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Two Retiring GOP Senators Blast Trump. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 24, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. "Reckless and outrageous." Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a sharp critic of President Trump, takes to the Senate floor to announce he won't run again in 2018 and, in a blistering speech, accuses the president of undermining American norms and values with reckless and outrageous behavior.
[17:00:43] "Debasing of our nation.: A stunning rebuke of the president from another retiring Republican senator, Bob Corker, who calls President Trump utterly untruthful and says his legacy will be the, quote, "debasing of our nation." Will other Republicans now follow their lead?
Cutting remarks. The president's harsh exchanges with members of his own party come as he makes a push for tax cuts. But are his cutting remarks once again getting in the way of his own agenda?
And Putin's target. A prominent critic of Russia's Vladimir Putin is accused of a notorious and mysterious death. But the American-born whistle-blower accuses Russian officials of trying to silence him with false accusations. So what's behind Putin's aggressive campaign?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. Right in the middle of a stunning escalation of his feud with one Republican senator, President Trump just got a blistering salvo from another Republican senator, Arizona's Jeff Flake, who slammed the president on the Senate floor while announcing he won't run for re-election in 2018.
Flake, a Trump critic who's been attacked repeatedly by the president, said reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior from the top of our government is dangerous to a democracy. He accused the president of the United States of undermining America's norms and values. And that came after the president went to Capitol Hill to talk tax reform with Senate Republicans over lunch.
But there may have been cases of indigestion, as the meal was proceeded today by a breathtaking war of words between the president and Senator Bob Corker, who will also not run again in 2018.
After Corker urged the White House to leave tax reform to the professionals, the president lashed out on Twitter, claiming falsely that Corker helped President Obama with the Iran nuclear deal, adding that Corker couldn't get elected dog catcher in Tennessee.
Corker then let loose in an interview with CNN, saying the president has great difficulty with the truth and lacks even the desire to be competent. Corker said the president's legacy will be, quote, "debasing of our nation."
I'll speak with Republican Congressman Will Hurd of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they are standing by with full coverage.
But let's begin with the breaking news. Truly extraordinary drama today as one retiring Republican senator is now joined by another in a truly stunning series of attacks on the president.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty.
Sunlen, a truly breathtaking turn of events. Take us through it all.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf. A truly remarkable moment in American politics. Arizona's Republican senator, Jeff Flake, announcing today that he will not run for re-election next year, and in doing so, taking to the Senate floor and delivering just a blistering criticism of President Trump; using the words "reckless and outrageous" to describe the president, saying this is someone who has a disregard for the truth; someone whose conduct, he says, is not acceptable for the office that he holds.
And keep in mind, this is a sitting Republican senator saying these things about, of course, a Republican president.
And also Flake offering a critique of Republican leaders up here, saying that they have really stayed silent in the midst of a Trump administration. Here's that emotional address from the floor of the U.S. Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks; the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions; the flagrant disregard for truth and decency; the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons. Reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal.
[17:05:06] We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that that is just the way things are now. If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that it's just -- that it's just politics as usual, then heaven help us.
Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.
Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and dignify -- undignified.
The notion that someone should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and the alliances and as the agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters. The notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.
I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent. I've decided that I would be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.
We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.
This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say the sooner the better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: Just a remarkable speech there on the floor, and he got a standing ovation from some and a round of applause from some in that chamber this afternoon.
Now, the White House, Wolf, in response, they suggested it is time for Flake to retire. Sarah Sanders saying this is a good move, and she called his comments petty today, someone trying to get a headline or two on his way out the door.
Now Flake, in an interview with our colleague Jake Tapper, later went on to say -- admit that he did have a very narrow path to his re- election, given the political climate of late. He says it's not enough to be conservative; you have to be angry about it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks very much. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill.
President Trump's latest personal feuds are eclipsing a move to push ahead with one of his biggest items on his agenda. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, the president is getting in his own way once again. That's what it certainly seems like. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it does,
indeed. I mean, we saw the president there making his first visit to meet with Senate Republicans during their weekly lunch. This whole idea was to sell his tax plan, to rally support for that tax plan, but at the end, all of it was overshadowed by this widening GOP civil war.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump on Capitol Hill today, trying to sell his tax plan and revive the agenda of a fractured Republican Party. But only an hour after leaving with a wave and a smile, Republican Senator Jeff Flake delivered a stinging rebuke of the president.
FLAKE: We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.
ZELENY: Flake's announcement, that he would not seek re-election, and his blunt concession that he's no longer comfortable with Trump's Republican Party...
FLAKE: There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal by mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving into the impulse to scapegoat and belittle -- the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people.
ZELENY: ... came on the same day the Republican picked a new fight with Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. It was an extraordinary moment for a party in power.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called Flake's decision to leave the Senate good news and blasted his speech as inappropriate.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I noticed that a lot of the language I didn't think was befitting of the Senate floor.
ZELENY: She also defended the president's fight with Corker.
SANDERS: He's a fighter. We've said it many times before. The people of this country didn't elect somebody to be weak. They elected somebody to be strong.
[17:10:00] ZELENY: After Corker said in a round of morning television interviews the president should leave details of the tax plan to Congress, Mr. Trump launched a searing attack on Twitter. The president said, "Corker, who couldn't get elected dog catcher in Tennessee, is now fighting tax cuts."
Seven minutes later, the president added, "Corker dropped out of the race in Tennessee when I refused to endorse him and now is only negative on anything Trump. Look at his record."
The senator fired off this rebuttal: "Same untruth from an utterly untruthful president." Hashtag "@AlertTheDaycareStaff". The extraordinary exchange between a Republican president and one of
the party's senior statesman devolved from there. Corker, who also decided against seeking re-election next year, said the president did not refuse to endorse him.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: No, it's not accurate. You know, nothing that he said in his tweets today were truthful nor accurate. And he knows it, and people around him know it. I -- I would hope the staff over there would figure out ways of controlling him.
RAJU: When asked by CNN's Manu Raju if the president is a liar, Corker had this to say.
CORKER: The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues.
RAJU: Asked whether he would support him again, Corker did not hesitate.
CORKER: No way. No way. No, I think that he's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion.
RAJU: Taken together, the decision by Flake, who also has quarreled repeatedly with Mr. Trump, underscored the challenges facing the GOP and potential complications to the president's agenda.
FLAKE: Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and dignify -- and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.
RAJU: The move stunned Republicans and overshadowed discussion of a tax plan the party still hopes will be the one major legislative accomplishment of the year. House Speaker Paul Ryan was among GOP leaders trying to extinguish the unusual and, to many, the unseemly civil war.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So all of this stuff you see on a daily basis on Twitter this and Twitter that, forget about it. Let's focus on helping people...
RAJU: Now, all of these talk of early retirements certainly are putting a smile on the face of Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist here, who an ally said that he called the resignation or the retirement of Jeff Flake as another scalp.
But, Wolf, the question is this. Despite all of their stronger rhetoric, Senator Flake and Senator Corker were reliable voters with this White House, voting with him some 85 to 90 percent of the time. The question is, how do both of these affect the midterm elections and trying to get anything accomplished, particularly that tax reform plan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Very important. Thanks very much. Jeff Zeleny over at the White House.
Let's get some insight now from our specialists. And David Chalian, let me start with you. I want you to listen to Senator Flake calling on his Republican colleagues to not remain silent but to speak out when they see these kinds of abuses going on. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FLAKE: What do we as United States senators have to say about it? The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics. Because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity. I have children and grandchildren to answer to. And so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How extraordinary is it, David, to hear a senator tell his colleagues, "You must not be complicit"?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I can't think of an example of something like this that I've seen.
I mean, on the same day, Wolf, we heard Senator Flake tell his colleagues, "We must stop pretending. We have fooled ourselves long enough." What is different about what Senator Flake did there is that he is doing something different than Corker and McCain. He's challenging his fellow Republicans to take their heads out of the sand.
On the same day that we heard Senator Corker say that the president of the United States is debasing our nation, not living up to the job and showing no ability to turn it around. He's thrown his hands up and basically declared the Trump presidency a failure.
So one senator from the president's party declares the presidency a failure, and the other is urging, with a moral plea to his colleagues, to not ignore what's going on anymore. I've never seen anything like it.
BLITZER: It truly is extraordinary. Everyone stand by for a moment.
Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is joining us right now.
Congressman, thanks very much. Do you share that feeling of obligation to speak out against President Trump and his policies and what he's doing when he goes against your values?
[17:15:11] REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Well, Wolf, I think you and I have had enough conversations that you know that I'm going to agree when I agree and disagree when I disagree. The residents of the 23rd District of Texas elected me to be their representative. And so I'm always going to be honest, and talk about what I believe is important. And so that's -- that's what I stick to. BLITZER: You heard Senator Flake call on your party, the Republican
Party, to defend the values of this nation. So what will you and your colleagues do right now, a critical moment as these other Republican senators are suggesting, to heed that call?
HURD: Well, I think one of the things that we're going to do is we're going to make sure more hardworking taxpayers have more money in their pockets by continuing to do tax reform. We're going to make sure that we continue to have a strong national security.
You know, the fact that, you know, nine months from -- it's been nine months, and we're talking about the defeat of ISIS and looking at how do we, you know, change the tide of problems in Afghanistan. These are the things that I'm focused on.
You know, I've missed some of this back and forth and tit for tat, because I was in a hearing looking at how do we, you know, protect our voting infrastructure from political ads, from outside forces like the Russians?
And so I think for many of us, we're going to continue to do our job that residents sent us up here to do and focus on that.
BLITZER: We're going to get to those -- that Russian interference in the U.S. democracy in just a few moments. But you have spoken out repeatedly here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM, to call on President Trump, for example, to apologize after his remarks about the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell today, they dismissed all these fights. Do you think Republicans, Congressman, are being well-served by their leaders right now, who remain silent in the face of a lot of this outrage?
HURD: Well, I wouldn't -- I don't think I'd necessarily characterize it the way you did, Wolf. I know Speaker Ryan was pretty clear about his opposition after Charlottesville. I think he has spoken out on a number of times. I haven't kept track. But I do think it's important for all of us to do what we think is right and do what the folks that elected us sent us up here to do.
And for me, whether it's a president of my own party or a president of another party, I agree when I agree; I disagree when I disagree. I think that we can learn that we can disagree without being disagreeable. I think that is something that is important and that we've got to show that as an example up here as elected officials. Because if we can't do it, our kids won't be able to do it and our grandkids won't be able to do it.
BLITZER: Yes. I ask the question because the speaker, Paul Ryan, has says -- has said he doesn't have any major disagreements with the president of the United States, which seems to be in marked contrast to what we heard today from these other two Republican senators.
Senator Flake's powerful speech, as you know, follows that very harsh criticism of the president by Senator Bob Corker, who's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He publicly condemned President Trump's impact on national security and foreign policy. His position as a role model for children. He says he's not a role model. And his relationship with the truth. He keeps saying the president is not telling the truth. Do you share those concerns?
HURD: Well, like I said, I didn't hear all of -- all of that, Wolf. I'm sorry. It's a little loud here. And also, I didn't see what he said earlier. But for me when it comes down to it, I'm going to agree on things that I agree on. I'm going to disagree when I don't -- when I disagree. I'm going to stand up for what I think is right and my own brand of conservatism.
I always have to remind people, we didn't elect an emperor. We elected a president, and he is one member of the party. Now he has a pretty big bully pulpit, but the Republican brand is larger than just one -- any one individual. And the fact that we can have this kind of conversation amongst ourselves and, you know, spilling out into the open, I think this is a sign that you can see there's not group think when it comes to the Republican Party.
BLITZER: There certainly isn't.
Senator Corker, Senator Flake, they feel -- they apparently feel they can speak more honestly, now that they're not running for re-election next year. But do you and other Republicans privately share the concerns they expressed? You speak to your fellow Republicans on the House side all the time. Without mentioning names, do they share those concerns?
HURD: Well, look, Wolf, I think most of my colleagues I talk about, you know, they share their opinions. They're not afraid to say it publicly and in private. So, you know, I haven't had those conversations, but I also can't say I can speak for all, what, 247 of my colleagues in the House or the 52 in the Senate.
BLITZER: You held an important hearing today, Congressman, on political ads, on social media. Right now if you see a political ad on Facebook or another platform, you don't know who paid for that ad. Do you believe that should change?
[17:20:10] HURD: Well, I think what we have to remember is we have to separate political advertising from others. And when it comes to express advocacy like "vote for this guy" or "don't vote for that guy" or issue advocacy, "call your congressman and tell them to vote against X, Y or Z," this is regulated by the Federal Elections Act. There's a number of court cases. There's the McCain-Feingold law. And we've got to make sure that political advertisement and political speak, whether it's in old media, new media, is handled the same way.
But one of the areas that we -- we've discussed in this hearing is the Foreign Agent Registration Act, and this says that, you know, Vladimir Putin can't buy or shouldn't be able to buy an ad in -- on broadcast or on print media and say "Don't send -- vote on -- tell your congressman not to send defensive weapons to the Ukrainians."
This is an area that I think we can focus on and make sure that we're addressing the problem of -- of this Russian influence. And we have to remember that political advertising is different from disinformation; and we do need to have a counter disinformation strategy in how we deal with this issue that the Russians have been doing for decades in Europe and are trying to do here in the United States.
Because ultimately, the Russians' goal is to undermine trust in our democratic institutions. And we can't let them get away with that.
BLITZER: But the president says it's all a hoax, this Russian investigation that you and your committee and others are investigating, the special counsel, Robert Mueller. It's also a hoax. What do you say to the president when he says that this is not serious, it's a hoax?
HURD: Well, in my 9 1/2 years as an undercover officer in the CIA, I don't know too many occasions where the NSA, the CIA and the FBI actually agreed upon, you know, a number of analytical judgements. It was clear the Russians attempted to undermine trust in our institutions.
You know, we don't still have enough understanding of the magnitude of some of these social media ads, but we do know that the Russians didn't manipulate the vote counting machines.
So Russian -- Russian activity to try to undergird trust in our institutions is a big deal; and I think many folks within this administration have talked about how Russia is an adversary, not an ally and one of the biggest threats to our country.
You don't hear that from the president of the United States. Other aides, national security aides of his, they speak like you're suggesting. The president does not.
All right. We've got to leave it right there. I know you've got to go vote. Congressman Will Hurd, thanks so much for joining us.
HURD: Always a pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We've got our panel here. We've got a lot to assess. There is breaking news. We'll be right back.
[17:27:20] BLITZER: We're back with our specialists as we cover the breaking news, the truly remarkable blunt and very personal criticism of President Trump today. Not by one but by two retiring Republican senators: Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Gloria, you know, the statement that Flake made, a very passionate speech on the Senate floor followed the very harsh criticism by Senator Corker of the president of the United States. I want you to listen to the exchange the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had with our own Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORKER: I would hope the staff over there would figure out ways of controlling him when they know that everything he said today was absolutely untrue.
RAJU: You said he's an untruthful president.
RAJU: Are you calling -- no question?
CORKER; No question. I don't -- we grew up in our family not using the "l" word, OK? But, yes, just, I mean, they're provable untruths. Unfortunately, I think world leaders are very aware that much of what he says is untrue.
RAJU: Is the president of the United States a liar?
CORKER: The president has great difficulty with the truth. On many issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So, Gloria, other Republicans, 52 Republicans in the United States Senate, most of them attended this luncheon with the president today. Do a lot of them share the view of Senator Corker, Senator Flake?
BORGER: Think of what a stunning day this was. They went into that luncheon with the president, Wolf, and they applauded him. They didn't discuss the elephant in the room. At that point, there was only one elephant in the room, not two. They knew about the Corker statements. They applauded the president. Didn't discuss it.
They come out. Jeff Flake goes to the Senate floor and just laces in not only to the senators whom he calls complicit and the Republican leaders, but it was an indictment of Trumpism.
And I was compiling a bunch of words today that the president has effectively been called. Now, Senator Corker wouldn't call him a liar, but he did call him a liar. He was called -- Donald Trump was called today unstable, venal, immature, dangerous, reckless and undignified. Those are my words. Some of them I share with -- with the speech that Senator Flake gave.
This was an unbelievable day, where a sitting president of the United States was called all of these things, was told that he was dangerous; and -- and two sitting senators said that the president of the United States lies. Not only to the American public, but to foreign leaders, and as a result it has put our country in peril.
And those senators go in that room, and they applaud the president. Because what is important to these senators is that they want to get tax reform done. [17:30:11] And Flake made the point, "How important is your agenda when it comes to larger issues about the presidency or the values of this country?" And I don't know that anything will change as a result of this, but I certainly think this is an historic moment in our -- in our nation's history. Certainly nothing that we have ever -- have ever witnessed.
BLITZER: You know, Bianna, the -- Senator Flake said he will not be, in his words, complicit or silent. The implication being, of course, that other Republicans are right now being complicit and silent in the face of all of this. And the reaction we did hear from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, they did not -- they said you've got to move on and talk about big issues. They really didn't even want to address these charges by their fellow Republicans.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Yes, I think Senator McConnell's reaction to Senator Flake, that was the most emotional -- Gloria, we were talking about this earlier -- for McConnell.
GOLODRYGA: That was the most emotional we've seen him. This clearly took him by surprise, as well. You could see that he sympathized and probably maybe part of him envied the fact that Senator Flake would -- could be so honest.
Clearly Senator McConnell has his own agenda, but looking at just this past year, they've not been able to pass any legislation with this president. Why they think within the next few weeks, given everything else that's going on, given the fact that the president seems to undermine them every single day via Twitter, why they think that they're going to be able to get tax reform done if they can't get health reform done is beyond me.
Something else that struck me, though, when you heard Senator Flake, was this normalization. It's not normal, what we've seen transpire in this country over the past year, what we've seen transpire in Washington. It is not normal for a president to get into a fight with a Gold Star family. It is not normal for a president to be belittling people via Twitter within his own party, whether or not they're in his own party or not. It's just something we've never seen before.
And I think what was striking was what we heard from both Senator Corker earlier in his interview with Manu Raju and what we heard from Senator Flake in his interview with Jake Tapper, was that both Republican senators, when asked, said this president is not a role model for children in this country. That is quite striking and that, you know, in a sense is heartbreaking. The president of the United States not to be a role model for people within his own party? I can't imagine Democrats being able to say that with past presidents of other parties.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No doubt that Mitch McConnell was emotional. I saw him speak on the floor. But he's emotional...
BLITZER: After Senator Flake.
CHALIAN: ... because Senator Flake is a dearly loved fellow conservative in the Senate. He is well-respected among his colleagues. I have no doubt that Mitch McConnell was emotional.
What he's not is actually heeding Senator Flake's words in any way. If you look at McConnell's statement and Paul Ryan's statement afterwards, I mean, the most McConnell said was, "I appreciated hearing his words." That doesn't sound to me like Mitch McConnell was sort of woken up into leading his conference in a different way to respond to the criticisms that Corker and Flake are putting forward.
I agree with Gloria. I think this is not going to change much at all. Sarah Sanders is absolutely right when she says from the White House podium that Bob Corker and Jeff Flake are in a different place from where the Republican voters are, primary voters in their states. They were likely, potentially, to lose those elections. They are out of touch with the party.
And Mitch McConnell understands where his -- where all of his voters are and his members' voters are, which is why I don't think you see him sort of joining Jeff Flake's cause, no matter how emotional he may be with the good-bye.
BORGER: I think Jeff Flake said that he isn't in the same place as the voters. He knows that. He basically admitted that he was going to lose. And he's kind of hopeful that this shall pass. But he made the case that the voters determine what occurs in congressional and in Senate races. And he knew that he was, what, at 18 percent in the polls. He knew that he wasn't going to win.
So, you know, he got out rather than run that kind of a race, because he said he wouldn't be true to his values the way he'd have to run.
BLITZER: Bianna, go ahead.
GOLODRYGA: No, and I'm not saying that, in any way, the administration is going to change or we're going to see much change in the larger -- in the larger picture within the party. I think, in fact, I think the president and the administration may be emboldened by what they saw.
These two senators went after the president. The president went after him, and now they're both gone. In the president's eyes, he won. But the question is, he won the battle. What about the war? What legislation are they going to be able to pass? And what happens if these senators are replaced by Democrats?
BLITZER: They're not gone yet. They're both going to be United States senators for 14 months.
GOLODRYGA: Well, they've got another year, exactly.
BLITZER: They're not going to run for re-election, but still January 2019, they're going to be United States senators.
[17:35:03] There's much more to assess. We're following the breaking news. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with our specialists. And Gloria, Senator Corker, who's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, well-plugged-in on all things national security, international relations. Listen to what he said, because he suggested that the president of the United States has an impact, of course, on global policy...
[17:40:04] BORGER: Sure.
BLITZER: ... that is potentially a very dangerous man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think the president is a threat to national security?
CORKER: I think that there are people around him that work in an effort to contain him. That would be Secretary Mattis and Tillerson and General Kelly there as chief of staff.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, that almost seems to accept the premise of the question, if he needs to be contained?
CORKER: I do think when you have the kind of issue we're dealing with in North Korea, where we have a very unstable leader there, when you send out tweets into the region to raise tensions, when you knee cap, which is what he's done publicly -- when you knee cap your secretary of state, whose diplomacy you have to depend upon to really bring China to the table to do the things that need to be done, back channeling in some cases to North Korea. When you knee cap that effort, you really move our country into a binary choice which could lead to a world war.
So, yes, I want him to support diplomatic efforts. Not embarrass and really malign efforts that are underway to try to -- to try to get some kind of diplomatic solution here, and I think most people would agree with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What does it say, Gloria, when the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Republican, says the Republican president of the United States could lead the U.S. to World War III, as he said before. Suggested it once again today. It represents a threat to U.S. national security.
BORGER: So the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee believes that the president of the United States is dangerous. That's what it says. It says that he believes that this president could get us involved in a world war.
And this is coming from a Republican. This is not coming from Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, for that matter. This is coming from Bob Corker.
This is not because the president said that he couldn't get elected dog catcher. This is because he knows something about foreign policy. He clearly talks to the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, very much. They are close. And I think what we are seeing in that is the chairman channeling the secretary of state here, probably through the conversations that they've had privately.
CHALIAN: You know, and this is why it's so important, Wolf, of what you said before. There are 14 months left. He's not -- Bob Corker's not leaving Congress next week.
So think about how the -- the person who's in charge of America's foreign policy from the legislative branch, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is going to work with the person who is in charge of our foreign policy, the executive branch, the president of the United States. Over the next 14 months with some very serious challenges facing us. And they're clearly not on the same page, and by Bob Corker's telling today, he doesn't think they're capable of getting on the same page.
BORGER: And, by the way, Rex Tillerson probably won't be around for as long as Bob Corker's going to be around.
BLITZER: You know, Bianna, I just want to point out, Rex Tillerson, all this follows Rex Tillerson reportedly calling the president of the United States a moron over the summer.
It follows former president George W. Bush, without mentioning the president by name, a very serious critique of the president by the former president, Republican, as well. Senator John McCain also bitterly critical. None of this is happening in a vacuum.
GOLODRYGA: None of this is happening in a vacuum at home, and you have to remember that all of our allies and our adversaries abroad are watching what's happening here, as well.
And Senator Corker, when he says that the president knee-caps the secretary of state, that says something, because there is a protocol that traditionally foreign leaders, foreign dignitaries speak to certain people. They go to either the president, the secretary of state. Who do they talk to in certain situations? The secretary of defense.
Here they see sort of this hodgepodge of different policy being thrown out left, right and center, sometimes via Twitter, and you can understand why it's jarring for our allies, potentially an opening for our adversaries. And thus I think that's what Senator Corker was talking about, that it puts us in this unstable position where you don't know whether or not you can rely upon the United States to come to your aid.
And also, they don't know -- foreign leaders don't know whether they can rely on the president's word. And that's important. Because if they can't trust the president's word, because as we've heard from these senators, that believe that he has a strange relationship with the truth, as in he lies, well, then what do they have? If you can't listen to Rex Tillerson because he doesn't speak for the president, then who do you trust when it comes to our foreign policy?
BLITZER: You know, I want you to point out what a truly extraordinary day this has been.
CHALIAN: Wolf, no matter what happens in terms of outcomes out of this or the fallout, this is a day for history books.
Starting with this morning, seeing Bob Corker, senior statesman in the Republican Party, out on the morning shows blasting the president, followed by these amazing set of words he put together in his roaming interview with Manu Raju.
You then come in the afternoon and you have Jeff Flake trying to grab his party by the lapels, saying he's not going to stick around for this because he has to answer to his children and grandchildren, and that he believes his colleagues are being complicit in something that is dangerous for the country.
This will go down in the history books, no matter what or if nothing comes of it.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Everybody, stick around. There is a lot more to assess.
Also coming up, a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin now faces accusations in a mysterious and notorious death. He's not only -- he not only denies it. He says it's an attempt by Putin's government to shut him up.
[17:50:26] BLITZER: President Trump was supposed to impose new sanctions on Russia back on October 1st. So far, the administration has not done so.
In the meantime, a prominent critic of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, now stands accused of a notorious and mysterious death. But William Browder contends Russian officials are trying to silence him by making false accusations.
CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into the story for us.
What are you finding out, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we have obtained documents from Vladimir Putin's prosecutors on their efforts to target Bill Browder.
Putin is furious with Browder because Browder exposed an alleged fraud scheme involving Putin and his cronies.
Tonight, Bill Browder is, again, taking measures to protect his own safety, fearful of Putin's long reach.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Vladimir Putin has a well-known whistle- blower in his crosshairs. A man who has exposed Putin's alleged corruption.
WILLIAM BROWDER, FORMER BOSS OF SERGEI MAGNITSKY: In Putin's Russia, there are no good guys.
TODD (voice-over): Russian prosecutors are claiming that this man, American-born financier, Bill Browder, conspired to murder Sergei Magnitsky, an investigative lawyer who Browder had, himself, hired to blow open a tax fraud scheme worth hundreds of millions of dollars benefiting people linked to Putin.
BROWDER: I think it's totally absurd. It shows that Putin has effectively lost his mind, and he's totally rattled about the Magnitsky Act.
TODD (voice-over): The Magnitsky Act is an American law, spearheaded by Bill Browder, which sanctioned individual Russians close to Putin. Putin is furious over it.
MATTHEW ROJANSKY, DIRECTOR OF THE KENNAN INSTITUTE, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: He takes very seriously the threat to his economic interests.
TODD (voice-over): Browder, who once ran a hedge fund in Russia, hired Magnitsky because Browder believed Russian officials were ripping him off.
After Magnitsky exposed that tax fraud scheme, Magnitsky was jailed. He got sick in a Moscow prison and died in 2009, Browder believes, because Russian officials purposefully didn't care for him.
BROWDER: Sergei Magnitsky is dead. He suffered terribly and is dead because he was my lawyer.
TODD (voice-over): Putin and his aides have repeatedly denied Browder's allegations. And now, they claim Magnitsky's death was all Browder's idea.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): Underneath are the criminal activities of an entire gang, led by one particular man. I believe Browder is his name.
TODD (voice-over): CNN has obtained, from Bill Browder, a letter from a top Russian prosecutor to justice officials in Moscow, asking them to investigate Browder and an unidentified person employed by the British intelligence agency, MI6, accusing them of a, quote, criminal plan to take actions aimed at the termination of rendering medical care to S.L. Magnitsky.
ROJANSKY: It's also absurd because of the implication which Russians themselves would deny, that somehow MI6 or Bill Browder are able to control what Russian prison officials do. How exactly would that work?
TODD (voice-over): When we interviewed Browder recently, he spoke of being targeted by the Kremlin in an even more menacing way.
What are the security threats you have received?
BROWDER: They've -- the Russian government has made numerous death threats against me. They want to kill me. They would like to kidnap me. They would like to have me arrested and sent back to Russia.
TODD (voice-over): The Kremlin denies wanting Browder dead.
TODD: Now, CNN got no immediate response from the British intelligence agency, MI6, to the Russian prosecutor's allegations.
We also reached out here in Washington and in Moscow to Russian officials to ask them what specific evidence they have against Bill Browder and MI6, tying them to the death of Sergei Magnitsky.
We didn't immediately get a response to that, but Vladimir Putin has called Browder's charges of corruption against him garbage -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, this isn't the first time that Putin's gone after Bill Browder with legal action, right?
TODD: That's right, Wolf. Putin and his regime has accused Browder of committing financial crimes in Russia. They've even convicted him, in absentia, of those allegations.
He refutes those charges, but the Russians have now issued five Interpol arrest notices for Bill Browder. They are trying to get him captured and bring him back to Russia where Browder believes they're going to kill him if they get him.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. All right, Brian, thank you very much.
Coming up, there's breaking news. Two Republican senators have had enough of President Trump. Both will not run for re-election and both deliver blistering attacks on the President, saying he's debasing the United States and undermining American values.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:55:02] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Speaking freely. Republican Senator Jeff Flake unleashes a searing takedown of President Trump on the Senate floor. As Flake announces he won't seek re-election, he reproaches the
President's behavior as reckless, outrageous, and undignified and warns against Republican complicity. Will other GOP lawmakers now follow Flake's lead?