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THE SITUATION ROOM
Cohen's Lawyer Seeks Delay in Story Daniels Lawsuit; DNC Sues Trump Campaign, Russia, WikiLeaks; Trump-Comey Feud Escalating as Memos Go Public; Memos Show Trump Talked To Comey About Russian Prostitutes. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 20, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Expecting an indictment? A courtroom bombshell as Michael Cohen's attorneys try to delay porn star Stormy Daniels's lawsuit. A Cohen lawyer suggests President Trump's "fixer" could soon be indicted by the feds. Will that prompt Cohen to plead the Fifth in the Daniels case?
Democrats' lawsuit. The Democratic National Committee launches its own version of the Russia investigation, suing the Trump campaign, Russia, and WikiLeaks, accusing them of conspiring on the release of stolen DNC e-mails. Will Democrats get their day in court?
Comey's memo-ries. Riveting revelations on the conversations between James Comey and Donald Trump as the fired FBI's director's memos go public, escalating their feud. The memos showing the president raising early concern about the judgment of fired national security advisor Michael Flynn and his own suggestion of stopping leaks by jailing journalists.
And talking to Putin. The Comey memos also reveal President Trump's changing story about his first conversation with Vladimir Putin. When was their first phone call? And did it include talk of Russian prostitutes?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The legal problems of President Trump's fixer now unfolding on both coasts. Lawyers from Michael Cohen asking a judge in Los Angeles to delay the civil suit against Cohen and President Trump by porn star Stormy Daniels, who's trying to get out of Cohen's hush deal. His lawyers suggesting in court today that Cohen could soon be indicted in the federal criminal investigation he's facing in New York City.
Also breaking, new reaction just in from the Trump campaign to a lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee, accusing him of conspiring with Russia and WikiLeaks to sway the 2016 election.
We'll talk about the breaking news and much more this hour with Congresswoman Jackie Speier of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they're also standing by.
But let's begin with the latest on the legal battle between Stormy Daniels and President Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen. Our national correspondent, Sara Sidner, is in Los Angeles for us.
Sara, the two sides, they are arguing over whether or not to delay the case.
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. James Judge [SIC] Otero running a no-nonsense courtroom today, being very clear to Michael Cohen's attorney that he saw some huge holes in his ask to stay the case, meaning he would like to put the case on hold for 90 days, telling Michael Cohen's attorney that he must file a declaration, that he is worried about his Fifth Amendment rights because of the criminal case.
SIDNER (voice-over): Tonight Stormy Daniels's attorney, Michael Avenatti, arguing in U.S. district court that his client's case should be allowed to proceed, even as one defendant, President Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, is under criminal investigation.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: It's apparent to us that the court recognized, to quote the court, "that there are gaping holes" in the application by Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump to delay this matter.
SIDNER: The lawyer for Cohen says Daniels's case should be delayed, arguing that whatever Cohen says in the Daniels proceedings could be used against him in the criminal investigation. Judge James Otero telling Cohen's attorney that Cohen needs to file his own declaration about his concern his Fifth Amendment rights could be compromised.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Blakely, will you file to protect his Fifth Amendment?
BRENT BLAKELY, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: We told you --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not commenting.
SIDNER: Cohen's attorney did not make any comments to the press but agreed to file the declaration.
AVENATTI: I don't think that this could be overstated. We're talking about the personal counsel to the president of the United States, who presumably knows where a lot of bodies are buried. And it has come to the fact or come to the point in time that it appears that he will plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. I think that is a staggering turn of events.
SIDNER: FBI agents raided Cohen's home, hotel room and office last week. The search warrant specifically mentioned Cohen's 2016 payment with Daniels, according to Cohen's attorney and, sources say, the FBI is also looking into an agreement between ex-"Playboy" Playmate Karen McDougal and American Media Inc., which prevented her from publicly discussing her alleged affair with Trump.
[17:05:10] As for Stormy Daniels, she filed her lawsuit in March in an attempt to void a contract she signed days before the presidential election, in which she agreed to stay quiet about her alleged 2006 affair with Trump. Daniels and Avenatti say the agreement should be nullified, because Trump never signed the document.
SIDNER: Now Mr. Avenatti also argued that his client is still being threatened to stay quiet. But the judge looked at him and said, "She ended up on '60 Minutes' and 'The View.' It seems that she is not that threatened."
Those arguments, of course, going to go forward, but for now we are waiting for Wednesday, when we get some sort of declaration from Michael Cohen's attorney, who says he will be filing that declaration.
And, lastly, when it comes to Donald Trump, who is also a party to this case, a defendant in this case, his attorney, Charles Harder, said nothing in court, and he would say nothing to us outside -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sara Sidner reporting from Los Angeles. Thank you.
We're also following a remarkable lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee, claiming the Trump campaign, Russia and WikiLeaks conspired to release hacked DNC e-mails in order to hurt Democrats and help Donald Trump's candidacy.
Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is working the story for us. Jessica, several top Trump aides are actually named in this lawsuit.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf. Several top Trump aides but not the president himself, even though I talked to a lawyer associated with this case today, and they say that there is still the possibility that the president could be named as a defendant at some point in the future.
But right now this lawsuit represents a wide-ranging and innovative strike by the Democratic National Committee. So far, they have named a dozen people and entities including Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, long-time Trump ally Roger Stone, the president's son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner, other people associated with the campaign, plus you can see at the bottom there Russians Aras and Emin Agalarov. Those are the men who Donald Trump partnered with to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013.
So the question is: what is the claim here? Well, the DNC is alleging a grand conspiracy and accusing the Trump campaign of being a racketeering enterprise that had extensive warnings about the Russians' hacking and dissemination of the DNC e-mails and campaign e- mails, and that the Trump campaign embraced Russia's meddling.
Plus, this lawsuit claims that Trump's business ties to Russia played a big role in all of this. So here's a section from the lawsuit. It said, "Trump's and several
Trump associates' long-standing personal, professional and financial ties to Russia and numerous individuals closely linked to the Russian government provided fertile ground for conspiracy between defendants to interfere in the 2016 elections."
Now I talked with the lawyers associated with this case, and I asked them how is this different than Robert Mueller's probe or those investigations happening right now on Capitol Hill?
Well, they insist that this lawsuit is going to be apolitical, which people could argue about, of course, and the fact that it was brought by the DNC. But they also say that they're doing this on behalf of the broader public. And they insist that this lawsuit is a way to get details out of secrecy and into public view.
Now, as for damages, they're saying that the damages they're seeking could amount to millions of dollars. And late today, we got word that the judge assigned to oversee this case is a Bill Clinton appointee. Of course, that could lead to further calls of political bias.
And of course, Wolf, the Trump campaign team, they are already firing back. They're calling this "a bogus lawsuit filed by a desperate and dysfunctional Democratic Party."
So the slings and the barbs have already started on this.
BLITZER: Only just beginning, I suspect. All right. Thanks very much, Jessica Schneider.
I'll speak, by the way, with the DNC chair Tom Perez about this lawsuit. That's coming up later right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get some more on all of these developments. Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California is joining us. She's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congresswoman, I want to begin with your reaction to this lawsuit. Some have called this a political stunt by the DNC. Doesn't this suit, though, lend credence to President Trump's claim that this Russia investigation is just sour grapes from the Democratic Party?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: I actually think this lawsuit is ill-conceived. And I'm not very supportive of it.
I think we have a very serious criminal activity underway in this country by the Russians and possibly by those within the Trump campaign. And to make this political is actually the wrong thing to be doing. I'm not interested in a political tit for tat. I'm interested in getting to the truth and, if there's criminal conduct that has been engaged in, holding people accountable.
[17:10:04] BLITZER: So you think Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and his -- his team over there are making a big mistake by filing this lawsuit?
SPEIER: Well, I'm not supportive of it. Whether it's a mistake or not, we'll soon find out.
BLITZER: The lawsuit as you know, Congresswoman, is based almost completely on publicly available information. Do you believe that what's already in the public record right now is enough to conclude that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians?
SPEIER: I think the interest in coordinating a conspiracy is something that we have been delving into. We are continuing to delve into it. I don't know that you can make that conclusion at this point in time.
I certainly think that Bob Mueller and the special counsel's office has much more information than we have. And we will know soon enough. But I think this side bar lawsuit is not in the interest of the American people.
BLITZER: You think this lawsuit runs the risk of stepping on Robert Mueller's investigation?
SPEIER: No, I don't think so. Because I think the criminal review is going to take precedence over any civil litigation. And again, I don't think that the DNC has been able to do anything more than speculate based on the statements in their complaint.
BLITZER: Let's turn to the Michael Cohen case, the president's long- time lawyer and fixer. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, told President Trump that the president is not a target in the Cohen investigation underway in New York.
Do you believe the president has any legal exposure in this matter involving Michael Cohen?
SPEIER: I don't think we know the answer to that question. And I think that the deputy A.G., Rod Rosenstein, made that statement as a snapshot in time. And again, it is another example of how the president of the United States does not respect the rule of law and continues to try to obstruct justice or to somehow use his influence to prevent him from coming under scrutiny.
BLITZER: As you know, a whole bunch of people believe the president is likely to pardon Michael Cohen if he's convicted on any charges.
Meanwhile, the New York state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is trying to close a loophole that would prevent him from prosecuting Cohen on state charges if he's pardoned at the federal level. Would you support that effort?
SPEIER: I think that persons who commit crimes should be held accountable. And if the president ends up pardoning people who have done his dirty work, and there's a means by which a state court can bring an action, they certainly have every right to do so.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thanks so much for joining us.
SPEIER: Thank you. BLITZER: Up next, President Trump's early concern about Michael
Flynn's judgment. We're learning what he said to James Comey, the fired FBI director, about the national security adviser he also he wound up firing.
[17:17:29] BLITZER: President Trump has launched new attacks on former FBI director James Comey, now that the fired FBI director's memos about the conversations have gone public.
Let's go to our White House reporter Kaitlan Collins. She's in South Florida for us with the president.
Kaitlan, the memo shows some truly remarkable exchanges between Mr. Trump and Comey, but they also raise lots of new questions.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They certainly do, Wolf. And the White House is pushing back and pushing back hard against these memos, saying that James Comey sacrificed his integrity when he released them to a friend of his who works outside of the government, and now they say he's just trying to sell books.
But Wolf, what's clear here is they offer a rare glimpse into -- excuse me -- the relationship between a newly-elected president and the FBI director.
COLLINS: The feud between President Trump and the FBI director he fired is heating up again after 15 pages of James Comey's memos were turned over to congressional committees, providing an intimate look at the private conversations between the two men, in which the newly- elected president may have attempted to influence the bureau's growing investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.
Trump responding on Twitter from his Mar-a-Lago resort, writing, "James Comey memos just out and show clearly that there was no collusion and no obstruction. Also, he leaked classified information. Wow! Will the witch hunt continue?"
But new details in the memos are raising questions about a conversation Comey had with Trump's first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, regarding former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe (ph) you betrayed your country?
COLLINS: He has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Comey writes that "Priebus said he wanted to ask me a question, and I could decide whether it was appropriate to answer. He then asked, 'Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?' I paused for a few seconds and then said that I would answer here but that this illustrated the kind of question that had to be asked and answered through established channels, adding I explained it was important that communications about any particular case go through that channel to protect us and to protect the White House from accusations of improper influence."
The memos also revealed the president's eagerness to combat unproven allegations that he consorted with prostitutes in Moscow, which Trump denied and sought Comey's help discrediting them. But the former FBI chief claims Trump also said Putin told him "We have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world."
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Did you believe him or did you think he was speaking hyperbolically?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He didn't seem to be speaking hyperbolically.
[17:20:02] COLLINS: But today, a spokesman for the Kremlin said Putin couldn't have made that remark to Trump, because, quote, "They had never communicated before Trump became president."
It appears, though, that Trump and Comey agreed on one thing: hunting leakers. Comey telling the president he wanted to nail one to the door as a message. Trump responded by saying, "We need to garner (ph) the reporters who publish leaked information, suggesting they spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk."
Comey has long said he typed the notes immediately after meeting with the president because --
COMEY: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.
COLLINS: The president has branded Comey a leaker and a liar. Comey admitted to sharing some of the memos with a friend outside the government to prompt the appointment of a special counsel. Comey told CNN's Jake Tapper that he's fine with the memos being released.
COMEY: I'm totally fine with transparency.
COLLINS: "The Wall Street Journal" reporting tonight that the Department of Justice is probing whether Comey may have mishandled classified information. Comey has previously maintained no classified information was disclosed, telling Jake --
COMEY: I've tried to be transparent throughout this, and I think what folks will see, if they get to see the memos, is I've been consistent since the very beginning, right after my encounters with President Trump.
COLLINS: Now Wolf, James Comey says that Trump also tried to debunk those salacious allegations made against him by saying he's never spent the night overnight in Russia. But of course, we have noted that there are photos of the president in Russia back in 2013 during that Miss Universe pageant on November the 8th. The pageant was on the 9th. And then on November the 10th, the president tweeted that he just gotten back from Russia.
Also, his bodyguard, Keith Schiller, testified before Congress that he dropped the president off at his hotel room one night.
Now of course, if the president did spend the night in Russia, it would not be an automatic confirmation of those very salacious allegations made against the president, but it would -- would make you wonder why the president would tell the FBI director he didn't spend the night in Russia if he did -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point. Kaitlan Collins down in Florida for us. Thank you.
Coming up, Michael Cohen potentially facing very serious charges in a federal criminal investigation. Is President Trump's fixer and long- time lawyer willing to take a fall to protect his client?
[17:27:01] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, a lawyer for President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, suggesting to the judge overseeing the Stormy Daniels case that Cohen could soon be indicted in the federal criminal investigation he's facing in New York.
Let's get some more from our specialists and our analysts. And Mark Preston, Cohen is well-known for his very deep loyalty to President Trump, always -- over the years, that's one of his defining characteristics.
Listen to some of the praise that Cohen has lavished on the president in recent years. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: In all fairness, who hasn't said or done something that they regret, simply trying to protect somebody that they care about. And I care about Mr. Trump.
But one thing Donald Trump is, he's a compassionate man.
He's a man of great intellect, great intuition and great abilities.
Mr. Trump's memory is fantastic, and I've never come across a situation where Mr. Trump has said something that's not accurate.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: There are -- seriously?
COHEN: Yes, seriously.
Mr. Trump truly cares about America. He loves this country.
He's an amazing negotiator. Maybe the best ever in the history of this world.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You guys are down, and it makes sense that --
COHEN: Says who? Says who? KEILAR: Polls. Most of them. All of them.
COHEN: He's a smart man. He's a decisive man. He's a swift-acting individual.
Generous, compassionate, principled, empathetic, kind, humble, honest and genuine.
He's not lying. He was protecting a friend. There's a difference.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What is the difference?
COHEN: The difference is he was being a true friend. He was -- it didn't matter to him.
He will ultimately -- and I've said this so many times -- he will ultimately go down in history as the greatest president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Mark, according to this latest report in "The New York Times" today, associates of the president, at least some of them, say the president actually tweeted Cohen poorly over the years. Roger Stone, for example, even said Trump, quote, "goes out of his way to treat him" -- Cohen -- "like garbage."
Is that just the public show?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think a couple of things. One, I do think that Michael Cohen was not treated very well. Donald Trump hasn't treated anyone very well except for perhaps his daughter, his son-in-law and Keith Schiller, who are was his personal bodyguard.
But to that comment directly from Roger Stone, you have to wonder, is that a message being sent by Roger Stone to Donald Trump into Michael Cohen. Basically, what we saw Jay Goldberg do on "ERIN BURNETT" last night and saw, as well, basically sending a message right now, telling President Trump, "Do not trust Michael Cohen. Do not trust Michael Cohen. Do not trust Michael Cohen." And I think that's what we could be seeing by these public proclamations, trying to divide these two men.
BLITZER: Do you think Cohen would be willing, in effect, to take a bullet for the president of the United States and just defend him to the bitter end even if he has to wind up going to jail?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, it's one thing to say, as Michael Cohen did, that you would take a bullet for this president, and it's another thing to be staring down the barrel of potential criminal charges at what might be exorbitant legal fees. He's someone who has a wife. He has children.
It's important to remember he hasn't yet been charged with a crime but if he ends up facing actual time in prison, then his calculus could very well change.
He may become much more cooperative with investigators. I also think when you look at that highlight reel, one thing that's important to remember about people in Trump's orbit, they are constantly performing for an audience of one. And so, it's one thing to shower him with effusive praise publicly because you want to remain in his good graces. It's a completely different conversation behind closed doors when you're sitting down with federal investigators.
BLITZER: That's a very good point. Ron Brownstein, how do you see it?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I think the history of Donald Trump is that he expects loyalty but does not give it. And the idea that Michael Cohen has been treated badly would not really be surprising. In that, he seems to believe that chaos strengthens him, benefits him both within an organization, and within kind of the broader environment in which he operates. And one of the things we've seen in his operation of the White House is the idea that no one should feel entirely secure about their position. He's always kind of bad-mouthing people to other power centers around him and there are all these power centers outside of the administration.
From all the indications, the Trump companies worked largely the same way. Now, you know, he does have a big kind of stick in all of this, which is the presidential pardon power. And one thing that is going to be important to watch is what kind of signals congressional Republicans send on their willingness to accept him using that in these overlapping investigations. But there's really, you know, the personal loyalty that he has accrued over the years comes from more of the position he offers than kind of the emotional connection that he offers.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, walk us through how the feds potentially could crack Michael Cohen, the process, especially someone who at least over all of these years has had such fierce loyalty to Donald Trump.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well we're missing a key fact here, Wolf, and that is what kind of charges might they bring. Let me give you an example. If look at Paul Manafort indictment. Paul Manafort, hasn't cracked yet but that indictment is a pretty tough indictment. It's not a he said, she said. It's looking at financial records, that is black and white stuff and saying this is where you gained income, this is where you hid it, this is where you shielded it.
I'm going to make a judgment here that something in this case involves financial transactions. Those financial transactions are stuff that the feds have in black and white. They're throw that down in front of Michael Cohen, and say, if you cooperate you get x number of years, if you don't cooperate, you get y number of years. How much time do you want to spend in federal prison? But again, back to the initial point, Wolf, I want to see what the charges are and how solid the federal case is. If it's solid, they're just going to lay out the evidence and say, do you want to spend time in jail or not? Your call. MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I do think it's something
to be said, as well. We're going to be redefining what loyalty is. We're redefining all these new definitions from these words, what it means to be a Republican, what it means to be a Democrat, what it means to be patriotic. We're now going to be defining what it means to be loyal. Michael Cohen's loyalty to President Trump or Michael Cohen's loyalty to his family, and you're going to see people divided on that issue.
BLITZER: And he's under criminal investigation.
PRESTON: Wolf, can I --
BLITZER: I was just going to say, he's under criminal investigation right now but, Phil, he hasn't yet been charged with any crime.
MUDD: Right. That's right. And to pick up on what you're just talking about, that loyalty issue is significant. And that's why I think the president's initial phone call last week was important. He's not going to call somebody like Michael Cohen, that is the president, because he's loyal to him. I suspect one of the reasons he called him was to say, stick with the team; he's worried that Michael -- that Mr. Cohen is going to flip, and he's worried about what he'll tell the feds. So, that wasn't to say I'm with you, you're my best friend. That call was to say stick with me and maybe even to send a signal about a pardon.
BLITZER: Well, you think he sent a signal about a pardon, Ron, by -- with pardon, the full pardon of Scooter Libby?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think the timing of that was certainly, you know, note-worthy. We obviously have no idea what he said to Michael Cohen. But you know, the idea of this call from the person who is, in theory, at the top of the pyramid of federal law enforcement to someone who is under investigation. You know, again, it's one of these moments where the president is kind of barreling past the boundaries that normally limit the exercise of presidential power, particularly in the area of law enforcement. And I keep coming back to this same issue: what is there that will sustain and reinforce those boundaries?
The only -- the most immediate buttress that is there is resistance from the Congress, and we don't -- we simply don't hear it. In fact, we see the Republicans in Congress going in the other direction, for example with these demands on Rod Rosenstein to release the James Comey memos. Whatever you think about, you know, what they ultimately added to the conversation, the fact that they put this pressure on for them to be released, yes, I think is just constantly reaffirming in Trump, President Trump to believe that he can go further and that they will be with him.
[17:35:13] BLITZER: And Sabrina, a lot of people still believe the Michael Cohen criminal investigation that's underway in New York, the U.S Attorney in southern district of New York handling that, potentially is a greater threat to the president than the Robert Mueller Russia probe. SIDDIQUI: Absolutely. And certainly, the president's legal team has
expressed more concern privately with that criminal investigation into Michael Cohen. It's important to note that there could also be overlap at some point down the road. Right now, this has more to do with Michael Cohen's business dealings, the hush money, of course, that was paid to Stormy Daniels. But any documents that were seized in that raid that may be related to the investigation to Russian interference in the U.S. election, those could be referred back to the special counsel and his team. So, Robert Mueller also stands to benefit from that probe.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this --
BROWNSTEIN: wolf --
BLITZER: Go ahead and make your point, Ron.
BROWNSTEIN: I'll say real quick, it is worth-noting here as you heard from the congresswoman before, you know, the question of whether Democrats really need to be joining this as well. I mean, there are just multiple investigations going on at this point and the risk, I think, to the Democratic Party is that this is all the people are hearing out of Washington. Ultimately, in the November election, it's going to turn more on what people think, which party could kind of improve their lives and the questions like tax care, and health care, and tax reform, and health care are being totally eclipsed by this. And it really is kind of a questionable move by the DNC to kind of jump in both feet at a time when there are so many other avenues already being pursued.
BLITZER: Yes, you heard Congresswoman Jackie Speier of the House Intelligence Committee, a Democrat, say this DNC lawsuit is ill- conceived. Other Democrats are saying the same thing. We're going to speak to the chairman of the DNC Tom Perez later as well. Much more on the breaking news right after this.
[17:41:26] BLITZER: All right. We're back with our specialist, our analysts. And Phil Mudd, let me talk to you about these Comey memos and one of the Comey memos the president clearly is fixated on these allegations, and the Steele dossier about Russian prostitutes in Moscow back in 2013. Comey says that Trump offered this defense and I'll read it to you; this is from the Comey memo. He said, "He had spoken to people who had been on the Miss Universe trip with him and they had reminded him that he didn't stay overnight in Russia for that. He said, he arrived in the morning, did events, then showered, and dressed for the pageant at the hotel -- he didn't say the hotel name -- and left for the pageant.
Afterwards, he returned only to get his things because they departed for New York by plane that same night." But that seems to contradict what his former bodyguard Keith Schiller who testified before Congress said that he did go to bed, spend the night there, and there are photographs -- there's a photograph of him in Moscow at a restaurant on November 8th, 2013; the pageant was on November 9th, 2013, that went through the evening. He got back to New York on November 10th at 9:44 p.m. So, according to that evidence, he probably spent at least one night in Moscow. Why would there be this inconsistency?
MUDD: Well, obviously because he's -- the president doesn't remember. An eyewitness, including someone who was there for this event don't remember details years after or the president wants to hide something. But there's bigger question related inconsistencies, and that is you're getting at the heart, Wolf, of why the president should not, and why his lawyers, I would guess, advised him not to get in front of the special counsel. You've got the inconsistencies you just talked about, and whether the president continues that if he has a conversation with the special counsel.
Let me give you two more problems: Priebus and Jeff Sessions, they are mentioned in detail by the Comey memos. I can presume that the special counsel has talked to or will to both Sessions and Priebus. And let's say they corroborate memos, the president going into an interview after you have Comey, Priebus, and Sessions say the same thing and say, I never said that, that never happened. With that level of detail, bottom line, Wolf, the president is at risk of going in and giving the special counsel more inconsistencies. If he does that, that's a potential 1001 violation, that's lying to a federal officer.
BLITZER: Ron, what do you think?
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, look, I think for better or worse, James Comey is a bee who has already strung. I mean, people have lots of opinions about him on both sides of the aisle based on his behavior during the campaign and how he has interacted with Trump since. But the most important thing that he has contributed, I think, to this entire conversation is his account of that meeting where Donald Trump asked everyone else to leave and asked him whether he could find a way to let go of the Michael Flynn investigation, he's a good guy, and so forth. And whatever else Republicans in Congress thought they were achieving by engineering the release of these memos, the one inescapable thing they have done is to show that what James Comey said in front of Congress is, in fact, what he wrote in his memo immediately after the event. That is what Donald Trump asked him.
And the question will be: you know, now we all have that, the question will be, how do people interpret that? Particularly, how does Congress interpret that? Because don't forget, both under Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, the Justice Department concluded that a special counsel cannot criminally indict a sitting president. He might -- Bob Mueller might choose to challenge that if he thinks there's reason to, but more likely, he will accept it and pass along whatever conclusions he reached about Donald Trump to Congress. So, again, as on all matters, it seems to come back in their lap, how will they interpret the behavior that we now have new evidence again occurred.
[17:45:15] BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of unanswered questions and hopefully we'll get some of those answers. There's more breaking news we're following. President Trump's conflicting claims about talking to Vladimir Putin. What the Comey memos reveal? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[17:50:06] BLITZER: The newly-revealed Comey memos detailing the fired FBI director's conversations with President Trump, show the president fixated on the infamous Steele dossier and its flurried allegations of an encounter with Russian prostitutes. CNN's Brian Todd is working this part of the story for us. Brian, this topic of Russian prostitutes came up multiple times in conversations between the president and Comey.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. According to Comey's memos, the president denied at least three times being with Russian prostitutes. But tonight, Comey's memos are raising another bizarre question: did Vladimir Putin ever talk to Trump about Russian prostitutes?
TODD: In his own words before becoming president, Donald Trump either had a long-standing relationship with Vladimir Putin or had never met him.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He could not have been nicer. I've never met Putin. I don't know who Putin is.
TODD: But tonight, there is a bizarre new twist in the odd year's old alleged bromance between the two men, after James Comey's memos detailing his conversations with the president were released to Congress and leaked to the public. In one, dated February 8th, 2017, Comey writes about what he perceived as the president's obsession with allegations that the Russians taped him with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room. "The president said, the hookers thing is nonsense," Comey says. But that Putin had told, "We have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world." He did not say when Putin had told him this, Comey notes. The alleged comment by Trump about a conversation with Putin is attracting attention today because according to the Kremlin, Trump and Putin had only spoken to each other once -- 11 days earlier on January 28th of last year. That was a phone call between the two leaders. On Trump's end, Vice President Pence, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and Michael Flynn were in the room. But neither the Kremlin nor the official White House readout of the call mentioned prostitutes being discussed. For years before he ran for president, Trump had repeatedly claimed to have met Mr. Putin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This Vladimir Putin, have you met him the guy?
TRUMP: He's a tough guy, I met him once.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you met Vladimir Putin?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have?
TRUMP: One time, yes, a long time ago. It went great, by the way. TODD: But later, when he was running for president, Trump's story
TRUMP: I never met Putin. I have nothing to do with Putin, I've never spoken to him.
TODD: Biographers say with Trump, embellishment and reality sometimes collide resulting in confusion. They say, Trump's previous claims to have met with Putin may have referred to a meeting Trump wanted to have with the Russian president in 2013, when he hosted the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Biographers say, the meeting never happened, but the Putin reportedly sent Trump lacquered box as a gift. Then, there was this.
TRUMP: And I got to know him very well, because we were both "60 Minutes", we were stablemates.
TODD: They were actually on different continents at the time.
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN COMMENTATOR AND AUTHOR: Donald Trump sees these associations as being quite meaningful. So, if he's on a T.V. show, and a few minutes later someone else is on the same tv show, he might consider himself stablemates with that person.
TODD: But none of that, Trump watchers say, explains the alleged comment to Comey about discussing prostitutes with Putin. Putin did once mention in public the allure of Russian prostitutes about three weeks before that alleged Trump/Comey conversation, when the Russian president dismissed the claim that Trump watched prostitutes urinate on each other in a Moscow hotel.
VLADIMIR PUTIN; PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): It is hard to believe he ran to a hotel to meet with our girls of a low social class, although they are the best in the world.
TODD: Could Trump have simply embellished to say that Putin told him about Russian prostitutes? Could Trump have misremembered something? Or did he really have this conversation with Putin?
FEID WILSON, THE HILL: Donald Trump is somebody who likes to talk about his interaction with other famous people that puts him on the same level as them in a number of instances before he became president of the United States. So, it's not entirely clear whether or not this interaction actually happened.
TODD: We sought clarification in Washington and Moscow on whether Putin ever told Trump personally that Russian prostitutes were the most beautiful in the world. The White House didn't get back to us. Putin's spokesman says the Russian president, "could not say such things and did not say it to President Trump". Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian, there's another surprising part of the Comey memos describing President Trump being frustrated with Michael Flynn, his fired National Security Adviser. Tell us about that. TODD: Right. Wolf, Comey writes about one meeting with the president
where Comey says Trump said he had serious reservations about Flynn. It was shortly after Trump's inauguration. And Comey says that Trump recalling Flynn not telling him about a phone call from another leader, pointing his fingers at his head and said this guy has serious judgment issues. So far, no response from Flynn to that part of Comey's memos.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks. A very good report.
[17:54:56] Breaking news next, a courtroom bombshell as Michael Cohen's attorney suggests President Trump's fixer could soon, soon be indicted by the feds.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, indictment possible. Michael Cohen's lawyer talks about his client's legal peril as he argues to put Stormy Daniel's lawsuit on hold. Tonight, the judge is refusing to make a ruling until Cohen reveals crucial information.
Suing the Russians. The Democratic Party takes surprising legal action alleging the Trump campaign conspired with the Kremlin to sway the 2016 election in the president's favor. Why now as the special counsel's team is still at work? I'll ask the DNC chairman.
[18:00:03] Trump's obsession. We're learning more about the president's fixation on the infamous Russian dossier and its most salacious claim, now that James Comey's memos are public.