Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Will Acting Attorney General Testify Before Congress?; New Information Emerges on Khashoggi Murder; Trump Furious Over Congressional Investigations; Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); New York Times: Intel Intercepts Show Saudi Crown Prince Threatened To Use "A Bullet" On Washington Post Reporter A Year Before Is Murder, House Judiciary Chairman Tells Acting Attorney General No Need For Subpoena If He Appears, Answers Questions. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 7, 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 acting attorney general threatens to skip a House hearing tomorrow, the Judiciary Committee chairman softens his threat to subpoena him. Will Matthew Whitaker fully answer the panel's questions about the Russia probe?
More finance violations? A judge reveals that Michael Cohen's campaign finance crimes are still being investigated and others besides Cohen are under scrutiny. Is President Trump a target?
Believing Trump colluded. Our exclusive new poll shows that nearly half of all Americans think the president's campaign did collude with Russia to help him win. Is that why most of those surveyed want the Mueller probe to be made public?
And summit expectations. Final details are being worked out for Mr. Trump's second face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un later this month. But, tonight, experts are warning that the administration may not be clear about what North Korea really wants.
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 clashes between the Trump administration and Democrats investigating the president.
The House Judiciary Committee chairman just responded to the acting attorney general's threat to skip his planned testimony tomorrow after the panel preemptively approved a subpoena for him. Chairman Jerry Nadler assuring Matthew Whitaker that no subpoena is needed if he shows up and answers the committee's questions.
As that showdown appeared to ease a bit, we're told the president is even more furious at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff tonight. That's because Schiff hired former National Security Council officials who worked for the White House to help investigate the administration. I will get reaction from Congressman Ro Khanna. He's a member of the
Oversight Committee, one of the many panels investigating the president. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our justice reporter, Laura Jarrett.
Laura, did the Judiciary Committee chairman back down?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Backing down tonight, but with conditions, Wolf. And the real question is whether Chairman Nadler's reassurances to Whitaker will be enough for him to appear in the hot seat tomorrow morning.
I want to read to you Nadler's statement that just was issued a few minutes ago, Wolf. He says -- quote -- "If you appear before the committee tomorrow morning and you are prepared to respond to questions from our members, then I assure you that there will be no need for the committee to issue a subpoena on or before February 8. To the extent that you believe you are unable to fully respond to any specific question, we're prepared to handle your concerns on a case- by-case basis both during and after tomorrow's hearing."
And just to remind our viewers what the crux of this fight was about, Democrats really wanted to grill Whitaker on all of his conversations with President Trump concerning special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, how he got the job, and even CNN's own reporting from last month about how the president unloaded on Whitaker in terms of how the Southern District of New York has been going after the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen.
And they also wanted to question him, given Whitaker's performance just last week, when he unexpectedly blurted out some news about how the special counsel's probe is winding down. Take a listen to how that went down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have been fully briefed on the investigation, and, you know, I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report.
The investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller soon as we -- as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JARRETT: So, Wolf, now, the real question is if Whitaker does not show tomorrow, how far are Democrats willing to press this point to try to get him in there before Bill Barr is likely confirmed as attorney general next week?
BLITZER: Yes, probably a week from today.
What happens if Whitaker appears tomorrow and he doesn't answer many of the questions posed by the Democrats? JARRETT: Well, this was the whole scenario that Nadler wanted to try to avoid and why he said ahead of time, please tell me if you plan on exerting executive privilege, rather, if the White House plans on exerting executive privilege over any of these communications, confidential communications between Trump and Whitaker.
And on this issue, Congress really only has a couple options. If he doesn't answer questions, they can try to then serve him with a subpoena later, then if they want you to try to pursue that in the House with a contempt vote first in the committee, then in the full House.
If that's successful, even then, they only have a few options. They could try to take him to court, a civil action. They could try to enforce the subpoena themselves with their inherent contempt powers, or they could try to refer the matter to DOJ for prosecution. But, obviously, in this case, that would be useful -- as useless as the idea of the U.S. attorney in D.C. going after the U.S. attorney general just seems completely far-fetched, Wolf.
So their hands are tied here.
BLITZER: Certainly does. All right, Laura, good report. Thank you very much.
Let's go to the White House right now for breaking news on the president's fury at Democrats who are targeting him in multiple investigations.
We're joined by our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, the House Intelligence Committee chairman has hired former national security officials, National Security Council officials, for its investigation. And that's not sitting well, we take it, with the president.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.
The president made that known on Twitter. And we have learned that President Trump is furious that Adam Schiff is recruiting former NSC aides in this wide-ranging investigation into foreign attempts to influence the president that he just recently announced.
Now, Schiff fired back at the president's tweet earlier today, saying that, if the president is concerned about him hiring former Trump administration staffers, he should be a better employer.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump fuming over multiple investigations involving his administration. According to a House Intelligence Committee aide, chairman Adam Schiff has hired former members of the National Security Council to help with committee oversight of the Trump administration.
It's unclear how recently the officials worked at the NSC, or if they even served under President Trump. But this morning, he took to Twitter to express his frustrations, attacking Democrats for initiating wide-ranging investigations examining his finances and potential ties to foreign nations, well beyond the initial Russia scope.
Trump tweeting that Schiff -- quote -- "is going to be looking at every aspect of my life, both financial and personal, even though there is no reason to be doing so," adding: "I hear other committee heads will do the same thing, even stealing people who work at White House, a continuation of witch-hunt."
As the president once again claiming he is the victim of -- quote -- "presidential harassment." But according to a new CNN poll, nearly half of Americans, 48 percent, think Donald Trump's campaign colluded with the Russian government to help Trump get elected, while 42 percent say there was no collusion, a sign the American public may support new oversight investigations set to begin in the Democrat- controlled House.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We will not surrender our constitutional responsibility for oversight. That would make us delinquent in our duties.
BROWN: Oversight that could include obtaining the president's taxes and an investigation into the administration's child separation policy for undocumented immigrants.
TRUMP: Keep hearing about investigations fatigue.
BROWN: The president has insisted an onslaught of probes would be countered by the Republican-held Senate.
TRUMP: Now, we can investigate. They look at us, we look at them, it goes on for two years. Then, at the end of two years, nothing's done.
BROWN: The Senate Judiciary Committee continuing the spirit of congressional partisanship today, voting along party lines to confirm William Barr as attorney general.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The nomination will be favorably report to the floor.
BROWN: As attorney general, Barr will be responsible for determining how much of special counsel Robert Mueller's report will be publicly released.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: My objective and goal is to get as much as I can of the information to Congress and the public.
BROWN: But some Democrats say they're uneasy about Barr's unwillingness to commit to releasing the full report. SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: This is particularly
concerning, as nothing in existing law or regulations prevents the attorney general from sharing the report.
BROWN: And according to a new CNN poll, the vast majority of Americans, nearly 90 percent, say they want the Mueller report made public, while just 9 percent say it's not necessary.
BROWN: And in terms of who Schiff is hiring, it's unclear who they are, how recently they worked in the Trump administration.
Now, we should note, Wolf, it's not unusual for the House Intel Committee to hire former staffers at the NSC for their intel expertise. But, of course, this is unique because the fact that the House Intel chair, Adam Schiff, just recently announced this wide- ranging investigation into the president himself -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown at the White House, thank you very much.
As House investigations clearly heat up, we're learning about an ongoing federal probe of Michael Cohen's admitted campaign finance crimes. And the former Trump fixer and lawyer isn't the only one under scrutiny.
Let's go to our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, Michael Cohen implicated the president in campaign finance violations. Now prosecutors say this investigation is continuing. Should the president be concerned?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, we already know what the Department of Justice, what Southern District of New York thinks about the president's involvement in the hush money payments.
They say essentially that he directed and he was part of it. And so he's been implicated in that.
What's interesting is that what we learned today in a filing from media organizations seeking more information from documents that have been sealed -- we were asking the court there in New York to unseal some of these documents as it relates to the Michael Cohen investigation -- there are still ongoing investigation relating to the hush money payments.
What Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to also in terms of the tax violations and other issues concerning his finances, that's all done with. But in a filing of from the court today, we learned that the hush money payments investigation is still very much ongoing, and, therefore, the prosecutors are objecting to anything being released from that investigation. So it still spells trouble, certainly, for the president, but people
close to the president and, most importantly, probably the Trump Organization, because it seems that prosecutors in New York are still poring over the information that they obtained concerning the hush money payment.
BLITZER: Shimon, we're also learning more about the special counsel's investigation for transcripts released of Manafort's sealed hearing earlier this week. What else are you learning?
PROKUPECZ: Yes, so this is really interesting.
It's a pretty lengthy hearing. There's over 100 pages from the hearing some, of it redacted. But what we have learned is that what the special counsel's office has been very much concerned about and they say is at the heart of their investigation is Paul Manafort's relationship with a Russian intelligence official.
Someone the FBI and the Department of Justice have said is a Russian intelligence official has had a relationship with Paul Manafort. It's a man by the name of Kilimnik. Of course, we have done a lot of stories about him.
Rick Gates, what we learned from these transcripts, was providing information to the special counsel about the sharing of the polling data. He's the one that told the government that Paul Manafort shared this polling data.
But it is the relationship between Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik that really has the special counsel and the Department of Justice alarmed. And they're seeking more information, particularly to a August 2 meeting in 2016, while Paul Manafort was the chairman of the campaign. They don't specify too much information. Some of it is redacted.
But it is their relationship, it's Kilimnik's relationship with Paul Manafort that the special counsel says is at the heart of their investigation.
BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz updating us on this part of the investigation, thank you very much.
Joining us now, Congressman Ro Khanna, a Democrat. He serves on the Oversight Committee, one of the multiple House panels investigating the president.
Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.
REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks for having me on, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, has agreed to testify voluntarily, says he can't answer certain questions, citing privileged conversations he's had with the president.
And now it looks like Jerry Nadler has backed down a bit, in saying, come and testify. We will talk about subpoenas down the road. Do you think that the chairman of this committee, Jerry Nadler,
perhaps overplayed his hand?
KHANNA: I do not. I think he needs to come and answer the question, and he needs to understand settled law.
Nixon invoked executive privilege. And this went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court said, you can't invoke executive privilege when there's a criminal investigation. This concerns a criminal investigation.
This is not Whitaker talking to the president about Syria or some sensitive issue. Fine, he can invoke executive privilege for that. But he should answer whether the president tried to obstruct justice.
BLITZER: But does this give Whitaker -- I know the Democrats and Republicans would like to have him answer a lot of questions.
Does it give him an opportunity, an excuse to not show up tomorrow?
KHANNA: No, I think he's going to come. He is going to come, and he's going to look awful if he tries to duck in and say that he's going for executive privilege, when that's not the law.
So the question is whether he's going to be transparent. And no one is out to score points. They just want to know what happened.
BLITZER: If he doesn't answer those questions tomorrow, cites executive privilege, private conversations that he's had with the president, will Jerry Nadler, the committee chairman, immediately on the scene tomorrow issue a subpoena?
KHANNA: I think he should.
And I think we should take it to court. But what Whitaker is trying to do, as you have alluded to, is run out the clock. He wants to get Barr in and then hope that the focus doesn't remain on him.
But the American people deserve to know what conversations he had with the president about law enforcement. No one wants the confidential conversations about national security or economic policy.
BLITZER: Because Whitaker said he's not showing up if there's any threat of a subpoena if he doesn't answer certain questions tomorrow.
So he potentially -- and he wrote a long letter to Jerry Nadler, through his aide, on that point. He has an excuse if he doesn't want to show up tomorrow.
KHANNA: I think it would look awful. It would look like he's trying to hide, that he doesn't want to be transparent.
I mean, the American people deserve to know whether the president told him to shut down the Southern District of New York prosecution. The American people deserve to know whether the president told him to shut down the Mueller investigation. These are simple questions he should answer.
BLITZER: Because Nadler could have easily said, we're not going to issue any subpoenas tomorrow. If you don't answer questions, you can leave, but immediately after the hearing, we're going to go issue some subpoenas.
KHANNA: Well, the problem with that is, Whitaker is trying to run out the clock. And the president hasn't invoked executive privilege because he wants this to delay.
But no one is going to outlast Jerry Nadler. Jerry Nadler is going to be persistent. And we're going to go after Whitaker, even if Whitaker is not in the news, for some simple answers as to what happened.
BLITZER: So, where do you think all this is heading right now?
Because you guys -- and you're now on the House Oversight Committee.
BLITZER: You have got a lot of investigations of the Trump administration you want to go through. Where is it headed?
KHANNA: Well, here's the thing. It's not personal to the president.
The president keeps making it as if someone is out to get him. This is about basic conflicts of interest. It goes back to the 1920s, when there was the Teapot Dome scandal, and Harding had the administration, an official who was accused of bribery. And the Congress said, we need to know what people's taxes are. Do they have financial conflicts of interest?
Well, we want to know is, does the president and administration officials, do they have financial conflicts of interest overseas?
BLITZER: This is what the president tweeted today.
And I will put it up on the screen, Congressman: "The Dems and their committees are going nuts. The Republicans never did this to President Obama. There would be no time left to run government."
How do you respond?
KHANNA: Look, the president that has Nadler been in elective office before.
I'm sure, when he was a billionaire in the private sector, he was used to getting his way. But we have a separation of government, a separation of powers. And we have a duty of accountability.
And it's not personal. Here's the basic question the American people want to know. Was his tax policy influenced by his financial interests? Is this policy to Russia influenced by his overseas interest? Is his policy in Saudi Arabia influenced by business dealings?
Those are fair questions. It's not personal. There's not some effort to get the president. There's an effort to have transparency.
BLITZER: And the fact that he's now, we're told, furious that Adam Schiff and the House Intelligence Committee have hired former National Security Council officials to come work as congressional staffers investigating all of this on the committee, your reaction?
KHANNA: Well, again, it's the president not understanding how Washington works.
The president's hired a lot of former House officials to work for him. So he should be allowed to hire former House aides, but the House can't hire former White House aides? That's just unreasonable.
Here's the thing, Wolf. You have been around Washington a long time. It's much better for the president just to get the information out, even if there's something embarrassing. By him hunkering down, blaming the investigators, he's actually hurting his case.
If I were him, I would say, just disclose everything. Get it out, and let people decide.
BLITZER: Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks so much for coming in.
KHANNA: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: I will have you back. Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the breaking news.
Despite new reassurances, might Democrats wind up slapping the attorney general with a subpoena after all? Our senior legal analyst, Preet Bharara -- there you see him -- he's standing by. He will weigh in.
BLITZER: We're back with breaking news on a battle between the House Democrats and the acting attorney general.
Matthew Whitaker now appears on track to testify before the Judiciary Committee tomorrow after the chairman, Jerry Nadler, eased up on his threat of a subpoena.
Joining us now,our senior legal analyst, former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.
Preet, thanks so much for joining us.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. BLITZER: And I know you know a lot about these battles between the Justice Department, Congress.
Is there any precedent for this current battle that's under way, this current situation?
BHARARA: Well, I don't know if there's no precedent for it.
There is some precedent for this kind of brinksmanship, when a House committee or a Senate committee is trying to conduct oversight, in its view, and the White House thinks that there's some overreaching going on.
Now, this story has been changing hour by hour. I think that some of your earlier guests were talking about whether or not Jerry Nadler overreached a little bit, overplayed his hand a little bit.
I think his heart and mind were in the right place, but, frankly, I think he may have. From the congressional Democrats' perspective, what they wanted more than anything else was to make sure that Matt Whitaker would show up and testify.
And once they got his voluntary agreement to come and testify, Jerry Nadler, Chairman Nadler, I think, would -- in good faith wanted to prevent that from being kind of a joke and wanted to make sure that questions that were asked about some of the conversations that there's -- depending on what they are, some legitimate claim to executive privilege, but wanted to try to lay out the groundwork for challenging that executive privilege claim.
By saying they were going to have a subpoena in wait in case they didn't get the answers they wanted, that allowed then I think the Justice Department to say, well, this is unprecedented. And if you're going to do this, then we're not going to show up, unless you give us an assurance that you're not going to issue the subpoena, because a preemptive subpoena like that is highly unusual.
I don't know if there's a precedent for it or not. And at the end of the day, it allows each side to try to say, we're dictating the terms of this. And Jerry Nadler has had to say, at the end of the day, I think wisely, because he wants to maintain the most important thing, which is making sure that Whitaker shows up and is not able to outrun the clock -- or run out the clock like he wants to, is being I think a little bit nicer about it.
But I think, as you have also pointed out, the letter from the last -- in the last few minutes from Jerry Nadler does not say explicitly, under no circumstances will we serve a subpoena on the witness tomorrow.
So the ball is now in the court of the Justice Department.
BLITZER: Yes, because the letter says specifically, "To the extent that you believe you're unable to fully respond to any specific questions during the hearing tomorrow, we are prepared to handle your concerns on a case-by-case basis both during and after tomorrow's hearing."
So he's not ruling out...
BHARARA: I don't exactly what that means. I don't know exactly what that means.
BLITZER: I don't know what that means either. But it could mean that they would give him a subpoena on the spot.
But I think there's a little bit of threading of a needle going on here. And maybe you don't want to look completely like you're abdicating your prior position, and you also want to keep your options open.
From the Justice Department side, I think probably, on balance, it makes more sense for Whitaker to show up, because they have made their point. They have laid the groundwork. They wrote a lengthy letter. And probably in the public relations war, what some of this is frankly about -- it's not just about principle -- I think the Justice Department, at this point, not sending Matthew Whitaker, having made their record, would lose that battle, I think, fairly decisively.
But there may be more letters to come in the next few hours.
BLITZER: You remember during the Obama administration, when Eric Holder was the attorney general, he was subpoenaed for certain documents related to the Fast and Furious investigation. He refused to provide those documents, got a contempt citation. It went to the courts.
You remember that case.
BHARARA: Very well. Yes.
But part of the point here is -- people keep talking about the clock. Matt Whitaker stands in a different position from Attorney General Holder, who was at that point the long-serving, Senate-confirmed, presidentially appointed attorney general.
Matt Whitaker is going to be the attorney general in an acting capacity for maybe another few days. And as I think a lot of people have pointed out, the urgency of his testimony, the relevance of it, and the compelling nature of it diminishes over time if Bill Barr comes in, and they have all these fights in court about who has to testify or who doesn't.
And, remember, these battles that are that are going to happen, you are going to see a lot more of these in the coming weeks and months with respect to every committee chairman who has a gavel and subpoena power.
There's no real judge. There's no real referee or umpire. Sure, at the end of the day, you go to the court in the District of Columbia, but that's a long, drawn-out process. They don't have an internal arbiter that decides who wins these kinds of things.
And so, sometimes, depending on which side you're on, and what you're trying to hide, or what you're trying to get out, elicit from the other side, delay is a victory.
BLITZER: We got some new details today from the Robert Mueller team, the special counsel, on how they view that meeting between the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, this Ukrainian that a lot of U.S. authorities suspect had Russian connections.
The prosecutor for Mueller, Andrew Weissmann, said this, and I will put it up on the screen.
"That meeting and what happened at that meeting is of significance to the special counsel. There was an in-person meeting at an unusual time for somebody who is the campaign chairman to be spending time and to be doing it in person."
What does it tell you, Preet, about Manafort, about the meeting, and why this is now a focus for Mueller?
BHARARA: Well, it sounds like it goes right to the heart of what the Mueller investigation was supposed to be about and whether or not there was interaction between Russian officials and/or business people who are connected to Russian officials and the U.S. election, and, more specifically, whether or not there was any coordination or collaboration with the Trump campaign, also known in some quarters as collusion.
And it sounds like -- a flat statement by one of the lead prosecutors in court to that effect makes you think that they must really feel it's important, because they don't talk this way as a regular matter.
Now, the interesting thing, from my perspective, is Paul Manafort probably would have been an important witness on this -- on this matter, because he's one of the participants in the meeting that they're saying is very, very important.
And Paul Manafort went to trial, lost, tried to cooperate, continued to lie, also witness-tampered at some point, and is no longer someone who is a viable cooperating witness who is going to testify in any court of law or anywhere else about this meeting on which Andrew Weissmann placed a lot of emphasis.
So I don't know whether or not they have a lot of interest in it, what they're going to be able to prove ultimately without that witness.
BLITZER: All right, very solid analysis, as usual. Preet Bharara, thanks so much for joining us.
BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, right now, we're getting some more breaking news on a different subject, the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and potential evidence of the Saudi crown prince's alleged involvement.
We're joined by Mark Mazzetti of "The New York Times." He's joining us right now.
Mark, I just went through your article, pretty amazing stuff. So what exactly did the Saudi crown prince say? What was the context? Give us the headlines.
MARK MAZZETTI, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": So this was a year before Khashoggi's killing, where Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, is talking to one of his top aides.
And they're very concerned about Khashoggi and the criticism he was -- he had of the kingdom. And Crown Prince bin Salman says: We need to get Jamal back. And if we can't lure him back, we need to do it forcibly. And if we can't get it back forcibly, then we will -- quote -- "use a bullet."
And this comes from communications intercepts that were surveilled on by the United States intelligence community at the time, but only have been analyzed more recently, perhaps in the last two months.
So that's why we're learning more about the entire dossier of evidence against the crown prince.
BLITZER: Yes, I will read your lead sentence for our viewers in "The New York Times."
"Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia told a top aide in a conversation in 2017 that he would use a bullet on Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist killed in October, if Mr. Khashoggi did not return to the kingdom and end his criticism of the Saudi government, according to current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of intelligence reports.
And so you suggest they only came upon this use a bullet quote recently, within the last month or two? Is that what you are saying?
MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right. And it was something that came up after the initial assessment the CIA did about the Khashoggi killing. But it's kind of an evolving document. There's the initial assessment, but there's all this intelligence to go through going back some time. What happens is the National Security Agency vacuums up enormous amounts of information overtime. It sometimes it sits unanalyzed until there's a special need. And the Khashoggi killing provided that need and led analyst go through old communications, specifically of the Crowned Prince, who had been - his conversations had been intercepted for some time.
And I think the significance here, of course, is that at the heart of this is the Saudi Government has said, the Crown Prince had nothing to do with this. President Trump said, well, maybe he did, maybe he didn't. The Saudi Government is trying to say this was an operation, a botched operation. But what this shows is that Mohammad Bin Salman, more than a year before the killing, certainly made it known that he had every intent of killing Jamal Khashoggi if he didn't come back.
BLITZER: As far as you know, Mark, has the President, President Trump, been presented with this evidence?
MAZZETTI: I don't know that.
BLITZER: Because - and it's very sensitive for sources to be revealing this kind of information. These were intercepted conversations involving the Crown Prince. These are some of the most sensitive things the U.S. intelligence community does. What does it tell you and what should we learn from this, about these intercepts, that all of this information is coming out now?
MAZZETTI: Well, I think that you have started to see in the last, I would say, two months some interesting details coming out of that, some very sensitive matters, specific messages the Crown Prince had, with whom and when. I think that certainly there was a lot of questions about the White House statement that President Trump put out at the end of November basically saying, maybe Crown Prince did it, maybe he didn't. And really who is to ever know? Well, there is an ongoing effort to actually get to the bottom of this so people will find out more, and that's ongoing. So it's been clear that the President has tried to put this behind - this whole matter behind him, move on with the U.S.-Saudi relationship. But that's not going to happen.
BLITZER: And we're told, and I'm going through your article, some in the U.S. Intelligence Community thought the Crown Prince might have been using there phrase with a bullet as a sort of metaphor. But when you look at what happened, is that plausible?
MAZZETTI: Right. So in the story we say that the analysis of that comment was that not he - he didn't say literally they would shoot Khashoggi with a bullet, but, very clearly, that the metaphor was meant that they intended to kill him if he didn't come back to Saudi Arabia willingly.
BLITZER: Mark Mazzetti, doing an excellent reporting as usual for The New York Times. And, Mark, thanks so much.
MAZZATTI: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we got much more on all the breaking news right after this.
[18:38:11] BLITZER: The following breaking news on a fight that threatened to scuttle the acting Attorney General's congressional testimony tomorrow. Matthew Whitaker warned he would not show up unless democrats assured him they wouldn't slap him with a subpoena that was approved and ready to go. The Chairman of the Committee, Jerry Nadler, responding tonight, saying there will be no need for a subpoena if Whitaker appears before committee and answers questions. Let's bring in our analysts.
Now, Gloria, let me read precisely to you and our viewers what Jerry Nadler said in his response to the Justice Department and Mr. Whitaker. If you appear before the Committee tomorrow morning and if you are prepared to respond to questions from our members, then I assure you there will be no need for the Committee to issue a subpoena on or before February 8th. That's tomorrow. To the extent that you believe you are unable to fully respond to any specific question, we are prepared to handle your concerns on a case-by-case basis both during and after tomorrow's hearing.
Now, we have not gotten a response yet from the Justice Department to this letter from Nadler, but how do you interpret it?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's purposefully vague. You know, the tone of it is non-threatening. But I'm not sure that it moves the ball that much because it doesn't say specifically that we'll subpoena you or won't subpoena you.
And I think implied in all of this is that they still could subpoena him. I don't know how the Justice Department is going to react to this. They wanted a clear assurance that when he went before the Committee, he wouldn't be slapped with any kind of a subpoena. I don't think he has got an clear assurance here. I just think it's written - it's vaguely written on purpose.
BLITZER: Yes. And, Jeffrey Toobin, how do you see it?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's important to point out what this is really about, which that the judiciary committee wants ask Whitaker about his contacts with the White House.
They want to know, did the White House want any interference or supervision or knowledge of the Mueller investigation. That's, I think, what this fight is really about. And the question is, will Whitaker answer questions about issues like that, or will he cite executive privilege. And if he cites executive privilege, what happens then? Will he be subpoenaed? Will there be a legal fight? But this is really about asking him about the Mueller investigation.
And what Nadler is trying to do, I think, is sort of preempt some of the arguments in advance so tomorrow, they can have an actual confrontation and maybe even vote tomorrow if there is a refusal to answer. But at this moment, it looks like Whitaker is coming. But as far as I can tell, it's not entirely clear that he will show up.
BLITZER: We're anxious to get a response from the Justice Department, Jeffrey.
Everybody stand by. I want to bring in Shimon Prokupecz. There's a story that's breaking right now involving Jeff Bezos and the National Enquirer. Update our viewers. It's pretty dramatic.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: It is quite dramatic and certainly remarkable. Jeff Bezos, of course, the Amazon founder and who has been involved recently in the National Enquirer posting text messages and revealing or claiming he was having an affair.
Well, just recently, the National Enquirer reached out to him. AMI reached out to him and claiming that they had compromising photos of him and what he is claiming in quite a remarkable posting that he just posted online, he said that they were trying to blackmail him. National Enquirer was trying to blackmail him because they were hoping to stop The Washington Post from publishing a report on the National Enquirer.
Now, Jeff Bezos released emails and other information which describes what the National Enquirer claimed they have, what kind of photos they have, the description of the photos, really, really remarkable. And the other information that we learned here essentially is that Bezos says, "You know what, I found myself in a very extraordinary situation." He has now released all of this information, his dealings between AMI and the emails they sent.
And keep in mind, of course, the owner of AMI, David Pecker, his relationship with the President, Of course, he himself, AMI, David Pecker, they entered into an agreement with the Southern District of New York concerning the hush payments that were made to Stormy Daniels on behalf of the President, obviously, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to that. So certainly an extraordinary piece of information here, and we'll see what happens from here.
But a big development here and that Bezos now says that he has evidence claiming that the National Enquirer was trying to blackmail him so then to prevent The Washington Post from publishing the story about them.
BLITZER: That's very dramatic. I'm just going through it myself. Jeffrey Toobin, you have done reporting on David Pecker, American Media, the owner, the publisher of the National Enquirer. You've gone through this as well. What's your take?
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, it's so interesting at so many levels. Among other things, Jeff Bezos published this document on the medium.com website. He didn't use The Washington Post website. So he was trying somewhat to separate this from his ownership of The Post. But this does seem like how the National Enquirer operates. Either you do what we say or you will be embarrassed and humiliated. And then these photographs, as they are described, certainly do seem like they would be extremely embarrassing to Jeff Bezos.
What's fascinating about what the National Enquirer wanted here was a statement that it wasn't - that is the National Enquirer was not operating out of any sort of political motives. And it wanted The Washington Post to acknowledge that or it will publish these photos. What makes that so weird is that David Pecker, and I have written about this and other people have written, David Pecker is a well-known friend of the President. He told me and he has told others that the reason he paid Karen McDougal $150,000 was to suppress her story and help Donald Trump get elected president.
So the idea that the National Enquirer is some journalistic enterprise that is independent of politics is just absurd. And you can see why Bezos and The Post, being responsible journalists, wouldn't possibly agree to lie to protect Bezos from this embarrassment.
BLITZER: Well, is it just weird, that's the word you used, or is it potentially a crime if you believe what Bezos is now writing as far as the National Enquirer, American Media and David Pecker are concerned?
TOOBIN: Gosh, you know, that's a law school hypothetical that I'm really not sure I'm prepared to answer at this point.
[18:45:06] I mean, I don't think a journalistic enterprise could be charged with an actual crime for doing this. It's disgraceful journalism. It's appalling behavior on the part of the American Media, which is the parent company of the "National Enquirer." Whether it's an actual crime, I -- it doesn't seem like that --
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: He suggests, Jeff, extortion and blackmail. Those are his comments.
TOOBIN: Those are his terms. I would have to think that through more about whether this is an actual crime. What's clear is this is appalling journalistic behavior on the part of the "National Enquirer," which is saying to Bezos, lie for us or I will embarrass you. No respectable journalistic outlet would behave that.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You use the word "journalist", Jeffrey. I'm not sure they are in our understanding of the term. But --
BLITZER: You mean the "National Enquirer"?
BORGER: Yes. What this does is it rips the band-aid off the "National Enquirer" and just kind of lays everything out there. And Jeff Bezos understood clearly that he would be embarrassed by all of this and rightly so. But it was interesting to me in reading this, he called "The Washington Post" a complexifier, whatever that means, for him.
Which means that as the owner of the "Washington Post," which he says he would do all over again, he often finds himself in this situation as kind of a middleman, per se. He wasn't a man in the middle. He wasn't going to take it.
He said, you know, I'm just going to reveal the way you tried to blackmail and extort me. I don't know if that's a crime or not as you and Jeffrey were talking about. But he exposes them, because this is the way they behave to people they want to write about. And, you know, I think that it just lays it all out there for people to see. BLITZER: I want to go back to Shimon. He is getting more
What else are you picking up?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: I just wanted to bring up the point that this is not about something that was going to be published in the "National Enquirer." It seems what the "National Enquirer" was -- AMI here was trying to do is trying to get "The Washington Post" from publishing a report on the "National Enquirer." They clearly have been digging in, trying to do more reporting on AMI and the "National Enquirer" and David Pecker.
What he writes here is that several days ago, an AMI leader advised that Mr. Pecker is apoplectic about our investigation for reasons still to be better understood. So, clearly, it doesn't seem like this was about something that was going to be published in the "National Enquirer" or somewhere else, another publication owned by AMI. But this seems to suggest that David Pecker and AMI and the "National Enquirer" were using this as a way to prevent "The Washington Post" from publishing some story.
So, that may change things. You know, you talk about whether there's criminal conduct here. I don't know. Obviously, as Jeff says, it's not entirely clear. But the fact that they were trying to prevent a story from being published in "The Washington post," that may change things.
BORGER: That explains complexifier. They wanted him to lie. And they wanted him to stop the publication of a story in "The Washington Post" and he refused to do that.
BLITZER: Sabrina, you wanted to weigh?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: Well, we already know that the "National Enquirer" has acted in ways that are politically motivated, if you look at to Jeffrey's point the way in which they engaged in the practice known as catch and kill to buy the rights to Karen McDougal's story. She alleged having an affair with President Trump many years ago. That was an effort to prevent her story from being told in the public and more importantly an opportunity for David Pecker who is an ally of President Trump to protect him.
And, you know, to that point, I think one of the questions with respect to this is, when you are telling Jeff Bezos that you want him to explicitly say on record that your actions are not politically motivated, I think what you are actually doing is reaffirming that. In fact, your actions are politically motivated, especially when you take into the president's long running feud with Jeff Bezos, which he has, of course, made public in many tweets over the last year and a half.
BLITZER: You work at "The Washington Post". Everything I heard from you and your colleagues and others at "The Washington Post" is Bezos is the owner, but he tries to avoid getting involved in the editorial product.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. I report up through a chain of command, to Marty Baron, our executive editor. It's a complexifier for me, too, Wolf, because I work there. I don't want to get ahead of our senior editorial leadership.
I will just say, I think Sabrina is right on there that we don't know if there's a crime. We don't know all of the details. If everything that Jeff Bezos lays out in that article is true, and if everything -- all the questions are answered that there was something politically motivated and nefarious going on with AMI and Karen McDougal as Jeffrey was discussing, you have to at least ask the question exactly what AMI's motivations are.
[18:50:17] Even if they don't rise the level.
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Jeffrey. Yes?
TOOBIN: if I could just -- that's not an if. I mean, I sat next to David Pecker and he said to me, well, you know Donald Trump is a friend of this publication, is a friend of mine, and I, you know, did what I could to help get him elected. That was not like investigative reporting on my part. That was listening to the man talk.
And so that is no mystery. What's much more complicated is this story which appears to be an effort to get "The Post" to say something which doesn't appear to be true or there will be this tremendous embarrassment for the owner of the paper.
BORGER: Or to totally kill a story, right? You know, this is clearly about AMI and not wanting a bad piece published in "The Washington Post" and the assumption that Jeff Bezos would go to "The Washington Post" and say you cannot publish this story and then go on the record and lie and say that nothing they do is politically motivated is kind of stunning in what it asks for and the assumption that Jeff Bezos because he didn't want some nasty pictures to be published would actually do that.
BLITZER: But let's not forget David Pecker, who's the head of American media, the publisher of the "National Enquirer," he has an immunity deal with the prosecutors right now in exchange for his cooperation, in exchange for his help for his testimony or whatever. They're not going to charge him with a crime.
How does this revelation by Jeff Bezos, potentially, Jeffrey, impact that?
TOOBIN: That's a very interesting question because one of the things that always goes with an immunity agreement is we will give you immunity from anything that you did, from any statements that you make, but you can't commit anymore crimes. And if you commit anymore crimes we're going to tear up the agreement and you can be prosecuted.
That goes back to the question of is this behavior that AMI engaged with potentially a crime? Is it extortion? Is it blackmail? As I said, I really don't know the answer to that question but I think
it at least raises that possibility and I think David Pecker would be wise to be consulting with a criminal defense attorney right now about what his situation is because it's more complicated than it was this morning before this came out.
BLITZER: It certainly is. We have no idea how they're going to respond, David Pecker, AMI, the "National Enquirer," to this lengthy, lengthy, very detailed statement that was put out by Jeff Bezos which is clearly potentially very problematic for David Pecker and AMI.
You wanted to weigh in?
SIDDIQUI: Well, I just think there's also another interesting angle to the statement that Jeff Bezos put out. He hints at some possible connection to Saudi Arabia which I think goes back to reporting that "The Washington Post" may have doing because he said several days ago, an AMI leader advised us, this is Jeff Bezos speaking, that Mr. Pecker is apoplectic about our investigation and the Saudi angle seems to have hit a particularly sensitive nerve. So, this is obviously very complex.
TOOBIN: I think you're making an excellent point there and it is worth noting that the "National Enquirer" and American Media is not doing great financially. I mean, like a lot of print publications, it's having problems, and American Media owns a bunch of them.
They have been looking for outside investors at various times. Saudi Arabia is obviously a potential source of investment capital. So you can see why Pecker was so sensitive on the issue of Saudi Arabia, and I think you're exactly right that that plays into why -- you know, it plays into the story.
BLITZER: You know, how worried, David, should the president be that David Pecker, one of his close friends, runs the "National Enquirer," is cooperating with the prosecutors?
SWERDLICK: He should be worried that everybody who's in this circle that's cooperating is cooperating, including Allen Weisselberg, his former CFO, David Pecker particularly, the fact that he's friends with someone and it's on the record. No one disputes that they have a close relationship, is involved in the payment to Karen McDougal, as Jeffrey was just saying, potentially involved in something here that is at least a breach of journalistic ethics if not a crime.
I also would say, I'm not sure it's a crime but if it is a crime, it's not a crime of journalism, there's no separate category.
[18:55:02] It's just a crime crime if it is one at all.
I think the president should be concerned because this just gives the special counsel investigation another lane of inquiry to go down, more people to question. More threads to tighten up.
BLITZER: We've reached out, Gloria, to AMI, American Media, the "National Enquirer" for a response. I've not yet received a response to what Jeff Bezos --
BORGER: I'm not surprised. But there is a certain irony here that the "National Enquirer," that AMI is trying to do something to preserve its reputation. I'm not quite sure -- I'm not quite sure what that is at this particular point and I think that the Saudi connection clearly is something that really struck a cord with them if that is indeed what "The Washington Post" is pursuing because whatever their reputation is at this point could get even worse.
BLITZER: We spoke, Sabrina, that the decades-long relationships that President Trump has had with David Pecker of AMI and the "National Enquirer" and with Allen Weisselberg, the long-time chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, both of whom have received immunity in exchange for their cooperation, their testimony, I've always felt that's a real potential nightmare for the president.
SIDDIQUI: It's certainly something that should concern the president, revealing in terms of the kind of people the president surrounds himself with, and I think that's going to be what Democrats latch onto with respect to this revelation. One of their prevailing documents against the president is this aura of corruption, and I think this very much plays into that narrative for them.
BLITZER: Adam Schiff, Jeffrey, in this new investigation, he says he's going to be pursuing all of these areas.
Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following, very important news right now.
A U.S. envoy is in North Korea laying groundwork for the second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. They'll meet in Vietnam in less than three weeks.
CNN's Will Ripley has reported expensively from inside North Korea. Will is joining us now live.
So, what can we expect from this second summit, Will?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Steven Biegun is there in Pyongyang, trying to negotiate concrete deliverables between Trump and Kim when they met and what he's likely learning at this very hour is that every tiny detail is a struggle.
RIPLEY (voice-over): Less than three weeks until Trump-Kim 2.0, round two of made for TV diplomacy from two leaders who went from trading threats --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will be met with fire and fury.
RIPLEY: To exchanging letters.
TRUMP: And then we fell in love, OK? He wrote me beautiful letters. RIPLEY: Experts say it will take more than letters for the sequel to
their Singapore summit to deliver what the original did not, actual progress on denuclearization.
U.S. envoy Steven Biegun traveled to Pyongyang Wednesday to hammer out what he calls a set of concrete deliverables for the second summit in Vietnam, but a source familiar with the talks tells CNN even the most basic details require extensive negotiations like choosing between host cities Hanoi or Da Nang.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hit a diplomatic dead end last year, despite four trips to Pyongyang. Pompeo says he remains very hopeful North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will give up his nukes.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're seeing in the discussions Chairman Kim has told his own people that they need to turn course.
RIPLEY: Experts caution, it won't be that simple.
MELISSA HANHAM, NORTH KOREA EXPERT: I think the U.S. is going to have to adjust its expectations and also be prepared to start listening more to what North Korea wants.
RIPLEY: At the top of Kim's list, sanctions relief, security guarantees, and diplomatic normalization.
(on camera): We were here in Pyongyang. You couldn't turn a corner --
(voice-over): When I traveled to North Korea after the Singapore summit, anti-U.S. propaganda was gone. Ballistic missiles notably absent from this military parade.
But Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee just last week North Korea is unlikely to completely denuclearize.
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.
TRUMP: My relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one.
RIPLEY: In his State of the Union Address Tuesday, President Trump pointed to a more than year-long pause in missile and nuclear tests as proof his diplomacy is working.
TRUMP: If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.
RIPLEY: Many analysts say Kim's nuclear program has only grown stronger in the eight months since Singapore, and each summit with the U.S. president gives the North Korean leader something perhaps even more powerful than nukes, legitimacy.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Will Ripley doing excellent reporting as he always does. You're going to be very busy over these next several weeks. Will, thank you very much for that report.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.