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State Department Warns of Violence Ahead of Trump Jerusalem Decision; Senate Judiciary Dems Call for Trump Jr. Subpoena; White House Won't Say When Trump Knew Flynn Lied to FBI; New Wildfires Burning as Tens of Thousands Evacuate; U.S. Troops Prepare for Unrest Over Trump's Jerusalem Move. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 5, 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. Recognition and rage. President Trump is expected to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sparking Palestinian calls for three days of rage. And now the State Department is warning Americans of potential violence. Is President Trump quashing hopes for peace talks in order to keep a campaign promise?

[17:00:26] Raging wildfires. Gail-force winds are fueling multiple fires burning out of control right now in Southern California. Thousands of people are evacuating as tens of thousands of acres burn and the forecasts for fire crews is dire.

Seeking subpoenas. Senate Democrats are demanding Donald Trump Jr. be subpoenaed to answer more questions from the Judiciary Committee, where a partisan rift over its Russia investigation is growing. I'll talk to a key member of that panel, Senator Richard Blumenthal.

And tweeting for intel. The head of the CIA says President Trump's controversial tweets are actually yielding valuable intelligence as U.S. adversaries respond to the president's insults. And now Mr. Trump's former chief of staff says for every tweet published there are many more that aren't. Is the president actually holding back?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including the White House all but confirming that President Trump will soon officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The expected announcement is raising fear of violent protests as Palestinian factions call for days of rage.

We just got word from the Pentagon that some U.S. troops are being repositioned to areas of potential unrest, including Marines who specialize in protecting U.S. embassies.

We're also following the unfolding fire emergency in Southern California where multiple blazes are burning out of control, fueled by winds up to 60 miles an hour. Some 27,000 people have been ordered to evacuate. About 150 homes and buildings have already been destroyed, and the forecast calls for the warm, dry winds to continue for days. And the White House is dodging questions about when President Trump

knew former national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about contacts with Russian officials. Mr. Trump cited that in a surprising tweet as one of the reasons he fired Flynn, sparking questions about whether the president was obstructing justice when he allegedly asked the FBI director to stop investigating Flynn. The White House now attributes that tweet to President Trump's personal lawyer.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Richard Blumenthal of the judiciary and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

But first, let's go straight to the White House. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us with the latest.

Jim, lots of questions there about the president's backing of Roy Moore and his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. A lot to answer for over here at the White House. President Trump is claiming there is unity in the Republican Party like never before, but it sure doesn't seem that way when it comes to Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate race.

The president, as you mentioned, is also weighing another divisive move in the Middle East, where U.S. allies are warning Mr. Trump he could be inflaming tensions in the region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president is on the verge of announcing another controversial move, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a decision that could rock the Middle East peace process. The governments of France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have all raised objections, noting that the Palestinians recognize East Jerusalem as their capital.

A spokesman for King Abdullah of Jordan said in a statement the king affirmed that the decision will have serious implications that will undermine efforts to resume the peace process and will provoke Muslims and Christians alike.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president, I would say, is pretty solid in his thinking.

ACOSTA: On the domestic front, President Trump isn't backing down. He's tripping down on Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't want to have a liberal Democrat in Alabama, believe me. We want strong borders. We want stopping crime. We want to have the things that we represent. And we certainly don't want to have a liberal Democrat that's controlled by Nancy Pelosi and controlled by Chuck Schumer. ACOSTA: Sitting next to Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who has

sharply criticized the president and is against a Moore candidacy, Mr. Trump insisted all is well inside the GOP.

TRUMP: We're all on the same page. There's a great spirit in the Republican Party like I've never seen before, like a lot of people have said they've never seen before. They've never seen anything like this, the unity.

ACOSTA: Don't tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who's called on Moore to step aside.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: There's been no change of heart. I had hoped earlier he would withdraw as a candidate. That obviously is not going to happen. If he were to be elected, he would immediately have an Ethics Committee case, and the committee would take a look at the situation and gives us advice.

[17:05:08] ACOSTA: And conservative firebrand Steve Bannon, who's backing Moore.

STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS: We backed off the Republican establishment that was prepared to toss this seat to the Democrats.

ACOSTA: Bannon and the Moore campaign are portraying the Alabama Republican as accused of child molestation as the victim.

JANET PORTER, MOORE CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: I side, instead of with the lynch mob media, instead of the Democrat liberals, instead of the convicted felons that George Soros is now -- is now registering to vote, I side with the man who stood for the Ten Commandments, who stood for God, who stood for his principles, has an impeccable character.

ACOSTA: The president's decision to endorse Moore comes at a critical time for the GOP.

(on camera): How can that vote in the Senate be that important that you would take a gamble on somebody who has been accused of molesting kids?

SANDERS: I think that's something, as I've said...

ACOSTA: Of who was underage.

SANDERS: As I've said, that's something for the people of Alabama to decide. And that's up for them.

ACOSTA: Is that something the president as wrestled with in any way? Has he wrestled with that question?

SANDERS: As I said, we find the allegations very troubling, and again, this is up to the people of Alabama to make that decision. I'm not a voter in Alabama and can't make that decision.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The other headache for the White House: the Russia investigation. One day after an outside lawyer for the president said Mr. Trump could not be guilty of obstruction of justice because he's in charge of the Justice Department, White House attorney Ty Cobb suggested a different legal strategy. Cobb said the president's team would mount what he described as "a definitely fact- based defense."

But the president would not answer a critical question he's facing: what to do about his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after he pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you plan to pardon General Flynn, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now as for Roy Moore, a GOP source close to the White House said there is still a debate inside the West Wing over whether endorsing the Alabama Republican is a good idea. As this source put it, there are those who share Ivanka Trump's view that there is a special place in hell for people who molest children.

And Wolf, we should point out Jeff Flake, who you saw earlier in the piece, he just tweeted a picture of a check he has written for $100 for Roy Moore's opponent in the campaign down in Alabama, Doug Jones -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. All right. Jim Acosta over at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on the president's expected decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Some Palestinian factions are encouraging protests that they're calling days of rage, prompting a State Department warning to Americans in the region.

Let's go to CNN's Ian Lee. He's joining us now from Jerusalem.

Ian, how much concern is there about this potential announcement by the president?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a lot of concern from leaders across the region because, frankly, we're going into uncharted waters when it comes to this. The United States making a big move potentially going -- moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

We know that President Trump likes to fancy himself as a deal-maker, but if he does go forward with this, this could break the deal. We've talked to a number of Palestinians who said that if the U.S. goes forward that they don't see the U.S. as a credible partner for peace. Basically, telling the United States to take a seat and move to the sidelines.

And so there's concern with the peace process in general. Could it go forward? But then you have to look at the neighboring countries, too. And they're very concerned for any sorts of violence that they could see in their capitals across their countries.

And that's why, Wolf, we've had every key ally of the United States, apart from Israel, call the president, talk to the president today and try to convince him otherwise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What specific security precautions, Ian, are underway tonight? Not only where you are but throughout the region?

LEE: Well, that's right. U.S. diplomatic missions have increased security ahead of any announcement. We're also hearing that U.S. troops have been positioned near countries where there could be unrest to help back up the embassies in the event that something happens.

The State Department is taking this very seriously, because they've experienced things like this before. In 2012 when the Cairo embassy was attacked by protesters and protesters were able to get over the wall. And then, of course, you have the incident in Benghazi.

So U.S. diplomatic missions definitely on alert for any potential backlash, and we do know that there has been scheduled three days of protests here in Jerusalem and around the West Bank.

BLITZER: Yes, the president will be delivering his formal speech on this entire very sensitive issue tomorrow here in Washington. Ian Lee in Jerusalem, thanks very much.

Let's talk a little bit more about all of this and more with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: You, too.

BLITZER: So what do you make of this apparent decision by the president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital? And apparently at some point -- we don't know when -- to move the U.S. embassy formally from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

[17:10:07] BLUMENTHAL: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and I've long supported acknowledging that simple fact. And so has Congress. Repeatedly, in fact, as recently as earlier this year.

But there have to be meaningful negotiations to advance the progress of peace. And that includes secure borders for Israel and a two-state solution. The question now really is one of timing. You've just alluded to it, whether, in fact, the United States embassy is moved and how it's moved and, most important, will the United States really pursue meaningful negotiation?

BLITZER: Is this the right time, though, for the president of the United States to be making this dramatic announcement because, as you know, back in 1995, Congress passed legislation, reluctantly signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton that would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with one caveat, there was a waiver, every six months a president could sign that waiver saying for national security reasons, the move was being delayed. And every president since then, over 20 years, every six months like clockwork signed that waiver.

BLUMENTHAL: As you know from expertly reporting on it for so many years, this issue is very fraught in the Middle East. The question is whether it will lead to better chances for a successful negotiation or whether it will, in fact, impede it among our allies there.

We have to make sure that others come to the table, as well. And the fact is that signing the waiver has been done repeatedly. And now may be done again so that the actual move of the United States embassy may be delayed again.

BLITZER: But it's interesting. The deadline for signing that waiver, President Trump signed it on June 1. That's when it came up. He was supposed to sign it by December 1. It's a few days later. He still hasn't signed it, as far as we know, which means that, you know, he's presumably going to be moving that embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

How concerned are you -- you're on the Armed Services Committee -- are you about a violent reaction to the United States if, in fact, this move goes forward?

BLUMENTHAL: I'm deeply concerned about the threat of terrorist reaction and, more fundamentally, the reaction on the street. The reaction of the people who compose the population of our allies. I think we need to be on the alert, both here and abroad.

But we also, again, need to focus on negotiations. Ultimately, the peace process has to be revived toward a two-state solution and secure borders for Israel.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Russia investigation right now. The chairman of your committee, the Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, he's been asked to subpoena Donald Trump Jr. to testify before your committee. He's already agreed to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committee. What do you hope to learn from Donald Trump Jr.?

BLUMENTHAL: Donald Trump Jr. engaged in conversations with WikiLeaks that indicated he knew about the stolen e-mails, those e-mails that were, in fact, taken illegally from the Clinton campaign.

I want to know, from him under oath, how he knew about those stolen e- mails, whether he knew at the time he was exchanging messages with WikiLeaks, and why he continued to talk to WikiLeaks which is, in effect, a foreign intelligence service, abetted by other countries, including the Russians.

And that's why I've written to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Grassley, asking that Donald Trump be subpoenaed. And there was one more point here, and that is that we learned about these exchanges with WikiLeaks during interviews that were conducted with Donald Trump Jr., and we received the exchanges only after those interviews. So we have a lot of questions for him. BLITZER: But he will testify, taken behind closed doors before the

House and Senate Intelligence Committees. But they're not willing to share the transcripts of those interviews with you, right? The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chairman Burr, says he's not going to share it with the Judiciary Committee. Why is that?

BLUMENTHAL: I can't explain why Chairman Burr has reached this decision, but the most important point is that he should testify in public so the American people can share in what he knows. And that's why I've asked for...

BLITZER: So you want Grassley to subpoena him to testify in public, Donald Trump Jr., before your committee. What is the chairman saying?

BLUMENTHAL: So far we've received no response. I hope he will agree that he should be subpoenaed to testify, not only under oath but in public. And he will be asked about those exchanges with WikiLeaks, which bear directly on the issue of collusion with Russia, involving the Trump campaign, but also obstruction of justice, which is within our purview.

BLITZER: Why would Senator Grassley, the chairman of the committee, not want an open hearing from Donald -- with Donald Trump Jr.?

[17:15:04] BLUMENTHAL: Chairman Grassley has been a really straight shooter when it comes to uncovering any kind of whistle blowing or wrongdoing within the government. I'm very hopeful that he'll agree that we should have Donald Trump and Jared Kushner and others testify under oath, because flowing directly from the Flynn guilty plea, which was a shattering moment for the Trump presidency, the question now is, what did they know and when did they know it about obstruction of justice? Not only Flynn but also Pence, Kushner and others in the administration.

BLITZER: You want the vice president of the United States to testify, as well?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I want answers to some of the questions that logically flow from the Flynn guilty plea, such as what did he know about Flynn's contacts with the Russians during the transition when he was a very key figure?

BLITZER: You're talking about the vice president.

BLUMENTHAL: Exactly.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. There's multiple breaking stories we're following. We're going to continue our interview with Senator Blumenthal right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:22] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The White House now dodging questions about when President Trump knew former national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about contacts with Russian officials. Mr. Trump said in a tweet that was one of the reasons he fired Flynn.

Critics say that could be evidence of possible obstruction of justice by the president when he allegedly asked the FBI director at the time, James Comey, to stop investigating Flynn.

We're back with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.

Very interesting: today at the White House briefing Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, was asked if the president is going to be releasing now, finally, his tax returns. She suggested the answer is no.

But your committee, you're looking into some of the financial information that may be related to this entire investigation. What are you looking for?

BLUMENTHAL: There's a credible case of obstruction of justice against Donald Trump. And his acknowledgement in a tweet over the weekend that he knew that Michael Flynn had lied when he fired Jim Comey, when he asked Comey to go lightly on Flynn, when he fired Sally Yates, when he reached out to Dan Coats and asked the intelligence community to, in effect, dispense with its investigation. There is mounting available, publicly, evidence that, in fact, Donald Trump should be investigated for obstruction of justice and that there is a credible case against him.

And so it's the principle of follow the money. The subpoena for Deutsche Bank is extremely important today from the special counsel, because it indicates that he is pursuing the possibility that those loans from Deutsche Bank to Donald Trump, $364 million from Deutsche Bank to Donald Trump, some of it involved in building that hotel or renovating it in Washington, may be involved in this issue. And...

BLITZER: Because the White House today, Sarah Sanders, she -- she said that Jay Sekulow, one of the president's private attorneys, checked; and they were told by Deutsche Bank, according to the White House, there was no subpoena for any such thing.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, there are reliable reports of a subpoena. If it isn't today, it's likely to be forthcoming because of that principle, follow the money.

Deutsche Bank himself is involved in an investigation by the Department of Justice into about about $10 billion of possible money laundering, some of it involving Russian assets. So there are various connections involving Russian assets, loans to Donald Trump and an investigation by the Department of Justice of Deutsche Bank that connect these threads. And that's very important for both our investigation on the Judiciary Committee and the special counsel.

Then one more point here that's very important. Donald Trump has established a kind of red line, in effect saying, "Do not investigate my business interests." So we may see some very strong pushback if, in fact, there is this subpoena that can be made public relating to Deutsche Bank. And that's why the Judiciary Committee must now pursue legislation to protect special counsel. BLITZER: But are you suggesting that there could be obstruction of justice against the president because of money?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, whatever the reasons, right now we know that there's evidence he wanted Jim Comey to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn. He's acknowledged, basically, that he knew that Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI, had committed a felony. And he was asking Jim Comey to go lightly on him and then fired Comey when he wouldn't.

But the reason why protection now of the special counsel is so important is, in fact, that there may be this pushback and an attempt to interfere politically with the special counsel's investigation and even to fire the special counsel. And I'm going to be advocating -- Chairman Grassley, mark up that legislation. Move it to the floor of the Senate so that there can be no firing or political interference with the special counsel.

BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for coming in.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: We have more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, a live update on the rapidly spreading wildfires in Southern California. Tens of thousands are under orders to evacuate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:29:20] BLITZER: We're following breaking news in California where an outbreak of wildfires has forced tens of thousands to evacuate. The governor, Jerry Brown, declaring a state of emergency this morning. One of the most dangerous and destructive fires in Ventura County, just northwest of Los Angeles, has burned about 78 square miles in less than a day.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is on the scene for us over there. Paul, is there any hope of containing the flames anytime soon?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is some hope out there, because you can see right where I'm standing, you don't see the smoke anymore, and the wind has died down ever so slightly. Look behind me at what this fire did, Wolf. It just came tearing through this part of Ventura, California.

These are all million -- multimillion dollar homes with ocean views. And when the fire just started hauling through here, what it would do is consume one home and then skip off to the next. The embers floating through the air.

[17:30:11] They had an estimate of 150 structures burned. They said 50,000 acres. It's always difficult for them to fight a fire and then update those numbers. These chimneys are symbols of homes lost. When these fires tear through like this, they'll leave the chimney standing.

And you can see where we are right here, Wolf, in this part of the foothill neighborhood of Ventura alone, we can count 15 structures completely burned to the ground.

Mass evacuations here: 27,000 people told to get out as fast as they could. Many just leaving everything behind. I mean, you can tell that's the burned-out carcass of what used to be an RV, and that house, we've seen people walk through here, look at the house, put their hands over their mouth, sort of shake their head and leave knowing that what they had is completely gone, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very, very sad. All right. We'll stay in close touch with you, Paul. Thanks very much. The fires out in California.

We're also following other breaking news here in Washington, indeed across the Middle East right now. U.S. troops have been repositioned closer to countries where angry demonstrations are likely tomorrow if, as expected, President Trump announces the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Let's bring in our specialists. And Phil Mudd, let me start with you. Are you worried that this decision by the president if he announces it tomorrow as expected, will trigger some violence against the United States?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM: Of course. Whether or not you like the decision, you have to be worried about it. Let's look at a fact or two.

No. 1, if you look at recent polling data going to last year, 80-plus percent of residents of the Arab world see the United States, not Russia, not China, but the United States as a threat to their countries in the range of 80 percent-plus percent of residents in those Arab countries.

And now what do you think they're going to say when they see the United States make this move? They're going to say the U.S. pretends to be an arbitrator between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This proves that they cannot be an arbitrator.

One final thought, Wolf. What I'm really worried about is visuals. For example, going back to the detention scandal in Iraq, when people really focused on that, they remember the visuals of those prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison.

I'm worried about construction in Jerusalem. I'm worried about celebrations among Israelis about this event. I'm worried about major U.S. staff in Jerusalem. When those images go across the Arab world and the Muslim world, I'm afraid people are going to get out in the streets not just in Israel but in other countries.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, we're told that the president repeatedly during the campaign, you well remember, he often said he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Listen to what he told me during the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Will you recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The answer is yes, I would.

BLITZER: When? How quickly after you become...

TRUMP: Very quickly. I mean, it's a process, but fairly quickly. I mean...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This would be fairly quickly, what, almost a year into his presidency if, in fact, he goes through with this tomorrow.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, it would. And I think one of the reasons he's doing it, Wolf, is because he made that promise. And Kevin Letac (ph), one of our White House correspondents, says that this is the rationale he is giving to foreign leaders when he talks to them and they push back on this and tell him about -- you know, talk to him about the obvious downsides of all of this.

He says, "Look, this is what I promised during the campaign, and I have to do it."

This is a president who is very concerned about losing his base, Wolf. He's got, what is he, 35 percent approval now? He's worried that his base was unhappy with him on health care. He got his tax bill through the Senate. Still has a -- still has a way to go.

So I think before he reaches a year in office he wants to tick off a bunch of things, and I think this was one of the things he was very vocal about on the campaign.

BLITZER: And legally, if he does make this move, recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, there would be ramifications from the U.S. perspective immediately.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And, you know, you can be sympathetic to this effort by the president. Other campaign -- other presidential campaigns, George W. Bush promised that he would do it, though he didn't.

Israel is, I mean, Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Anyone who's been there knows that. The question is, what do you accomplish by designating it? What do you accomplish by moving the embassy, other than inflaming tensions? Yes, it's good to meet a campaign promise, but what are you -- what is the advantage in the region to American foreign policy? That's a lot less clear.

BLITZER: For two decades, as you know, Phil, every U.S. president, whether President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, and even President Trump six months into his presidency, they all signed this waiver saying that they would not move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for national security concerns.

Now, at least as of this moment, he was supposed to have signed it by Monday, President Trump has not yet apparently signed that waiver.

[17:35:17] MUDD: Sure. And I think there's a clear reason why, and that is let's look at the air gap between what he says and what he does.

If you look, for example, at what happened on transgender policy, the president, like in this issue, is playing to a base. He promised things to that base during the election. He talked about changes in transgender policy. What has happened since then, Wolf? And that's been a fair amount of time. Not very much, and people don't talk about it.

In this case, he's making announcements about policy change. He's not actually talking about a physical change in the embassy yet. I want to see follow-up here.

And the real bottom-line question, the reason people that signed those waivers before is they said, is the United States better off or worse off by transferring the embassy? As Jeff said, what do we accomplish? I think the president's going to have to look in the mirror and say, "I can talk tough, but I don't know what we're accomplishing beyond violence by moving the embassy."

BLITZER: The devil will be in the details. We'll see exactly what he announces tomorrow.

All right, guys, everybody stand by. There's other breaking news in the Mueller investigation just coming in. We'll resume our special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:50] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now. Look at these pictures coming in. New wildfires breaking out north of Los Angeles where at least 78 square miles have burned since Monday. Tens of thousands of people have already been forced to evacuate. Much more on that coming up.

Also breaking, we've just learned that an attorney for Rick Gates -- he was indicted along with Paul Manafort in the special counsel's Russia probe -- said federal prosecutors have told him that more charges called superseding indictments may be coming.

Let's get back to our specialists.

What does that mean, you know, as we watch all of this unfold, Jeffrey, what does that mean, superseding indictments?

TOOBIN: Well, a superseding indictment is an additional charge. More charges added to the original indictment. It seems clear in an environment like this that they -- the Mueller team is increasing the pressure on Rick Gates to cooperate.

Obviously, he is a less appealing target than Paul Manafort is. He's not as famous. He's not as central to the larger investigation. Getting him to flip, plead guilty and cooperate is certainly a goal of the Mueller operation, and this is a way of increasing the pressure on him.

BORGER: And don't forget Gates's relationship to Paul Manafort. They're very close.

BLITZER: He was his deputy.

TOOBIN: Right.

BORGER: He was his deputy, but he -- but he worked for him in private -- in private business. Gates understood both the campaign and the -- and the White House. And so I think that Jeff is right. I think they are trying to put some pressure on him. As we can tell by the way they're talking to them about their bail, et cetera. They've been very, very strong.

TOOBIN: And what this means is, if he goes to trial and if he's convicted, after a superseding indictment, he will be facing an even longer possible prison term.

BLITZER: So basically, what we're hearing, Phil Mudd, is that the lawyer representing Gates is being told, "If you think what your client is going through right now is bad, just wait, because there's a lot more; and maybe you should think about cooperating, flipping."

You worked at the FBI. You understand that technique.

MUDD: Yes. This is pretty straightforward. As Jeffrey's suggesting, I'm not a lawyer, but I saw this 100 times, watching counterterrorism cases. You can lay down an initial legal document. That does not preclude you from coming back later and saying, "Hey, the world is going to get uglier for you. There's an additional legal document that increases your time."

Remember, we are going into some of those critical interviews in the White House by the Mueller team. If -- if Gates flips now, the likelihood that he provide -- that he can provide information that would help the Mueller team in those interviews is really important.

So I think the timing is relevant here, too. The Mueller team needs help going into critical interviews over the coming weeks and months.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the Russia investigation, Jeffrey. Because we're getting sort of conflicting statements from the president's lawyers, the White House counsel as opposed to his private attorneys, on whether or not he even should be worried about obstruction of justice.

TOOBIN: Right, well, you know, I just wrote about this in "The New Yorker" this week about Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow and John Dowd.

You know, Ty Cobb is the lawyer for the presidency. He works for the White House counsel's office. And his perspective has always been "Let's cooperate. Let's get this thing done. We have nothing to hide."

Jay Sekulow and John Dowd, who represent Donald Trump personally, are in a somewhat more combative mode. That has been a source of some tension.

Now you have Dowd and Cobb saying really different things about how this investigation will proceed.

BORGER: Well...

TOOBIN: And excuse me, but the real point is they're not in control. Robert Mueller is in control of what happens here. And they can say anything they want, but Mueller's going to decide how this goes.

BORGER: You know, and what may have happened is that Dowd may have kind of jumped the gun here. I mean, Ty Cobb has been saying for months "We have nothing to fear."

TOOBIN: Right.

BORGER: "The president has nothing to fear. This is going to be fact-based." And what -- and what Dowd did was sort of jump the gun when Alan Dershowitz said at first that, you know, you can't prosecute a president for obstruction. And perhaps it was not the right thing for him to be saying at this particular moment. So...

TOOBIN: Not least because it's wrong under the law.

BORGER: Right. I think we can say it's not a well-oiled machine.

BLITZER: You know, Phil, the President refused to answer questions today about whether he would pardon Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser. If he were to do so, what would be the reaction, from your perspective?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think that would be a tremendous mistake. Let me give you two scenarios.

Scenario one, he pardons Flynn now. What narrative does that feed, including among members of Congress and maybe among the American people? That feeds the narrative that says every time we turn around, including with the firing of James Comey, the President of the United States is trying to prevent, initially, the FBI and then the Special Counsel from proceeding with this case.

Let me give you another scenario. We move forward three months or six months, and there are no further charges in this case beyond lying to a federal officer or additional financial charges. Nothing that indicates some sort of cooperation between the White House and the Russians.

At that point, if I were the President, sort of watching how he operates today, I'd say, well, now I'm going to pardon Flynn because I'm going to get out and say this guy who was a decorated military veteran was caught up in a witch-hunt. They've never found anything related to a -- to collusion 2with Russia, so I think he ought to get off free. I think that scenario is more likely, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see what scenario unfolds. Guys, standby. There is more breaking news. The head of the CIA makes a surprising claim. He says President

Trump's tweets sometimes help U.S. intelligence. We're trying to find out how.

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[17:51:14] BLITZER: We're digging deeper into a remarkable claim by the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Mike Pompeo says President Trump's tweets sometimes have helped U.S. intelligence.

Let's get right to our Brian Todd. Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a hot topic tonight among former spies and current ties.

You know, from tweeting anti-Muslim videos to criticizing his own military justice system and the free press, President Trump's tweets have garnered a lot of attention. But tonight, there's a debate inside the intelligence community over whether those tweets are helping or hurting national security.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): November 11th, seemingly unable to let a putdown from North Korea's dictator go unanswered, President Trump tweets -- why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me old when I would never call him short and fat?

Kim's regime responds, calling trump, a, quote, hideous criminal.

The CIA Director, asked if his boss' tweets make his job harder, has a surprising answer.

The President's tweets, Mike Pompeo believes, have sometimes helped U.S. intelligence.

MIKE POMPEO, DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Our adversaries responded to those tweets in ways that were helpful to us, to understand command and control issues, who's listening to what messages, what -- how those messages are resonating around the world.

TODD (voice-over): Contacted by CNN, the CIA declined to give specific examples. A former CIA analyst says it's possible U.S. intelligence could benefit from the President's tweets.

AKI PERITZ, FORMER ANALYST, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Kim is annoyed by the fact that our President calls him short and fat. So if you can needle somebody, you can see how they behave. You can motivate them in certain ways. You can see how they respond in crisis situations so that's actually quite important.

TODD (voice-over): But tonight, Aki Peritz and other former American spies are also warning about the dangers to national security from the President's Twitter account.

TODD (on camera): The unfiltered nature of it, how does that help a foreign intelligence adversary?

PERITZ: A foreign intelligence adversary knows what motivates the most powerful man in the world. He knows what he likes, what he dislikes, what annoys him, what pleases him. We know what T.V. shows he watches, what he doesn't watch. They would look into what those things are and create a mechanism to understand how to manipulate the U.S. President.

TODD (voice-over): That's information rivals might not have about Vladimir Putin or Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran because they're so secretive. A former CIA director says those adversaries might be eager to exploit President Trump's tweets.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: If I'm the head of a hostile or even friendly intelligence service, I've got a new office over here. Follow that account. Tell me what this man is saying. It's tremendously revealing.

TODD (voice-over): February 24th, President Trump tweets -- the FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself.

PERITZ: I would take finite resources if I were a foreign intelligence service, and I would push it toward the FBI, try to recruit as many FBI special agents as possible because they're willing to talk.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, the White House has not responded to the most recent criticism of the President's tweets and the possible damage to national security. But a source close to the White House recently told CNN, the President's aides have given up on the idea of stopping him from making inflammatory remarks on social media -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yet interestingly, Brian, Reince Priebus, who was the President's former chief of staff, has said he had actually stopped Trump from tweeting from time to time.

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Priebus spoke last night at a forum at Duke University. He said he often had to enter the Oval Office just to stop the President from tweeting.

Priebus said, quote, I know the tweets you haven't seen. For every tweet that you've seen, there's another nine that you didn't see.

But Priebus said the President is not stupid. He knows the difference between a tweet and a nuclear bomb. And the President, he says, knows how to play the media like a fiddle.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

[17:55:02] There's more breaking news we're following. The State Department now warning of possible violence, and the Pentagon repositions troops ahead of President Trump's expected announcement about Jerusalem.

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BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Capital conflict. President Trump is expected to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel within hours prompting Palestinians to call for three days of rage. Is he risking violence and the future of peace talks in order to keep a campaign promise?