZER: Joey, let me get thoughts on the other storying developing, a CNN exclusive. A source tells CNN last week's FBI raids on the home, the office, the hotel room of Michael Cohen, the president's long-time friend and personal lawyer, had recordings, phone conversations between Cohen and Keith Davidson, the former attorney representing both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougall, the former porn star, the former playmate.

What is the FBI hoping to learn from the recordings?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know what? I thought we learned back in the days of Nixon, right, that it was not a proper thing to record anything.

But let's talk about many things that the FBI could learn. Think about if you were a fly on the wall. I'll give you three I think are essential.

The first is the nature of the relationship. A lot of talk as to whether he was acting at his attorney. Was he an attorney? Was he acting on a familial capacity, a business relationship? Are there any clues? Often, I'll call as a lawyer and distinguish in my conversation whether I'm calling because I'm retained and represented or doing a favor.

Number two, let's examine the issue of intent. A lot of talk about campaign finance violations potentially. Was he talking about listen, we're in the middle of the campaign? I got to get this done. What were you sell it for? That looks like he was acting as a campaign surrogate. Therefore, go you run afoul with the campaign finance laws with respect to in kind campaign contributions? Final point, where did he get the money? Is there a clue on the tape

with a home equity loan or funneling money or my client will provide the resources? I think there will be a significant amount of information on the tapes.

Last point, that's this. The reason I think he is on such that is Cohen and Trump on perilous ground is because, even if, and we discussed the pardon issue, these are potential crimes that could be investigated and prosecuted by the Manhattan district attorney's office, a global institution. They prosecute a lot of those crimes or by the state attorney general, and that's perilous for Cohen because it goes to the issue of whether he could give up Trump to the extent that he knows something about him. And when it comes to your family, and your precious children, and the prosecutors are looking you in the eye, it's a hard choice to say, forget it, nah, I got this, do what you have to do. Believe me, it's a difficult decision. We're on very perilous grounds as it relates to Cohen and as it relates to the president of the United States.

[17:35:26] BLITZER: Just ask some of the others who have flipped and are pleading guilty, the impact on their families in all of this.

Everybody, stick around.

There's a lot more news that we're following, including the former FBI Director James Comey's surprising admission about his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:20] BLITZER: We're back with our reporters and analysts.

Joey Jackson, I want to play the FBI -- former FBI director jam Comey's decision only a few days before the election of 2016 to go ahead and release a letter about the Clinton e-mail investigation. Listen to this exchange that he had, James Comey, with George Stephanopoulos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton's convinced that that letter defeated her. What do you say to her?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR & AUTHOR: I hope not. I don't know. I honestly don't know. I sure hope not, but the honest answer is, it wouldn't change the way I think about it. I mean, my hope, I didn't write the book for this reason, but talking about leadership, it was important to tell the e-mail story because it's me trying to figure out how to lead well. The people will read that story and try to put themselves in my shoes. Try to realize that I'm not trying to help a candidate or hurt a candidate, I'm trying to do the right thing. You can come up with different conclusions. Reasonable people would have chosen a different door for reasonable reasons, but it's just not fair to say we were doing it for some illegitimate reason.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But at some level, wasn't the decision to reveal influenced by your assumption that Hillary Clinton was going to win and your concern that she wins, this comes out several weeks later and then that's taken by her opponents as a sign that seize an illegitimate president.

COMEY: It must have been. I don't remember consciously thinking about that, but it must have been. I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump. I'm sure it was a factor. I don't remember spelling it out, but it had to have been. She's going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected, the moment this comes out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If you knew that letter would elect Donald Trump, you'd

COMEY: Deputy general counsel in the FBI who is a thoughtful, quiet person who didn't speak a lot. And that morning, we were making that decision. She asked should you consider that what you're about to do may help elect Donald Trump president. And I paused. And then I said, thank you for asking that question. That's a great question. But the answer is not for a moment. Because down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life. If I ever start considering whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we're done. We're no longer that group in America that is apart from the partisans and that can be trusted. We're just another player in the tribal battle.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There's no precedent for putting out information like this at the end of a campaign?

COMEY: I've never heard of it before. As I say in the book, I think I did it the way that it should have been done. I'm not certain of that. Other people might have had another different view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What about that, Joey? Is that the way the FBI is supposed to operate only days before a presidential election?

JACKSON: Not at all, Wolf. I think you'll appreciate this. I was in Buffalo at the time, actually, with a law enforcement group when I first saw this being released, and I was shocked. What? Is this happening? The FBI is composed of some of the finest people we'll ever know. They protect us. They defend us. We go to sleep better at night because of what they do in our interest, but I think we have to keep in mind that a director of an FBI and agency is not in the business for should that person be in the business of influencing any election. Everything has a context. And the context here was that this was hotly contested. Now, you say you don't want to reveal anything. Why? The reality is that as a law enforcement entity, they generally don't release anything. Anything under investigation is kept highly under wraps.

And so I think, again, reasonable minds may differ as to whether his conclusion was the appropriate one. I don't think it was, particularly when it was a nothing, when, in fact, it was released, and we got to learn the information. So I think law enforcement is better when they function in that capacity of protecting and serving our interests. And not when they function in the capacity of potentially and, I would say, influencing an election. I just don't think it was the appropriate call.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, what do you make of Comey's rationale?

COLLINS: It's not to say someone is under investigation because you think they're going to become the next president. Him saying that and making that decision is something the White House is going to latch onto as he continues the book. As he does the interviews. They're going to use that as a talking point to discredit him, and even though that doesn't have anything to do with the fact that the president fired him because of the Russia investigation. Something he said today relieved a lot of anxiety for him. The White House is going to use that to discredit him. It could work among Trump supporters.

[17:45:12] CHALIAN: Wolf, I want to say there's an inherent contradiction in what we heard him say. He admits there's no doubt his thinking must have been influenced by living in a context where he believed that Hillary Clinton was inevitably going to be the next president of the United States, and he says it's the death of the FBI to consider political impact and ramifications. That's the most troubles.

BLITZER: Very quickly, how do you see it?

ROSENBERG: This was a terrible decision to make. And it had a really impact. You're right. They are going to beat him up with this.

And you're right, too, saying they can't live in a political world, but they do. There has to be a way to reconcile it.

BLITZER: A lot to discuss on this and other issues.

Everybody, stick around.

There's more breaking news. We'll have the latest on the strikes on Syria and President Trump's controversial claim of mission accomplished.

Plus, we now know the president's personal lawyer is under criminal investigation, has been for months. Why is Michael Cohen known as Mr. Trump's Fixer?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:57] BLITZER: We're following breaking news, including exclusive new details of the FBI raids on President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. CNN has learned that agencies recordings of conversations between Cohen and the former lawyer for porn star, Stormy Daniels, and Playboy model, Karen McDougall. Both claim to have had an affair with Donald Trump.

CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look at what Cohen has done for the president over these many years. Brian, Cohen is known as the president's Fixer.

BRIAN TODD, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: He is, Wolf. We're told, unfortunately, there's nothing Michael Cohen would not do for his boss. He's been prone to threaten, to cajole, to cut any deal needed to get his client out of some pretty serious jams. But tonight, the man known as the "Fixer" seems to have placed himself at risk of going to jail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: All right, so before you knock each other, we're all good?

TODD (voice-over): Donald Trump's personal lawyer and confidant in serious trouble on several fronts tonight. Michael Cohen is coming off a tumultuous week that included FBI raids on his home, office and hotel room. And the news that Cohen has been the subject of a criminal investigation for months. As he prepares to follow a judge's order for him to go to court on Monday, Cohen could be on the verge of taking a major legal hit, ostensively, in the service of one man.

COHEN: The next president of the United States.

(CHEERING)

TODD: Prosecutors say Cohen has told at least one witness Donald Trump is his only client.

For 12 years, Cohen has been Trump's personal attorney or, as many call him, Trump's "Fixer." One former Trump campaign official said Cohen is a less cool version of Ray Donovan, Showtime's fictional Hollywood Fixer.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: No. Oh, Jesus, Ray.

TODD: But if Cohen's less cool than Donovan, observers say, he's every bit as tenacious.

MARC FISHER, AUTHOR: He's known to threaten people. He carries a pistol in an ankle holster. He makes it clear he's a tough guy.

TODD: From sometimes ruthlessly maneuvering against people who have damaging information on Trump, to trying to facilitate business deals for his boss, observers say Michael Cohen consistently, doggedly displays the one characteristic Donald Trump values the most.

FISHER: There's very little in the world that's more important to Donald Trump than loyalty. And Michael Cohen has shown for more than a decade that he will hold confidences and he'll fight for Trump in the way Trump likes and that's to hit hard, to always hit back harder than you've been hit.

TODD: Cohen's legal handlings of the Stormy Daniels case has come under scrutiny. He said he used his own personal funds to, quote, "facilitate" a payment to the porn star shortly before the 2016 elections. Trump said he had no knowledge of the payment, something legal experts say is almost unheard of.

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is extraordinary, and I would tell you that probably 99.9 percent of the lawyers in America would never even contemplate doing this.

TODD: Cohen tells CNN his legal handling of the Daniel's case has been solid, air tight, and he believes it's Daniels who is now liable for millions in damages based on her conduct.

MICHAEL RUBEN, CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST: I think the entire thing was reckless, naive, or completely incompetent.

TODD: Crisis Communications Specialist Michael Ruben says it was a bad idea to believe that paying Daniels off would make her go away. What should Cohen have told Trump?

RUBEN: Tell him this isn't going to work. That's what he should have done. There was nothing they could have done to make it go away. Dealing with it honestly is pretty much the only choice they have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Cohen defends himself on that as well, telling us he hopes Daniels and her attorney are enjoying their 15 minutes of fame. But he thinks that will diminish significantly when a judgment is entered against her.

As to the allegations of an affair, Mr. Cohen reiterated his strong denial of the affair on several occasions -- Wolf?

[17:54:40] BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks for that report.

Coming up, breaking news. After the U.S. and its allies fire missiles at Syrian chemical sites, President Trump declares "mission accomplished." But his U.N. ambassador says the U.S. remains locked and loaded.

The president's lawyer ordered to appear in court. CNN learned the FBI has recorded conversations between him and the former lawyer for a porn star and playmate who claimed to have had affairs with Donald Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:59:33] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. "Locked and loaded." The U.S. warns it's ready to launch new strikes on Syria if Bashar al Assad uses chemical weapons again. After targeted strikes overnight, is the Trump administration being clear about its next red line?

"One time shot" -- that's how Defense Secretary James Mattis describes the U.S.-led action in Syria. President Trump is calling it a "sustained response." Is the commander-in-chief on the same page as the Pentagon brass?

Greater threat. Trump allies are anxious right now as the president's lawyer is under criminal investigation and facing a new court order. Is Michael Cohen's case putting Mr. Trump in more legal jeopardy than the special counsel --