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Sessions: Justice Department Will Not Be Improperly Influenced; Feds Granted Immunity to Boss of 'National Enquirer' Parent Company for Testimony in Cohen Case; Rep. Ted Deutch Interviewed. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 23, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our coverage now continues with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.
[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Sessions under siege. After quietly enduring months of bullying and name calling by President Trump, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, finally hits back, insisting his Justice Department won't be, quote, "improperly influenced by political considerations." Is that a firing offense?
Turning on Trump. New reports reveal the top executive of "The National Enquirer's" parent company was granted immunity in the case involving Michael Cohen's hush-money deals for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. What did he tell inquiring minds about his friend, the president?
Forgetting Mr. Cohen. President Trump gives a wide-ranging interview, taking new swings at his former attorney, Michael Cohen, claiming his one-time fixer only did small deals. Is Cohen's assertion that Trump directed him to break campaign finance laws his biggest deal of all?
And down to one. Newly-released court documents show the jury in Paul Manafort's trial deadlocked 11-1 on 10 counts. What persuaded that lone juror to vote guilty on eight counts?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. An ugly public feud between President Trump and Attorney General Sessions escalated this afternoon when Sessions hit back after the president accused him of never taking control of the Justice Department.
Also breaking, new revelations that long-time Trump friend and ally, David Pecker, the chairman of "The National Enquirer's" parent company, was granted immunity and gave prosecutors information in the Michael Cohen case involving hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
I'll speak with Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch. He's a member of the House Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are standing by with full coverage. Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the attorney general, he was over at the White House earlier this afternoon. How did that go?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it seems the White House is caught in another false statement, a statement that doesn't add up after press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters there hadn't been any discussions about pardoning former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Now "The Washington Post" is reporting that, yes, the president did bring it up with his legal team in recent weeks and was advised to wait until after the conclusion of the Russia investigation.
On top of that, Wolf, I have been told the president has been advised against pardoning anybody related to the Russia investigation for months, including Paul Manafort.
In that interview on FOX, Wolf, President Trump seemed to take his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani's, catch phrase, "The truth isn't truth," a step further by insisting crimes weren't crimes. And he's lashing out at his former fixer turned flipper, Michael Cohen.
But the most surprising moment of the day -- you just mentioned it -- came when the president found one Republican in Washington willing to show a willingness to push back against the president, and that was his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
ACOSTA (voice-over): In this latest round of President Trump and his favorite cabinet punching bag, Attorney General Jeff Sessions punched back. It all started after the president attacked Sessions once again for recusing himself in the Russia investigation.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jeff Sessions recused himself, which he shouldn't have done, or he should have told me. He took the job, and then he said, "I'm going to recuse myself."
I said, "What kind of a man is this?" And by the way, he was on the campaign. You know, the only reason I gave him the job, because I felt loyalty.
ACOSTA: But hours later, this time, Sessions surprisingly jabbed back, saying in a statement, "While I'm attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. No nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States."
TRUMP: This is a little bit of a celebration meeting.
ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, the president tried to turn away from the Russia probe to celebrate his record. That is, until he could hear the questions about the criminal records of his former advisers. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump, are you going to pardon Paul
ACOSTA: The president didn't say whether he would pardon his now- convicted former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Instead, Mr. Trump focused his fury on his former attorney, Michael Cohen. The president tried to say Cohen's crimes weren't actually crimes.
TRUMP: He pled to two counts that aren't a crime, which nobody understands. I watched a number of shows. Sometimes you get some pretty good information by watching shows. Those two counts aren't even a crime. They weren't campaign finance.
ACOSTA: But here's the reality. In Cohen's plea deal, he admitted to making an excessive campaign contribution when he paid off a porn star alleging an affair with Mr. Trump.
The president told more whoppers, insisting he wasn't really that close to Cohen, his longtime personal fixer.
[17:05:05] TRUMP: He's been a lawyer for me. He didn't do big deals, did small deals. Not somebody that was with me that much.
ACOSTA: In perhaps the most surreal moment of the interview, Mr. Trump condemned the fixer for flipping.
TRUMP: This whole thing about flipping, they call it. I know all about flipping. For 30, 40 years, I've been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful, and then they get ten years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed.
ACOSTA: Up late into the wee hours and tweeting about the Russia investigation, the president appears to be fixated on his fate, as well, issuing dire warnings about impeachment --
TRUMP: I don't know how you can impeach somebody who's done a great job. I'll tell you what. If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor.
ACOSTA: -- as his outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, talked about rebellion.
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: You'd only impeach him for political reasons, and the American people would revolt against that.
ACOSTA: Now as for Sessions, officials tell us the attorney general was here at the White House for a meeting on prison reform, and sources tell us the attorney general's job status did not come up at the meeting and that, for now, Jeff Sessions still has a job. Wolf, a bit of a flip for Jeff Sessions in that he punched back today. He doesn't normally do that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he certainly did. All right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on the attorney general, Jeff Sessions's, decision to hit back publicly at President Trump's public criticism. And it comes as lawmakers up on Capitol Hill are weighing in on what may happen if the president were to fire Sessions. At least one Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, today signaled he may be open to a change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: After the election, I think there will be some serious discussions about a new attorney general.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're joined now by CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill. And our justice correspondent Evan Perez.
Evan, what are your sources telling you right now about Sessions's decision to hit back at the president so publicly?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, this has -- this has been a feud that's been ongoing, sort of at a similar level. And today, obviously, it hit a boil.
And so the question is what exactly did the president say that triggered the attorney general to so publicly push back? And we're told that part of the reason was simply the attorney general was tired of the president essentially undermining him and his management of the Justice Department.
Here's the part of the interview on FOX News that particularly got under his skin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The Dems are very strong in the Justice Department. I put an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: And that's -- that part of the interview there with FOX News, Wolf, it was a lot different from some of the other criticisms we've seen on Twitter in which he's called the attorney general missing in action. He's called him all sort of other names.
But this one really got to the heart of the management of the -- of the Justice Department. And in fact, the president also said, "What kind of man is this?"
This is, of course, one of his strongest supporters. This is possibly one of the most consequential attorney generals that we've had in a long time. He's helped push through some of the president's big agenda items. And so that's the great irony that they're in such a bad place. BLITZER: Yes. And Sessions directly responded to the president. The
president said he hadn't taken control of the Justice Department. In a statement, the attorney general said, "I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in." So -- so there you have it right there.
What would happen if the president were to fire Sessions? How would it impact, for example, the Russia probe?
PEREZ: Well, look, if he got rid of Sessions, it would be the most direct way for the president to put someone in charge who would be able to oversee the Mueller investigation. And perhaps that's what -- what's on his mind. And of course, that would bring all kinds of political problems, which is why I think a lot of people have advised him to not do this. At least don't do this before the midterms, because politically, it would be a very bad thing for even Republicans, I think, would be telling him that. Certainly, his legal team have been telling him that.
And it would also raise some questions about obstruction, obviously. This is something that has been brought up in some of the questions that Robert Mueller has asked of the president's legal team, whether his criticism of Sessions is part of this picture of the president trying to obstruct this ongoing investigation.
BLITZER: Again, if the president were to fire Sessions or if Sessions were to resign, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, would be the acting attorney general until a new attorney general were sworn in.
BLITZER: The president is no great fan of Rod Rosenstein --
PEREZ: He is not.
BLITZER: -- either, so that's one of the issues, certainly, we're watching.
PEREZ: He's not.
BLITZER: Phil, you're up on Capitol Hill. What are you hearing from lawmakers?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what for months had been a united front from Republicans, both publicly and privately, that Sessions should not go, the president should not consider firing him, it saw its first cracks today, in the form of Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, and you played, he said at least not in the near term don't fire him, but perhaps after the election. And why? Because the relationship is too badly damaged. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:10:03] GRAHAM: The president is entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that's qualified for the job. And I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice. Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn't have the confidence of the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: To take you behind the scenes a little bit, what Senator Graham is saying publicly is what aides have acknowledged private for a long time the relationship is in a bad place. That place could be detrimental overall to the U.S. Justice Department and all of the agencies that the attorney general oversees.
But the fact that Senator Lindsey Graham, the potential next chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was willing to acknowledge that publicly, that was a noteworthy shift, Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting. Are other Republicans following Senator Graham's thinking on this?
MATTINGLY: Yes, the interesting element is, despite hearing that and despite Lindsey Graham's position as a senior member on both the committee and the Republican conference in general, the short answer is no. While there might be a crack in the unified front, there certainly isn't a hole blown open.
You had Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican, saying absolutely not. Not only is there not time in the schedule, but it would be an idea.
I also caught up with Senator Jeff Flake, also a member of the Judiciary Committee. This is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: How do you think the Senate would react if something was done with Jeff Sessions?
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Just look at -- one, just look at the schedule and the prospect of confirming another A.G. at this point in the game, at this point this fall, still very difficult. There would be concern about a domino effect. Is this the way to go after the Mueller investigation? It's a big concern.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Wolf, what he's getting at there is something that you hear from Republicans across Capitol Hill, and that is the political repercussions of this. Essentially, it would shut down the United States Senate, the possibility that there would be resignations at the Justice Department. It would shut down the Justice Department, as well." Democrats would clearly seize on this just a couple of months before an election.
But also, more broadly, just concerns on the policy side of things. What this would mean, Republicans support a lot of what Jeff Sessions has done at the Justice Department. Republicans make very clear they don't think they can get another attorney general confirmed any time soon.
All of this would bubble up to the surface at a time where they would like the president to make less news, rather than more news. particularly when it comes to the Justice Department and any connection to Robert Mueller's special counsel.
BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill. Thank you very much.
Joining us now Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch. He's a member of the House Judiciary Committee. That committee could possibly decide on impeachment proceedings at some point down the road.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. TED DEUTCH (D), : Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: So what would it signal to you if the president tried to replace Jeff Sessions?
DEUTCH: Well, let's be clear about what the president is doing today. This isn't -- this isn't about Jeff Sessions's policies. Jeff Sessions has carried out every one of the president's horrific anti- immigrant policies that the president has asked him to carry out. This is about one thing.
This is the week where it has been confirmed for anyone who's looking that what we see in this administration and in every orbit of the president's life is the worst culture of corruption that we have seen.
And that's true whether it's the president's campaign or his campaign manager, was the focus -- whether it's the administration, whether national security adviser is awaiting sentencing, whether it's his friends in Congress, where we've seen his two biggest and earliest supporters who are now facing charges.
And this decision, this statement that we heard from his personal lawyer that's made out the case that the president is, essentially, an unindicted co-conspirator in violating federal law.
He wants to get rid of the attorney general. He's talking about getting rid of the attorney general, thinking that it might somehow stop the Mueller investigation and stop everyone from focusing on this culture of corruption. It's too late for that. We're going forward. We're going to get to the truth.
The Republicans that I serve with, Republicans like the ones you just quoted, should stop standing as a firewall between defending the president and getting to the truth and should start defending the Constitution like their constituents expect them to.
BLITZER: In response to the president, the attorney general today said he won't let the Justice Department be, in his words, "improperly influenced" by political considerations. Do you take that to mean he will protect the Russia investigation? DEUTCH: Well, I think that the attorney general has to protect the
Russia investigation, but except that you remember he recused himself. He recused himself because of his meeting during the campaign with the Russian ambassador. That's why he had to recuse himself. Rod Rosenstein has made clear this investigation must continue.
And what we've learned again, Wolf -- I hate to keep harping on this -- what was reconfirmed for us this week in the convictions of Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of the president's personal lawyer is that this is no witch hunt. This is a serious effort to get at the truth of what happened in the last election. And now the implications for the violation of law by the president need to be pursued, as well.
BLITZER: As you know, the president has been implicated by his former attorney in a felony. If Democrats were to win back the House following the midterm elections in November, do you think you have enough information right now to begin impeachment proceedings?
DEUTCH: I don't -- I don't know why this needs to wait until after the election for the House to take action. The president -- because of what we learned this week, the president is an unindicted co- conspirator confirmed, by the way, but the president himself in the interview that he did a day after the assertion is made.
The Republican majority right now ought to start the process of gathering information, bringing in Michael Cohen, speaking to the prosecutors in his case, bringing in the president's chief financial officer from his business, who apparently knows a great deal about this.
We ought to be pursuing this and pursuing the truth right now. This is not a partisan issue. It's a question of whether or not the Judiciary Committee on which I serve is going to do its job. That's what we ought to be doing. It doesn't need to wait until after the election.
BLITZER: But do you think you have enough support right now, with the Republican majority in the House Judiciary Committee, and a whole bunch of Democrats sort of nervous about talking about impeachment, do you have enough support to start that kind of impeachment process right now?
DEUTCH: Well, it's not a question of starting an impeachment process. It's a question of starting a process of getting the truth about what happened here, gathering the facts. That's the job that the Judiciary Committee is supposed to do.
A year ago, I sat in that committee and asked my colleagues, "Where do you think this is going? And why aren't you interested in getting to the truth?"
Well, here we are a year later. So much more information has come out that is so damning. This is about defending the Constitution. I don't know that there's a single Republican on the committee or in Congress who is willing to stand up for the truth any more. And it's frightening, and it's sad, but the American people expect
members of Congress to stand with them and defend the Constitution, not just to defend the president. I think there is plenty of work that needs to be done and it should start tomorrow. It shouldn't start after the election.
BLITZER: Congressman Ted Deutch, thanks so much for joining us.
DEUTCH: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Up next, did another Trump friend flip? New reports say the top executive at the "National Enquirer's" parent company got immunity from federal prosecutors and then gave prosecutors serious information about Michael Cohen's hush-money payments for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
And what should we make of the president's complaint that flipping, quote, "almost ought to be outlawed."
[17:22:31] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including today's startling revelation that publishing executive David Pecker, a longtime friend and ally of President Trump, was granted immunity and provided information to prosecutors in the case involving Michael Cohen's hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
Our national correspondent, Athena Jones, has been working her sources. Athena, what's the latest? What are you learning?
ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, this is yet another Trump friend causing, potentially, serious problems for the president. David Pecker is emerging as a very important player in all of this. We now know he's been cooperating with federal prosecutors.
And while the president and his allies have been hard at work trying to discredit Michael Cohen, it's now clear that Pecker backed Cohen up on his allegations, including that Trump knew about those payments to those women while they were being negotiated.
JONES (voice-over): Tonight, tabloid honcho and close Trump friend David Pecker granted immunity, according to "The Wall Street Journal," to provide information in the months-long federal criminal investigation of Michael Cohen. Pecker, who heads American Media Inc., publisher of "The National Enquirer," corroborating details Cohen spelled out in his plea deal, announced Tuesday.
ROBERT KHUZAMI, DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY: Michael Cohen pled guilty to eight felony charges.
JONES: Trump's former personal lawyer and longtime fixer pleaded guilty to, among other things, breaking campaign finance laws, admitting that he worked with Pecker on AMI's $150,000 deal with former "Playboy" Playmate Karen McDougal for the rights to her story of an alleged 2006 affair with Trump.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think he was in love with you?
KAREN MCDOUGAL, ALLEGED AFFAIR WITH TRUMP: He was. Yes.
JONES: And that he illegally paid $130,000 in hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election to keep her quiet about an alleged 2006 tryst with Trump, at one point using an encrypted telephone application to speak with Pecker and an AMI editor.
The president denies both affairs.
According to Cohen's plea agreement, beginning around August 2015, Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about Trump, referred to here as "individual one," by helping identify such stories so they could be bought and killed.
Pecker has a long history of squashing unflattering stories about the real-estate mogul, according to a former AMI senior editor who said Pecker racked up a, quote, "favor bank" of killed Trump stories. And Trump has praised Pecker as brilliant over the years, tweeting three times in 2013 that he should lead "TIME" magazine.
Pecker told prosecutors about the payments Cohen arranged and, importantly, Trump's awareness of the deals, deals Trump claimed to know nothing about. His campaign and administration repeatedly denied any knowledge of the deals, despite Trump being caught on a secret recording Cohen released last month discussing the McDougal deal and Pecker, who they referred to as, quote, "our friend David."
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David, so that -- I have actually come up, and I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding.
TRUMP: So what are we going to pay for this? One-fifty?
JONES: All this as Cohen's friends say he began feeling increasingly isolated and concerned about the impact on himself and his family after the April FBI raid of his home, office and hotel room.
Cohen long pledged total loyalty to Trump, but the "Journal" reports that a personal turning point for him was a conversation with his father, a Holocaust survivor, who advised him not to protect the president, saying he didn't survive the Holocaust to have his name sullied by Trump. Now he faces jail time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it's kind of ironic that you're going to be going to jail before Hillary?
JONES: Now, AMI has not responded to our request for comment. But Peter Stris, a lawyer for Karen McDougal, sent out this tweet saying, "To all media asking our firm to comment on 'National Enquirer' publisher David Pecker getting immunity from prosecution in exchange for corroboration of his collusion with Michael Cohen and Donald Trump in silencing Karen McDougal, here is our official statement: Told you so" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pretty short statement, indeed. All right. Athena, thank you very much.
Our legal and political experts, they are all standing by. They're getting ready to weigh in. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back. Don't go too far.
[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Back to our Breaking News, President Trump once again sounding off on his Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Dems are very strong in the Justice Department. I put in an Attorney General that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. I wanted to stay uninvolved but when everybody sees what's going on in the Justice Department -- I always put justice now with quotes -- it's a very, very sad day. Jeff Sessions recused himself which he shouldn't have done, or he should have told me. Even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself, and then, you wouldn't have put him in. He took the job and then said I'm going to recuse myself. I said what kind of a man is this? And by the way, he was on the campaign. You know, the only reason I gave him the job because I thought loyalty. He was an original supporter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The only reason he gave him the job was loyalty, not necessarily because he was qualified to be the nation's top law enforcement officer. Let's get some analysis from our experts. Laura Coates, Sessions responded to the President with this statement. "I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in. While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action. However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States."
Have you ever seen a public battle like this between a sitting President, a sitting Attorney General where the President repeatedly humiliates publically the Attorney General.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I've never. And no one has seen this because this person serves at the pleasure of the President, and also somebody who oversees more than just one case. The President has this misconception that the general -- attorney general only looks at one thing, his own personal connections to the Russia collusion investigation. There are thousands of employees under the DOJ who look at a variety of issues.
And frankly, he has been really, really great for Donald Trump's platform on a whole variety of issues, sanctuary cities, drug cases, rolling back a lot of civil rights legislations that was put in place under Attorney General Eric Holder, all those things are on the waste side because he's offended him by not kissing the ring, which inadvertently bolsters the credibility of James Comey who said there was a dinner that said, if I (INAUDIBLE) your loyalty, you won't have a job, and we know what happened there. It's not about competence for the President in this case, it was about fidelity to only him. That's shocking.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. David Chalian, why does Sessions put up with this public abuse, this humiliation from the President?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's a good question, Wolf. And I think there are a couple of different schools of thought as to why. One is that Jeff Sessions says it's not my responsibility to relieve myself of my duties here. I've done nothing wrong. If he wants -- if he is no longer pleased with me and I serve in his pleasure, then the President should be man enough to fire me. That's one. The other is, that Jeff Sessions as this statement may indicate today, I think the strongest pushback we've seen from Sessions to date, that he sees himself with a responsibility to protect the institution of the Department of Justice and to protect no political considerations interfering with justice in an inappropriate way, and perhaps that's why he stays.
BLITZER: You heard Senator Lindsey Graham say there should be serious discussions about removing Sessions after the midterm elections. That's quite different than what he said in July.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes.
BLITZER: Hold on, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: There will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:35:04] BLITZER: That was July of last year when he had a very different statement.
CILLIZZA: Yes. And also, May of this year, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump's lawyer told Dana Bash that he -- Mueller would not be fired, Sessions would not be removed until the Mueller probe was over. These are arbitrary deadlines. David mentioned this off-air, I think it's very important, Laura touched on it, too, this person, the Attorney General serves at Donald Trump's pleasure. Why does it make a difference if it's after the election? I get the Mueller probe, somewhat. Though, remember, Sessions is recused from the Mueller probe. This is Rod Rosenstein's baby at this point.
So, I don't understand that the other point I would make is Donald Trump doesn't understand that, yes, he nominated, appointed Jeff Sessions. But Jeff Sessions isn't his employee, per se. Jeff Sessions' responsibility at the end of the day is to the Justice Department, he's the nation's top law enforcement official. Donald Trump views things as he's disloyal to me. A quote he gave to New York Times last July, he said this is a very bad thing Jeff Sessions did to the President. That's how he views it, he has no understanding of why Jeff Sessions did it which was he thought he was too close to it. He, in his confirmation hearings, did not acknowledge the fact that he had a couple of meetings with Russians. Donald Trump is no (INAUDIBLE)
CHALIAN: And he took the recommendation of professional career -- Department of Justice officials that look at recusal and say you should advise him to do so.
COATES: And by the way, firing Jeff Sessions has the effect of firing Rod Rosenstein, who's only taking over the Russia investigation because Sessions can't do it.
BLITZER: You know, Jackie, if he does fire Sessions, would he get -- you know, would he get pushback or support from Republican lawmakers?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think if it's before this election, there would be some pushback, whether -- and they -- he probably wouldn't be able to get that person confirmed. Now, today, we were hearing from people like Senator Grassley and Senator Graham that perhaps after the election, this could happen. That's also a gamble. Because who knows if they're going to keep the Senate? It's looking good right now, but you know, who knows? Every day is a new adventure.
CILLIZZA: But that is goal post moving. Like it is important to know, right?
KUCINICH: Of course it is. I know it's a very big change.
CILLIZZA: Like we heard Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, that clip you played, repeatedly say under no -- Jeff Sessions is a good man. Now, all of a sudden, it's like, well, let's just wait for -- how many more days is it? 80 more days and then you can him? Well, what happened to the being -- put 75 (INAUDIBLE) what happened to the being a good guy?
KUCINICH: I think sentence reform is what happened about being a good guy, criminal justice reform, the fact that he was budding up against Grassley and he's never happy about it. BLITZER: You know, Laura, let's turn to the Michael Cohen front. As
we know, David Pecker who runs the parent company of the National Enquirer, we have now learned that he has been granted immunity in exchange for his testimony before the federal prosecutors. First of all, in order for them to give him immunity, he's got to know a lot about all the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal all that other stuff that Michael Cohen under oath yesterday -- the other day before a federal judge spoke about.
COATES: I'm glad you used the phrase all of that other stuff because remember in the audio recording that Lanny Davis played -- that his client recorded between himself and then-candidate Donald Trump. He said all of that stuff. Remember, in case David Pecker were to be hit by a bus, we got to cover all of that stuff.
Now, the presumption has been that Karen McDougal and (INAUDIBLE) the only things to think about, but in reality, all of those things could come to pass. I would never have granted or asked for immunity from, by the way, the Department of Justice to give somebody immunity unless they, one, had information I couldn't get anywhere; two, corroborated someone's testimony who was less than credible, Michael Cohen, perhaps; and number three, that you were at risk of being prosecuted by me for your own involvement in the case. All of those things appear to be true.
And yet again, you have on that video recording, you had Andrew Weisselberg (ph) was mentioned by Michael Cohen, subpoenaed by the Mueller probe. You've got David Pecker now getting immunity. The walls have closed in officially.
BLITZER: Yes. And if I were the President, Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer for the Trump organization, not for the last year, or two, or three, but for 40 years who knows presumably so much about what was going on there. You got to worry about David Pecker, Allen Weisselberg, obviously, Michael Cohen.
CHALIAN: Can you imagine if Weisselberg gets into some sort of trouble? How President Trump will try to distance himself from somebody that's working before --
KUCINICH: They've only worked 40 years.
CHALIAN: -- occasionally for me. I mean, these are people who understand the inner workings of Donald Trump's world for a very long time. That is a threat to the President. There's no doubt about that.
BLITZER: And he's been subpoenaed, Weisselberg, to testify before the federal prosecutors.
CILLIZZA: I just -- I'm picking up on David's point, I think one of the underplayed elements of that interview with Fox today is his attempt, Donald Trump's attempt to distance himself from Michael Cohen. I knew him on and off by some occasionally for 10 years. The guy who we know was in charge of setting up the shell company that he testified was directed and coordinated to do so by Donald Trump to pay off two women making allegations about affairs in the run up to the 2016 election. That's not a guy that you're kind of acquaintances with.
[17:40:10] That is the most touchy, personal, and professional thing you can deal with. So, this idea he called George Papadopoulos a coffee guy, who say Manafort only worked for my campaign for a short time. It is literally factually impossible to say that Michael Cohen and he are not close.
BLITZER: Michael Cohen's office at Trump Tower right down the hall from Donald Trump's office.
KUCINICH: It sounds better than saying he's dead to me, which is basically what Trump is saying. I mean, really, I mean, because he has been disloyal and Trump has cast him off. It's -- and now it gets almost to Omarosa, someone that has been with the President for years, has been brought up in that organization all of a sudden because she's not saying nice things about him anymore, she's also cast aside. That is -- this is -- we've seen this pattern, and it's not going to go anywhere. One wonders how close you have to get to the President to not be someone he, you know, pass in the hall once or twice if they start, you know, talking about it.
CHALIAN: But Paul Manafort is a brave man.
KUCINICH: Brave man.
CILLIZZA: Brave man who didn't work for me long, but still a very brave man. Very sad what they did to him.
BLITZER: Very sad, even though he stole billions of dollars from American -- from American taxpayers.
CILLIZZA: He's a convicted -- he's a convicted felon.
BLITZER: Convicted of those felonies. All right, guys, stick around, there's more news we're following up. President Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton confronts a top Russian official and both sides agree to disagree.
BLITZER: The President's National Security Adviser is pressing Russia on its efforts to interfere in the elections. But President Trump is finding new ways to downplay the Russian threat. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), SENATE MAJORITY WHIP: I believe that China represents the foremost national security and economic challenge to our country of any other country in the world.
TRUMP: Not Russia? Not Russia?
CORNYN: -- in the long -- in the long term. In addition, the military transformation --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen, he's joining us from Moscow right now. Fred, so what came out of this meeting between John Bolton and his Russian counterpart?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it's quite interesting because the two sides, they've talked about a broad range of issue, and generally said that they said that it was under a very professional atmosphere. But the one thing that seems to divide the two countries and continues to is that issue of election meddling. Now, John Bolton afterwards said that he raised the issue with the Russians several times, but he also said that the reason why they were not able to come up with a common statement was because they couldn't find common language on election meddling. Let's listen in to what John Bolton said after that meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:45:08] JOHN BOLTON, UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We might have had a joint statement but I felt it was important to mention election meddling which we raised a number of times during these consultations today which lasted a little bit over five hours. But we weren't able to reach agreement on that, so we decided to go ahead, we'll each speak individually which is what I'm doing now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: John Bolton also said that the U.S. would not tolerate any meddling in the upcoming midterm elections and that also the U.S. would do everything that it needed to do to prevent that. It's interesting because he was talking to Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia's Security Council, he's also the former director of Russia's intelligence service, the FSB. The Russians coming out later, Wolf, and saying that no such accusations were made. Of course, the two sides also saying, talking about a broad range of other issues. Syria also being one of them, Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm sure they discussed Ukraine as well. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thank you very much. Coming up, more on our breaking news. Reports that a long-time friend of President Trump has now turned on him in exchange for immunity from federal prosecutors.
But first, why did a lone juror in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort refused to convict on 10 of the 18 counts?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: New tonight, court documents from the trial of Paul Manafort reveal a lone member of the jury prevented Robert Mueller's prosecutors from winning a clean sweep against the President's former campaign chairman. Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, do we know why this one juror was only willing to convict on eight of the counts? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, another juror says that that one juror simply wasn't convinced of Manafort's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We're getting new details tonight on the drama and tension in the jury room, much of it caused by this one hold-out juror in a case where the stakes simply could not have been higher.
TODD: In a tensed jury room, the fate of Donald Trump's former campaign chairman hangs in the balance. The jurors passed a note to Judge T.S. Ellis. "Can you please redefine reasonable doubt?" Tonight, a juror in Paul Manafort's fraud trial says that note was passed because one juror was holding out.
[17:49:57] PAULA DUNCAN, MANAFORT JUROR: The person, a female juror, was -- we all tried to convince her to look at the paper trail. We laid it out in front of her again and again. And she still said she had a reasonable doubt. And that's the way the jury worked. We didn't want it to be hung so we tried for an extended period of time to convince her, but in the end, she held out and that's why we have 10 counts and did not get a verdict.
TODD: That's confirmed tonight by a just-released copy of the jury form saying, 11 guilty, one not on 10 counts. Manafort was convicted on eight. Seasoned trial attorney say that one hold-out juror had a massive impact and not just in this case against Manafort.
BERNARD GRIMM, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: If he's convicted on 18 counts, that changes the entire landscape of everything. Because one, if I -- if I had it right, it comes close to tripling the amount of time he could be spending in jail and then that implicates issues as to whether is he going to be called down the road as a witness in a potential impeachment hearing someday if that ever comes to bear.
TODD: The weight of the case caused enormous strain in the deliberation room. Juror Paula Duncan said in an interview with Fox News.
DUNCAN: There were even tears. Two of the -- two of the jurors -- one of the females that did finally change her vote to guilty would come in one day and say guilty, and then the next day say, oh, no, I felt pressured, I want to change my vote back.
GRIMM: You have 12 people that don't know one another that are deciding the most important event in someone else's life, that they don't know. So, it's a fascinating phenomena. But sometimes, when you're in the courtroom during deliberations, you can hear yelling and screaming going on in the jury room.
TODD: Paula Duncan who describes herself as a Trump supporter says the jury threw out the testimony of one-time Manafort deputy Rick Gates who testified against his former boss, because they didn't think Gates was credible. Duncan says she did not want Manafort to be guilty, but she voted to convict on all 18 counts because the evidence was overwhelming. Manafort's defense team never called a single witness. Experts say all of that speaks to how strong Robert Mueller's case against Manafort was.
SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Their star witness was the documents, the bank records, the e-mails, the text messages. And so, that is the fundamentals and building blocks of a white-collar criminal prosecution, and that's what they were hammering.
TODD: But we're also learning new details tonight on how close this judge came to declaring a mistrial in the Manafort case. Newly unsealed court transcripts say that at one point during the trial, one juror commented with an earshot of another juror that Manafort's defense was weak. Now, jurors are not allowed to discuss the case among themselves until deliberations officially begin. And Manafort's lawyers immediately pounced on that, they pressured the judge to declare a mistrial and then they asked them to dismiss that juror. Judge Ellis, of course, didn't do either thing but did have to delay the trial while he interviewed the jurors one by one to make sure they were not bias, Wolf. That was a dramatic moment in this case and it delayed the trial for a couple of days.
BLITZER: Yes, very interesting, indeed. And this juror who did speak out, didn't have such great things to say about the prosecutors in the case either, did she?
TODD: Very interesting, Wolf, she did not have many compliments about the prosecutors. Paula Duncan said that at times she thought the prosecution was actually bored. She says, she even saw two of them napping during the trial. And she thought, well, if you're napping, why are we here. But ultimately, she says, it was the paper trail that was crucial, it was those boxes of physical documents in this case that got Paul Manafort convicted.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you. Coming up, the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, finally hits back after enduring months and months of criticism and taunts from the President. Will standing up to President Trump cause Sessions his job? Plus, I'll speak to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ronan Farrow. He's been tracking the story of the so-called "catch and kill method" President Trump allegedly used to squash unfavorable stories. Stay with us, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, bullying Sessions, the President goes to new lengths to demean his Attorney General, questioning his authority and his manhood, after suffering Mr. Trump's haunted silence for months, why is Jeff Sessions firing back now.
Friends like these, another Trump pal turns on the President as the publisher of the National Enquirer reportedly has been granted immunity by prosecutors. What did David Pecker reveal about payoffs to women? Stormy Daniels' lawyer is standing by.
People would revolt, after Mr. Trump predicts his impeachment would doom the U.S. economy, Rudy Giuliani goes even further warning of a grass root uprising. Will their scare tactics work?
And flipping out, as the President reels for Michael Cohen's guilty plea, he's suggesting it should be illegal for prosecutors to flip witnesses. It's just one of the bizarre new comments tonight by Cohen's unindicted conspirators.
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, the President's war against his Attorney General may be coming to a head, as Jeff Sessions finally hits back. Sessions vowing he won't let the Justice Department be improperly influenced by politics, responding to some of the harshest attacks by Mr. Trump, yet.