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THE SITUATION ROOM
Homeland Security Secretary Threatens to Quit?; Interview With Oregon Senator Ron Wyden; Interview With Stormy Daniels Attorney Michael Avenatti; President Trump Announces North Korea Summit; Washington Post: AT&T Paid Michael Cohen Specifically To Advise On Merger With Time Warner; Netanyahu: Iran Has Crossed a Red Lin. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 10, 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 HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Ready to resign? A new report tonight says the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, came close to quitting her job yesterday after President Trump lashed out at her over border security in front of his entire Cabinet.
What President Trump knew. Rudy Giuliani says the president didn't know about corporate payments to his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and now Giuliani is leaving his law firm to focus on the president.
Suspicious e-mail. Stormy Daniels' lawyer reveals an e-mail Cohen sent to the porn star's former attorney only days after Cohen was raided by the FBI. Daniels' current lawyer joins us live this hour.
And rescue mission. President Trump is on hand to greet three Americans brought home from North Korea by the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and Mr. Trump announces new details of his summit with Kim Jong-un.
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, "The New York Times" is reporting that the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, told colleagues she was close to resigning Wednesday after President Trump berated her during a Cabinet meeting.
Also, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, joins me live this hour. And our correspondents and analysts are standing by.
First, let's go to our White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins, with more on the breaking news.
Kaitlan, what are you finding out?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, to really set the scene for you, there was a Cabinet meeting focused explicitly on immigration at the White House yesterday.
Of course, at the beginning of that meeting, they do let the reporters come in with the cameras, the president speaks. We heard from the president yesterday some comments on North Korea and whatnot. Not a ton on immigration, just some.
But, of course, things got interesting, apparently, when the cameras left the room. "The New York Times" first reported this, but CNN has confirmed that the president and homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, did get into a heated, lengthy argument over immigration, where the president was ranting at Nielsen, saying that he didn't think she was doing enough to secure the border.
Of course, Nielsen, I'm told, was holding her ground in this argument with the president, citing the law in some instances. But it was this lengthy heated argument, something that you don't often see -- or that we haven't seen between the president and Nielsen necessarily yet in a fashion like this.
Now, "The New York Times" is reporting that after that meeting Nielsen fell like a lot of the president's anger was directed at her specifically and that in turn she drafted a resignation letter and offered to resign from that position, because, of course, that argument she would see as a referendum on how she is doing her job.
We have not confirmed the resignation letter, but "The New York Times" is reporting that much as far. Now, as far as who Nielsen is, this is someone who was John Kelly's protege, essentially. She worked with him at DHS before. She came with him to the White House when he was the chief of staff.
She certainly ruffled some feathers there because she was really seen as John Kelly's enforcer in the West Wing. Of course, when John Kelly -- later on, he was the one who had promoted her or pitched her to the president as taking over as the new Department of Homeland Security secretary.
She obviously did get that job. But clearly the president is not pleased with her performance so far, ranting at her in front of several other Cabinet secretaries who were in the room for this yesterday.
So, it certainly does go to show that. But the reason I bring up John Kelly here is because it's important to note that the president and Nielsen have never had this personal chemistry, something the president often looks for in people he hires.
He hired her because John Kelly brought her into the West Wing, she became familiar with the president there, and that's how she got this job as the homeland security secretary. But clearly, Wolf, it seems to be on the line. Neither she is happy, nor the president, according to this new reporting.
BLITZER: Yes, very, very awkward, very embarrassing, if not humiliating, to be berated by the president in front of the entire Cabinet like that. If he wanted to do it, he could have had a private little meeting with her and maybe John Kelly present as well.
Was there something specific he was so angry about involving border security?
COLLINS: Well, Wolf, we have seen the president's anger about border security rise in recent weeks.
You just take a look at his Twitter feed and you can see it from there, especially what he was saying about that caravan coming from Central America up to the United States, telling the Department of Homeland Security they needed to turn people away at the border.
Of course, we do know that some people who were traveling in that caravan, some of those migrants did come into the United States seeking asylum. So certainly it's something that has been a source of the president's anger.
When something like this angers him, he often takes it out on someone, and Kirstjen Nielsen seems to be the one that was the target of his anger this time. But according to what my source says, that she did hold her ground with the president. She did.
Clearly, that's why she offered to resign, according to "The New York Times," thinking if the president isn't happy with her, she doesn't want to stay over there.
But the president did seem to be quite angry with her, going -- talking to her about the immigration, saying that he doesn't think enough is being done.
Of course, Wolf, as those border crossing numbers go up, which we have seen an uptick in April, that robs the president of a talking point, something he also likes to use, like when he's going to this rally tonight in Indiana with the vice president, Mike Pence.
The president likes to be able to tout that, be able to talk about that. If he can't talk about that, that certainly takes something away that he can use to talk to supporters about what a great job he's doing in office.
So, clearly, there is a lot of anger with the president here that caused him to lash out at the homeland security secretary in a Cabinet meeting like this.
BLITZER: Growing list of members of the Cabinet the president is deeply angry at.
All right, Kaitlan, thanks very, very much. We will stay on top of this story.
Other news. Rudy Giuliani's former law firm took a parting shot as he resigned to focus in on the work -- on his work for the president. The firm rejecting Giuliani's defense of the hush payments to Stormy Daniels, which he suggested was common practice among lawyers and law firms.
Our national political reporter, M.J. Lee, is joining us.
M.J., Giuliani claimed there is really nothing unusual about lawyers making payments for their clients without those clients knowing about it.
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And just hours after Greenberg Traurig announced that it had parted ways with Rudy Giuliani, it released a statement basically rejecting Giuliani's previous defense of Michael Cohen and this payment to Stormy Daniels.
This, of course, is that $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen secretly made to Stormy Daniels back in 2016 to keep her quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.
Now, Giuliani, if you remember, stunned a lot of people last week when he went on FOX News and he said that Donald Trump had actually paid back Michael Cohen for that $130,000 payment. And you might also remember that he defended Michael Cohen's payment, essentially saying there's nothing to see here, lawyers do this kind of thing all the time.
Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do, out of his law firm funds or whatever funds. Doesn't matter. Like, I take care of things like this for my clients. I don't burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: Now, that law firm, Greenberg Traurig is now addressing those comments.
Here's what a spokesperson said: "We cannot speak for Mr. Giuliani with respect to what was intended by his remarks. Speaking for ourselves, we would not condone payments of the nature alleged to have been made or otherwise without the knowledge and direction of a client."
Now, Wolf, I should also note that Giuliani said that he initially meant to go on temporary leave from his role at this law firm, but he has now decided to make that resignation permanent, so that he can concentrate full time on the work that he's doing for the president.
BLITZER: Giuliani also told our Dana Bash, M.J., that he wasn't aware of Michael Cohen's pitch to potential clients for access to President Trump following the 2016 election.
What are you hearing on that? LEE: That's right, Wolf.
What we learned about this week was that Michael Cohen was pitching himself very aggressively to companies shortly after the election, saying that he could grant them access to the White House, help them understand the new administration.
Well, Dana Bash actually asked Giuliani about this, and Giuliani says that he actually spoke to the president directly about this the day that the story came out, and that Trump insisted that he didn't know about this kind of behavior from Michael Cohen.
I also want to add that we have some breaking news. Raj Shah, White House spokesperson, actually addressed this as well to reporters on Air Force One just minutes ago.
And he said that President Trump makes his own decisions, the president makes up his own mind about policy matters, so clearly trying to signal here that the president is not swayed by outside forces.
Of course, the Michael Cohen news has created some bad headlines for the White House, and what kind of access he may have promised to corporations like AT&T, like the pharmaceutical company Novartis, and of course we know now that special counsel Robert Mueller, they have questioned those two companies about the contracts that Michael Cohen struck with these firms -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Yes, they questioned both of these companies some six months ago, even though we're only learning about it right now. Very significant.
M.J. Lee, thanks very, very much.
There are also serious questions tonight about an e-mail sent by Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels' previous attorney just days after Michael Cohen's home office and hotel room, safe deposit box were raided by the FBI.
Our national correspondent, Sara Sidner, is working this part of the story for us.
Sara, what are you learning about the e-mail?
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting.
Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, as you mentioned, put this e-mail out today. We want to show it to you to explain exactly what it says.
But in it, there is an e-mail that he tweeted out which is a communication between Michael Cohen to Keith Davidson, who is the original attorney for Stormy Daniels who brokered that $130,000 deal to try to keep her quiet, keep her from talking about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.
Here's what that e-mail says.
It says -- now, remember, this is from Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal attorney at the time.
He says: "I lost all my contacts, as I had to get a new phone. Please send me all your contact info."
Also: "Why did Anthony back out on ABC to do the story? Let me know how you want to communicate."
Now, we have learned through our reporting from sources that Anthony, the person he's referring to in that e-mail, is Anthony Kotzev, which is the boyfriend of Stormy Daniels' former manager, Gina Rodriguez.
Now, why would he be doing an interview with ABC and why would Michael Cohen be asking about that? Well, Anthony Kotzev, according to our sources, knows some information about Stormy Daniels concerning the NDA and concerning her demeanor when she was signing one of those letters denying that there ever was an affair between her and Donald Trump, which of course she says she was coerced into or forced into signing, threatened into signing.
And so the question here is, why is Michael Cohen involved in that? Was he trying to get Anthony Kotzev to go on television to defend their position and to embarrass Stormy Daniels, or was Anthony Kotzev going on simply to tell his truth and his side of the story and what he knew?
Those questions remain to be seen. So far, we have no comment from Mr. Davidson.
And if you're wondering how Mr. Avenatti was able to get this personal information that is obviously an e-mail between two people that was private, he has a simple explanation. And that is that the "e-mail that was obtained in connection with their efforts to get any and all documents relating to Mr. Davidson's prior representation of my client," his client being Stormy Daniels, or Stephanie Clifford, is her legal name.
And that is how they got it, because he says, look, we were asking for all the information that has to do with his client, which is perfectly legal and he should have, and he says, look, that's how we got ahold of this. And it's curious to him.
And he goes further in his tweet, asking why is Michael Cohen involved in this and what exactly was he trying to prove, remembering that this e-mail came after, a couple days after Michael Cohen's offices were raided?
How did he lose his phone? Likely, the FBI had ahold of it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, very interesting indeed. Sara Sidner, thanks very much.
And joining us now, the aforementioned lawyer for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti.
Michael, thanks so much for joining us.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Thanks, Wolf. How are you?
BLITZER: All right, so, explain precisely what you meant in this tweet you posted earlier today, raising the question that Michael Cohen potentially sent this e-mail in an attempt to obstruct justice.
AVENATTI: Well, Wolf, this e-mail is very, very disturbing for the following reasons.
First of all, it's less than 48 hours after the FBI raided Michael Cohen's home, his office and his hotel room. Michael Cohen reaches out to my client's former attorney Keith Davidson. He notes that he doesn't have his cell phone. And I can confirm that that's because the FBI had taken it in the raid.
And he is communicating with Mr. Davidson, but they don't have any legal cases at that time together. They don't have any reason to be communicating. They're clearly not making dinner reservations.
And Michael Cohen inquires as to how they should communicate. And then he also references this Anthony as it relates to some interview that evidently Keith Davidson and Michael Cohen were in the process of trying to get set up.
So, look, this is disturbing. It appears that Michael Cohen even after the FBI raid was tampering with potentially the story, potentially interfering with witness testimony or trying to shape it, which may constitute obstruction of justice.
Michael Cohen had no business communicating with my client's former attorney after the representation ended, let alone after the FBI raided his residence.
BLITZER: Let's get to the other documents that you collected, documents showing all the money that Michael Cohen was getting from all these big corporations, U.S., foreign corporations, for some influence.
And you can look at some of the cash over there. We have got a full- screen graphic that we're showing our viewers.
Can you tell us how you got this information, you got all these documents?
AVENATTI: Well, Wolf, we're not going disclose how we got the information or what our sources are. That's protected by the work product privilege.
We didn't do anything wrong. We understand there's been an investigation launched by Treasury. We welcome the investigation because, again, we have done absolutely nothing wrong and nothing illegal. But I find it ironic that a lot of people are concentrating on where
we got the documents, as opposed to the veracity of the report that we issued. All but $25,000 has checked out. So, almost $3 million in transactions, no one has quibbled with.
Michael Cohen and his attorneys made a big deal yesterday out of $25,000. They didn't address any of the payments that you just put up on your screen. And the reason for that is because it's 100 percent accurate.
So, we released this. We think the public has a right to know. And I'm going to tell you, Wolf, that we haven't even scratched the surface with this e-mail today and the information that we released earlier in the week.
We have got all kinds of information. We have got e-mails, we have got text messages, we have got other financial information. And people better be very careful in the representations that they make.
And I'm speaking to you, Michael Cohen, and your counsel, Mr. Ryan, and others. You better be really careful the representations you make in court filings and to the American people, because we're going to prove you wrong, if the need be, period.
BLITZER: As you pointed out, the U.S. Treasury Department inspector general is investigating this leak of information to you.
Are you worried at all, Michael, that the information you exposed potentially could have a deleterious, a very bad effect on the source of this information who put this information out there?
AVENATTI: Well, I want to be clear about something, Wolf.
We're not agreeing that anything was -- quote -- "leaked" to us and that's kind of a predicate in your question.
But to answer your question, I'm not concerned that the disclosure of this information is going to hamper the efforts of the fine attorneys of the Southern District of New York or Mr. Mueller. These are exceptional prosecutors. I'm confident that they're going to be able to do what they have always done over the years, and that is to bring prosecutions that hold up and they get results. That's how they're built.
BLITZER: Are you willing to fully cooperate with the Treasury Department's inspector general?
AVENATTI: We are willing to cooperate with that investigation. We will cooperate.
And, again, we have nothing to hide. I'm not at all worried about it.
But I will -- I would like to comment on Mr. Giuliani's firing today -- and that's exactly what it is -- let's be clear about it. It's not a resignation. I think that's trying to put lipstick on a pig.
I'm familiar with Greenberg Traurig. I have had cases against them in the past. They're an exceptional firm. They have a good reputation. It's clear what happened here.
They took exception to what Mr. Giuliani said, because it's so outside the norm of how attorneys practice. And they forced him out of the firm.
So maybe he has enough time now, maybe he will come on with me and we can actually have an educated discussion for the American people about the facts of this case, as opposed to a bunch of name-calling.
BLITZER: Yes, Giuliani, just to remind our viewers, said that these law firms routinely pay hush money without the clients knowing about it.
And clearly Greenberg Traurig, this major law firm, was not accepting that. And maybe you're right, that's why he's no longer a member of that firm. He's completely severed the relationship.
What do you make of the denial, though, from Rudy Giuliani that the president had any knowledge at all of the huge sums of money that Michael Cohen was receiving?
AVENATTI: Well, Wolf, I don't believe it. I just -- I don't believe the denial at all.
This was the right-hand attorney to Mr. Trump for many, many years. In fact, as of a couple days ago, he still listed himself as the personal attorney to the president. And, in fact, if you put that e- mail back up, from April of this year -- so, that's about a month ago -- and this is after the FBI raids -- there you go -- you can see his title at the bottom.
He lists himself as personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump. This is after the FBI raids. And he's still using that in his signature block.
So the close proximity of Mr. Cohen to Mr. Trump, I don't think can be overstated. And I just don't believe his denial.
BLITZER: Keith Davidson, just to remind our viewers again, who was the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, the original lawyer, before you entered the scene, a spokesperson for Keith Davidson just told our Sara Sidner only a few moments ago, Michael -- and I'm quoting now -- "Any suggestion they didn't have legitimate business to discuss is patently false."
That's from the spokesperson for Keith Davidson. Your reaction?
AVENATTI: Well, OK, so what was the business? Let him come on your show. Let him -- these broad statements without any support mean absolutely nonsense.
Let him come on the show and disclose exactly what they were talking about. We know the alleged agreement with Mr. Broidy had already been completed, because money was already flowing. We know the agreement with my client was completed.
We know the agreement with Ms. McDougal was completed. You mean to tell me that these two attorneys were working on yet another deal relating to another woman? Well, I'm anxious to hear about it. Have them come on your show. Ask them to come out. And maybe they can explain to the American people what was going on with this fourth woman.
BLITZER: He says he's bound by attorney-client privilege and as a result can't come on and discuss this.
You don't buy that reason?
AVENATTI: Well, look, so he makes this broad statement,then he's not willing to back it up? It's nonsense.
BLITZER: One quick question.
The mistakes that you made in the small sums, clearly small sums, what, these were other Michael Cohens that you got confused with the actual Michael Cohen? Is that what happened?
AVENATTI: Well, we didn't get confused, Wolf.
We're in the process of running to ground exactly what happened there. It's a total of $25,000 worth of transactions out of $3 million. And, in fact, if you add up the additional $800,000 that came to light when Novartis made their announcement, we were aware of that, by the way, before we drafted our report.
We didn't include it for strategic reasons. We were also aware of the additional $400,000 from AT&T.
If you add all that, you're talking about $4.5 million worth of transactions. They're taking issue with $25,000. That's about a 99.5 percent accuracy rate. And I have taken a lot of tests in my day. I will take that on any exam.
BLITZER: Michael Avenatti, thanks so much for joining us.
AVENATTI: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, the corporate payments to President Trump's personal lawyer, what if the president did know about Michael Cohen's schemes? Stay with us.
Plus, breaking news, President Trump speaking soon about the return of three Americans from North Korea. We will take you live to his rally in Indiana.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight, a truly shocking joke, it's supposedly being called, by a White House aide about Senator John McCain who is battling brain cancer right now.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, you're getting new information from your sources. Update our viewers.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right. That's right, Wolf.
We have been able to confirm a story that came out in "The Hill" earlier this afternoon that Kelly Sadler, who is an assistant to the president, works at the White House with communications with surrogates, apparently said at a meeting this morning among other communications staffers in reference to Senator John McCain's opposition to Gina Haspel's nomination to run the CIA it doesn't matter
According to a White House official, Gina -- excuse me -- Kelly Sadler said -- quote -- "It doesn't matter because John McCain is dying anyway."
According to an official who confirmed this to us, Wolf, this was thought to be a joke that was told by Kelly Sadler in the room to other White House staffers. But according to this White House official, the joke "fell flat."
Now, we should point out the White House has released a statement to try to clean up this mess.
And this is from a White House official. There's no White House spokesperson putting their name on this statement. It says: "We respect Senator McCain's service to our nation and he and our family are in our prayers during this difficult time."
Of course, as you said, Wolf, Senator McCain is recovering and dealing with cancer. But, Wolf, we should note that the tone, as obviously said at the top, President Trump has long mocked Senator John McCain about his service to country.
He once said that he preferred soldiers who aren't captured in reference to Senator John McCain being a POW. So, Wolf, obviously, this is just a continuation of some of the hostility that exists inside the White House that is directed at John McCain.
And we are standing now at a rally that President Trump will be holding in about 30 minutes, scheduled to hold in 30 minutes from now. He will obviously be touting this homecoming that we saw last night for those three American prisoners who came home from North Korea.
But, Wolf, this is once again an example of just the intense negativity that flows of this administration. And, Wolf, we saw some of that here ourselves in just the last half-hour. There were people chanting "Lock her up, lock her up," almost two years after the 2016 election, Trump supporters touting -- chanting "Lock her up."
Wolf, obviously, we should point out it's not the Hillary Clinton administration that's under investigation by the special counsel's office; it's the Trump administration -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fair point. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Let's turn now to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. He's a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator, I want to get your reaction to the breaking news we had at the top of the hour, the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, close to resigning after being berated, berated by the president in front of the entire Cabinet at a meeting yesterday. What's your reaction to that?
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: I'm not surprised anymore, Wolf. I mean, we are seeing this happen with one high-ranking official after another.
Sometimes, I hear these reports and I just get the sense that maybe the president's barber is going to end up at a key post in our government.
BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty humiliating to be berated like that over border security in front of all the members of the Cabinet, as opposed, let's say, in a private one-on-one meeting.
But let's turn to the Russia probe.
WYDEN: You're being logical, Wolf. And that's exactly why this gives public service such a bad name.
And, by the way, you didn't see this in the Bush administration or the Obama administration.
BLITZER: Yes. Let's see if she stays on the job.
Let's go the Russia probe right now, Senator.
The vice president, Mike Pence, says that special counsel Robert Mueller needs to wrap up his investigation. Do you think Mueller is anywhere close to a conclusion?
WYDEN: My view is that this investigation -- and it's been what Bob Mueller's career has always been about -- is do it by the book.
Don't set arbitrary dates. Don't try to hot-wire the process. Don't try to intimidate people. Bob Mueller is a Republican. He's a decorated war hero. Throughout his career -- and, boy, I have disagreed with him plenty on policy issues -- he's behaved in an honorable way. Nobody is above the law. Let him do the job.
BLITZER: Robert Mueller also has known now -- we have confirmed -- for months about Michael Cohen's LLC called Essential Consultants, which is now at the center of a growing scandal around Cohen apparently trying to sell access to the president.
Does that suggest to you, Senator, that his investigation is much broader than previously known?
WYDEN: It certainly is, again, a new development and a troubling one. And what America has seen here raises the specter of corruption in the White House.
I have rarely seen something like this that really, in effect, sounds like our government for sale. It's a corporate shakedown. And, by the way, as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, we have jurisdiction over the drug companies, and tomorrow we'll be asking some pretty pointed questions of Novartis.
BLITZER: So talk about that. Is there something Congress needs to do as far as you're concerned?
WYDEN: Well, I want to know what Novartis thought it was buying for the $1.2 million. This was a pretty crucial time. They were looking at getting a cancer drug approved. They were negotiating with Medicare on the issue of what taxpayers would pay for drugs. Cohen was getting paid more by the lobbyists. I want to know who approved the deal at Novartis. The deal stinks, and even the employees, many of them seem outraged.
BLITZER: So are you calling for a full-scale investigation right now?
WYDEN: Yes, yes. We are going to be initiating that on the Finance Committee. We have jurisdiction over drug companies. And this is a time when so many seniors and consumers are seeing their prices going through the stratosphere. And we have what looks like a corporate, you know, shakedown and the company paying out money to somebody like Michael Cohen when what they ought to be doing is focusing on lowering prices for seniors.
BLITZER: These companies say they were simply paying for insight into the new administration from Michael Cohen. That kind of consulting, as you well know, extremely common in Washington. Members of both parties do it. Do you have any evidence, though, that there was something more nefarious?
WYDEN: As I indicated, I have rarely seen something this gross. Something like this didn't happen in either the Bush or the Obama administrations. So those are the questions we're going to be posing to Novartis tomorrow. But make no mistake about it: we did not see this in the previous administrations, one Republican and one Democratic.
BLITZER: Senator Ron Wyden making some news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for joining us.
WYDEN: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: All right. There's more breaking news we're following. The homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, reportedly close to quitting after President Trump berated her during a cabinet meeting in front of all the members of the cabinet.
And are President Trump's lawyers prepping him for a possible interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Rudy Giuliani talked about it to CNN. Stay with us.
[18:37:30] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, "The New York Times" reporting that the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, told her colleagues she was close to resigning yesterday after President Trump openly berated her during a meeting with the entire cabinet.
Let's get more from our specialists and our analysts, and Gloria Borger, we got a statement just now coming in from Kirstjen Nielsen. Let me read it to our viewers. "The president is rightly frustrated that existing loopholes and the lack of congressional action have prevented this administration from fully securing the border and protecting the American people. I share his frustration. Border security is the most basic and necessary responsibility of a sovereign nation. There are complex issues, and I will continue to direct the department to do all we can to implement the president's security- focused agenda. It is my great honor to represent the men and women of DHS, who work every day to enforce our laws and secure our nation."
A specific statement but not a flat denial that she was threatening to resign, Gloria.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, her staff has tweeted something saying that she -- she never threatened to resign, but look, it's clear that she put that out and did not address "The New York Times" article specifically, Wolf, because something happened in that meeting, and that was probably pretty offensive to her.
And you asked my reaction. My reaction is I'm not surprised, that the president likes to keep his campaign promises, and he feels that this one hasn't moved as quickly as he would like. And when -- when people explain to him how difficult it is to close the border as he wants, specifically to do in such a short period of time, he does lash out. That's what -- that's what Donald Trump has -- does. That's why he has such a huge turnover in his cabinet, in his staff. And so is it a surprise to me? Absolutely not.
BLITZER: Dana Bash, let's get to some other news. You spoke with the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, today. Update our viewers. Tell us what he told you.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, he said that he spoke to the president once about this story that has been out there now for two days about Michael Cohen effectively peddling himself to big firms to make money, to say that he has access to the president.
And what Giuliani said is that he spoke to the president, as I said, once about it and that the president said he did not know that Cohen was doing that. Giuliani also said that he is not as worried about it as one would think, because there's no connection specifically between Michael Cohen and the president, meaning the president is not specifically named in these stories yet as being involved. So we'll see if that changes, but right now that's what Giuliani is saying. He's -- the first denial that we have heard specifically about the president knowing what Cohen was doing.
[18:40:27] Well, David Swerdlick, how do you see it?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as Dana said, there's no information in the reporting thus far that suggests that the president knew about this, but to believe what Mayor Giuliani said, you have to believe that the president didn't know what was going on with someone who was both his friend, his personal attorney, counsel for the Trump Organization and who was doing payoffs out of the Essential Consultants' account for his alleged mistresses, the same account, the same LLC where, according to reporting, money was coming in from corporations including this sort of distantly related Russian financial corporation.
If you believe all that, then, yes, Mayor Giuliani is saying what he talked to the president about, but I think more information will come out.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: What -- Wolf, what I don't understand about this story is is why is anyone surprised? This is how Washington works.
What does John Breaux, former Senator John Breaux, Evan Bayh, Trent Lott, what do they do for a living? They sell their influence. What does Corey Lewandowski do for a living? He sells his influence. This is the revolting culture that exists in Washington, D.C.
SWERDLICK: But Jeffrey --
TOOBIN: It's legal, but it's revolting.
SWERDLICK: But Jeffrey, we don't know -- look, Michael Cohen has not been indicted yet, and there's no evidence yet that anything illegal took place. You're right that this --
TOOBIN: That's what I'm saying.
SWERDLICK: -- is part of the Washington swamp. What is not part of the normal Washington swamp is that money going for corporate influence is going into the same account where it's been reported that money is being paid out to a porn star who is alleged to be the president's former mistress. That's not typical Washington.
TOOBIN: That I would agree. The porn star angle is somewhat novel, I'll grant you that. But the idea that everyone is so shocked and outraged that Michael Cohen, having failed to get a job in the administration, decides to whore himself out as -- as, you know, someone with influence -- in the investigation [SIC], that's the American way. That's legal.
BASH: But remember, it's not just that. It's not just that. It's CNN reporting this week also that part of the payment that Michael Cohen got was from a company that is led by the cousin of a Russian oligarch.
Now, that company says that they're separate, so you see the graphic right there, but that is also why this is a big deal. Because it's not just us saying this. It's Robert Mueller, according to CNN's reporting, interviewing that oligarch.
TOOBIN: Yes, I mean, that part of the story, as well as the porn star part of the story, makes it -- makes it somewhat novel. But I just find the whole outrage and shock about, "Oh, my goodness, Michael Cohen is selling his access to the president." I mean, this is how the city works.
BASH: You're absolutely right.
BORGER: Honestly, what's shocking and surprising about this to me, Jeffrey -- I don't know if you agree about this -- is why anybody would think that Michael Cohen, who wanted to go to Washington, did not go to Washington, and then said to everyone, "I'm the person you need to deal with because I'm so close to the president," why they would buy that, because once the president got to Washington, of course, that wasn't the case.
TOOBIN: Well, but, remember, I mean, Michael Cohen had dinner with the president at Mar-a-Lago not long ago, shortly before the search of his office.
BORGER: That was about Stormy Daniels, we would think.
TOOBIN: Who knows? I don't know what they talked about. But you know, if you're a company that has interests in the federal government like AT&T, like Novartis, like these companies that actually did pay -- pay Michael Cohen, I mean, who better to pay? I mean, sure, maybe you wouldn't -- maybe it wouldn't work out, but you know, he was peddling influence, and it was worth taking a shot.
BLITZER: We've got to -- we've got to go but very quickly, Jeffrey, if he's also taking money from a foreign company like Korea Aerospace, doesn't he have to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act?
TOOBIN: Well, that we would have to see. I mean, we have to see what the -- what the terms are, and lobbyists have to register, too. And I don't -- I don't -- you know, I don't eliminate the possibility that there was some technical violation of the lobbying rules. But I think, you know, the general reaction to this story of "My goodness, he's selling his influence" shows that people don't understand just what a cesspool this place is.
[18:45:01] BLITZER: That's a fair point.
All right. Jeffrey and company, guys, stick around.
There's more breaking news. We're getting new information about another corporate payment of President Trump's personal lawyer. Why did AT&T pay Michael Cohen hundreds of thousands of dollars?
BLITZER: There is more breaking news tonight. New information about the deal between President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen and AT&T.
[18:50:02] Tonight, "The Washington Post" is reporting that AT&T hired Cohen specifically to advise the company on its planned merger with Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.
Our CNN senior media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", Brian Stelter, has been working the story for us.
Brian, this is a significant development. You've got new reporting on Cohen being paid a whole lot more than was first known.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it seems every day, Wolf, we learn more about this deal.
First, Michael Avenatti alleged that it was a $200,000 payment from AT&T to Cohen over the course of four months. Then AT&T said, actually, it was for a full year and we were paying for, quote/unquote, insights into the Trump administration.
Yesterday, we learned that Robert Mueller knew about this six months ago. That he already checked it out.
And now, we're learning the payment is a lot more than originally reported. According to a source with knowledge of the matter, AT&T paid a total of $600,000. That's $50,000 a month for 12 months over the course of 2017.
This deal started right after inauguration day. As AT&T, like a lot of other companies, was trying to figure out what the Trump administration would do with regards to Net Neutrality regulations, the AT&T/Time Warner deal and other big business.
Now, the AT&T/Time Warner is a crucial piece of this. This has been a deal in the works for more than 18 months. AT&T has been trying to buy CNN's parent company Time Warner.
But as soon as Trump came into office, there was concern that the Trump Justice Department might try to squash the deal, somehow as a form of punishment against this network. Now, regulators denied that. They said they were concerned about the antitrust implications. They essentially eventually sued to block the deal last November, saying the deal would be anti-competitive.
Now, there is a judge in D.C. about to issue a ruling. What's notable about this new reporting in the "Washington Post" is says that Cohen was specifically tasked with giving advice about the AT&T/Time Warner deal. Part of his charge, essentially, his reason being paid $50,000 a month was to give advice about how to approach the deal and maybe how to sway Trump's mind about it.
Now, that may not be illegal. There was no indication that anything illegal was done, but as Jeffrey Toobin and others were saying earlier, it sure looks very swampy.
BLITZER: And it came at a time when the president was attacking CNN on an almost regular basis.
STELTER: That's right.
BLITZER: Brian Stelter, thanks very much for that.
BLITZER: Just ahead, Israel versus Iran. We'll go live to Jerusalem for the latest on the fighting and the growing tension in the region.
[18:57:05] BLITZER: We're following the very tense situation between Israel and Iran after Israel responded to rocket attacks on the Golan Heights by striking Iranian targets inside Syria.
Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is joining us from Jerusalem tonight.
Elise, what's the latest you're picking up on over there?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's really an unprecedented exchange of direct fire between Israel and Iran. And it's threatening to turn this long simmering conflict between these two sworn enemies into a full-blown war.
LABOTT (voice-over): Israel lit up the skies over Syria. Launching a barrage of missiles on Iranian military targets in the country, retaliation for what Israel says was an attack by the elite Quds force of the Iran revolutionary guard of at least 20 rockets aimed at Israeli military posts in the Golan Heights.
The most direct confrontation to date between Israel and Iran came just one day after president Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran. While Prime Minister Netanyahu said the Iranian attack failed, he warned Iran against a repeat performance.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Iran has crossed a red line. Whoever hits us will get hit seven times over. Whoever prepares themselves to attack us will be attacked first.
LABOTT: Israel says it struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria, releasing a map detailing Iran's extensive military presence right at Israel's doorstep. Tehran has not taken responsibility for attacking the Golan Heights, but if true, it would mark the first time Iranian forces have fired directly at Israeli forces.
NETANYAHU: The international community needs to prevent the Iranian force from basing itself in Syria. LABOTT: The escalating tensions highlighting concerns over Iran's
military build-up in Syria and Tehran's ability to use the country as a base to launch attacks on Israel.
The White House saying in a statement today, quote, the Iranian regime's deployment into Syria of offensive rocket and missile systems aimed at Israel is an unacceptable and highly dangerous development for the entire Middle East.
Netanyahu met with one of Iran's biggest backers Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and made the case directly for Israel's actions. Putin, who has influence over Tehran, called for restraint.
LABOTT: And, Wolf, it's quiet tonight on the Golan Heights. The Israelis do not think that the Iranians want to escalate, but they do see this as a prime opportunity to go against Iran. They see Iran as weakened after President Trump pulled out of the Iranian deal, out of the nuclear deal, and they don't see that they would have any better friend in the White House to support their campaign against Iran than President Trump -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it's still a very, very tense situation that's unfolding right now.
Elise Labott in Jerusalem for us -- thanks for that report.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.