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Robert Mueller Indicts 13 Russians for U.S. Election Meddling; FBI's Failure on Florida School Shooting; Teachers in the Line of Fire; National Enquirer Killed Story of Trump and Playboy Playmate; Aired 9-10 ET

Aired February 17, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:18] MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I just sent out this tweet. I said, "Good thing Mueller dropped those Russian indictments the same day as the revelation that the FBI missed the tip on the Florida shooter or there'd be even louder complaints from people on the right to shut down his probe."

Robert Mueller of course indicted 13 Russians for meddling in the 2016 election disproving the president's claim that it was all a hoax. But as President Trump was quick to point out there's still no proof his campaign was involved or that the election results were affected.

So where does this leave us?

Meanwhile, new reporting alleges not just an affair between the president and a "Playboy" playmate who was on "Celebrity Apprentice" but also an elaborate cover-up system abetted by "The National Enquirer."

So what will be the political, the familial fallout?

Plus, there were multiple warnings about perpetrator of the Florida school shooting including to the FBI so why could he not be stopped?

And those who pursue teaching know it will be demanding. But now as we were reminded this week it can also be dangerous. How will that impact the profession?

But first as I tweeted yesterday, only on a day when the morning story was about a "Playboy" Playmate of the Year would Donald Trump be happy to see an afternoon report of 13 Russians being indicted for election meddling. It was that kind of a day. By now you know that 13 nationals were indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for U.S. election meddling. It's all spelled out in a 37-page indictment.

The president responded by tweeting this. "Russia started their anti- U.S. campaign in 2014 long before I announced that I would run for president. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong. No collusion."

OK. Permit me six observations. First, to the president's point. There was no allegation by Mueller of the Trump campaign knowingly cooperating with the Russian nationals nor that the meddling tipped the balance of the election, or as the president likes to say, there was no evidence of collusion.

But the president can no longer say with a straight face that reports of Russia's meddling are a hoax. And the president should now be held accountable for his refusal to support Congress' bid to sanction the Russians for interference.

Second, this indictment does not concern the Russian hack of the DNC server. If this group of Russian nationals had been involved in that crime, that information would likely be a part of this indictment. That means we've yet to see whatever Mueller has found about the hack. Whether there was collusion in that regard remains the big unknown.

Third, the goal of the operation was partly to support the campaign of Donald Trump. But mostly it was to screw with the American political process. Their aim was to undermine all of us more than to elect any one of us. To spread distrust toward candidates and our political system in general.

Fourth, this was a sophisticated effort, complete with a hierarchy and a budget and a headquarters. I read the indictment about the so- called Internet Research Agency. Picturing a mafia-like front organization run like an American business. I'd not have been surprised to learn they had paid maternity leave, holidays and a company training video for sexual harassment.

Fifth, notice that Robert Mueller himself did not make the announcement. No doubt he learned from Jim Comey how not to handle such an important declaration. Choosing instead to remain in the shadows despite himself having signed the indictment. And by leaving the press briefing to the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein probably insulated himself from being fired by Donald Trump.

Sixth and finally, at least for now, something to be appreciated about the Mueller indictments -- the ability to keep it all secret until the last minute. Before Rod Rosenstein's announcement, the media was speculating it could be about the Florida shooting. The point is we have no idea what Mueller knows.

I want to know what you think. Go to my Website at, answer this question right now. Do you believe more indictments are still to come from Special Counsel Robert Mueller? I'll let you know the results at the end of the program.

Joining me now two experts with perfect backgrounds for this story. Daniel Hoffman, a retired CIA station chief who served five years in Moscow, currently works as a vice president of the consulting group SPG. John Brownlee is a former U.S. attorney served at the Justice Department for a decade.

[09:05:04] Now he runs the white-collar criminal defense for the Washington firm of Holland & Knight. You'll remember he represented Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Let me begin with you, Daniel. Does any operation like this get

carried out without the knowledge, without the oversight of Vladimir Putin?

DANIEL HOFFMAN, FORMER CIA AGENT STATIONED IN MOSCOW: No, this is a Kremlin operation and I would describe it as a hybrid operation. In other words, there were some things that were clandestine like the way they stole U.S. identities so that they could propagate disinformation and lead campaign rallies and things like that, but it was also discoverable.

Trail of bread crumbs leading back to the Internet Research Agency, which is well known for propagating anti-Ukraine themes, themes which were disparaging of Kremlin opposition leader Navalny and then pro- Putin, pro-Assad themes.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, who leads the Internet Research Agency, is a known Putin crony, he's a chef. And I think, you know, Vladimir Putin had a couple of reasons for wanting this to be discoverable. I think it serves his interests. He needed a geographic end point for this operation which leads back to Russia. That's the best way to soil our democratic process. And then it also shows that Putin with this relatively inexpensive asymmetric espionage operation can go toe-to- toe with his main enemy, the United States.

SMERCONISH: OK. You're telling us that he wanted it to be discovered. He likes the idea for some reason that we know he meddled in our election.

HOFFMAN: Right. And I think that the counterintuitive part -- look, I read the indictment yesterday and one of the interesting points for me was how Internet Research Agency helped produce this pro-Trump, post-election rally. And so if you follow the line that we can prove that the Internet Research Agency and by extension the Kremlin was involved, Putin wanted us to think that he was in some way being a kingmaker. Putting his weight on the scale of our democratic process. And he wants that.

SMERCONISH: Right, but --

HOFFMAN: He wants that desperately.

SMERCONISH: But, Daniel -- but, Daniel, what I read in the indictment and I'm sure you'll remember this, is that post election not only were they orchestrating a pro-Trump rally, they were orchestrating an anti- Trump rally which takes me back to the point I made in my monologue that the overarching goal, it may have been in 2016 to help Donald Trump. But they wanted to F with us. That's what this was all about, right?

HOFFMAN: Absolutely. More than anything it was to sow discord in our political process, degrade our institutions, degrade our trust in our institutions. Absolutely. And to -- and then as well to agitate so that we would be at each other's throats over this. I think they've succeeded quite well at that also. SMERCONISH: There's a part of the indictment that I want to put up on

the screen that makes the point you just observed. And it reads as follows, at least the first sentence.

"Defendant organization had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 president election."

At different points, Daniel, they were benefiting Bernie Sanders, they were benefiting Jill Stein and of course they were benefiting Donald Trump. Oftentimes in contradictory cross purpose fashion.

HOFFMAN: Right. That's the element of their covert influence operations. All they want is for Americans -- they want to heighten the level of animosity and so that we -- when we have political discourse in this country, what they would like is to help shape the discourse so that it is full of as much animosity as possible. And I think that's why they tried to support extreme organizations not only here, but in Europe as well.

SMERCONISH: OK, got to ask you as a former CIA station chief yourself, do we do this?

HOFFMAN: You know, I can't talk too much about what we do. I would say that what the Russians are doing is kind of special unto themselves. And I would emphasize as well that in terms of going forward the onus is on the Intelligence Community and I can tell you from my own experience we need that cardinal in the Kremlin who can tell us exactly what it is Vladimir Putin's doing, what are his plans for the future going forward. We need to know that desperately.

SMERCONISH: John Brownlee, let me bring you in. I articulated six things that I found significant about yesterday's indictments. What did you find most significant?

JOHN BROWNLEE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think, first of all, I agree with your six. I think that this is a significant criminal indictment. I think we now have credible evidence that the Russians illegally conspired to impact our 2016 election. I think this is -- as Dan talked about, one of our oldest enemies who has had a direct assault now on our democracy and in our national leadership.

And so I think that the American public should be concerned that this has happened, that these folks have come here, whether electronically, some actually in person and conspired to try to impact our election. And so I think that the indictment is significant and I think that the allegations are concerning and my hope is, is that we are now taking steps to try to actively find these individuals, bring them here and put them before the bar of justice.

[09:10:11] SMERCONISH: OK. So to that point, I was about to say what I didn't see on CNN last night was anybody having cuffs slapped on them. Presumably all 13 are outside the jurisdiction of the United States and I don't know that we have any extradition with Russia. So how likely that there's any trial that results from any of this?

BROWNLEE: Well, one of the things that will happen is when they're indicted their arrest warrants will be issued. Those will be put into international databases, Interpol and the like and so if they were to leave Russia, if they were to travel, and go to a country either in Europe or somewhere else that has an extradition treaty with the United States they could be detained and therefore brought here.

And so they -- essentially they become a prisoner of their own country, which for some of these folks might not matter much to them, but it might. And so we can also then take additional steps to try to -- actively try to pick them up and bring them to the United States for trial. So my hope and I anticipate that there are efforts that are going to try to bring them here based on these warrants that have been issued.

SMERCONISH: John, read the tea leaves for me. There's nothing in this document about the hack. What do you make of that?

BROWNLEE: You know, I think that that is a separate piece of this. I think what you have seen as the special counsel and the deputy attorney general, they've been very methodical. Each indictment kind of stands on its own or each plea agreement kind of stands on its own. And it goes to the next step. And so this one has to do with these 13 individuals with these allegations.

There are other allegations that have been discussed in the media. Not by the special counsel as you noted. And so I think that he will deal with these things in time. And if he believes that he has sufficient evidence to bring the criminal charge he will do so. My guess is if he believes that he doesn't or the evidence doesn't warrant it then he won't. And you won't hear about it.

SMERCONISH: So let me ask you a question as a former prosecutor, not as one at that white shoot fancy firm where you are today heading the defense operations.


SMERCONISH: I was really taken with the fact that I was watching the media 10 minutes before Rosenstein began speaking and there was speculation as to what would be the subject matter and many thought he was about to address the Florida shooting. It speaks to Mueller's ability to keep this all under wraps.

Were you impressed by that?

BROWNLEE: Very much so. And it goes not only to his -- to him, but also to his agents, from the FBI to his prosecutors. You know, this is a well put-together, sophisticated document that took thousands of hours of work to build. This is an impressive document from an investigator's perspective and the fact that they were able to keep it under wraps until the deputy attorney general decided that at his moment, he decided when to let the public know is impressive.

It shows that this is being run in a professional way. And knowing Bob Mueller and knowing Rod Rosenstein you shouldn't expect anything else.

SMERCONISH: John Brownlee, thank you so much. I appreciate both of my guests having been here.

BROWNLEE: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Make sure you're voting at And the question, do you believe more indictments are still to come from Special Counsel Robert Mueller? We'll give you the results later in the program.

What are your thoughts right now? Tweet me at smerconish. Hit my Facebook page, Katherine. What do we have?

"Smerconish, coincidence or not, it's time that this Russian probe is wrapped up. It's been a year. And it's that long enough to figure out if there was collusion or not. I think not. And you as a media voice need to stop the hate of Trump. Stop the bias."

Thomas, are you blanking me? Wherein lies the hatred? I bear no hatred toward the president. Mine is an evidentiary analysis. And I have to challenge you, did you read the indictment? Did you read the 37-page indictment because I did and I'm troubled as an American. Having nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats. I'm an independent. They were trying to undermine our society with this campaign. And that should trouble all of us. Including you, sir.

Another one if I have time for it. "Smerconish, wondering how you can say there was no impact on election results. 80,000 people in three states. You don't think some of these people were impacted by what the Russians did?"

Joanne, I don't know. I'm saying that the indictment makes no claim that the outcome was impacted, but you might want to do something I did this morning which is go over to Nate Silver at 538. He has an analysis that he just posted. I think the word that he used was he's agnostic. He just doesn't know whether there was anything outcome determinative in what they did.

Do I have time for one more? Quickly, sneak it in? No more. Oh no.

Up ahead, there were many warning signs about the perpetrator of this week's shooting at a Florida high school including attempts to alert the FBI so why wasn't anything done?

[09:15:03] Plus the president, the playmate and something called catch and kill. The secret way to keep stories out of the news.


SMERCONISH: So here's a tough question that needs to be addressed. Should the FBI have prevented the Florida school shooting?

On Friday the bureau revealed that a person, quote, "close to Cruz" had contacted the FBI on January 5 to report concerns about him. But the bureau did not appropriately follow established protocols in following up on the tip.

This follows the news that we have already heard that last fall a Mississippi bail bondsman alerted the FBI to the fact that he's seen a comment posted on YouTube where someone identifying himself as Nikolas Cruz had said, quote, "I'm going to do the professional school shooter." The bondsman did the right thing. He saw something, he said something. The FBI immediately came out and interviewed him. But the next time he heard from the FBI was Wednesday in the immediate aftermath of the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida, perpetrated by Nikolas Cruz.

The special agent in charge of the FBI's Miami office said they couldn't find the person who had posted the comment and they didn't think they had enough data to subpoena Google which own YouTube to pinpoint the individual.

[09:20:03] Now according to a "Washington Post" Nexus search, only 22 individuals had the name Nikolas Cruz and three of them used different spellings. It's not clear whether the FBI tried to reach those individuals.

First and foremost, I doubt that that's where it would have ended if it were a threat of Islamic terror that the FBI had been warned about. And secondly, I think this speaks to the inadequacy of data integration among law enforcement. According to "The Washington Post" profile of the shooter, he had a history of anger, depression, killing animals. Everybody is saying the warning signs were there for this guy.

Most troublesome to me is that CNN reported that since 2010, local law enforcement were called to his house 39 times. So you would hope that community knowledge, the 39 police calls, not to mention his ownership of an AR-15, notwithstanding the absence of a national gun registry, would nevertheless have enabled a database search that could have helped the FBI find this guy.

We live in an age of Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon. Maybe it's time for the FBI to recruit in Silicon Valley so that they can better manage data to keep us safe.

Joining me now is Tom Fuentes, he spent 30 years in the FBI. Four of them as assistant director.

What is the issue, Tom, with the lack of, as I put it, data integration among law enforcement?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the first thing, Michael, is that, you know, we are acknowledging that this is a catastrophic failure on the part of the FBI with regard to the January report that Cruz was going to be violent and possibly do a school shooting. The rest of the information that was not passed on from its call center in West Virginia to the Miami division of the FBI. So that we acknowledge is a major failure. The biggest one in this thing.

But there are other failures as well including the superintendent of schools acknowledging that he was expelled, they had threats from him. They put a message out to the faculty and staff of that show that if he shows up with a backpack, call immediately so they knew he was dangerous. They expel him and basically kick the can down the road.

The police are at that residence of 39 times, with reports of a mentally ill person and violence against elderly people and the like. And, you know, wasn't kept under any kind of watch or surveillance or checked then about whether he had guns or not. And so yes, the FBI had a major failure, but so did everybody else. You know, the number of things that all contributed to him being able to still be at large with guns on the day of the shooting.


FUENTES: As far as the databases, you know, one of the concerns, you're right. Since 9/11 everything has been done to try to link databases so that you don't have stove-piped information systems but where the difficulty is in a case like this is versus civil liberties. And you've seen where social media companies do not want to be cooperative with the authorities, they want to protect the privacy of the people that contribute to their sites.

You saw Apple's complete lack of cooperation following the San Bernardino murders where 14 people are killed and they don't want to let the FBI crack that person's phone. And eventually they were able to. And this is a person who's dead. You know, no longer should have been worrying about his civil rights so we do have this protection of databases and keeping them stove-piped on one hand. Especially when it concerns mental illness, lack of being able to tell patient information.

For example, with him if he had living parents they would not be able to know the status of his medical or mental health treatment under HIPAA laws. He's an adult. They can't -- the medical authorities were under no position to tell anybody whether he's on medication, whether he's a danger to the community. They're not even allowed in Florida to ask if he has guns. So you have a number of situations that all form the perfect storm in this particular case.

SMERCONISH: I get your point that it was more than just the FBI that seems to have dropped its guard. Rick Scott nevertheless is calling for -- in fact, put it up on the screen, for Christopher Wray to be given the boot. Quote, "We constantly promote see something- say something, and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. The FBI failed to act. See something-say something is an incredibly important tool and people must have confidence in the follow through from law enforcement. The FBI director needs to resign. 17 innocent people are dead and acknowledging mistake isn't going to cut it. An apology will never bring these 17 Floridians back to life or the comfort the families who are in pain."

Do you think Christopher Wray should -- will he resign?

FUENTES: I don't think he will and I think at this point it may be premature to say that he should resign because, you know, I think the last thing the FBI needs at this moment is a vacuum created even, additional vacuum created at the leadership level of the director.

[09:25:12] So I think that we need the detailed study, what broke down in this system with the call center that was established to prevent this kind of thing from happening. You know, is there a person at fault, was the system, was the technology? All of the above to see exactly, and then, you know, another proposal I would make is we have to establish maybe similar to the joint terrorism task forces, but basically, an information fusion center in each of the divisions of the FBI or in each of the states so that a call goes to a group of people in a center which are analyzing this type of issue.

This is what happens here is you don't have -- if you don't have an allegiance to a terrorist organization that's widely known, if you don't have someone as part of a bank robbery crew, if you don't have those kind of indicators, it may not be that it just goes to the FBI. Maybe it should be run by Department of Homeland Security. Set up a system where a number of professionals, whether it's law enforcement, mental health officials, school officials, state and local officials work together to try to identify this kind of person so we could try to put a stop to this perpetual group of school shootings among other things.

But it's not just to protect the schools. We have mall shootings, theater shootings, you know, outside of rock concert shootings, so we have to establish the system where troubled or individuals like this with mental health issues or other behavioral problems, we know if they've got a gun. We can try to do something. We can try to get those guns taken away from this kind of person. Not everybody at large, but this person.

And to think right now there's so much -- you know, and it runs into conflict for the FBI or the police to run into, you know, people that say, well, you know, you shouldn't have a right to that information. You shouldn't -- this person has civil liberties, too.

SMERCONISH: I get it. Yes. I get it.

Tom Fuentes, thank you so much. Insightful comments and we appreciate it.

FUENTES: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Let us see what you're saying on my smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages.

Katherine, hit me with this. "Smerconish, you have changed. If FBI had found him no prosecutor had grounds to charge him. Why are you doing this? You are inciting people and causing more pain."

Hey, Lena, what do you mean I have changed? I haven't changed at all. I know that if I express an interest in a type of cereal that I am dogged with ads from algorithms about that and related cereals. And the failure of the integration of data by law enforcement at all levels is hindering our ability to keep our kids safe.

Look at all of that which is somehow out there in this sort of Ethernet about this guy. But it's not pulled together. There were only -- I mean, do I have to review -- what did "The Post" say? There were 22 guys with this name and 39 times the police had been to his house. Now, why can't some techno geek in Silicon Valley look for the 22 people who have this name and say, oh, holy crap, here's one of the guys named Nikolas Cruz and the police have been to his house 39 times.

And similarly, and I know there's a whole issue here about a national gun registry, but why not at the same time be able to say, oh, here's a guy who bought a pretty significant weapon to whom the police have gone to his house 39 times, who also is of the name of the person who went on YouTube and said, I'm going to be a professional shooter. You know, how are we not managing all that together?

Let me tell you something, if they're trying to sell me cereal, they would have put it together. We ought to be able to use the same technology and knowhow to find the next shooter. Is that so controversial?

Still to come, "The New Yorker" magazine alleges not just that the president had an affair with a "Playboy" playmate, but that "The National Enquirer" had the story and suppressed it and teachers are already heroes for just their commitment to their profession, but this week at a high school in parkland, Florida, a teacher and two coaches died in the line of duty protecting their kids. Here's just one student's tribute.


KELSEY FRIEND, SAVED BY TEACHER SCOTT BEIGEL IN SCHOOL SHOOTING: You will forever be my hero. I will never forget the actions that he took for me and for fellow students in the classroom. And if his family is watching this, please know that your son or your brother was an amazing person and I'm alive today because of him.



[09:34:00] SMERCONISH: You know historically few careers have held the promise of having such a profound impact on the lives of others as teaching. That ability to be a positive role model has long outweighed the downsides of the job. The job can be exasperating, parents are demanding. Curriculum requirements are confounding. But until recently, you wouldn't think of teaching as a dangerous career choice. That's changed.

In 2017 there were 48 school shootings, already this year there have been eight. A teacher and two members of the athletic department were killed on Wednesday at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Aaron Feis, 37, a former graduate of the high school himself, who became its assistant football coach and security guard. On Wednesday he drove a freshman student away from the building, then came back, was shot many times while shielding three students from bullets.

Scott Beigel, 35, taught geography and was the school's cross country coach. On Wednesday he opened the door for students who were running from the shooter. As he tried to lock the door the gunman shot him dead.

[09:35:04] Another victim, Chris Hixon, 49, the school's athletic director and wrestling coach who was named the county's Athletic Director of the Year last year.

Teachers and coaches, they don't sign up to be in the line of fire.

Joining me now, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Randi, how has this changed the profession?

RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: Look, it's more than it's changed the profession. Children need to be valued more than guns. We have had 238 gun incidents in schools since Newtown, so, you know, my friend, when is enough enough? And what is happening now is we can't have -- look, I'm a religious person, I believe in thoughts and prayers, but it is time for action against gun violence.

The AR-15 was used in Newtown, in Las Vegas, in San Bernardino and now here. And so yes, teachers never signed up for this. I hope nobody is starting to think that we should be arming teachers. It's -- we are not policemen. We need to have safe environments, but that starts now with protecting people against gun violence. And if Australia could figure out how to do this after 1996, after a mass shooting, the United States of America can figure out how to do this.

And that is what teachers all across the country are doing right now. We're crying for our students, we're crying for the people who died but we are demanding not just mental health -- not just mental health resources but we are demanding action against gun violence. Safe gun measures.

SMERCONISH: I read at Vox today a study that said that lockdown drills are being conducted in 94.6 percent of American schools.

The question for Randi Weingarten, are teachers -- I understand all the points that you've made, and I agree with that.


SMERCONISH: Are teachers being sufficiently trained given the current climate?

WEINGARTEN: You know something, I'm not all that sure that you can be sufficiently trained against an AR-15 when this kind of carnage can happen in five minutes. I'm not -- I don't know how that can be sufficiently trainable.

Our teachers all around the country, getting training in active shooting, in code reds, code blues, code violets, absolutely. Did that happen in this school district, absolutely it did. Should the FBI had figured out and done something about that tip, absolutely. Could we do better? Absolutely. But there is an issue that we're not talking about. One is of course we have to have more mental health and more guidance facilities and more of that.

But we have to actually get to a root cause here. The same gun was used in Newtown. The same gun was used here. People are devastated. People are -- you know, this is a close knit community as was Newtown. In fact, we have a leader from Newtown coming to Broward today with us. But we need more than training. We need to deal with gun violence.

SMERCONISH: In the "New Yorker" Adam Gopnick wrote something, I'll paraphrase, that I think drives home your point and one that I would make. Every country has mentally ill and potentially violent people. Only we arm them.

WEINGARTEN: Exactly right. And look, may these people -- these 17 people, may their memories be for a blessing. We need to say their names. We need to hug, we need to embrace. We need to come together as communities but when is enough enough? There are sensible gun violence actions we can take, Australia did it. We can do that here. New York, Connecticut did it after Newtown.

We need to do it. It's ridiculous that it's easier to get an AR-15 in Florida than a hand gun. We need to use this in the memory of these children whose lives have been snuffed out, of the three teachers whose lives have been snuffed out. We need to actually take action to make children's lives more valuable than guns.

SMERCONISH: Randi, thank you. I appreciate you being here.

WEINGARTEN: Thank you. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Check in on your Twitter and Facebook comments, do I have time for one? If I do, put it up there. What do we got?

"People are saying arm and train teachers but schools can't afford textbooks, @smerconish." Yes, I don't know that that's the answer to put more weaponry in a dangerous situation.

Up next -- and by the way, I'm not some anti-gun nut. I am somebody who believes in the Second Amendment and I owns lots of firearms myself. But enough is enough. And Adam Gopnick nailed it. You know, we are unique only insofar as we arm those in our country who shouldn't have weaponry.

Up next, a new story details not only another alleged affair of Donald Trump. This time with the Playboy Playmate of the Year.

[09:40:03] But also how "The National Enquirer" was enlisted to keep the story from becoming public.


SMERCONISH: On Friday afternoon, I tweeted, "Only on a day when the morning story was about a Playboy Playmate of the Year would Donald Trump be happy to see an afternoon report of 13 Russians being indicted for election Meddling. But it's too good a story to let drop. The "New Yorker" piece by Ronan Farrow was published at 5:00 a.m. Friday under this headline, "Donald Trump, a Playboy model and a system for concealing infidelity."

It details Trump's alleged affair with Karen McDougal, the 1998 Playmate of the Year in the early days of his marriage to First Lady Melania Trump. It also exposes the elaborate cover-up system that kept many such tales out of the public eye.

[09:45:05] McDougal sold her story to "The National Enquirer" for $150,000. Only to have it never see the light of day. A common tactic in a scandal story called catch and kill.

Joining me now to discuss veteran defense attorney Mark Geragos.

How common catch and kill as a strategy among lawyers?

MARK GERAGOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, it's a fairly common strategy. The catch and kill here is that they're actually paying somebody for the life rights and then the story gets obviously as the term implies killed meaning it doesn't run or in this case where they specifically say we're going to give you a health and beauty or a wellness column. We're going to pay you for this, and we've got the -- your rights.

The more common kind of celebrity catch and kill is where if there is a story that there's a trade-off so to speak. So I've got a story about one client. And then they go to the PR person or the publicist and say, give me something juicier. And I'll kill this story. So that's been going on for decades. I have seen that in Hollywood repeatedly over the years. And that's something that is kind of the currency of Hollywood.

SMERCONISH: That sounds more like blackmail. Like, you know, I've got something on you, but let us take a good picture of you and put it on our cover so we can sell issues and we'll forget about it.

GERAGOS: There's a certain amount of -- or a dance around, you know, terms that you and I might find distasteful. But that's basically how it works. I mean, there's kind of -- you know, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. This idea that I'll give you something else. I can't tell you how many times I have had a high profile client who have been threatened with the exposure of something or of one case.

In fact, I think if you saw in the early stages of the Weinstein investigation, you saw a lot of what used to happen. There would be kind of a lawyer special ops going after if a story was going to break to kind of give somebody a forearm shiver so they wouldn't publish the story. And one of the techniques, that's usually -- that's kind of the full frontal ops, special ops approach. But one of the other techniques that is usually used is to say, OK, I'll give you this story, maybe even about another client which obviously in a lawyer's case is unethical if you don't or if you kill this other story.

SMERCONISH: Quick political question more than a legal question. We keep covering up your handsome image with all of these shots of the Playboy playmate as I'm sure you can understand, Mark. Does this hurt him with the base?

GERAGOS: Yes, I said -- SMERCONISH: I mean, I --

GERAGOS: Given the choice between Karen McDougal and me.


SMERCONISH: But when these images get shown, I've got this vision of some prototypical Trump voter who's saying hell yes, but the issue for Trump is whether those elongated red ties get thrown out of the second story window of the White House.

GERAGOS: Well, you know, I have said, Michael, you've kind of channeled one of my expressions for the last two days since this story came out. I said this does him absolutely no harm in the public. It's obviously a different story when it comes to Melania. But in far as his voters and as far as the public they couldn't be happier about this.

I mean, they think, boy, this guy's got game. He's -- you know.


GERAGOS: He's out there, he's got Playboy models, he's got this model wife. I mean, you know, that's -- this does him absolutely no harm with the base.

SMERCONISH: And the evangelicals turn a blind eye to it and they say as long as he keeps putting people on the court that are in line with our thinking, you know, so be it.

Hey, Mark Geragos, thank you as always. I always appreciate your sentiments here.

GERAGOS: Good to see you, Michael. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. What do we got?

"Smerconish, are you kidding? I'm sure he is thrilled the pictures of this beautiful woman are all over." Yes, I've got this image -- hey, put that camera back on me for a second, Katherine.

I've got this image of him sitting there with the clicker and it's like, you know, if Melania is not in the room he's watching the coverage like we just showed. And she walks in, like bing, change the channel and go over to "Shark Week."

The results of the survey that you've been voting on at, do you believe more indictments are still to come from Special Counsel Robert Mueller? That in just a moment.


[09:54:00] SMERCONISH: Hey, time to see how you responded to the survey question at This is my prediction. Do you believe more indictments are still to come from Special Counsel Robert Mueller?

Survey says with over 10,000 votes cast, 91 percent. All right. I didn't know the answer to that. Look at my prediction. Here's what I thought. I said 93 percent. Off by only two. 91 percent.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook. What else has come in during the course of the program? "How many Mulligans will the evangelicals give Trump?"

Rick, isn't that amazing? I think their attitude is one of the guy is, whatever he may be doing in his own life he's giving us everything we are looking for, most notably in terms of judicial appointments. So if he can repopulate the federal bench in our image during the course of four or eight years, whether he's with the Playboy Playmate of the Year, that's on him and Melania.

Another one if we have time. "Smerconish, my heart goes out to first lady and son Barron. No amount of money or privileged lifestyle is fair compensation for the continued humiliation," says Alice.

[09:55:08] I hope you're not saying that's the media's fault because in this particular case I think the media is just reporting that which is transpiring.

One more if we have time for it. Do I? I think I do. What do you got?

"Smerconish, the fact that we are still in the dark, as far as Mueller investigation is impressive, it shows that there is a streamline focus to speak through outside influences."

Yes. Amazing. I mean, up until the moment that Rod Rosenstein spoke yesterday, nobody knew what was coming. That lets us know we're really in the dark.

Catch up with us any time at CNNGo and on demand. I'll see you next week.