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THE SITUATION ROOM

White House: Trump Sees Giuliani as 'Added Value' to Legal Team; Gina Haspel Faces Tough Confirmation Hearing to Become CIA Director; European Diplomat: 'Pretty Obvious' Trump Will Pull Out of Iran Deal; Trump Says He's 'Fighting Back,' Not Obstructing; Firsts Lady Launches Campaign to Promote Children's Well-Being. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 7, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Giuliani's value. President Trump feels Rudy Giuliani adds value to his team of lawyers. Is that in spite or because of Giuliani's suggestion that the president could defy a possible special counsel subpoena or refuse to testify altogether?

[17:00:15] Right track. Our new CNN poll shows most Americans think the country is on the right track. But do they think President Trump is on the right track?

Stealing the spotlight. In her own Rose Garden event, Melania Trump steals the spotlight from the president and finally reveals her platform as first lady. A program to help kids, quote, "Be Best."

And Putin's pageantry. The gold doors of the Kremlin swing open once again as Vladimir Putin is sworn in for a fourth term as Russia's president and America's adversary. Why did the White House rush to congratulate him?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: The White House says President Trump views Rudy Giuliani as added value to his legal team, despite Giuliani's stunning blunders in a round of news media appearances and his hints that the president could ignore a possible special counsel subpoena or even plead the Fifth Amendment.

I'll speak with Congressman Joaquin Castro of the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they are standing by with full coverage.

Let's get right to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, Rudy Giuliani keeps creating problems for the White House.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Last week the president said Rudy Giuliani couldn't get his facts straight. Today the White House said he adds value to the president's legal team. The White House, of course, shied away from questions about the president's legal troubles in the Stormy Daniels case and the Russia investigation, as we saw earlier today. Aides to the president have gotten burned in the past with statements

that later turned out to be untrue. Today, they were much more careful with their words.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The only scheduled appearance of President Trump, an embrace with the first lady as she unveiled a campaign aimed at the nation's children.

That moment came less than an hour after the White House press secretary stated cautiously that she's not aware of any other hush money payments to women alleging affairs with the president.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not aware of any other activity, but I would refer you to Rudy Giuliani to respond to any of those questions.

ACOSTA: That question was prompted by comments made by the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who tried to do some damage control over the weekend after he revealed Mr. Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was reimbursed for a payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels, money Giuliani insisted did not violate campaign finance laws.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: It was not a campaign contribution, because it would have been done any way. This is the kind of thing that I've settled for celebrities and famous people.

ACOSTA: On the Russia investigation, Giuliani argued the president has the right to refuse a subpoena to sit down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

GIULIANI: We don't have to. He's the president of the United States. We can assert the same privilege as other presidents have --

ACOSTA: Asked whether the White House agrees, Sanders dodged the question.

(on camera): Does the president believe he -- it is within his executive powers to reject a subpoena from the special counsel office?

SANDERS: That is a question I would refer you to special counsel.

ACOSTA (voice-over): It was a sign White House officials are becoming more guarded in their comments after their own false statements came back to haunt them.

(on camera): Were you lying to us at the time or were you in the dark?

SANDERS: The president has denied and continues to deny the underlying claim. And again, I've given the best information that I had at the time --

ACOSTA: The White House is trying to dig out of a credibility crisis, as it tries to convince the Senate to confirm the president's pick for CIA director, Gina Haspel, who nearly withdraw her name from consideration after questions arose about her involvement in the CIA's use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques after 9/11. Sanders said the White House is all-in on Haspel.

SANDERS: She wants to do everything she can to make sure the integrity of the CIA remains intact, isn't unnecessarily attacked --

ACOSTA: And the president has his eye on a different campaign, urging Republicans in West Virginia to reject GOP Senate candidate Don Blankenship who's running against the Republican establishment with a message that sounds overtly racist.

DON BLANKENSHIP (R), WEST VIRGINIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Trump and Mitch McConnell have created millions of jobs for China people. By doing so, Mitch has gotten rich.

ACOSTA: The president tweeted, "To the great people of West Virginia, we have together a really great chance to keep making a big difference. Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can't win the general election in your state. No way.'

The problem for the president, Blankenship comes across a lot like Mr. Trump.

BLANKENSHIP: The fake news is also pretending to be offended by my use of the words "China people." They seem not to realize that China is a country, not a race.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now the White House obviously doesn't want a repeat of what happened in Alabama, where the president supported Roy Moore, who had been accused of sexual misconduct and then lost a Senate race down there.

On a completely different front, just before the first lady spoke earlier today, the president revealed he'll be announcing his decision on the Iran nuclear deal that's been talked about for some time, Wolf. It is widely expected the president will pull the U.S. out of that deal, which he has repeatedly attacked as one of the worst agreements in U.S. history. If the president makes good on all of that rhetoric, of course, we've been reporting, it's likely Iran will restart its nuclear program.

[17:05:20] Wolf, this is not a situation of unintended consequences, but these consequences will be intended. The president knows full well if he pulls out of the Iran nuclear deal, all bets are off. Iran will likely restart that nuclear program -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Very dramatic developments, indeed. We're going to have much more on this part of the story coming up. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Also breaking tonight, an increasingly frustrated President Trump has his White House team scrambling right now to defend his controversial pick to head the CIA. Gina Haspel met with U.S. senators today ahead of what may be a very, very contentious confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Our senior Congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us from Capitol Hill. Manu, what's the latest? What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, behind the scenes the White House and Gina Haspel racing to secure support for her nomination, which is really hanging by the slimmest of margins at the moment. Most Democrats are planning to oppose this nomination. Most Republicans are planning to support this nomination.

But there's only a one-vote split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and one Republican, Rand Paul of Kentucky, already says he's going to vote "no."

So behind the scenes, Gina Haspel has been on Capitol Hill today, making the rounds, trying to shore up support among members before her very pivotal -- pivotal confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Now, a big fight is building over the records -- over Gina Haspel's three-decade career at the CIA. A number of Democrats, in particular, want those records declassified. And one Democrat on the committee, Ron Wyden, raising some serious concerns to me earlier today that the CIA is only putting out selective leaks of her record and not giving the full picture of her role, particularly over Bush-era interrogation programs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: The more I learn about this matter, the more convinced I am that there is literally an A to Z cover-up going on here. What you have is selective declassification. You have a public influence campaign being waged by the agency, and just a boatload of misinformation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now in a key development, too, just moments ago, Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the committee, who's someone who's been seen as a swing vote, someone who could really sway Democrats, has actually raised some significant concerns, as well.

The CIA did provide a number of classified records about Haspel's career to the committee, but Warner is saying they should be declassified so the public gets the sense of what her record is about some of these key controversies during the Bush era.

Now no word whether that's going to happen before Wednesday's hearing. But also in a notable development today, Wolf, one key Democratic senator who may vote for the nomination, Joe Manchin, told me that he's very open-minded about her prospects for confirmation, about supporting her, so possibly she could pick up some red-state Democrats very similar to the way that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, got confirmed with the support of red state Democrats. But still, all hinging on the crucial confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Wolf. BLITZER: Manu, there's another development. I need your help. The

House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, he wants Congress to hold the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, in contempt of Congress for failing to hand over some requested classified materials related to the Russia investigation. What's going on here?

RAJU: Yes, he actually issued a subpoena last week that the Justice Department told him that they would not be able to comply with, because it refers to a quote, "specific individual," and providing that information, according to the Justice Department, could harm -- could risk lives, could have serious consequences on national security.

But Nunes is not buying that warning, that he wants to move forward on a contempt resolution to hold Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, in contempt.

Now earlier today at a press conference in California, Jeff Sessions was asked about this, and he made it very clear he's not going to comply with Nunes's request.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Department of Justice has written him a letter and responded as appropriate to him. The request he's made is one that the intelligence communities and the Department of Justice feels is not grantable. We've explained that we'd like -- we'd be willing to talk to him about it before. The details of which I couldn't discuss.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now the question, Wolf, is where does the House go from here? I'm told by some conservatives that they want to push for the House to have a vote to hold Sessions in contempt soon, as soon as next week, perhaps.

But Speaker Paul Ryan is not yet committing to that. His spokeswoman told me today that he has -- the speaker has not discussed this with Nunes yet and would not say whether or not Ryan would support this effort.

So really, open question about whether or not there's enough support to hold Sessions in contempt and where the White House ultimately comes down, given the president's longtime frustration with Sessions. Will they side with conservatives in the House or their own attorney general? Uncertain yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people don't believe Devin Nunes would do this unless he got some sort of green light from folks over at the White House. But we'll get more on that, as well. Manu, thank you very much.

We're also getting more on the breaking news on the president's promised announcement tomorrow on the Iran nuclear deal. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working his sources.

Jim, what are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, in the days and weeks leading up to the president's decision, this May 12 deadline, you've had a flood of European diplomats coming in here. The French president came in. We had the British foreign secretary here today, meeting with senior officials, attempting to change President Trump's mind on the Iran deal, in effect keep the U.S. in the deal.

But we have this statement now from a senior European diplomat involved in those meetings who says, in his view, based on those meetings, it is pretty obvious that "unless something changes in the next few days, I believe the president will not waive the sanctions," that is to leave the Iran nuclear deal.

And what's remarkable here, this coming from a close ally, is just how clear the differences of opinion are on this. This senior European diplomat adding, "There is plainly a difference of opinion that cannot be denied on this." Making the case that they view the Iran deal as adding to U.S. and European national security, this European diplomat goes on to talk about the consequences of this, saying that there are numerous consequences and then making this point that I think we have yet to fully understand and spell out.

The message there, Wolf, is that it's their view -- again, these are America's closest allies -- that the Trump administration has not really acknowledged or even made a plan for what happens after this deal.

One of the remaining questions is, OK, the U.S. pulls out. Is it going to begin sanctioning European countries who trade with Iran, as per this agreement? It's not clear.

But again, this is an official who's had very senior meetings with Trump administration officials, came out of those meetings saying, listen, unless there's a surprise, a major change, tomorrow at that 2 p.m. announcement, the president is going to withdraw.

BLITZER: And we'll see how much detail the president provides when he makes the announcement at the White House tomorrow afternoon. Jim Sciutto, good reporting.

Joining us now, Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, what are the implications for American foreign policy and the alliances that the U.S. has, as far as this Iran nuclear deal is concerned, if the president tomorrow afternoon announces the U.S. is leaving it?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (R), TEXAS: Well, there are high stakes all around. First, it would damage our relationship with our European allies, and as was mentioned, and I think Jim mentioned, we would be in a very awkward position of then having to think about sanctioning European businesses that do business in Iran. That would be very, very strange. But also, it would be a fundamental mistake, because the Iran nuclear agreement has achieved what it was meant to achieve, and that is Iran has not -- does not have nuclear weapons. They have not developed nuclear weapons. That was the mission and the purpose of the agreement.

That said, it wouldn't surprise me if the president pulls out of the deal 2tomorrow or if he essentially does what he did with DACA, which is say that, "I'm going to give you a certain amount of time and, if you don't do X, Y, Z, then I'm getting out of the deal." So that might mean that he says, "Well, if you don't make sure that the sunset provision is taken out so that there is no sunset, or that we include no ballistic missile testing in the development as part of the agreement and other provisions," then, you know, given an extra three months or six months, and if he don't agree with those things, then let it go.

BLITZER: I was going to say -- that sunset provision is what, in eight or ten years from now, the Iranians will be able to go ahead and restart the nuclear program. But do you know if they're -- you're on the Intelligence Committee, is there a U.S. intelligence community assessment of the ramifications of an announcement by the president to abandon the deal?

CASTRO: Well, we've certainly gotten briefed on different possibilities. And what I can say, obviously, in an unclassified setting, is that it would be very dangerous for us to take that route. Because at that point, Iran could go full speed in developing nuclear weapons. And I'm fairly confident that, given this administration's position and what I consider an anxiousness to get into battles, could, I think, possibly lead to conflict with Iran.

BLITZER: I'd love to see that U.S. intelligence community assessment on the ramifications of all of this.

But quickly, let me turn to the effort by the chairman of your committee, Devin Nunes, the Intelligence Committee, to hold the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, in contempt. Do you think he'll succeed in that effort?

[17:15:07] CASTRO: My sense is that it won't succeed and that it won't go anywhere. Of course, you made the point earlier, which I thought was important, that this probably wouldn't be happening unless the White House somehow gave its blessing to go around and somehow punish Jeff Sessions through the Congress.

There are a lot of games that are being played by the White House and by Devin Nunes. But I also think that it's remarkable and strange that Devin Nunes, who was the person complaining about unmasking, is now asking the Justice Department to forward over classified information that would reveal the identity of someone, according to Jeff Sessions, when Devin Nunes was so concerned about unmasking.

But Wolf, you're putting me in a bad position here. I don't feel like defending Jeff Sessions or Devin Nunes.

BLITZER: But in your experience with Devin Nunes, does he ever do anything that goes against what the White House wants?

CASTRO: No. I think at this point -- well, not at this point. For a while now, he has basically been somebody who's doing the White House's bidding, who's doing Donald Trump's bidding and, in many ways, as I said before, has made his career -- his political career a sacrifice fly for the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

BLITZER: President is tweeting about the Russia probe today. Let me put it up on the screen and read it to you.

"The Russia witch hunt is rapidly losing credibility. House Intelligence Committee found no collusion, coordination or anything else with Russia. So now the probe says, 'OK, what else is there. How about obstruction for a made-up phony crime?' There is no O," referring to obstruction. "It's called fighting back."

The president calls it fighting back. Some legal experts, though, believe tweets like this might be more evidence, though, of actual obstruction. How do you see it?

CASTRO: Well, there really is no question that there was collusion. The only issue is how successful that collusion was. But also, there has been more and more evidence that there was obstruction of justice. And I think that that's probably, at this point, the biggest liability that the president has to watch out for in the Mueller investigation and perhaps, ultimately, with Congress.

BLITZER: The president also tweeted this -- let me put it up on the screen, as well. "The 13 angry Democrats in charge of the Russian witch hunt are starting to find out that there is a court system in place that actually protects people from injustice and just wait until the courts get to see your unrevealed conflicts of interest."

Do you know what he means by an "unrevealed -- unrevealed conflicts of interest"?

CASTRO: I don't. That basically sounds like gibberish. I don't know what he's talking about.

But remember, this is the same president who was beaten up on judges, who's beaten up on the courts, who's criticized the courts heavily. And now making a statement about talking about how the courts are going to save him.

BLITZER: Yes. And let's not forget that Robert Mueller is a Republican. Rod Rosenstein, the man who oversees the whole investigation, is a Republican. Christopher Wray is a Republican. And Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States, appointed by the president, is a Republican, as well. So he talks about Democrats, but there are plenty of Republicans at the highest levels of these investigations.

Congressman Castro, thanks for joining us.

CASTRO: Thank you. BLITZER: Up next, there's breaking news as our new poll shows Melania

Trump is viewed more favorably than her husband. The first lady reveals her new program to boost wellbeing among children.

Meantime, the attorney general reveals a get-tough policy which could bring forth forced separation of undocumented immigrant parents and their children.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:23:02] BLITZER: The first lady, Melania Trump, stepped into the spotlight on her own earlier this afternoon. During a White House speech in the Rose Garden, she talked about her new initiative called "Be Best," which is intended to promote children's well-being.

This comes as a new CNN poll shows 57 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of the first lady.

Let's bring in our White House reporter Kate Bennett. Tell us more, first of all, Kate, about what the first lady hopes to accomplish.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So she wants to look after children. She's going to use her platform to be -- to do that. This Be Best initiative encompasses three things: health and well- being; opioid and opioid crisis and kids and families; and then, of course, social media. Which has caused a bit of a controversy, because one of those things included cyber-bullying, and clearly, her husband has been known to be a name caller on Twitter and talk aggressively on Twitter.

She addressed this today in her speech, with the president sitting right there in the front row. Let's take a listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: Social media can be both positively and negatively effect on our children. But too often, it's used in negative ways. When children learn positive online behaviors early on, social media can be used in productive ways and can effect positive change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT: Now I think what she's saying there is she's going to do this in spite of her husband's tweets. Maybe even because of his behavior. Perhaps that he's already learned this behavior. He's an older gentleman. He's sort of gone. But let's focus on the next generation: these kids getting bullied, these kids facing really serious issues in social media. And going forward with it, no matter what he does.

BLITZER: The first lady's operation is run out of the East Wing of the White House, as opposed to the president and his team out of the West Wing. And there clearly is a difference.

BENNETT: Very big difference. The first lady only has about ten people on her staff. It's a relatively small staff. It's a very tight ship. Whereas the West Wing doesn't always know what the president is going to do or say or tweet and there's lots of turnover, the first lady's office is very, very different.

[17:25:03] There's a lot of research, a lot of calculation, a lot of studying, a lot of, you know, in-depth sort of planning. And that's why we don't see or hear from her quite as often as most first ladies. She just runs a very different ship. She's very succinct, very detailed in what she does. We saw that today. It's taken her about 16 months to announce this platform.

BLITZER: Yes. She's got a much higher favorability rating than her husband does right now. I wonder if he's jealous.

BENNETT: Could be.

BLITZER: Yes, might be. All right. Thanks very much for that. Kate Bennett reporting.

Coming up, the White House insists Rudy Giuliani is adding value to the president's legal team. What's the reality?

Plus, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, visits states on the U.S.- Mexico border, emphasizing a get-tough policy that could separate parents and their children, and some families of undocumented immigrants.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight the White House insists President Trump's new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is adding value to his legal team, despite the former New York mayor's string of controversial comments and revelations.

[17:30:41] Let's bring in our political and legal analysts. Joey Jackson, Rudy Giuliani says the president may actually plead the Fifth to avoid an interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, or he could simply avoid the whole thing by ignoring a subpoena. How would either of those scenarios play out?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So let's talk about the grand jury subpoena issue first.

I don't think that there's any legal basis by which he could avoid the grand jury subpoena. The premise is that the president, right, is not above the law. And so therefore. the grand jury can issue the subpoena. He'd have to respond to it.

Now, to be clear, he certainly can fight it. Bill Clinton initially fought it back in August of 1998, 20 years ago, and ultimately, they reached some resolution.

We know that Bill Clinton was allowed to testify via closed-circuit TV. There were attorneys present. Usually, attorneys are not permitted in the grand jury. And interestingly enough, Wolf, this would prolong the investigation, because that's what litigation does. So I don't think it's in the administration's interests to fight a subpoena.

Now you get to the next question as to whether or not he could plead the Fifth. That's his right, too. Starting, again, with the premise that the president is not above the law; he's not beneath the law either. And as a result of that, if he wants to go before the grand jury and say, "I plead the Fifth on the grounds that it might incriminate me," he can do that.

Interestingly enough, though, it sets him up with all the things he's been saying about only guilty people plead the Fifth and "That's for the Mob people to do." And so it's somewhat problematic from a political point of view that he would do that. But from a legal point of view, he certainly could.

BLITZER: A good point, Dana, because the president has repeatedly said despite what legal scholars say, plead the Fifth is not an admission of guilt, unless you believe what president has said over the years. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have you seen what's going on in front of Congress? Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment. Horrible. Horrible.

The Mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment.

When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth so they're not prosecuted, I think it's disgraceful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So when Rudy Giuliani says he might take the Fifth, what do you say?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you play those -- those clips back for the president. And for any even remotely conventional politician, it would be problematic. For the president, it should be problematic. For this president, I -- I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the people who are supporting him will find an excuse, and the president, first of all, will find an excuse for why this particular situation is different. He'll say it's a witch hunt like he's said before. And the people supporting him, that core 30 percent -- will still believe him. And it's going to be a bit of a Rorschach test.

But it's going to be the sort of independents who are on the fence and the Democrats who are saying -- have been saying for a long time, "This guy is not playing for -- ready for prime time," who are going to oppose him.

And I think at the end of the day, the question is there's the political question, as Joey said, and there's the legal question. And how successful they will be in any kind of drawn-out lawsuit that could and probably would end up at the Supreme Court and whether or not they even want to go down that road.

BLITZER: And Rudy Giuliani, Chris Cillizza, suggesting that Michael Cohen, the president's longtime fixer, lawyer, you know, he may -- he doesn't know for sure, but he may have paid off other women like Stormy Daniels over the years on behalf of Donald Trump.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. I mean, there -- there's a lot that Rudy Giuliani has said over the last 96 hours that are eyebrow-raising. That's among -- I think the pleading -- potential pleading the Fifth is the biggest. I think that's the secondary headline, which is, "Well, he's done this -- you know, he's likely done this before. This is all -- you know, this is how this operates."

I'd also say he made the argument in the ABC interview, "I mean, you wouldn't pay any real meritorious claim off with just $130,000. Now if you said $1.3 million, now we'd be talking about something serious."

That to me is not probably your best foot forward as it relates to making an argument for the president.

They continue to say, "Look Rudy Giuliani is, broadly speaking, doing what we want." Sarah Sanders said the same thing today. I find that hard to believe, both legally and especially politically, in that he has, at a minimum, induced a week of talking about Donald Trump and -- and what story he's telling about paying Stormy Daniels as it relates to Michael Cohen, which is all to the bad for Donald Trump.

[17:35:07] BLITZER: Has he done anything, Sabrina -- I'm talking about Rudy Giuliani -- other than make the president's legal problems even more difficult right now?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": No. And I think back to when Rudy Giuliani spoke to FOX News about the travel ban and infamously said that the president called him up and said he wanted a Muslim ban: "How do I do it legally?" And that turned out to be very problematic for the administration's defense of the travel ban in the courts.

You're now seeing a similar process play out where he is offering up numerous contradictions. And I think what is striking is that he was brought on -- at least it was said, in more of a limited capacity. He was going to maybe act as a mediator between the special counsel and the president. But if anything, we've seen him take on much more of a public role, perhaps seeing himself as the public face of the president's legal team, and he's only invited more questions than he has answered them.

BLITZER: Quickly -- quickly get your thoughts on the new CNN poll. The president's approval numbers, you can see it right now, remains at 41 percent approve of the job he's doing; 53 percent disapprove.

But on the question of "How are things going in the country right now," look at this: 57 percent say that things are going well. Forty percent badly. There seems to be a real disconnect there.

CILLIZZA: Absolutely. It's in some ways -- Wolf, it reminds me of Donald Trump getting elected. You look at the exit polling, and it said, you know, a third of people think he's trustworthy. A third of people think he's cut out, has the qualifications to do the job. A third of the people says he has the temperament to do the job and he wins.

You would think that a -- if people felt good about the direction of the country, which our polls suggest they do, you would think his numbers would be better. What does that tell me? It tells me that his numbers are absolutely cemented.

Dana mentioned, there's a group of people who are with him, and that can vary by about five points or it can be as low as about 35, maybe as high as about 41 or 42. There's a large group of people who are against him. There's just not a lot of movement.

His numbers are somewhere between 38 and about 42 percent the time he got elected until today. And my guess is in November 2018, it will be similar. It's just hard to move the number if you're Donald Trump.

BASH: And the only thing I will add to that is that this is an election year for all Republicans who are not retiring in the House. And Democrats, and of course, in the Senate, as well.

And so looking at the right track, wrong track as they call it, it being 57 percent, it is giving Republicans a sliver of hope -- sliver in what they are expecting to be a very, very rough slog in November. And because of the energy of the --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Sabrina, the political experts always say that right track/wrong number is so important --

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- in getting someone re-elected.

SIDDIQUI: Yes, and I think to Chris's point, the president is almost graded on his own scale.

But people when they talk about the direction of the country, they're basing that more, for example, on the economy, on how their own lives are being impacted. And this administration has been able to continue the economic recovery that began under President Obama.

And I think that's why there have been a lot of economists who have warned against the tariff announcements under Trump from pulling back from the Iran deal because Trump is actually the biggest risk to his own presidency and his own economy.

CILLIZZA: Best-case scenario, those numbers suggest that -- people put Trump in a box. Trump is Trump. You know, really Republican is Trump and that the Republican Party at large now benefit from the idea, the economy is doing better, the unemployment rate is down, jobs are coming back and they don't get penalized for Trump.

History would suggest that's not the case. Usually, midterm elections are really bad for the president's party, no matter who the president is, what party he is. But that's the argument -- the best-case Republican argument in those numbers.

BLITZER: All right. There's more news we're following right now, including the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, visiting border states. He's warning of a new get-tough approach that could result in the separation of some parents from their children. We're talking about undocumented immigrants.

And later, Russia's Vladimir Putin begins yet another term as president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:43:41] BLITZER: The Trump administration is ramping up the crack down on illegal immigration. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, today repeatedly emphasized the new get-tough policy, which could result in the forced separation of some parents and their children and families of undocumented immigrants.

Our justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is joining us right now. So Laura, what are you learning?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Some pretty strong language from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Homeland Security today, Wolf.

Sessions made it crystal clear that prosecutors at the Justice Department are going to have a policy of zero tolerance at the border and that he's simply enforcing the laws on the books.

And while officials made it pretty clear that this is not a policy explicitly directed at separating families, Sessions had a stark warning: "Don't take the risk."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we'll prosecute you for smuggling. If you're smuggling a child, then we're going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don't want your child to be separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally. It's not our fault that somebody does that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Now this policy should not affect those who had arrived at valid ports of entries seeking asylum for credible fear of prosecution in their home countries.

But at least some advocates have raised the alarm, and at least one mother who was separated from her four children at the border last week and arrested has said that this policy is not being enforced fairly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So in other words, if a mother shows up, crosses the border with two or three children, the mother is going to go to some detention facility, and the kids are going to go someplace else, separated from their mother. Who is going to take care of the kids?

JARRETT: Well, at least at this point, they will be in federal custody. And the ICE Director, Thomas Homan, made the point that, already, this policy has been in effect, but the difference now, Wolf, is that they will be doing 100 percent referrals. So any illegal crossings are now going to be referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.

BLITZER: And they're going to get this message out. They're going to do some propaganda and tell people in Mexico and elsewhere, you show up with kids, you're kids are going one place, you're going someplace else?

JARRETT: I think that was part of the message down at the border today. It's clearly one of deterrence.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. All right, thanks very much for that. Laura Jarrett reporting.

Up next, pomp and ceremony as Vladimir Putin begins another term as 2Russia's President. How much trouble could the next six years bring? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:50] BLITZER: The gold doors swung open once again on the Kremlin today as Vladimir Putin was sworn into a fourth term as Russia's President. Our Brian Todd is here.

Brian, Putin has been in power now for some two decades. His grip seemingly stronger than ever.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf, with no signs of weakening. Today, the White House officially congratulated Vladimir Putin on his new term. The second time they've done that, despite President Trump being advised by aides not to.

Tonight, as Putin begins another six years in power, experts say he is emboldened to keep up his aggressive tactics to keep antagonizing the United States and to go after his enemies with his impunity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): He struts down a seemingly endless red carpet, applauded by loyalists in the packed hall. Then takes his oath in a throne room once occupied by czars.

As he reviews soldiers, they exchange calls of solidarity.

(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

TODD (voice-over): And his inaugural speech is all about national pride and achievement.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA FEDERATION (through translator): As head of state, I will do everything to build up Russia's might, prosperity, and glory.

TODD (on camera): This marks Vladimir Putin's fourth term in office, approaching nearly 20 years of unchallenged power. Is this bad news for the U.S.?

JEFFREY EDMONDS, RESEARCH SCIENTIST FOR THE CENTER FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES, 2CNA: I mean, I think what you're going to see is a continuation of this very negative trend in the U.S./Russia relationship. He's very much convinced the West is still out to get him and undermine Russia, and we're just standing in the way of Russia's greatness.

TODD (voice-over): Putin remains hugely popular in Russia, a near- dictatorship, analysts say, after he has weakened or eliminated his biggest rivals. But not everyone is elated that Vladimir Putin will rule for another six years.

Thousands protested in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and several other Russian cities over the weekend. Putin's biggest political rival, Alexei Navalny, was arrested yet again. Detained, then released.

Experts say the real threat to Putin now is inside Russia. More than Navalny, they say, the threat is economic instability, much of it brought on by sanctions against Russia. Instability that has drawn people to the streets.

HEATHER CONLEY, DIRECTOR OF THE EUROPE PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: There is a lack of legitimacy. There is a lack of renewal. He keeps speaking very ambitiously about goals that he cannot achieve, so there is a restlessness.

TODD (voice-over): Uncertainty rising over Putin's goal to become a top five world economy by 2024.

CONLEY: It's now about 12th or 13th. It would have to take incredible economic reform to get to that in six short years.

TODD (voice-over): If he fails to meet that goal, experts say, Vladimir Putin will likely resort to familiar tactics to distract Russians from their low standard of living.

EDMONDS: I think he's going to continue to try to undermine western institutions, especially democracies. And so far as that's one of his goals, I think you're going to see a meddling in elections. Not just ours but elections in Europe.

I think they'll continue to use their military. They'll continue to modernize as much as they can.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts say we can also expect Vladimir Putin to continue trying to eliminate his enemies. Alexei Navalny, they say, could be spared assassination because he simply attracts too much attention, but others, like the spy Sergei Skripal who was poisoned in Britain and other Russians who might have damaging information on Putin, will likely still be targeted. Putin simply keeps getting away with it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, as you know, under Russia's constitution, a president can only serve two consecutive terms.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: This would be Putin's second time with two consecutive terms. What are you hearing about what he'll likely do at the end of this term? I know it's still six years away.

TODD: Right, Wolf. Analysts say Putin is likely going to find some way to stay in power. That's he'll either change Russia's constitution to enable himself to serve longer as president, or he'll do what he did before, step aside, assume some title like Prime Minister, but it will still and always be Vladimir Putin pulling the strings.

BLITZER: He's in charge, for sure. Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Coming up, as President Trump claims that he's fighting back and not obstructing justice in the Russia probe, his new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, suggests the President could defy a possible subpoena or even refuse to testify by pleading the Fifth.

[17:55:11] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, pleading the Fifth. The White House won't rule out President Trump's invoking the Fifth Amendment after his new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, floats the idea amid a series of stunning interviews. Is he adding value to the Trump legal team?

Teasing a decision. President Trump tweets that he'll announce whether he's ditching the Iran nuclear deal tomorrow afternoon. Will he listen to allies who are strongly urging him to keep the agreement?

[17:59:59] Melania's moment. A rare speech by the first lady as she unveils her official platform sixteen months into the Trump presidency. Did her husband try to upstage her with a tweet?