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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump 'Honored' by North Korea's Release of U.S. Detainees; CIA Nominee Would 'Absolutely Not Permit' Return to Torture; White House Evading Questions on Payments to Michael Cohen; Questions About Mysterious Russian Interview in Mueller Probe. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 9, 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, bringing Americans home. The new secretary of state gains the release of three Americans held by North Korea. Now they're heading home to be greeted by President Trump. Will this kickstart the summit with Kim Jong-un?
[17:00:23] Financial conflicts? Who's the mysterious Russian billionaire being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller? And why would his U.S. affiliate funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen?
Confirmation fight. The president's pick to run the CIA faces tough questions from lawmakers and vows not to allow the torture of terror suspects. Can Gina Haspel win her confirmation battle?
And one year later. A year after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, we'll talk to the correspondent who broke the story right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And the FBI special agent who was with Comey when he learned the news.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Even as President Trump pushes for a break-through with nuclear-armed North Korea, he's issued a tough new warning to Iran. I'll speak with Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are all standing by with full coverage.
But let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the president is talking tough about Iran and may soon be talking directly with North Korea.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Just as President Trump is trying to deescalate tensions with North Korea and welcoming home those American prisoners detained by that regime, he is ramping up the rhetoric on Iran. He did so earlier today. And warning of severe consequences, as he put it, if Tehran reactivates its nuclear program.
The problem for the president: he may find the Iranians to be tough negotiators, something candidate Trump talked about during the campaign.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Closing in on what may be the biggest reality TV moment of his life, President Trump is nailing down plans for a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're just working arrangements. But it --
ACOSTA (on camera): Will it be at the DMZ?
TRUMP: It will not be there.
ACOSTA (voice-over): While he's celebrating the arrival of three American prisoners who were released by North Korea and on their way home --
TRUMP: Right now, flying back are three what they were calling hostages. We call them fine people. Really fine people. Seem to be healthy.
ACOSTA: He's still tamping down expectations that his summit with the regime will produce a nuclear break-through.
TRUMP: Everything can be scuttled. Everything can be scuttled. It doesn't mean -- a lot of things can happen. A lot of good things can happen; a lot of bad things can happen.
ACOSTA: As for the other nuclear deal he just ripped up with Iran, President Trump issued a not-so-veiled threat of military action if Tehran resumes its nuclear ambitions.
TRUMP: I would advise Iran not to start their nuclear program. I would advise them very strongly. If they do, there will be very severe consequence. OK?
ACOSTA: The president then told his cabinet he'll pursue a new agreement with Iran.
TRUMP: So we're going to make either a really good deal for the world, or we're not going to make a deal at all. And Iran will come back and say, "We don't want to negotiate," and of course, they're going to say that. And if I were in their position, I'd say that, too, for the first couple of months. "We're not going to negotiate," but they'll negotiate. Or something will happen.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump has boasted for years he could out-negotiate the Iranians, repeatedly using an ethnic stereotype during the campaign.
TRUMP: But the Persians are great negotiators. The Iranians are great negotiators. So -- and they just killed -- they just killed us.
ACOSTA: Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, doesn't sound impressed, tweeting about the U.S. exit from the nuclear deal: "The president's shallow and ludicrous behavior wasn't unexpected. This man's corpse will also be worm food."
Whatever happens in North Korea or Iran, Mr. Trump seems to expect only positive coverage from the media. In a tweet the president revealed what was long suspected, that he sees negative news as fake news. "Ninety-one percent of the network news about me is negative. Fake. Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?"
The president defended his hostility toward the press at a news conference last year.
(on camera): Aren't you concerned, sir, that you are undermining the people's faith in the First Amendment, freedom of the press, the press in this country when you call stories you don't like fake news? Why not just say, "It's a story I don't like"?
TRUMP: I do that. I do that.
ACOSTA: When you call it fake news, you're undermining confidence in our news media.
TRUMP: Here's the thing.
ACOSTA: Isn't that important?
TRUMP: I understand what you're -- and you're right about that, except see, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad. And sometimes I'll say, "Wow, that's going to be a great story," and I'll get killed. I know what's good and bad.
ACOSTA: As for the Americans heading home from North Korea, the president said he plans to greet the prisoners' arrival with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Joint Base Andrews, just outside Washington overnight. It will be a very early morning event for the president and those Americans coming home.
[17:05:04] Asked whether he expects to receive the Nobel Peace Prize -- he was asked that question earlier today -- the president said he simply wants a good deal for the world.
But now the president has doubled his work, Wolf. Just as he wants an agreement with North Korea, he now has to figure out how to bring Iran back to the negotiating table, a table he's not at right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, tough challenge, indeed. Jim Acosta, thank you.
The three Americans released by North Korea are on the way back to the United States after a stop in Japan. That may thousand clear the way for the summit between Trump and Kim.
Let's go live to Will Ripley joining us from Tokyo. Will, you once interviewed the longest held of the American detainees. Tell us about what happened. WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kim Dong-chul was detained in October
of 2015, Wolf. Imagine: for two and a half years he has had no contact with his family, no news of the outside world. Just imagine how much has changed in the last two and a half months, never mind two and a half years.
And yet now, in a matter of hours, he will be face-to-face with the president of the United States, Donald Trump.
I met him in early 2016, several months after he was detained, and at that time he gave me an on-camera confession, very detailed, talking about the charges of espionage that he was facing in North Korea and later convicted of. He said that he was smuggling material on USB drives out of North Korea to activists in South Korea. I didn't know at that time and I still don't know now if that confession was made under duress or what he was saying was true or is he was just saying what he felt he needed to say to get out of that situation.
He has arguably had the toughest conditions of the three Americans being held. He's been serving hard labor. Digging holes, lifting heavy rocks, eating meals with bugs and cockroaches, according to accounts from others who have left North Korean custody.
The other two Americans, Kim Hak Song and Tony, they were detained in the spring of the last year. Never formally charged, but they still have missed a whole lot. Tony Kim had a grandchild born while he was in a North Korean jail. And Kim Hak Song's wife was absolutely distraught when we spoke with her after his detainment. Now, in just a matter of hours, they're going to see the president, and then they're going to see their families, Wolf.
BLITZER: What does all this tell you, Will, about the upcoming summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump?
RIPLEY: The account from Secretary Pompeo's visit to Pyongyang was truly extraordinary. There was, you know, more than 13 hours he was on the ground there after flying from here in Japan to North Korea. He didn't spend the night, but he did have a luncheon with his North Korean counterparts. And they toasted each other. North Korean said the U.S. is going to play a big role in peace on the peninsula. Secretary Pompeo said the North Koreans have been a great partner in arranging this upcoming summit with President Trump.
We expect the date and location to be announced within the next three days. According to the president, the DMZ is out. A lot of people are betting on Singapore now, but we'll wait for that official announcement, possibly in early June.
And yes, I mean, obviously, at least as far as the summit arrangements go, it seems that things are going well with the United States. But of course, when they sit down at the negotiating table and start talking about denuclearization, that's the real nitty-gritty issue where things could go downhill quickly.
BLITZER: Yes, certainly is. Will Ripley joining us. Thanks very much. Joining us now, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
He's a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.
Senator, do you give President Trump credit for engaging with Kim Jong-un, with the regime over there, and securing the release of these three American detainees?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I certainly think we ought to be overjoyed in welcoming home these Americans who have been so cruelly and brutally kept as prisoners by North Korea, but there is no reason for complacency here or toasting success.
In fact, the key is to sustain and even perhaps heighten the sanctions that have brought North Korea to the table. Sanctions that I and others in Congress have urged and that the administration seemingly reluctantly adopted. The same is true in Iran, where we have urged sanctions on the Iranians for violating the U.N. resolution prohibiting the development of ballistic missiles. And now that, unfortunately, we have decided to abandon the Iran nuclear agreement, rather than tighten or strengthen and enforce it more effectively, we need to be sure that we have credibility going into these talks with the North Koreans.
BLITZER: The president, while he prepares, Senator, to meet with Kim Jong-un in the coming weeks, he's going to be pushing for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We're still following the fallout, as you point out, from his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
Do you want President Trump to renegotiate a better Iran deal? What happens now?
BLUMENTHAL: That is a key question, Wolf. And there's no clear path, unfortunately, forward now. The administration abandoned the Iran deal without a strategy for how to stop a nuclear armed Iran.
So we need to come together with our allies, who have been divided from us and isolated. And we need to make sure that we partner with those allies, because again, economic sanctions, bringing Iran back to the table, are an absolute must; and they will be much more effective if we do them with our allies.
[17:10:09] So we're talking in Congress now about possibly action here that will encourage or even compel the president to act in combination with our allies to bring Iran back to the table.
BLITZER: The president says there will be, in his words, very severe consequences if Iran restarts its nuclear program. What do you think that means?
BLUMENTHAL: I wish I knew what the president means when he talks about very severe consequences.
One of the reasons why I supported the Iran deal, and I did it despite my strong misgivings about many aspects of it, is that there is no clear or good military option. So if the president has in mind some kind of military action here, as
perhaps he contemplated in North Korea, in both situations there is the prospect of tremendous loss. And as a member of the Armed Services Committee, having spoken to our military leaders, I can say that there would be costs in American lives and resources in the event the president goes that route.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, told me earlier today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: They have made it very clear that if Iran acquires a nuclear capability, we will do everything we can to do the same.
BLITZER: And I assume that means you will -- you will acquire a nuclear capability yourself?
AL-JUBEIR: That's what we mean.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A pretty stark statement. Could this decision by President Trump spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East?
BLUMENTHAL: That clearly was the danger that led me, in part, to vote approval of the deal in the first place.
The lack of a deal raises the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It also raises and heightens the danger of an Israeli- Iran military conflict, as well as drawing into it not only Saudi Arabia and others in the Middle East, but also the United States. It destabilizes the region, and it divides us from our allies.
And now we need to move forward, and your question is the key one: what is that path forward? Can it involve our allies and will we reach out to them successfully, not only the Europeans but also our allies in the Middle East? Because plainly, it is a tinder box. It is a snake pit, and it endangers the whole world.
BLITZER: Let me turn to the payments to Michael Cohen, the president's longtime personal lawyer, the payments from a U.S. company linked to a Russian oligarch or Russian billionaire. What are the areas, from your perspective, of potential illegality?
BLUMENTHAL: The areas of illegality are possibly bank fraud in false statements that Michael Cohen made to the banks that were dealing with him. Second, violations of the Foreign Lobbying Act and registration requirements, which may not appear huge in themselves, but in combination with other possible violations like money laundering, could make him much more vulnerable.
All of these payments are deep serious trouble for Michael Cohen, and that's deep trouble for Donald Trump. Because he has the keys to the kingdom in terms of information about Donald Trump. He's the president's lawyer, really the president's fixer, and these payments by AT&T, Novartis and the Korean aerospace industry, not to mention companies associated with Viktor Vekselberg, are very, very suspect. We know there was a quid pro quo. We know the quid. We don't yet know the quo in terms of the services that Michael Cohen was supposed to provide.
BLITZER: Does it sound to you, Senator, like possible influence peddling? Does it go further with the Russian connections to possible collusion?
BLUMENTHAL: It certainly enhances the likelihood of evidence of collusion. What we're seeing is pieces of a mosaic, establishing collusion with the Russians, and these pieces are very powerful evidence. The involvement of an oligarch, not just any oligarch, an individual who was sanctioned by our own government, Viktor Vekselberg, payments to Michael Cohen, the president's lawyer, from that Russian oligarch, that prospect is very serious evidence of collusion.
BLITZER: You're calling now for another investigation into these payments. Have you received, first of all, any response?
BLUMENTHAL: We've received no response yet. But these payments absolutely require intense investigation, immediately and prompt. Vigorous investigation.
[17:15:15] Let's be very blunt here. The special counsel knows a lot more about the purpose and intent of these payments than we do, because he is talked to AT&T and Novartis, as well as Korean Aerospace. And he very likely at this point is looking to cooperation from Michael Cohen, and I think the chances of that cooperation have risen astronomically with this news, because it is big trouble for him and huge liability.
BLITZER: Senator Richard Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Up next, facing tough questions from senators. The president's pick to run the CIA vows not to allow the torture of terror suspects. Can Gina Haspel win her confirmation fight?
[17:20:11] BLITZER: President Trump's pick to head the CIA was sharply questioned today about the torture of terror suspects during a tough confirmation hearing. The nominee, Gina Haspel, promised she would not restart the agency's harsh interrogation program.
Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, still a pretty rocky path to confirmation, right?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, possibly, and it's interesting here. You have the nominee for the head of the Central Intelligence Agency barely asked about the primary national security threats to the U.S. -- Russia, China, North Korea, Iran -- even as the U.S. exits one deal, attempts to negotiate another nuclear deal with North Korea. It was on this question of the CIA's controversial enhanced interrogation -- some called it torture -- program that Haspel had a role in and whether she would defy the president if asked to start it again.
GINA HASPEL, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: I do.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): In a sometimes heated confirmation hearing today, President Trump's nominee for CIA director told senators that she would defy a direct order from the president that she thought was immoral.
HASPEL: My moral compass is strong. I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: So you would not follow the order?
SCIUTTO: Gina Haspel's nomination has come under criticism, due to her role in the CIA's post-9/11 detention and interrogation program of terrorists that included tactics such as waterboarding, now considered torture.
Today Haspel vowed never to restart the program, even if directed by the president, who as a candidate enthusiastically endorsed waterboarding and more.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would bring back waterboarding, and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.
HASPEL: I would not restart, under any circumstances, an interrogation program at CIA. Under any circumstances.
SCIUTTO: Pressed repeatedly however, Haspel would not say if she considered the torture program immoral.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?
HASPEL: Senator, I leave that CIA officers to whom you referred --
HARRIS: It's a yes or no answer. Do you believe the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?
HASPEL: Senator, I believe that CIA --
HARRIS: Yes or no.
HASPEL: -- did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country, given the legal tools that we were authorized to use.
HARRIS: Please answer yes or no. Do you believe, in hindsight, that those technique were immoral?
HASPEL: Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to --
HARRIS: Please answer the question.
SCIUTTO: She faced tough questions, as well, on her role in destroying videotapes of the waterboarding of a terror suspect. Claiming that it was her boss, Jose Rodriguez, then the director of the National Clandestine Service, who gave the order; though she said she also supported his decision.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Were you an advocate for destroying the tapes?
HARRIS: Senator, I absolutely was an advocate, if we could within and conforming to U.S. law, and if we could get policy concurrence, to eliminate the security risk posed to our officers by those tapes, and because --
FEINSTEIN: And you were aware of what those tapes contained?
HARRIS: No. I never watched the tapes, but I understood that our officers' faces were on them and that that was very dangerous --
SCIUTTO: Senator Dianne Feinstein you saw there; also Senator Mark Warner, the deputy chairman of the committee, both saying they were not satisfied with her answers specifically on the destruction of those tapes. But in a positive sign for her nomination, Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, locked in a potentially difficult race there. He said that she did a good job and has expressed support for her -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us. Thank you very much.
Coming up, the president's personal lawyer received hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from corporations, including one tied to a Russia billionaire. What's the White House saying about all that? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:28:53] BLITZER: A little while ago, over at the White House, the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, dodged questions about reports of hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments made by multiple corporations to the president's longtime personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, supposedly for insights into the Trump administration's thinking. Sanders says she hasn't heard specific concerns from the president on this topic.
Let's bring in our experts. Nia-Malika Henderson, Sanders says these payments made to Michael Cohen have nothing to do with the president or the White House. What do you make of that?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL WRITER: Well, I think at this point, she's clearly trying to wall the president off from this news. She's also, in some ways, trying to protect herself, right, from getting out ahead of the story or reporting something that later turns out not to be true. So that's what we saw the press secretary do over and over again today; essentially say any question should go to outside counsel.
She essentially admitted that she didn't really talk to the president about this. She hadn't heard any concerns from the president about what the perception of this could be. Was it, for instance, the perception that here was a president who came in saying that he wanted to drain the swamp; did this run counter to that?
So I think this is what we're going to see from this press secretary going forward: an attempt to wall this White House off and wall herself off, too, from saying anything that might be untrue and essentially say talk to outside counsel about it.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Bianna Golodryga, you're with us, as well. The connection to this Russian billionaire, the -- lots of eyebrows are being raised as a result. What stands out to you when you look at all these payments?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think at this point, we can say our eyebrows are permanently raised throughout this ordeal, Wolf.
Look, Viktor Vekselberg is a blast from the past. He's sort of one of the original oligarchs; made his money in the '90s in sort of the commodities grab in Russia. And there's still a lot to be answered, as far as what relation, if any, he had with the president. Obviously, these payments through a company that he had an investment in, that his cousin runs who happens to be an American citizen, is what's raising eyebrows at this moment.
But all of this happened before, of course, he had been sanctioned back in April. And that happened -- prior to that, he had been interviewed by Bob Mueller, as it turns out.
So from what I know about Viktor Vekselberg, he is not in Trump's inner circle, as far as those oligarchs that -- I mean, in Vladimir Putin's inner circle, as far as the oligarchs that he has sort of molded himself. As I mentioned, he's one of the earlier ones.
But the reason and the question of the money that had been sent towards Michael Cohen, in essence to curry favor, is sort of what the conclusion has been thus far, is what's raising a lot of questions today.
BLITZER: It certainly is. You know, and Dana Bash, let me ask you about this about other huge development today, with the North Koreans releasing those three American detainees. Is this the result of President Trump's decision to engage directly with Kim Jong-un? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly didn't
hurt. That is for sure. I mean, if you kind of look back at the history of when hostages are released, they tend even in the worst of times, vis-a-vis American and North Korean relations, the North Koreans tend to kind of demand high-level person-to-person contact. Whether it is Bill Clinton, who went and got some hostages several years ago, or Bill Richardson, former U.N. ambassador, or others.
The fact that you now have a president, a sitting president of the United States in active negotiations with Kim Jong-un for a summit and, by the way, sent his sitting secretary of state to go and work on that and deal with the hostages, this is -- absolutely how the North Koreans, at least history shows us, tend to operate.
BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right.
You know, Samantha Vinograd, the -- on the Iran deal, which the president walked away from yesterday, he says -- the president was asked about the prospect of Iran's now restarting its nuclear program. Listen to this. Watch the president's response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I would advise Iran not to start their nuclear program. I would advise them very strongly. If they do, there will be very severe consequences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Sam, what do you think he means by that? What are his options if they were to revive their nuclear weapons program?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, in the first case, whether or not Iran will restart their program as a result of our withdrawal from the Iran agreement, it's typically something that a president would ask his intelligence community about before making a decision.
I was actually hoping that this would come up during Gina Haspel's confirmation hearing today. It didn't. What her assessment was as to whether this would lead Iran to restart their program or not.
Typically, we talked about all options being on the table when it comes to Iran. That's diplomatic, military, covert and then economic. Economic sanctions. President Trump is reimposing economic sanctions. I think that if he extends that to secondary sanctions on European firms and foreign entities doing business with Iran, they're really going to be squeezed, and their incentives for not starting their nuclear program are gone.
I think there's a difference in this scenario, versus several years ago, though, Wolf, in that I don't think the diplomatic option is on the table any more. Iran no longer believes it will negotiate in good faith. And you can't imagine the leadership in Iran, the hardliners going back and saying, "OK, we're going to be able to sell another diplomatic negotiation domestically." The politics domestically in Iran just don't pan out.
BLITZER: Bianna, the European allies, they're trying to convince Iran to stay in the deal without the United States. So what does that say to you about President Trump's standing on the world stage right now?
GOLODRYGA: And Iran is saying the same thing. That Iran is still trying to negotiate with the Europeans. But no question, having the U.S. leave the deal leaves a big hole. And as Sam said, this puts pressure on the Europeans, on our closest allies.
[17:35:04] I don't see Russia or China feeling the same pressure. They will likely continue doing business with Iran. Of course, secondary sanctions that are being threatened about -- on European countries and their companies have -- really has a lot of CEOs putting the pause on any future investment that they will make in Iran.
And of course, the leaders from Europe, whether it's Angela Merkel, who doesn't have as close of a relationship with Donald Trump; or Macron, who does, all of them are left wondering what happens next and, of course, what this means for their own countries and what it means for the E.U. The E.U. is the U.S.'s largest trading partner, and it seems that they are once again being thrown under the bus.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. There's more news we're following, including more about that mysterious and reportedly extremely wealthy Russian oligarch who was questioned by the FBI as part of the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, investigation.
[17:40:31] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're getting breaking news on what appears to be the location for the summit meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Let's go straight to our White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins. W
Kaitlan, what are you hearing?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are told by sources that administration officials have been instructed to move forward with plans to hold that historic summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore.
Now, that comes after the president today during that cabinet meeting ruled out the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean border. Of course, the only other location that he has floated publicly has been Singapore. And we are told now that administration officials are moving forward -- moving ahead with plans to hold the summit there.
Of course, Singapore has been the preferred location by administration officials ever -- and U.S. officials overall, ever since the president announced he was going to meet with him there over the DMZ, because it does -- it is seen as a more neutral place for that meeting.
But Wolf, a word of caution, of course. This is a president who changes his mind very often. There is certainly a chance he could decide to do so before that meeting actually takes place. Something the president said today he's going to announce the date and location within the next three days.
And of course, the North Koreans could also change their mind. We've seen them do that before, when they were supposed to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during the Olympics. They canceled in the hour before. So a lot of unpredictability here in this situation. But we are told that Singapore seems to be the location right now.
Now this is a very fluid situation, fast moving at times. Just yesterday, President Trump announced that the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was on his way to North Korea to really smooth out any wrinkles ahead of this upcoming summit. Of course, he also secured the release of those three Americans, and they are on their way back to the United States right now.
So it is a very fast-moving situation here, Wolf. But Singapore seems to be the place right now where that historic location -- that historic meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un is going to take place, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, and it looks like it could take place either late this month or early in June, according to administration officials. Excellent reporting, Kaitlan, as usual. Thank you so much for breaking that for us.
Other news we're following. Today, May 9, marks exactly one year since President Trump fired the FBI director, James Comey. In a tweet this morning, the former director wrote, "Missing the people of the FBI today. Thank you for your commitment to truth and for all of the good you do for this country."
The former FBI supervisory special agent Josh Campbell was with Comey on that day. He's joining us, along with our Jeff Zeleny, who was over at the White House when the story broke.
Josh, walk us through, first of all, how that day unfolded.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Hi, Wolf.
Well, the day started just like any other. I mean, Comey was someone who would get out and see the work force. The FBI is a deployed organization in communities across the country, so he wasn't one to sit inside of the beltway. He wanted to get out there and visit the troops.
So we started in Washington and dropped down to Florida for a speech with law enforcement officials and then continued on to Los Angeles. And at the Los Angeles field office, he went as he usually did, around visiting employees at their desks and then met with a group of them in the command center. And it was at that point, when he is sitting there addressing employees, that he notices, looking over their heads, two television screens in the back of the room. One of them had FOX News. The other one had CNN. And on FOX, the chyron comes on and indicates that Comey has resigned. And he didn't know what to make of it at first, because presumably, he would know if he resigned. We later learned, obviously, that that wasn't accurate. But it was our colleague Jeff Zeleny who came in right after that on CNN and indicated, no, he had actually been fired.
And so that set in chain a chaotic series of events. Obviously, trying to make sense of, you know, what was the nature of what just transpired. Was it accurate? No one had notified the FBI director. In fact, as we've noticed and, you know, Jeff can talk about how that -- how that went down as far as a White House employee delivering a letter to the visitor's center at the FBI headquarters. But it was actually that moment that, you know, he actually learned from television.
And then we had to determine what to do next. Do we -- do we get him back to Washington? What's the method for that? We received word that there were some at the Department of Justice and later, we learned, at the White House who were actually angry that Comey returned back on a government jet, and he was subsequently barred from entering FBI space. But just a series, a chaotic series -- series of events that transpired that day and, you know, a sad day for the FBI.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, Josh, a picture you took of Jeff Zeleny on the air almost exactly at this time right here in THE SITUATION ROOM when The broke the story that Comey had been fired.
Jeff, walk us through the news you were getting at that moment, because it seemed almost unbelievable at the time. But clearly, it was a warning shot.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was, indeed, Wolf. No question. It's exactly a year ago at this hour I remember running out to our camera position on the north lawn of the White House, which is about -- I would say about 30 yards or so from the White House briefing room.
Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary at the time, was reading from a folded piece of paper that he had indeed -- the FBI Director had indeed been fired. The -- a sense of disbelief, I think, inside the White House.
The context of it, though, was this was about a week after James Comey was on Capitol Hill and was testifying. And this was a -- something the President, of course, was furious at him. He had spent the weekend before in Bedminster at his resort there, and several of his advisers had a conversation with him.
And they thought that this would be received in a positive bipartisan way because Democrats, of course, were not pleased at all with James Comey. But the role out of this was so haphazard. So we rushed out, we are read the news, initially from that press statement, and then the White House released a letter the President sent.
Initially, it was not exactly -- the reasoning was sort of murky, and that went on to be the situation. The President initially blamed it on the Clinton investigation. Of course, we found out, in a couple of days, it was not that, Wolf. BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, excellent reporting as usual.
Josh Campbell, thanks to you as well.
Coming up, new details about a mysterious Russian oligarch, a billionaire who may be worth maybe as much as $13 billion. Why was he questioned in connection with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe?
[17:51:27] BLITZER: Tonight, there are new questions about a mysterious Russian oligarch whose name has surfaced in stories about President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. And he's been interviewed by investigators for the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.
Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, tell our viewers what you're learning.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've got new information tonight on Viktor Vekselberg who's been one of Russia's wealthiest men for decades. We have investigated his ties to Vladimir Putin, the business ventures that made him rick, and what Robert Mueller's investigators could have asked Vekselberg about Michael Cohen.
TODD (voice-over): When his private jet landed near Manhattan earlier this year, he was stopped and questioned by the FBI as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Viktor Vekselberg questioned about hundreds of thousands of dollars that a company identified in public documents as a U.S. affiliate of his firm made to President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
MAX BOOT, JEANE J. KIRKPATRICK SENIOR FELLOW IN NATIONAL SECURITY, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: That's certainly a strange credulity to imagine that this company is entirely independent of the Vekselberg financial empire.
TODD (voice-over): But the U.S. company says is independent and neither Vekselberg nor Michael Cohen has been accused of any wrongdoing.
The 61-year-old Vekselberg is an ally of Vladimir Putin's and is worth an estimated $13 billion.
BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, "FRAGILE EMPIRE: HOW RUSSIA FELL IN AND OUT OF LOVE WITH VLADIMIR PUTIN": The greatest fortunes in Russia, the great oligarchs, including Mr. Vekselberg, even though everything they do is not supervised by the Kremlin, the Kremlin views them, and Vladimir Putin views them, in the way a medieval king would view his feudal lords. People who, at the end of the day, belong to him.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Donald John Trump --
TODD (voice-over): After Vekselberg's cousin who runs the U.S. company linked to Vekselberg gave a quarter million dollars to the Trump inauguration fund, Viktor Vekselberg got a ticket to attend Donald Trump's inauguration last year.
But he was hit last month with U.S. sanctions targeting oligarchs who benefit from the Putin regime and who, the Treasury Department says, play roles in, quote, advances Russia's malign activities.
VIKTOR VEKSELBERG, OWNER AND PRESIDENT, RENOVA GROUP: I think Russia should be more open for the global market.
TODD (voice-over): Vekselberg made a fortune in oil and gas deals after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2010, the Kremlin appointed him to lead a tech district development meant to be Russia's Silicon Valley.
BOOT: And he's taken over a lot of large enterprises that used to be state-owned, and his fortune and his life really depend upon staying on the good side of Vladimir Putin.
TODD (voice-over): Reportedly to curry more favor with Putin, Vekselberg once spent over $100 million to buy nine Faberge eggs and return them to Russia.
JUDAH: Mr. Vekselberg, like many in Russia's ruling class, has developed a fascination for the czarist era, a fascination for a period when great fortunes went unchallenged in Russia and when an autocracy was welcome.
TODD (voice-over): And in 2015, video shows Vekselberg was invited to a dinner with Vladimir Putin who sat next to Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser.
TODD: Despite our represented attempts, neither representatives for Vekselberg nor Michael Cohen responded to requests for comment on CNN's reporting about them in this case.
Neither the Kremlin nor the Russian embassy here in Washington has comment. But an attorney for Columbus Nova, the U.S. affiliate of Vekselberg's company, did issue a statement, acknowledging that the firm did hire Michael Cohen as a business consultant after Trump's inauguration.
But Columbus Nova says it is controlled only by Americans, that Vekselberg never used the company as a channel for its payments to Michael Cohen, never provided any money for those payments, and was not involved in the decision to hire Michael Cohen -- Wolf.
[17:55:07] BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd, reporting.
Coming up, the new Secretary of State gains the release of three Americans held by North Korea. Now, they're heading home to be greeted by President Trump. Will this kick start the summit with Kim Jong-un? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, coming home. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way back from North Korea with three Americans released by the Kim regime.
[17:59:56] Pay to play? Michael Cohen's murky financial situation gets murkier. New details of corporate payments he received that attracted the attention of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller six months ago. Tortured explanations.