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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Florida Congressman Ted Yoho; Interview With California Congressman Ted Lieu; Deadly Duck Boat Accident; FBI Obtains Recording Between Trump and Cohen; Michael Cohen's Attorney Says Newly Revealed Recording Will Not Hurt His Client; GOP Rep. Sanford: I Met Accused Russian Agent Maria Butina; 17 Dead After Duck Boat Sinks Including Nine Members of One Family. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 20, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:04]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Not good for Trump. A source with knowledge of Cohen's case suggests this newly revealed recording could be damaging to the president. We're getting new information about what was said and why it might spell trouble for the president.

Sex, guns and lies, that's how prosecutor say an alleged Kremlin secret agent infiltrated American politics, getting close to Trump allies and other Republicans. A GOP congressman now confirmed to CNN that he had an encounter with Maria Butina.

And 17 dead. Disaster strikes a duck boat ride in a popular vacation spot, with children and families on board. The boat company says a severe storm came out of nowhere. But could there have been a way to escape?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, President Trump caught on tape by his longtime fixer.

We're told that Michael Cohen recorded multiple conversations with Mr. Trump, including a discussion of a payoff to a former Playboy model to keep quiet about their alleged affair.

One source tells CNN that Mr. Trump learned about this. Once he learned about it, he said -- and I'm quoting now -- "I can't believe Michael would do this to me."

What a way to end the week dominated by the Putin summit disaster and many awkward attempts by the White House at damage control.

I will get reaction from two members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats Ted Lieu and Republican Ted Yoho. And our correspondence and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our national correspondent, Athena Jones. Athena, these recordings of the president were seized in the FBI raid on Michael Cohen.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. That's right.

The FBI seized these recordings back in April as part of a federal criminal investigation into Cohen's business dealings. The existence of these tapes apparently came as a surprise, as you mentioned, to President Trump and to Karen McDougal, who said she had a nearly year- long affair with Trump more than a decade ago, which he denies.

McDougal's personal lawyer tweeted praise for the MSM, which means mainstream media, for -- quote -- "keeping us all informed" on this story.

And this news today comes after Cohen tweeted last night, interestingly, about the importance of the free press.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): Tonight, the stunning revelation that Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney, secretly recorded conversations between them, and not just once, a source familiar telling CNN, when informed of one of the tapes, Trump said -- quote -- "I can't believe Michael would do this to me.

Trump's current attorney Rudy Giuliani tells CNN one of the conversations, which took place two months before the 2016 presidential election in the then candidate's Trump Tower office, was about payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006, an affair Trump denies.

KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY PLAYMATE: We were together 10 months before I chose to end it. So we saw each other quite frequently.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, dozens of times, you were together?

MCDOUGAL: Many dozens of times, yes.

COOPER: And were intimate?

MCDOUGAL: Yes.

JONES: Giuliani told "The New York Times" that, in the tape, Trump advises Cohen to pay McDougal by check if he does pay her so that there is a record. Giuliani said the payment was ultimately never made and the tape shows Trump did nothing wrong.

In the end, McDougal reached a separate $150,000 deal for her story with American Media, Inc., the parent company of "The National Enquirer," before the election.

AMI, whose chief, David Pecker, is a close friend of Trump's, never ran the story. McDougal has accused Cohen of secretly taking part in the AMI deal.

Trump's campaign denied any knowledge of the AMI deal in a November 2016 "Wall Street Journal" report on the agreement.

The FBI seized the McDougal tape and others during an April raid of Cohen's office, part of the Southern District of New York's criminal investigation into his business dealings, including the $130,000 payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election to keep her quiet an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump that Trump also denies.

COOPER: And you sex with him?

STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: Yes.

COOPER: You were 27. He was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?

DANIELS: No.

COOPER: Not at all?

DANIELS: No.

JONES: Prosecutors are looking into whether those activities violated federal campaign finance laws, among other things.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The closer it gets to the election, that raises a bigger question about whether it was some type of loan to the campaign to help affect his chances in the election.

JONES: The secret recordings may provide an answer to one of the biggest questions facing the president. Just what does Cohen have on him?

Trump's former fixer...

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: I protect Mr. Trump.

JONES: ... has sent signals in recent weeks that he is willing to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, although it is not clear what kind of evidence Cohen will be able to provide in that probe.

According to Giuliani, the McDougal tape is the only one of true substance and Trump's attorneys do not believe is a problem for the president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:05:12]

JONES: Now, Wolf, the president's lawyers are saying there's really nothing to see here.

Another source is saying this McDougal-related recording is not good for the president. And there are multiple parties interested in what could be on the tapes. One of them is Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, who is

suing both Cohen and Trump -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Athena, thank you very much.

We're getting the first reaction from Michael Cohen's attorney to the breaking news about Cohen's recordings of President Trump.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, who has been doing a lot of reporting on this.

What are you hearing from Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Here's what he says in a statement to us, Wolf.

"Obviously, there is an ongoing investigation, and we are sensitive to that, but suffice it to say that when the recording that has been widely reported is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen. And any attempt to spin cannot change what is on the tape."

BLITZER: So, where's this moving?

Now, you're getting a lot of indications from various sources on the Trump side, on the Michael Cohen side. Where is this headed?

BORGER: I think it's headed at some point that we're going to see what's on the tape or hear what's on the tape. I mean, there are privilege matters, et cetera.

But what we have here is the tale of the tape with two sides, one saying that -- Rudy Giuliani saying it's exculpatory, that it helps his client, that it proves he did the right thing, that he wanted Michael Cohen to write a check.

And Michael Cohen's new attorney making it clear that this is not bad for Michael Cohen. And then I spoke with another source today who said that, in fact, it's not good for the president.

So the president's attorneys have always indicated that they believe that there is nothing that Michael Cohen has that would be bad for the president. But we have no way -- we have no way of knowing at this point.

We have not looked over those documents. There are privileged documents that we cannot see. So this is going to have to play out.

And, of course, Michael Avenatti, who wants -- is an enemy of Mr. Trump, is now -- seems to be befriending Michael Cohen to a degree, under the theory that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So we will have to kind of see how this goes.

BLITZER: Yes, he's Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti.

BORGER: Yes. BLITZER: It's interesting. Giuliani himself says on this -- that on

the recording the president, then the president-elect, told Michael Cohen write a check -- it was $150,000 that Karen McDougal received -- not cash.

The words not cash suggest that maybe there have been other deals where they used cash.

BORGER: Well, you could read that into it.

Nothing was paid, apparently, according to Giuliani, so we don't -- we don't know. But according to Rudy Giuliani, what this means is that the president wanted an accounting of it, so that it would not be hidden.

I mean, obviously, cash hides things. So it could be your interpretation. It could be Rudy Giuliani's more benign interpretation. He's doing his job. He's trying to defend the president. And now Lanny Davis has spoken out, because he's trying to defend Michael Cohen.

BLITZER: Yes, we're getting a lot of different versions of this right now.

BORGER: Yes, we are.

BLITZER: Good reporting, Gloria. Thank you.

BORGER: Happy Friday.

BLITZER: Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Also tonight, the president is at his golf club in New Jersey, apparently feeling betrayed by his former lawyer who once touted his loyalty to Mr. Trump.

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

Jim, both of us, we were in Helsinki for that Putin summit on Monday. It seems like a long, long time ago.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does.

BLITZER: We now know that what went on there up is requiring a lot of reporting.

First of all, what reaction, if any, are you getting from the White House?

ACOSTA: Silence, Wolf, a lot of silence. The president did not speak as he left the White House for New Jersey earlier this afternoon.

There was no briefing held by the White House press secretary. The White House's eerily quiet this evening, Wolf, once again silenced by news that has overwhelmed the administration's message.

And just when you thought that this week would end with more cleanup over the president's summit with Vladimir Putin, a very different kind of encounter has come back to haunt Mr. Trump, and there are recordings.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): In this recording of the president leaving the White House, there is only silence, as he declined to comment on the bombshell that his former personal attorney Michael Cohen recorded Mr. Trump discussing a payment to Playboy model Kevin McDougal aimed at covering up an alleged affair.

MCDOUGAL: I'm not a liar. I am perceived as a liar or this and that, all these bad names. I did what I did.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the Cohen tape?

ACOSTA: For a president who often boasts he likes to make recordings of his adversaries, it could be the ultimate irony.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fortunately, we tend to record stories now, so we have it for your enjoyment, if you would like it.

[18:10:03]

ACOSTA: Attorney Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, who has also alleged an affair with the president, believes there are more Cohen tapes covering a range of subjects.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: And I will tell you for a fact there's more than one, there's multiple recordings. And all of them should be released for the benefit of the American public. The problem for the president is, he's got multiple problems relating to his relationship with Michael Cohen, but a very big problem is that Michael Cohen will go down as one of the world's great evidence hoarders over the years.

ACOSTA: Another surprise development involving Cohen, Avenatti said he ran into the president's former personal attorney at a New York City restaurant Monday night and had a lengthy and productive conversation.

It's the latest sign Cohen may be willing to turn against the president, who once complained the FBI raid on his former lawyer was an attack.

TRUMP: An attack on our country in a true sense. It's an attack on what we all stand for. So when I saw this and when I heard it -- I heard it like you did -- I said, that is really now in a whole new level of unfairness.

ACOSTA: The latest twist in the Cohen saga comes as the White House is still cleaning up after the president's disastrous summit with Vladimir Putin.

Now the president wants a second rendezvous at the White House, a prospect top administration officials are cheering on.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm happy that the two leaders of two very important countries are continuing to meet. And if that meeting takes place in Washington, I think it's all -- all to the good. Those conversations are incredibly important.

ACOSTA: Other Republicans in Washington aren't so thrilled.

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Say that again.

(LAUGHTER)

COATS: That's going to be special.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: Besides the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who seemed floored by the news that the president would invite Putin to Washington, GOP lawmakers are worried Mr. Trump could be played again.

REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: I have seen the Russian intelligence manipulate many people in my career. And I never would have thought the U.S. president would be -- would be one of them. So it's disappointing.

ACOSTA: Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who worked on the president's transition, was just as candid.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The setup to Helsinki, I think candidly, was a disaster. So you had the president of the United States really crossing Europe, insulting many of our allies and a little bit rude. My mother used to say rude is a very poor imitation of strength.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, some White House staffers are angry with Dan Coats for being a bit too frank about his feelings regarding the Helsinki summit.

But supporters of the director of national intelligence insists Coats is exactly who the president needs on his team, somebody who is able to be honest with Mr. Trump, even when he doesn't want to hear it.

And, Wolf, as for the Michael Cohen saga, we should point out the first lady's office has put out a statement on behalf of Mrs. Trump. We can put that up on screen.

It is a very brief statement. It says: "Mrs. Trump remains focused on her role as a mother and as first lady of the United States. We will have no further comment on the topic."

Wolf, we should point out the first lady did travel up to Bedminster for this weekend without the president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: President now separately flew up on Air Force One. That's in New Jersey as well.

Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Also breaking tonight, we're learning that Robert Mueller's team wants to talk to the woman known as the Manhattan Madam.

Our national politics reporter, M.J. Lee, is here.

M.J., give us the details.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

We are learning that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has reached out to the lawyer for Kristin Davis. This is a woman that the public might better know as the Manhattan Madam. She, you might remember, ran a prostitution ring in New York City, and she actually ended up going to jail at the part of the scandal involving former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Now, if there is a subpoena that Robert Mueller is going to hand down to Kristin Davis, we are told that that has not yet happened. This is the statement that we got from her lawyer, Daniel Hochheiser.

He says: "If the special counsel subpoenas her, I will be representing her." But, again, he said that a subpoena has not yet been received.

Now, at this point in time, we do not know why Robert Mueller might be interested in speaking to this woman. But we do know that Kristin Davis is good friends with Roger Stone, the former Trump campaign aid. They have known each other for a very long time.

And, in fact, Roger Stone is the godfather to Kristin Davis' child, and she has done work for Roger Stone, including, we are told, clerical work and work involving his Web site.

Now, just a few minutes ago, Wolf, we did get a statement from a spokesperson for Kristin Davis. Let me just read it out loud.

It says: "Kristin Davis and Roger Stone are very good friends. And she has worked on and off for him for the last 10 years. Roger is the godfather to her son. She is currently in the cosmetology business and she knows nothing whatsoever about Russia collusion with the 2016 election."

So, Wolf, you can see there she's very much trying to get ahead of the story and plainly saying, I know about Russia collusion.

[18:15:02]

BLITZER: An intriguing development in this investigation.

LEE: Very intriguing.

BLITZER: M.J., thank you very, very much.

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

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

And let's get to some of our big stories, first of all, the recordings of then candidate Donald Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen, and now in the possession of the FBI. Those tapes include conversations between the two men about payment to a former Playboy model who had an alleged 2006 affair with Donald Trump.

How much trouble might this be for the president?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for your question,

I'm a former prosecutor. And the large payment to silence Karen McDougal during the middle of a presidential campaign looks like a felony violation of the campaign finance laws. That's one reason Congresswoman Kathleen Rice and I wrote a letter to the FBI earlier this year asking for an investigation.

And what these Cohen tapes establish, at a minimum, is that Donald Trump now knew about the payment. So, depending on what he says in those tapes, he himself could also be guilty of a felony violation of the campaign finance laws.

BLITZER: Yes, being an in-kind campaign contribution not reported to the FEC. That could be a problem.

Let's talk about the White House preparations under way right now for yet another summit with Vladimir Putin in the fall at the White House, despite the widespread backlash to his first meeting with Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

Should that meeting, the second meeting, Congressman, go forward?

LIEU: Not at all.

I'm also a veteran. I previously served on active duty. I never imagined our U.S. commander in chief would deliver the talking points of the Kremlin. And for Vladimir Putin to not acknowledge that he ordered the Russian military to attack American elections in 2016, and then have him step onto U.S. soil is embarrassing. It's disgraceful.

That meeting should not occur until the Kremlin acknowledges what they did to America.

BLITZER: According to a top Microsoft executive, Congressman, three candidates, three political candidates in the 2018 midterm election campaigns, they have already been targeted, we're now told, by the same Russian hackers, the military hackers who attacked the Democratic National Committee back in 2016.

What kind of message would it send if President Trump were to invite Putin to the White House as the Russian government is still actively engaged, we're now told, in these cyber-attacks against the American electoral system?

LIEU: So, I have no problem with the U.S. having better relations with other countries. The problem is, if we don't hold Russia accountable for their attack on U.S. elections in 2016, it invites them to do it again, and to keep on doing it.

That's the message Donald Trump is sending to Putin. And it also doesn't surprise me that the Russians would attack congressional races. I'm a vice chair of the DCCC. We knew that, in addition to the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was also attacked in 2016 as well.

So the Russians have a very sophisticated, large-scale, ongoing, pervasive influence campaign on United States democracy. There is no way Vladimir Putin should be coming this fall. And if he does, I'm going to be marching in protest with many other people against him.

BLITZER: Sources tell CNN, Congressman, that some in President Trump's inner circle are very worried right now that the Helsinki summit will embolden the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as he continues to pursue -- pursue an interview, sit-down interview with the president.

Do you believe President Trump's performance with Putin strengthened Mueller's hand?

LIEU: Absolutely.

I think it makes it much harder now for the president to try to fire Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It really makes you wonder, what does Putin have on Trump, when we watched Donald Trump's words and statements at the Helsinki summit?

And this not just coming from me. It's coming from Republicans. We saw this amazing op-ed in "New York Times" written by Republican Congressman Will Hurd, who basically said that he's a CIA agent, and he has seen people be manipulated. And he believes the president of United States is being manipulated by Putin.

BLITZER: Yes, Will Hurd, before joining -- becoming a congressman, was a CIA officer, a clandestine officer. A very strong article he wrote, indeed.

Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, I will talk about the prospects of a second Trump-Putin summit here in Washington after the backlash surrounding their talks in Helsinki.

Republican Congressman Ted Yoho -- there you see him -- he's standing by live. We will get his views right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:24:08]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on Michael Cohen's secret recordings of President Trump, this as the president continues to deal with the backlash from his summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and his invitation to the Kremlin leader to come to Washington for a visit to the White House in the fall.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Ted Lieu (sic) of Florida. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Ted Yoho, I should say.

REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: No problem.

BLITZER: I'm sorry. I had Ted Lieu earlier, Ted Yoho right now, Congressman Ted Yoho.

Sorry for the confusion. Thanks so much for joining us.

YOHO: He's the better-looking one, I know.

BLITZER: There's two Teds.

All right. Let's talk a little bit about the news that's coming in today.

YOHO: Sure.

BLITZER: Do you believe Michael Cohen does have information on those tapes that potentially could seriously damage the president?

YOHO: I believe he has information on those tapes.

[18:25:01]

Right now, it's all hypothetical and innuendoes. We don't know what's out there. There's a lot of conjecture. So let's wait until we see what's on those before we go down different rabbit holes.

BLITZER: That's a fair point.

Let's move on and talk about the president's summit in Helsinki with Putin. Should the next summit that the White House now says the invitation has gone forward to Putin to come to Washington, come to the White House in the fall, should that go forward, even if we don't know, the American public doesn't really know what happened during that first meeting?

YOHO: All right, I'm not so concerned what happened in there. I mean, a lot of times, these leaders meet and they discuss things that doesn't go public initially. We will find out later.

The thing I'm concerned about, and this -- I came out publicly and said that Russia did intervene in -- or interfere in our election process. That is not tolerable. And I think, with what you reported earlier, and what we have seen with these three other candidates being already hacked this year, if indeed this does go back to Russians that are in the Russian military or government, absolutely not.

I don't think we should invite President Putin over here at this time.

I do agree that we should have relationships with all leaders of all nations. But if -- something like this so soon after the election of president -- of the last election, and Russian meddling is still going on, I think we need to bring an end to it and send a strong signal.

BLITZER: Yes, because even the top intelligence officials, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director and now the secretary of state, Christopher Wray, the FBI director, they say, not only did the Russians do it in 2016, but they're continuing to do it now, and they're gearing up for the midterm elections in November.

So, what I hear you saying is, if they are right, that this meeting should not go forward, the second summit. Is that right, Congressman?

YOHO: Yes, I would have to be leaning to that side.

And I think more sanctions going -- need to go forward. But keep in mind, they have been meddling with us for 70, 80 years, and they are going to continue to do that. If it's not the Russians, it's going to be the Chinese or the North Koreans or another state actor.

This is something we have to come together as Americans and protect our constitutional republic and the democratic process that we use to elect our leaders.

This is off-limits for all nations. And that's why I just introduced -- or actually just passed on the Foreign Affairs Committee the cyber- security deterrence act. And it ties in with Ed Royce's bill on cyber-security. And they're going to be fast-tracked through the House, so that we get this into law, so these other nations don't mess with us, because these are what we're going to do.

And so it's a very timely time to do this.

BLITZER: Here's what a lot of Democrats are asking. If you're that concerned about cyber-security, why did you vote, why did the Republicans vote against that legislation that would beef up with a lot of money cyber-security?

YOHO: Because they had some other stuff that were in there that weren't pertinent, and it was just a messaging bill on their side.

Ours is a bipartisan bill. It's passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously, Republicans and Democrats. And we have got support in the Senate.

And this is something that is the way legislation should be done, instead of just putting out messaging bills that it sounds good on the face value, but when you get into the bill, it doesn't really do what it was meant to do.

So that's why I voted against that.

BLITZER: Let's -- let me read to you a portion of an op-ed, an article that was written by your colleague, I assume maybe one of your friends, Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas, a former CIA clandestine officer, by the way, the same time.

He writes this: "Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the CIA, I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them" -- obviously, a very, very strong charge from Will Hurd.

Do you agree with your fellow Republican that the president, based on his comments after the summit with Putin, was actually manipulated by the Russian leader?

YOHO: No, absolutely not.

Will is a good friend of mine, and he's got his -- he can have his own opinion. We don't know what happened in that meeting ahead of time. They may have came to an agreement. I did hear the president called President Putin out on the Ukraine. They talked about the oil and gas.

There's a lot more that's going to be revealed as time goes on. But I do not believe President Trump was under any influence or manipulation.

I can tell you, I have sat with him, that president, President Trump, loves America. And the way he talks about this country, it's earnest, it's heartfelt, and it's real care for this country.

And we can go back to previous administrations. We can always go back to Medvedev, and President Obama saying, wait until after the election, I will have more flexibility.

Did we go after this in this kind of vengeance to find out what he meant by that? And did we bring all that out? I think we should give it pause, allow the time to take place, and let's see where this leads us. And then we will know more that we can respond.

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: Congressman, I can assure you -- and I was one of the reporters working on that story -- when President Obama said that, we gave it a lot of attention. There was an open mic, and it was played for days and days and days. We had a lot of coverage of that.

Congressman Ted Yoho, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for joining us.

YOHO: Great to hear you, Wolf. Take care.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, the White House is rocked by a new bombshell, the revelation that Donald Trump's long-time lawyer and friend and fixer, Michael Cohen, recorded him, discussing a payoff to a Playboy model.

And a Republican congressman confirms that he met with a Russian woman who's now in jail on federal charges of being a secret agent for the Kremlin.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BLITZER: We're getting new reaction to the breaking news on Michael Cohen's secret recordings of President Trump, including a conversation about a payment to silence former Playboy model, Karen McDougal.

Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, telling CNN that the recordings won't hurt his client.

But will they hurt the president?

Let's bring in our analysts to assist.

And Mark Geragos, you're our legal analyst.

What do you think about these latest developments?

What's the legal fallout based on everything we know right now?

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, part of the initial analysis is, how did this get out?

Was it -- did the genesis of it, did it come from Michael Cohen?

Michael Cohen has, as a lawyer, I know a lot of things more to worry about than his legal license. But frankly taping your client and their attorney-client conversations, to me, absent crime or fraud, is an abomination.

If it came out from the White House, they must believe it's exculpatory; otherwise, I don't understand why they would be talking about it because if you talk about the substance of this attorney- client conversation, then you're waiving the privilege and allowing it to come out.

So I would assume they know what it's like and I would assume that, somewhere on a privilege log in Judge Wood's court, that this was listed as a conversation that was seized.

The government has no right to have this conversation, absent a crime fraud exception. And I would have guessed some special master, who is also a retired judge in this case, probably that this was a privileged conversation and shouldn't have been turned over.

This would not be admissible absent the government having a waiver from either Giuliani or somebody on Trump's legal team. So that, to me, is probably the fundamental analysis that you've got to do to start off with.

BLITZER: Yes, we're only beginning to get some details on this. So you're right. There's a lot of analysis that yet needs to be done, based on more information.

Shawn Turner, let me quickly get your thoughts on another sensitive issue. The White House says preparations are now underway for a second summit between the president and Putin.

But a senior Microsoft executive has just revealed that three 2018 congressional campaigns already have been attacked the same Russian military intelligence hackers that attacked the DNC, the Hillary Clinton campaign, the DCCC in 2016.

Yet we could see Vladimir Putin coming to the White House in the next few months for a second summit.

How does that ring to you?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It raises a lot of red flags. In fact, this speaks an enormous amount of challenges for the intelligence community.

In the days and weeks to come, we're going to learn a lot more about Russia's current and ongoing efforts to influence our 2018 midterm elections. So during -- between now and leading up to the elections, the intelligence community is going to be extremely busy monitoring what Russia's doing and trying to put measures in place to prevent them from getting disinformation into space and to -- our information space and probing networks.

So for the president to invite Vladimir Putin here during that time puts a lot of stress on the intelligence community. I'm also told that one of the things that he's interested in is having Vladimir Putin here during the big military parade that he's talked about. So I think that the president is kind of focused on his own interest with regard to this.

But it's very stressful for the --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The military parade --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- focus on his own interests?

That would never happen.

BLITZER: -- military parade in November on Pennsylvania Avenue.

But how does this play?

Let's say it happens around the time of the midterm elections, Jackie Kucinich. A lot of Republicans presumably are not going to be very happy if Putin gets a warm reception, a red carpet treatment at the White House.

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": If it happens before the mid- terms that could be problematic because they don't want to be talking about the president and Russia when they go home. They want to talk about all the things that Republican Congresses have done for their constituents, things like the tax cuts if the tariffs aren't undermining them at that point.

So it takes the conversation away from the economy. It takes the conversation away from their re-election because they're going to have to -- when you're up on Capitol Hill, that's the last thing they want to be answering questions about.

And there's no doubt -- this split screen, I think David Axelrod said it best when he said Putin could be coming to supervise some of the election meddling that he's doing for a front row seat.

BLITZER: And you just heard, Sabrina Siddiqui, Ted Yoho, he's a conservative Republican from Florida, a very strong supporter of the president, even he suggests that if the Russians are still engaged in election meddling in the 2018 midterms, he doesn't want to see Putin at the White House, either.

[18:40:00]

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Absolutely. And we still don't know exactly what transpired in the nearly two-hour closed-door meeting between President Trump and President Putin in Helsinki.

You have some Democrats saying that they want to hear from the president's national security team. They want the interpreters, the only people who were present in that room, to come forward with more details.

The White House keeps on saying that what they're after is improving relations between the United States and Russia. But they have yet to lay out any clear objectives in terms of what they're actually trying to achieve in these conversations with Vladimir Putin, especially at a time when there's so much scrutiny over the fact that the president's own intelligence chiefs have said Moscow is still actively trying to intervene in the 2018 midterms.

So then the question becomes what is the president doing to prevent that from happening again?

Certainly his own national security team has suggested that he's not using his authority in the way that he can to disrupt Russian cyber attacks at the source. So really, the question is, is that going to change?

And the Republicans on Capitol Hill who are complaining, are they going to do anything within their power to send a very clear message to Moscow not to interfere in future elections?

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point. You know, Mark Geragos, sources are telling CNN that the outcome, the fallout from that summit in Helsinki, has actually strengthened the legal hand of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Do you buy that?

GERAGOS: I do actually. I think that if you were his criminal defense counsel, and he's got more than one, that that would not be something you would want to have Robert Mueller taking a look at.

Obviously, the things that were said -- and now they supposedly weren't meant the way that they were supposed to with the double negative -- all of that does strengthen the hand of Mueller.

Remember, you've got a whole team of people that are looking and have him and his family in the crosshairs. That certainly does not help.

If you're the lawyer working to defend a client and you see a client doing something like that, that's not something you're going to say, hey, I embrace that wholeheartedly. It clearly is a problem.

BLITZER: And I suspect the president's lawyers don't him want him to sit down for an interview with the special counsel.

All right, everybody stick around. There's a lot more we're following, including a Republican congressman, confirming now that he met the Russian woman who's now in jail, charged with being a secret agent for the Kremlin.

And a vacation outing turns into a horrific nightmare as a duck boat capsizes near Branson, Missouri, killing 17 people.

So what went wrong?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, a Republican congressman is confirming to CNN that he met a Russian woman who's now in jail on charges of being a secret agent for the Kremlin. Maria Butina is accused of using sex, guns and lies to infiltrate American politics, and that apparently helped to lead her to Congressman Sanford's family farm.

Our political correspondent Sara Murray is working the story for us.

Tell us more about Butina's contact with Congressman Sanford.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, according to prosecutors, Butina's aim was to try to infiltrate American political circles and she snagged a prime invitation last year as one of 300 guests to South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford's thanksgiving barbecue at his family farm. The invite made possible because she came alongside her boyfriend Paul Erickson who has known Sanford for 30 years.

The highlights a key question in her case, was Butina's boyfriend complicit in her scheme?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): The young Russian gun lover twice applied for visas to attend the National Rifle Association's glitzy annual meeting. Twice Maria Butina says she was denied.

Then, the NRA came to Moscow. Butina hosted a gun conference and charmed NRA board member David Keene and his associate political operative Paul Erickson.

By April 2014, visa in hand, Butina was on her way to Indianapolis for the NRA's 2014 annual meeting. There she snapped a pic with NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre and began blazing a path in U.S. political circles in what authorities alleged was a covert Russian operation.

Her relationship with Erickson quickly turned romantic. Whether he was duped by his young lover who used him for political connections or wittingly lured into a spy operation to influence U.S. politics ahead of the 2016 election is unclear. An unlikely match, Erickson is nearly twice Butina's age.

PAUL ERICKSON, POLITICAL OPERATIVE: If you want power, if you want influence, you see a candidate that you like, show up and work for them. Drop everything.

MURRAY: After growing up in South Dakota and graduating from Yale, he sought to make a name for himself in GOP politics. Along the way, he crossed path with now disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and worked as a spokesman for John Wayne Bobbitt, the Virginia man whose wife cut off his penis in the 1990s.

Erickson also launched investment schemes and faced lawsuits because of them. He is currently under investigation for fraud by the U.S. attorney's office in South Dakota.

Butina's upbringing is starkly different.

MARIA BUTINA, ALLEGED RUSSIAN SPY: My story is simple. My father is a hunter. I was born in Siberia. For such places like Siberia or forests of Russia, this is a question of survival. Everyone has a gun.

MURRAY: After graduating from a local university and dabbling in the furniture business, she set off to Moscow to pursue political ambitions. There she launched her gun rights group and linked up with prominent Russian official Alexander Torshin, who became a staunch ally.

[18:50:00] By fall 2014, she was trading e-mails with her lover Erickson about how to obtain long term visas. Her Russian handlers wanted her to have a more permanent U.S. foothold, prosecutors said. By the summer of 2016, Butina was enrolled in graduate school at American University on a student visa, all part of her cover story, according to prosecutors. By then, Butina had already become a fixture at exclusive NRA events,

accompanied Torshin to the 2016 annual prayer breakfast and worked with Torshin and Erickson to try to establish back channel communications between candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Erickson's involvement in the alleged Russian operation is murky. Authorities found a note in his handwriting that read how to respond to FSB offer of employment. But it's unclear if the Russian intelligence offer was for him, Butina, or something else entirely.

Recently, she grew despondent, lamenting it wasn't safe for her to return to Russia. She graduated from American University in May 2018, but a friend didn't spot her at any commencement celebrations.

With school behind her, she was planning a move to Sioux City with Erickson, a man prosecutors say she expressed disdain for living with. A day after buying moving boxes, she was arrested.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Erickson is not explicitly named in the Butina indictment but his relationship with her and other activities do match the description of the political operatives who assisted her. He's not been charged with a crime in the Butina case. He is however under investigation for fraud by the U.S. attorney's office in South Dakota. Erickson is not responding to our request for comment -- Wolf

BLITZER: What a story that is.

All right. Thanks very much. Sara Murray reporting.

Just ahead, there's more information coming to light in the stunning revelation that Donald Trump was recorded by his former fixer Michael Cohen discussing a payment to silence an ex-Playboy model.

And 17 people are dead, including nine members of one family, after a duck boat sinks in stormy weather a very popular Missouri vacation spot.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:41] BLITZER: Tonight, we're following an investigation of a duck boat ride that turned deadly when it sank in a severe storm, 17 people were killed, including children, during a popular vacation spot of Branson, Missouri.

Our national correspondent Miguel Marquez is near the scene.

Miguel, you've learned that one family was especially hard hit by this disaster.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is absolutely incredible. Nine members of a single family perished in this accident. Only two members, 11 total, only two members of that family walked away from this. The National Transportation Safety Board now on the ground trying to

understand what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Cellphone video capturing the unthinkable. A tour boat full of families disappearing beneath the swells on Missouri's Table Rock Lake. Fewer than half the people would make it back to shore alive. Seventeen passengers from ages just 1 year old to 70, including boat's driver Bob Williams are now gone.

GOV. MIKE PARSON, MISSOURI: One lady lost nine members of her 11- member family.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Oh, dear.

PARSON: So, I had a chance to talk to her. And It's difficult to find the right words to say.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): It is one of the deadliest duck boat accidents in history.

As strong weather rolled in Thursday evening, the waters on the lake became treacherous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never seen it quite this bad. Boats can't get in. Boats can't get out.

MARQUEZ: This video from a man who had a ticket for the duck boat and turned back, tweeting: We saw high winds and bad weather roll in, so I decided to get a refund and leave with my wife.

Severe thunderstorm warnings for the area were first issued at 5:45 and then again at 6:30 just before the accident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome aboard. Ride the duck.

MARQUEZ: Still, two duck boats continued with their advertised tour. Radar shows the fast-moving storm heading toward Branson hitting the lake with 63-mile-an-hour wind gusts just as the boats tried to turn back at 7:00 p.m. only one made it to shore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's kind of make it.

MARQUEZ: The first emergency calls for the other came in at 7:09.

EMERGENCY CALL: Western units, we need a water rescue, will be north of the show boat. It will be a duck that has capsized.

SHERIFF DOUG RADER, STONE COUNTY, MISSOURI: If there's somebody out there with a video, please send it in to our Stone County sheriff's Facebook page.

MARQUEZ: As investigators pore into Branson to find answers, the president of the duck boat company tells CNN this never should have happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was perfectly calm and we had a high-speed wind system that came out of nowhere. Obviously, we shouldn't be out there in severe weather. We're absolutely devastated, and we couldn't feel -- we feel terrible.

MARQUEZ: For so many here, now grieving such sudden loss. Terrible is just the beginning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, the next step in this investigation is to bring that boat up from the depths. If you look at that video, it was only a few dozen yards from the shore. It sank to about 40 feet and then slid to 80 feet. They hope to bring it up by Monday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What an awful, awful story. Our deepest condolences to families.

Miguel Marquez on the scene for us, thanks very much.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.