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THE SITUATION ROOM

Samantha Bee Apologizes; President Trump Sending Message With Latest Pardon?; Interview With Congressman Ted Lieu; Kim Jong Un's Ex- Top Spy to Deliver Letter to Trump Tomorrow; Nunes Facing Test of His Defense of Trump in Crowded Primary; Samantha Bee Apologizes for Remark about Ivanka Trump; Audio Captures Michael Cohen's Angry Legal Threats Protecting Trump. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 31, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Stand by to hear from Bannon in a new CNN interview.

White House invitation. After meeting with the secretary of state, Kim Jong-un's ex-spy chief and enforcer is heading to Washington to deliver a letter to the president. Is the Trump-Kim summit about to be declared back on?

And vile and vicious. As the White House condemns a vulgar remark about Ivanka Trump, comedians Samantha Bee is now apologizing. Is there a valid comparison between the ugly attack on the president's daughter and the racist tweets the got Roseanne Barr fired?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, New York's top law enforcement officials accusing President Trump of using his pardon power to thwart justice, rather than to advance it.

Mr. Trump issuing another controversial pardon today to a conservative author and filmmaker. And he's floating the possibility that he will pardon other high-profile convicted felons, including Martha Stewart.

It's all ratcheting up concerns about the message the president may be sending to former aides and allies who are now key figures in the Russia investigation.

I will get reaction from House Judiciary Committee member Ted Lieu.

And our correspondence and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president has shown he's willing to grant pardons early in his term and to do so often. JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And a White House official just talked to reporters down in Texas, with the president traveling down there, telling reporters that, no, the president is not just considering celebrities for presidential pardons, but it sure seemed that way today.

It seemed like a new episode of President Trump's White House version of "The Apprentice." This time, it's the presidential pardon edition. The president not only announced he is pardoning a darling of the far right, Dinesh D'Souza. Mr. Trump added he's also considering leniency for two former stars of his TV show "The Apprentice," making this White House once again seeming detached from reality.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to Dallas, we're going to Houston, and we're going to have a little fun today.

ACOSTA (voice-over): As President Trump left Washington for Texas, it sounded like he was contemplating a new reality TV catchphrase, not you're fired, but your pardoned.

The president started his day with a pardon for far-right commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who was convicted of violating campaign finance laws during the Obama administration.

D'Souza tweeted: "Obama and his stooges tried to extinguish my American dream, destroy my faith in America. Thank you, Mr. Trump, for fully restoring both."

D'Souza went after former federal prosecutor and CNN contributor Preet Bharara, tweeting, "Karma is a bitch."

Well-known in conservative circles for his racially loaded cultural commentary:

DINESH D'SOUZA, AUTHOR, "THE ENEMY AT HOME: THE CULTURAL LEFT AND ITS RESPONSIBILITY FOR 9/11": Somehow, the white guy is not welcome at the multicultural picnic. If they show up at the multicultural picnic, they're Satan.

ACOSTA: D'Souza once tweeted this attack on Barack and Michelle Obama.

Ask why he pardoned D'Souza, the president told reporters: "I never met him. I called him last night, first time I have ever spoken to him. I said I'm pardoning you. Nobody asked me to do it. And I read the newspapers. I see him on television."

But the president hinted he may show more leniency to former stars of his TV show "The Apprentice," including commuting the sentence former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

TRUMP: Governor, I have great respect. I have great respect for your tenacity, for the fact that you just don't give up. But, Rod, you're fired.

ACOSTA: Who was convicted of corruption charges for attempting to sell Obama's former Senate seat.

And domestic style icon Martha Stewart, who was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors.

MARTHA STEWART, CEO, MARTHA STEWART LIVING: We're going to make a scrumptious meatloaf sandwich, which is Donald's favorite sandwich, according to Melania.

TRUMP: I have never had meatloaf this good.

ACOSTA: Stewart has demonstrated she's no fan of the president, once giving him the middle finger in this Instagram photo.

But she once hosted her own version of "The Apprentice."

STEWART: It really, really bothered me that you talked about quitting. I don't think I have ever quit the job. I have gone through jail.

ACOSTA: The president has made it clear he's willing to issue pardons to controversial figures, starting with former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Democrats believe the president is sending a message to his own former aides in legal jeopardy.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: I think Manafort knows it. I think Michael Cohen knows it. I think others know it. I think Robert Mueller probably knows it. And it has the potential to be an obstruction of justice case.

ACOSTA: The White House, which just welcomed reality TV star Kim Kardashian to meet with the president to talk pardons, denies that.

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Each of the president's actions on pardons or on other things should be judged on the merits, looking at the facts and the circumstances surrounding that case.

ACOSTA: The president is still refusing to deal with some of the realities of the Russia probe, tweeting: "Not that it matters, but I never fired James Comey because of Russia. The corrupt mainstream media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it's not true."

But that's not what the president said to NBC last year.

[18:05:05]

TRUMP: And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the president is teeing up this debate over his pardons just as he's announcing new tariffs against Mexico, Canada and the European Union.

Those countries and the European Union, they're all talking about retaliating against the U.S. by imposing their own tariffs on American products, actions that could drive up costs for American consumers.

Wolf, that may be the real price of the Trump reality show this week.

And just in the last hour, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, came out against these tariffs, although it's unclear what the Republican- controlled Congress will do about these tariffs at the end of the day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of fear of retaliation and a potential trade war.

Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's talk more about the president's use of his pardon power.

CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett is with us.

Laura, this latest pardon again circumvented the Justice Department's office that deals with pardons, that normally handles these kinds of pardons. How unusual is that?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Both the process and the timing here, I think, are noteworthy. Wolf.

In the typical case, somebody submits a petition to the Justice Department either for a pardon or a commutation to try to reduce their sentence. The Justice Department has a whole office, the Office of the Pardon Attorney, that takes a look at it.

And then they make a recommendation to the White House. And, of course, the reason for this is so that the Justice Department can be an independent branch, making an assessment about things like dangerousness or recidivism.

And all of that has not happened in the most controversial pardons that we have seen from President Trump to date, either in the case of Sheriff Joe Arpaio or the one for D'Souza today.

Now, some obviously have speculated about the reasons for the president doing these pardons, perhaps signaling to some of his former associates that are caught up in the Russia investigation. But this is not without president -- precedent, I should say.

There is history for this. There's nothing in the Constitution that prevents him from doing this. And, of course, President Bill Clinton bypassed the Justice Department over 40 times when he was president.

BLITZER: You cover the Justice Department for us. But when the president issues a pardon suggests that the convicted felon, the convicted person was treated unfairly, do prosecutors over at the Justice Department feel like their authority, their credibility, their reputations are being undermined?

JARRETT: I think any time a pardon happens, a presidential executive clemency happens, it's sort of a slap in the face to the prosecutors that worked on it.

But at least in the typical case, they would get to weigh in and say whether this is somebody who has shown remorse. In these cases, they're not able to do that. And, in fact, the president has gone completely around the process.

And I think that's part of why you see former federal prosecutors like Preet Bharara saying this -- in this case, we did it by the book. And the president is allowed to do this under the Constitution, but we think we did it right.

BLITZER: I understand we're just getting into a new tally on how much the Russia investigation is costing taxpayers?

JARRETT: That's exactly right.

And we have seen the president tweeting about some $20 million number, saying it's a waste of time, it's a witch-hunt. But these new figures from the Justice Department today, when added with prior figures that they released in the past, Wolf, show that the cost is actually roughly around $17 million, more specifically, $16.7 million.

But it's important to break down how these costs are coming about, because, as we remember, the Russia investigation is not just Mueller alone. It actually started with an FBI counterintelligence investigation.

And so if you look at the figures, the spend to date from Mueller's office alone, his team is, $7.7 million, from last May, when he was appointed.

But there's also a $9 million amount here. And that's from other Justice Department or FBI personnel who don't report directly to Mueller, but have been tangentially related on other activities.

And so when you add those two together, you get to $16.7 million. But, of course, the president says it's all a big waste of money.

BLITZER: All right, well, good reporting on your part, Laura. Thank you very much.

JARRETT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Joining us now, Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, what's the message that the president is sending with this latest pardon? REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for your question.

Even though I'm a former prosecutor, I have sent a number of letters in support of commutations, clemency and pardons, because one of the things that makes us human is our capacity for forgiveness and mercy.

And that's why, when the president uses the pardon power, he needs to do that to vindicate those values. Instead, it looks like the president is abusing his pardon power, either for sheer political reasons, or to send a message to people under investigation, or because the defendant happened have high name identification.

BLITZER: But you don't deny, Congressman, that the president, according to the U.S. Constitution, has the authority to issue pardons?

[18:10:06]

LIEU: He absolutely has the authority to issue pardons.

But that's why we need to make sure that he does it in a way that vindicates the values of mercy and forgiveness, and not do it because he's trying to help people who happen to be celebrities or to do it for sheer political reasons.

That really debases those values that we hold dear as a society.

BLITZER: That's your interpretation, Congressman.

But let me read from the U.S. Constitution. "The president shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."

There's no reference to mercy or anything along those lines.

LIEU: No one is saying that the president doesn't have the power to pardon these people.

What some of us are saying is, it's inappropriate, because it looks like he's either pardoning people who have been convicted of similar crimes to which he and his associates are being investigated, such as perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice, or he's doing it for people who have high name identification or celebrities.

And that seems inappropriate.

BLITZER: The president tweeted that Dinesh D'Souza, whom be pardoned today, was, in his words -- 'was treated very unfairly by our government" -- close quote doubt.

What does that tell you?

LIEU: Well, it tells he didn't look at the facts of the case.

Dinesh D'Souza was convicted of violating our campaign finance laws. Those laws are put in place to make sure that we don't abuse the system, we don't have a flood of money coming in, we don't have straw donors.

That's actually some of the same crimes that Michael Cohen is now being investigated for. So that does seem troubling to me, that pardoning of Dinesh D'Souza.

BLITZER: What would you do, Congressman, if the president eventually were to pardon, let's say, Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, or Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, or Michael Cohen, his longtime personal attorney, who hasn't yet been charged with anything, although he's under criminal investigation?

LIEU: That's a great question, Wolf.

I think special counsel Mueller is very aware of that. So, in Michael Cohen's case, for example, his business partner has pled guilty to state crimes, which leads me to believe that Michael Cohen is potentially also liable for state crimes.

Those cannot be pardoned by the president.

Michael Flynn by now would have given most, if not all of the information that special counsel Mueller needs. So I think, if the pardons haven't happened already, it's probably too late to prevent special counsel Mueller from already getting the information from George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and Mr. Gates, who have already pled guilty for quite awhile.

BLITZER: CNN's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is reporting that President Trump pressured the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to un-recuse himself from the Russia investigation multiple occasions, in addition to that one time we knew earlier that occurred at Mar-a-Lago down in Florida, the president's resort there.

Legally, is there anything stopping the president from reinstating Sessions to oversee the Mueller investigation?

LIEU: In my view, that would be obstruction of justice. He would be doing it because he wants Jeff Sessions to protect him.

That is not the job of the attorney general. The job of the attorney general is to follow the Constitution, federal statutes and the regulations of the Department of Justice. And it's very clear Jeff Sessions has recused himself from these issues because of the conflicts of interest

That's why Robert Mueller is investigating this, because it looks like obstruction of justice--

(CROSSTALK)

LIEU: -- get Jeff Sessions. Yes.

BLITZER: Let me also get your reaction, Congressman, to "The New York Times"' reporting on Andrew McCabe. He's the fired number two over at the FBI. A memo he wrote on the firing of his boss, the FBI Director James Comey. The former FBI deputy director wrote in that memo that Rod Rosenstein, who currently oversees the Mueller investigation, the deputy attorney general, said that President Trump asked him -- asked him to reference the Russian investigation in his explanation of Comey's firing.

How important is that, do you believe, to understanding the president's motivation for the firing?

LIEU: So, it's not clear what that means, if that meant that Donald Trump wanted Rosenstein to reference that Comey said the president was not under investigation in the Russia investigation, or if he wanted him to say something more. It's ambiguous.

I think the most important thing is just to see what the president said in his own words. He went on national TV with Lester Holt and basically said he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.

And what's more important, he told the Russian ambassador he fired Comey because there was great pressure on him from the Russia investigation and he fired Comey to relieve that pressure. That's textbook obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks so much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: With a series of pardons, is President Trump living up to his promise to be a law and order president?

And comedian Samantha Bee now says she crossed a line when she used a very vulgar word to slam Ivanka Trump. After the Roseanne Barr scandal and the president's constant attacks, where should the line be drawn?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:19:47]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on President Trump's newest pardon other reprieves that may -- repeat -- may be in the works.

The president's critics venting fears that all of this is just a ramp- up for potential pardons related to the Russia investigation.

[18:20:01]

Let's bring in our legal and political experts.

And, Gloria, Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser, or Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, or Michael Cohen, his longtime lawyer, if they were pardoned, how would that be viewed, if you take a look at the five pardons he has done so far?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So, if I were Flynn or if I were -- who is the other person you were talking about?

BLITZER: Paul Manafort.

BORGER: Paul Manafort, right.

BLITZER: Or Michael Cohen.

BORGER: I would take a look at this and I would feel pretty good actually about it, because it's a clear signal that what the president is saying is, I treat my friends a lot better than I treat my enemies.

And what he did today and what he intends to do, if you believe him about Blagojevich and Martha Stewart, is that he's undoing big wins by people he considers to be his enemy. And he is willing to use whatever power he legitimately has to do that, bypassing normal procedure, I would add.

So I would feel pretty good if I were either of those folks today.

BLITZER: And the president publicly said today he's also considering some pardons for, as Gloria says, Martha Stewart, Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor.

You look at what they were prosecuted for and what they were convicted of, is he sending a message there to other folks?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, and by whom.

Remember, James Comey, as U.S. attorney in New York, his big win was against Martha Stewart. Pat Fitzgerald, who now represents James Comey in private practice, his big win was Rod Blagojevich.

So this is an opportunity to send a message that he takes care of his friends. But it's also an opportunity to settle some scores with people -- with people he doesn't like.

This is the president's right, but it's an example of how in so many areas the president has changed the norms, the expected level of behavior that we have associated with presidents. And the question is, will the Congress tolerate this?

I think clearly for the short-term they will. If a Democratic House comes in, then we will see.

BLITZER: David Swerdlick, the president ran as a law and order candidate.

But he doesn't seem to be trusting the law completely when he goes ahead with these kinds of pardons. These individuals were lawfully convicted.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Couple things, Wolf.

First of all, we're far enough into his presidency to know that President Trump doesn't feel obligated to stick to just about anything that he campaigned on. If it suits him, he's going to flip or go in another direction from what he said.

The other thing, as Jeffrey was saying, this is a triple whammy for him, right? He gets to look magnanimous. He gets to get the pass out party favors for famous people. He gets to road-test the idea of, well, let's see what happens if I pardon people.

And, Wolf, he also gets to say to his base, look, there's a sense of grievance. The justice system doesn't work, so I'm going to have to take matters into my own hands.

BLITZER: And, Kaitlan, you have been doing, as usual, some excellent reporting out.

Tell our viewers the latest you're hearing about the deputy attorney general and the efforts by the president to try to convince him to un- recuse himself.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

So, Jeff Sessions accused himself from over thing the Russia investigation last March. And since then, his relationship with the president has been less than good, I would say.

Just yesterday, he was saying he wished he picked someone else to be his attorney general. And we have now reported that the president actually pressured Jeff Sessions multiple times to overturn his recusal and go back to being in charge of the Russia investigation.

Clearly, Jeff Sessions declined those requests by the president, because he is still recused from overseeing the Russia investigation.

But this comes after "The New York Times" first reported that two days after the president -- after Jeff Sessions recused himself last March, he flew down to Mar-a-Lago and met with the president, where he first made that request, hey, overturn your decision to recuse yourself and go back to being in charge of the Russia investigation.

And "The New York Times" reported that is something that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is looking at. So we don't know for sure that the special counsel is looking into these multiple requests from the president for Jeff Sessions to overturn that recusal.

But from what we have seen so far, Mueller has known more than we have known about what is going on and what he is looking at. And this could be one of those things that he is looking at. And it could show us that -- what Mueller is looking to as far as obstruction with the president and his actions post-election, since he's been in office, could be much more widespread than we previously believed.

TOOBIN: But it's all the same story.

BORGER: Yes.

TOOBIN: It's all the president using his power to try to limit the investigation of him. The reason he's going to Jeff Sessions and saying, well, un-recuse yourself is not because he thinks it's good policy, is he wants Sessions to help him limit the Russia investigation. And that is evidence of obstruction.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And it's also a question, to talk about the pardon issue, is he dangling pardons in front of people right now so they behave, and so they don't cooperate with Mueller?

I mean, that's another question you have here.

BLITZER: All of a sudden, the president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is weighing in on efforts by some Republicans in Congress to get access to very sensitive documents in the Russia investigation.

[18:25:05]

I want you to watch for Steve Bannon told our own Fareed Zakaria. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: They refused to give these documents to Nunes.

I think now that Rosenstein ought to be -- I think he ought to be given a direct order, very simple. You turn every document associated with this spy over in Cambridge, and whatever foreign institution was involved, whether it's MI5, MI6, or anybody else, you give whatever the FBI did, you give whatever the CIA did.

You see Clapper and these guys on TV every night and Brennan. They're just bitter old men. You turn over every document. And if he doesn't turn over, you give him 24 hours. He doesn't turned over, I would fire him.

And that's not obstruction of justice. That's giving a law enforcement officer a direct order to turn over documents to Capitol Hill. And if he doesn't do it, I would fire him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: This is exactly the plan.

I think Bannon is right on here. They keep asking Rosenstein to do things that they know are inappropriate. There is a longstanding policy that the Justice Department does not turn over to Congress records of ongoing investigations.

That is something Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress because he refused to do this. But they want to keep pushing Rosenstein and pushing Rosenstein, until he says no, so then they can fire him, and then they can install someone who will bring the hammer down on Mueller.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Or Rosenstein quits.

TOOBIN: Or Rosenstein -- either way, either way, Trump wins.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: And we should note that Steve Bannon obviously left the White House on very poor terms with the president. He was pushed out.

And then he made all those comments about Donald Trump Jr. He and the president -- and then the White House issued a very blistering statement on Steve Bannon.

Steve Bannon the president are not speaking. So, this is Steve Bannon's way of communicating to the president what he thinks he should do and his way potentially of trying to get back on President Trump's good side.

BLITZER: You can see, by the way, all of Fareed Zakaria's interview with Steve Bannon in a special report tomorrow night here on CNN 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Just ahead: Michael Cohen caught on tape making threats to protect Mr. Trump before he was president.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: I'm warning you, tread very (EXPLETIVE DELETED) lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is (EXPLETIVE DELETED) disgusting.

Do you understand me? Don't think you're going to hide behind your pen, because it's not going to happen.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, comedienne Samantha Bee is apologizing for a very vulgar, disgusting remark about Ivanka Trump on her TV show, "Full Frontal."

[18:32:13] The comment and the backlash are getting added attention after Roseanne Barr's racist tweets and the cancellation of her TV show.

Let's go back to our experts. We should note, by the way, that Samantha Bee's show airs on TBS, which is owned by CNN's parent company, Time Warner.

And Kaitlan, Samantha Bee did issue an apology. I'll read it to you and to our viewers. "I would like to sincerely apologize to Ivanka Trump and to my viewers for using an expletive on my show to describe her last night. It was inappropriate, inexcusable. I crossed the line, and I deeply regret it."

TBS issued its own apology: "Samantha Bee has taken the right action in apologizing for the vile and inappropriate language used about Ivanka Trump last night. Those words should not have been aired. It was our mistake, too, and we regret it."

So what is the White House saying about this?

COLLINS: Well, the White House is hot on this story all day, saying they wanted it to get as much coverage as the Roseanne coverage was getting. Of course, that was a remark that they did not initially condemn, instead saying that the president was not focused on that. Though Sarah Sanders later did say that they believed that was poor language that Roseanne used.

But so they issued a statement today about Samantha Bee, saying that what she said was vile and vicious. But then they went on to say that "The collective silence by the left and its media allies is appalling." They said, "Her disgusting comments and show are not fit for broadcast," and then they called on Time Warner and TBS to demonstrate, quote, "that such explicit profanity about female members of this administration will not be condoned on its network."

So the White House was quite outraged about this. They wanted that. I should note that there was plenty of coverage surrounding this remark. I mean, we are talking about it right now on national television. So I don't think that that was a fitting comment from the White House that it wasn't being covered, because I did think it got a lot of air time.

But we should also note the White House is so outraged about this remark. But this is a president who has also used vulgar language a lot of the time, certainly in private, even in public. He once called Ted Cruz a word that I cannot say, because my grandmother is probably watching. And he said it at a campaign rally in New Hampshire with a microphone. And a roomful of children, and women, and adults, people listening to the president.

So this is a president who has used vulgar language in the past. But the White House certainly was happy to really seize on this comment, to also be outraged about it and demand that it get as much coverage as the Roseanne stuff.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Brian Stelter, our senior media correspondent, the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES."

The president was tweeting about Roseanne Barr once again this morning. He tweeted this. Let me read it to viewers. "Iger" -- referring to Bob Iger, who's the CEO of Disney -- "where is my call of apology when you and ABC have offended millions of people and demand a response. How is Brian Ross doing? He tanked the market with an ABC lie. Yet no apology. Double standard."

So what stood out to you about all of that, Brian?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was fact- challenged. When Brian Ross made a big mistake last year, he was suspended. He was reassigned, and ABC did apologize.

[18:35:04] But President Trump is making the Roseanne Barr story about himself, tapping into a really potent strain of grievance politics. We've heard that from White House aides, as well. As Kaitlan was just saying, the White House wants this to be about media bias more broadly, what the White House sees as a media double standard, where comedians who are on the liberal side get off easy compared to conservatives.

It's the same idea that is heard all across FOX News on the president's favorite shows, and it's a very powerful feeling of resentment among his base.

I think -- we talked about Roseanne Barr, Samantha Bee. We have to separate these. Each case is different; each case is unique. But there's an old line that comes to mind that applies to all of this. Be soft on the people; be hard on the ideas. You know, that applies to Ivanka Trump, Sam Bee, everybody. You can -- you can hate the president's immigration policy. You can want to criticize Ivanka Trump for it. But be soft on the people; don't go calling them names. Be hard on the ideas.

I think -- I wish we could all apply that in these situations, and clearly, Samantha Bee did not today. Whatever she was trying to do, I guess going for shock value, it backfired big time.

BLITZER: Is there pressure on TBS right now, Brian, to cancel Samantha Bee's show?

STELTER: Well, we are seeing a few advertisers saying they don't want to be a part of the show any more. They don't want their ads running. So that is significant. We'll see if that advertiser boycott gains more momentum or if it fades away.

The show is only on once a week. So that might give TBS some breathing room.

I do think we should mention the White House's response to this is concerning, as well. Yes, Samantha Bee was out of line, but whenever any White House, any administration starts talking about wanting a show cancelled -- you know, Sarah Sanders came almost to that. She came very close to saying that today. That's always concerning, because it can always have a chilling effect on free speech.

BLITZER: You think, David Swerdlick, it's fair to compare Samantha Bee, what she said, to Roseanne Barr and what she tweeted?

SWERDLICK: I agree with Brian that each case is different. I do think it's fair to talk about them in the same conversation, Wolf, because they both involve using cheap sexism and racism to score points. I think the difference with Samantha Bee is this. One, she apologized

and her apology seems sincere. And this seems out of character for her, versus Roseanne Barr's apology struck me as totally insincere, and this was the last straw in a long line of offensive comments she mad.

The other thing that I think is different in this case, Wolf, is that when you talk about Roseanne Barr, her tweets and her comments were trafficking in generations-old just demeaning tropes about African- Americans and Jewish Americans that have gained traction during the last recent years in politics. And that's something that can't be overlooked.

BLITZER: Gloria, and then Jeffrey. Go ahead.

BORGER: Look, I think they're both terrible. I mean, you know, Samantha -- Samantha Bee was full of hate for Ivanka Trump. And Roseanne Barr was racist. I mean, I -- you know, they're -- they're both awful. And I just don't know any other way to describe it.

TOOBIN: I agree. And you can, you know, draw fine distinctions between outright racism and sort of vulgarity, which is sort of where the Samantha Bee comment comes in. But there is no defending what she did. The only question is what's the appropriate remedy?

I don't think -- I mean, I don't run a television network, God knows -- but I don't think it's a firing offense, but it is certainly one that can't be defended and no one is defending it.

COLLINS: But I think people should just stop saying horrible things, and then you don't have to apologize and have this cycle. Samantha Bee knew when she said that that there was going to be a reaction like this. I don't know what she was thinking.

BORGER: And it was on tape, by the way.

COLLINS: Yes. Scripted, on tape. This isn't any surprise to her. I don't have a lot of sympathy for her. Like, she's not shocked by this. Same with Roseanne. She's a public figure. You can't tweet something like that.

BLITZER: All right, guys. There's more news we're following. We're getting a stunning new taste of Michael Cohen's role as Donald Trump's fixer. We're going to share some recordings of the president's longtime personal lawyer, threatening a news organization over a 2015 report about Mr. Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER (via phone): You write a story that has Mr. Trump's name in it with the word 'rape' and I'll mess your life up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:43:41] BLITZER: Tonight, Michael Cohen's bareknuckle tactics in defense of Donald Trump captured on recordings that have just been made public. The president's lawyer going after a news organization back in 2015 with legal threats and rather foul language.

Our national correspondent, Brynn Gingras, is joining us right now. Brynn, tell us more about these recordings.

GINGRAS: Yes, Wolf. This is why this is significant. This is the first time we are hearing Michael Cohen's voice on tape making threats, as it -- as it's been widely reported he would often do as the president's personal attorney.

But let me give you some context. This was a recording from a July 2015 call between Cohen and Tim Mack, who was a "Daily Beast" reporter at the time, now currently with NPR. And Mack, who I spoke with today on the phone, said he recorded the conversation. He said the decision to release this audio today came after discussions in NPR's newsroom about Cohen's pattern of threats.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN (via phone): You run this story with Trump's name with the word "rape," and I'll mess your life up, for the rest, for as long as you're on this frigging planet. I'm going to turn around, and you're going to have judgements against you for so much money, you'll never know how to get from underneath it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRAS: All right. What's that threat about? In 2015, Mack reached out to Cohen for comment on a story "The Daily Beast" was running about a rape accusation Ivana Trump made in divorce proceedings about Donald Trump. She later walked back this claim. And after the "Daily Beast" story was published, Ivana told CNN the story was without merit.

On the recording, though, you hear Cohen speaking as an employee of the Trump Organization, telling Mack you could not legally rape your spouse, a comment he ultimately apologized for making.

[18:45:00]

Now, there's seven minutes of audio that were published today by NPR. Mak said he can't remember how long the conversation lasted but characterized it as starting off reasonable and escalating. Something referenced in the recording. Here's some more.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: I am warning you, tread very (EXPLETIVE DELETED) lightly because what I'm going to do will be disgusting. Do you understand me? Don't think you're going to hide behind your pen because you're not. (END VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRAS: Mak says neither Cohen nor his attorneys have responded for comment to this audio being released today. But back in 2015, Cohen characterized his words as inarticulate, and saying Mak's questions sent him into a tail spin. Now, we also reached out to Michael Cohen for comment today, but we haven't heard back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brynn, thank you. Brynn Gingras in New York.

There's more breaking news tonight: America's top diplomat says real progress has been made in the last 72 hours for reviving the U.S., North Korea summit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meeting with Kim Jong-un's former right hand man and former spy chief in New York City. Kim Yong-chol is expected to deliver a letter from North Korea's dictator to President Trump at the White House tomorrow.

Let's go to our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski. She's joining us from New York.

Michelle, so, where do things stand right now?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these talks were to determine whether a Trump/Kim summit could be possible. But it's still unclear whether it is.

Today, Pompeo said that there were some progress made in setting the conditions for such a discussion. But we don't really know the outcome of that. He wouldn't really go any further into detail. So, whether it will happen or not I guess we'll know in coming days.

Also, the U.S. is looking for some big gesture towards denuclearization by North Korea as part of a Trump/Kim summit. But all that Secretary of State Pompeo could say is that North Korea was contemplating a shift in strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Kim Jong-un's right-hand man after two days of meetings with Secretary of State Pompeo in New York will now head for the White House. Tomorrow, they'll hand deliver a letter from Kim Jong-un to President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A letter will be delivered to me from Kim Jong-un, so I look forward to seeing what's in the letter, but it's very important to them.

KOSINSKI: This as Pompeo met with North Korea's vice chairman, Kim Yong-chol, attempting to seal the deal for a Trump-Kim summit which today he still called a proposed summit, and trying to convince North Korea that it's more secure without nuclear weapons. All in today's meeting that ended two hours before it was scheduled to. The State Department says that's because it went so well.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The conditions are, putting President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un in a place where we think there could be real progress made by the two meeting. It does no good if we're in a place where we don't think there's real opportunity to place them together. We made real progress towards that in the last 72 hours.

KOSINSKI: But Pompeo gave no detail on whether the Trump/Kim summit will happen or when we will know that, or how much the North Koreans are willing to give up, insisting that the U.S. demands complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.

POMPEO: I believe they are contemplating a path forward where they can make a strategic shift, one that their country has not been prepared to make before. This is going to be a process that will take days and weeks to work our way through.

KOSINSKI: Kim Yong-chol arrived last night to New York, his first ever trip to the United States. And photos released by the State Department, Secretary Pompeo showed him the skyline and exchanged pleasantries over a dinner of American steak.

But the other stakes, as in all that could be gained or lost were also sky high, the goals broad. The U.S. wants to see the North Koreans do something historic, something they have never done before to show they are serious about denuclearization and commit to it before meeting with Trump. That could mean giving up some of their nuclear arsenal or ballistic missile program.

JUNG PAK, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think Kim Yong-chol is going to dangle just enough in front of Secretary Pompeo so that Pompeo can return to Trump and say that everything is fine and that the summit can go ahead.

KOSINSKI: Also in Pyongyang today, meeting with Kim Jong-un, the Russian foreign minister, who said denuclearization should be phased in with sanctions starting to be lifted for North Korea, the opposite of the plan the U.S. wants. It's not clear how much Kim will budge on that as he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for standing up to, quote, U.S. domination.

[18:50:02] But, both Trump and Pompeo say meetings have been going well, things progressing.

The president is still hedging.

TRUMP: It's all a process. We'll see. And hopefully, we'll have a meeting on the 12th, that's going along very well. But I want it to be meaningful. It doesn't mean it gets all done at one meeting, maybe you have to have a second or third, and maybe we'll have none. But it's in good hands, that I can tell you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: It doesn't seem at this point that the U.S. has gotten a solid commitment from North Korea towards denuclearization. And Secretary Pompeo said today there's still a great deal of work to be done, Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski reporting for us -- thank you.

Just ahead: Will the House Intelligence Committee chairman lose his seat in Congress? We'll have the latest on his primary battle and the backlash for his defense of President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:32] BLITZER: Tonight, Congressman Devin Nunes is out with a new fund-raising letter, claiming he's being targeted for exposing scandals and cover-ups in the Obama administration. The House Intelligence Committee chairman now potentially at risk of losing his seat after his controversial moves to defend the president in the Russia investigation.

CNN's Nick Watt joins us from Central California right now.

Nick, Nunes faced a crowded field of challengers. He faces a crowded field in next week's primary.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. So he has five challengers in that primary Tuesday. The way it works here in California is the top two vote-getters then get their names on the November ballot.

But Tuesday for the first time in a long time, one of those challengers really might just have a chance at a major upset.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATT (voice-over): California's Central Valley is deep red farm country and a long-time lock for Devin Nunes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like his values. I like the way he's represented Central California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That one just had a calf. So, they move from this pen as they get close. This is the maternity area --

WATT: The son of the soil, third-generation dairy farmer. In 2010, Nunes ran unopposed. In 2016, he pummeled his Democratic opponent by 35 points.

But there are now small weekly demonstrations outside his often empty district office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A congressman who has no interest in serving the seniors.

WATT: And three billboards outside Fresno funded by fight back California, a PAC cofounded by former Democratic Californian Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher.

ELLEN TAUSCHER (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Lots of people are upset that he is, as they said, in the local paper, Trump's stooge, spends most of his time playing Inspector Clouseau back in Washington. WATT: Where he chairs the House Intelligence Committee that released

a report from the panel's GOP members disputing the intelligence community's assessment that Russia tried to help elect Donald Trump.

Recently, Nunes also issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for documents about a confidential FBI source that the president falsely claims infiltrated his campaign.

TRUMP: A very courageous man. He's courageous. Congressman Devin Nunes.

TAUSCHER: I think that Mr. Nunes can be beaten.

WATT: Here's his most likely challenger.

ANDREW JANZ (D), CALIFORNIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Devin Nunes, I believe, wholeheartedly, is a threat to our national security.

WATT: Andrew Janz, prosecutor, Democrat, political rookie who's raised more than $1.8 million for his campaign, nearly half a million since April 1st.

(on camera): Does Andrew Janz have a snowball's chance in hell?

TAD WEBER, FRESNO BEE EDITORIAL PAGE: Maybe what's most important is the voter registration. So, 42 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat, 20 percent decline to state. Now, maybe in that third group, Janz can pull some votes.

WATT: Yes, Andrew Janz is talking about education, veterans' affairs, health, and water here deep in farm country. But here in his campaign office in Visalia, it is very obvious what the number one focus is of this campaign.

JANTZ: He's forgotten us. He hasn't held a town hall since 2010, a real town hall.

WATT (voice-over): Nunes disputes that. Janz slams him on Russia.

JANTZ: I don't know if he himself has some potential liability or if it's out of some misguided attempt to protect the president of the United States.

WATT: It's just possible Robert Mueller's report into Russian election meddling might provide California's 22nd district with an October surprise.

WEBER: Are there going to be findings, how might that reflect on Devin Nunes?

WATT (on camera): If he delivers it before November, it could have a huge impact on this race?

WEBER: It could, because Devin has been a staunch supporter of the president, highly critical of Robert Mueller.

WATT: If you were a betting man, Nunes would win?

WEBER: Yes, today. Standing here today, Nick. But we're a long way, right? You know this. We're a long way from here to November.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: Now, we reached out to the Nunes campaign for comment or an interview. We have not heard back. Tuesday is going to be very interesting, because there hasn't been any reliable polling here in the 22nd district. So, it's going to be the first indication we really get as to whether this race is going to be tight and whether Devin Nunes really is in danger -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll watch it very closely with you, Nick. Thanks very much. Nick Watt reporting.

That's it from me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.