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STATE OF THE UNION

North Korean Nuclear Shutdown?; Trump Lashes Out at Comey; Interview With Tennessee Senator Bob Corker; Corker Struggles To Offer Defense of GOP Senate Candidate; Democrat Leads Tennessee Senate Race; Interview With Trump Senior Adviser Kellyanne Conway; Stormy Daniels' Lawyer: Cohen Could Be Indicted Within 90 Days; First Lady Melania Trump Attends Barbara Bush's Funeral; First Lady Melania Trump Overseeing Details For First State Dinner. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired April 22, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking point. President Trump lashes out at James Comey and suggests the special counsel's investigation is based on an illegal act.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They won't find any collusion. It doesn't exist.

BASH: Is the president laying the groundwork to fire Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: We want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us.

BASH: Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway joins us live next.

Plus: Cohen in court.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Michael Cohen is going to flip on the president.

BASH: The president says his embattled attorney would never cooperate against him. Is he sure?

And nuclear shutdown? Kim Jong-un says he will stop nuclear tests, and President Trump is taking credit.

TRUMP: We have come a long way with North Korea.

BASH: As the two sides gear up for what could be a landmark sit-down.

TRUMP: If we don't think it is going to be successful, we won't have it.

BASH: Can Trump and Kim actually make a deal? The top senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, is here, ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is testing loyalties.

President Trump is in Mar-a-Lago, where he spent the weekend sending rapid-fire tweets, defending his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, against the notion that he might flip now that Cohen is under criminal investigation.

The president called Cohen a fine person with a wonderful family, tweeting Saturday: "Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don't see Michael doing that, despite the horrible witch-hunt and dishonest media."

The president also called an unknown person "a drunk, drugged-up loser," and continued his Twitter tirade against the former FBI director, James Comey, suggesting the newly released Comey memos prove the special counsel's investigation is illegal and saying Comey is a proven liar and leaker.

Here with me is counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway.

Kellyanne, thank you so much for coming in.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Hi, Dana.

BASH: Appreciate it.

OK, so you just heard me mention that tweet, the president talking about Michael Cohen, saying people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble. He thinks Cohen won't do that.

Why is the president, though, talking about the notion of Michael Cohen flipping if the president didn't do anything wrong?

CONWAY: You have to look at everything the president said about Michael Cohen and the FBI raid.

He is defending someone who he has worked with and known for a dozen- plus years, Dana, who he thinks is being treated unfairly. Look at what happened this week, a tale of two tales, if you will.

You have got Jim Comey on the one hand going out on a big book tour after saying, I don't leak, I'm not sneaky, I don't make any weasel moves, and doing all of the above again and again, including in his memos. More on that in a moment.

And then you have got Michael Cohen, who the president believes is being treated unfairly at this moment. Also, the methods really have disserved the president. He said in the Cabinet Room when he first got word of the FBI raid almost two weeks ago tomorrow that he felt the methods were a -- quote -- "disgrace."

And that should concern everyone. Nobody is talking about the contents in the documents. People are speculating and prevaricating, particularly not under oath on TV shows. But the method should concern people.

I mean, look at the -- look at the DNC server. The FBI didn't bother to secure or search the DNC's server when the DNC said no and it had been hacked.

BASH: But, Kellyanne, let me get back...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: And then -- and here Michael Cohen is subject to a raid by the same organization.

BASH: OK, let me get back to the original question, though, which is, at its core, what does the president have to hide that he is worried that Michael Cohen will flip over, meaning what does he have, what information does he have to give?

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: That wasn't your original question, Dana, respectfully.

And that isn't what he is saying in these tweets. In these tweets, he is saying, this is a fine family man who he worked with for many years. He thinks he is being treated unfairly.

BASH: Well, my initial question was, what does he have to hide if the president didn't do anything wrong?

My question is, are you confident -- just trying to get at the same answer, the same notion, and see if you can tell me if the president did, unequivocally, nothing wrong that he is worried that Michael Cohen will tell the feds about.

CONWAY: Dana, the president is -- you're asking me, what do I know is in documents over a dozen or so years?

I'm telling you that the president's concern has been for Michael Cohen and the way he has been treated. And he's said that again and again in tweets and again and again with the cameras rolling, with the media in the Cabinet Room and elsewhere.

And why is that? Because I see people go on TV constantly who don't know President Trump at all and say he is loyal to no one but himself. That is completely not true. He stands up for people in his inner circle and people he knows when he thinks they are being treated unfairly.

And he's done it again and again. He shows a great sense of loyalty to people whom he thinks is being treated unfairly. But, remember, too, this investigation of almost a year was supposed to be about Russian collusion. Look at all the screen and graphics CNN has invested in. Look at all the airtime and the ink spilled on this.

(CROSSTALK)

[09:05:02] BASH: Well, but this is separate.

CONWAY: Well, yes. But now we're off into different...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: ... matters.

BASH: But you said there are people on TV who don't know the president.

You're on TV, and you know the president quite well. You work for the president. And you're here on his behalf, on behalf of the White House.

Can you tell me that the president is -- can you assure the American people that the reason the president isn't tweeting concern about Michael Cohen flipping because he is in potential legal jeopardy, given whatever he knows that Michael Cohen has that the feds now have from that search?

CONWAY: Dana, the president is talking about Michael Cohen here.

The SDNY has jurisdiction over this, the Southern District of New York has jurisdiction over this case now. And the president has made very clear that he thinks this is an overwrought process.

BASH: Let me go to a...

CONWAY: By the way, also, to answer your question very pointedly...

BASH: Yes, please.

CONWAY: ... this president was told three times by Jim Comey privately that he wasn't under investigation by the FBI.

Comey decided against revealing that publicly, and probably should have, in fairness, just the way he should have told president-elect Trump on January 6 in Trump Tower that his political opponents had funded some phony dossier against him.

"The Washington Post," of all places, reported less than two weeks ago that this president has been told he is not a target of the investigation.

So, I think we're answering your question in many different ways.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: ... now take it into a different jurisdiction.

BASH: Well, absolutely.

Well, I didn't take it in a different jurisdiction.

CONWAY: That's what a process is for. BASH: The president's own Justice Department took it another direction, because...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: ... they got information that they felt was important enough and that a judge felt was important enough to raid his personal attorney's office.

CONWAY: Dana, all of this, of course, diverts attention and focus away from all the great things this president is doing as president.

And I hope CNN will start to cover that a little bit more, because the American people certainly do like what is going on, including this president making huge strides in short order towards denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

BASH: And we are going to talk about that...

CONWAY: It's a huge issue.

BASH: ... in great detail later.

But you talk about diversions.

The president is to blame for some of those diversions with his Twitter feed. And one example -- I mentioned this -- he talked about news media coverage of Michael Cohen.

And in that -- part of that tweet, he said: "They use nonexistent sources and a drugged-up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family."

Who is he talking about?

CONWAY: I don't know who he is talking about there.

But I'm very proud that this president has led the charge like no other president before him to try to bend the curve in the right direction on the roiling crisis next door of opioids and other drug use.

He just secured $6 billion in funding in that latest budget. That's an unheard amount of money, a historic amount of funding. And we have a whole-of-government approach in tackling the opioid crisis.

President Trump went first. He's inviting everybody to share their stories. We have them up on the WhiteHouse.gov Web site, crisisnextdoor.gov.

Everybody can share their stories. Really, CNN should go take a look at these stories.

BASH: We have. And we you know we have.

(CROSSTALK) BASH: You have done whole interviews on this. And I appreciate that you're talking about the opioid...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: No, no, no. If you're going to mention the drunk and drugged-up comment, I want to make sure, because I saw -- people pointed it out to me -- I certainly didn't see -- I enjoyed my Saturday offline.

But people who live online were going back and forth about this yesterday. So, I do want to say, on behalf of the president, he went first in sharing his story. He talked on October 26 about his brother Fred.

BASH: His brother Fred. I agree with that.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: ... alcoholism...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: So, given that...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: ... an inch on that .

BASH: Why would he tweet out attacking somebody as drunk and drugged- up as a negative, sort of ad hominem attack, and you won't even say who it is?

CONWAY: I don't know who he is referring to there.

But, remember, he's also defending Michael Cohen there.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Is it appropriate for the president of the United States to be doing that?

CONWAY: Remember, he's -- he is also defending Michael Cohen in that tweet that as well. He's saying it's somebody who doesn't care for Michael Cohen going and speaking to media sources about him.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Should the president -- just one more on this.

If the president's going to tweet something like that, shouldn't he own it and explain it?

CONWAY: He owns it. He owns everything.

BASH: If he did, then why wouldn't he say who he was talking about? CONWAY: You could read the article and make your own -- I'm sure CNN will talk about it for the next week.

I'm sure there will be graphics and Chyrons and everything else, because, after all, this president needs his -- his new secretary of state confirmed, so the chief diplomat can go back over to North Korea and elsewhere to sit down and try to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, which is in everybody's interests.

But -- and we want to make the tax cuts permanent. We want to get this obstruction in the Senate of the president's nominees. He's got over 100-and-some nominees just sitting there waiting for a hearing.

You have had more cloture votes on this president than all the four predecessors combined. It's crazy. But I guess you don't want to talk about it, so I will.

BASH: Well, we do talk about it.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: This affects the American people.

(CROSSTALK

BASH: I guess you're in a position...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: Dana, if the president didn't tweet, what would CNN talk about? I'm very -- I'm...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: ... curious.

BASH: You know what? We would talk a lot more about the issues that he's not diverting from.

CONWAY: But you wouldn't. You would not.

BASH: We would, and we do.

CONWAY: Because when he doesn't tweet, you don't anyway.

BASH: And we do.

But because he's tweeting a lot this weekend, I have to ask you about it, because you're here representing him.

[09:10:04]

CONWAY: And I'm happy to answer.

BASH: You mentioned Comey and that we would talk about him later.

CONWAY: That guy.

BASH: So, the president repeatedly has called him a liar.

Just hours after Comey's memos were released, the president tweeted this: "James Comey's memos just out and show clearly there that there was no collusion and no obstruction. Also, he leaked classified information. Wow. Will the witch-hunt continue?"

So, here's my question. If Comey is a liar, how can the memos show that the president is vindicated? How can the president have it both ways?

CONWAY: Very easy.

First of all, Comey said conflicting things on his own book tour this week. He can't even keep his story straight when he's out there among what he thinks is going to be a hero's welcome with the mainstream media.

And, fortunately, many people, including your own Jake Tapper, pushed back on him, really filleted him last week.

This is Jim Comey, who in those memos never says the president of the United States obstructed justice, told the president at least three times that he wasn't under investigation. And never in those memos, Dana, does then FBI Director Jim Comey say he's told anybody in the Justice Department that he's concerned about the president's credibility or conduct.

He doesn't bother to do that. So he's already a proven -- proven leaker and liar. And, by the way, ask nobody else no other than Andrew McCabe, his former number two, whose attorney this week was pushing back on Jim Comey.

And they're arguing about Andrew McCabe now has criminal referrals just this week because of lying about leaking to the press. Think about that, lying about leaking to the press, the number two at the FBI now in a battle with the number one at the FBI.

They presided over an FBI that never bothered to get the DNC server, to search it, to secure it, never, never bothered to clean up their act at the highest levels, these people, Strzok and Ohr and Page, who are against...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Kellyanne, we're almost -- we're almost out of time.

I just ask you one question that a lot of people are asking me, probably you too. And that is, what is up with your husband's tweets?

Your husband is a very well-respected lawyer, and he's been sending some tweets that have been critical of the administration.

Just an example, in response to a tweet he saw saying President Trump's aides are reluctant to speak for him because he contradicts them, later, your husband wrote: "So true. It's absurd."

CONWAY: He writes a lot of things that are also supportive, and he writes a lot of things about corgis and Philadelphia Eagles and sports, too.

But the fact is that -- well, two things I will say to you.

Number one, that, again, that woman who lost the election whose name I never see on TV anymore is wrong that women -- I think she said white women have to listen to their -- the men in their life to -- to form their own political opinions. Wrong again, lady.

Number two, it's fascinating to me that CNN would go there. But it's very good for the whole world to have just witnessed that it's now fair...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: Excuse me -- that it's now fair game what people's -- how people's spouses and significant others may differ with them.

I'm really surprised, but very, in some ways, relieved and gratified to see that.

BASH: No.

CONWAY: That should really be fun.

BASH: No, I actually -- first of all, I would ask you that if you were a man and your wife...

CONWAY: No, you wouldn't.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: A thousand percent, I would.

CONWAY: No, no, no, no, no.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: And it's not about that. It's about -- it's about -- it's about questioning -- publicly questioning what you are doing for a living and with regard to your boss.

And it has nothing to do with your gender, and it has...

CONWAY: No, and it has nothing to do with my spouse.

BASH: Right. That's...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: ... just asking.

(CROSSTALK) CONWAY: Oh, no, no, no, you just brought him -- you just brought him into this, so this ought to be fun moving forward, Dana.

BASH: OK.

CONWAY: We're now going to talk about other people's -- people's spouses and significant others, just because they either work in the White House or at CNN?

Are we going to do that? Because you just -- no, you just went there.

BASH: Yes. Yes.

CONWAY: CNN just went there.

Look, differences of opinions...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: By the way, this wasn't critical. I'm just asking about...

CONWAY: Oh, of course it was.

It was meant to harass and embarrass. But let me just tell you something.

BASH: Absolutely not.

CONWAY: Let me just tell you something.

By definition, spouses have a difference of opinion when adultery is happening.

BASH: I could not agree more.

CONWAY: By definition, spouses have a difference of opinion when one is, I don't know, draining the joint bank account to support things that maybe the other disagrees with.

So, this is a fascinating cross the Rubicon moment. And I will leave it at that.

BASH: OK.

Well, that certainly was not intended to cross any Rubicon. It was actually intended to be somewhat lighthearted about the fact that we are all grownups who have different opinions.

But I'm sorry that you took it that...

CONWAY: That isn't what you said.

You said, I have got to ask you a question that is on everybody's mind.

BASH: Yes, it is. It is. It is. I'm sure you -- I'm sure you hear it too. It is.

And it is hard to have -- to have two adults in -- in a situation like this, but it is unusual for...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: I'm sorry. What does that mean?

BASH: It is unusual for...

CONWAY: I'm sorry. It's hard for whom? I'm sorry. Back it up.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: It's hard for the two adults. My husband and me?

BASH: You and your husband. My point is that...

CONWAY: Now you're talking about my marriage again?

BASH: I'm not talking about your marriage.

CONWAY: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: ... my husband.

BASH: Kellyanne, Kellyanne, here was my whole point in this...

CONWAY: It's hard for whom?

BASH: ... is that you are a professional working for the president of the United States, and your husband is a very well-respected lawyer. And my point is, is that we don't often see -- in fact, I don't remember the last time we saw somebody working for the president in a high-profile position when their spouse is saying critical things about them.

[09:15:08]

That is all. That is all.

CONWAY: Well, that, A, is not true. There are other family members whose -- of people who work at the White House who certainly don't support the president privately and publicly.

But I will tell you this. And there are people who have been in his administration who worked for Democrats or gave money to Democrats.

But all that aside, that really is meant to divert attention from, again, the big issues that America cares about.

But, like I said, CNN chose to go there. I think that's going to be fascinating moving forward. And don't deny that, when you just said it must be difficult. I do want you to clarify, though, for the whole worldwide audience -- and, in fact, for me, since you raised me -- it's -- quote -- "difficult" for whom to have two adults what?

BASH: No, no, my point only is that...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: Difficult for my children, who are probably watching you right now?

BASH: No.

CONWAY: Because it's not hard for them.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Well, I didn't send the tweets.

CONWAY: They've already seen a double standard for their mother for two years.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: It is not about gender. I don't want to have this conversation. And you know that I don't believe that it's about gender.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: No, no, I didn't say -- no, no, it's not about gender.

Hold on. It's not about gender. There's been a different standard for me than there have been for other people.

And we bite our tongue plenty, because I work for the people of this country, the United States government, and the presidency, and the president of the United States.

So, there's plenty that I don't say. There's plenty that I don't talk about.

BASH: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: One day, I will have my say.

BASH: I will just give you -- I will just give...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: ... I will be invited back here.

BASH: Because you went there -- you are always invited back here.

Because you went there, I'll just give an example, because you asked.

Andrew McCabe. The president went after Andrew McCabe for something that his wife did, ran as a Democrat. And that had nothing to do with the president. So...

CONWAY: No, no, no, no.

The president knew something early that everybody else is now finding out. The president has excellent instincts. And he knew Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe...

BASH: But he didn't say that. His talked about his wife.

CONWAY: Oh, you don't know that he didn't say that.

He knew that Andrew McCabe could not be trusted. And look what happened just this week. Andrew McCabe, it's admitted now that he lied four times, at least three under oath, Dana, criminal referral just this week because he lied about leaking to the media.

This is the number two at the FBI. This should have everybody concerned. Everybody should go back and look at what the FBI was doing and not doing while Comey and McCabe were in charge of it.

And they all thought, if not wanted, the other person to win the election. And that so colored and politicized so much of their actions and their inactions.

BASH: Well, as you know, as you mentioned, the inspector general is asking to look into Andrew McCabe. And we are covering that. And we will continue to cover that.

Thank you very much.

CONWAY: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: Thank you, Kellyanne. Appreciate it.

And President Trump, as Kellyanne just talked about, is touting a major new announcement from North Korea, saying on Twitter: "North Korea has agreed to suspend all nuclear tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the world. Big progress."

That is what he said.

And the White House has yet to announce a time and place or location planned for this upcoming summit. We are certainly looking to see that between the president and Kim Jong-un.

But President Trump is saying he would walk out of a meeting if North Korea is not fruitful in these talks.

We want to discuss this with a very important guest, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. Senator Corker, North Korea claims that they are giving this big

concession and giving up the testing program. But how is that a concession, given that their testing appears to be complete because they have advanced enough with their nuclear program?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Dana, look, this is a great public relations effort by Kim Jong-un. And I think people recognize that.

I think everyone within the administration and Congress approaches this with skepticism and caution. And yet I'm glad the two leaders are talking. I'm glad Mike Pompeo is helping prepare the way, as are hopefully other officials.

But we will see what happens. This is a good public relations move. We will see. We want to see some substance. And I hope it occurs.

BASH: So, you say it is a public relations move. You don't believe them? Do you not believe that they will denuclearize?

CORKER: Well, I don't think he said anything about denuclearizing on the front end necessarily.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Sure. Forgive me.

Will stop, will stop testing right now.

CORKER: Yes. Yes.

You know, you can easily reverse that. And all of us know that. And -- but, again, I think he is handling himself well to begin the meetings in a way that almost put the United States on the defensive.

But, look, we will see where it goes. I'm glad they are talking. And I hope we have a number of precursor meetings to make sure that the context for all of this is set in the appropriate way.

BASH: So, you're right. The North Koreans certainly haven't promised to denuclearize on the front end.

But they are saying that ultimately they would put that on the table.

Is that something that you believe? After all of these years, decades of North Koreans saying no way, you think that, this time, they are telling the truth?

CORKER: Look, this has been a 25-year saga.

[09:20:01]

And, again, we approach it with caution, skepticism. But I'm glad the meetings are taking place. And we will just have to see what happens.

I mean, I think for anyone to try to use conjecture to figure out where this goes at this time is just inappropriate. What we need to do is prepare ourselves, which I'm sure the president is being prepared for this.

We have the context set right, and we will see what happens. Beyond that...

BASH: One last question on -- one last question on North Korea.

Do you believe or do you think that the U.S. should be prepared to make an agreement that does not include complete denuclearization in North Korea?

CORKER: No, I don't.

But, you know, again, we will see where it goes. This is just the front end, Dana. And you know what I mean. This is -- this -- we have no idea where this is going to go.

And, again, I think to -- denuclearization has been that -- been our policy for years. This is where the president is, where the administration is, where we all are. But let's see where it goes.

Let's don't start negotiating back and say, oh, we will let them do X before we even start the meetings.

BASH: Yes.

I want to turn to Russia. You have said that relations with Russia are at their worst since the Cuban Missile Crisis and that there is a -- quote -- "real risk" for an armed conflict with Russia.

Frankly, hearing you, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, say that is somewhat terrifying. Do you think that the U.S. should be preparing for an armed conflict with Russia?

CORKER: No.

What I'm saying is, look, they're -- our relations are at that low point, the lowest since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Our leadership knows that. Secretary Mattis knows that.

And, therefore, the rhetoric, the kinds of things we are doing to deconflict in Syria are very important, because things are hot right now between us.

And it's not that we should be preparing. It's that we should be aware that miscalculations could lead us to a very bad place. And I think that's why you see Secretary Mattis saying the things he is saying, and urging the caution that he is urging.

So, if you saw during this last effort, fortunately, when we went into Syria, as we should have, recently and did what we did, you saw that there was conversations -- there were conversations that had taken place.

And Russia had its defensive mechanisms off. They were not operating. And so, you know, that was a good thing. But I think what you're seeing are leadership be concerned about where things might go if there is a miscalculation because of the tremendous deterioration of the relationship that's taken place over there course of the last year-and-a-half.

BASH: Mr. Chairman, let's talk about something that is going to happen in your committee tomorrow, certainly this week, and that is the nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is unlikely to be approved by your committee, the first time that this is going to happen likely since about 1925.

Does it give you pause to ultimately ram through his nomination on the Senate floor?

CORKER: Well, I don't think allowing people to vote is called ramming. OK?

This is a person that is highly qualified. He was first in his class at West Point, did "The Harvard Law Review," was in charge of that, incredibly qualified person, knows more about what is happening in the world probably than anybody in America because of his post at CIA.

Look, Dana, under ordinary times, he would be confirmed overwhelmingly. Secretary Clinton had one negative vote when she came through. John Kerry had no negative votes when they came through committee.

He is more qualified probably than either of them, but at least as qualified. And we just live in a very partisan environment.

My friends on the Democratic side -- and they are my friends -- I could try to make them feel bad about this. I could -- they have got, in their heart of hearts, not feel comfortable with what they are doing.

But the base, the base, their base abhors this president so much -- and vice versa -- and it goes both ways -- that we are in an era where somebody like this, who is qualified, unfortunately, is likely to be voted out without recommendation or with a negative recommendation.

But to allow -- that's not ramming through. That's happened before. And to allow senators to vote on this nominee on the floor is the right thing to happen.

It's just sad that our nation has devolved politically to this point...

BASH: Senator...

CORKER: ... where someone of his caliber is not going to be confirmed in the committee itself.

BASH: Senator, you mentioned -- you're mentioning politics.

You are not running for reelection in Tennessee. The race to replace you in the Senate could determine whether Republicans hold on to the majority.

[09:25:03]

This week, you called the Democratic candidate, Phil Bredesen -- quote -- "a friend, a very good mayor, a good governor, a good businessperson."

Now, we are told that the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, told you in a private meeting that those comments could hurt the Republicans, unhelpful in the midterms.

Is Mitch McConnell right?

CORKER: Look, I -- I -- it's hard to believe that the leadership of the Senatorial Committee on the Republican side would even leak that story out to "The Washington Post" and cause you to ask me about it.

Look, I have sent the maximum contribution to the Republican nominee on our side. I have said I'm going to plan to vote for this person.

I was in a long meeting where I talked about the -- they were asking me about Governor Bredesen. He is my friend. I'm not going to campaign against him, but I am supporting our nominee.

And somehow or another...

BASH: Can you tell me why Republican Marsha Blackburn is better to represent your state in Tennessee and take your seat than Phil Bredesen?

CORKER: Well, I think most people in our state -- it is a red state -- will focus on the first vote she makes.

And that is the vote to elect the majority leader. And I think, at the end of the day, that is going to be a big factor in the race.

But, Dana, the rest of the story wasn't written during the interview I had with "The Christian Science Monitor." And, somehow or another...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Senator, that's not a ringing endorsement of Marsha Blackburn, to say that she should be elected just because she is going to vote for Mitch McConnell.

CORKER: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

CORKER: Dana, you know, I'm supporting the nominee. I have worked with the nominee for some time.

And I don't know what else to say.

BASH: OK, we will leave it there.

The Senate Foreign Relations chairman, Bob Corker, thank you so much for joining me today. Appreciate it. CORKER: Thank you.

BASH: And President Trump is defending Michael Cohen, calling him a fine person and saying he doesn't think he will flip.

But will Twitter praise from the president be enough to keep his loyal fixer from revealing Trump's secrets?

Our panel will be here to discuss it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:31:27]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Michael Cohen is going to flip on this president. And he knows where the bodies are buried or at least many of them. And I do not think that the president will last through the balance of his term. I just don't.

Now we're going to find out if I'm right or wrong but I think he is going to ultimately resign the presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: That was Stormy Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti foreshadowing what he claims or thinks is a potential outcome of Michael Cohen's investigation saying that it could lead to big trouble for the president. My panel is here with me now.

And Linda Chavez I want to step back here listening to that and look at the big picture. We've (ph) been talking and hearing so much about the Russia investigation until the last couple of weeks where the focus has shifted to the southern district of New York separate from the Russia investigation that into the president's personal attorney.

Is this what he should be, he the president, should be more worried about?

LINDA CHAVEZ, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Well, I think everybody thinks this is the more serious investigation. But I don't think that you can necessarily separate the two because some of the allegations and they are just that, allegations and suspicion, is that the president during some of his bankruptcies, during some of his financial difficulties had trouble getting financing for his properties and for his deals. And a lot of condos got sold to a lot of people from Russia and Russian backers in Ukraine and so some of that material might in fact be in Mr. Cohen's documents.

And so the two might actually end up coming together. But it's always safe to say in Washington follow the money.

BASH: Yes. And there are reports, Bakari, that Stormy Daniels' first attorney, not Michael Avenatti, is now cooperating with investigators. BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what we -- what we see is that Michael Cohen actually got attorneys for both Ms. McDougal and Stormy Daniels as well and they both had the same attorney and they apparently didn't have any independents. So that in itself is unique, that in itself causes many conflicts.

But I still think that we are going to watch this Russia investigation flesh out. I think that this is just something tangential. People (INAUDIBLE) they -- we just don't remember that we started with Whitewater and ended up with the blue dress. I mean these things they meander and they go throughout and they run their course.

I'm interested to see what happens and how Russia actually infiltrated our election system so we can prevent it from happening again. I think that is the most important thing we have to worry about, making sure that we are protecting our democracy. And I think all of that will come out.

BASH: And, Senator Santorum, that is true but on the Michael Cohen question the president is facing some difficult circumstances as we saw him tweeting about.

There is a piece in the "New York Times" that he clearly did not react favorably to illustrating his relationship with Michael Cohen. And here is part of that story.

"For years Mr. Trump treated Mr. Cohen poorly, with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and, at least twice, threats of being fired.

Mr. Trump's lawyers and advisers have become resigned to the strong possibility that Mr. Cohen, who has a wife and two children and faces the prospect of devastating legal fees, if not criminal charges, could end up cooperating with federal officials who are investigating him."

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, look the attorneys -- U.S. attorneys have a tremendous power to put that kind of pressure on somebody to basically threaten bankruptcy if they don't cooperate because they will continue along an (ph) arduous (ph) prosecution with someone who can't afford.

[09:35:00]

So it's -- let's say -- let's say this. It has happened before because of that kind of pressure.

I don't know. I don't know what Michael Cohen is going to do. I don't think anybody knows what Michael Cohen is going to do.

But I think the points to the larger issue what you said the big picture, the Russia investigation other than finding out what Russia's role in the election is going nowhere with respect to Donald Trump and any kind of -- kind of wrong doing to Donald Trump. I think that is fairly clear at this point. And so everybody is now turning their attention to Michael Cohen and what is going on here. I don't think that is natural meandering of the situation. That is -- that is a special prosecutor gone rogue, which I think he has, and trying to find anything that can hit this president. And that is the reason special prosecutors are a really bad idea.

BASH: Special prosecutor gone rogue?

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Dana, I want to go back to a point tough that Bakari was making -- well, let me say, Mr. Cohen is the president's cleaner and muscle man and now the cleaner and muscle man is under investigation -- he's in trouble right now so that could lead to a lot of trouble for President Trump.

It certainly has led to a lot of drama for us in the United States of America. We can't focus on other stuff, you know, things that are going wrong in the streets of this country. But I will -- the point that Bakari was making about we need to find out what really happened here and nobody is above the law, not even the president if he is involved and engaged and has to pay the consequences, Mr. Cohen does, everybody in this web of deceit has to but we do as a country have to focus on how we fix our election system so that it is not in jeopardy of being violated by Russia or anybody else.

We have the -- we have not dealt with the voting rights act in this country since Shelby v. Holder. We have the help America vote act that gave money out to states to -- we still don't have the type of equipment in this country that can assure the safety and integrity of our elections from now into the future. And that is vitally important.

CHAVEZ: You know, I think one of the most revealing things to come out in the Comey interviews and the memos is his comment about what happened when then president-elect Trump was informed about the Russia involvement in the election. Everybody in the room including the chief of staff then Reince Priebus seemed totally unconcerned about Russia being involved and trying to tamper with our free and Democratic elections.

TURNER: They have an unholy love of Russia.

SANTORUM: Look --

SELLERS: We can't -- but we cannot say that this does not involve the president. Let me be clear because I know Rick said that earlier. The fact is the president's national security adviser has been indicted. His campaign chairman has been --

SANTORUM: Potentially (INAUDIBLE) --

SELLERS: -- has been indicted. Potentially -- I don't know how we get potentially wrong but what we know Paul Manafort is not wrongfully indicted. We know that Rick Gates --

SANTORUM: Has nothing to do with the election --

SELLERS: Rick Gates is now wrongfully indicted. SANTORUM: It has nothing to do with the election.

SELLERS: And 13 people have been -- Russian nationals have been indicted. So we can't say that --

SANTORUM: I agree that Russia tampered with the election. That's not the point. And there should be no surprise because Russia has been trying to tamper with elections and will continue to --

BASH: And we are going to continue to talk about this week after week I'm sure until we get the answer.

Up next, it's usually not even a question that you need to ask. Will the president have the support of his own party for reelection? But several high profile Republicans say they aren't ready to get on board with Trump in 20 yet.

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:42:58]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Will focus on the first vote she makes and that's the vote to elect the majority leader. And I think at the end of the day that's going to be a big factor in the race but you know the rest of the story wasn't written during the interview I had with the Christian Science Monitor and --

BASH: Senator, that's not a ringing endorsement of Marsha Blackburn to say that she should be elected just because she's going to vote for Mitch McConnell.

CORKER: Well -- Dana, you know, I'm supporting the nominee. I have worked with the nominee for some time and I don't know what else to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: That was Republican senator Bob Corker speaking to me just moments ago offering a not so ringing endorsement for the Republican running for his seat in Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.

My panel is back with me now. Senator Santorum,

SANTORUM: Thank you.

BASH: You're welcome.

SANTORUM: Yes. Look, I think it goes to, you know, Tip O'Neill's "all politics is local" that's not true. All politics is personal. And this is really a case in point.

I mean, number one, as mayor of Chattanooga, Bob Corker had a great relationship with Phil Bredesen. And so -- he has even said, I have a good personal relationship with the governor, former governor and Marsha Blackburn boxed Bob Corker out of maybe making a comeback and maybe running again.

BASH: Yes.

SANTORUM: So there's -- so it's -- it's personal. And I don't -- I understand that. I mean, this is a very difficult thing.

He is stepping forward and saying she's going to cast the right vote. I'm for the nominee. That is all you are going to get out of me.

Because on a personal side I'm just not there. And he sort of laid it out there. I don't think there is anything necessarily wrong with that. I think I understand it. And, you know, good for Bob Corker.

BASH: No. You are right. It is very human.

SANTORUM: Yes.

BASH: It's not very political.

SANTORUM: But he is not running for anything.

BASH: No, no. He's not -- he's not but that's why --

SANTORUM: He doesn't have to be political.

BASH: This is -- this is why Republicans in Congress -- well, they are very concerned in the Senate because they felt like the Senate was in good shape.

[09:45:09]

Now they are actually not so sure. And the reason why we are talking about this is Tennessee, Senator Corker's seat, could be pivotal.

CHAVEZ: That's right. And, you know, I think a lot of Republicans are sort of almost conceding that the House is going to be very, very difficult to hold. I mean it depends. We are still several months out.

But the Senate was, you know, more hopeful and I can tell you the last thing that Republicans want is to have not just a divided Congress but both Houses of Congress in the hands of the Democrats. That would be for the Republican Party a disaster.

SELLERS: But it also highlights something that, you know, the map is changing every single day. I know that we saw seven or eight seats go from strongly Republican to leaning Republican. So you see that but you also have Senate seats which are now up for grabs not only Tennessee but Arizona. There is also a seat in Mississippi where Democrats are going to play hard.

Mike Espy he's going to run hard. Don't frown up. We just beat you in Alabama. So don't -- SANTORUM: That's not going to happen.

SELLERS: Don't frown up. And so -- but you have -- you have Republicans having to spend money at least to protect these seats. And what that means is that Dana leaves the Heitkamps, the Manchins, those individuals --

BASH: The red state Democrats.

SELLERS: Red state Democrats may not have the resources blowing back against them.

TURNER: But they should be. I mean, elections are just that. And they should be robust and American people every election cycle should have the right. They have the responsibility but the right to exercise their will so no one should get comfortable and especially Republicans in this era in terms of the suffering that is going on in this country.

And I know they will say unemployment rate is low and those things. But as I travel this country people on both sides are still suffering. And we spent a whole lot of time talking about the drama that is happening.

But I certainly don't believe that we can understand the state of our union so to speak without understanding the state of the streets. And that is why somebody in rural parts of the country the working poor and the middle class in this country are suffering. And people are tired of it and they're showing it through their election. And this will be -- the Republicans will be put to the test in 2018.

BASH: And issues like that, all issues tend to be a referendum on the president even in a midterm election.

SANTORUM: And I would say President Trump has done more to help working men and women than any president in recent memory. The reality is tough talk on trade is actually paying off. His tough talk on North Korea is actually paying off.

You see an economy that is growing. You see wages that are going up. I think the Republicans have --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Can I ask -- that's a really good question, Senator Santorum. Manu Raju did some great reporting talking to Republican senators and many of them were not ready to sign on to the president's reelection bid. As somebody who knows what it is like to lose in a Democratic wave as you did in 2006 --

SANTORUM: Thank you for reminding me.

BASH: You're welcome.

Do you understand -- do you think the president is somebody who should be kept at arm's length? SANTORUM: In this election cycle I think the president because of his

Twitter activity and character issues that are out there is going to be kept at arm's length by folks in some tough races particularly in the northeast. But I think a lot of areas -- I mean, you see folks out there embracing the president. He is going to be -- North Dakota is a good example.

And by the way going back to Tennessee in '06 when I lost everybody lost except Bob Corker in an open seat in Tennessee. Tennessee is a solid state and Marsha Blackburn is going to win that race.

CHAVEZ: You know, I do think that this is going to be a referendum on the president. And I happen to agree more with Rick than I do with Nina in terms of the state of the economy what the president's policies have been. But the man himself is the issue.

And Twitter screams like he had this morning where he is tweeting out in all caps over and over and over again. This turns people off. It makes people like me very concerned.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Everybody --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: We got to go. Do it on Twitter -- do it on Twitter because we are talking about Twitter. Everybody stand by. Thank you so much.

She stands above the fray and is praised by people on both sides of the aisle. Melania Trump is the president's secret weapon and this week she will be front and center. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:53:40]

BASH: Welcome back.

President Trump stayed in Florida Saturday, as four former presidents attended the funeral of the former first lady Barbara Bush. The president instead followed the example of many of his predecessors and relied on his better half the first lady.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Former first lady Barbara Bush was referred to as her husband's not so secret secret weapon.

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Don't dare criticize George H.W. Bush.

BASH: Now President Trump may have found a not so secret weapon of his own.

TRUMP: I just want to thank first lady Melania Trump. BASH: Melania Trump, solo Saturday, representing her husband as consoler in-chief at Barbara Bush's funeral, an event President Trump chose to not attend out of respect for the Bush family.

BUSH: I don't know how women can vote for someone who somebody said what he said about Megyn Kelly. That's terrible.

BASH: As her husband's controversies hit closer and closer to home --

COMEY: 0I remember thinking how could your wife think there's a 1 percent chance you are with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?

BASH: Melania Trump is keeping her head high and her focus on classic first lady duties. Behind the scenes, Melania Trump is overseeing details of their first state dinner, hosting French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, next week.

[09:55:00]

TRUMP: There is truly no better ambassador for our country than our beautiful first lady Melania.

BASH: The first lady taking the lead might be a good thing for President Trump given his view of state dinners as a candidate.

TRUMP: I say, why are you doing to state dinners with them? Just take them to McDonald's and go back to the negotiating table.

BASH: Now, of course, he is president and wants to reciprocate after the French rolled out the red carpet for the Trumps last year.

TRUMP: I was your guest at Bastille Day and it was one of the greatest parades I've ever seen.

BASH: It's a high pressure role for any first lady especially one who even her husband admits is taking a lot of incoming.

TRUMP: Great, great first lady, you think her life is so easy, folks? Not so easy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And it's the most important foreign meeting of his presidency but is President Trump doing the work to prepare for high-stakes meetings with Kim Jong-un? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)