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THE SITUATION ROOM
White House Chief of Staff Frustrated With President Trump?; Stormy Daniels Sues President Trump; Will Trump Pull Out of Iran Nuclear Deal?; Interview With Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline; GOP Fights Ex-Con in Republican Senate Primary in West Virginia; Sources: Trump Asked Merkel Lots of Questions About Putin. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 30, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Stormy Daniels and her lawyers are expanding their legal battle with Mr. Trump, making the case she's been defamed. What does the porn star stand to gain from this new lawsuit after a judge put her previous suit on hold?
Unhinged. We are learning that Chief of Staff John Kelly has been increasingly frustrated with President Trump, questioning whether he can keep it together. Stand by for new details on the venting he's been doing behind closed doors.
Refusing to comply. The Green Party's 2016 presidential candidate isn't giving Senate investigators everything they want in the Russia probe, as Jill Stein faces allegations she's played a role in Moscow's election meddling. What is she holding back?
And Putin's poison lab. We're tracking the demolition of a chemical weapons base where the nerve agent used against a foreign Russian spy reportedly was made. Is the Kremlin trying to destroy evidence of attempted murder?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, a source tells CNN that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told senior national security officials that the president was becoming unhinged, as Kelly has grown more and more frustrated with his boss.
Also breaking right now, the porn star Stormy Daniels is filing a second lawsuit. This one accuses the president of defaming her by suggesting she lied about being threatened by a man who may have had ties to Mr. Trump.
This hour, I will talk with Congressman David Cicilline. He's a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are all standing by.
First, let's go to our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, tell us more about the Stormy Daniels new lawsuit.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this lawsuit filed here in New York late this afternoon is taking issue with the way the president was characterizing that sketch that Stormy Daniels and her attorney put out of a man that she claims confronted her, threatened her, after she revealed, after she came forward to "In Touch" magazine that she was having an affair with the president.
Suddenly, one day she's in a parking lot in California. And this man she claims who is pictured in the sketch approached her. The sketch does not come to light until several years later a few weeks ago, where her attorney and her released it. The president then reacted to that sketch in a tweet.
And here's what he said. According to his tweet, he says: "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man, a total con job. Playing the fake news media for fools," and then in parentheses, "But they know it."
This lawsuit takes issue with this tweet, saying the president's tweet defamed Stormy Daniels, essentially calling her a liar. And then the lawsuit goes on to say that by calling the incident a con job, Mr. Trump's statement would be understood to state that Ms. Clifford, that Stormy Daniels was fabricating the crime and the existence of the assailant, both of which are prohibited under New York state law, and as well as other states here.
And, Wolf, the lawsuit here seeks about over $75,000 in damages.
BLITZER: All right. Shimon, thanks very much for that background, Shimon Prokupecz reporting.
Let's will bring in our criminal defense attorney, the CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson.
Joey, what do you think, do they have a case?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, there's a 0.0 percent chance of this case moving forward. Let's talk about why.
When you talk about defamation, you're speaking about a false factual assertion that impugns reputation. Now, let's examine the facts. What are the facts? Apparently, there was some type of relationship, encounter, you know, sexual experience, classified it as you will, in 2006. Not the issue here.
What happens is, in 2011, she apparently, because of wanting to sell the story or what have you, is approached in a parking lot. And so, there's no report as to it occurring. We know that then she went in and apparently continued with her class along with her daughter. And then seven years later, there's a sketch.
Why do I bring this all up? Because in order for you to prove a false factual assertion, you have to establish that those underlying events, that is, that she was actually threatened, is true. Moving off that then, you look to the actual tweet itself.
The tweet itself is an opinion. The fact is, is that I'm allowed to say that this was a con job and that's ridiculous, et cetera, et cetera. If we had courts of law that were filled with people who had opinions and that people were able to make actionable complaints against them, we would have to build new courthouses.
The president always tweets about things. He puffs, some would argue he fabricates, he does other things, but you're allowed to do what he did, which is essentially express an opinion.
The final note, I would say, Wolf, is on the issue of impugning reputation. She has already admitted that, you know what? She charges more as a result of this entire lawsuit. So how is her reputation impugned?
Are people really saying, because of Trump's tweet, she's a liar, she's subject to scorn, to ridicule, to shame, oh, my goodness? Really, Stormy Daniels? So, at essence, I get and understand and I am not impugning Michael Avenatti at any stretch of the imagination.
He has taken it to the president. He's been a counterpuncher himself. But I just think this lawsuit has no merit whatsoever and I think it goes nowhere.
BLITZER: Joey Jackson, helping us appreciate the latest development. Thank you very much. You will be back later this hour.
Now to the president and his relationship with his chief of staff, John Kelly. CNN learning new details right now about the extent of John Kelly's frustration with his job and his boss.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, what are you learning?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
We're hearing some disparaging comments that were made by the chief of staff, John Kelly, about President Trump over the last several months. My colleague Jeremy Diamond and I hearing that John Kelly has made these comments about the presidents in reference to a couple things, one being, after the president said he wanted to start pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, my colleague Jeremy Diamond hearing from a senior administration official that after that discussion took place, the chief of staff believed that the president was becoming unhinged.
The word unhinged used by John Kelly about the president. And I will also tell you, Wolf, I talked to an administration official earlier today who said the president was the target of some -- quote -- "salty language" by John Kelly after the two men clashed over who would replace John Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security. So there have been a number of occasions that we're hearing about,
Wolf, when the chief of staff has used some disparaging language about the president on areas where they just have disagreed. Now, my colleague Jeff Zeleny is hearing from a White House official that, earlier this afternoon, John Kelly went into the Oval Office and talked to the president about some of this face to face, mainly in reference to an NBC report that came out earlier this afternoon in which it is reported that John Kelly called the president once an idiot.
That was according to NBC citing a number of administration officials. Apparently, John Kelly told the president in the Oval Office earlier this afternoon that that did not take place. Of course, John Kelly, we have been reporting here on CNN, has also released a statement calling that report total B.S.
But, Wolf, it's obvious to just about anybody here in Washington there's a very damaged relationship between John Kelly and the president. Consider earlier this year, just back in March, when John Kelly joked publicly about how he felt God was punishing him for leaving the Department of Homeland Security and taking on the job of White House chief of staff. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I have almost no right to be up here on this stage. And when I was in the department...
QUESTION: You have every right to be here.
KELLY: And I miss every one of you every day.
KELLY: Truly, six months, the last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of homeland security. But I did something wrong, and God punished me, I guess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, it's obvious John Kelly was joking in that venue, but we heard behind the scenes from various administration White House officials for months that there's been friction between these two men.
But, Wolf, just to give General Kelly every chance he has to push back on this story, let's go ahead and put up the full statement from the chief of staff, John Kelly.
He says: "I spend more time with the president than anyone else. And we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship. He always," John Kelly goes on to say in the statement, "knows where I stand. And he and I both know the story is total B.S. I'm committed to president, his agenda and our country."
That from John Kelly, the chief of staff. He says: "This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to the president and distract from the administration's many successes."
Now, Wolf, one of the items that we have been hearing about swirling around John Kelly over the last week or so is that there is perhaps an effort afoot to move John Kelly over to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
But, Wolf, I talked to a White House official late last week who said, no, that is not happening. John Kelly is not going to the Department of Veterans Affairs. But people inside Trump world, both here in the White House and sources close to the White House, have been talking about that as a possible landing point for John Kelly to give him a graceful exit out of this White House.
It seems, Wolf, with all of this reporting about some of these disparaging comments that John Kelly's made about the president over the last several months, that this relationship has deteriorated between the president and his chief of staff.
Obviously, not the kind of relationship you want between the president and the person who is in charge of the staff over here at the White House -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Absolutely. All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Joining us now, Congressman David Cicilline. He is a Democrat. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees.
Let me quickly, Congressman, get your reaction to what you just heard, the latest reporting about the John Kelly relationship with the president. What do you think?
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, unfortunately, it's just the most recent example of the chaos in the White House. This has been a White House that has had a number of people leave, difficulty in finding new people to replace them. A lot of disorganization.
It's very, very disturbing when a chief of staff has made that kind of assessment of the president of the United States. And the people that are hurt are the American people. We need a functioning government that is focused on raising family incomes, reducing the cost in people's lives and making sure people are prepared for good-paying jobs in the 21st century.
That's what we have been attempting to put forth in the Democratic agenda. We need to have an opposition party, the Republican president and his party, capable of really taking on these challenges. So, it is sad, it is disappointing, it's not a surprise there's a lot of chaos in the White House, but it is really hurting the American people, who are focused on really better jobs, better wages for a better future, and expect us to get work done for them.
BLITZER: The former secretary of state, as you recall, Rex Tillerson, reportedly called the president a moron. The former FBI director, James Comey, he calls the president of the United States morally unfit.
And now this. This is how the president of the United States is viewed by some of his senior staff. What role do you believe Congress should play?
CICILLINE: Well, I mean, look, Congress plays a role, the Senate plays a role in confirming certain administration positions.
But I think it really is our responsibility in the Congress, particularly in the Foreign Affairs Committee, to make sure that our voices are being heard on important foreign policy issues, to be sure that we are deeply engaging the White House on domestic issues, but ultimately the president has a staff that he has to rely on.
And what is disappointing is the people that work closest with him and have the best eye on him have come to the conclusion about the limitations of his leadership. So it's the churn, it's the chaos, it's the, every day, another story that's preventing the work being done for the American people.
So it is not good for the country, it's not good for the president, it's not good for the work that needs to be done. But it is what it is. I mean, we have a responsibility to kind of keep pressing hard on the issues that matter and engaging as much as we can to help shape this.
But the president has his own team he has to rely on. And this is just the most recent example of people in the administration who have come to the conclusion and made these sort of -- their own assessments of the president.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the future of the Iran nuclear deal, which the Obama administration worked out with the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, as well as Germany.
The president now says that the U.S. got nothing from the deal. He also says that Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech today in Tel Aviv shows that he, the president, has been 100 percent right on this issue. He hates the deal, he thinks it is awful.
Do you believe he will actually, though, withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal by the May 12 deadline?
CICILLINE: I hope the president does not. This is a deal that is working. His own administration has certified that the Iranians are in compliance with the terms of the JCPOA.
A number of high-level administration officials have acknowledged they are in compliance. There was one objective of that agreement, to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. It's working. It's an international agreement.
We're in the midst of beginning negotiations with the North Koreans. It's important that they see the United States as a country that keeps its word and that if we reach an agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, that we will honor that agreement.
So, I think it would be a terrible mistake for the president to try to undo this. It is not just our deal. It is a deal with the P5-plus- one partners. It's working. It has the most intrusive inspection regime ever in the history of nuclear agreements that will make sure that the breakout period is extended and that we will know about it if the Iranians violate it.
So we should not undo an agreement that is working.
BLITZER: I was going to say, Congressman, the president disagrees with you. He says ripping up the deal would actually send the right message to Kim Jong-un in North Korea if he were to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
So what impact do you think it would have on potential nuclear negotiations, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, North Korea giving up its nukes, if the U.S. were to withdraw from the Iran deal?
CICILLINE: Well, if you have the Iranian agreement, and the Iranians are complying with it, and the United States rips up the deal, it's hard to see how that could help achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
They are going to look at it and think, well, if we reach an agreement with the U.S. and we comply with it, they may not honor their part of the agreement. So it is a terrible message. And what we should be doing is working outside of the agreement to address the ballistic missiles and human rights violations of the Iranians.
But we should be demonstrating to the world that America keeps its word. We entered into an agreement that was to achieve a certain objective, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. It's working. They are in compliance. Our word should mean something.
And I think, as the North Koreans watch this process, we need to demonstrate them that we keep our word. If they think that we won't keep our word, it will make it much more difficult to achieve our objectives on the Korean Peninsula.
BLITZER: Congressman Cicilline, thanks so much for joining us.
CICILLINE: Thanks for having me. BLITZER: Just ahead, are John Kelly's days as the White House chief
of staff numbered? We are going to talk more about his frustrations and his warning that the president is becoming -- quote -- "unhinged."
And is Vladimir Putin trying to cover up the attempted murder of a former Russian spy? We will have a live report. We're going to Moscow. Stick around.
BLITZER: We are following breaking news out of Russia right now.
The president, Vladimir Putin, and the Kremlin are being accused of trying to cover up what went on inside a chemical weapons lab by having it demolished. British officials say the facility produced a nerve agent used to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter.
Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, joining us live from Moscow right now.
Fred, what are you learning about this base and why it is being torn down?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we found out this base is not only being torn down, but the remnants are actually being incinerated by the Russians.
The Russians are saying that that's because they want to decontaminate that area, which was actually a nuclear weapons facility for a very long time during the Soviet Union and apparently afterwards as well.
However, of course, if these pieces are incinerated, it would also destroy any sort of traces of nerve agents and make it impossible for investigators to find out if they were the same ones that were used in that attack in England. Here's what that lab is about.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): The chemical weapons research center in Shikhany, around 600 miles south of Moscow, once the centerpiece of Soviet nerve agent development and the place the British believe the chemical Novichok used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter was produced.
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
PLEITGEN: Russia denies any involvement, but now new claims in the British media, saying Moscow seems to be covering up its tracks and is tearing down the former plant in Shikhany.
The mayor of Shikhany, a city still closed off to foreigners, is quoted in Russian media as saying the remnants of the lab are currently being dismantled and will be incinerated, although official Russian documents indicate work on destroying or converting the buildings was mostly complete by 2014.
One of the scientists who worked at the Shikhany site now lives in the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The short version in two versions my time when I again working, so, after that, they developed it more important.
PLEITGEN: Just how important was Shikhany for Soviet chemical weapons production? CNN has obtained these historic photos from Dutch journalist Hans de Vreij, who was taken on the tour of Shikhany in 1987.
The Soviets showing their arsenal of poison gases, including V.X. and sarin, and the weapons to deliver them. When the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention, work began to dismantle both sides chemical arsenals.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons certified last year that Russia had destroyed all its chemical warfare agents, but it would not confirm to CNN that its inspectors had visited Shikhany.
Mirs Yanov (ph) believes the Russians held back some of their material.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, Russia used this Chemical Weapons Convention, destroying all of the age-old weapons, keeping intact this new generation of chemical weapons. They circumvented this Chemical Weapons Convention.
PLEITGEN: The Kremlin has not responded to CNN about claims the Shikhany site is still being demolished.
PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, I said at the beginning it's a nuclear weapons lab. It was actually a chemical weapons lab, so, sorry for that.
However, the Russians maintain that they had nothing to do with the attack that happened there in England with that Novichok agent. Of course, the West is not buying that, continuing to pile the pressure on Moscow, much to the dismay of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Fred, thank you, Fred Pleitgen in Moscow.
Just ahead, the chief of staff vents about the commander in chief, suggesting the president of the United States is unhinged. Could John Kelly be the next high-level official to leave the White House?
And with one lawsuit already on hold, how will Stormy Daniels' new case against the president hold up in court?
[18:29:11] BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking stories this hour, including a new window into John Kelly's frustrations, deep frustrations, apparently, as the White House chief of staff.
A source telling CNN that Kelly vented to national security officials during a meeting that the president of the United States was becoming -- quote -- "unhinged."
Let's bring in our team of analysts.
And, Gloria, let me start with you.
What are you hearing about how Kelly is handling these reports that are now coming out?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, of course, he's denying it and he called it total B.S. and he said that he and the president have candid conversations with each other all the time.
But we know from our own reporting that the president and Kelly have had some problems going back quite a few months. Remember the time when Kelly told a group that the president was not fully informed on the immigration issue and needed to have some education on that issue? That did not please the president.
The way the firing of Rob Porter was handled also did not please the president.
[18:30:15] The president, in the end, has grown frustrated with the way Kelly has isolated him from his old friends. I'm told that sometimes he goes into the Situation Room to actually make phone calls to these people. And now we know that he's gotten his cell phone back.
And what we see is Kelly backing off a little bit from trying to isolate the president. I think out of -- out of a kind of sense of, it's not going to work. And that both Jared and Ivanka, I think, feel the same way as the president. So I think, in a way, while Kelly has tried to isolate the president, I think Kelly himself has become more isolated.
BLITZER: And what does this say to you, David, that so many important people around the president -- we remember, Rex Tillerson when he was secretary of state, reportedly called the president a moron. And now this. So many are making these kind of disparaging comments of the president during these closed-door meetings.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Obviously, as Gloria said, Kelly denies these things, but let's just say that this is, in fact, what's going on. I think it says that there's a lesson to be learned that should have been learned a year and a half ago, which is that if you go into the administration as a senior official thinking you're going to be the moderating force, forcing President Trump down the chute of what the way traditional America thinks, you're in for a rude awakening. I also think that it's the situation where, in the role of the chief
of staff, you've had people like Leon Panetta on your set, Wolf, talking to you saying, "Look, as chief of staff, if you don't have complete control over the sort of link between the staff between the president and complete control of the flow of information and the decision-making process, if not the ultimate decision-making authority, you're no longer effective in that role."
BLITZER: Samantha, you worked in the White House on the National Security Council. You look at this disruption that's going on, what do you think?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that John Kelly needs to resign. I don't see what part of his job he's able to do well. The train is fully off the rails.
Either somebody leaked something that was true, which means that the chief of staff is not leading by example; he's calling his boss names. Or someone leaked something false about the chief of staff, which also means that he's not able to control these leaks.
He was supposed to have a security clearance process to deal with this Kushner issue. Jared Kushner is still in foreign meetings above a secret level. I would like to know what part of his job John Kelly's doing well.
BLITZER: A lot of these people, though, who don't resign and are very upset, and they're not confident in the president, they say they're staying put to protect the American people, because they're patriots.
VINOGRAD: I just don't believe that. I don't see, again, what function John Kelly is doing. The patriotic thing to do would be to leave and to let someone go in that is able in some way to manage the president. That's the job of the chief of staff. And, by the way, to manage the National Security Council team.
BLITZER: Are there others who might become the new White House chief of staff? Or is the president going to restructure it and he'll be, in effect, in charge of everything? Right now, Larry Kudlow reports to him. The new national security adviser, John Bolton, reports to him. No more intermediaries through the chief of staff.
BORGER: We know that the president has -- is now looking for comfort. And he feels he's figured out how to manage this job, that he doesn't need anybody anymore to tell him how to do it, because he's not new at it anymore. So whoever comes in as chief of staff isn't going to be a chief of staff in the traditional staff. The president will be his own chief of staff.
I mean, maybe he'll bring in some old friends. Who knows? But, you know, the point is here that the president is going to run the show. Nobody else is going to do that. That is the way it worked at the Trump Organization. And that is the way it's going to work at the White House.
BLITZER: I want to get Joey Jackson into this conversation. Earlier we spoke about this new lawsuit Stormy Daniels and her attorney, Michael Avenatti, have filed against the president for defamation. You don't think that there's much of a lawsuit there.
But did the president create this opportunity for all this publicity for Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti by issuing -- posting that tweet, which said she was involved in a con job?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, he really did. And you know, it's all about discipline or lack thereof.
Obviously, when you're a lawyer advising the president, I don't know whether it just falls on deaf ears or what have you, but you create issues whenever you speak.
To Gloria's point, the fact is, is that, you know, the president is going to do what he wants to do. He's not going to be managed; he's not going to be told, and as a result of introducing this tweet into the public domain, whether the suit has merit or not -- I believe it does not -- here we are again, him exposing himself to some type of liability.
Now briefly, Wolf, the reason it doesn't have a lawsuit is because, you know, you're allowed to express an opinion. Defamation is false factual statements that impugn reputation. You have to establish that, factually, she did get threatened. I think that's an open question, and different minds can disagree as to whether that occurred.
[18:35:14] Then you get to the issue of whether the president is expressing his opinion. He's saying it's a con job. If the president was sued for every tweet that was put out there, boy, oh, boy, you know, we'd have litigation every day, every night. It would be ridiculous.
And then finally on the issue of reputation, few can argue that Stormy's life, perhaps, hasn't been made more profitable by the fact that she's in this feud with the president.
BLITZER: Yes. Those are good legal points.
I quickly want to get back to this effort now to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The president said today that by ripping up the Iran nuclear deal, in his words, it might send the right message to Kim Jong-un about a new no-nukes deal involving North Korea.
VINOGRAD: It's all the wrong message, because it would bolster the point that the president arbitrarily pulls out of agreements for no reason.
But I have to wave the hypocrisy red flag here. Because when it comes to Iran, President Trump has said this was the worst deal ever and that he's going to rip it up, because it is narrowly focused on North Korea's [SIC] nuclear weapons program and not all of the other malign behavior.
But with North Korea, he's doing exactly the same thing. He's negotiating solely based upon their nuclear weapons program and not everything else. So this double standard that he's having between Iran and North Korea is really, really something that we need to pay more attention to.
SWERDLICK: The difference is, is that this is his deal, and the Iran deal was President Obama's deal.
BLITZER: And do you think that he's going to rip it up by May 12? What do you think, David?
SWERDLICK: I think it's increasingly looking likely. I mean, it's clear that there are problems with the Iran deal, but the Iran deal -- we've talked about this before -- was meant to buy time. And it bought time.
If President Trump thinks he can get a better deal, then he should make that case. But all he has said is it's a bad deal and that he can do better. Never specifying, like Sam said, what's going to be different about this deal.
BORGER: This was all choreographed today.
VINOGRAD: I agree.
BORGER: You know, you had the phone call with -- between Trump and Netanyahu. You had the meeting with Pompeo. And then suddenly, you have the -- you know, the PowerPoint presentation by Bibi Netanyahu. And I think it's a way of talking to Macron and Merkel and Theresa May, all of whom had their own plan last week for their own little intervention with Trump. And this was the response to that.
BLITZER: We'll see how it plays out in two weeks for the president to make a decision on that Iran nuclear deal.
Just ahead, what is former presidential candidate Jill Stein holding back from Russia investigators and why?
[18:42:22] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight in the Russia investigation. The former presidential candidate Jill Stein tells CNN she objected to turning over some documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Let's go live to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, what is Stein objecting to?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Stein says that this request from the Senate Intelligence Committee is too broad. That it will go into areas that are constitutionally protected, in her view.
Now, she did earlier provide some documents, specifically relating to that 2015 gala dinner in Moscow attended by the Russian president. And also President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. But this request, she says, goes too far. It's too broad.
And this comes as we learn from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee that communications between Russians involved in that famous 2016 Trump Tower meeting may bely denials from Trump and his aides about whether there was follow-up to that Trump Tower meeting.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Since the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton was revealed, Trump Jr. and Trump aides have repeatedly and emphatically denied there was ever any follow-up.
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: There wasn't really follow-up. because there was nothing there to follow up.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: The meeting itself was very brief. There was no information given. There was no action taken. There was no follow-up.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Did you have any contact with this woman again?
TRUMP JR.: No.
HANNITY: Did you have any contact with Goldstone again?
TRUMP JR.: Casual, "Hey, how's it going? Aman is going to be in town performing." Something like that.
SCIUTTO: However, records of communications released by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee contradict those denials, detailing multiple follow-up communications from the Russians involved. Their interest: repealing a U.S. law, the Magnitsky Act, which punishes Russians responsible for human rights abuses.
In an e-mail soon after Trump's election on November 28, 2016, Rob Goldstone, who helped arrange the Trump Tower meeting, reached out to Donald Trump's long-time executive assistant, Rhona Graff, on behalf of a Russian businessman who was also involved in arranging the meeting. The e-mail, from Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov, was about the Magnitsky Act. It read, "Aras Agalarov has asked me to pass on this document in the hope that it can be passed on to the appropriate team."
Graff then forward the document to Steve Bannon, a senior advisor to President-elect Trump, writing, "The P.E." -- or president-elect -- "knows Aras well. Rob is his rep in the U.S. and sent this on. Not sure how to proceed, if at all, signed R."
Two weeks later on December 13, 2016, Amin Agalarov, Aras Agalarov's son, who helped arrange the Trump Tower meeting, as well, texted Donald Trump Jr. about a business venture in Russia writing, quote, "Just wanted to check with you if you are OK with us partnering up with them and launching the project. Thank you, Emin."
He has refused to comment publicly on the Trump Tower meeting.
REPORTER: I'm trying to get a comment.
EMIN AGALAROV, RUSSIAN BUSINESSMAN: You're not going to get a comment. Am I clear? You're not going to get a comment. Am I clear? Yes or no?
SCIUTTO: The Agalarovs were not the only participants from the meeting to follow-up. Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who last week admitted to NBC she is an informant for the Russian government, e-mailed the Trump team just days after the election. Again, the topic was getting the Magnitsky Act sanctions.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Veselnitskaya reaches back to the Trump family right after the election, saying, we want to follow up now on this request we have on the Magnitsky Act. So, clearly, there's an expectation there on the Russian side that they may now have success with the Magnitsky Act.
SCIUTTO: So you're saying it has the impression of the quid pro quo?
SCHIFF: It certainly does. Certainly the Russians thought they had reason to believe after the campaign they may now get the help that they sought in that meeting in Trump Tower.
SCIUTTO: Based on interviews with witnesses who've been interviewed by the special counsel, we know that both the Trump Tower meeting and the initial misleading statements about the subject of the Trump Tower meeting are or at least have been, Wolf, of interest to Robert Mueller.
BLITZER: I'm sure they have been. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, reporting.
Also tonight, as President Trump tries to rally his base with a crucial midterm elections, the national Republicans are fighting against one of their own in the key battleground state of West Virginia right now. They're desperate to defeat an ex-con and disgraced coal executive seeking the Republican Senate nomination in next week's primary.
Our chief national correspondent Dana Bash traveled to West Virginia. She's back here now.
Dana, Republicans feared candidate Don Blankenship could derail -- could derail a lot of their effort to hold onto the Senate.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPODENT: And that's what it's all about. They are very concerned about it. And they really, what they don't want is a repeat of the embarrassing defeat that they had last year in Alabama, where the Republicans put up the controversial Roy Moore who lost the Senate seat to a Democrat.
Now, heading into November's midterms, the stakes are even higher for the GOP who are clinging to their narrow majority in the U.S. Senate.
DON BLANKENSHIP (R), WEST VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Jobs, jobs, jobs will solve a lot of our problems.
BASH (voice-over): Soft-spoken and lacking in charisma. Republican Don Blankenship does not immediately come across as a candidate party leads are concerned about, but they are. Republicans trying to hold on to their Senate majority are terrified of Blankenship winning a May 8th GOP primary in West Virginia and losing the opportunity to beat one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats Joe Manchin.
(on camera): They think that Joe Manchin will beat you easily.
BLANKENSHIP: They don't really believe that. That's what they're telling you, so you tell the public that. What they believe is I'm going to win.
BASH (voice-over): It's a Trump 2016 message on steroids. All the GOP candidates are tripping over themselves to align with the president who won West Virginia big and is still very popular here. But Blankenship is most like the president, a hard-liner on immigration and trade, a businessman openly disdainful of fellow Republicans in Washington, even throwing a racially-charged accusation at Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, calling him soft on China because his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, has family business ties there.
BLANKENSHIP: I have an issue when the father-in-law who has connections to the brass in China.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: My father-in-law is an American who lives in New York, works in New York. And I don't have any comment about ridiculous observations like that.
BASH (on camera): You said some pretty harsh things about Mitch McConnell.
BLANKENSHIP: I haven't said anything harsh to other people that's not been said more harshly about me.
BASH (voice-over): Senate Republicans biggest concern with Blankenship? He recently got out of prison. The former Massey Energy CEO was convicted of conspiracy to violate mine, health and safety standards after a mining explosion killed 29 people in 2010.
(on camera): What do you say to West Virginia voters who think you have blood on your hand and you shouldn't represent West Virginia in the Senate because of your role in a very deadly mining explosion?
BLANKENSHIP: The thing I would say to them is Upper Big Branch deadly explosion is one of the biggest reasons they should vote for me if they are -- have family members or are involved in the coal industry.
[18:50:02] Unlike any other person that I know of, I stood up against the establishment when they falsely claimed the explosion was caused by the coal miners.
BASH (voice-over): He insists he was set up by Manchin and other politicians. Manchin's wife calls that laughable.
GAYLE MANCHIN, SEN. JOE MANCHIN'S WIFE: Don Blankenship is not a victim.
BASH: Do you think he can be a tough opponent politically?
BASH: But some national Republicans are taking unusual steps to make sure that doesn't happen, running this ad.
POLITICAL AD ANNOUNCER: Convicted criminal Don Blankenship, his company got caught pumping 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry contaminating water supplies.
BASH: And Democrats are even jumping in to tear down Evan Jenkins and Patrick Morrissey, Two leading GOP candidates they consider bigger threats to Manchin. It's the first time Blankenship is on the ballot, but he spend years using his considerable wealth to build the West Virginia Republican Party --
BLANKENSHIP: I don't see any doubt we're going to win this thing.
BASH: Which she says gives him goodwill with GOP voters.
BASH: It looks like the GOP establishment attacks on Blankenship could be working. A new poll shows Blankenship is trailing in third place.
But, Wolf, he has something that the other Republican candidates don't have and that's money. He's really rich and he's spending a lot of his own money. He told me he's not even keeping track of how much money he's spending because he said if he did, he may stop.
BLITZER: Interesting. All right. We'll see what happens.
Dana, good reporting. Thank you.
There's much more breaking news right after this.
[18:56:18] BLITZER: We're getting a unique look tonight inside President Trump's meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, including some rather surprising comments by the president about Russia's Vladimir Putin.
Our senior diplomatic reporter is here with exclusive details.
Michelle, tell us what you're learning about what the president apparently had to say during these meetings about Putin. MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well,
first they had this one-on-one meeting, which was lengthy. We're told that it was calm. And that Trump asked Merkel a lot of questions, and he was really focused on how to deal with Vladimir Putin. That's what he wanted to know, because she has extensive experience on this.
He also asked a lot about the situation in Ukraine. But these officials who are familiar with the discussions are also saying at that times, Trump, even though he asked a lot, he didn't seem to always be listening to the answers. And that's similar to what we've heard in the past from, say, the Brits, who said that in Trump's dealings with Prime Minister Theresa May, he seemed to be more in transmit, rather than receive mode.
BLITZER: We also today heard the president seem to suggest pretty forthrightly that the U.S. is going to get out of the Iran nuclear deal over the next several days. Do you know what he actually told Merkel about that?
KOSINSKI: I mean, we're not getting direct quotes from this, but we know crystal clear, the sense that the Europeans are walking away from these meetings because remember, before he met with Merkel, he met with the French President Emmanuel Macron, just before. And they come away saying that they are very certain that he's going to back out of the deal. So, Macron had this kind of last-ditch effort to try to keep Trump in the deal.
He proposed this new agreement as he framed it, trying to emphasize that this is something new, we can craft this side deal and we could deal with everything in the side deal, including Iran's ballistic missiles and inspections, you name it. We can do this. And the Germans were surprised by this. They didn't really like this idea because they feel like the Iran nuclear deal is working right now.
But Merkel also felt, we're told in this meeting, that she wanted to try to save this. So, she stuck to some of these things that Macron suggested, but, again, kept emphasizing that, look, this would build on the JCPOA. But he didn't seem very convinced.
BLITZER: Did Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, did they coordinate their strategies going into these back-to-back meetings with the president?
KOSINSKI: Yes, I mean, for sure. The Europeans have been working on this with the United States for a long time. For months, they're been having these discussions on how to fix the Iran deal, because the Europeans have problems with it too. I mean, they think certain things could be tougher or fully enforced.
But we were told out of the Macron meeting, that Trump didn't seem to have a great grasp on the detail of what these discussions have been with the Europeans. So, there's some frustration there, and again, they walk away thinking, that it's extremely likely that Trump is going to back out of this deal.
BLITZER: And what about Angela Merkel's relationship with President Trump? He obviously spent a whole lot more time with the French President Macron.
KOSINSKI: Yes, what we're told is that in one-on-one meetings, Trump, as they put it, behaves himself, he's very calm. He has a discussion. Maybe he's not always the best listener, but they can get along.
But then there was with Merkel, this later meeting that was a bigger meeting where they described Trump as agitated and venting and repeatedly hammering Merkel about what he sees as unfair trade and tariffs, and saying he might put tariffs on the Germans, especially over automobiles, and hammering them over not contributing enough to their defense budget. And the Germans walked away saying they felt like this was a window into Trump's mind, and they were very surprised by his tone.
BLITZER: Not surprisingly, the White House formally denying a lot of these kinds of details.
KOSINSKI: Yes, they seem to be pushing back but not giving any more detail.
BLITZER: Good reporting, Michelle. Thanks very much.
KOSINSKI: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.