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Trump Begins Vacation As Russia Probe Builds Momentum; Trump Rails Against Russia Probe: "A Total Fabrication"; Anti-Clinton Chant "Look Her Up" At Trump Rally; Mueller Using Grand Jury In Russia Probe; Trump Supporters Slam His National Security Adviser; Changes After Chief of Staff Kelly's First Week; Atty General Announces Tripling Of Leaks Investigations; Trump Cheers As Jobless Rate Hits 16-Year Low; ISIS Plots Revealed For Gas Attack, Airline Bombing; Secret Trip Tied To Russia Probe; Interview with Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired August 4, 2017 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, gathering evidence. President Trump heads off on a 17-day vacation with the threat of grand jury subpoenas hanging over his administration. Will the chaos that's plagued the West Wing for weeks follow the president on his holiday?

Just an excuse. Mr. Trump lashes out at the Russia investigation at a rally, calling it a total fabrication and an excuse by Democrats for their election loss. And he fired up his base with an attack on Hillary Clinton. Can his words shore up his slipping support among Republicans?

Crackdown. Under pressure and under attack by President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces a crackdown on leaks of classified information, vowing to prosecute the leakers. Will the Justice Department subpoena journalists to hunt down their sources?

And ISIS bomb plots. Senior terror commanders work to bring down passenger planes in what police now call among the most sophisticated plots ever attempted. One involved toxic gas. The other involved an improvised explosive device. How close were they to carrying out their deadly plans?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We begin with breaking news. CNN has learned the House Intelligence Committee Republican staff members traveled to London, hoping to speak with the former British intelligence agent who compiled the dossier of alleged Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign. That, according to a source familiar with the matter, who says the staffers ultimately did not meet with Christopher Steele.

Also, President Trump is beginning a 17-day vacation at the end of a tumultuous week that's seen a dramatic escalation of the Russia investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Just hours after the revelation of a grand jury and subpoenas in the case, the president dismissed the Russia story as, quote, "a total fabrication."

CNN has new reporting tonight on Russia's alleged election interference. Multiple sources are now telling us that the FBI monitored social media on election day last year in an effort to track a suspected Russian disinformation campaign spreading false stories and conspiracies, many aimed at Hillary Clinton.

And Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced a plan to crack down on leaks of classified information. President Trump has been pressuring Sessions to aggressively pursue leakers and publicly criticized him as being weak on the investigations. Sessions said he's reviewing policies affecting subpoenas on the news media.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Andre Carson of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

But let's begin with the president's latest dismissal of the Russia investigation. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has details. Jim, the president is leaving town amid some major new developments in the Russia probe.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is on his way to his country club in New Jersey for a two-week vacation, but the White House is not getting a break when it comes to the Russia investigation, a probe the president still considers a hoax.

It's a message he is taking straight to his political base.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump escaped Washington for his golf club in New Jersey without taking questions on the Russia investigation, a probe that's ramping up just as he's taking time off. But at a political rally in West Virginia, hours after it was learned Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas related to the probe, the president turned to his base to have his back.

TRUMP: The Russia story is a total fabrication. It's just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. That's all it is.

ACOSTA: The president's latest defense, while toned down in his attacks to the news media, omitted some key facts.

TRUMP: Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign. There never were. We didn't win because of Russia. We won because of you. That I can tell you. Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?

Say hello. Don. ACOSTA: The president did not mention that his eldest son, son-in-law and former campaign chairman held a meeting with a Russian lawyer and four others after receiving an e-mail promising opposition research on Hillary Clinton last year.

The latest White House message on Russia comes as new chief of staff John Kelly is bringing discipline to the West Wing, controlling access to the Oval Office and perhaps to the president himself. A much more structured environment that will be critical as top officials appear to be dreading the potential for Mueller's investigation to drag on indefinitely.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO HOST: These type of endeavors end up being fishing expeditions. They're a very broadly-cast net.

[17:05:03] ACOSTA: And top Trump administration officials are calling attention to the leaks from the intelligence community that are fueling the investigation.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Understand this. If you improperly disclose classified information, we will find you. We will investigate you. We will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law, and you will not be happy with the result.

ACOSTA: As for the president's vacation, the down time he will enjoy in New Jersey represents somewhat of a reversal for Mr. Trump, who repeatedly blasted President Obama for taking time off, tweeting, "Congress should get back to Washington, but Barack Obama doesn't want to interrupt his vacation in Martha's Vineyard."

TRUMP: I promise you, I will not be taking very long vacations, if I take them at all. There's no time for a vacation. We're not going to be big -- we're not going to be big on vacation.


ACOSTA: Now, just one example of the discipline chief of staff John Kelly is bringing to the White House is through the phone calls received by the president. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Kelly has been on the line during his conversations with the president since the new chief of staff came on board -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

We're also now learning that Russian interference in the presidential race continued right up until election day. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is with us, and our CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz. They're both working the story for us.

Shimon, you're getting some new information that some FBI analysts actually spent, what, election day monitoring what they suspected was Russian-inspired fake news on Facebook?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Wolf. What we've learned is that counterintelligence analysts and investigators were huddled in the room at FBI headquarters here in Washington, D.C., on election day, monitoring social media.

And what they could see was streams of fake news, negative stories being posted about Hillary Clinton, some having to do with her health, according to multiple sources. They were able to identify suspected Russian links to the accounts that appeared to be pushing the fake stories.

And interestingly enough, Wolf, in some of those posts, the FBI, according to one source we spoke to, was able to see the conversation about Hillary Clinton start to change. This is how -- the effect that some of these fake stories were actually having on some of the people who were consuming them.

BLITZER: Interesting. New information. Pamela, was the FBI team doing this, coordinating with officials at the White House on election day?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, yes. There was coordination throughout election night. We learned that there were teams at the FBI, homeland security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, holding these conference calls every three hours with a team at the situation room in the White House to discuss any possible problems. And while we know that there were some issues that popped up across the country from Alaska to Georgia, there were no major incidents or disruptions of the vote, according to intelligence officials. The FBI has declined to comment on this, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting, Shimon. Is this new ground for the FBI to actually monitor the news that Americans read?

PROKUPECZ: Well, it's not entirely new. But this is certainly uncomfortable for the FBI, given the First Amendment's free speech protections, even for fake news stories.

One law official we spoke with said, quote, "We were right on the edge of constitutional legality," the official said. "We were monitoring the news."

But Wolf, nonetheless, this is still part of the counterintelligence investigation the FBI has been conducting into Russian meddling in the election.

Because really, there is a need to understand the effect of this kind of fake news campaign on the election and whether anyone in the Trump campaign was involved.

BLITZER: And we know, Pamela, that a lot of this fake news that the Russians were putting out there was designed to spread negative information, negative news, false news about Hillary Clinton during the campaign. So here's the question. When Donald Trump won the election on election night, that night, what was the reaction among the officials who were doing all this monitoring, all this Russian- inspired fake news?

BROWN: It's really interesting, because as we learned, our team has learned, the reaction was divided. On one hand, you have many officials who were relieved and were exchanging congratulations inside that war room we've been describing. That there were no major problems, in their view. No -- none of the votes were tampered with, anything like that.

But one official in the Obama White House had the opposite reaction, as these celebrations were taking place, saying, "Are you kidding? What they did worked," meaning that the Russians accomplished their mission, what they wanted to do. And this official, in this official's view, said the government's response to the election was a failure of imagination in terms of the government's response to the Russians during the election.

Now, of course, we may never know what this disinformation campaign, how it impacted the end result.

BLITZER: But there was a significant amount of this false news that the Russians were spreading out there?

[17:10:00] PROKUPECZ: Well, there were several stories. And really, I think the key, what the FBI was able to see was people's reaction to it. Even in some ways, opinions of Hillary Clinton starting to change in conversations.

So you know, in their feeling, there was -- whatever the desired effect from this, it was occurring. And that's why it's still an important part of their investigation.

Now, keep in mind, we may never see criminal charges related to fake news. It's just not possible. But it's still important to see if anyone within the Trump world, the Trump campaign was working with the Russians in this effort.

BLITZER: And Robert Mueller, the special counsel, he's -- he's looking into all of this, I assume.

BROWN: We assume so. We don't know that to be a fact, but you assume so.

BLITZER: OK, guys. Good reporting, as usual. Thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana is joining us. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ANDRE CARSON (R), INDIANA: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: So let me get your reaction to this CNN reporting -- you just heard it -- that the FBI was extensively monitoring social media on election last year in an effort to track what they described as a Russian disinformation campaign.

One Obama White House official told CNN he viewed the U.S. government response to the Russian operation as a failure of imagination. I wonder what your reaction -- I don't know if you knew about this in advance, but what's your reaction? CARSON: Well, I'm certainly not surprised. I think the Russians have

a history of this kind of disinformation campaigns, and it's a part of the intel or counterintelligence work that we do in our country. I think we are the best. But we have to constantly fight, not only from other state actors like Russia, but other organizations who attempt to influence the American people with bad or misleading information.

BLITZER: As you know, Congressman, the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, issued grand jury subpoenas related to Donald Trump Jr.'s 2016 meeting over at Trump Tower in New York City with Russians. What does that tell you? What does that move tell you?

CARSON: Well, I think Director Mueller is a very skilled investigator. He's very knowledgeable. I think he runs the traps correctly. I think it's important now. I think we're seeing, Wolf, the silver lining in this Trumpmania is that now you have Democrats and Republicans working together to protect Director Mueller and give him some kind of independence.

That's why Congress as a separate but equal branch of government is so incredibly important. The Founding Fathers, as complicated as they were, were very visionary. And so I think we have to work together in a bipartisan fashion to make sure Director Mueller has the cover and freedom to do what he needs to do to unearth these necessary truths.

BLITZER: We're also told the subpoena seeks both documents and testimony from people involved in that Donald Trump Jr. meeting at Trump Tower. So what could that mean?

CARSON: Well, as a former police officer, I have some experience with grand juries, for certain. But I can say that it's an important tool for the prosecutor to have this kind of authority to be able to subpoena folks to compel them to ultimately tell the truth, and grand juries have the authority to issue indictments. And I think that kind of power is important when we're investigating a president and his operation.

BLITZER: CNN also reporting that Robert Mueller and his team are now looking into Donald Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia as they investigate the 2016 presidential election. President Trump has said, by the way, that looking into his finances could be what he calls a red line for him. So do you think this cause him, actually, to go ahead and eventually fire Mueller?

CARSON: Well, I'd hope not. That's why it's so important for us to work together on the Hill to make sure we pass legislation that protects Director Mueller and allows him the ability to do his job correctly. Because he's such a great investigator.

BLITZER: One of your House Intelligence Committee colleagues, Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, said the House actually should start thinking about impeachment, questioning if the president would finish his term. She said if the president pardoned a family member or tried to get rid of Mueller, those would be tipping points, at least according to her.

Do you agree with her?

CARSON: Well, Jackie's one of my -- one of my best friends. She and I sit next to one another in Intel, and we're neighbors in Washington, D.C. She's a very good friend of mine and a confidant. I appreciate her passion. I'm right at the doorstep of impeachment, but I'm still taking a wait and see approach, but I love some Jackie Speier.

BLITZER: So explain why you are right at the doorstep of even using the word "impeachment."

CARSON: It's probably my investigatory nature, Wolf. It's probably from my background, having worked at the Indiana Department of Homeland Security in counterterrorism and counterintelligence, having worked with state excise police, having worked as a special deputy with the Marion County Sheriff's Department. But I agree with the spirit of what Jackie Speier is saying, certainly.

[17:15:12] BLITZER: Stand by, Congressman. There's more we need to discuss, more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now on all of this. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A source now tells CNN that House Intelligence Committee Republican staff members traveled to London, hoping to speak with the author of a dossier of alleged Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign. That's the former British intelligence agent Steele.

[17:20:10] We're back with Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana, member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, react to this London trip, the fact that these Republican staff members left your Democratic, staffers, actually in the dark about this. What was your reaction? Some have suggested it was an effort to interfere with the investigation.

CARSON: Well, I was deeply disappointed. I mean, the Democratic staffers that we have on the Intel Committee are the best and brightest in our country. And, you know, both staff respectfully had an agreement to work together. And I think it's a violation of trust, and it risks turning away potential witnesses in the future.

And so my advice would be that, even though we're bipartisan, we cannot be partisan. If we're really concerned about digging into keeping America safe, we have to work together, both Republican staffers and Democratic staffers.

BLITZER: Do you see this as an effort on the part of those Republican staffers to, at least in part, discredit, further discredit that dossier?

CARSON: I can't say, but it certainly causes me great discomfort, because we're supposed to be on the same team. I think that the House Intel Committee is one of the most bipartisan committees in Congress, along with Armed Services and Transportation and a few others. But it's certainly one of the most bipartisan committees.

Historically, it has been. We've had a few valleys lately, but I think we're moving forward. But moving forward has to be done in a cooperative way. Both sides of the aisle in terms of staffing are the best and brightest, and we have to act as such.

BLITZER: General H.R. McMaster, President Trump's national security adviser, he's now seeing his standing questioned amid arguments with other advisers, the president himself; and now some right-wing media outlets have begun to attack him. I want you to respond to what some have seen now as a campaign against General McMaster. What does it tell you about the thinking inside the White House?

CARSON: You know, it's hard to get inside the mind of -- of the staffers there. One can only judge by the actions, and it seems chaotic. And so I can understand the impulse of President Trump to want to bring in military personnel, but we can't make the staff so militarized that we take away the civilian piece, because I think then we start creating silos, and it becomes too heavy on the military side.

But the military has a history. As someone who comes from a family of veterans, particularly Marines, I understand the discipline and the commitment to protecting information that is involved in military culture.

However, you still need civilians who have relationships from Capitol Hill, who understand more immediately the impulses and sensibilities of the American people. And so while we appreciate the hierarchy and the structure of the military, we have to use other methods to make sure we have a holistic approach to staffing and really making America great again.

BLITZER: Do you have any reason to believe General McMaster's position is not safe?

CARSON: I can't speak to that.

BLITZER: Speaking of Marines, and I know you come from a family of Marines, retired four-star Marine Corps General Kelly, the new White House chief of staff, do you believe he can bring order to this White House?

CARSON: I hope so. I had the opportunity to have dinner with Secretary Kelly a few weeks ago at a Ramadan Iktar event at a mutual friend of ours, Mr. Raymond Mood (ph) and his wife, Shasta (ph), and his family. And I found him to be very thoughtful. I found him to be very committed to serving our country, and I hope that he brings that same thoughtfulness and commitment to the White House.

BLITZER: Let me ask you about another subject that came up today. When asked whether the Department of Justice would change its practice of not prosecuting journalists who received leaks of classified information, the CNN -- the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, questioned by CNN, among other reporters, he would not rule out that possibility, would not answer what he called a hypothetical question. What does that tell you, what does that signal potentially to you?

CARSON: You know, if we look at history -- and whenever I see leadership attempting to prosecute, jail or even murder journalists, I think it shows that we're entering into a very dark space.

Again, I talked about the complicated Founding Fathers, but very brilliant in setting up three separate but equal branches of government; to have this balance of power, if you will; to have checks and balances. And also, the media or the press acting as a very important asset as the fourth estate, to hold elected officials accountable. And so when you start trying to suppress and silence the media, we're falling in line, historically, with dictators from the past.

[17:25:12] BLITZER: Andre Carson, the congressman from Indiana, thanks so much for joining us.

CARSON: Always an honor, Wolf. Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: All right. Coming up, a closer look at President Trump's attack strategy as the Russian probe builds momentum. He's now telling his supporters, "They're trying to cheat you out of the future you want."

And later authorities reveal chilling details of a pair of ISIS plots, one to bomb an airliner and the other to release poison gas.


BLITZER: Tonight President Donald Trump is getting away from the Washington heat. The president arrived in New Jersey just a little while ago to begin a 17-day vacation.

But we're back here in Washington. Investigators led by the special counsel Robert Mueller are pressing ahead in their probe into possible ties between the Trump team and Russia's efforts to influence last year's Presidential campaign.

Let's talk about this and more with our specialist Mark Preston. We start with you. In his camp -- it was actually a 2020 campaign re- election speech last night at a rally in West Virginia. The President was responding to the latest developments involving the Russian probe. Listen to this.


TRUMP: The Russia story is a total fabrication. It's just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign. There never were. We didn't win because of Russia, we won because of you. That, I can tell you. Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania?

Are there any Russians here tonight, any Russians? They can't beat us at the voting booths, so they're trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. Democrat lawmakers will have to decide. They can continue their obsession with the Russian hoax, or they can serve the interests of the American people.


BLITZER: Strong words, Russian hoax, total fabrication, this whole Russian probe. But considering what all of us have learned so far, is the President wise to be making these blanket denials?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: You know, I think he's gone so far down the road right now, it would be very difficult for him to turn back, and all of a sudden, tone down his language when it comes to this subject. Though, what we heard from that speech right there, a couple of things that were inaccurate. There's never been any accusations that there were Russians working in his campaign, right? I mean -- I mean, that's inaccurate right there. He also talks about the fact that it's Democrats that are pushing this. Republicans are the ones who control the investigations from Capitol Hill, and those three investigations are being run by Republicans.

The fact is, right now, is President Trump is drawing more attention to this at a time when he could have used that campaign speech to push more for health care, to really tout the idea that the Governor of West Virginia decided to become a Republican and announced it at that rally, and really, to try to get his troops to back him in his legislative battles. Instead, he says the same thing over and over again, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It was the Republican Deputy Attorney General who named Robert Mueller the special counsel who's investigating all of this as well. You listen carefully, Ron Brownstein, to the President's remarks on this Russia investigation. Did you see any shift in his emphasis?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it was -- it was an important speech. It was an extension of an argument that he's been making, where he's essentially equating any criticism of him, any push back against him as an attempt to suppress his voters. I mean, in the -- in the 2016 campaign, he won by mobilizing voters who feel culturally, economically, even racially eclipsed by a changing America. And what he was doing in that speech last night was essentially saying that all of the forces in American life that you think have failed you, all of these cosmopolitan elitists, to use Steve Miller's words against Jim Acosta, all of the big institutions that you beat are now trying to take away your victory.

And I think it is striking that all of this is happening at the same time that he's turning sharply to the right on a whole series of cultural issues, from transgendered soldiers serving in the military to cutting legal immigration. And that it's all an attempt, I think, to hold together the core of his base which has been eroding, I think, largely in response to the health care bill that would have hurt many of them, both blue collar and older whites. So, this is all of a piece, Wolf, and I think it is an important shift and escalation of his message.

BLITZER: And after this 2020 re-election campaign rally in West Virgina, Jackie, last night, he all of a sudden, once again, does this -- did this frequently during the campaign. Once again, he goes after Hillary Clinton, and say, there shouldn't be an investigation of me or the Russia probe, there should be an investigation of her and the 33,000 deleted e-mails, then he brought up all sorts of other issues to which the crowd started to chant predictably, lock her up. Lock her up. We keep that -- you know, right after he won, he told the crowd don't say that anymore, but now they're saying it.

[17:34:52] JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN COMMENTATOR: But these things have worked for him. I feel like we've just seen a real hold favorite. And that's what this rally was. Now -- and I disagree with Mark a little bit about the Russia comments because I think this actually had assembly of a message. It wasn't just a rant. It was very -- it was tight, what he was saying. It was this us against -- us-against-them message that was really effective for him in the campaign. And so, it's like he's going back to his comfort zone because, as Ron said, his base isn't happy with him. The Q Poll had even a White non- college educated saying that they weren't thrilled with the President's performance. They're looking at that and they're worried.

BLITZER: The Q Poll, the Quinnipiac University Poll. They call it the Q Poll, too, huh?


BLITZER: That's very good. I only call them the Quinnipiac Poll.



BLITZER: You know, Danny Sovales, let's talk about these new developments that are unfolding, the special counsel, there's a grand jury now, subpoenas for financial documents, who knows, going back how far. What is that? I'm curious to know what it all says to you?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It really doesn't tell us for sure that anyone is going to be indicted, yet. In fact, in a way, it would be strange if Mueller never convened a grand jury. Because the grand jury offers more than just the power to indict, it offers a tremendous power to investigate, to subpoena both witnesses for their testimony and documents. And the documents can be even more devastating because it's much more difficult to assert a fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination as to documents as opposed to testimony. A person can decline to testify but it's not as easy to assert that privilege when it comes to documents. But overall, the fact that there is a grand jury just tells us that someone is utilizing their vast investigatory powers. It doesn't necessarily mean that the grand jury will indict. But every grand jury has the power both to investigate and indict.

BLITZER: And it's a very important tool that prosecutors use, correct?

CEVALLOS: Absolutely. I mean, it's a -- it's an incredible power because it balances this amazing power to get information with secrecy. And that's sort of how we justify it. I mean, it's provided for in the Constitution. And in theory, the grand jury is supposed to act as both a sword, and that being an accusatory function, and a shield for citizens. In theory, it's supposed to protect citizens from prosecutors indicting them without probable cause. But practically speaking, even federal judges have observed in modern times, grand juries indict in the vast majority of cases.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stay with us. Don't go too far away. We're getting more information. We'll be right back.


[17:42:10] BLITZER: Welcome back. We're back with our specialist Mark Preston. Some of the right-wing media outlets like Breitbart, Daily Caller, they seem to have upped the negative coverage of the President's National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster. What's the context of these attacks?

PRESTON: Well, a couple of things. One is, they have a different world view when it comes to foreign policy specifically than H.R. McMaster has. Steve Bannon, the senior adviser in the White House, used to run Breitbart as all our viewers know, and he doesn't believe that we should be increasing troops in Afghanistan. H.R. McMaster does. You also have the likes of H.R. McMaster and Jim Mattis, the Defense Secretary, they also want to recertify the Iran's nuclear compliance. You're seeing that from the right. They don't want that to happen. And you're also seeing a lot of dismissals from the NFC that were holdovers from General Michael Flynn. H.R. McMaster wants his own people in there, and that is not being well-received.

BLITZER: What's the effect? What are you hearing, Jackie? So far, the effect of the new White House Chief of Staff General Kelly having on discipline and order in the White House?

KUCINICH: I think we're seeing it a little bit and how the President is acting. We're also seeing it and you're hearing about it from the staff. There was a story today talking about how he's not -- he's been keeping the Oval Office closed, so people aren't wandering in and out. He's making sure everybody keeps to their talking points in meetings, cutting them off if they start to ramble. But I think it's too soon to tell the lasting effect of John Kelly at this point. He's still new, but for the first week, it's -- this was a calmer week. I mean, I know everything is relative, but it did seem like things were a little more orderly this week.

BLITZER: You know, there was some news, Danny Cevallos, over at the Justice Department, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He made a statement that they were really going to clamp down on the leaks of classified information. Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, was there as well saying if you leak classified information, the government is going to go after you. But don't they also brought in the issue of maybe going after the news media who receive these leaks. How do you see -- how do you see this? Because I know among our journalistic colleagues, it's causing concern.

CEVALLOS: I think the Attorney General is running the risk of overstating their position on leaking. Yes, leaking can be a crime. But at the same time, they're not taking into account two major factors. One is that there is whistleblowing in the public interest that can be lawful. And the second is there's a rampant problem of overclassification going on now, where virtually everything is presumably classified. At some point, there has to be a line drawn, merely because Jeff Sessions declares that everything coming out of the White House or the government is classified does not necessarily make it so and make it criminal.

[17:45:08] BLITZER: Ron Bronstein, let me get your thoughts on this. So, the President, you know, he got some very good jobs numbers today, the unemployment rate going down, what, to 4.3 percent. That's the lowest in years. Another 2 million -- 200,000 jobs created. A million over the past six months. The stock market, those numbers are really doing well. Here's a question to you, a man who studies the polls a lot. The economy seems to be doing well, but his personal approval number in this most recent poll is only 33 percent job approval. Why?

CEVALLOS: Well, I think the improving economy still has the Achilles Heel that it had for President Obama, which is that it is not producing broadly-shared wage growth. And that kind of limits the impact of a higher stock market which tends to affect people more in the upper income and also even the job growth, because, you know, particularly in the places where Trump was strongest are those that feel largely cut out of the job growth.

And also, I think his problems right now in the polls, the reason he is so low really aren't about the economy. I think without question, the biggest single problem he's got is so many voters, his performance has reinforced rather than alleviated their doubts about whether he was personally up to the job by temperament, judgment, qualifications, and experience. And I think you compound that with some of his core constituencies, particularly blue collar and older Whites by the strong negative reaction to the health care bill.

I mean, that Quinnipiac Poll, his strong disapproval among people 50 to 64 who would have been the big losers in bills, both the House and Senate bills, it's doubled since January, his strong disapproval. People are watching the health care fight, Wolf, and in many ways, it contravened what he promised during the campaign, to be a different kind of Republican who'll protect Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid for a low income and middle-income constituency.

BLITZER: Yes, I think I was right, you do study those polls very, very closely. Everybody stick around. There's new details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about a frightening pair of ISIS plots who want to bomb an airliner, the other released poison gas. Could similar plots be targeting the U.S. right now?


[17:51:36] BLITZER: Tonight, we have alarming new details about ISIS plots for a poison gas attack as well as an airline bombing, and it's raising troubling new questions about the group's capability of staging terror attacks far from the Middle East, perhaps even here in the United States. Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, tell our viewers what you're learning.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we've got new information on these plots which were connected. Officials say this indicates that ISIS is getting more sophisticated with its external terror operations and could use some of these techniques on American targets.


TODD: Two terror plots in Australia connected to one another, tonight, show ISIS's growing ambition to strike western targets. Two men living in Sydney have been arrested for trying to bring down a passenger plane with an IED.

MICHAEL PHELAN, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE: This is one of the most sophisticated plots that has ever been attempted on Australian soil.

TODD: Australian officials say the plan was to place a bomb in checked luggage aboard an Etihad Airways plane, but the plotters after getting to the airport aborted the plan. Authorities aren't sure why. Police only got wind of the plan 11 days later. What's new and frightening about this plot is that according to Australian officials, this was a do-it-yourself bomb. They say a senior ISIS commander sent part of the bomb assembled along with other loose parts, including weapons-grade explosives from Turkey to his contacts in Sydney via air cargo.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: This is an Ikea model of terrorism. The fact that they were in touch directly to provide guidance with these plotters in Australia, the complex logistics of the plot, the supply of explosives, the imagination ingenuity that went into it, take ISIS into a whole new ball game when it comes to international terrorism.

TODD: Officials say one of the suspects was going to plant the IED on his own brother who was to be an unsuspecting mule in the attack.

CRUICKSHANK: His plan was for his own brother to bring this device on board, not knowing what it was. The idea being that his brother would have been killed in this attack, sacrificed.

TODD: When the bomb plot didn't work, Australian officials say the alleged terrorists tried to make a device that would release a dangerous chemical in closed spaces, possibly public transportation facilities. The chemical, hydrogen sulfide, a toxic industrial substance that smells like rotten eggs. Hard to make, experts say, and difficult to deploy as a weapon, but potentially deadly.

TODD: What does it do to the body when you breathe it in?

PAUL WALKER, WMD EXPERT, GREEN CROSS INTERNATIONAL: It attacks the respiratory system and eventually the nervous system. In a very small amount, 20, 30, 40 parts per million, would kill you in a few minutes.

TODD: Officials say there's no evidence the device was completed, but tonight, a U.S. homeland security official tells CNN the Australia plots highlight the need to ramp up aviation security in America, and not play whackable with each new threat.


TODD: Now, terrorism experts say you can look for ISIS to continue these types of plots, as the group loses territory on the battle field. They say ISIS will continue to use IEDs, laptop bombs, chemicals, and other weapons on western targets. And they say ISIS will probably get a lot better at evading security. Wolf?

[17:54:48] BLITZER: Pretty scary stuff. Brian Todd reporting. Thank you. There is breaking news we're following a secret trip by Republican staffers from the House Intelligence Committee linked to the Russia investigation. Was it an attempt to interfere with the probe?


BLITZER: Happening now, grand jury subpoenas, the President begins an August get away as the special counsel ramps up his Russia investigation seeking testimony from key witnesses that may include the President's son and son-in-law. We're tracking the widening investigation of the Trump team's defense.

Putin's plan, we are getting new information about the FBI's extensive monitoring of Russian disinformation on Election Day. Was the Kremlin more successful in helping the Trump camp than many people believe?

Smear campaign, the President's National Security Advisor under attack from the right as he clashes with top administration officials, including Mr. Trump. Will General H.R. McMaster's critics force him out?

And you're hired. The President is eager to brag about a new report confirming --