Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Claims Cohen "Directly" Asked Him for a Pardon; Interview with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D), Member, Oversight and Reform Committee, on Trump versus Cohen on Pardon; White House Communications Chief Bill Shine Resigns; Source Says Trump Had Been Questioning His Judgment; Trump Says He Feels "Very Badly" For Manafort, Despite Lenient Sentence; Won't Say If He's Considering A Pardon; Jussie Smollett Indicted; "Empire" Actor Jussie Smollett Indicted On 16 Felony Count; Source: North Korea May Be Preparing For New Launch. Aired: 5-6p ET

Aired March 8, 2019 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching. I will see you Sunday morning.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now: breaking news, I beg your pardon. The president accused Michael Cohen of lying to Congress, claiming his former fixer is a, quote, "fraudster," who directly asked him for a pardon.

Did Mr. Trump set himself up to be subpoenaed?

Take the Shine off: another exit through the revolving door over at the White House. former FOX News boss Bill Shine calls it quits. We are learning more about why the president has been souring on Shine.

Manafort destiny: Trump says he feels very badly even after he got a surprisingly lenient sentence for bank and tax fraud. We are looking at what's ahead for Manafort with another sentencing date just around the corner.

And Kim blames Trump: The North Koreans aren't putting a positive spin on the Hanoi summit anymore. They are now admitting failure and shifting the blame to the United States and President Trump.

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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on Mr. Trump now, a potential witness as to whether or not Michael Cohen lied to Congress. Mr. Trump claims his former fixer directly asked him for a pardon and he said no. In public testimony Cohen said he never asked his former boss for a

pardon. Tonight Cohen says it's the president who is lying.

Also breaking former FOX News executive Bill Shine has stepped down from his job at the White House. He is the fifth person to leave the communications. A sources tells CNN the president questioned Shine's judgment on multiple issues in recent months.

I'll talk with Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a member of both the Intelligence and the Oversight Committees that heard testimony from Michael Cohen. Our correspondents are also standing by. Let's go to Jim Acosta.

Jim, a very busy day for the president that included his bombshell tweet about Michael Cohen.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. President Trump is down in Florida for the weekend. He toured storm damage in Alabama today. But before he left the White House he started a new war of words with Michael Cohen which has potential to drag into a possible perjury case against his former personal attorney.


ACOSTA (voice-over): After shying away from the subject for days, President Trump took aim at his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, accusing his one-time fixer of lying to Congress.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a stone cold lie. And he's lied about a lot of things. But when he lied about the pardon, that was really a lie and he knew all about pardons. His lawyers said that they went to my lawyers and asked for pardons.

ACOSTA: The president is referring to this comment Cohen made last week under oath, when he testified that he had not sought a pardon for Mr. Trump, even though his own attorneys had done just that.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: And I have never asked for it, nor would I accept a pardon from President Trump.

ACOSTA: The president went one step further, alleging Cohen had sought a pardon personally, tweeting: "Bad lawyer and fraudster Michael Cohen said under sworn testimony that he had never asked for a pardon. His lawyers totally contradicted him. He lied. Additionally, he directly asked me for a pardon. I said no."

Cohen fired back, tweeting: "Just another set of lies by the president. Mr. President, let me remind you that today is International Women's Day. You may want to use today to apologize for your own lies and dirty deeds to women like Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford," a reference to Mr. Trump's alleged mistresses.

But the president's attack on Cohen could backfire, pulling Mr. Trump into a perjury investigation into his former personal attorney's remarks. REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D), MARYLAND: We'd love to hear from the president about it. It does seem like one of these whimsical last- minute presidential inventions.

ACOSTA: Contrast Mr. Trump's war of words with Cohen with the sympathy expressed for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is headed to prison, but may receive a pardon of his own, as he stayed loyal to the president.

TRUMP: I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. I think it's been a very, very tough time for him. But if you notice, both his lawyer, a highly respected man and a very highly respected judge, the judge, said there was no collusion with Russia. This had nothing to do with collusion. There was no collusion.

It's a collusion hoax. It's a collusion witch hoax.

ACOSTA: Just before the president viewed storm day in Alabama, the White House announced its communications director, Bill Shine, is resigning. Sources tell CNN Mr. Trump had soured on Shine, questioning his judgment on a number of issues.

Still, the president released a statement saying: "We will miss Shine in the White House, but look forward to working together on the 2020 presidential --


ACOSTA: -- "campaign, where he will be totally involved."

Shine, a former FOX News executive, is the sixth person to take on the communications job, raising questions about the president's commitment to hire the best people.

TRUMP: We are going to get the best people in the world. We're going to use our smartest and our best. We're not using political hacks anymore.

ACOSTA: The president may need a new communications director to help spin the latest unemployment numbers showing the economy only added 20,000 jobs last month.

Still, the president said there's nothing to worry about.

TRUMP: The economy is very, very strong. If you look at the stock market over the last few months, it's been great.

ACOSTA: The president is looking to put Democrats on the defensive, accusing them of going soft on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar after the House passed a measure condemning hate speech, a move sparked by the freshman Democrat's anti-Semitic comments.

TRUMP: The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They have become an anti-Jewish party.

ACOSTA: But the president overlooked his own record. TRUMP: And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.


ACOSTA: As for the departure of the communications director at the White House, a source close to the White House said there were growing concerns about the administration's cozy relationship with FOX News, where Bill Shine was recently a top executive.

Shine was partly responsible for the dramatic reduction in press briefings with reporters over here. Instead, top officials are routinely on FOX News instead of on other news outlets.

The source told me earlier today it is, quote, "dangerous to have Shine so close to the decision-making in the West Wing."

But Shine is not going far as he is taking a position advising the Trump campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's talk more about the president, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. Shimon Prokupecz is joining us.

Shimon, since the president claims Cohen personally and directly asked him about a pardon, is Mr. Trump now potentially a witness if this becomes a major legal case?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Certainly he could be. Both Michael Cohen and the president have credibility issues. They both kind of have issues with telling the truth.

What prosecutor would use them in any kind of a case without some kind of corroboration?

They would need some kind of corroboration to even start thinking about bringing any kind of perjury charges. This is about whether or not Cohen lied again to members of Congress when he recently testified. If there is corroboration out there that this happened, maybe. But without that, you can't really trust either one of these guys.

BLITZER: Will the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators, In addition to Congress, will they look into this allegation that Michael Cohen may have lied under oath before Congress the other day?

PROKUPECZ: What would happen in this case, it would have to be members of Congress. The Oversight Committee would have to make a referral to the Department of Justice and then the Department of Justice would then most likely, if they chose to take it on, would send it to the Washington, D.C., U.S. attorney, who would then investigate any potential perjury.

It would not be the special counsel in this case. It could also affect his case in the Southern District of New York. Michael Cohen is still going try to seek some kind of leniency from the Southern District of New York, even though he's been sentenced. There has been talk about him submitting or asking prosecutors in New York to try and somehow get a further reduction in his sentence.

So if it does come out that he lied here, there's no way that they're going to do that for him.

BLITZER: Speaking of pardons, in a different tone from the president, he said he felt badly for Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, even though he got off with a very lenient sentence.

Manafort's own attorney aligned himself with the president when he emerged from that courthouse. You were there last night. He is the one that said no collusion. Manafort's attorney said no collusion, which seemed to be suggesting maybe Manafort is signaling he would like a pardon.

And the president, by aligning himself, saying he felt very badly for Manafort, signaling there could be a pardon.

PROKUPECZ: Remember Kevin Downing has been with Manafort for the most part of this case now. He is the same attorney who was sharing information with Rudy Giuliani. Special counsel's office got really upset during the cooperation agreement that information was being shared with the president's team.

It does seem that Downing, when he said no collusion, that he was speaking towards the president and it's very clear that the president, this is on the president's mind. We keep hearing from the president about how he feels bad for Manafort.

I think what's going to happen here is once the Mueller team is done, the chances of Manafort is getting a pardon are very high. But I think they want it to be over for Mueller to go away so Mueller doesn't decide to reopen the investigation in some way. Once he is gone, we are more likely to see a pardon.


BLITZER: He got a 47-month sentence last night. In Northern Virginia the judge there has to reach a decision Wednesday. He will be sentenced for separate crimes that he committed. This federal judge, Amy Berman Jackson, she's considered pretty tough.

PROKUPECZ: And she hasn't been as sympathetic to Paul Manafort as Judge Ellis in Virginia, who sentenced him yesterday. But remember she's the judge who put him in jail when he violated conditions of his release.

He's facing up to 10 years for two counts, five years on each count. We'll see where she goes obviously. But her view of Manafort is much different. She has more eyes into this case. She has seen more information. She has seen more of the intelligence that the Judge Ellis has not necessarily seen.

So it's going to be interesting to see what she ultimately does. She also -- the most she can give him would be 10 years. That would be on the high side. So somewhere down the middle, five years or so for him.

BLITZER: In addition to the nearly four that he --


PROKUPECZ: -- it's a question of whether or not she runs is concurrent simultaneously with the four years or tacks that on. So you get another years. So ultimately he gets 8-9 years in prison.

BLITZER: We'll see next Wednesday what she decides. All right, Shimon, thanks very much.

Joining us now Democratic congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He's a member of the Intelligence and the Oversight Committees that heard both private and public testimony from Michael Cohen.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.


So the president tweeted that Michael Cohen directly asked him for a pardon and he said no. Michael Cohen testified under oath before your committee that he never asked for a pardon from the president.

Whom do you believe?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Pardon me, Wolf.

No, I'm just kidding.

I think obviously in the oversight hearing Mr. Cohen made a statement. But he testified for two days in the Intel Committee about various matters. I can't get into the specific testimony; however, I would strongly urge people to review that testimony once it comes out, once Chairman Schiff publishes it before they jump to any conclusions about this particular controversy.

BLITZER: Can you tell us without getting into sensitive information that may have been released and still confidential at this point, can you tell us who is more credible on this issue of whether Michael Cohen asked personally for a pardon?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think your previous guess was be correct. There needs to be corroboration with regard to statements made by anybody with regard to this issue. Michael Cohen brought a lot of documents to the hearings in the Intel Committee.

I think people should look at documents and at his testimony and the interview transcript. Right now I think Chairman Schiff is trying to weigh two things.

On the one hand, trying to publish the interview transcripts so that the public can see it but on the other hand making sure that he doesn't inadvertently shape, alter or taint the testimony of future witnesses that are coming before the Intel Committee.

BLITZER: Did Michael Cohen have documents that corroborate his allegation that he never asked for a pardon?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I can't get into the specifics of it. I really think people should wait to review this before they jump to conclusions.

The one thing I can say, which is widely known, is that the president has been using the pardon power in a very unconventional way. He's been dangling pardons through tweets and other behavior.

Recently with the Manafort case, you saw the White House said the other day, we are not taking the pardons off the table with regard to Manafort. Then almost in a call and response type of dialogue, Manafort's lawyer comes back and says there was no collusion with Russian officials as in this particular case.

So I think there's this strange use of the pardon power. It could potentially be obstruction of justice. But again, we have to let the evidence play out.

BLITZER: The other day in open session, when you asked Michael Cohen about his last communication with President Trump, he told you he couldn't reveal what they discussed because it is under investigation by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Do you believe that investigation is related to pardons or obstruction or both?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: It could be. Again, I don't have all of the answers on that particular point and that question was asked and it was partly addressed but not fully addressed because I think the Southern District of New York is also very concerned --


KRISHNAMOORTHI: -- about him talking too much about their ongoing investigation.

That being said I will reiterate one thing, which is I believe we in Congress have a duty to get to the bottom of even those particular allegations over wrongdoing. At this point the DOJ is run by William Barr, who has made it clear he may not release the results of any investigation that's currently underway either by special counsel Mueller or by the various U.S. attorneys, including Southern District of New York.

BLITZER: He says he will release as much as he can without violating existing rules and guidelines by the Justice Department.

That's not good enough for you, is it?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Remember, one of the guidelines is that they won't release information in a case where they don't indict the suspect. In this particular instance, one of the suspects is the president. They have competing guidance that says you can't indict a sitting president.

So it's one of those situations where almost certainly he will be able to refer to that guidance, where the special counsel can't indict the sitting president, and potentially use that as a means of shrouding not only the report that special counsel Mueller issues ultimately but also the underlying evidence supporting that report.

That can be said about the investigations in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere.

BLITZER: I want to ask about the committee's investigation into the White House security clearances issue. Axios is reporting that someone inside the White House gave your committee documents related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's security clearances.

Is that true?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I don't know. What I can say is that Jared Kushner has no business having access to top security material or top secret material. He has numerous unreported foreign contacts and tremendous financial vulnerabilities, which make him susceptible to financial manipulation.

Third and most important, almost every law enforcement official who looked at his case and, in fact, Ivanka's case apparently said they should not have access to top secret clearance.

Yet the president overrode that judgment and then concealed that he overrode that judgment, saying he had nothing to do with their security clearance process. I think they should voluntarily comply with Chairman Cummings' request regarding the security process.

If they don't, I think Chairman Cummings will look at the subpoena power. If he goes that route, I think he'll have a lot of support, including from people like me.

BLITZER: Congressman Krishnamoorthi, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Coming up, is President Trump obsessed right now with Michael Cohen?

We'll tell you what we are learning about his thinking and his ranting about his long time former lawyer.

We're also getting more reporting on Bill Shine's exit from the Trump White House.

Can anyone in any job please the president?



[17:20:00] (MUSIC PLAYING)

BLITZER: Breaking news this hour: President Trump claiming that his former fixer Michael Cohen directly asked him for a pardon and then lied under oath about it to Congress.

Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and analysts.

Gloria Borger, this is what the president tweeted earlier today about his former lawyer.

"Bad lawyer and fraudster Michael Cohen said under sworn testimony that he never asked for a pardon. His lawyers totally contradicted him. He lied. Additionally he directly asked me for a pardon. I said no. He lied again. He also badly wanted to work at the White House. He lied."

What does that say to you?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It says to me that the president is obsessed with Cohen and his testimony to Congress and that the chairman of the Oversight Committee said, if the president is saying this and there's a contradiction, I'm happy -- he can pick up the phone and call me anytime. And we can talk about this.

So it just gives you a sense -- I have always said Trump tweeting is the true Trump. When he obsesses about things, as he is obsessing about Michael Cohen's testimony, you understand this is getting under his skin and you have to ask yourself why.


And the president's comments, as you know, Dana, a direct contradiction to what Cohen testified to under oath before Congress last week, when he said, quote, "I have never asked for nor would I accept a pardon from President Trump."

So who should we believe?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We might be able to that question if in fact the president's allies get what it looks like they are asking for, which is a DOJ investigation into whether Michael Cohen actually perjured himself once again in that public testimony by saying I never asked for a pardon.

The issue for the president and his team is that, in order to really answer that question, you'll have to get somebody under oath who would know. And according to President Trump in that tweet, it is the president.

So if they really want to nail Michael Cohen to the wall, they will have to have Donald Trump do what they haven't wanted him to do in the past, which is talk under oath. Maybe they can do it in a written form like they have before. But that's what they will need the president to do. According to him, it is just the two of them who know the answer.

BLITZER: Do the president's official public statements on Twitter, his official statement from the President of the United States, himself has said that. The White House has said that.

Does that open him up to potentially be a witness in a perjury case, perjury investigation against Michael Cohen?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He has certainly now thrust himself right smack dab in the middle of this --


JARRETT: -- as a person with central knowledge. He's saying not only did Michael Cohen ask me for a pardon, he's saying I told him no, something I don't think we have heard before. Obviously we heard all week that there were discussions between lawyers ongoing, the extent to which depended on whether they were in a joint defense agreement or whether they weren't after he had flipped.

But this is really a very firm denial from the president.

As Dana points out, does he really want to be in the position of telling investigators under the penalty of a false statement charge that this happened in this firm of a way?

I think that's a pretty big risk. And it's not at all clear to me that even the Justice Department wants to take this case up. Michael Cohen is already going to jail.

BORGER: And he has already admitted to perjury himself.


BORGER: But he says on behalf of the President of the United States.

BLITZER: That is Michael Cohen?


BLITZER: Does this compromise potentially the president's ability to claim attorney-client privilege?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I suspect theoretically. I don't think it makes a darn bit of difference. You're going into this; you have a president who's a liar, his press secretary said he's a liar. And we have federal documents that says he lied about his claims about payments to Stormy Daniels.

Obviously Michael Cohen's a liar. You've got to go into this, if I were looking at this, saying I don't care what either one of them says.

Can you give me an email?

Can you give me a bunch of people who were there at the concern? There aren't a bunch of people who say this happened.

Unless you can give me evidence that says one of the other sides is accurate, I would say I don't believe any of them.

I suspect DOJ, looking at this, this is a classic slow roll from the Department of Justice.

You want to investigate this one from two liars, when there's nobody else in the room?

Let me look at this maybe in 2020 after the election. This is going nowhere.

BORGER: Or if you have -- and I'm not a lawyer -- but if you have somebody who can contemporaneously one of the people told and said, I just had lunch with so and so and this is what he said to me. You have somebody that can verify it, then that would be --


JARRETT: And why are we hearing about this now?

Cohen testified last week.

Why are we just hearing today that he directly asked him for a pardon and he said no?

BLITZER: Well, what undermines Michael Cohen is his own personal lawyer who suggested that, yes, there was a discussion of a pardon.

BASH: And I think that's the answer to your question, is that it's in the zeitgeist. It's out there. It's being discussed. It's being discussed on the cable news channels that the president himself watches. So he is chomping at the bit to get at it. He's agitated about it. That's one of the reasons I think we're hearing about it now.

One thing I want to mention, one of the arguments that Rudy Giuliani has made to me and to others is they want to talk more about it but it's Michael Cohen who is not releasing their attorney-client privilege.

JARRETT: (INAUDIBLE) clients to wait.


JARRETT: -- put that out there.

BASH: It's a fair point.


BLITZER: Michael Cohen fired right back at the president today on this International Women's Day. He wrote this. This is Michael Cohen's tweet. "Just another set of lies by @POTUS @realdonaldtrump. Mr. President,

let me remind you that today is International Women's Day. You may want to use today to apologize for your own #lies and #DirtyDeeds to women like Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford."

BORGER: Right. These two men don't play with nuance a lot. They are back and forth on this. I think Cohen was just fighting back at the president that called him a liar. So he called him a liar back. I don't know that publicly it will ever get resolved. I don't know what Michael Cohen told the committees behind closed doors, that we don't know about.

We know about conversations in which pardons were discussed between attorneys when there was a joint defense agreement. We know about that. But there is a lot of stuff we don't know because it was in a classified set.

BLITZER: You heard Congressman Krishnamoorthi say -- and he is on both committees, Intelligence and Oversight. Just wait until you see the transcript of what he said --


BLITZER: -- before the House Intelligence Committee and you will understand a lot more. He seemed to be pretty positive that there were major developments there.

Everybody stick around. The breaking news continues with more on the latest White House departure, the communications chief and the former FOX News executive, Bill Shine, he is up.


WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN: There's more breaking news. We're following the surprise resignation today of the White House Communications Chief, former Fox News Executive Bill Shine. Dana, you've been reporting on this. What does this indicate?

DANA BASH, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: More turmoil. I mean, look, this is not a new story so it almost - it seems like the notion of turnover in the Trump White House is old news, but the fact that there have been six communications directors to come and go in barely over two years is pretty remarkable and there are lots of reasons for it. The biggest reason is that the President of the United States is the Communications Director and it's pretty hard to compete with that. I mean there's nobody who has been the way that he is in terms of being interested in his press, being his own strategist when it comes to what he's going to say, and so on and so forth.

I about what was interesting is I was told that despite the fact that the press release that came from the White House was that bill shine is going to the campaign to be a senior advisor.


At the campaign, I was told they didn't know about that until this morning.


BLITZER: And they're going to need a sixth communications director. Right now there's already been five.

BORGER: Right. Well, Dana was saying they have a communications director, it's Donald Trump.

BASH: Right.

BORGER: And the person who takes the job may come from inside, because they already know how the President operates. But I think it's very difficult to get a communications director knowing that you're not really the communications director, that the President is. And that's been a problem and I think it may have been part of Bill Shine's problem because what he was doing was really booking the President and kind of setting the atmospherics, but in terms of strategic communication I think that's done by the President.

BLITZER: Phil, the President was very sympathetic to Paul Manafort in his public comments. Today, the President said, "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. I think it has been a very tough time for him." Do you feel very badly for Paul Manafort who got a nearly four-year sentence? He could have gotten 20 or 25 years.

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: A 30 would have been better. I don't feel badly at all. He goes through probation, what does he say? "I'm going to violate it." He comes up with an agreement with the Special Counsel. What is he going to say? "I'm going to violate it." He goes before courts in the District of Columbia and Virginia, two federal courts, both of them say you're guilty.

There is a bigger issue. He could have stood in front of the American people and say I know what happened during the campaign including why I provided polling information to Russian agents and he could have said, "Forget about the legal issue." This is the most significant political corruption investigation in two generations. He could have said, "I'm going to speak." Instead, what did he say, "I'm humiliated." As he should be.

He should get the Boy Scout badge for lying. He lied every single day until the final day and he said, "Maybe you can have leniency on me, because my feet hurt." The dude needs to spend more time in jail and four years isn't enough. The judge can do what he wants. He needs to spend more time in jail, zeroes in --

BORGER: He didn't apologize either.

MUDD: He did not apologize.

BORGER: And the Judge noted that. Yes.

BLITZER: Yes, he just said it was an awful time for him to ...


MUDD: Yes, it is an awful time and it's going to get worse, three hots and a cot, have a good time.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens next Wednesday. He's going to get sentenced on a separate set of issues as well and the Judge - the Federal Judge here in D.C. is a pretty tough lady.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's very tough and she's been privy to quite a bit of information. She has seen a fair amount of intelligence. She had to weigh to figure out whether he broke his plea deal and lied to the Special Counsel and she can now tack on up to ten years of additional prison time. She can decide whether she wants to stack that, so we get a full 14, whether she wants to run them in parallel in some way. But that's going to be totally up to her.

I remember these are very different charges, so she may very well decide to stack them instead of having them run in parallel, Wolf.

BLITZER: His lawyer, Paul Manafort's lawyer emerged from the federal courthouse and used the words 'no collusion'. Immediately said, "No collusion." The President today referred to that - the federal judge in this particular case also said there was no collusion as far as Manafort in this particular trial was concerned as well. All of this is seemingly setting the stage for a possible pardon.

BASH: It's like they have this specific degree in Trump speak, in Trump language, not so much talking about the judge but obviously Paul Manafort's attorney. That's a hundred percent what it was. The problem is he didn't realize that everybody else when you're talking directly to the President on television, everybody else can hear you too. So it's a kind of obvious what you're doing.

MUDD: And by the way for every American who's under an IRS investigation this year I hope you go to the IRS and say, "Sorry, no collusion." The investigation was about whether you paid your taxes, not about collusion.

BLITZER: I mean, clearly he didn't pay millions of millions of dollars in taxes. One of the reasons he's going to jail. All right. Now, everybody stick around. An important program to our viewers. This Sunday night CNN is hosting not one, not two, but three Presidential Town Halls back-to-back live from the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas. The former Congressman John Delaney at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Representative Tulsi Gabbard at 8:00, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 9:00. Jake Tapper and Danna Bash, they will moderate this Sunday night, starting at 7:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

We have some breaking news coming into the Situation Room right now, the actor Jussie Smollett has just been indicted. We'll take a quick break so we could get more on the breaking story. We'll be right back.

[17:40:00] We have breaking news in the case of Empire actor Jussie Smollett who

reported to Chicago police that he had been a victim of a hate crime. Now, Smollett has just been indicted on 16 felony charges. CNN's Nick Watt is working a story for us. Nick, the charges, they are very extensive. Update our viewers on the latest.

NICK WATT, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right, Wolf. Sixteen counts, all of them for false report of an offense. Now, every single one of these charges is in relation to statements that Jussie Smollett gave to two different police officers, alleging that this hate crime had occurred. And I'll read you a little bit of it at the end of detailing what Smollett told police.

It says in this count, "And Jussie Smollett knew that at the time of this transmission, there was no reasonable ground for believing that such an offense had been committed." Remember, Smollett claims he was attacked in the early hours of January 29th in Chicago by two men that he says put a noose around his neck, threw an unknown liquid on him, and shouted racist and homophobic epithets at him.


And as you're seeing now, Smollett then went on Good Morning America and detailed those attacks as well. Now, he was arrested a couple of weeks ago. Turned himself into police. He appeared before a judge who released him on a $10,000 bond. He was ordered to surrender his passport, but these now 16 charges alleging that he made up the entire attack and knew that he was lying when he was relating those details to police.

Remember also he claimed that one of his attackers was a white male that they've wrestled on the ground. Of course, two men, suspects, people of interest were arrested. They were both African-American men and they said they told police that Jussie Smollett paid them to do this, paid them $3,500 to do it that he orchestrated the entire attack.

Now, the superintendent of Chicago Police said that he believes that Smollett was dissatisfied with the wages he was being paid to appear on the Empire TV show and that is why he did it. Smollett has since been suspended from that show and now 16 counts of giving false information to police of making up this entire attack, Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Nick. Thank you. Nick Watt reporting for us. Coming up, the President tweets that Michael Cohen directly asked him for a pardon. Did he opened the door to becoming potentially a witness in a perjury investigation? Plus, North Korea breaking its silence on the collapse of the Trump-Kim summit and laying blame for its failure.


We have breaking news on North Korea and its weapons program. Let's go live to CNN's Will Ripley joining us from Beijing. Will, what are you learning? WILL RIPLEY, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: So I've just spoken

with two sources, Wolf, Jeffrey Lewis and Melissa Hanham who are analysts looking at commercial satellite imagery. They say the indications are pretty clear that North Korea is in the final stages of preparing for some kind of launch possibly in the very near future. It could be a rocket such as the satellite that North Korea launched from the Sohae Satellite Launching Facility back in 2012. It could be a missile. They just don't know.

But based on the imagery what they're telling me is that it looks like North Korea has assembled the parts possibly put whatever they're going to launch on basically the rail car and it could be on the way right now to the Sohae Satellite Launching Station at Tongch'ang-ri which we have been reporting since yesterday is now at fully operational status. This is, obviously, a very discouraging sign as tensions continue to escalate between the U.S. and North Korea after last week's failed summit in Hanoi.


RIPLEY(off-camera): Just one day after North Korean state TV showed an hour-long documentary, touting when it called Kim Jong-Un's triumphant and successful Hanoi summit. One full of red carpets and motorcades, handshakes and smiles. Tonight, North Korean state media is changing course. Admitting for the first time that no deal was reached and unloading on the U.S. over the failure. Saying in a new story, "The public at home and abroad are feeling regretful, blaming the U.S. for the summit that ended without an agreement."


MICHAEL FUCHS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: They are definitely trying to make it seem as though they were ready to cut a deal, that they had a tremendous offer on the table for President Trump and that it was President Trump who decided to walk away from what they saw as a very good deal.


RIPLEY: Initially, both sides kept up a good face during the summit with Kim telling reporters he would discuss getting rid of his nuclear weapons.


KIM JONG-UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER(through interpreter): If I'm not willing to do that, I wouldn't be here right now.


RIPLEY: But things went south. A source tells CNN when the U.S. refused to lift all sanctions in exchange for Kim's offer to only shut down his main nuclear fuel factory and President Trump walked away.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes you have to walk and this was just one of those times.


RIPLEY: North Korea says they only requested a partial lifting of sanctions. A plan signing ceremony was cancelled along with lunch and Kim was left feeling bewildered, a source tells CNN. Today, President Trump held out hope the relationship he once described as falling in love won't now fall apart.


TRUMP: I would be surprised in way negative way if he did anything that was not per our understanding, but we'll see what happens.


RIPLEY: Analysts say what's happening does not appear to be positive. At this North Korean facility where Rockets are tested, satellite photos show new activity. Kim had been dismantling it last year after tensions with the U.S. began to thaw. But by Saturday, the walls had been rebuilt and by Wednesday the roof was restored. A State Department official says the U.S. has not yet determined whether the site is now operational again, but is watching it closely and will ask North Korea for an explanation.

Analysts say the big question now is whether the two leaders relationship is broken or if they'll try to patch things up and reach a deal, again.


FUCHS: What comes next was the Hanoi summit end of chapter one of diplomacy between the two countries or was it the end of diplomacy between these two countries and to something much worse frankly come next.



RIMPLEY: It's impossible to know whether the North Koreans are actually preparing for a launch or putting on some sort of a show for the benefit of spy satellites. But, Wolf, all the indications according to these two analysts I've spoken with, it does seem that North Korea may be preparing to launch something, again, possibly in the very near future. We'll keep following it.

BLITZER: Deeply irritate the President of the United States. We're going to have a lot more in the next hour. Don't go too far away, Will. We're going to stay on top of this story. And there's more breaking news we're following as well, President Trump accuses his former fixer and lawyer of lying to Congress and claiming Michael Cohen asked him directly for a pardon.


Happening now, pardon bombshell.