Return to Transcripts main page


Mueller Investigates Trump's Ties to NRA during 2016 Campaign; GOP and Dems to Vote on Dueling Bills to Reopen Government; Foreign Company Battling Mueller Subpoena in Supreme Court; Giuliani Refers to Previously Unknown Tapes, Then Rescinds It; Interview with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 22, 2019 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris of California. That's 10 p.m. Eastern on Monday.

[17:00:08] You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper or tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Mueller and the NRA. CNN is learning that Robert Mueller's team has expressed interest in the Trump campaign's ties to the National Rifle Association during the 2016 campaign. So what's the connection?

State of confusion. The White House says it's planning to go ahead with the president's State of the Union address despite the government shutdown, as Democrats and Republicans offer dueling and likely doomed measures to reopen the government.

With apologies to -- as they hit the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidates are starting off with apologies for past behavior and past legislation, scrambling to get in lock step with the party's lurch to the left. Should they really be saying they're sorry?

And changing her story. She billed herself as a professional seductress, telling anyone who would listen that she had Kremlin connections and inside knowledge of Russia's attack on the U.S. election. Why has she suddenly gone quiet?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, for the first time, there are now indications that the special counsel is interested in the Trump campaign's relationship with the National Rifle Association during the 2016 campaign. A former Trump campaign aide says Robert Mueller's team wanted to know about that and how Donald Trump wound up speaking at the group's annual meeting months before announcing his presidential bid.

Also breaking, 32 days into the government shutdown, there are now rival bills from Democrats and Republicans aimed at getting the government up and running again. But both partisan measures, at least for now, seem destined to fail. As the White House insists the president is still planning to somehow deliver his State of the Union address.

I'll speak with Democratic Senator Chris Hollen. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by with full coverage.

But first tonight, CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has expressed interest in the Trump campaign's ties to the National Rifle Association during the 2016 campaign.

Let's begin with our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, and CNN reporter Kara Scannell.

Evan, the NRA has certainly come under scrutiny for its ties to Russian nationals during the 2016 campaign, including alleged Russian spy Maria Butina. How significant is this line of questioning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the significance here is that we've known for months that we have lawmakers who have been asking questions of the NRA and their ties to Russia. But this is the first indication that we've getting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators have been asking questions about this very matter.

And that -- those questions were put to Sam -- Sam Nunberg, who was a Trump campaign aide. Now, he tells our Sara Murray that he was asked last year during one of his interviews with the special counsel about the relationship between the Trump campaign and the NRA. In particular, they wanted to know how he came to -- the president came -- the candidate came to address the NRA in 2015. This is just before the president launched his -- his campaign for the presidency.

We now know that the special counsel came back to San Nunberg as recently as a few months ago to follow up and ask more questions about this.

Now, we know, Wolf, that the NRA poured a record amount of money into the Trump campaign. This was unusual, the amount of money that they put in there. And we also know, as you mentioned, that there was a Russian national, Maria Butina, who has now admitted that she used her inroads to the NRA as a way to try to infiltrate Republican and conservative circles here in Washington. This is the reason why it's a big deal.

Of course, Butina was very, very active in conservative causes here in Washington. And she even managed to get a question to then-candidate Trump. Take a listen.


MARIA BUTINA, ACCUSED RUSSIAN SPY: If you would be elected as the president what would be your foreign politics, especially in the relationships with my country?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK?


PEREZ: And it is interesting to note here, Wolf, that among the questions that the Mueller team asked of President Trump and his legal team, a question about NRA was not among them.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. All very intriguing, as well.

We're learning new details, Kara, about another case that Mueller is clearly looking at involving a mystery company, some sort of foreign company. And now that whole issue has worked its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. So this is the foreign-government-owned company that Robert Mueller's team had subpoenaed. And they'd been fighting this subpoena, losing their court battles along the way, having to pay $50,000 in fines a day.

[17:05:11] So today they filed cert with the Supreme Court, asking the justices to take up their case.

Now it's interesting, is that they filed it under seal, but there's a 55-page version that was made public with just a few redactions. It's still largely a mystery, but we've learned a couple of things from this, including that the argument that they're making, the legal argument, is that they shouldn't have to abide by this, because they are saying as a foreign sovereign, that they're immune from the U.S. criminal justice system.

And so what that tells us is that this company or this country, rather, doesn't have a treaty with the U.S. where they're sharing information. And it's also wholly owned, we learned today, by the foreign government.

So we don't know for sure what this means, but it's quite possible this could be a gulf country. They are one of the countries that don't have treaties with the U.S. to share information. There are about 70 countries that do have agreements with the U.S.

The other possibility is that, for some reason, this foreign government is saying that there's, you know, a carve-out in their treaty, and that's why they don't have to share this information.

But there's still not a whole lot of details here. But we're continuing to press on it.

BLITZER: Well, keep pressing. Because everybody wants to know the name of this company and the country that owns this company and why it's gone all the way to the Supreme Court. We're going to get back to you on that, Kara.

Evan, the president's lawyer, personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, he's now claimed in one interview that there are actually tapes that show that Michael Cohen was not coached by President Trump to lie before Congress. He then immediately, Giuliani, took back those comments. It's all very confusing, raising the questions, is there a strategy

behind all this confusion?

PEREZ: Well, I mean, it appears to be a bit of a strategy. It appears that the president and his -- and his TV lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, are concerned, perhaps, that there might be new revelations coming out. And so that's one reason why, from a political standpoint, Wolf, it does help to sort of get this all out there so that whenever there are new surprises that they perhaps don't know about, they can say, "Look, we already talked about that." Right?

But look, there is an actual legal cost to this, potentially, because it could open up the president to some new questions from Robert Mueller.

But let's read a little bit about what Giuliani told "The New Yorker." Because you're right. He talked about these tapes. And we were all scratching our heads.

And he said, quote, "Because I have been through all of the tapes, I have been through all of the texts, I've been through all of the e- mails and I knew none existed."

Now, the reporter who was interviewing him was asking him about this Buzzfeed story from a few days ago. And that's what Rudy Giuliani was responding to. And he was very, very confused.

In the end, Rudy Giuliani took it all back and said, "No, no, no, no. there is -- no tapes that I can talk about."

But again, going back to this -- this idea that there could be a legal cost to this, because the Mueller team so far has not succeeded in getting the president to sit down for an interview. Rudy Giuliani and his -- and the mess he's created in the last few days, I think might have pierced the attorney/client privilege, may create an avenue for Mueller to be able to get in and ask those questions of the president, which is a thing that they've been so -- working so hard to avoid.

BLITZER: We know there are some tapes. Michael Cohen routinely would tape phone conversations he had, including with his then-boss Donald Trump.

PEREZ: That's right. That's right. There were tapes. And Rudy explained that he knew of one particular tape which Chris Cuomo's show was able to broadcast a little bit of. and he says that that's the only tape of the president. Now, he says that there are plenty of other tapes with journalists and other people that Michael Cohen had recorded. But that is the only tape in existence.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens on that front. Evan, thank you.

Kara, keep working on that mystery company. We want to know the name of that company. Thanks very much.

There's more breaking news right now. The government shutdown now 32 days old and threatening to shut down the president's own State of the Union address. There are dueling proposals out there from Democrats and Republicans to reopen the government.

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

Jim, do either of these measures, at least for now, seem to have a chance?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not at the moment, Wolf. As you said, there is as some movement to speak of on the shutdown, as the Senate has scheduled votes on plans to reopen the government later on this week.

The problem is that neither of these plans is expected to pass. That's according to our colleagues up on Capitol Hill. That is why there is a big confrontation brewing between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The White House says it's still planning on the president delivering his State of the Union one week from tonight at the capital. But without an invitation from the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, it's not exactly clear how that is going to work.

But as one senior White House official told me earlier today, contingency plans, including possibly a rally outside of Washington, which means the big question this week will likely be where's the speech?


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a question the White House is struggling to answer: exactly where will President Trump deliver his State of the Union address in just one week?

[17:05:06] HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: There are many ways. I'm not going to get ahead of anything he would announce.

ACOSTA: Even though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the president to delay his address to Congress scheduled for next Tuesday, the White House sent a letter to the House sergeant at arms, requesting a planning session, as if the speech were still on the calendar, writing, "Given that we have lost valuable team over the past week, my team would like to reschedule the walkthrough for this Monday, if at all possible."

The White House has even considered the possibility of holding a rally outside of Washington if both sides can't reach an agreement.

The brinksmanship is escalating as Senate leaders bicker over rival plans to reopen the government, and all seem dead on arrival.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The opportunity to end all this is starring us right in the face. That's why we'll vote on this legislation on the Senate floor this week. SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The American people know

that President Trump is responsible for the shutdown, and now they have learned that Leader McConnell is a coconspirator in the shutdown.

ACOSTA: Meanwhile, some of the federal employees actually dealing with the impact of the shutdown, like FBI agents, are warning real- world consequences may be looming.

TOM O'CONNOR, PRESIDENT, FBI AGENTS ASSOCIATION: The failure to fund the FBI undermines essential FBI operations, such as those designated to combat crimes against children, drug and gang crimes, and terrorism.

ACOSTA: With the shutdown more than month long, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the World Economic Forum in Davos that he hopes the standoff will be over soon, even though there appears to be no end in sight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When is the shutdown over?

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We all hope that it will end fairly quickly. I hope that we get this one resolved in relatively short order.

ACOSTA: A new book written by a West Wing insider is painting a picture of White House dysfunction even when the government is open. In his book, "Team of Vipers," former White House aide Cliff Sims described a situation that is out of control, including one moment, when Mr. Trump lashed out at former House speaker, Paul Ryan, for criticizing the president's handling of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.

According to the book, the president claimed he had helped the speaker in the past, saying, quote, "You were out there dying like a dog, Paul. Like a dog."

The book appears to be the kind of leaking the president has blasted in the past, like when he tweeted last year, "Leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are."

One White House official who isn't offering much information these days is White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who hasn't held a briefing in more than a month. The president says he's behind that decision, tweeting, "The reason Sanders does not go to the podium much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely and inaccurately, in particular, certain members of the press. I told her not to bother. The word gets out anyway! Most will never cover us fairly and hence, the term fake news."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The last we checked, there has not been one held this year, Hogan. Is there any plans to start that back up again? Or see Sarah Sanders back up at the podium?

GIDLEY: She's going to come back when she finds a reason to do that. Because so often, it's so funny, because the media often tell us that, when Sanders stands right behind me at this podium, "Why can't we hear from the president?"


ACOSTA: And there was not a briefing today.

Now, the White House lost a bargaining chip in its battle over the wall when the Supreme Court declined to get involved in the legal fight over the fate of the young, undocumented immigrants known as the DREAMers. Had the Supreme Court gone along with the president's plan to end that program, he could have leveraged that decision to obtain funding for his wall. That didn't happen.

Meanwhile, estimates are coming in that the cost of the shutdown will soon exceed the price tag for the president's wall on the border. The Financial Research Forum, S&P, Wolf -- This is very interesting -- now says the cost of the shutdown to the economy will hit $6 billion by the end of this week. That is more than what the president has requested for his wall in the first place -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very sad, indeed. All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He's a member of both the Budget and the Appropriations Committees. Senator, thanks so much for coming in.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Wolf, good to be with you.

BLITZER: So, well, we just heard there are going to be two separate votes -- correct me if I'm wrong -- on Thursday: a Republican bill that would fund the president's border wall, a Democratic bill that would temporarily reopen the government and then allow negotiations to begin over border security, presumably including a wall. But it would only be a temporary reopening.

Do you think either of these bills is going to pass? Because I believe you need 60 votes.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's right, Wolf. I really hope that the second bill passes.

BLITZER: That's the Democratic?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's not -- it's really a Democratic bill. The Democratic proposal is the one the House of Representatives sent over when they first --

BLITZER: But this is a modified version of the House one?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, this is more like the Lindsey Graham proposal, right? Just a little while ago, he proposed that we open the government for three weeks, and that we then use that period of time to negotiate. This would reopen the government for even less than that. It would be --

BLITZER: Until February 8. VAN HOLLEN: -- until February 8 and give us time to renegotiate. And federal employees, who are right now being denied their pay, would at least get their back pay.

So the only reason not to support this short reprieve is if you want to continue to punish federal employees and others out there and hold them hostage in this situation.

BLITZER: So if -- if you get all 13 -- if you get all of the Democrats --


BLITZER: -- you have 47 Democrats -- to vote in favor, you need 13 Republicans. Can you get 13 Republicans to support this compromise?

VAN HOLLEN: I would think on this very narrow proposal, you would. Because what it does, as you say, it doesn't do what I think we need to do, which is fund the government departments at the levels that we agreed to on a bipartisan basis already. It just opens the government until February 8, gives us a little breathing space; allows employees to come back to work. They will get paid so they won't be missing, you know, their rent payments and their mortgage payments. Small businesses will be able to get their loans.

And then we can use that time to negotiate, as we've always been willing to do, on these other issues but not under, you know, threat of shutdown.

BLITZER: But the Republican version, Republican bill you'll oppose and almost all the Democrats, presumably, at least most of them, almost all of them will oppose it. Is that right?

VAN HOLLEN: I believe so. It's a totally one-sided, lopsided bill. This was put forward by the president without any consultations with Democrats.

BLITZER: But even if you pass it in the Senate and then pass it as the House, the president, if he wants to, he's opposed with your proposal, he could veto it. You would need a two-thirds override, 67 votes.

VAN HOLLEN: That's exactly right. But this would create some momentum to open the government, again create a little breathing room so that we can move on.

It is really hard to see how Republican senators would justify opposing giving us this little bit of time to try to work things out.

BLITZER: Well, when Lindsey Graham proposed it a few weeks ago, the president rejected it.

VAN HOLLEN: The president did reject it, but his colleagues didn't automatically.

BLITZER: Well, you know, McConnell wouldn't allow it to come up for a vote.

VAN HOLLEN: But now he has, right? So you know, maybe Mitch McConnell was convinced his members are going to vote against it. I don't know.

But I think when Thursday comes and we're seeing every day the mounting damage by this Trump shutdown -- he said he was going to be proud to shut down the government, but nobody can be proud of the tactic.

BLITZER: Are you suggesting that Mitch McConnell has changed his position and that maybe the president has encouraged Mitch McConnell, said, "Go ahead, let them have a vote"?

VAN HOLLEN: Look, Wolf, I don't know. I do know that way back, of course, Mitch McConnell got the signal from the White House that the White House would support -- the president would sign that bill to open until February 8. That was back in December. Whether it's true now, I don't know.

But I am glad we're going to have a vote in the light of day. And I hope the American people will hold everybody accountable on the vote. It's an opportunity to provide a little breathing space, to try to work things out and make sure that federal employees can at least pay their bills, which they can't do right now.

BLITZER: The State of the Union address, originally, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, invited the president to deliver the State of the Union address before a joint session of the House and the Senate next Tuesday. And then we know what happened. She rescinded that invitation.

Is it fair to have -- to use that State of the Union address by the president -- it typically happens every year -- as a bargaining chip? Because you know the president wants to address the American people before -- before the U.S. Congress.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Wolf, I think it was really a security issue. I mean, we just --

BLITZER: The Secret Service says they can handle it.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, we just heard from your reporting that the FBI is saying that the shutdown is significantly hurting their operations and their ability to protect Americans.

If -- if Speaker Pelosi and the sergeant of arms and the Secret Service can determine jointly that there's not a security problem, then I think Speaker Pelosi suggested that she'd be willing to go forward. So I'm going to leave that to the security people in the House, the sergeant of arms there, and the White House.

BLITZER: Yes. Because the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service, has deemed it, has said they could secure the U.S. Capitol for all of the members of the House and the Senate, the cabinet, the justices of the Supreme Court, the diplomatic corps, all the VIP guests.

They say they could handle it, including of course, the president and the vice president.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, let's see. They're going to have to have that conversation with the sergeant of arms to make sure all of that works out together.

I would just emphasize what you've been reporting here and which we're hearing from other law enforcement agencies around the country, which is this is having a real bite, including, for example, on our ability to go after MS-13 gangs.

I mean, the president talks about MS-13. That's a serious issue, serious threat. I was trying to fight MS-13 before the president even heard of them.

But the shutdown is weakening our efforts to go after them, as well as other gangs and criminal elements. So it's undermining this effort. If they could work it out, security wise --

BLITZER: But basically, what I hear you saying and what I hear Nancy Pelosi saying is the president will not be invited to deliver the State of the Union address until the government is fully reopened?

VAN HOLLEN: No. As I understood it, Speaker Pelosi said that she was concerned about the security issues. I will have to leave it to the speaker to resolve this.

But what I will say is we can easily resolve this by voting on Thursday for opening the government for two weeks, right? That would make sure that everybody was on the job able to do whatever security measures.

[17:20:12] So that really, it's certainly not the perfect solution. I don't -- I don't love it by any means. But under the circumstances, people should take that opportunity.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll see if you get 13 Republicans to join you --


BLITZER: -- on Thursday. Then we'll see if the president signs -- assuming the House passes it -- signs it into law.


BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Lots of -- lots going on, as usual.

Senator, thanks do much for coming in.

VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Up next, breaking news. The first sign that the special counsel has expressed interest in the Trump campaign's ties to the National Rifle Association during the 2016 presidential election campaign.


BLITZER: Our breaking news: a onetime Trump campaign aide tells CNN the special counsel's team asked him about the campaign's ties to the National Rifle Association. It's the first indication the special counsel has been probing the Trump campaign's ties to the powerful gun rights group.

Let's ask our political and legal experts about the significance of this disclosure. Jeffrey Toobin, what does it say to you?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the NRA has been supporting Republican candidates for a long time.

What made 2016 unusual is that there were a lot of contacts between Russia and people in Russia and the NRA. And the question of whether money flowed from Russia to the NRA to the Trump campaign is apparently an open question. It is not surprising that Mueller would be looking into this subject.

Whether they found anything improper, of course, is something we don't know at this point.

BLITZER: Well, Phil, what do you think? Could it just be a side show or actually part of what Mueller is investigating, investigation collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think Jeffrey's right. My guess is this is about financial flows going into the NRA that might have made their way to the campaign.

But if you want me to make a bet, I'm going to say side show. Look, we have some open questions here. For example, we've lost sight of the question about Roger Stone's cooperation or contacts with people like those affiliated with WikiLeaks. We still don't know that Paul Manafort is lying about. Those are much more central questions than something that crops up two years into the investigation about money funneled through the NRA.

I think it's significant, if you look at the amounts of money they were contributing to the campaign. But I don't think this is as core as some of the other questions.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think sideshow for the Mueller investigation, but a really potentially huge deal for the broader political atmosphere here and the political question about this really powerful organization.

We all know how powerful the NRA is politically. And if they are potentially in trouble for these contacts or even getting money that they shouldn't have gotten separate from Mueller, it is -- it has got political ramifications.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. Dana, I know you just spoke with Rudy Giuliani. Today. We've got a lot to discuss about that. Much more right after this.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our political and legal correspondents and analysts.

[17:32:04] And Dana, you had a chance to speak to Rudy Giuliani today. You discussed what was some news in this interview he did with "The New Yorker" magazine in which he said -- he said this: "Because I have been through all the tapes. I have been through all the texts. I have been through all the e-mails, and I know none existed." He was talking about whether the president had directed Michael Cohen, his longtime lawyer and fixer, to lie to Congress.

And then all of a sudden, he's talking about all the tapes. And you discussed that with Giuliani.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I did. And he clarified to say what we have been told by him and many others many times before, that what seemed to be a bombshell, that there was more than one tape. And what he said was no, there was one tape with a direct conversation with him and Michael Cohen and the president, which we have heard and we have at least seen some of the transcripts of. And that was about the payment to -- to and about Stormy Daniels, we believe.

But he said that he also listened to tapes of Michael Cohen talking about the president to other people. Journalists, business people, people who he didn't know, because it was only Michael Cohen's side of this. And that none of those tapes, none of those conversations did he say what Buzzfeed alleged that he said the president directed him to make these payments.

But look, big picture, this is yet another day that we're talking about Giuliani doing clean-up on aisle nine. And I actually asked him whether the president's mad? I actually said, "Is the president pissed at you?" And he said no. He said he wants things clarified, though. He understands how these things happen. It happens to him all the time.

BLITZER: Is it a strategy, Giuliani, what he's doing, or is it just stumbling?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, it may be giving him a little bit too much credit to say that there is some grand strategy here. It certainly suggests that you have a lawyer who actually isn't fully aware of what his client's activities were, both during the course of the 2016 campaign and since he has taken office as president.

And there's also an element where Rudy Giuliani doesn't necessarily trust that his client is telling him the truth. And that's why he's left himself some wiggle room when he suddenly introduces hypotheticals that contradict something he said the very day before.

But if there is any strategy here, it's to have us talking about Rudy Giuliani and also to put forth so many contradictory statements that it leaves the American public saying, "We don't know what to believe."

BLITZER: What do you believe, Jeffrey?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, far be it from me to read Rudy Giuliani's mind. Because that's a tangled web that I am not prepared to understand.

But I do think, in the big picture, the problem he has is that Donald Trump lied to the American people throughout the 2006 campaign, saying that he had no contact, no business, no deals with Russia.

And it's increasingly clear that throughout 2016, there were discussions continuing about Trump Tower in Moscow. Giuliani has to sort that out.

[17:35:04] And in one respect I feel sorry for him, because he has to do that without acknowledging that Trump lied throughout the 2016 campaign, even though it was clear he did. So he's been trying to sort of torture the facts in a way to make it look like the president has told a consistent story, which he hasn't. And that's Donald Trump's fault. That's not Rudy Giuliani's fault.

BLITZER: How do you see it?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Give me a break. I mean, we're -- this guy is on TV every day. And there's two solutions when he's on TV. Either he's purposely misleading us, which is completely inappropriate, or he can't figure out what he heard yesterday. He forgot it. He's -- he's misrepresenting it, because it was three weeks ago, and he's told three other stories since then.

Why do we listen to this guy, except for comedy? He's either lying, purposely misleading or he's forgotten.

BASH: Well, we listen to him because he's the president's attorney and he's the key person on the legal team who actually speaks to the president.

MUDD: Sure, but nothing he ever says seems to be true. I mean, every time you poke at it, he's like, "Well, I kind of forgot that I used the wrong word. I sort of meant that kind of happened in theory, but I used present tense," which means it didn't happen.

BASH: What matters -- what matters most right now is whether Robert Mueller thinks it's true.

MUDD: Yes.

BASH: He NOW has a document that has answers from the president under oath. And they swore that they would not return to Mueller, that they wouldn't answer any further questions. But on this one, Giuliani said if he asked to follow up, he would answer.

BLITZER: How do you see it?

TOOBIN: I changed my mind. I agree with everything Phil said. Just ignore what I said earlier.

No. I mean, I think there is a little more method to his madness. But there is no doubt there has just been incredible amounts of confusion sown by Giuliani throughout this. And that, I'm sorry, cannot be the plan.

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think, indeed, he has sown a lot of confusion. But to Dana's point, one thing that has changed is you do have now these questions that were answered by the president and submitted to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

So now, if his attorney is out there making claims that contradict the answers that the president and his legal team provided to special counsel, that could, of course, be significant. And ultimately, you also have Giuliani, of course, changing his story day after day and, again, just spreading a great deal of confusion so that the American people don't know what exactly to believe.

BLITZER: Dana, when you spoke to him on the phone, did he seem angry, frustrated? Concerned?

BASH: No. No.

BLITZER: How would you describe him?

BASH: None of the above. He seemed like he seems on television, like Jeffrey, I know you spoke to him. He -- he -- when it comes to the public relations/political/messaging part of this, he's not bothered by it. Because he knows the president isn't bothered by it. Because it's the short-term game.

What matters is, is like first and foremost, any potential legal jeopardy, which he swears in private and public that the president is not in.

But then the political jeopardy, because any potential impeachment process is a political structure. And he -- and he knows that. So look, he's -- Jeffrey talked to him. He's happy to be in the game and a part of the conversation.

SIDDIQUI: And really quickly remember, Rudy Giuliani --

TOOBIN: I mean, that's certainly consistent with --

SIDDIQUI: -- has certainly gone on as this public face of the president's legal team and his aggressive tack, while some of this, of course, seems ridiculous to us, because he just keeps contradicting himself, that's part of what the president liked about him. He wanted to be out there, and he wanted to be really pushing a new narrative around this investigation and trying, of course, to help undermine the special counsel and his work.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following. Coming up, the self-declared seductress, who claimed to know about Moscow's election meddling here in the United States, all of a sudden she goes quiet. What will happen to her now? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:43] BLITZER: Tonight, as the Democratic field for the 2020 presidential race comes into focus, we're seeing a rather unusual and surprising trend: apologizing. Jeff Zeleny is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jeff, tell us who is apologizing and why?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some of the biggest names are offering some of the biggest apologies. There's Joe Biden; there's Kirsten Gillibrand; there's Bernie Sanders and more. They're trying to mend some of their positions on their previous votes on immigration, criminal justice reform and health care.


ZELENY (voice-over): Before presidential candidates say, "I'm running," this year they're saying, "I'm sorry."




ZELENY: Democrats eyeing the White House are delivering one mea culpa after another, scrambling to align their positions with the party's shift to the left.

Joe Biden is the latest to join the apology tour, now saying he regrets that the 1994 crime bill led to an era of mass incarceration, through vastly tougher sentencing laws for those selling crack cocaine.

BIDEN: It was a big mistake when it was made, but it's trapped an entire generation.

ZELENY: But 25 years ago, Biden not only voted for the bill; he was right here in the Rose Garden as President Clinton signed the new law. And until recently, Biden has proudly taken ownership.

BIDEN: I wrote the crime -- the Biden Crime Bill, the thing that put 100,000 cops on the street.

ZELENY: Meanwhile, Kirsten Gillibrand has been trying to explain her dramatic political shift, from a moderate Democratic congresswoman from upstate New York to a liberal senator.

She once described herself as a firm opponent for giving amnesty to illegal aliens. She also said English should be the official language of the United States.

GILLIBRAND: They certainly weren't empathetic, and they were not kind. And I did not think about suffering in other people's lives.

ZELENY: While clean-ups are common in presidential races --

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm sorry for the consequences that were unintended and that have had a very unfortunate impact on people's lives.

ZELENY: -- this year's string of confessionals is coming earlier than usual, as candidates try to clarify their views before hitting the campaign trail.

Hillary Clinton's often tortured apologies --

CLINTON: I take responsibility.

What I did was legally permitted, No. 1, first and foremost, OK?

ZELENY: -- offer a case study for 2020 and a lesson that an apology must be seen as authentic to be accepted.

Democrats do not have the luxury of holding firm like President Trump, who famously, almost never expresses regret.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I may stand before you in six months and say, "Hey, I was wrong." I don't know that I'll ever admit that. But I'll find some kind of an excuse."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before Bernie Sanders decides whether to run again, he is apologizing for sexual harassment of female staffers inside his 2016 campaign.


BERNIE SANDERS, UNITED STATES SENATOR: To the women are in our campaign who were harassed or mistreated, I apologize.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Tulsi Gabbard is expressing regret for what she now calls offensive comments about same-sex marriage.


TULSI GABBARD, UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: I sincerely repeat my apology today. I'm deeply sorry for having said them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While Kamala Harris is stopping well short of apologizing, she's defending her record as a prosecutor that some activists see as being pro law enforcement at the expense of civil rights.


KAMALA HARRIS, SENATOR OF THE UNITED STATES: The buck stops with me and I take full responsibility for what my office did.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's Biden's new apologies that raise questions about how many more times he may have to say I'm sorry.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing ...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Considering his long Senate record including controversial moments like Anita Hill's testimony at the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: I am so sorry that she had to go through what she went through.

ZELENY: Now, we're told that the Vice President is still deciding if he's going to run. But as aides tell us, they're not apologizing over these apologies. They say it's simply an evolution of his time in the Senate. But, Wolf, that will be a key moment, does he ever apologize to Anita Hill. Of course, that was such a poignant moment more than 25 years ago.

BLITZER: Yes, I remember it vividly. All right. Thanks very much. Good report, Jeff Zeleny. Here in the Situation Room, coming up this self-proclaimed seductress who said she knew about Moscow's attempts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election all of a sudden she goes silent.


BLITZER: She build herself as a professional seductress claiming Kremlin connections and inside knowledge of Russia's attack on the U.S. election to anyone who would listen, but now she's suddenly gone quiet. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. Brian, now what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, the decision of this woman, Anastasia Vashukevich, to suddenly stop talking is a chilling development tonight. She now says people used her as a tool but her silence has Kremlin watchers voicing real concern now about the pressure that's likely been placed on her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had written a book on how to seduce a billionaire, was a force on social media with Instagram posts from jail in Thailand. Even from the back of a paddy wagon and claimed she had inside information on Russian interference in America's 2016 election.


ready to give you all of the missing puzzle pieces. Support them with videos and audios.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But tonight, Anastasia Vashukevich, a self- proclaimed seductress and sex coach from Belarus is telling a different story from inside a Russian courtroom. Instead of promising to shed light on Russian involvement in America's affairs, she's gone silent about one of her own, allegedly an affair with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin.


VASHUKEVICH (Through Interpreter): No audio tapes of Oleg Deripaska will be published and I no longer will be compromising him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vashukevich's extraordinary turn from alleged snitch to pledged silence has startled analysts and led to fears she may have been pressured into keeping quiet. Up until this week, the 28 year old had told anyone who would listen that she had carried on an affair with Deripaska telling journalists she saw him meet several times with at least three Americans. She refused to name them.


VASHUKEVICH (Through Interpreter): Hi to Deripaska. I'm waiting for him to come rescue me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Released from custody in Moscow but still facing a prostitution inquiry, she posted a one-word comment on Instagram.


SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N. FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Well, it certainly would that there were threats made to her to silence her. For her to have been out there so much with photographs and other evidence, and then to do 180 degree about-face suggests to me somebody's gotten to her and silenced her.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vashukevich had spent nearly a year in jail in Thailand after being arrested on prostitution charges. Last week she pleaded guilty and was deported. She had previously said she feared she died in a Russian prison if that happen. When she landed in Moscow, she was abruptly detained by people she claimed treated her rudely.

So why the sudden change from seeming to resist arrest to total capitulation? Russia watchers say it's not clear especially given the damning information she once said she had. So far Vashukevich has not shared publicly any of the recordings or photographs she once promised of Americans meeting with Oleg Deripaska and there are no indications that she's spoken with special counsel investigators in the U.S.

A Thai official says FBI agents tried to meet with Vashukevich in the Thai Jail last year and were not allowed to, but she has posted pictures of her and Deripaska embracing on his yacht and video of Deripaska speaking with Russia's Deputy Prime Minister on the yacht. Analysts don't discount the idea that she could have something investigators would want to see.


KEITH DARDEN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: If there are conversations that she recorded between Deripaska and Americans about other aspects of the U.S. elections, those could be extremely damaging.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Deripaska denies any involvement in election meddling.


OLEG DERIPASKA: Get lost, please.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He also denies having an affair with Vashukevich. Tonight, there's real concern for Vashukevich's safety.


MENDELSON: I would think her life is in danger whether she's in Russia, Belarus or goes elsewhere. I think that she's in a very precarious situation.

TODD: Now, we pressed Russian officials in Moscow and here in Washington to respond to questions about whether anyone has likely tried to silence Anastasia Vashukevich. They have not responded to that or to the concerns that Vashukevich's life is in danger. Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much. Good report. Up next, the breaking news, CNN gets a first indication that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been interested in exploring the campaign's ties to the National Rifle Association.

Happening now, breaking news, ties to the NRA, CNN has learned that the Special Counsel has been asking questions about the Trump campaign's connections to the National Rifle Association. Standby for details and what it all could further Russia investigation. What tapes?

[17:59:59] Rudy Giuliani claims he heard audio evidence related to the President

and Michael Cohen and then abruptly denies tapes exists.