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Trump Lawyers Make Interview Offer to Mueller; Interview With Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono; Interview With Washington Congressman Denny Heck; Trump Offers to Assure Safety of Brutal North Korean Dictator; Lava Flow Threatening Power Plant in Hawaii. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 22, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Which we all know is an issue the special counsel is clearly very interested in.
And, Wolf, they're also insisting on an audio recording of any interview with the president, so there's absolutely no question about exactly what was said.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is there any indication, Gloria, that Robert Mueller and the special counsel would actually agree to these terms?
BORGER: Well, you know, Wolf, our sources have cautioned us that while the sides are talking and inching towards some agreement, as it was described to us, that Mueller has clearly suggested that he is not interested in any kind of written answers to questions.
And so there could be a standoff on that, Wolf, and in that case, you may see this question of presidential interview go all the way to the Supreme Court.
BLITZER: Yes, very significant.
Gloria, I want you to stand by.
There's more breaking news we're following right now in the criminal investigation of the president's longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. "The New York Times" just reported a new report saying a business partner or associate of Cohen has agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of a plea deal.
The man is a Russian immigrant, a longtime associate of Michael Cohen in the taxi business. "The Times" says he will avoid jail time by assisting prosecutors in state or federal investigations.
CNN's Kara Scannell is joining us now.
You have been doing reporting on this, Kara.
So tell us how this individual could help investigators, state and federal investigators? KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the partner of Michael Cohen, Evgeny Freidman, has been in the taxi business for a long time. He's known as the taxi king.
And he was a partner of Cohen for many years. He worked closely with him. He help managed some of the medallions that Cohen owns, which allows him to operate these fleets of taxis.
Now, what we know is that in the search warrant that was executed by the FBI last month at the behest of the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, they were looking into questions about the taxi business. That search warrant was authorized to retrieve materials that related to that.
Now, Gene Freidman's business with Cohen and for what Gene Freidman pled guilty to don't interact -- don't overlap. He was charged and pled guilty to evading to pay taxes related to different medallions than the ones that he was managing with Cohen.
But Freidman does know Cohen. He's worked with him a long time. And if investigators are looking into Cohen's taxi business and how he managed it, Freidman can provide a lot of insight into that, since he knows Cohen and he know the players that he was dealing with, Wolf.
BLITZER: Tell us a little bit more about this millionaire, Evgeny Freidman, as you point out, known as New York's taxi king.
SCANNELL: That's right.
He has -- he built a fortune in the taxi business by running fleets of cabs. And he rode that up with the value of medallions that went up. And as he's run into criminal situations before, he was in jail in Chicago related to a different investigation, and then he was indicted last year by New York prosecutors, state prosecutors, for allegedly not paying $5 million in taxes to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Now, that's the allegations that he was pleading guilty to today, and he just pled guilty to one count of that for only not evading $50,000 in taxes. So that's quite a difference from what he was indicted and alleged to have done.
Also, as part of that plea agreement, he will not have to serve any jail time as long as he reimburses the government.
BLITZER: Yes, he could have 25 years in jail, instead of five years' probation, no jail time, as part of this plea agreement.
Kara, none of these businesses involve in this plea deal directly involve Michael Cohen, but the taxi medallions that Cohen owned, I take it, were seized in the FBI's raid of Cohen's offices.
I know you're doing reporting on this as well, Kara. Explain the significance of that.
SCANNELL: Well, that's right, Wolf. So Gene Freidman was involved in business with Michael Cohen. We know
that the U.S. investigators are looking into Cohen's taxi medallion business as part of their broad investigation of his personal financial dealings.
So, whatever Freidman might know about Michael Cohen, how he operated, who he did business with, the terms of his agreements, Cohen has recently refinanced some of these taxi medallions. He might some of the people involved in that. He might know how Cohen handled those business transactions.
And we know that the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan is looking into the personal financial dealings. So, if he does cooperate with them, he might be able to explain a lot of how Cohen operated.
And that will help investigators follow the money and understand the tactics, the partners, and just what else Michael Cohen was doing, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, Kara, stand by.
I want to get back to Gloria.
And, Gloria, on your reporting, so bottom line right now, are they any closer at all to the president of the United States actually sitting down with Robert Mueller and his team and answering questions any time soon?
BORGER: You know, Wolf, I don't think we know the answer to that.
I mean, from our reporting, everybody's very cautious. At least they're talking to each other again. You know, they were prepared to a make a proposal to the special counsel, just like the one we spoke about a few moments ago, on the day that Michael Cohen's office was raided.
And Trump's attorneys ended up meeting with the special counsel, but they decided not to make any kind of an offer to Mueller because they were caught so flat-footed by what happened to Michael Cohen.
And so now at least they're talking, but they may be talking past each other, Wolf. If Mueller is indicating, as we have heard, that he's really not interested in written answers on the question of obstruction, which is key, you know, Trump's attorneys are very unlikely to say, OK, just interview him then. That would be fine with us.
They are clearly trying to avoid any kind of interview. And they believe that they have the constitutional grounds to avoid an interview on anything that happened after Trump took office.
And they're not budging on that point. So we're going to have to see if these two sides can ever come together. BLITZER: It's interesting, Gloria, that so much of this negotiation,
if you want to call it that, between Trump's lawyers and Robert Mueller's team is being played out in the media right now.
BLITZER: How much of a role is Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, playing in all of this?
BORGER: Well, a large role, as we know.
Rudy Giuliani is everywhere. And he likes to stir the pot for the president. I have been told by another member of the Trump's legal team that, in a way, they kind of don't mind it, because he keeps the president happy by raising the issues the president wants raised.
And one lawyer called it cathartic for the president, and they say, that's OK. Let Rudy go out there. Let Rudy be the spokesman, and we're going to continue to figure where we go on the legal issues separately.
Giuliani so far has had one meeting with the special counsel. We don't know if another one is scheduled. But in a way, the role of spokesman is actually for an audience of one, and that's the president.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point.
And as far as Michael Cohen is concerned, and you mentioned Michael Cohen's playing a role in all of this, the president's longtime lawyer. The fact that one of his business associates now has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with state and federal authorities, how much pressure is Michael Cohen under right now?
BORGER: Oh, you can only imagine, Wolf. A great deal of pressure.
You have got his friend, his business colleague cutting a deal. The question is, what kind of pressure will that exert on Michael Cohen and what does Michael Cohen know, and what will he tell state and federal officials about his -- his business? And where that leads, Wolf, is anybody's guess.
BLITZER: Kara, what about that?
He's under enormous pressure. He's under criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. They had FBI agents raid his home, his office, his hotel room, his safe deposit box.
He's feeling it right now, but presumably he's feeling it a little bit more intensively right now.
SCANNELL: That's right, Wolf. I mean, one of his business partners is pleading guilty, and as "The
New York Times" is reporting, is agreeing to cooperate in any investigations.
So you can imagine one of the first things that will follow this is that he is going to have a sit-down with the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, and they're going to ask him to explain everything. So that's going to put enormous pressure on Cohen, as he is facing the uncertainty of this investigation and where it may lead, Wolf.
BLITZER: Great reporting from both of you. Gloria, thanks to you. Really, really appreciate. You're going to be back later.
Joining us right now, Congressman Denny Heck. He's a Democrat. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
So, first of all, what's your reaction to this proposal from the Trump legal team? You just heard Gloria Borger break the story for an interview, but only about certain topics.
REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: Yes, I don't have a lot of confidence that the president is ever going to sit down with Director Mueller's team whatsoever, Wolf.
As a matter of fact, I think the chances of that happening are zero, or near zero.
BLITZER: Why do you say that?
HECK: Because I think, before that would happen, the president's political team, the president's legal team, they would lash him to the chair to prevent him from going into that interview room, because they would be afraid that he would compromise himself, that he would perjure himself.
So I think it's far-fetched at best that he would ever actually sit down to an open-ended interview.
BLITZER: But let me just press -- let me just press you, Congressman. He says he did nothing wrong, no collusion, no obstruction. If he has nothing to hide, why not sit down and talk about it?
HECK: Yes, good question to put to him, right, Wolf.
BLITZER: But you think he's not -- it's not going to happen.
HECK: No, I have never thought it was going to happen, actually.
BLITZER: So what will Robert Mueller and his team do?
HECK: Well, they're obviously doing it, and they're doing it with some regularity. Right? The fact of the matter is the House Intelligence Committee shut down
the investigation into Russian interference way too prematurely. And if we didn't need any more evidence of that, in just the last week, we have of course had two revelations, namely that Donald Trump Jr. met with yet another meeting, in addition to the June Trump Tower meeting, with people who were offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, as it were.
And then, secondly, the revelation that Michael Cohen's business partner has, in effect, turned state's evidence. We're going to continue to be treated to these revelations in the months ahead. That's not going to stop.
It is as predictable as the president's continuing effort at deception and deflection and distraction by things like investigate the investigators that he pulled out in the last 10 days.
Both of these things are going to continue into the future, until such time as Director Mueller reaches the conclusion of his investigation.
BLITZER: So, how significant is this -- this plea agreement that this associate, this business associate of Michael Cohen, Evgeny Freidman, has now reached agreement with state prosecutors in New York that he will cooperate and avoid any prison time at all?
HECK: So, Wolf, I want to bring you back to something that I proposed on your network not that long ago, namely, that we construct a Michael Cohen index of one to 100, where one represents he's facing one year in jail, and 100 represents he's facing 100 years in jail.
And at what point do you think that he flips? Obviously, what's going to happen here is that Mr. Freidman is going to provide state's evidence that's going to squeeze Mr. Cohen. And so where up the Cohen index does that put him?
And at what point does he flip? For my evaluation or my assessment, I think it's about 15 years, including good time. When he hits somewhere between 10 and 15 years, he's going to take a real hard look at himself and his future and the number of years he has left in his life and the number of good earning years he has left in his life.
And he's going to make a decision about just how tough he can be standing by his guy, President Trump, who, by the way, has not stood by him.
BLITZER: Let's get to another sensitive issue while I have you, Congressman.
The president says that if there were spies in his campaign, it would be unprecedented in the history of our country. And now this meeting with intelligence officials, members of Congress, Republicans-only, scheduled for Thursday at the White House.
So do you have concerns about this meeting, first of all?
HECK: Well, I'm going to go back to what I said earlier. This is the continuing campaign of distraction, deflection and
deception. The fact of the matter is, everybody involved, you, me, all the rest of us who want to get at the truth, are going to play Whac-A-Mole with these serious revelations or allegations on their part, which, if you just look back over the last year, none of them have proved to be valid.
They kind of peter out over time, as the facts don't bear them up, and then they're onto the next one. And then we play Whac-A-Mole with whatever that is.
This is a political campaign on the part of the president and his team. This is not a legal campaign on his part. He is trying to galvanize and coalesce the Republican base, such that if Director Mueller ever gets to the point where he recommends charges be filed that rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors -- and we all know what that means in constitutional terms -- then he can still count on his base to stand by him.
It's a political operation. It's not a legal defense.
BLITZER: As you know, your chairman, Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he's going to be going over to the White House on Thursday to see these highly classified documents, together with another couple of his Republican colleagues, once again, no Democrats invited.
The White House says the Democrats didn't ask to come to this meeting, that's why they weren't invited.
But do you believe these Republicans have a right to see these highly classified documents?
HECK: Actually, Wolf, what I think is that we ought to respect the process that we have around here.
We have procedures relating to what we call the Gang of Eight, which is two people from each caucus in both chambers, that have access to this extremely high-level classified information. I think we should respect that process.
But they have not been respecting the process whatsoever over the last year. I wouldn't expect them to begin now, because, again, this is a part of a political campaign.
BLITZER: But should Democrats be part of this meeting at the White House on Thursday?
HECK: I think that Adam Schiff should have access to this information and should make the determination and the evaluation, in accordance with our established procedures, as to how broadly that should be shared, in cooperation with the other members of the Gang of Eight.
BLITZER: As you know, the chairman, Devin Nunes, has chased, he's promoted a lot of these allegations against the FBI and the Justice Department. [18:15:01]
First, it was that President Obama wiretapped President Trump. Then it was improper unmasking, as it was called. Then it was FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, abuse. Now it's this confidential source that is infiltrating the Trump campaign.
Have you seen any facts to back up these theories?
HECK: Zip. Zero. Nada.
Again, this is Whac-A-Mole, Wolf. This is -- but, in a larger sense, I guess what I would like to say is, it would be nice, I yearn for, indeed, I literally pray that we could get back to the point where all of us associated with this process in the congressional branch would put country above party, would put our nation's security above these political considerations, because there is a bona fide and legitimate and deep concern here relevant -- or related to our national security.
We have a check and balance responsibility under the Constitution.
And when I raised my right hand and take my oath of office at the beginning of the term, I took that exceedingly seriously. And I wish Chairman Nunes would too, sir.
BLITZER: So what's the overall impact of all of these allegations?
HECK: Nothing. It's distraction, deflection.
And it doesn't matter, because it is a political campaign. It is not a matter of a legal defense. I don't think it is going to deter Robert Mueller in the slightest. I don't think it ever has. I don't think it's changed his due diligence, his professionalism, his trajectory whatsoever.
He's after the truth, full stop, period. And all of this campaigning on their part, all the spinning, all of the propaganda, all the disinformation, doesn't affect his behavior whatsoever.
BLITZER: Some of your Republican colleagues, they're using this as another opportunity to push for a second counsel investigation. They say an investigation by the inspector general by the Department of Justice simply isn't enough. What do you make of that?
HECK: I make that it's bizarre. I feel like I have fallen into Alice through the looking glass. Things are getting curiouser and curiouser.
It's not only unprecedented. It's deeply unfortunate. The fact of the matter is that Director Mueller, as several Republicans -- I will remind you, Wolf, this is not a pure partisan play. Several Republicans have said that Director Mueller ought to be allowed to finish his work.
BLITZER: President Trump today refused to say if he has confidence in the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. What was your reaction when you heard him asked -- he was asked that
question by a reporter. He didn't want to talk about it, because he was sitting next to the visiting president of South Korea.
HECK: Well, can I remind you as well, Wolf, that it was, what, almost a year ago that the president's own counsel at the White House threatened to quit if President Trump proceeded to fire the personnel involved here.
He had to be told, the president had to be told by his own legal counsel at the White House, if you do that, I walk, because that is not the right thing to do.
And all we have seen in the ensuing year is a continuing playing out of that threat and the intimidation, leading his own homeland secretary, frankly, I think, to offer an extremely skewed perspective on the investigation, which I trust and pray that she knows better than.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman Denny Heck, thanks so much for joining us.
HECK: You're welcome, sir.
BLITZER: All right, let's continue on the breaking news.
Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, is joining us. She serves on the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
BLITZER: And let me quickly get the reaction to the breaking news we had right at the top of the hour, the offer of a presidential interview, but with some big caveats.
You heard Gloria Borger's reporting.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Oh, actually, Wolf, I didn't hear Gloria Borger's report.
But anything that the president does with regard to talking with Mueller, I'm sure it will be quite the thing if that actually happens, because they're creating all kinds of -- demanding all kinds of conditions.
So, the president has created an entire lie about the Mueller investigation, that this is merely a witch-hunt. And sad to say that too many people, including Chairman Nunes of the House Intelligence Committee, are playing right into that and in fact facilitating that lie.
And that's not good. That's not in the service of our country at all.
BLITZER: What Gloria was reporting, that he would be willing to answer questions, but only on events that occurred before he was sworn in as president. Anything after that, including his decision to fire James Comey, he would only do in writing.
What's your reaction to that?
HIRONO: I think that's trying to limit what the Mueller investigation should proceed with. And I think it's crazy that, you know, that part of the allegation is or the investigation involves his efforts to stymie and interfere with the Mueller investigation.
And, of course, that includes the Comey firing. So for them to be setting the parameters for how and when they're going to have a chat with Mueller is inappropriate.
BLITZER: How significant is it, Senator, that this close business associate of Michael Cohen in New York, the so-called taxi king, Evgeny Freidman, is now pleading guilty and will cooperate with state and federal investigations?
HIRONO: I think there will be more shoes to drop.
And as we learn more on a daily basis, that this whole investigation -- and, of course, Michael Cohen, that is one part of it. But let's get back to how important the Mueller investigation is, and the fact that Mitch McConnell refuses to bring to the floor a bipartisan bill that came out of the Judiciary Committee that would protect the special counsel from firing.
That includes counsel -- the special counsel, Mueller, as well as any other future counsels. He refuses. McConnell refuses to bring that to the floor. Why? Because he says the president won't fire Mueller.
I don't know what world he's living in, so that bill needs to come to the floor.
BLITZER: Do you think this could lead to Michael Cohen actually flipping?
HIRONO: Well, that's the talk, because he has family, and certainly he may be loyal to the president, but that loyalty can only go so far, let's say, especially when the president isn't being loyal to him.
But we all know that loyalty to the president is one-way street. And with this president, his goal in life is to protect himself. It's about himself every day, all the time, all the time. It's -- I hardly know what to say, Wolf. I think we are in a constitutional crisis at this point.
BLITZER: Very quickly, before I let you go, your state of Hawaii is still dealing with this ongoing volcanic eruption.
HIRONO: Yes. BLITZER: We're showing our viewers some pictures of the lava. I know
you just got back from a visit to Hawaii's Big Island. You can see the live pictures coming from there right now.
So, tell us what you saw. What are the conditions like there?
HIRONO: It was really important for me to get an up-to-the-minute briefing, although things are changing. More fissures have opened up since Sunday. There are about -- over 20 fissures with lava flowing through them.
And my intention was to visit mainly with the people who have been evacuated, what they're facing and what their concerns were. So, I visited two of the evacuation centers run by the Red Cross.
And then I also visited a distribution center that the people of Puna themselves put together called Puahuna Opuna (ph). And the people there said that they weren't -- they didn't want to just wait around. They're not helpless, so they put the call out for all kinds of supplies and things that the people evacuated needed.
And this is great community effort. So, people are being resilient. But there's no end as to when the lava will start -- stop flowing, and, therefore, there are about 12 federal agencies that are either on the ground or in contact with the people on the ground, as well as, of course, civil defense people, the National Guard, state and county people.
And everyone is very focused on making sure that the people remain safe on that island. But I also want to note that there's some people who think that the entire state is being inundated by lava. It is the Big Island of Hawaii, and a portion of the Big Island of Hawaii. That doesn't mean that we don't have concerns about the safety and health of other people there.
BLITZER: Well, we wish those folks only, only the best.
BLITZER: Good luck, Senator Hirono. Thanks so much for joining us.
HIRONO: I'm certainly watching that. Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Just ahead: Is there any way that Robert Mueller will agree to the Trump team's terms and steer away from asking the president about obstruction of justice?
And we will also talk more about the new plea deal by Michael Cohen's business associate, what kind of information he may be offering investigators.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, CNN has learned that President Trump's legal team is now trying to narrow the scope of a potential interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, possibly including written questions to answers regarding obstruction of justice.
Let's dig deeper with our specialists and our analysts.
And, Gloria Borger, you broke this story at the top of the hour. What does this offer of an interview under these terms, these parameters tell us about how the Trump legal team views the president's legal exposure?
BORGER: Well, it's pretty obvious, Wolf, that they'd like to limit the amount of time that their client spends directly talking to the special counsel and his legal team.
And they believe they're on firm constitutional grounds in saying so. So what they have tried to do is come up with a proposal. And, by the way, even they have admitted to us that there are indications is Mueller is not going to buy it.
But they have come up with a proposal to say, OK, you can talk to our client about anything that happened regarding Russia before he was elected, but once he took office, for constitutional grounds, you cannot interview him on that. But because we want to negotiate some kind of a deal, we're going to offer you written answers to questions about other issues, presumably obstruction, which we know the special counsel is interested in.
However, it seems unlikely, from my reporting, Evan Perez's reporting, Dana Bash's reporting, that the special counsel would agree to this.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, do you think these negotiating tactics on the part of the Trump legal team will actually work with Robert Mueller?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Wolf, I don't think so. No. 1, you know, Mueller knows that he's always got the power to subpoena in his back pocket. He may think right now that the path of least resistance, or the more prudent approach, is to try and negotiate this out with the president's legal team, but he can subpoena the president. They know it; he knows it. And even though there's this whole legal question about whether a sitting president can be indicted, there aren't many legal scholars who say that the president can't be subpoenaed to testify.
I also think that when you're talking about Mueller, the White House team sometimes seems publicly as if they think he's weak or malleable, but the fact that Mueller hasn't said anything strikes me as a sign of strength or that he has cards he wants to hold close, not that he doesn't think he has a good position here.
BLITZER: Yes, he's got a lot of cards.
Sabrina Siddiqui, let's talk a bit about this business associate of Michael Cohen, Evgeny Freidman, who's now pleaded guilty, will cooperate with state and federal investigations. What do you think this means for the Cohen investigation?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, its development is certainly most significant, because it escalates pressure on Michael Cohen to cooperate with federal investigators.
Cohen, of course, is under criminal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud, campaign finance violations. He is said to be feeling increasingly isolated and concerned with how his mounting legal fees might impact his family. He's a father. He has two kids.
And I think the reason why he is such a target of the special counsel is because there are perhaps few people, if any, who have such vast knowledge of President Trump's personal and financial background. I think that's also why the president and his legal team are especially concerned with the prospect of Michael Cohen flipping. And you'll recall it was just a few weeks ago when the president took to Twitter to defend Michael Cohen, when many people took that as a sign, a signal perhaps to Cohen that he should hang in there.
Certainly, I think this makes it more and more difficult for Michael Cohen not to, at least, perhaps reach some sort of plea deal of his own.
BLITZER: Good point. You know, Phil Mudd, how will Robert Mueller use this development? Could he use it, for example, as an opportunity to try and flip Michael Cohen?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: He sure could. This is hammer, Wolf.
Look, if I'm talking to Michael Cohen, if the special counsel and his advisers are talking to Michael Cohen, you want him to feel like the walls are closing in tighter and tighter and that he has no option but to talk.
Those walls have a few characteristics. No. 1, does he -- that is the associates of Michael Cohen -- know of financial transactions that were inappropriate or illegal?
No. 2, does he know of linkages to people overseas, particularly including Ukrainians, Russians, the kind of linkages, for example, that Paul Manafort had, that merit further consideration.
The third piece is maybe the most significant. In investigating Cohen, has Cohen said anything that is -- that turns out to be a lie during an investigation of federal authorities?
So I think the special counsel is going to go in saying, in all this stuff -- I want to go into Michael Cohen and say, "This is what your associates said. You said something different. Are you sure you want to stick with your earlier statement, or do you want to talk now?"
BLITZER: And Phil, he's -- this Evgeny Freidman, the so-called taxi king in New York, this associate of Michael Cohen, he's pleaded guilty to evading only $50,000 worth of taxes. As part of the plea agreement, he faces five years of probation but no jail time. He was originally, after being disbarred earlier in the month, he was
accused of pay -- failing to pay more than $5 million in taxes, faced four counts of criminal tax fraud, one of grand larceny, all B felonies. Each carried a maximum prison sentence of up to 25 years in prison. So instead of 25 years in prison, he gets no prison, five years' probation. How closely do state prosecutors work with Mueller and his team, or the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York to work out an agreement like this?
MUDD: I judge they've got to be working with him, because the lawyers don't want to turn around after negotiating a deal with the federal guys and say, "Hey, I've got equally significant charges or maybe modestly fewer charges under the state, guys." I've got to believe they're working in concert to make sure they get this deal.
By the way, to give up that kind of time, I suspect they think this guy's got something that's substantial on Cohen. It's not just a chump change deal. He's got stuff that they think really puts Cohen really in a bind.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point. You know, Gloria, because these -- these prosecutors, state prosecutors or federal prosecutors, they're not doing this out of the goodness of their heart. They think they've got something.
BORGER: No, obviously, or they wouldn't have let him off the hook, as Phil points out, the way they did. And obviously, he's got some information that they think they can use. And it's clear that they want to use it against Cohen. It's not so clear whether it goes beyond Cohen to anybody else.
[18:35:08] But I think, you know, one step at a time here. And, look, this is a terrible development for -- for Cohen and his -- and his legal, team because when you look at the size of this deal you have to understand that there's a lot of information there that he's got.
BLITZER: And usually, David Swerdlick, you're a lawyer. Usually, they know exactly what he has right now, what he's willing to testify about. Otherwise, they wouldn't have made this deal.
SWERDLICK: Right. No, the prosecutors are going to line all their ducks up in a row, decide what -- ask questions that they know the answers to, and then offer a proffer or offer a plea deal to -- to these persons who are under investigation beforehand. They're not going to leave it to chance or just throw it out there and say, "What do you have -- what do you have for us?" They know what they're doing. They're one step ahead of the people being investigated.
BLITZER: There are more developments unfolding as we speak. Just ahead, our analysts unpack the breaking stories this hour on the Trump team's new offer to the special counsel and that new plea deal in the investigation of the president's lawyer, Michael Cohen.
And we're also monitoring the volcano danger minute by minute. We'll have a live report from the big island. That's coming up, as well.
[18:40:55] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts, and we're following more breaking news on the Russia investigation tonight. Also the White House says Justice Department officials will meet Thursday with Republican lawmakers seeking highly classified information related to the president's claims that the FBI may have spied on his presidential campaign.
Let's go to our CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, we heard from the president today on the Russia probe. We also heard from him on North Korea.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We did, Wolf. The president was welcoming South Korean President Moon Jae-in here to the White House to talk about that potential summit next month in Singapore. Of course, that summit is possibly in doubt. Many things have to be worked out until that happens. The president keeping an open mind on that.
But it was clear today that questions about the Russia investigation and his fight with his own Justice Department was still weighing heavy here.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign.
ZELENY (voice-over): No one is saying it louder tonight than President Trump, citing no evidence, but suggesting an FBI source infiltrated his presidential campaign.
TRUMP: If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country. That would be one of the biggest insults that anyone has ever seen, and it would be very illegal, aside from everything else.
ZELENY: The president repeatedly using the word "spy," an assertion U.S. officials have disputed to CNN.
At issue is a confidential intelligence source, an American who talked to Trump campaign staffers, but after the FBI's Russia probe was already underway.
The president expressing satisfaction today in his fight with the Justice Department and his call for an investigation of the Russia investigation. Critics say it amounts to unprecedented meddling by the president and a blatant attempt to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe.
TRUMP: General Kelly is going to be setting up a meeting between Congress and the various representatives. And they'll be able to open up documents, take a look and find out what happened. But if they had spies in my campaign, during my campaign for political purposes, that would be unprecedented in the history of our country. ZELENY: But as South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited the White
House today, new hurdles over landmark nuclear talks with North Korea taking center stage. Mr. Trump conceding next month's Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un is in doubt.
TRUMP: There's a very substantial chance that it won't work out, and that's OK. That doesn't mean it won't work out over a period of time. But it may not work out for June 12.
ZELENY: Yet the president expressed long-term optimism for the talks, saying he was not in favor of regime change in North Korea and vowed to protect Kim if he gave up his nuclear arsenal.
TRUMP: I will guarantee his safety. Yes, we will guarantee his safety. And we've talked that about that from the beginning. He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich. His country will be hard-working and very prosperous.
ZELENY: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders would not say how or why the U.S. would guarantee the safety of a dictator who abuses human rights and is responsible for last year's death of American college student Otto Warmbier.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, the goal and the purpose of these conversations would be to have complete and total denuclearization of the peninsula, and the president has been upfront about that part of the conversation.
ZELENY: A month after the two Korean leaders had their own historic meeting at the DMZ, President Moon has been trying to keep talk alive between the U.S. and North Korea.
The South Korean national security adviser telling reporters, "We believe there is a 99.9 percent chance the North Korea-U.S. summit will be held as scheduled, but we're just preparing for many different possibilities."
Mr. Trump giving the summit far lower odds today, telling reporters he believes prospects for the talks were only 50/50.
TRUMP: If it doesn't happen, maybe it will happen later. Maybe it will happen at a different time. But we will see. But we are talking.
ZELENY: But only hours later, the U.S. seemingly trying to drive home the point that they were still interested in talks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who's met face-to-face with Kim twice in recent weeks, said the U.S. would be prepared.
[18:45:01] MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Kim asked for this meeting. President Trump agreed to undertake it. We worked to find the date and location, and we got those set. We're working towards June 12th.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ZELENY: So, Secretary Pompeo there clearly is the face of U.S. negotiations here. He, of course, was making his first appearance in the State Department briefing room since he is taking this position. Clearly, the U.S. trying to send a message they are open for this summit in Singapore and they, in fact, want it to happen if all these conditions could be met.
But, Wolf, when he was asked to put all the odds on the meeting on June 12th, he said I'm not a betting man -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Good point. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.
Let's bring back our panel.
And, Gloria, let me get to you on this. I want you to listen to how the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, responded to this meeting that's supposed to take place Thursday at the White House. Republicans invited to hear highly classified information.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's inconceivable that the White House could expect that they can brief only Republicans on anything related to the Russia investigation. That can't happen.
There's a mechanism to do a briefing that might implicate sources or methods. It's called the Gang of Eight, and they need to use it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I do think he's got a point there. I mean, the Gang of Eight are the highest ranking members of the House and Senate who form a group that they're cleared at the highest level. And when you do something like this, I would assume you'd want it to be bipartisan so that when members come to conclusions they can speak with one voice.
But that's not what's happening here. What's going on here is a public relations strategy to investigate the investigators. And while you've got the president's legal team trying to talk to Bob Mueller, playing the inside game, the outside game here is this question of if the president ends up not testifying, pleading the Fifth, should this go to the Supreme Court?
Whichever way this plays out, I think what the president and his team are doing is trying to disqualify and discredit the people who have done this investigation, which is why the president continues to use the word "spies" as in spies on my campaign, without acknowledging the fact that perhaps people in the intelligence community were trying to protect the election process itself and perhaps protect the Trump campaign.
BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, how typical or atypical is a meeting like this that the White House is orchestrating?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, there's atypical and then there's downright weird. Part of this is atypical. I've seen instances back especially during the sensitive operations we had at the agency during the height of the war against al-Qaeda, where the White House would try to orchestrate bipartisan meetings on highly sensitive topics, things like technical surveillance of people's e- mails, typically those meetings would be held more often down at Capitol Hill. We would go down for example on the sensitive issue of interrogation techniques.
We spoke to both Democrats and Republicans together. The weird part of this is putting Republicans in the room without Democrats. That is odd. I don't remember seeing that, and you're supposed to say the intelligence is not partisan.
Here's what we know. Here's what we think. You guys, the politicians figure out what you want to do about it. Atypical would be the White House orchestration, but not unheard of. Weird is Republicans-only.
BLITZER: And, Sabrina, what do you think?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: Well, I think that the key here is it underscores the ways in which the investigation in Congress has been bitterly divided along partisan lies. I think that this is why people are expecting that you will only really get answers from the special counsel. It's been striking how Republicans on Capitol Hill have especially been willing to toe the president's line.
You've seen a great deal of reluctance among Republican leaders especially to distance themselves from the president and his attack on the FBI. And I simply think that this -- to leave out Democrats from this meeting -- I'm sorry. To leave out Democrats from this meeting reinforces the notion that you aren't really going to get anything beyond a partisan response on Capitol Hill.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, standby.
There's more breaking news we're following right now. The President Trump offers to assure Kim Jong-un's safety and security as hopes of a summit apparently dim. We're going live to North Korea for reaction.
And we'll also go live to Hawaii where lava from Kilauea Volcano is now threatening a power plant.
[18:54:21] BLITZER: There's more breaking news.
Tonight, President Trump offering to ensure Kim Jong-un's safety as hopes of a summit between the leaders apparently dim.
CNN's Will Ripley has reported extensively from inside North Korea. He's back there right now. He's joining us on the phone.
So, Will, what is North Korea saying about this scheduled June 12th summit in Singapore?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): The North Koreans have said publicly, Wolf, that they will walk away from this summit if they don't like what they're seeing and hearing from the United States. And what's really upsetting to them lately is the rhetoric coming out of Washington. It's varied from President Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, someone who North Koreans call a war-monger.
[18:55:04] They say they don't want him in Singapore at the summit. They want to be treated, they say, with respect, and decency and they think that Bolton when talking about making North Korea the next Libya -- well, that's obviously a threat (ph) to them because Muammar Gadhafi in Libya was overthrown just a few years after giving up his nuclear weapons by U.S.-backed rebels and the North Koreans certainly say they will not accept a Libya model to this country.
They're also saying they're not happy with the (INAUDIBLE), Wolf, to the exercises happening with the United States and South Korea, the aerials drills that the U.S. claims defensive and North Korea says, as they always do, that their dress rehearsal for invasion.
Nonetheless, we'll here in Wonsan, a city in the North Koreans east coast, aiming to make what is expected to be almost a 20-hour journey deep into North Korea, to their nuclear test sites at Punggye-ri. We'll be traveling by a train and then by car and even hiking to get to the site. It's a place that no foreign journalist has ever visited before.
Punggye-ri is where North Korea conducted six nuclear tests since 2006, most recently, last September triggered a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. Satellite images show they built some sort of observation posts for it, and it's important to me, Wolf, that in this group, it's (INAUDIBLE) fewer than two dozen, very selective (INAUDIBLE) allowed on this trip.
But there are no experts who will be conducting a more substantial inspection of the site. We're observing from some kind of a distance. We don't know how long we're going to be having the nuclear site and some are raising concerns about the legitimacy of this. The North consumed the evidence some experts say at their nuclear activity, as opposed to being transparent. And they claim they are doing by destroying the nuclear test sites ahead of this summit in Singapore with President Trump. And now, may be, (INAUDIBLE) whether or not that's actually going to happen, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going the stay in very close touch with you, Will. Good luck over there. Will Ripley reporting for us from North Korea.
We're also following the breaking news on the island of Hawaii right now where lava from the erupting Kilauea volcano is now threatening a power plant.
CNN's Stephanie Elam is on the scene for us.
Stephanie, right now, what, lava is flowing from multiple fissures. And I know we can see it right behind you.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. And what we know is that there are multiple fissures that are producing lava that have crossed over the property where that plant is taking out an older building there. We just learned that from the Hawaiian civil authority telling us that. That's one concern that they're watching, but authorities say they have squelched is the word they used, down 10 of the 11 tanks there. They're filling them with cold water. They saying they are monitoring this issue, but right now, they don't think there's going to be an issue with that.
But still, there are many other situations happening here as this is almost a vibrant and alive disaster here on the big island. I can tell you that the Hawaiian governor David Ige has signed a proclamation to actually reassess the tax value of property damage from this eruption. That has just happened. So, we're learning about that as again, we've seen fissures that have stopped producing lava, have again started to erupt lava, and it is now spreading out and threatening more homes.
Still, very much a problem inside Leilani Estates, which has been the brunt of this situation. We've seen the brunt of that lava really affecting that community and again last night, it's bubbling up and is taking over some of the streets there. So, for some of the people, even if their homes are still standing, what may be a new problem for them is whether or not they'll even be able to access their homes with all of the lava and all these massive cracks and fissures in the road down there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Walk us through a little bit the dangers for the folks who are nearby.
ELAM: There are several because there is the fact that these gases that are coming out, if you take a look at that plume that you see behind me, there's that fountain of lava. So, you've got the one burning river that is coming out, a couple of them now at this point, and then you also have the issue of those toxic gases that are coming out of the earth.
And if the winds change direction, they can be deadly. They're irritating, hard to be around and you do need a gas mask when you're near them. Right now, the trade winds are blowing in our favor here, but they're blowing into Leilani Estates and that's difficulty for them.
So, you've got that and then you also have the fact that the lava is flowing into the ocean, which is quite a sight to see. But at the same time, it can be dangerous and deadly because of that creation of hydrochloric acid when the lava hits the ocean and those glass particles, they are non-stop. We have seen this plume going up into the sky where from the lava is hitting the water there. So, they're still monitoring that and still keeping people away because of the dangers around there. .
BLITZER: It's really an amazing sight to see that unfold the way it is. Stephanie, be careful over there. Good luck to all the folks in Hawaii. 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.