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THE SITUATION ROOM
Cohen Delays Testimony Out of Concern Over Alleged Trump Threats to Family; Interview With Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); Pelosi Once Again Says No to Trump State of the Union. Self-Proclaimed Sex Coach Claiming to Have Info on Election Meddling Released from Custody in Russia; American Diplomats to be Thrown Out of Venezuela by Disputed President. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 23, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: After the president essentially dared her to disinvite him. Tonight, Mr. Trump is considering a new plan to go around Pelosi to fund his border wall.
Manafort fights back. A new response tonight from the former Trump campaign chairman to the special counsel's claim that he lied to prosecutors. Why is a federal judge now forcing Paul Manafort to appear in court?
And fearing for her life. A sex coach who claims she has evidence of election meddling is worried the Russians are out to get her after she was suddenly released from custody. What might the Kremlin do to guarantee her silence?
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: We're following breaking news on alleged witness intimidation by the president of the United States.
Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen postponing his planned testimony before Congress next month, claiming his family is being threatened by the president and by Rudy Giuliani.
Also breaking, the president tries and fails to pressure Nancy Pelosi into letting him deliver his State of the Union address in the House chamber. The House speaker is flatly declaring that the speech is off until the government reopens, pushing back after Mr. Trump threatened to show up Tuesday, despite her request for a delay.
This hour, I will talk with the Senate Judiciary Committee member Richard Blumenthal. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.
Jessica, Michael Cohen says the president is threatening his family.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is, Wolf.
Michael Cohen is making it clear these ongoing threats from the president and Rudy Giuliani are the reason he is canceling his upcoming congressional testimony. Now, in the course of the past few weeks, the president and Giuliani have repeatedly targeted Cohen's father-in-law and his wife, saying that they should be investigated as the real criminals.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump is trying to turn the tables on his former fixer Michael Cohen's claims that the president has repeatedly threatened Cohen and his family.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say he's been threatened by the truth. He's only been threatened by the truth.
SCHNEIDER: Michael Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis pulled the plug today on Cohen's highly hyped testimony to Congress February 7, saying it was "due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani. This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first."
TRUMP: And let me tell you the other thing. His father-in-law is a very rich guy.
SCHNEIDER: The president and Rudy Giuliani have been ramping up the rhetoric in recent weeks, targeting Michael Cohen's father-in-law in very public fashion.
TRUMP: In order to get his sentence reduced, he says, I have an idea. I will tell -- I will give you some information on the president. Well, there is no information. But he should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that's the one that people want to look at.
SCHNEIDER: Last month, the president also referenced Cohen's wife.
TRUMP: His father-in-law, I thought, was the guy that was the primary focus. Well, what did he did do? Did he make a deal to keep his father-in-law out? Did he make a deal to keep his wife, who supposedly -- maybe I'm wrong, but you can check it. Did he keep -- make a deal to keep his wife out of trouble?
SCHNEIDER: A source now tell CNN Michael Cohen's father-in-law and wife feel threatened by the comments coming from the president, including this tweet just last week, where the president cryptically exclaimed: "Watch father-in-law."
And on Sunday, Rudy Giuliani suggested without proof, Cohen's father- in-law may have criminal ties.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, it's OK to go after the father-in-law?
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now -- now, of course it is, if the father-in-law is a criminal.
I'm telling you, he comes from the Ukraine.
This reason that is important is, he may have ties to something called organized crime.
SCHNEIDER: Michael Cohen will soon serve three years in prison for financial crimes and lying to Congress.
Just after he was sentenced in December, he responded to the president's claims.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: His claim about him to protect your wife, to protect your father-in-law.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Inaccurate. He knows the truth. I know the truth.
SCHNEIDER: Before Cohen's lawyer officially postponed Cohen's testimony to Congress today, he alluded to the fear Cohen and his family face.
LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: There is fear that Mr. Trump has supporters, either in this country or maybe abroad, that have a motivation to harm.
SCHNEIDER: And time could be running out, if Michael Cohen doesn't appear before these congressional committees sometime in February. That's because Michael Cohen is scheduled to report to prison on March 6.
Wolf, it's scheduled to be a three-year sentence.
BLITZER: Yes, all right. Let's see what happens. Thanks very much. Good report, Jessica Schneider.
Let's go to Capitol Hill right now.
Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is watching these developments.
Manu, Democrats are calling the threat cited by Michael Cohen as textbook mob tactics. What are you hearing?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are raising significant concerns about witness intimidation, as engaging in those mob-like tactics to scare someone from going public about something very serious, about these conversations that occurred in 2015 and 2016 about that Trump Tower Moscow project that Cohen initially lied to Congress in a classified setting back in 2017, as well as that hush money scheme in which Michael Cohen and federal prosecutors implicated the president in two federal crimes. Now, Democrats are telling me tonight, Wolf, that they still want to hear from Michael Cohen, even as he has postponed his February testimony. And they're raising the prospect that they may need to have to do so after he reports to prison.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: He felt that he was threatened by the president of the United States of America and of his lawyer.
Let me be clear. That is simply unacceptable in a democracy. We will get the testimony, as sure as night becomes day and day becomes night.
RAJU: What about when he goes to jail? Can you get him after he goes to jail?
CUMMINGS: Of course we can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: And Cummings there would not rule out a subpoena.
And we asked him directly, are you considering issuing a subpoena? He said, we will cross that bridge when we come. But they're going to have to make decisions very soon about bringing him for forward before the House Oversight Committee.
And separately the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, making it very clear he expects to hear from Michael Cohen as well, but that would be a private closed-door classified hearing.
And several on the Senate Intelligence Committee, both the Republican chairman, Richard Burr, the top Democrat, Mark Warner, also want to hear from Michael Cohen in a classified setting. So Cohen may want to delay this testimony, Wolf, but members of Congress still want to hear from him in public and in private.
The question is, how will he respond when those subpoenas come? And will they bring him out from prison to actually come and testify? That would be rather dramatic event, but one that Democrats say is entirely possible -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Once again, he begins his three-year prison sentence in early March. We will see what that brings.
All right, thanks, Manu, very much.
Now to the president's test of wills with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, over the State of the Union address and the government shutdown.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Abby Phillip.
Abby, what more are you learning tonight?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, President Trump, according to a Republican source close to the discussions, is once again talking about executive action.
Now, that's because the talks have basically stalled, and Republicans close to the White House are urging the president to use executive action, taking money from one part of the government and using it toward building a border wall, as an alternative to keeping the government closed or compromising with Democrats by granting what they call amnesty to dreamers.
But one thing is clear. Negotiations right now are virtually nonexistent. But the political theater is at an all-time high.
PHILLIP (voice-over): The State of the Union coming to a screeching halt today.
TRUMP: The State of the Union speech has been canceled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn't want to hear the truth.
PHILLIP: As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yanks her invitation to President Trump.
TRUMP: We just found out that she's canceled it. And I think that's a great blotch on the incredible country that we all love.
PHILLIP: Pelosi citing the 33-day-old shutdown as the reason.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The government is still shut down. I still make the offer. Let's work on a mutually agreeable date, as our original date was mutually agreeable, so that we can welcome him properly.
PHILLIP: Her response coming hours after Trump told Pelosi in a sarcasm-laden letter that he was making plans to be there on time, on schedule and, very importantly, on location.
Pelosi's move seeming to catch the president off-guard.
TRUMP: I'm not surprised. It's really a shame what's happening with the Democrats. They have become radicalized.
PHILLIP: As sources tell CNN Trump and Pelosi haven't spoken for two weeks, the president predicting the shutdown won't be over anytime soon.
TRUMP: This will go on for a while.
PHILLIP: The White House planned to ratchet up the pressure on Pelosi in the coming days, forcing her to either allow the speech to go forward in the House chamber or cancel it altogether.
But aides are increasingly concerned that alternative venues for a presidential address won't pass muster, especially a campaign-style rally that might be dismissed as just another political speech.
REV. BARRY BLACK, SENATE CHAPLAIN: Lord, as some members of our armed forces seek sustenance at charity food pantries and prepare to miss a second payday, something has to give.
PHILLIP: All this as the real-world impacts of the shutdown are piling up.
Frustrated federal workers and Coast Guard leadership speaking out.
?DNM?DM. KARL SCHULTZ, U.S. COAST GUARD COMMANDANT: I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members.
PHILLIP: One top Trump economic adviser even predicting this stunning result if the shutdown continues another month.
QUESTION: Could we get zero growth? I just want to nail this down.
KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Yes, we could. Yes, we could.
QUESTION: We could. OK, wow. All right. Wow.
HASSETT: If it extended for the whole quarter, if it extended for the whole quarter, and given the fact that the first quarter tends to be low because of residual seasonality, then you could end up with a number of very close to zero in the first quarter.
But, then again, the second quarter number would be humongous if the government reopened.
PHILLIP: Meantime, President Trump doubling down on the showmanship, even rolling out a new slogan to take Republicans into the 2020 campaign: "Build a wall and crime will fall."
As federal workers brace for a second missed paycheck of the shutdown on Friday, he added: "Use it and pray."
All this as new polls show the president may be on shaky ground; 71 percent say the wall isn't worth shutting down the government in a new CBS poll, and the president's approval rating has fallen to 37 percent during the shutdown, according to a CNN average of five recent polls.
Asked how the president justifies keeping the government shut down until he gets his wall, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway focused on semantics.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I'm asking why you in the polling questions, respectfully, are still saying wall, when the president has said you can call it whatever you want. Call it steel slat barriers.
QUESTION: He calls it a wall himself, Kellyanne. He called it a wall this morning.
(CROSSTALK) CONWAY: Well, I was in the Situation Room when he said to Leader Schumer, Minority Leader Schumer...
QUESTION: He said it was a new slogan when he called it a wall this morning.
CONWAY: Yes, it's a great slogan. Build a wall and crime will fall. We know that's true.
PHILLIP: Now the process begins at finding what alternative, if any, the White House will deploy for a speech for the president next week.
We are told that White House aides since last week have been looking at options both here at the White House and outside of Washington. Meantime, there are new consequences being shown for President Trump for this shutdown.
In some new polling from the Associated Press, President Trump's approval rating falling to 34 percent. That's down from 42 percent in December, before the shutdown. It's clear that voters are blaming him also for the shutdown; 60 percent say he deserves most of the blame -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, 34 percent approval, that's pretty awful.
All right, thanks very much, Abby Phillip, at the White House.
Let's talk about all the breaking news.
Senator Richard Blumenthal is joining us. He's a Democratic who serves on the Judiciary and Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
So, you heard Michael Cohen accusing the president and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani of threatening his family. Is he referring to their public statements? Or do you know of any other threats?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I know of no other real threats. There are lots of rumors and reports.
But, remember, these words of intimidation come from the president of the United States with a vast Twitter following. So it's not only his formal position. It's also his, in effect, inciting potential danger to his -- Michael Cohen's father-in-law and to his wife.
BLITZER: Does what the president is saying, what Rudy Giuliani is saying, from your perspective -- and you're a former attorney general in your home state of Connecticut -- does it amount to witness intimidation?
BLUMENTHAL: As a federal prosecutor, I have actually done cases involving organized crime, some of them potentially involving these kinds of threats.
Clearly, there's a violation here of 18 United States Code 1512, which stops and protects against intimidation of witnesses. He would be prosecutable, but for his being president. And I believe that a sitting president can be indicted.
One of the reasons for it is to stop ongoing criminal activity.
BLITZER: What about Rudy Giuliani? He's not a sitting president.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think that that kind of statement by him, which is -- has to be examined very closely, could be indictable.
BLITZER: Should Mueller, Robert Mueller and his team investigate?
BLUMENTHAL: Very definitely.
Robert Mueller should include in his investigation already of obstruction of justice these statements by Rudy Giuliani and the president and possible agreement between them.
And my view about Rudy Giuliani is that kind of statement should be investigated for additional facts. I'm not saying that he can be indicted today, but it has to be included in Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation of obstruction, because these kinds of tactics smack of what the mob does, clearly, what is very, very, really outrageous for anybody who has any experience in law enforcement, as Rudy Giuliani does, or any position in law enforcement, as the president does, as the head of our justice system.
BLITZER: Because I checked the other day, rechecked the other day, what Mueller is authorized to do, as the special counsel.
He can investigate, of course, any links and/or coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. Also, he can investigate -- quote -- "perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence and intimidation of witnesses."
So he could -- if he wants to go down that road, he certainly has the authority from the deputy attorney general, who was then the acting attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
BLUMENTHAL: Even before these statements of intimidation and threat, there was a credible case of obstruction of justice against the president of the United States.
There was evidence of it in actions that he's taken, like the false statements about the Trump Tower meeting, the firing of Jim Comey, his statement to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister that he fired Comey because he wanted to stop the investigation. One more piece of the mosaic.
BLITZER: Do you think the House Oversight Committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, should go ahead and subpoena Cohen right now?
And you are on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Do you think you should guys subpoena Cohen, specifically before he begins his three- year prison sentence in early March?
BLUMENTHAL: I wrote to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Graham of South Carolina, that we should really force Michael Cohen to come back as a witness, if necessary by subpoena.
We should invite him back. But the House Intelligence Committee very definitely should subpoena him, if he won't come voluntarily. Witnesses come from prison all the time. They are dressed in suits and ties, not in orange jumpsuits. And they testify before courts and juries and before congressional committees.
And that's what should happen with Michael Cohen, in public. The American public deserves to hear Michael Cohen's testimony.
BLITZER: You heard the president say that Cohen, in the president's words, doesn't want to tell the truth. Do you believe this was a way, what has unfolded, for Cohen to get out of testifying in open session before the Oversight Committee in the House?
BLUMENTHAL: I think Michael Cohen has a very understandable and legitimate fear for his family.
If the president of the United States threatens in the way that he has, anybody would have that kind of fear. And Michael Cohen has nothing left to lose by telling the truth. In fact, he has everything to lose if he fails to tell the truth.
And I think he legitimately fears for the safety of his family.
BLITZER: Two top Republicans on the Oversight Committee yesterday said they were told that Cohen would not answer questions on any current investigations, investigations still under way.
So, they say this is all a Democratic effort to showboat. How significant would his testimony at this point really be, if there are restrictions as to what he can say and what he can't say?
BLUMENTHAL: They are going to have to, in effect, deconflict his testimony with the special counsel, so that there is no compromise or undermining of the ongoing investigation.
But it may just be a matter of timing as to when Michael Cohen can testify in public before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I think we should bring him back, or bring him for first time, and before the Intelligence Committee and any other committee.
BLITZER: You are trying to reopen a Senate bill that's going to go after the Trump administration's efforts to ease sanctions on Russian companies tied to Oleg Deripaska, this Russian oligarch.
Explain -- who is also being investigated by Mueller. Explain your reasoning, why you want to redo it, because it failed? You didn't get enough votes the other day.
BLUMENTHAL: There is more evidence which has never been revealed before to the Congress about how Oleg Deripaska, who is one of Putin's financial henchmen, may have benefited from this agreement to lift sanctions on his companies.
Remember, the sanctions had the purpose of, in effect, punishing him and his companies and others for Russians meddling in our elections and other malign acts around the globe. And some of the information that has recently been revealed was not given to us when we first voted to block that lifting of sanctions.
We should have an opportunity to vote again. That's why I have asked that we again consider blocking lifting those sanctions. They should be in place, those sanctions, not only on him personally, but on his companies. That's where his financial interest is.
BLITZER: Thanks so much for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut.
More news coming up. We have new information on the president's remarks that left Michael Cohen feeling scared for his family. What will Cohen and Congress do next?
Plus, the president's efforts to intimidate Nancy Pelosi simply don't seem to be working. How and when will their shutdown standoff finally end?
BLITZER: All right, the breaking news tonight, President Trump's former fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen postponing his testimony to Congress, citing -- and I'm quoting now -- "ongoing threats" against his family by the president and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Let's get more from our correspondents and our analysts.
And, Sabrina Siddiqui, I'm going to read to you a line from the statement that Michael Cohen released.
"Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani as recently as this weekend, as well as Mr. Cohen's continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen's appearance will be postponed to a later date."
How significant is this?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, this was poised to be a bombshell hearing.
Democrats certainly saw it as a significant opportunity to question in public someone who for years has perhaps had unparalleled knowledge of the president's personal and professional dealings.
It's unclear, of course, based on his agreement with Robert Mueller how much Michael Cohen would be able to say in a public setting about the Trump Tower project in Moscow or any conversations he had with the president, if the president, for example, directed him to lie to Congress.
But Democrats also wanted to put forward questions about hush money that was paid to some of the women who alleged having an affair with Trump, as well as other questions around the Trump Organization.
Now, it's important to note that Elijah Cummings and Adam Schiff, the chairmen of the House Oversight and Intelligence Committees, respectively., they have stopped short so far of saying they're going to subpoena Cohen's testimony, but they are saying that appearing before Congress is not an option.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, I want you to listen to watch some of the comments made by President Trump add Rudy Giuliani about Michael Cohen's family. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Did he make a deal to keep his father-in-law out? Did he make a deal to keep his wife, who supposedly -- maybe I'm wrong, but you can check it. Did he keep -- make a deal to keep his wife out of trouble?
He should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that's the one that people want to look at, because where does that money -- that's the money in the family.
QUESTION: What is his father-in-law's name?
TRUMP: I don't know. But you will find out and you will look into it, because nobody knows what's going on over there.
TAPPER: So, it's OK to go after the father-in-law?
GIULIANI: Now -- now, of course it is, if the father-in-law is a criminal.
He comes from the Ukraine.
This reason that is important is, he may have ties to something called organized crime.
When somebody testifies against your client, you go out, and you look at what's wrong with them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so, Jeffrey, do those statements amount to witness intimidation or obstruction of justice?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they are certainly worthy of investigation.
I mean, they are, in part, just another example of the norms that have gone out the window in the Trump administration. Can you imagine any other president, can you imagine Richard Nixon going on television and saying, you know, you ought to investigate John Dean's father-in-law because he is a criminal?
It's so outrageous. It is so disgraceful. Whether it's an actual crime, I don't know. It's certainly part of a grand jury investigation for obstruction of justice, but it is outrageously wrong.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It worked. It's wrong. It was completely transparent.
I mean, from the clips you played, to the tweets that the president sent out, in particular that interview that Jake did with Giuliani on Sunday, it was absolutely no hiding it.
He laid out right on the table what their strategy was, that he wants people to know what Michael Cohen's father-in-law may have done, wink, wink, nod, nod. It was intimidation.
And the thing to keep in mind is, it worked. It worked. Michael Cohen does -- says he doesn't want to testify because of that intimidation. That's what's so remarkable about this.
BLITZER: But, Dana, you know Congress well. They can still go ahead, the leadership, and subpoena Michael Cohen and force him to come back.
BASH: They can.
And our reporting from our Hill team is that they might subpoena him. The question, though -- and maybe Jeffrey can answer this or others who are familiar with the legal underpinnings of this -- is that my experience on Capitol Hill is that, if a witness is subpoenaed to come and testify, they can use their -- invoke their Fifth Amendment right.
Now, I don't know that we would get to that point with somebody like Michael Cohen, who is friendly witness to the Democrats, they think. But if he is that nervous, either legally or whatever else he thinks is a threat to his father-in-law and to his family, maybe he won't want to do it.
TOOBIN: Just to answer Dana's question, witnesses can take the Fifth.
Cohen may not be able to take the Fifth because he has already been prosecuted for all the things that he would be testifying about. So he doesn't -- any further prosecution would be double jeopardy. He has no risk of self-incrimination.
I don't think it will come to that. It sounds like this will be worked out down the road. But Dana is exactly right that, at least for the time being, these gangster tactics of Trump and Giuliani have worked to intimidate him out of the February 7 appearance. And we will see what happens in the future.
BLITZER: Jamie, you heard the president say Cohen -- quote -- "doesn't want to tell the truth."
What do you make of this?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's Donald Trump 101.
This is someone -- how many times have we said that he has a tenuous relationship with the truth? Donald Trump is the person whose own lawyer said that he couldn't have an interview with Robert Mueller or -- quote -- "He would end up in an orange jumpsuit."
This is his M.O. We have seen him on his Twitter feed, we've seen him intimidate, you might say, many members of the Republican Party. Ask Jeff Sessions how he feels about it. But to Jeffrey's point this is outrageous. I don't think it's over yet.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: And remember, Michael Cohen is set to report to the President on March 6. So while democratic -- the democratic chairman of the relevant committee say they expect him to appear before Congress, they don't actually have a lot of time to come to some sort of an agreement.
WOLF BLITZER: Well, let me ask this, Jeffrey. If he starts his prison sentence in March 6 about to serve three years in jail, won't the Congress be able to get him released to testify even if he is in jail?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Absolutely. And so it's not like March 6 is any sort of absolute deadline. It's a heck of a lot more convenient to come into Congress when you're not locked up in federal custody. But it is -- I mean it has been done over the year. It is not impossible by any means. But it makes it harder for investigators to prepare.
I mean, all of these intimidations that, as Dana has said at the very beginning here, has worked so far. And the idea that this intimidation is being done not by the head of the Genovese family but by the President of the United States is really just amazing.
BLITZER: Jamie, go ahead.
GANGEL: One last point, let's not forget that there is someone very important who wanted Michael Cohen to testify, and that's Robert Mueller. He gave it his approval. And I -- we've talk about why that is, maybe it's because he wants to get things in the public record. And there wasn't just going to be public testimony, there was going to be private testimony. So I think we have to see very --
BLITZER: That's an important point, Dana. And it raises at least, in my mind, the possibility that Mueller, may - assuming he hasn't done it yet, may decide to open up a separate investigation into intimidation of witnesses and investigate the President and Rudy Giuliani.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Maybe. I mean, absolutely, it's possible. Now, Giuliani in the interview with Jake, because Jake asked him real-time like basically what are you doing here, his argument was that it is the prerogative of the defendant here or, which in this case he claims is the President of the United States, to try to call out and discredit a witness who was going to say something bad about them.
Now, I'm not saying that that's accurate. I'm just saying that's what he actually explained on TV that, that was his goal there. So whether or not that is something that somebody like Robert Mueller or maybe the U.S. attorney in New York or whatever the jurisdiction is agrees whether they want to go down that road is an open question.
I agree with Jamie that it really is not worthy that Robert Mueller gave the green light for Cohen to testify, but he was going to be very limited in what he can say publicly about anything having to do with that open investigation about Russia.
TOOBIN: If I can just add one point that, yes, it is true that people that under investigation are allowed to try to question the credibility of witnesses. But most people are under investigation are not in charge of the Department of Justice, the FBI, the DEA and have the ability to order investigations of his father-in-law for no discernible purpose at this point. I mean, that's what makes this so incriminating is that it's not just talk. This guy is in charge of the Department of Justice and he is threatening.
DASH: Incriminating and dangerous.
TOOBIN: Right. And he's threatening the witness's father-in-law with criminal prosecution.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around, there is more we need to discuss. We'll do that right after this
[18:39:47] BLITZER: There is breaking news in the battle over President Trump's border wall. Mr. Trump is now considering executive actions separate from an emergency declaration to go ahead and build the wall, that according to our republican source familiar with the discussions who spoke to our own Dana Bash. So Dana is with us to explain. What are you learning, Dana?
BASH: Well, look, there has been a mad search for an exit strategy for a long time. And remember several weeks, I'm trying to imagine that we're saying this several weeks ago when Congress came back after the new year, there was talk about an emergency declaration. The President was persuaded by people in the White House not to do. Now, it's gone on for so long. There are other options being considered, I am told, inside the White House separate from an emergency declaration, but it would be executive action, which would effectively allow him to used pots of money mostly in the defense department perhaps elsewhere. That is being urged by conservative who are very worried that he could give in from their perspective to the democrats on a broader deal that would include something, - some kind of legal status or even citizenship for Dreamers.
BLITZER: Yes. They would call that amnesty those on the right --
BASH: They do.
BLITZER: -- who would oppose all of that.
So, legally, the sort of executive action, as Dana has explained it, Jeffrey, would that go through the courts?
TOOBIN: It's hard to know. I mean, they would have have to come up with some justification. There is a law called the anti -deficiency act, which says the president cannot spend funds that are not appropriated by Congress. And the issue - I mean, the one power that we know the Congress has is the power of the purse. They decide where federal money is spent or not spent. And if the president, in clear defiance, in clear reaction to his failure to get Congress to allocate the money in the
way he wants spends it anyway, I would have to believe that would wind up before the courts one way or another. Although there would be many technical issues, like standing, that would be difficult to address.
BLITZER: Sabrina, the president clearly wanted to go up to Congress next Tuesday and deliver that State of the Union Address. Nancy pelosi -- he thought Nancy Pelosi would blink. She didn't blink. She's tough. Is this the first time the checks and balances that the constitutional founders thought of between the executive and the legislative branch are playing out for this President?
SIDDIQUI: Well, it's certainly the case that in Nancy Pelosi, President Donald trump appears to have met his match. Now, he all but dared her to un-invite him from delivering the State of the Union Address within the house chamber, and she called his bluff and she did so. I think part of why democrats in the house feel so strong in their position at this point in time is because you look at a series of polls that show that even as the shutdown has no dragged into its 33rd day, the majority of the public blames President Trump. In fact, one poll by Cbs today found seven in ten Americans don't think a wall is worth shutting down the government. So democrats believe that they do have a stronger position when it comes to negotiating.
Now, behind the theatrics, there are efforts to put forward a counter offer from house democrats some more border security funding. So they do want to get back to the negotiating table, even as some of the drama unfolds before the public.
BLITZER: Jamie, our Kaitlan Collins over at the White House doing what she always does, some excellent reporting, she is reporting that White House officials weren't expecting Nancy Pelosi to disinvite the president from delivering the State of the Union Address. They were caught off guard, Kaitlan reports, when she responded swiftly and decisively that there will be no address by the president to a joint session of Congress until after the government shutdown.
GANGEL: Welcome to the world of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. As you said, he has met his match. But beyond that, I think that we have to remember that he is now going to be scrambling to figure out what he does. An Oval Office address, that's not his forte. He wants an audience. He needs an audience. Will he go out into the country and have a rally? Is a rally a State of the Union Address? Will networks carry a rally the way they might a State of the Union Address? He wants his audience. And round one went to Nancy Pelosi, round two went to Nancy Pelosi.
BLITZER: And, Dana, the president clearly doesn't buy Nancy Pelosi's argument that with the government shutdown, the Fbi is struggling, other elements of the U.S. law enforcement is struggling right now that they couldn't necessarily handle the security requirements. Listen to what he said today on that specific issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE United States: Well, I just got back from Iraq. I was very safe in Iraq, and I felt very safe. We had great, great security. If we can handle iraq, we can handle the middle of Washington in a very, very spectacular building in a beautiful room that we should be in, and that's where it has been for a very long time.
So it's a sad thing for our country. We'll do something in the alternative.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You can just hear in his voice how disappointed he is.
BASH: Yes. Disappointed is one word to use, to hear the tone of his voice. Look, he has a point that if the House of Representatives, if Nancy Pelosi wanted to find a way for the President to come and speak during a shutdown, they could, but should they. That's the question. And she believes the answer is no. This is a very plausible excuse for her to show her power, to make clear that he is not going to get a platform, which is what they really want to avoid on the democratic side, to give the President a platform to stand physically above the Congress and lecture them about the issues that have led to the shutdown.
And so she has the power power do it and she's done it. WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: She stood up to him and she's going to presumably doing that over the next two years as well.
Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following.
She claims to have information about election meddling. But Russian police have just released her. Should this self-described sex guru fear for her safety?
[18:50:03] BLITZER: There are new developments tonight in the case of a model who claims to have inside information about Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is joining us live from Moscow.
Matthew, the self-proclaimed sex coach was detained when she arrived in Russia last week, but now police have released her. What's the latest?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they've released her. She's free. But she is certainly not free of security concerns, Wolf. She was meant to turn up to a news conference today that she called. But she failed to do that, leading us thinking that maybe she was trying to row back a bit on the publicity she's created. The publicity that's frankly put her in the crosshairs of some of Russia's most powerful figures.
But no, just before a she came on the air, she appeared once again on social media.
CHANCE (voice-over): It didn't take long for this self publicizing sex coach who claimed evidence of election meddling to resurface.
After being unexpectedly released from Russian custody, the 28-year- old model posted this on close up statement on her lawyer's Instagram.
ANASTASIA VASHUKEVICH, RUSSIAN SEX GURU (through translator): I'm sick. The skin on my face is spotty. Look what my hair is like. In general, I feel very bad.
CHANCE: Hardly surprising given her week, indeed her year.
This was the greeting she got in Moscow last Thursday, after being deported from Thailand, where she'd spent months in prison. After security bundled her away, she appeared in a Russian court, promising to stop accusing a powerful Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, of being a Russian conduit to the Trump election campaign. Something the oligarch categorically denies.
VASHUKEVICH: No other records about Oleg Deripaska will be published. And I no longer will be compromising him. Therefore, he needs to relax. Really, I've had enough.
CHANCE: The court eventually set her free. But in a country where outspoken figures have been silenced by force, her lawyer says, she remains under threat.
DMITRY ZATSARINSKY, LAWYER FOR ANASTASIA VASHUKEVICH: She's worried about her safety. I want to warn people who intend to encroach on her safety that me and certain bodies will not allow this to happen. Moreover, if these people think by eliminating her, they will eliminate some issues and problems, they will not. More questions will appear.
CHANCE: But staying out of the public eye doesn't seem to come easily to this self styled seductress, already promising more revelations.
VASHUKEVICH: I will tell you everything, how it was in jail, how everything was happening, whom I suspect.
CHANCE: She just needs a couple of days, she says, to recover.
CHANCE: Well, Wolf, something tells me it's not the last we're going to hear from this figure who clearly relishes her being in that spotlight. Back to you.
BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to watch this story. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thanks very much.
Much more news right after this.
[18:57:58] BLITZER: We have more breaking news we are following tonight.
Venezuela's president has cut ties with the United States and is ordering American diplomats to leave after the Trump administration officially recognized the country's opposition leader as the legitimate president.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, who's working the story for us.
Barbara, President Trump says all options right now are on the table when it comes to this crisis in Venezuela. What are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Why is Venezuela such a crisis tonight, Wolf? Well, remember, it's a country with vast oil revenues, a country that Russia is very interested in. Tonight, Maduro, the existing president, has ordered all U.S. personnel out of Venezuela in 72 hours, in the face of this new interim president, Juan Guaido, who someone President Trump has recognized.
Maduro, let me just read to you what he said today. Quote: The imperial government of the United States is leading a coup attempt against us in order to install a puppet presidency they can control in Venezuela.
He goes on: I have decided to break all political and diplomatic relations with the U.S. Get out. Leave Venezuela. We have our dignity.
So, tonight, the State Department is watching very carefully. The Pentagon is watching because they are trying to figure out what to do next.
Here's the key question tonight, Wolf, can Maduro, the existing president, muster the Venezuelan military behind him and force the U.S. to shut down the embassy there? The State Department is not at all sure that Maduro can do that. They do not know right now which way the Venezuelan military on the streets of Caracas will go.
So, right now, everyone is sitting tight, but make no mistake, if they have to evaluate the embassy in emergency conditions, they will get everyone out. They will try to take people out by commercial aircraft. That's the typical route.
But for the marines who are there, for the classified equipment and weapons, they may have to come out by U.S. military air -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, this is a really, really serious development that's unfolding with a lot of unfortunate potential all around.
All right, Barbara, thank you very much. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.