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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Rep. Ted Lieu (D), California; Kellyanne Conway's Husband Slams Trump In New Interview; CNN: White House Expects To See Mueller Findings Before Congress, Former Vice President Joe Biden And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) Vermont Lead New CNN Poll Among Democrats With Sen. Kamala Harris (D) California Jumping To Third; Signs Of Russia Moving Nuclear-Capable Weapons To NATO's Doorstep. Aired on 6-7p ET

Aired March 19, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Reviewing his e-mails, tracking his phone calls, and so much more. Should other targets of the Mueller investigation be worried?

Maddening to watch. That's how Kellyanne Conway's husband is describing the president tonight, portraying Mr. Trump as deceitful, incompetent and unhinged. Stand by for details on George Conway sounding off about his wife's boss in a new interview.

And Russia's secret bombers. Is the Kremlin deploying nuclear-capable weapons on NATO's doorstep? We're going to tell you what we're learning about Vladimir Putin's military plans and the threat to the West.

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.

The president spreading new conspiracy theories, including a claim their social media company these are colluding to stifle the voices of Republicans, this as he continues to disrespect the memory of a fellow Republican, John McCain, nearly seven months after the senator and war hero's death.

Mr. Trump building on his latest tweet and vent spree, as he met with the Brazilian president known for his Trump-like tactics.

Also tonight, a new window into Robert Mueller's investigation of Michael Cohen in newly unsealed federal warrants. They reveal the special counsel reviewed years' worth of e-mails and other data from Cohen's time working as Mr. Trump's fixer before and after he was president.

I will talk about that and more with House Judiciary Committee member Ted Lieu. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, you were at the president's news conference today as he embraced yet another conspiracy theory.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, no letup in the bizarre and unsubstantiated rhetoric over here, calling it a dangerous situation.

President Trump sounded off on a growing conspiracy theory that we are seeing in conservative circles, that Republicans -- it goes like this -- that Republicans are being discriminated against by social media companies, an accusation the president offered up really without any hard evidence.

But the president also spent the day, as you said, going after the mainstream press, as well as the late Senator John McCain, continuing his battle with a nemesis whose legacy appears to haunt Mr. Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Latching onto a new conspiracy theory, President Trump accused the world's biggest social media companies of engaging in what he described as collusion to attack conservatives.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is collusion with respect to that, because something has to be going on. Something's happening with those groups of folks that are running Facebook and Google and Twitter. And I do think we have to get to the bottom of it.

ACOSTA: The president said he supported an effort by California Republican Congressman Devin Nunes to sue Twitter, accusing the tech giant of having a political agenda, complaining of anonymous parody accounts that have mocked him.

Standing with Brazil's leader, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed the Trump of the Tropics and uses the term fake news himself, the president used the opportunity to once again slam the American press.

TRUMP: You look at the networks, you look at the news, you look at the newscasts, I call it fake news. I'm very proud to hear the president use the term fake news. But you look at what's happening with the networks. You look at what's happening with different shows. And it's hard to believe we win. It's a very, very dangerous situation.

So I think -- I agree. I think something has to be looked at very closely.

ACOSTA: The president made the complaints, despite having a powerful social media presence that is supported by conservative news outlets. Just today, Mr. Trump tweeted to his nearly 60 million followers: "The fake news media has never been more dishonest or corrupt than it is right now. Fake news is the absolute enemy of the people in our country itself." Bolsonaro was asked by the conservative Web site The Daily Caller whether Democrats in the U.S. are supporting socialist causes.

JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will respect whatever the ballots tell us on 2020, but I do believe Donald Trump is going to be reelected fully.

ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, the president defended his recent Tweet storm attacking John McCain, saying he will never forget the late senator's vote against repealing Obamacare.

TRUMP: I think that's disgraceful. Plus, there are other things. I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.

Thank you very much, everybody.

ACOSTA: The president also weighed in on the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, George Conway, who has questioned whether Mr. Trump is mentally ill, tweeting: "Total loser."

On his tweets about the president, George Conway told "The Washington Post": "The mendacity, the incompetence, it's just maddening to watch. The tweeting is just a way to get it out of the way, so I can get it off my chest and move on with my life that day. That's basically it. Frankly, it's so I don't end up screaming at her about it."

The president made it clear he's ready for the 2020 election, teeing off on Democratic calls to expand the Supreme Court.

[18:05:00]

TRUMP: No, I wouldn't entertain that. The only reason is that they're doing that is they want to try and catch up. So, if they can't catch up through the ballot box by winning an election, they want to try doing it in a different way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And the president also weighed in on the crisis in Venezuela, repeating that all options are on the table, suggesting that military options are on the table for the U.S.

Mr. Trump did tell Bolsonaro that he is making Brazil a major non-NATO ally of the U.S. But both leaders today, they really appear to be in synch, not just on Venezuela, but on a whole range of topics, Wolf.

The Brazilian president was all but fawning over Mr. Trump as he used the term fake news in front of the press corps. The attacks on the press were just the latest sign that the president's rhetoric here in the U.S. aimed at the news media is spreading across the globe like a virus.

When Bolsonaro used the term fake news today, President Trump smiled. But, Wolf, we should note there are other governments around the world that hear the president using this kind of rhetoric aimed at the news media and they are emulating it all across this planet -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, they certainly are.

All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

And now to Robert Mueller's investigation and the vast amount of information he obtained involving Michael Cohen. Newly unsealed warrants show the former Trump fixer and lawyer was an early target of the special counsel, allowing years' worth of his e-mails and other information to be scrutinized.

Our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray, has been studying the warrants for us.

So, Sara, what are you learning?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this gives us an idea of just how early it was that prosecutors were eying Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer, and just how far they went into delving into his digital life to prove that he had committed crimes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Hundreds of pages of newly unsealed warrants revealing today that the special counsel's team was allowed to pore over years of Michael Cohen's e-mails and online data from his time working for Donald Trump.

Robert Mueller targeted Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer, soon after his appointment as special counsel in May 2017 and long before the FBI raided Cohen's home, office and hotel room.

Investigators dug into Cohen's Gmail account as far back as 2015, as they searched for evidence of illegal foreign lobbying, money laundering and other crimes. By February 2018, Mueller handed certain aspects of its investigation into Cohen over to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

Those prosecutors then sought additional phone and electronic data from Cohen. According to the warrant, they were investigating "a criminal violation of the campaign finance laws by Michael Cohen, a lawyer who holds himself out as the personal attorney for President Donald J. Trump. As detailed, there is probable cause to believe that [redacted]."

The FBI raided Cohen's properties in April 2018. Cohen later pleaded guilty in a Manhattan courthouse to making an illegal campaign contribution and other crimes.

In the new batch of documents, details of the campaign finance schemes stretching almost 20 pages are completely redacted, a signal that the investigation into hush money payments to two women who alleged affairs with Donald Trump remains ongoing.

The documents highlight the extraordinary lengths investigators went to uncover Cohen's illegal activity. On two separate occasions, a judge approved Mueller's request to track the numbers of Cohen's incoming and outgoing calls. They also tracked the location of his cell phones, seeking a warrant for prospective and historical cell phone location information and used an electronic technique commonly known as triggerfish to determine the location.

Investigators also uncovered details about Cohen's consulting work, including seven payments from a company linked to a Russian oligarch totaling over half-a-million dollars from January to August 2017, the first few months of the Trump administration.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Wolf, of course these documents tell us a lot. But what we really want to know is what's underneath those redactions and what is going on with this ongoing criminal investigation into these hush money payments.

There's, of course, a possibility that there could be other people who are implicated in that scheme. And, obviously, Michael Cohen implicated the president himself when he was pleading guilty to his role in it

BLITZER: Yes, there's certainly a lot going on, a lot of new information we learned in this document today.

I want to bring in our Justice Reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, and our Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Shimon, almost 20 pages of this document, and it's 400 pages, I don't know if you have read it all, but it's very, very intense; 20 pages are completely blacked out or redacted involving presumably hush money payments.

So what do we -- what do we glean from that.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

This is this scheme that, as the Department of Justice, the Southern District, is calling it. It's an illegal campaign fund scheme. So I think what we can read out of this is that this part of the investigation is not over. The U.S. attorney's office there in New York is not prepared to reveal all of the information that they have in terms of this scheme, in terms of how they went about making these payments, who came up with this.

[18:10:08]

Look, we already know that the president has been implicated in this by the Department of Justice, by Michael Cohen. So what else could there possibly be? There's always the chance that other people are going to be charged.

Remember, there are checks that Michael Cohen has with the president son's name on it. There are other people in the Trump Organization that could be brought into this entire scheme and into charges. So I do think that part of the investigation, which is very obvious it's still very much ongoing.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That looks like a boring legal document.

Like so much of what Mueller has written, it's like a short story. And the villain at the beginning is Uber, of all things, is that Michael Cohen owned all these taxi medallions in New York, and he borrowed against it. But because of Uber and Lyft, the value of those medallions declined.

So he needed money. But he started lying about his money. He started keeping secret bank accounts. And that's -- and submitting false documents to get bank loans. And then, sort of at the climax of this short story, it ends with the blank pages, the 20 pages of what was going on with Donald Trump and the hush money to the two women.

We don't know if there's something in there beyond what's -- beyond what's publicly known. But the scale of the investigation is just so enormous, all the e-mails, all the phone records. I mean, it's just -- it's way more than even an ordinary white-collar...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, like everyone else, you assume the 20 pages, the redacted 20 pages, involves what they call an Individual No. 1, namely, the president of the United States?

And let's not forget Michael Cohen is going to jail in part for three years because of the hush money payments.

TOOBIN: You don't have to assume that. It says that. It says that the redacted area is the discussion of the hush money conspiracy.

But the precise contours of that and who was involved in the legal activity, that's not disclosed.

BLITZER: Should the president be worried about all of this right now, as he keeps talking about a witch-hunt and a hoax and all of that?

MURRAY: I mean, I think he absolutely has to be worried about this. He has to be worried about all of the investigations that are continuing in New York and in the Southern District of New York.

Look, the Justice Department guidelines that you cannot indict a sitting president. Well, Donald Trump is not going to be president for the rest of his life. And I know we're waiting for the Mueller investigation to wrap up. We're waiting for the potential that could be -- there could be more bombshells out of SDNY.

I think we also need to be prepared for the fact that we could be waiting for a while. These could be investigations that are open for quite some time and we may not see movement on them. There may be cards that prosecutors in New York decide to hold close to their vest, until Donald Trump is no longer president.

And I don't know if you're him how you go to sleep every night and don't think about that.

TOOBIN: Well, and who else could it be?

I mean, Roger Stone was not involved in the hush money to these women. It wasn't Paul Manafort being involved. It wasn't Michael Flynn, these other people who have been charged. The only person who was involved in this conspiracy was Michael Cohen and Donald Trump.

The Southern District has already filed papers in the Cohen case saying Trump was involved. So Trump has to be all over those 20 pages.

BLITZER: What about David Pecker and American Media, the parent company of "The National Enquirer"?

TOOBIN: They could be involved as well, but they have settled their case. I mean, they have gotten a non-prosecution agreement, so they are not criminally exposed anymore.

PROKUPECZ: It's very clear that this blacked-out part of these documents is naming people that were involved in this scheme, is also indicating parts of the investigation that are just not publicly known yet that the Department of Justice does not want out there.

I mean, when you look at everything else they have included, I mean, you see these kinds of things about pen registers and phone tracking. This is like a drug case, right? You see a lot of this when the FBI and the DEA are trying to track drug dealers, where they're going, who they're talking to, not necessarily listening in.

But they want to do the GPS. Were they here, where they there? Who are they talking to when? That's how this reads in some ways, and you don't normally see this kind of detail out there. But that's the way that they went about this investigation, very detailed.

BLITZER: And, Jeffrey, if you're someone like Roger Stone and others who are being investigated, and you learn the extent of the details that the prosecutors, the FBI can collect on you, basically, where you're breathing every minute, you got to get really, really worried, because the scope is so intense.

TOOBIN: Unless you have led a perfectly blameless life and you have never sent an e-mail that's embarrassing or incriminating. But if you have, as they say, in New York, forget about it.

BLITZER: Forget about it.

Rod Rosenstein, all of a sudden, he was supposed to be leaving as deputy attorney general, the number two position at the Justice Department, around these days, but all of a sudden we're learning now he's sticking around?

PROKUPECZ: Sticking around. And that could be because we don't have the Mueller report yet. It hasn't been submitted to the Department of Justice for the attorney general to review.

[18:15:04]

And we have always been given the impression that he wanted to stay until this was complete. He started this investigation. He wants to see it to its completion.

I think it's fair to say we had all thought that he'd be gone by now and he's ready to leave. We know who is going to potentially be replacing him. So this was supposed to happen perhaps maybe a week or two ago that he was supposed to leave. He is staying on. We don't know exactly how much longer.

What it all means, I don't know.

TOOBIN: I ask him what it all means.

BLITZER: What it all means. We will figure it out eventually.

All right, everybody, stick around.

Congressman Ted Lieu of the House Judiciary Committee is going to be joining us in a moment.

But, first, Congressman, stand by.

CNN has learned that the White House has missed the House Judiciary Committee deadline to turn over scores of records. And it's all part of the Democrats' sweeping new investigation of President Trump.

I want to go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju.

And, Manu, the White House missed the deadline. So what is the committee prepared to do about that?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this sets the stage for an escalating clash between House Democrats and the White House over scores of requests that they're making, including this very committee, this investigation into what Democrats believe is obstruction of justice, potential abuse of the president's office.

And in this request that they have made to the White House, they have asked for documents and records related to the firing of James Comey, any internal conversations about the recusal then Attorney General Jeff Sessions overseeing the Russia investigation, discussions about potentially firing Robert Mueller, as well as those hush money payments the president was involved with to silence those stories about those alleged affair that may have come out right before the 2016 elections.

All those documents, Nadler, Jerry Nadler, the chairman of this committee, had demanded by a Monday deadline, yesterday deadline. The White House did not respond by this deadline. Now, we're told by a source familiar with the matter that the White House does plan to respond sometime soon.

Whether that will be enough to satisfy Democratic demands remains to be seen. Wolf, we're learning also at the same time from Republican aides that just eight individuals out of the 81 people who Nadler reached out to have actually responded to the committee's request for information.

Democrats say many more have actually agreed to provide information. But Republicans say just 8,000 pages have been provided, not the tens of thousands of pages that Nadler's committee said yesterday. Democrats are pushing back on that tonight, but nevertheless expect much more going forward from this committee demanding information from people who have not yet complied, and others, including the White House, who they're waiting for information from.

And, Wolf, we're also learning tonight that some former White House officials, including Don McGahn, and a former deputy counsel Annie Donaldson have referred their inquiries from this committee to the White House. So the White House has to respond for former officials and these current requests from Jerry Nadler.

How they decide to respond will be a big question on how this committee decides to proceed in this investigation in the days and weeks ahead.

BLITZER: Yes, this battle only just beginning.

Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

And let's get some more on all of this.

Congressman Ted Lieu is joining us. He's a Democrat who serves on both the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs committees.

Congressman, I want to get to your committee's investigation in just a moment.

But, first, what strikes you about the scope of these special counsel warrants from Michael Cohen?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for your question.

I'm a former prosecutor. And I'm very aware that the government can bring a vast array of resources to any investigation. And, in this case, the investigators were very thorough. They're very meticulous. They made sure they dotted their Is, crossed their T's.

And it was a very expansive scope. I'm not surprised that they did this for Michael Cohen. I also wouldn't be surprised if they did the same thing for Roger Stone or people like Elliott Broidy, who was recently indicted as well.

BLITZER: What are the implications of this for President Trump?

LIEU: If I was Donald Trump, I would be scared, because they have information from Michael Cohen from very early on, months before his office was raided. They have e-mails.

They were tracking his incoming-outgoing phone calls. And Michael Cohen was Donald Trump's fixer. And you also should remind the American people that, as you did earlier, Michael Cohen is going to prison because he did two felonies. One was hush money, illegal payments. Second, he inflated assets in order to secure loans. That's bank fraud.

Well, with Donald Trump, it looks like he did exactly the same thing. Donald Trump wrote the checks for these hush money payments and, based on public reporting, Donald Trump inflated his assets to get loans from Deutsche Bank.

BLITZER: He also committed perjury, lying to Congress. That's a federal crime. As you know, he begins a three-year sentence May 6 at a federal penitentiary in Upstate New York.

Do the redactions on these pages -- and there are about 20 pages that are fully blacked out -- do they indicate that the hush money payment scheme in this investigation is still ongoing?

LIEU: Absolutely. That's the reason they're redacted, because you have ongoing investigations.

[18:20:03]

And we know from documents provided by Michael Cohen that Donald Trump is directly implicated. We know from the Southern District of New York documents that Donald Trump is Individual 1.

And if it was anybody but Donald Trump, I believe that person would have been indicted by now.

BLITZER: What new questions does all this raise, the new information we got today, about Michael Cohen's lobbying for foreign entities?

LIEU: We also know from these search warrants that about a month before the 2016 presidential elections, Michael Cohen had opened up accounts from which there were a vast number of payments that were from foreign sources.

That looks deeply suspicious. So we will see what happens with investigators. On the House Judiciary Committee, we might be looking at that issue as well, or other committees will look into that issue as well.

BLITZER: White House lawyers say they expect to have a chance to review the Mueller report before it's released to Congress. How do you respond to that?

LIEU: I'm fine that the White House gets to see the report first. I just want make sure that Congress and the American people get to see the entire report.

First of all, the American taxpayers paid for this investigation. They deserve to have the report. And, second, internal Department of Justice guidelines don't apply to Congress. So regardless of what the Department of Justice wants to do internally, from a separation of powers standpoint, Congress needs to get this entire report. We're a separate and co-equal branch of government. And we can't do our job and hold the White House accountable and do oversight if we don't have all the information.

BLITZER: Because the White House wants to see it, they suggest, before you guys see it to maybe go through it and cite executive privilege and redact certain information that you won't be allowed to see.

Is that -- is that OK?

LIEU: That is not OK. I will be fine if the White House wants to get an advanced copy and look at it, but they should not be allowed to redact or withhold any part of the report.

BLITZER: Well, what if they see executive privilege that -- private conversations between the president and his staff, information that shouldn't be made public?

Certainly, you're OK with redacting sensitive classified information?

LIEU: That is correct. Classified information should not be released to the public.

However, it should be released to members of Congress, and we can go look at it in a classified setting.

BLITZER: Let's talk about another sensitive issue that's ongoing right now, Congressman.

The White House has not responded to the request from your Judiciary Committee to submit documents in your overall investigation into potential abuse of power by President Trump.

And Republican aides on your committee, and they now say, so far, only eight of the 81 people and entities on your list have actually handed over the documents requested. What does this say about the current state of your investigation?

LIEU: The Republican aide is not quite correct.

About a half-hour earlier, we checked in with the House Judiciary Committee staff, the Democratic staff. About half of the people on the document list either have sent documents that we have received, they have already mailed those documents, or they will be sending the documents shortly.

One reason we haven't gotten all the documents immediately is because many of them are sending them via regular mail. These are large amounts of documents. That takes time. It also goes through security screening before it comes to our offices in the Capitol.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So what do you do with the other half? What about the other half who haven't responded? LIEU: It is a process of negotiating.

These 81 document requests were not form letters. They were very specific, to specific individuals, to their unique case. And, in some of these cases, we're happy to work with individuals if they want to do a partial document request, if they have privileges they want to assert. We're happy to work with them on those issues.

But we do expect to get the overwhelming majority of documents that we have requested. And, if we don't, then we're going to start looking at subpoenas.

BLITZER: So of the half who have responded, either already submitting documents or saying documents are on the way, how many have already completed the process and submitted all the requested documents?

LIEU: I don't know what that exact number is. I do know we have gotten tens of thousands of pages of documents and many more are en route.

And this is an investigation that is just beginning. It's a process, but we will get the overwhelming majority of documents that we have requested.

BLITZER: The chairman of your committee, Jerry Nadler, says you have heard, as you correctly point out, from a large number of recipients who had already their handed over or promised to hand over these documents.

Where does this move from here? What happens if some decide, you know what, they're not going to cooperate?

LIEU: Then we will look at issuing subpoenas. And then we're going to have to go through the Judiciary to get those documents.

But the American people really should be asking, what are they hiding? What is the White House hiding when they don't want to provide these documents? We do believe we're going to get most of the information that we have requested.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman Ted Lieu of California, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

[18:25:00]

BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our experts and our analysts to assess all these late developments.

Jeffrey Toobin, you're still with us.

What's your reaction to what you heard from the congressman, that a lot of the recipients, a lot of those who have been asked for the documents, they have responded, but maybe just half? TOOBIN: I think it's not surprising, since most of those people who

were on that list have some or greater degree of hostility to the Democrats who run the Judiciary Committee.

The most important one is at the White House. And I think the White House's reaction can probably be best expressed by certain hand gesture that cannot really be used on television.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: But they are giving Jerry Nadler and his committee absolutely nothing.

And they're going to have to fight. And I anticipate that a court fight could drag on to the end to Trump's presidency.

BLITZER: Yes, that's going to go on and on and on and on, if there's a court battle, the White House cites executive privilege, they say, you can't get these documents.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: And they shouldn't count -- even if they win their initial rounds of the court case, they shouldn't count on getting anything from this White House.

BLITZER: All right, David Swerdlick, let's talk a little bit about Michael Cohen.

These documents, the search warrants, the information that was released was enormous today. Almost 20 pages were redacted involving the hush money payments.

You have gone through this document now. You went to law school. What do you think?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: So I think that the idea that there's 20 pages of redacted information in there, on top of what we already know, certainly should concern those involved in this, up to and including the president.

We already knew that Michael Cohen had this Essential Consultants slush fund, in which he was getting money from various corporations, based on his least advertised influence with the administration, and that some of these payments related to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal came out of that -- of that fund.

And we also know that the president knew that Michael Cohen was handling payments related to Stormy Daniels. That there's more to this that, and that this initiated with the special counsel's office, not just the Southern District of New York, I think, does suggest that there's more to come in this investigation.

TOOBIN: We should point out that one of the companies that was paying Michael Cohen was AT&T, which is now the parent company of CNN.

SWERDLICK: Yes.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

And he was getting a lot of money too, including from a Russian billionaire who, what, in a few months was providing, what, a half-a- million dollars.

TOOBIN: Correct, yes.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE GUARDIAN": And that Russian billionaire, Viktor Vekselberg, is very close to Vladimir Putin, and the investment firm that he owned was sanctioned. He is one of the individuals who've been sanctioned by the U.S. government.

And that's also one of the key findings from these documents that have been unsealed, that, in July of 2017, two months after Robert Mueller's appointment, the special counsel had reason to believe that Cohen had violated a number of laws, which included acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

Now, that is not something that he was ultimately charged with. But it is something that could come up in other investigations, particularly as they relate to the ongoing investigations on the Russian interference in the U.S. election and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

BLITZER: Because if you're working for a foreign entity in some way, you got to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and this -- their crackdown on those registrations with respect to Trump's world has had reverberations in Washington now.

The Justice Department has completely beefed up that section of enforcement. And there are people all over Washington, lobbyists who are kind of on the bubble of doing work for foreigners, who are now being looked at and saying, hey, you have to register. You are actually a registered lobbyist for this foreign entity.

So it's beyond the Trump world now.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think about the White House lawyers now saying that, before the Mueller report is made available to Congress, and certainly before it's made available to the American public, the White House should have a first look at it to review it and to redact or delete or black out sensitive information they don't want anyone to see?

TOOBIN: This is a real important distinction between Kenneth Starr, who was an independent counsel, who was independent of the Justice Department, had nothing to do with Janet Reno, who was the supervisor -- who was the attorney general at the time.

He could write whatever he wanted in his report. Robert Mueller is an employee of the Department of Justice. He is a subordinate of Attorney General Barr, who is a subordinate of President Trump. So the president has every right to look at this, and not only just to

look at it before it goes out, but to censor it, because he is in charge of the Department of Justice. Now, that may be a political problem, but, as a legal matter, this is something that the Department of Justice has the authority to do, and the Department of Justice is part of the Trump administration.

BLITZER: What do you think, David?

SWERDLICK: Right.

To Jeffrey's point, sometimes, it's said that the independent counsel was like an attorney general operating in one case, freestanding, vs. the special counsel, in Mueller's case, acting like a U.S. attorney who's in charge of one case.

[18:30:05]

I do think the way Jeffrey set it up is exactly right. But it also it seems to me presents problem with the Administration of Justice if the President is potentially a subject of the investigation, even if not indictable or even if not accused of a crime, the idea that essentially if you can sensor this whole report, does that mean you are above the law?

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ryan.

LIZZA: Well, look, the issue -- Barr has a very tricky issue, I think, that, you know --

BLITZER: The new Attorney General, Bill Barr.

LIZZA: The new Attorney General Bill Barr. Because the White House is saying, right, privately to Pamela Brown and others at CNN, that they expect to see the report strictly on one issue, whether they can -- whether they need to assert executive privilege, right? So Barr, he does -- he could split the difference here and say, comb the report and say, these are the parts of the report that I think would be potentially relevant to executive privilege. Just show those to the White House. Get that answer. And then give the rest to Congress with those exceptions.

SIDDIQUI: And remember, this was one of the key sticking points during the confirmation hearings for William Barr. And he wasn't entirely clear about the extent to which he would be willing to make the Mueller report public. Now, it is within the purview of the White House to be able to make certain claims of executive privilege.

But one thing that Barr told lawmakers was that if he felt that those claims were designed to prevent the release of information that is incriminating to the President, that he would disagree. So there's a real big test coming up for the newly minted Attorney General.

And this comes of course, after an overwhelming vote in the House where every single member voted voted in favor of the Attorney General making this release public, or delivering it to Congress and making it public. And, of course, that's something that the White House is now teeing up as a major confrontation in the weeks that come.

LIZZA: But I would just point out, that's the big distinction, is does the White House assert control over what happens to the report or do they just stick with this narrow argument that we just want to be able to assert executive privilege? That -- if Trump demanded Barr that he gets to decide what happen to this report, that would be politically explosive. Don't you think?

TOOBIN: It would be politically explosive. And I anticipate that if there is a political explosion, Donald Trump's popularity will stay exactly the same as it is now because it never moves no matter what happens.

SWERDLICK: But you might see members of Congress and then, the chairs of the committees in the House at that point maybe subpoena Mueller himself or his staff to tell them what information and was contained there.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I mean, the Democrats who run the House of Representatives are not going to sit by and say, oh, well, you know, we're not going to look into what Mueller found if any part of it is not disclosed. The question of what they can do about it and what the courts will allow them to do is very unclear to me.

BLITZER: What does it say that Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who was supposed to be out right about now, is sticking around a bit longer?

TOOBIN: Well, I think as our colleagues who cover the Justice Department have said, he wants to see the Mueller investigation through to the end. Apparently like the rest of us, he doesn't know exactly when that's going to be because he wanted to leave right away. He is still around. Presumably, he is not staying around too long. But I don't know when the Mueller investigation is going to end. And it looks like Rosenstein doesn't know either.

BLITZER: So what do they do? They just -- whatever out go -- you know, unresolved investigations are still going on. The Special Counsel Robert Mueller, once he wraps it up, he sends it off to the U.S. Attorney in New York, the U.S. Attorney in D.C. or Northern Virginia or elsewhere, they take over these respective investigations. Is that what's were talking about?

SWERDLICK: So I haven't read the Special Counsel statute in last few days, Wolf, but my recollection is this. If there are people who are to be indicted, they wouldn't be indicted either in the court in Virginia or in D.C. If in terms of investigation, the big picture issue of the President's inner circle, that information, as you said before, goes to the Attorney General or maybe to Rosenstein first, then the Attorney General, then maybe to the President.

And then that would be presented to Congress either in partial form or not at all or maybe they will decide to give the substantial amount of the information to Congress other than, let's say, classified, highly classified information.

BLITZER: What do you think?

TOOBIN: Well, I think they have already begun the process of turning over some of the cases, like the Roger Stone case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington as well as the Special Counsel. I would be surprised if any investigation -- any indictment issue after Mueller leaves. I mean, the Mueller investigation is about issuing indictments.

But finishing up the sentencing of Michael Flynn or the resolution of the cases against the Russian entities to the extent anyone can be found to be prosecuted, those will be turned over to U.S. Attorney Offices.

[18:34:57]

SIDDIQUI: And remember, there are number of ongoing investigations that are being overseen by the Southern District of New York, one of which involves the President's Inaugural Committee and alleged pay to play scheme in which wealthy donors were essentially seeking to buy access to the incoming administration.

And when Michael Cohen testified publicly on Capitol Hill, he was directly asked if the President was perhaps himself involved in any other illegal activity. And he said, yes. He answered in affirmative. But he said he could not get into the particulars because those allegations are the subject of ongoing investigations.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss. New developments emerging right now, we'll continue all of this right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

[18:40:13] BLITZER: We're back with our Analyst. We're breaking -- we're following the breaking news at the 2020 Presidential Race, as CNN has just released a new poll on the democratic field. And, Ryan Lizza, take a look at it, we will put it up on the screen. Joe Biden, he hasn't officially announced yet, but he's going to be announcing fairly soon.

We're told 28 percent down from 30 percent in December. Bernie Sanders up from 14 percent to 20 percent. But look at this. Kamala Harris has gone from 4 percent in December to 12 percent right now. That's a pretty impressive jump. Beto O'Rourke from 9 percent to 11 percent.

LIZZA: Well, what this says to me is, basically, when this race started there were two candidates who were, lack of a better word, famous, right, Biden and Sanders, Biden because he was Vice-president, Sanders because he was runner-up last time. Everyone else is basically fighting to be famous.

And the person who has done best job so far is Kamala Harris, right? She has had the biggest impact with her rollout. It's similar data if you look at Google searches. You know, more people are interested and want to find out information about her. So she is the one non-famous candidate who has captured the imagination of a lot of Democrats, with Beto close behind in his fame and stardom and interest in him stems obviously from his Texas campaign last year.

BLITZER: But take look at this, David, an important note, 59 percent of the Democrats polled, they still believe the field is wide open right now. Only 37 percent prefer one or two candidates.

SWERDLICK: Yes, the field is wide open. And one of those reasons is that you don't have a Barack Obama, a once in a generation retail political talent in there. So you have a lot of good candidates fighting it out for various democratic constituencies. I agree with Ryan's analysis that after you get past the two most well-known, Senator Harris has done a good job in part because she checks a lot of boxes for a lot of people, even if she's not their number one choice, she's a lot of people second choice.

TOOBIN: Ten months before the Iowa Caucuses, Barack Obama wasn't Barack Obama either. I mean, you say this as if he was like this once a generation talent and everybody fell away. Remember, he and John Edwards -- remember John Edwards?

SWERDLICK: I do.

TOOBIN: And Hillary Clinton were practically tied in the polls, right, coming up on the Iowa Caucuses. So, I mean, a lot is going to change.

SWERDLICK: The one thing -- I take your point about Edwards. So one thing I think is different Obama and Clinton is that, ultimately, Democrats focused on the idea that they wanted to turn the page on the Iraq war and that gave Obama a lift over.

BLITZER: Sabrina?

SIDDIQUI: And, Wolf, to that point where you also don't have this time around is a Hillary Clinton. And one of the key differences is that last time around, Democrats effectively cleared the field. They felt that it was Hillary Clinton's turn and time to be the nominee. And that is, in fact, what gave Bernie Sanders somewhat although, in the end, not enough of an opportunity to capitalize on this grassroots movement, seeking for a more progressive agenda.

And this time around, there are a lot more candidates vying for the spotlight in part because Democrats want this to be a very contested primary. And there has been no clearing of the field interestingly for Joe Biden. So we'll see if and when he actually enters the race if he will emerge as a frontrunner.

But also to Ryan's point, some of these candidates have more name recognition than others, and that, in fact, plays a role in how they're being received in the polls. And that also reinforces the work other candidates have to do to really distinguish themselves in what is a crowded and diverse field. BLITZER: Elizabeth Warren last night said at the CNN Town Hall that she supports getting rid of the Electoral College, simply having a popular vote to elect the President. Hillary Clinton would have been President if it was strictly a popular vote. Al Gore would have been President if it were strictly a popular vote, he won that --

TOOBIN: You know who else thought that? Richard Nixon wanted to get rid of the Electoral College. I mean, this has been a recurring theme. It's only in recent years that it's become a democratic versus republican split on this issue. There were a lot of Republicans for many years who wanted to get rid of it. Don't hold your breath.

BLITZER: Yes.

LIZZA: But, you know, there is this -- just under the surface, the states, one by one, are banning together and once they hit that magic number, you won't need a constitutional amendment to do this. This is a national --

BLITZER: Not holding out for either those options.

TOOBIN: Yes. But the Supreme Court would have to pass on whether that was on the amendment. Yes.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's more news we're following. Kellyanne Conway's husband in a war of words with his wife's boss after suggesting on twitter that President Trump is mentally unfit. George Conway goes in-depth on Donald Trump in a new interview.

An ominous military move by the Kremlin. Is Russia deploy nuclear capable forces in NATO's backyard?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:31] BLITZER: Tonight, we're following the escalating war of words between President Trump and the husband of his senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway. George Conway is, again, unloading on Mr. Trump in a new interview just hours after the president dismissed him as a, quote, total loser.

Let's talk about the breaking story. Josh Dawsey is joining us, White House reporter for "The Washington Post". He's a CNN political analyst, who had a chance to speak with George Conway.

Josh, thanks very much for joining us.

I want to read a bit of what Conway told you, trying to explain his Twitter attacks. Quote: It's so maddening to watch. The mendacity, the incompetence, it's just maddening to watch. The tweeting, it's just the way to get it out of the way so I can get it off my chest and move on with my life that day. That's basically it. Frankly, it's so I don't end up screaming at her about it.

He has been incredibly outspoken on Twitter. It's rare, though, to hear him speak to a journalist about all of this. Why do you think he decided to talk to you? JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he decided to talk to me

largely, Wolf, because the president called him a total loser today, which has been one of the most effective marriages in Washington for sometime, as you know. It's called draft (ph) of speculation.

But the president really escalated the war of words. Last night, Brad Parscale, the president's campaign manager claimed that the president did not even know George Conway. He said today he couldn't pick him out of the lineup.

And then, today, the president called him a loser. George Conway, in turn, felt compelled to explain his deep and long history with the president, or at least his long history with the president and some of his concerns about the president once he kind of took the unusual step of publicly trashing the spouse of a senior aide.

BLITZER: He had his own relationship with the president for a while now, right? It wasn't as if they never spoke to each other.

DAWSEY: Right. Well, it dated back to 2006. The president relied on George Conway to help him in a dispute at one of his properties in New York. Some of the residents were trying to take the name Trump off the building. George Conway came in, fought against the board. Later, his wife joined the board.

Then the two had a number of encounters over the years. In 2016, they went together to a party at the home of Rebekah Mercer, with the Secret Service details. The president's consulted George Conway over what lawyers he should have for the Russia probe, how he should handle the Emoluments case. Essentially, how he should handle a good bit of his White House in the early days, the president would consult with George Conway. Obviously, that has soured now.

BLITZER: How does Kellyanne Conway see things? How does she try to spin the attacks coming against the president from her husband?

[18:50:06] DAWSEY: Well, Kellyanne has made it clear to a number of folks that she does not appreciate being caught between the president, who she has been a high-profile and loyal surrogate for and her husband, who has increasingly tarnished the president and even questioned his mental capacity.

George Conway for his part says he wishes the president would -- he would just -- Kellyanne would quit. The president obviously made his feelings pretty clear today.

So, a little bit of strange dynamic in Kellyanne being in the White House, the second floor, and a pretty prominent role, has caught in the middle of the men in her life that like to tweet.

BLITZER: The president, as you know, Josh, he's promoting this idea that he shot down George Conway when he wanted a Justice Department job. But Conway describes things differently. And he also told you a little about how President Trump viewed the former head of the Department of Justice, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. What does he say? DAWSEY: So, he describes the conversation in June 2017 at Steve

Mnuchin's wedding, the treasury secretary. And in this conversation, George Conway has just dropped out of contention to lead a civil division. He had grown kind of disenchanted over the president's attacks on the FBI, the firing of James Comey, the appointing of special counsel.

And the president approaches him at this weeding and he says that he understood why Conway would drop out of a job because Jeff Sessions is such a weak man and no one wants to work for him. He should have never recused himself. And Conway tells the president, hey, listen, he had to recuse himself based on what I know. And the president grew very upset at that.

So, in this conversation that happened right after Conway left the position or left being under consideration for the position, the president certainly is telling a different tale than his campaign manager Brad Parscale was saying last night. He said he was fired. Truth be told, he never worked at the Department of Justice for a single day because he withdrew himself from consideration.

BLITZER: Josh Dawsey, thanks very much for joining us. Excellent reporting, as usual.

DAWSEY: Thank you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, there are ominous new signs that Russia may be deploying nuclear capable forces in NATO's backyard. So, what's behind Vladimir Putin's latest moves.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:51] BLITZER: Tonight, we're tracking new military moves by Russia that may threaten the United States and its NATO allies. Key lawmakers in Moscow say nuclear capable weapons have been moved to Crimea, the region Vladimir Putin seized from Ukraine five years ago.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen is joining us live from Moscow right now.

Fred, what are you learning about this deployment?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's some conflicting information coming out of Moscow. It looks as though some of those lawmakers -- they have jumped the gun, putting out information not just about strategic bombers possibly being deployed to the Black Sea region, but intermediate range missiles as well.

Here's what we're learning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Tonight, new signs the Kremlin might be moving nuclear capable forces to its bases right on NATO's doorstep. Just as Russia celebrates five years since the annexation of Crimea, Moscow confirming it recently flew TU-22M3 bombers over the Black Sea. Two law makers claiming the planes are now based there.

The head of the parliament's defense committee stating, quote, the deployment of U.S. missile defense in Romania was a serious challenge, in response to which the Russian Defense Ministry decided to deploy squadrons of long range TU-2M33 missile carrying bombers in Crimea. This step radically changed the balance of forces in the region.

The lawmakers and Russian official press agencies later reversed course and denied that the TU-22M3 bombers or nuclear capable Iskander-M medium range missile systems were ever deployed to Crimea.

But the National Security Council has shown its concern, tweeting, quote, Russia's annexation of Crimea continues to pose a threat to our regional allies. Tensions have been on the rise between Russia and the U.S. and its allies in the Black Sea Region. In November, Russia drawing widespread condemnation after its forces captured and arrested the cruise of several Ukrainian naval ships and pounded the vessel.

The U.S. has increasingly sent warships to the Black See to reassure its allies. This week, NATO ripped into Moscow's increased military activity in Crimea. An alliance spokesman saying, quote, we condemn Russia's ongoing and wide-ranging military buildup in Crimea and are concerned by Russia's efforts and stated plans for military buildup in the Black Sea region.

And the Russians say they will not back down from their plans to further fortify and expand their military hardware and installations in the Black Sea despite American pressure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: Of course, Wolf, the Russians have their own take on what's going on in the Black Sea Region. The Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation coming out and saying that it blames NATO for what it says is actively militarizing Black Sea Region, putting more military hardware into that area, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tension clearly increasing. Fled Pleitgen in Moscow for us, thank you.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.