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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL); Patriots Owner Caught in Sex Sting?; New Info Expected in Mueller Probe; R. Kelly Charged With Sexual Abuse of Minors; New England Patriots Owner Accused in Sex Sting, NY Times: Trump's Ex-Attorney Michael Cohen Gave Prosecutors New Info On Trump Family Business; Trump Defends Friend Robert Kraft After Patriots Owner Accused in Prostitution Sting; Putin Warns He's Ready for Another Cuban Missile-Style Crisis. Aired on 6-7p ET

Aired February 22, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Prosecutors in New York reportedly are preparing charges against Manafort in case the president pardons his former campaign chairman. Will that guarantee that Manafort does time behind bars?

Criminal sex abuse, that's what musician R. Kelly is charged with tonight in a 10-count indictment involving multiple young women, including minors. Kelly now facing arrest, after decades of accusations of abuse;.

And human trafficking bust. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is being charged with soliciting sex after a raid and sting operation in a Florida days spa. Tonight, President Trump is speaking out about the allegations against his longtime friend.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, we could get tantalizing clues about Robert Mueller's final report at any moment.

The special counsel's last major court filing in the Paul Manafort case is due tonight. It may include new details about the former Trump campaign chairman's Russia contacts, which are said to be at the heart of the Mueller probe.

Meantime, prosecutors in New York reportedly are preparing their own criminal charges against Manafort. Bloomberg News says it's an effort to ensure Manafort gets prison time, even if President Trump were to decide to pardon his federal crimes.

Also breaking, "The New York Times" reports the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen has given prosecutors new information about the Trump family business.

I will get reaction to all that and more from the House Intelligence Committee member Mike Quigley. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's bring in members of our Russia reporting team, our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, and our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Pamela, this sentencing memo from Mueller's team about Paul Manafort, Trump due today, could be released any moment now. What could we learn from this?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we could certainly learn a lot Wolf, depending on redactions, what prosecutors with Robert Mueller's team decide to reveal.

But we can learn more about Paul Manafort's contacts after he was arrested, and also his alleged lies at the prosecutors. Also, there will be a lot of focus on what prosecutors reveal about Manafort's contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, his associate who is believed to be tied to Russian intel who Manafort shared internal Trump campaign polling data with.

That really -- those communications go to the heart of what Robert Mueller has been looking at, Wolf. And so we're going to be looking at these court filings whenever they come out, before midnight, to see what prosecutors reveal.

But this is significant, because this is one of the last opportunities, Wolf, for Robert Mueller's team to provide details on its overarching theory, what they have been looking at about Russian influence in the campaign.

BLITZER: And that's what he does often, Mueller. He releases a lot of details in these court documents.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He does release a lot of details. And that's why every time we get word that something's coming, we highly anticipate it, because we're always trying to figure out, learn new things.

And nothing is done quietly in these court documents. There's usually something in there that can give us some clues as to where this investigation is going, where things stand, but, most importantly, it's going to be very damaging for Paul Manafort.

We have heard a lot about Paul Manafort in the last month, how he breached his cooperation agreement. That's going to certainly come up in these documents. So they're going to be hard on Paul Manafort because they want the judge to see everything that they know about him that they can publicly disclose to us.

BLITZER: And you saw this "New York Times" report just moments ago that Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer, spent a decade working with the president and the Trump Organization, that prosecutors in New York now have questioned him about potential irregularities in the Trump Organization.

PROKUPECZ: And here's what's so interesting about "The New York Times" story.

They say that this information that Michael Cohen provided to prosecutors in New York came in the last month. So, that is what I find the most interesting, is that Michael Cohen is continuing to provide some cooperation, some information to prosecutors in New York.

"The New York Times" says this is about the Trump Organization, insurance claims that the that the company has filed. They're also interested, as we know from the subpoena that they gave to the inauguration committee, in a donor, Imaad Zuberi, who gave $900,000 to the committee, who was also trying to get -- to give money for Michael Cohen -- to Michael Cohen to do some work for him.

But the most interesting to me, certainly, is that this information came to them in the last month. What is Michael Cohen trying to do here? He could be trying to seek more leniency, hoping that prosecutors would somehow go to the judge and say, you know what? He's provided us more information. We're hoping to -- you can reduce his sentence.

[18:05:00]

BLITZER: Allen Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, he's received immunity exchange for his cooperation; is that right?

PROKUPECZ: He has.

But our understanding of the immunity that it's very limited. It was specifically to a certain issue that he was testifying about before the grand jury.

Now, things could have changed since then, because the Southern District of New York's investigation, which we know the president and his team are really worried about, may have expanded.

BROWN: But what I think is interesting, too, about this article is the timing of it, coming out just days before Michael Cohen testifies publicly on Capitol Hill next week.

And we know that one of the topics that is going to come up is Trump's businesses, the Trump Organization. And so this article lays out that he told prosecutors about irregularities with Trump.org and putting out -- pulling out insurance claims and so forth.

And so you can imagine lawmakers are reading this and that will help craft their questions next week.

BLITZER: Yes. He testifies, Cohen, Wednesday morning, 10:00 a.m., before the House Oversight Committee, in open session. There will be a lot of eyeballs watching that.

Guys, thanks very much. Good reporting.

Also tonight, as we await the new filing from Robert Mueller, President Trump is downplaying the potential bombshells in the special counsel's final report.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, we have some breaking news. Update our viewers.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

The president just made some news on this Friday night, announcing that he is going to pick Kelly Knight Craft, currently the U.S. ambassador to Canada, to be the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ultimately, she's going to be replacing Nikki Haley, who stepped down at the end of last year, and replacing Heather Nauert.

That was the State Department spokesman who the president had said he intended to nominate for this job, but never nominated. And then last Saturday night, she withdrew pretty late in the evening. And now the president has picked a replacement, saying on Twitter that she has done an outstanding job representing the nation.

And I'm quoting him now. He says: "I have no doubt that under her leadership our country will be represented at the highest level."

Then he congratulates her.

Wolf, we know this is someone that has been pushed by not only Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but also the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, for this role. And this comes on a day that the president has been taking questions in the Oval Office about Robert Mueller bringing his investigation to the end.

And the president said he hadn't discussed it yet with the attorney general. But he believes that when the report does come out, it's going to be an honest report, if -- and this is a big if, Wolf -- it proves that there was no collusion between the president's campaign and Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): Washington is bracing tonight as both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue await Robert Mueller's final report.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At some point, I guess I will be talking about it.

COLLINS: President Trump sounding confident today that the special counsel's investigation will clear him.

TRUMP: You know the nice part? There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no anything. So that's the nice part. There was no phone calls, no nothing. And everybody knows it's a hoax. So I look forward to seeing the report. If it's an honest report, it will say that.

If it's not an honest report, it won't.

COLLINS: A Justice Department official briefed on the plans telling CNN that, at the moment, Mueller is not expected to deliver the report next week, while the president is in Vietnam for his second summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

But sources tell CNN Attorney General Bill Barr is preparing to announce that the investigation is over. After that, it will be up to him to decide how much Congress and the public sees.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: It's up to Mr. Mueller what the content is. And it's up to the attorney general what the summary is that is presented to Congress.

COLLINS: Aides insist Trump is more focused on his upcoming summit than the report.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think we're always prepared for a number of things that come at us. But right now our focus is not on the Mueller report. But it's on doing our jobs.

COLLINS: But his Twitter feed says otherwise. Trump tweeting today that: "The witch-hunt is so bad for our country and must end."

And in the Oval Office today, Trump, who has pledged to fight human trafficking, commenting on his billionaire friend and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, after he was charged with soliciting prostitution as part of a human trafficking sting.

TRUMP: I was very surprised to see it. He's proclaimed his innocence totally, but I'm very surprised to see it.

COLLINS: In the meantime, the president's attention is also focused on the 2020 candidate field. New reporting from CNN shows Trump is eager to play a disruptive role in the Democratic primary. And in the words of one adviser, his team is looking for ways to cause chaos from the left and right.

One Republican who speaks to him often tells CNN: "The president wants to get into the game. People may knock him in terms of running the government, but he gets the campaign and can't wait to get started."

Trump, who has closely watched Democrats entering the race, has asked AIDS in recent days for political intelligence on Joe Biden.

TRUMP: He's basically a 1 percent guy. He's weak. So, we will see what happens with him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: And, Wolf, the president is getting regular briefings from his 2020 campaign manager, all as he becomes increasingly fixated on who it is that is going to be running against him in that election.

[18:10:02]

BLITZER: The political season clearly heating up already.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you. Also tonight, as President Trump prepares to meet with Kim Jong-un for a second time, his administration may be poised to do some backtracking.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's got the breaking story for us.

Jim, what are you learning about possible concessions that the administration may be thinking about?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's an important concession.

As Trump prepares to be face to face with Kim for a second time, his administration is weighing backing off an earlier demand that North Korea agree during this upcoming summit to make a full accounting of its nuclear and missile programs as a prerequisite for any U.S. concession, multiple officials tell myself and my colleagues Kylie Atwood, Jeremy Diamond, and Kevin Liptak.

The administration has been pressing North Korea since the two leaders' last summit in Singapore to provide information about its nuclear capabilities, suggesting that such an accounting would be a necessary outcome of any second summit.

As recently as November, Vice President Pence called such a nuclear accounting -- quote -- "imperative." Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it will be absolutely imperative in this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons in question, identifying all the development sites, allowing for inspections of the sites, and a plan for dismantling nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Well, now not so fast. Administration officials describe that declaration as a longer-term goal of the talks.

In fact, there's an internal rift now opening up between members of the president's own national security team over how much to demand from North Korea and how soon. In particular, Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun has drawn private skepticism from other members of Trump's own administration that he may be overly willing to take steps to satisfy the president's desire to make a deal.

And, of course, Wolf that accounting is important because, typically, in a nuclear negotiation, you start with that accounting, because then what the other side is going to give up in any discussions of hemming in its nuclear program.

BLITZER: So I think that there's concern that the administration may be thinking about, what, giving up too much? SCIUTTO: Giving up too much, and particularly concern -- and, again,

this is coming from inside the White House -- that the president himself -- his advisers privately raising concerns that the president himself could offer too much to Kim at the summit, which he insisted upon after his first meeting in June, you will remember, garnered widespread media attention.

In that meeting, Trump surprised his own advisers by agreeing to cancel join U.S.-South Korea war exercises. That's a major concession to North Korea. Aides are concerned that more surprises could be in store this time around, including a formal piece declaration ending the Korean War, which Trump has found attractive because it would allow him to tout his role as a peacemaker.

Listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have had such a great relationship. And China has helped us a lot with North Korea and with Kim Jong-un since I got to office.

If I were not elected president, you would have been in a war with North Korea. We now have a situation where the relationships are good, where there has been no nuclear testing, no missiles, no rockets. We got our hostages back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So why the president's focus on peacemaking? Trump has expressed a strong desire, even in public, Wolf, for a Nobel Peace Prize.

And, apparently, that desire is a serious one.

BLITZER: And are you hearing there's going to be another one-on-one two-hour meeting between the president and Kim, with only interpreters present?

SCIUTTO: Well, we do know the first meeting is one-on-one and with interpreters. We don't know if others will be present there. But the intention is that is supposed to be private on Wednesday next week, with other meetings to follow afterwards.

And it's during a meeting like that some of his advisers are concerned that he might make a concession that they weren't prepared for.

BLITZER: Yes, Wednesday and Thursday, two days of summit in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that report.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Joining us now, Congressman Mike Quigley, a Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

What would President Trump have to accomplish in this second summit with Kim Jong-un for you to visit -- to view it as a success?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Look, I wish the president well.

This is, under the best of circumstances, an extraordinarily difficult set of circumstance. I share the concerns that the president would make concessions without checking with his advisers, and, more importantly, working with our allies in the region.

It's important to recognize a couple things, though. No matter what they agree to, this all goes through Beijing, and to a lesser extent, Moscow. Unfortunately, they haven't been showing a great willingness to make the accommodations we need to force the hand there.

And, finally, it is very hard for me to imagine that the North will ever give up these weapons. It is going to take a whole 'nother level of pressure exerted on a worldwide basis with our allies and with China and Russia.

[18:15:01]

So any movement toward that end would be welcome and seen as a victory. I, again, share the concern of the advisers and others that the president, who would like to get something accomplished, given the noise and everything else that's happening in his world, to distract from other considerations.

BLITZER: Yes, I have been told by experts the North Koreans are very sensitive to the fact that Moammar Gadhafi of Libya gave up his nuclear program, and we all know what eventually happened to him. They're very sensitive to that.

Let's turn, Congressman, to the investigations into President Trump that are under way right now. "The New York Times" just reporting that Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, has been speaking to the Southern District of New York, the U.S. attorney there, about irregularities within the Trump Organization, the family business, including insurance claims.

Do you predict other avenues of investigation will continue, even after the special counsel, Robert Mueller, concludes his work, presumably in the coming days?

QUIGLEY: Oh, absolutely.

If the president or anyone else imagines that this is somehow magically over when the special counsel files his report, he's sadly mistaken. We know of a number of other criminal investigations that are taking place.

The fact that this report will reveal extraordinary information that, when Congress eventually gets, it will have to address, and we simply don't know what the full scope of the special counsel's investigation involved, and what is left, what gaps exist for Congress to investigate.

One of the things we have learned, what we will be learning with Manafort filings today, Mr. Cohen's testimony next week, and the oversight investigation into Saudi Arabia and General Flynn is -- let me put it this way.

Richard Nixon said the American public has a right to know if their president is a crook. We have a pretty good idea that the president was surrounded by crooks. How far that went into the White House, we're going to learn, especially now that we have the gavels.

But I think what's more important is, how did those financial dealings by Manafort, by Flynn, by Mr. Cohen and others affect our foreign policy and kept us safe?

We have learned in previous filings of the connections with Mr. Kilimnik and a Ukrainian peace plan favorable to the Russians. We're going to learn from Mr. Cohen hopefully more about the Trump Tower Moscow meeting, and the fact that the president, as candidate, was seeking a relief from sanctions so that his deal could go forward.

So, not just, is the president involved in these dealings? It's, did it impact national and international policy?

BLITZER: I know you're going to be questioning Michael Cohen behind closed doors, your House Intelligence Committee, next week here in Washington.

Are there restrictions what you can ask him?

QUIGLEY: I'm not aware of how the restriction -- I'm aware that there's concerns and restrictions that involves the meeting that will be in public. Some of that has to do with the classified nature...

BLITZER: That's the House Oversight Committee.

QUIGLEY: That's correct.

In the meeting he has with the House Select Committee on Intelligence, I'm not personally aware if there are restrictions on what he's willing to answer. Given that it's a classified setting, I would like to think he'd be more willing to talk about everything, but also obviously matters that dealt with the connections between himself or other Trump associates and the Russians, how financial dealings worked with them.

And the Trump Tower Moscow meeting obviously is of great concern. So I think there's a lot of questions out there. I'm hoping that he's willing to cooperate with us as well. And I don't believe this will be a contentious hearing.

I take Mr. Cohen at his word that, when he joined the Trump world, he joined the world of darkness, and he wants to come out from that darkness. And it's my desire that this be a cooperative meeting and that a large part of what Mr. Cohen wants is the American public to understand what he was working with and just who the president of the United States is.

BLITZER: Cohen will be testifying Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before various House and Senate committees.

Congressman Quigley, thanks so much for joining us.

QUIGLEY: Glad to be here. Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead in two stunning prosecutions.

After decades of allegations of sexual abuse, the musician R. Kelly has now been indicted on multiple criminal accounts involving young victims.

And we will also have new details on the accusations against the New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft. He's being charged after a prostitution sting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:24:18]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news.

Two prominent men facing sex-related charges in separate cases tonight, including the musician R. Kelly.

He's been indicted on 10 counts of felony sex abuse of four women, including three minors.

Our national correspondent, Sara Sidner, is working the story for us in Chicago.

Sara, the alleged crimes, what, they span more than a decade. What's the latest?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

This is huge. Really, it is, because, for decades, there have been accusations against R. Kelly, inappropriate behavior with minors, sexual behavior with minors. Those accusations have gone on for many, many, many years.

Now we are hearing from the state's attorney saying that has been indicted and charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse against -- three of whom are minors. There are four women that are listed there. Only their initials are listed.

[18:25:13]

But they have dates and times. And some of the dates span several years that they have put into the charges and into the indictment. This is significant. We have known and have reported that there was a grand jury that convened last week. And we know that grand jury continued into this week. We know that there were witnesses, according to sources, telling us that people have been coming in and out of the grand jury. We also know about a videotape, a newly unearthed video tape that was brought to the state's attorney's office last week.

And, as we understand it, from attorney Michael Avenatti, who brought it to the state's attorney's office, who is representing several clients that are involved in the R. Kelly case, that that tape has some very potentially damaging evidence on it, including a girl who refers -- and I will warn you about this language I'm about to use -- who refers to her 14-year-old genitalia.

She does so more than a half-dozen times. And R. Kelly or someone who appears to be R. Kelly on the tape says the same thing, repeats it back to her a couple of times.

That evidence has been in the hands of the state's attorney's office. As we understand, it was also used to show some of the people in the grand jury -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You had a chance to speak to one of the survivors, Sara. What was her reaction.

SIDNER: This is stunning as well, because this is in response in some ways to a series that was six hours' long called "Surviving R. Kelly" that ran and aired on -- in January.

And many women came out, telling their stories. One of those women was Kitti Jones. And I spoke to her. She was -- what is the word? She was emotional, to say the very least.

She said to us: "Today is very emotional for myself and some of the other women I have spoken to who are survivors from the documentary."

Now, Kitti Jones was dating R. Kelly for quite a few years and says she suffered abuse. And here's something that's really interesting that we did not know. She says: "I knew when I saw the images from one of the new tapes in a private meeting on this Tuesday that this was going to be huge for prosecutors."

Those are words from a woman who says she has been waiting for a very long time for there to be some justice. And she says that she has seen this newly unearthed videotape, and that it is, in her words, huge for prosecutors.

Now, to be fair, R. Kelly for many years has always maintained his innocence, saying that he is not guilty of any of these alleged crimes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Sidner in Chicago for us, thank you.

We're also following charges against the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was caught up in a prostitution staying at a Florida day spa.

Let's go to our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, who is working the story for us.

Jason, police apparently have, what, video evidence against Kraft. What is he being charged with?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's being charged with allegations relating to soliciting a prostitute.

He has denied these allegations through a spokesperson, but police say they have all the evidence that they need. And they say it's on tape.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): Police in Jupiter, Florida, shocked that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is allegedly caught in their sting operation at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.

DANIEL KERR, JUPITER POLICE CHIEF: We're as equally stunned as everybody else.

CARROLL: Kraft charged with two counts of soliciting another for prostitution, which are misdemeanors.

KERR: Much of our evidence comes directly from the businesses, also from body-worn cameras of our officers, and also surveillance that we had been conducting.

CARROLL: Police say Kraft visited the spa on two occasions, and they say they have videos allegedly showing him in a room receiving what detectives characterized as paid acts.

Their investigation into human trafficking at the spa lasted several months. More than two dozen men, or johns, including Kraft, are being charged for receiving illegal services.

KERR: He's being charged with the same offenses as the others. And that is soliciting another to commit prostitution.

CARROLL: Kraft, whose team won the Super Bowl three weeks ago, is the chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group. His worth is listed by "Forbes" at more than $6 billion.

And he is a friend of the president and a frequent visitor to Trump's club Mar-a-Lago. A spokesman for the 77-year-old billionaire released a statement which says: "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further."

The Kraft family has been active in philanthropic efforts over the years. But police now say they will be issuing a warrant for his arrest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: And, Wolf, another development in all this, late today, another billionaire allegedly caught up in all of the sting operation.

Police say they will charge hedge fund buyout king John W. Childs.

[18:30:09]

They have not charged him yet. They said they are going to. Childs strongly denies the allegations. He says that all of the accusations are, quote, totally false. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jason Carroll reporting for us, thank you.

Tonight, the President is downplaying a Florida Judge's decision involving the Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. The judge ruled that the Justice Department broke the law in its handling of a lenient 2008 plea deal involving billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was accused of serial sex abuse of underage girls. Secretary Acosta was one of the federal prosecutors who handled the case. He was the U.S. attorney in Miami.

Asked about the ruling, the President said he really doesn't know much about the case and added, and I'm quoting the President now, that seems like a long time ago.

We'll talk about all the breaking news with our correspondents and our analysts. They are standing by. We have a lot to discuss. Don't leave.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

[18:35:45] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including a new reporting tonight about the former Trump fixer and personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.

And, Laura Jarrett, The New York Times reporting, and we've been reporting this, Michael Cohen has been providing information about the Trump family business to the U.S. attorney in New York, the Southern District of New York. He has also been asked about a prominent donor to the President's inaugural committee who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars. So what does all this tell you?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: I think what it shows is that prosecutors' interests are potentially broader than the hush money arrangement payment that first landed him in hot water. And we are --

BLITZER: Involving Stormy Daniels?

JARRETT: Involving Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and campaign finance violations. That's how this whole thing started. We are far afield of that now. And Michael Cohen is cooperating. And we don't know the full extent of what he has told prosecutors, obviously. But if they are probing into the inauguration, and now, it appears even some insurance irregularities. The New York Times isn't exactly clear about what the wrongdoing would be. But it appears that this is far broader in scope. And it's partly why you have heard former prosecutors say at length that the Southern District of New York prosecutors are dogged. They are willing to go after him and everything that he knows. And then potentially just expose him to greater risk than perhaps the Russia investigation, which is far more limited in scope.

BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, to weigh in, because, as you a remember a year ago or so ago, the President said to The New York Times, if they go after my family or my business, that's crossing a red line.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they have - that red line is history, and it's been history for some time. But it's worth remembering that the Southern District has a rule. Most U.S. attorneys have a similar rule, but the Southern District certainly has it, that if you are going to cooperate - and Cohen doesn't have a formal cooperation agreement, but he is cooperating. If you are going to cooperate, you have to cooperate about everything. Every question they ask, you have to give an answer for. You have to talk about any subject that's of interest to them.

As Laura was saying, it started in this discreet area. But it is moved to the whole range of Cohen's responsibilities which were extensive. And so anything he touched as Trump's fixer, he is going to be asked about by the Southern District.

BLITZER: Is he also going to be asked about all of this, Ron Brownstein, when he testifies in open session Wednesday morning before the House Oversight Committee?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think it's a really important question there, Wolf. Because on the one hand, I think democrats are going to want to kind of go after all of the investigative leads that he has put out there. But I think they face a question about whether their role in a congressional committee is simply to kind of run through the same tracks as the law enforcement side of things will be doing or do they use Michael Cohen, who is unquestionably, I think, the most cooperative witness they are going to have with a front row seat on the broad range of President Trump's activities when he was in the private sector? Do they use him to try to create a bigger picture, a bigger narrative about the way the President operated across a whole series of fronts?

In the past, they have struggled to kind of - in hearings, whether it was Kavanaugh or elsewhere to kind of drive a single strong point out of the testimony and out of their disparate questioning. And we'll see whether they just kind of track each one of the threads that Michael Cohen has unraveled or do they, in fact, try to present a bigger picture with what is a unique resource for them.

BLITZER: And, Pamela, we're waiting, and it could happen at any moment now, for this Paul - for this Robert Mueller Special Counsel sentencing memo involving Paul Manafort. And there could be a lot of significant information released in this memo.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There could just depending on redactions, what prosecutors decide to reveal. So it is coming momentarily. And this filing is significant, Wolf, because it's one of the last opportunities for Robert Mueller's team to lay out more on the investigative theory about Russian interference during the 2016 campaign. And also the communications between Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, who officials believe is tied to Russian intel.

And so that's really - as a reporter who has been covering the Russia probe, I am looking at to see what more do they reveal, do they answer anymore questions we have about potential Russia collusions.

[18:40:06]

BLITZER: They've got to release this, you know, Laura, before midnight tonight.

JARRETT: They do. Hopefully, they don't do it at 11:59. But we will see.

BROWN: Friday night.

BLITZER: We're going to have to stay here [INAUDIBLE].

JARRETT: You are all going to be watching. Aren't you going to be up with us?

BLITZER: You know, I want to play, and Jeffrey, let me get you to react. The President was weighing in on all of this, including the Mueller investigation earlier today. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: You know the nice part? There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no anything. So that's the nice part. There was no phone calls, no nothing. So I look forward to seeing the report. If it's an honest report, it will say that. If it's not an honest report, it won't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think?

TOOBIN: Well, that's approximately the 10,000th time we've heard the President say, no collusion, notwithstanding the evidence that is already out about relations between the Trump campaign and Russia.

I think, you know, the question that the Trump camp is going to have to deal with is, are they going to say the report is simply a vindication of everything they have been saying all along, this is old news, there's nothing here, or are they going to say it's just a pack of lies?

Now, they probably will pick and choose to a certain extent. They will say parts that are unfavorable or a pack of lies. But, you know, the sort Fox News chorus is going to have to figure out a line on the Mueller report. And those two options, like no news here or it's all lies, they're going to have to pick that, I think.

BLITZER: So, basically, what the President is saying, and correct me if I'm wrong, Pamela, because you're doing a lot of reporting on this, so the President is only going to accept the Robert Mueller report if the report clears him?

BROWN: Yes. And it's no surprise to that the President would say, look, if it works in my favor, then I'll accept it.

But here's the big question that we still really don't have an answer to what is Bill Barr going to actually give to Congress? I can tell you in speaking to officials from the White House, there is an expectation that it's not going to be a lot, that he's basically just going to hand over something very simple that's not going to be a thick packet full of the investigation and what happened through the past two years.

And so there is one of a feeling with folks I have spoken with that this is a positive development that the investigation is at this stage and that there is this expectation the report will be handed over to Congress soon in whatever form it will take. Because their feeling is, look, we got through this without the President having to sit down with Robert Mueller. And that was always the big concern. And they seem to have prevented that from happening.

But as one official I spoke to said, look, said, let's wait for the plane to land on the runway and see what we have. We don't want to get too excited just yet but there was definitely a feeling of relief with some of the officials I spoke with.

BLITZER: And, Laura, you've been reporting it, it's not going to happen next week, the report won't be presented to the new Attorney General while the President is over in Vietnam meeting with Kim Jong- Un.

JARRETT: It's been a moving target [INAUDIBLE].

BLITZER: All right. We've got a lot more on the breaking news. Everybody stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:44] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with our analysts. We're following breaking news, sex charges against the New England Patriots owner and President Trump's friend Robert Kraft.

I want to play a clip for you, Jeffrey Toobin, the president reacting to these allegations against Kraft.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's very sad. I was very surprised to see it. He's proclaimed his innocence totally. But I'm very surprised to see it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: It's part of a broader sting operation against this spa down in Florida, in Jupiter, that's just north of Palm Beach.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I'm going to take a lesson from what we learned in Chicago this week and not express any view about whether Robert Kraft is guilty or not guilty of anything. What I do know is that the women who work in these circumstances are terribly abused. And this is not under any circumstances a victimless crime.

So that much is clear. As for who the johns were or what their relationship was, I think we ought to wait to see what more evidence comes out.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ron.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I would say, it's striking, Wolf. I mean, again, we don't know, obviously. The Chicago example is a good one to be chastened about.

But there's no question that in the #metoo era, the post-#metoo revelations, there's a general movement toward holding more men accountable for coercive sexual behavior. And the conspicuous exception in all of that -- really, the fuel in a lot of political energy among women is the president himself. I mean, who is facing at least a dozen serious accusations of sexual harassment who, of course, is on video himself in the "Access Hollywood" tape.

That's a reality that explains why Democrats in the last election had their best performance ever among college educated white women. Huge numbers among African-American women and improvement among blue collar white women. And the fact that he continually sides -- his initial reaction is to side with at accused in these cases is just, I think, just another marker of how that bubbles beneath the surface politically as part of the fuel in the historic problem he is facing, particularly among well-educated white women.

BLITZER: That's a good point.

Ron, you wrote -- shifting gears. You wrote an excellent article about Senator Bernie Sanders and how his race for the Democratic presidential primary is going to affect the overall Democratic contest.

[18:50:11] BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

You'll see him, of course, on Monday. Senator Bernie Sanders has a very distinct basis of support going back to 2016. He was really strong among independents who participated in the primary. Young people and blue collar white men, although some may have been dislike for Hillary Clinton. He had very little strength among self- identified Democrats, African-Americans and older voters.

So, whether or not Sanders can expand and truly compete for the nomination this time, his entry is a huge rock in this very crowded pond of Democratic candidates because the voters are accounting on the same pool of voters that he is strong with like young people or more liberal voters like Beto O'Rourke potentially, or certainly Elizabeth Warren are going to face real challenges.

He is a formidable opponent and if you're Elizabeth Warren you're looking at a do or die moment in New Hampshire, which historically has favored New England candidates, which is highly likely, Wolf, that only one of them comes out of New Hampshire as more viable. On the other hand, the candidates who are not really competing in the same pool as Sanders for older voters, moderates and African-American voters, that list ranges from Biden and Klobuchar to Booker and Harris, they may be advantaged by him coming in and kind of siphoning away that some of the support that their rivals might have otherwise coalesced.

BLITZER: Pamela, we're reporting the president is watching this Democratic contest very closely.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He's not just sitting idly by. He is already looped in, watching what's happening, looking at rallies and announcements, talking to aides, even this week my colleague Kaitlan Collins and Jeff Zeleny reported that he has held meetings with Brad Parscale, with his campaign, Mike Pence, the vice president, and others about 2020. So he is actively engaged, even asking some of his aides for intel on Joe Biden, whether or not he's going to run, talking about what nicknames you could have for the opponents potentially. So, he is very, very looped in.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody, stick around.

An important note to our viewers, be sure to join me Monday night when I moderate our next CNN presidential town hall with Senator Bernie Sanders live from here in Washington. That's Monday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

We're standing by for Robert Mueller's final filing in the Paul Manafort case. What will it reveal about the special counsel's overall Russia investigation.

Plus, Russian President Vladimir Putin says he's ready for a missile crisis with the United States if that's what Washington wants.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:16] BLITZER: Tough new talk tonight from Vladimir Putin about the growing tension between Russia and the United States over nuclear missiles.

Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is joining us live from Moscow with details.

Fred, Putin is invoking what, the specter of the Cuban missile crisis?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he certainly is. And, you know, he's new keywords are hypersonic nuclear missiles, and Vladimir Putin is touting this new class of Russian weapons which he says some of which are already battle-ready and threatening to deploy to them to waters close to the United States if there is a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia.

Here's what we're learning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Vladimir Putin ratcheting up the rhetoric against the U.S. The Russian leader saying if there was a nuclear standoff between Moscow and Washington, he wouldn't back down.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): This is no reason to escalate to the levels of the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960s. We do not want this. But if somebody else wants this, well, OK, go ahead. I have said what will happen then. Let them do their math.

PLEITGEN: A major factor in Putin's calculation, his growing missile arsenal, saying if the U.S. deploys medium-range nukes in Europe, Russia will place new hypersonic missiles allegedly flying at nine times the speed of sound off the U.S. coast.

PUTIN: Nobody can prohibit warships and submarines from navigating in neutral waters. Plus, they will not be stationary. They will be on the go, making it more difficult to detect them.

PLEITGEN: Despite his friendly relationship with President Trump, Vladimir Putin has vastly accelerated Russia's missile programs, a move he openly says gives Moscow the edge over America.

PUTIN: How long would it take to reach the decision-making centers that threaten us? The calculation is not in their favor, at least not today. This is obvious.

PLEITGEN: Russia, North Korea and Iran, all American adversaries with limited defense budgets, looking to neutralize American military dominance by developing long-range missile capabilities.

A former Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander telling CNN, the rockets are also used as bargaining chips.

HOSSEIN KANANI MAGHADDAM, FORMER IRANIAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARD COMMANDER (through translator): One of our policies to counter sanctions is to expand our missile program. This is exactly the path we are following. The more they increase the sanctions, the more we will boost our missile capabilities.

PLEITGEN: Russia has had to cut military spending because of U.S. sanctions, but its missile program, Vladimir Putin says, continues to move forward full speed ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And again, Wolf, the Russians are saying they don't want that confrontation with Washington but certainly are saying they're ready if something does happen, Wolf. BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thanks for that report.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.