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Giuliani Presses Mueller to Wrap Up Investigation by September; Michael Cohen Secretly Recorded Conversations; Senate Committee Split on Issue of Collusion; Trump's Personal Attorney Accrued Recorded Conversations; Trump Rips Attorney General, Wishes He Hadn't Picked Him; Trump Switching to a Healthier Diet. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 30, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Airing of grievances. President Trump is steaming at the cancellation of "Roseanne," criticizing ABC's apology and not the star's racist tweets. Making it all about himself as the White House airs a laundry list of the president's grievances.

Cause for concern. After a conservative Republican congressman pours cold water over the president's fake campaign spy conspiracy, the White House insists there's still cause for concern about the FBI. As the president slams his own attorney general, is he already cooking up a new conspiracy?

"Under lock and key." President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, goes back to court, where it's confirmed that he recorded conversations. Stormy Daniels's lawyer says some of those recordings concern his client and claims President Trump could also be caught on tape.

And back from the dead. A well-known critic of Russia's President Putin turns up alive and well after he was reportedly the victim of a bloody murder. Was that meant to foil a real plot on his life?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, puts new pressure on the special counsel, saying just now that, if Robert Mueller doesn't wrap up his investigation by the end of the summer, he'll basically be meddling in the fall midterm elections.

I'll speak with Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of the Homeland Security Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they are standing by with full coverage.

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

Jim, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, just came out, seemed to put the squeeze on the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

BLITZER: Tell our viewers what Giuliani is now saying.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. The president's outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was inside the White House today, talking to reporters on the South Lawn after a different event wrapped up here over at the White House.

But he did talk to reporters about what is going on inside the president's legal team, what their thinking is on a variety of subjects.

One of the subjects that came up that a reporter asked Rudy Giuliani about, was our Kaitlan Collins. She asked him what the president meant when he tweeted just yesterday that the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, team is somehow going to be meddling in the upcoming midterm elections.

Here's how Rudy Giuliani tried to explain that. He tried to say, essentially, that if the special counsel's investigation lasts into the fall, that that will essentially amount to meddling in the elections. And here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: How is Robert -- how is Robert Mueller meddling in the midterms? The president said he's going to meddle in the elections.

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: He will. If he doesn't -- if he doesn't file his report by September 1, mid-September, he's probably (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

COLLINS: So will he fire him if he doesn't file the report by September?

GIULIANI: I don't think he's going to fire Mueller. Mueller is creating his own problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, the other thing that -- that occurred with Rudy Giuliani talking to reporters just a few moments ago, he said that the president, it appears at this point, won't fire his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. As you know, earlier in the day, Wolf, the president went on this rant about his attorney general once again, airing his grievances about his attorney general over his decision to recuse himself in the Russia investigation last year.

The president said that he had wished that he could have picked a different attorney general to oversee the Russia investigation. And Rudy Giuliani told reporters just a few moments ago that he doesn't think the president will fire the attorney general before the special counsel's investigation wraps up -- Wolf. BLITZER: As you know, the president and the White House, they

responded today to the Roseanne Barr controversy. Tell us about that.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. We were wondering whether or not the president was going to respond to the Roseanne Barr controversy. After all, yesterday the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, told reporters that the president had more important things to do.

Well, as it turns out, the president had some time in his schedule today to weigh in on the Roseanne Barr controversy. He issued a tweet going after Bob Iger of ABC and his decision to call Valerie Jarrett, who was the subject of that racist tweet from Roseanne Barr that resulted in her show being cancelled over at ABC. The president saying, "Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that ABC does not tolerate comments like those made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the horrible statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn't get the call."

Some of that was playing out in the briefing room earlier today, Wolf, when the White House was asked about -- the press secretary was asked about what the president had to say about all of this, and Sarah Sanders essentially went on a rant about the news media, wondering where the apologies are for the president. Here's what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[17:0:04] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's pointed to the hypocrisy in the media saying that the most horrible things about this president, and nobody addresses it.

Where was Bob Iger's apology to the White House staff for Jemele Hill calling the president and anyone associated with him a white supremacist? To Christians around the world for Joy Behar calling Christianity a mental illness? Where was the apology for Kathy Griffin going on a profane rant against the president on "The View" after a photo showed her holding President Trump's decapitated head? And where was the apology from Bob Iger for ESPN hiring Keith Olbermann after his numerous expletive-laced tweets attacking the president as a Nazi and even expanding Olbermann's role after that attack against the president's family?

This is a double standard that the president is speaking about. No one is defending her comments. They're inappropriate. But that's what the point that he was making.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: You heard Sarah Sanders saying that the comment from Roseanne Barr was inappropriate. But what we did not hear from the president earlier today, Wolf, was any kind of condemnation of what Roseanne Barr had to say.

And for Sarah Sanders to come into the briefing room and go after the media, saying that the media owes apologies to the president, that obviously is pretty rich, Wolf. As you and I both know covering this president for the last couple of years out on the campaign trail and once he's been in office, he rarely, if ever, apologizes that I can recall. The only time I can recall him apologizing for anything were the comments that he -- were for the comments that he made that were captured by "Access Hollywood," talking about grabbing women by their private parts.

He has never apologized for saying that Mexican immigrants coming into the United States are rapists and criminals. He's never apologized for referring to African-American pro athletes as "sons of bitches" out on the football field. Referring to African nations as "shithole countries." There's just one episode and example after another where the president has made offensive, outrageous, outlandish statements, tweets and so on about a whole host and variety of subjects.

Never mind the fact that he never really apologized or explained why he said that they were very fine people on both sides in the violence of Charlottesville.

It's just amazing, Wolf, to see the White House press secretary go into the briefing room, chastise the media, go after the major media companies in this country, saying that they owe apologies to the president when, of course, the president has rarely, if ever, apologized for his behavior or his comments over the years, Wolf.

BLITZER: And so I take it you don't anticipate any apologies coming from the president. Right?

ACOSTA: I don't think so, Wolf. I mean, that would be -- that would be out of character for him. This is not a president who apologizes. And I think if you talk to people, his supporters and, obviously, aides and advisers, strategists who work with the president, they think that's part of his brand, part of his political persona, that he's sort of a no apology president.

So it's kind of amazing, it's kind of incredible. It's surreal, really, sort of "Alice in Wonderland" surreal, like you're in a different planet, to hear the White House press secretary go into the briefing room and demand apologies when she works for a president who never apologizes.

BLITZER: Amidst all of this, Jim, there's this truly very significant development. Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy is a conservative. He was in that highly-classified Justice Department briefing last week about the 2016 investigation into Russian interference in the election in the Trump campaign and said he is now absolutely convinced the FBI acted appropriately, that they did exactly what the FBI was created to do.

So how does the White House respond?

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. Trey Gowdy, a fellow Republican, was essentially throwing cold water on this controversy, this conspiracy theory that the president has been talking about, what he's dubbed Spygate. Talking about this confidential informant or source who was working inside the Trump campaign for some time, and essentially feeding information to federal investigators. And federal investigators were obviously looking into whether or not the Russians were meddling in the 2016 election.

And Trey Gowdy essentially said, "Listen, they were just doing their jobs."

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, she was asked about that, and she said that the president continues to have questions and concerns about this probe. Here's what she had to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Certainly, the president feels that there's cause for concern, and it should be looked at in a -- like I just said, the deputy director of the FBI was fired for misconduct. There are a number --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But --

SANDERS: I'm not finished. There are a number of things that have been reported on, and that show, I think not just for the president but a number of Americans, a large cause for concern. And we'd like to see this fully looked into, and we'll continue to follow that matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, here you have the other half of the coin, Wolf. You know, we were just talking a few moments ago about how the president never apologizes. There's also this problem that we see at the White House on a daily

basis, and this neatly crystallized it, where they just aren't dealing with reality. They're just not telling us the truth on a daily basis.

[17:10:10] Sarah Sanders had a chance to say there, "OK, well, the president's conspiracy theory was wrong." And she just continued to double down on it on behalf of this White House and say that the president has these concerns, when this is an unfounded, unproven conspiracy theory, one of many from this president, about the Russia investigation.

Of course, you know, there are lots of people who are concerned that when the president does this, he is just wearing down key institutions in this country like the media, like the concept of an independent judicial system.

Wolf, I talked to a source familiar with conversations going on inside the White House and president's legal team earlier today, who said to me, quote, "I think this is bad for the country," what the president is doing and essentially saying that the president is directing some of this political strategy.

So when you see these tweets going after the Mueller investigation, accusing them of meddling in the midterms and so on, according to the source that I talked to earlier today, the president is directing a lot of this strategy, essentially, to get himself out of a tough situation, a tough spot with the special counsel's office.

The question is, Wolf, how long they can continue this -- this kind of strategy. And as you heard earlier this afternoon, Rudy Giuliani was trying to put some kind of spin on it by saying, "Well, if this investigation drags into the midterms, that he's essentially meddling with the investigation [SIC]." Of course, folks like Trey Gowdy are starting to break from the president, which is significant, saying no, no, no, federal investigators, they're just doing their jobs, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the president doesn't apologize. He doesn't admit he makes mistakes. I suspect that's going to continue, even though a whole bunch of Republicans, supporters of the president, would like him occasionally to apologize --

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: -- and to admit that he made a mistake. Nothing wrong with either of those things.

ACOSTA: Exactly.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, great reporting as usual. Thank you very, very much.

The president's personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, he was back in court today in New York City, where his lawyer confirmed for the first time that audio recordings were among millions of files seized in FBI raids. Also present, Stormy Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who claims those files include recordings relevant to his client, along with what he calls secret Trump tapes.

Let's go to CNN's Kara Scannell. She's been covering this. So first of all, Kara, what are you learning about those recordings?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we heard today in court from Michael Avenatti. He accused Michael Cohen and his associates of leaking recorded tapes of Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels's first attorney, Keith Davidson.

But outside of court, Avenatti made different claims. He made fresh allegations that there are tapes that exist of recordings, conversations between Cohen and the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Our understanding is that there's many, many audio recordings that, for whatever reason, Michael Cohen created and then kept, and ultimately, they would be his downfall and it may be the downfall of this president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCANNELL: Now Avenatti wants these tapes released to the public. It's not clear what's on these tapes, what kind of conversations there are, or exactly where they -- who has them. But one thing that we do know for sure is that the government has these tapes as part of their evidence, Wolf.

BLITZER: Avenatti is saying that, among those audio tapes, recordings of phone conversations, they include conversations that Michael Cohen had with Donald Trump. Is that right?

SCANNELL: That's right. Those are new allegations that Michael Avenatti has made today. He said that he knows for a fact that they exist. He's not provided any additional information about that to substantiate that allegation. But that's the latest from his today, which is a bit of deflecting from what went on, really, inside the courtroom, you know, where he ultimately withdrew his application to appear as part of this process.

BLITZER: The judge overseeing this hearing also had argument -- heard arguments from Avenatti on why he should be part of the Cohen case in New York. Tell us about that.

SCANNELL: That's right. Michael Avenatti was there today, saying he needed to be a part of this process to represent the interests of his client, Stormy Daniels.

But this really became a whole bit of tension in the courtroom. Cohen's attorney was visibly upset and irritated. He said that Michael Avenatti has acted recklessly by his public statements and TV appearances, where he has said that Michael Cohen is guilty.

He's also pointed out that Avenatti's released private, personal financial records belonging to Michael Cohen, arguing that he has no place to be in this courtroom, because he's not acting as an attorney should in a case.

And Judge Kimba Wood, a very experienced jurist who's overseen many high-profile investigations, appeared to agree with him. She told Avenatti that if he wanted to be part of this process, that he would be to stop his, quote, "publicity tour."

Now, it was just about two hours after the court hearing that Michael Avenatti withdrew his request to appear before the court.

All of this, Wolf, is a bit of a side show. What was really -- brought everyone together today was to hear where they are in this process of vetting for attorney-client privilege. The records and documents and electronic devices that were seized in the FBI raid of Michael Cohen's hotel room, apartment, and office.

[17:15:17] The -- Michael Cohen's attorney said that they want more time to review these documents. They said they reviewed about one- third of the 3.7 million files that have been turned over to them, and asked the judge to give them until July.

The judge really wasn't believing that. She said she wants to move this along and let this investigation get underway and set a date for July -- for June 15.

Now also, this is not the end of it, though. The government said that there are still two BlackBerries that need to be processed and are in the FBI labs in Quantico undergoing forensic analysis. And there's also the contents of a shredder that they also are working to reconstruct and put back together, Wolf.

BLITZER: And they know how to do that. All right, Kara. Thank you very much. Kara Scannell, thanks for that.

And we'll see if there are audio tapes between Michael Cohen and the president.

Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of New York. She's a member of the Homeland Security Committee. She's also a former federal prosecutor.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. And as a former prosecutor, how significant would these audiotapes be to these Robert Mueller investigators and investigators from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York?

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Well, now we know exactly why the president has actually seemed more concerned about the Michael Cohen case than even the Russia investigation. He knows how close Michael Cohen was to him. He knows what kind of attorney he wanted. Michael Cohen was his fixer. And he probably behaved in a lot of ways that Donald Trump would want him to. Recording other people, to hold it as evidence against them if they don't do what they want. I mean, this could be devastating.

We'll have to wait and see exactly what is on these tapes, but any time you have tapes, it's not a -- not a good thing.

BLITZER: How do you view Michael Avenatti's role in all of this?

RICE: You know, I thought it was interesting that he withdrew a couple of hours after, you know, being in court saying he wanted to be a part of the process, saying, "You know what? I want to withdraw now."

I think he's probably seeing his value, his best value being in provocateur. Someone who's going out there and really going right at Trump in a way that many people don't.

And you have to give him a lot of credit for that, because he has kept this story alive. He's made some relevant observations, I think, that have made people take a second look at what exactly Michael Cohen could do if he decided to cooperate against the president if it ever came to that. And I think he's chosen to continue in that role.

BLITZER: The president's tweets this morning, one suggests that he has no faith in his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. He regrets the fact that he nominated Jeff Sessions to be the attorney general. This has been going on for a year now, the public humiliation of his attorney general. Do you believe Sessions should resign?

RICE: No. I don't. I think it's amazing that he has had the fortitude to stay. But you know, I'm pretty sure that he has job security. I think it's very clear that Republicans in the Senate have communicated to the president that they will not consider confirming another attorney general nominee if he were to fire Jeff Sessions.

But it's not surprising that he is doing this. This is what he does to people who don't toe the line. You know, he learned at the feet of Roy Cohn, a world-class fixer, you know, terrible, terrible person, I think, by anyone's measure. And he sees his attorney general as someone who, first and foremost, should be loyal to him. Not his agenda. Not the country. Not the rule of law. To him.

Now, you can argue that it's fair that presidents past have chosen people that they feel comfortable representing the Department of Justice as the attorney general, someone who shares their views and someone that they trust. But he has put it down very clearly that "Forget about my agenda. Forget about the rule of law. If you can't pledge your troth to me, your loyalty to me, then you're out." And that's just completely inappropriate.

BLITZER: If the president tried -- and we know he once tried, according to "The New York Times" -- to get -- to get Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal from the Russia investigation, would that amount in your opinion, Congresswoman, to obstruction of justice?

RICE: I'm not part of the investigation. And I would not want to say or hypothesize about anything.

But if you look at -- I think the significance of Trump trying to get Sessions to unrecuse himself is the timing of it. He did this before Mueller was even appointed, before the investigation truly began in earnest. So that could say something about the president's state of mind. I don't think it says something good.

[17:20:05] But I mean, just the way that he mistreated him, you know, making him go down to Mar-a-Lago, refusing to take his phone calls. And then when Sessions goes down to, first and foremost, talk about the travel ban, certain aspects of travel ban, which according to Trump, was so incredibly important for national security,, the president refused to even talk about it, and insisted that they talk about why he does not unrecuse himself.

So it just shows you at every step of the way, the president is first and foremost about him.

Look at what he said about Roseanne, that tweet. I mean, if that is not the ramblings of a narcissist, I don't know what is. Roseanne even apologized. Take what you will from her apology, how genuine it was, but she even apologized. He can't condemn what she said? He has to say, "Woe is me. Look at me, and I'm being victimized?" I mean, the level of narcissism. When it comes to the ability that the president has on this specific issue of racism which is still present in this country, he could have led on this issue. And he chose instead to talk about himself, and that's probably the most disturbing thing to me about what he said.

BLITZER: You heard the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, say that Robert Mueller would be, quote, "doing a Comey" if he doesn't release his report by mid-September. The president himself has expressed his belief that Mueller's investigation is meddling in the midterm elections.

Should the special counsel release his findings if it's close to the elections?

RICE: Well, first of all, the irony of Rudy Giuliani questioning the timing of Mueller's release of an investigation? I didn't hear Rudy Giuliani talking about Comey and what he did in the days leading up to the 2016 election, and all of a sudden, he's so concerned about meddling?

I -- look, the -- you don't determine the timing of an investigation. When you finish seeking out the facts and getting the -- gathering the evidence and speaking to all the witnesses, that is what the timing is.

Now, I'm sure that Mueller may consider the timing of it. But I just think it's so ironic when Rudy Giuliani is talking about the meddling, Mueller potentially meddling in terms of the timing of the release of whatever he's going to release, when we know right now that Russia is actively trying to meddle in the 2018 elections, just like they did in 2016. And the administration is not even worried about that. No one is talking about that. And that's a great cause for concern, because if we cannot protect the integrity of our electoral process here in this great democracy of ours, we're doomed.

BLITZER: Kathleen Rice is the congresswoman from New York. She's a member of the Homeland Security Committee. Thanks so much for joining us.

RICE: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, after a yearlong show of bipartisanship, a key Senate committee is now deeply split on the issue of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

And a critic of Russia's President Putin makes a stunning appearance, alive and well, after he was reported to be the victim of a bloody murder. We're now learning that the murder was staged to protect him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:27:28] BLITZER: While the House Intelligence Committee is locked in a very nasty political feud over the Russia investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee has maintained a show of bipartisan -- bipartisanship, but that's beginning to fray as the midterm elections draw closer and closer.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, Republicans, Democrats, what, they're split right now on this issue of collusion? Is that right?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. My colleague, Jeremy Herb, and I spent the time interviewing virtually every member of this committee, and what we're finding is a breakdown along party lines over that key sticking point the Senate Intelligence Committee has been investigating for more than a year: whether or not there was any collusion between Trump associates and Russians in the 2016 elections.

What we're hearing from Republican after Republican on the committee right now, they do not see evidence of collusion between the Russians and the Trump associates. Democrats, on the other hand, say they see plenty of evidence and also, they say there needs to be much more investigation to determine whether or not there was a significant amount of coordination aimed at influencing the results of the elections.

Now, a committee source tells us that there is agreement on both sides of the aisle, between Republicans and Democrats, about improper level of communication with the Russians, but the definition about what exactly constitutes collusion remains a key sticking point.

Now, the division encompasses some moderates including names of Susan Collins, who's not an ally of the president on a number of issues. But she says that she has not seen evidence yet of collusion, but Democrats including Ron Wyden of Oregon says there's plenty of evidence, at least an intent to collude. And they are -- Democrats are demanding a further investigation into the Trump family finances, something that the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr, has resisted so far.

And Democrats are also pressuring Burr to bring back Trump associates for another round of interviews before senators after they had met with Senate staff before, including Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney. And that is something Burr has resisted so far.

But what I'm hearing, Wolf, from members on both sides of the aisle is concerns that they're not getting nearly as much information as Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which they view as having -- doing a much deeper dive on this issue of collusion. Presumably it's going to be the one entity to determine what exactly happened in the 2016 elections, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Manu, the president warned in a tweet yesterday about the Mueller probe, in his words, meddling with the midterm elections. Can the Senate release their final report, Senate Intelligence Committee, without interfering with this fall's elections?

[17:30:08] RAJU: Well, this is a key debate within the committee at the moment. There are members on this committee who are concerned about releasing this during a charged political atmosphere on such a sticky and controversial issue. People like Collins, Susan Collins, are saying, "Let's not put something out in the middle of the midterm campaign season." And some Democrats also agree with that.

The question is where does the leadership of that committee come down? We don't know that quite yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu Raju reporting for us up on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

Coming up, there's more breaking news. The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, presses Special Counsel Robert Mueller to wrap up his Russia probe by September, warning that otherwise, he'd be meddling in the midterm elections. Is Rudy Giuliani himself now meddling?

And President Trump again rips his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, saying he wishes he hadn't picked him. so why won't he just fire him?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:35:41] BLITZER: We're following the latest twist in the investigation of President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. At a hearing in New York today, Cohen's lawyer confirmed his client made recordings of phone conversations. The attorney for the porn star Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti, who was also at the hearing, wants those recordings made public.

Let's bring in our political and legal experts. And Laura Coates, you heard Congresswoman Kathleen Rice say if those recordings included conversations between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, as Avenatti claims to -- that they exist, that could be a serious potential headache for the president.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Because remember, it's only going to be privileged if the conversations were about legal advice or made for the purpose of legal advice or there is an attorney-client relationship. And we've seen time and time again, through Michael Cohen's own statements and people like Sean Hannity who said, "Actually, you were never my attorney." That there may not be that functional relationship. And if that's the case, it could be publicized as to what was said without having the protections of the attorney-client privilege.

And if there's extensive conversations with things that may be, in some way, problematic for the president, or nefarious, or criminal in nature, it's more than a headache. It could actually be a criminal violation, and now he gave the evidence for that.

But again, it's all contingent on actually there being a tape between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump. And right now, it's up in the air.

BLITZER: The only one who's saying that, Dana, is Michael Avenatti himself. He says flatly -- he told Jake Tapper an hour ago, no doubt about it. There are these tapes.

And if there are these tapes, that would explain why, according to sources, the president may be more concerned about the Michael Cohen investigation than the Russia probe.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That had been true. I'm not sure that that is true today in terms of where the president's head is, Michael Cohen versus Mueller.

Everything could change if it is, obviously, true what Michael Avenatti is saying and the tapes that were discussed today in court do turn out to include recordings of Trump; and those obviously have to be more than just, you know, run-of-the-mill conversations with somebody who he's known. But in general, the president seems to be in a much better place

mentally, emotionally, and all of the above, vis-a-vis all of the probes against him than he has been in a while. Again, that changes on a dime. But that certainly seems, according to people who have talked to him, to be where he is right now. I think in large part, it's because he believes that there are people out there being aggressive on his behalf and that we all know his M.O. makes him more comfortable.

BLITZER: You know, you saw that report, Mark Preston, in "The Wall Street Journal" suggesting investigators believe that Stormy Daniels lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is actually slowing down the investigation. Is he a distraction?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's certainly present, right? I mean, he is present every day, every hour on this case.

You know, that "Wall Street Journal" report talks about how Avenatti wants to prevent or is preventing this from happening right now in order to protect the client privilege of his current client. And of course, this is him preventing her former attorney right now, her former attorney from speaking to federal investigators. At some point it's going to have to happen. The question is when is that -- when is that day going to be?

But as far as Michael Avenatti and his whole relationship to this probe, it would almost seem like a -- like it strange day if he didn't appear on TV and have some bit of new information or have some comment on what's happening.

BLITZER: He did have some new information, unconfirmed today about, potentially, phone conversations taped between Michael Cohen and the president.

COATES: But for that reason you talk about, that's why he's a problem for the prosecutors in New York. Because he does not allow for the protection of Michael Cohen to have a fair trial if he were to have one in the future. You're going to have a tainted jury pool. You're going to have somebody who's leaking information to the public that should be private until the prosecutors want it released, and somebody who has an incentive to have a court of public opinion trial, as opposed to one in the court of law. He's a problem in that respect.

BLITZER: Sabrina, big picture, how do you see it?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, I think what's been fascinating about Michael Avenatti is he is one of the few people who has managed to employ President Trump's own playbook and use it against him. He constantly goes toe to toe with his critics. He makes explosive claims on Twitter. He's, of course, ever present in the media.

Now, as Laura pointed out, that does raise certain legal challenges with respect to his motives and his ability to represent his client.

[17:40:06] From a P.R. perspective, especially in the era of Trump, where a lot of the conventional rules no longer apply, I think he's been successful in keeping this story alive in a very saturated media environment, and also having these little bread crumbs and revealing these new bits of information every couple of weeks. And that's where, I think, you've seen him really also be able to portray his client, Stormy Daniels, as a very sympathetic character.

BASH: And that's a good point, and remember, it was because of Michael Avenatti's Trumpian antics that he got the president to talk for the first time about Stormy Daniels. He did it on Twitter, because of what Avenatti did. He went on "The View," and he put out a sketch of somebody who they said was -- had approached Stormy Daniels. So on and so forth.

Before that, the president was uncharacteristically quiet in the face of all of these allegations from Stormy Daniels. But because Avenatti is somebody with whom the president has met his match, he changed it.

BLITZER: You know, Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump for the presidency at a big rally, we all remember, in Alabama. He worked with him throughout the campaign, the transition. The president finally names him attorney general. He's confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

And for a year now, the president has really humiliated him in public, because he recused himself from the Russia probe. And he did so once again today, saying he wishes he would have never nominated him for the attorney general position to begin with.

How much grief, how much humiliation can Jeff Sessions take before saying, "Enough is enough, I'm out of here"?

PRESTON: You know, I wonder if he's playing the long game right now. You know, one thing about Jeff Sessions we should know. He was four terms, I believe, in the United States Senate. He was a U.S. attorney for many, many years. He knows how to take a beating, necessarily.

I think he's also smart enough to know that if he were to quit right now under this pressure, he would look weak. And that is the worst thing that you want to look for -- look for in the eyes of Donald Trump, let alone any of these Republican conservatives who are actually happy with what you're doing at the Department of Justice, absent of this investigation for many of them.

BASH: And not just look weak. He would also, potentially, play right in -- he would play right into the president's hands of wanting to disrupt this investigation. The investigation that is only taking place because Jeff Sessions did something that, obviously, was almost fatal in terms of his reputation with conservatives, because the president has been hitting him, and that is recusing himself.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more we need to discuss.

There's other news we're following. Russia now denouncing Ukraine for the faking -- for faking the murder of a prominent journalist and critic of Vladimir Putin. Ukrainian officials say they announced the man's death, then revealed

he actually was alive to foil an assassination plot ordered by the Russians.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen. He's joining us live from Moscow right now with more on this bizarre story.

Fred, even the man's wife thought he was dead.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes. Yes, it's an absolutely bizarre story, Wolf. You're absolutely right.

He said -- Arkady Babchenko is the name of the journalist -- that even his wife didn't know about it. However, Wolf, it seems as though the highest levels of the Ukrainian government did.

In fact, when the man's death was falsely announced initially, even Ukraine's prime minister came out and blasted the Russians and said they were responsible for the alleged killing.

The Russians, obviously, fired back and said it wasn't them. And that, in the end, it turned out everything was staged. Here's how it unfolded.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Outrage last night in Kiev, Ukraine. Officials saying prominent anti-Kremlin journalist Arkady Babchenko had been gunned down in front of his House.

Ukraine's prime minister writing in a Facebook post, quote, "I'm sure that Russian totalitarian machine did not forgive him his honesty and his fidelity to principle."

Hours later the twist. It was all staged. Babchenko, alive. "It was a special operation," he said, "as a result of which the man was detained today. He's in custody right now."

Ukrainian security services say they discovered a plot ordered by Russia to kill Babchenko. To save him and catch the alleged assassin, they faked Babchenko's killing.

ARKADY BABCHENKO, JOURNALIST (through translator): People told me that a hit was already ordered on me and the money had already been transferred: $40,000. Well, that's not a bad price for me.

PLEITGEN: Ukraine says a suspect is in custody. The country's president calls it a brilliant operation by the security services.

BABCHENKO (through translator): I would like to apologize to my wife for the hell she has been through in these last two days. I'm sorry, but there were no other options.

PLEITGEN: This was the reaction from Arkady Babchenko's colleagues after he turned up alive on TV. [17:45:00] Babchenko was critical of Russian actions in Ukraine and

Syria and left Russia in 2017 because of threats to his life.

He wrote about his experience suffering what he called political harassment in Putin's Russia in an essay published by Britain's "Guardian" newspaper in 2017.

Russian officials fuming after the Ukrainians revealed the staged assassination. Kiev, in the situation with the alleged attempts to kill Babchenko, committed a stupid provocation against Russia and is now disgraced in the eyes of the world, a Russian lawmaker said.

While Moscow is angry, Kiev is celebrating what they believe was a successful intelligence operation and that journalist Arkady Babchenko is still alive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, it's still not totally clear who exactly the two people are who were arrested by the Ukrainian authorities. One of them might be the potential hitman. The other might be one of the people who may have ordered all this.

The Ukrainians say they are still investigating. But they also say they believe, despite the fact they are getting some criticism for staging all this, that all of it to them was worth it -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us. What a story that is. Thank you very much.

Coming up, President Trump talks to young people about staying healthy. And we're told he is modifying his own diet to try to lose some weight. Will it work?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:57] BLITZER: There's important health news to report tonight, newly updated guidelines. The American Cancer Society now recommends colon and rectal cancer screening for adults starting at age 45. That's five years sooner than in previous guidelines.

Also this afternoon over at the White House, President Trump encouraged young people the stay healthy by participating in sports, including his go-to game, golf.

We're also learning new details about the President's own diet. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, so what's changed?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a little less well-done steak with ketchup slathered all over it and a little more fish in the President's diet.

Tonight, CNN is told by people close to Mr. Trump that he knows he's got to start eating better. He wants to lose at least 10 pounds. But the question is, can an almost 72-year-old who has been eating so poorly for so long just change those eating habits on a dime?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): President Trump does some friendly jawing at heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I really went and started working out, could I take Deontay in a fight?

(LAUGHTER)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the President's confidants are happy that he's just changing his diet a little.

CNN is told by people close to the President that he's acknowledged in private that he needs to lose 10 to 15 pounds. And that in some instances, he swapped out his favorite well-done steak slathered in ketchup in favor of healthier cuisine like Dover sole.

LISA DRAYER, CNN HEALTH AND NUTRITION CONTRIBUTOR: The President's diet changes are promising. Fish is a lot healthier than steak, not only in terms of calories and weight loss but also in terms of heart health and cancer risk.

TODD (voice-over): This is a president with a notorious diet approaching obesity, who once bragged of eating dessert at Mar-a-Lago while he ordered a missile strike on Syria.

TRUMP: And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.

TODD (voice-over): President Trump has tweeted out pictures of himself eating a taco bowl with a bucket of chicken from KFC and with a McDonald's meal, something he once told Anderson Cooper was his go- to at the drive-thru.

TRUMP: And the Big Macs are great, the quarter pounder with cheese. I mean, I -- it's great stuff.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Do people at the windows be like what?

TODD (voice-over): Recently, Trump modified his diet by having a burger with only half the bun according to one companion.

CNN has been told a registered dietician has been dispatched from Walter Reed Medical Center to work with the White House kitchen on reducing calories and putting more vegetables on the President's plate. Although it's not clear how many of them he is eating.

Cardiologist Allen Taylor has treated members of Congress and other Washington VIPs.

TODD (on camera): How much of a toll do stresses of jobs like the presidency take on your body even if you're a healthier eater?

DR. ALLEN TAYLOR, CHIEF OF CARDIOLOGY, MEDSTAR HEART & VASCULAR INSTITUTE: Yes. It's one thing to have a bad day in traffic, and it's another to have a job that is constantly combating or beating you up with stress. And we know it's about a doubling of heart disease risk from this chronic unrelieved stress.

TODD (voice-over): Still, nutritionist Lisa Drayer says it's never too late for the soon to be 72-year-old president. And he doesn't have to make drastic diet changes.

DRAYER: So, first, he can simply cut his portions in half. It's really easy and it doesn't involve counting calories. The second tip is filling half your plate with vegetables.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, a healthier diet is one thing but, apparently, for the President, exercise is quite another. Despite the efforts of Melania and Ivanka Trump and his own doctor, we're told he has been much slower in adopting a new exercise regimen.

He has talked about how people who work out, many of them -- people who work out regularly -- have to have their knees and hips replaced by the time they get to his age. And he says he can burn calories just playing golf, which he does almost every weekend using a cart -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that. Coming up, the breaking news. President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani steps up the pressure on the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, saying if he doesn't wrap up his investigation by the end of the summer, he'll basically be meddling in the fall midterm elections. Is Giuliani himself now meddling in the Russia probe?

[17:54:52] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Concerns and complaints. The White House argues there's still reason to investigate the FBI, defending the President's bogus claim about spying on his campaign even after it was firmly and clearly debunked by a top Republican.

Lordy, there are tapes. Michael Cohen's lawyer confirms in open court that the President's fixer recorded conversations with clients that now are being protected under lock and key. Is Mr. Trump on the tapes?

[17:59:58] All apologies. The President weighs in on the "Roseanne" drama making it about him, insisting he deserves an apology from ABC and Disney. The White House trying to explain Mr. Trump's failure to condemn Roseanne Barr's racist tweets.

And dining with a spy --