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Government Shutdown Looms as DREAMers Deal Stalls; Hawaii Suspends Missile Alerts After False Alarm Sows Panic. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 15, 2018 - 17:00   ET


BERMAN: I am John Berman in for Jake Tapper. Now time for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:07] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. "I am not a racist." As his vulgar comments about immigrants and their countries of origin reverberate at home and abroad, President Trump insists he is not a racist. And he now claims a Democratic senator misrepresented his Oval Office tirade.

Budget stalemate. With just days to go until a possible government shutdown, is President Trump's rejection of a bipartisan proposal on young immigrant DREAMers blocking the government's spending agreement?

Agreeing to testify. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski are due to testify on Russia's interference in the 2016 election. What will they reveal about the inner workings of the campaign?

And nuclear scare. Hawaii's false alarm about an incoming missile causes widespread panic and raises chilling new concerns that the next wrong move could trigger a nuclear war.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. As the nation honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Trump just added to the fallout over his crude remarks at immigration, slamming the Democratic senator, who revealed details of his vulgar Oval Office eruption. On this, the eve of the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader, the president of the United States was forced to declare that he is not a racist.

Today, U.S. diplomats in two African countries were summoned to account for the country's disparaging comments. And Haitians protested outside his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach as the president played golf, skipping the traditional day of service.

As the president heads back to Washington, his allies are downplaying last week's tirade, when he rejected a bipartisan immigration proposal that would have provided a solution for hundreds of thousands of DREAMers brought to the United States as children.

The president acted with the support or urging of conservative Republicans, but he's blaming Democrats, saying they don't want a deal. That comes as a government shutdown looms on Friday with some Democrats already insisting on a DREAMers deal ahead of any last- minute agreement to keep the government funded.

And there's growing fallout over Hawaii's false alert about an incoming ballistic missile, which caused widespread panic this weekend. It turns out a state employee sent the wrong signal, but it took 38 minutes for an all-clear message to go out. And the episode has sparked new concern that the next mistake could set in motion an apocalyptic nuclear exchange.

I'll speak with Congressman Marc Veasey of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they're all standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with new rever -- reverberations, I should say, from the president's vulgar comments about immigration as the government shutdown looms just days away. Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, President Trump is now directly attacking the Democratic senator who shed a light on the president's crude comments.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Wolf. President Trump in a tweet late today singling out Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, saying, quote, "He totally misrepresented" what was said at the DACA meeting, going on to say deals can't be made if there is no trust.

But Wolf, tweets like this could drive a deeper wedge at a time when Democrats are threatening to withhold their vote on government funding if there is no deal on DACA by the deadline this Friday.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not a racist. I am least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you.

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight President Trump is responding to charges he's a racist, amid the fallout over his disparaging comments about African nations and Haiti. Two Republican senators who attended the Oval Office meeting last week, Tom Cotton and David Perdue, say they didn't hear the president use the word "s-hole."

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: I didn't hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was.

SEN. DAVID PERDUE (R), GEORGIA: I'm telling you, he did not use that word.

BROWN: But Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin says he did.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I know what happened. I stand behind every word that I said in terms of that meeting.

BROWN: Senator Lindsey Graham, who also was in the Oval Office meeting, confirmed to a fellow senator Trump used the term and told "The Post and Courier" in South Carolina today, quote, "My memory hasn't evolved," Graham said. "I know what was said, and I know what I said."

But a senior GOP source familiar with the matter says instead of hearing the president say that word, some Republicans actually heard the word "s-House."

DURBIN: I don't know that changing the word from "hole" to "House" changes the impact which this has.

[17:05:05] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The discourse right now is pretty low. It's pretty embarrassing when you have to take your children out of the room just to report the news.

BROWN: The controversial comments have cast a shadow over a potential deal on DACA. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they want a bipartisan DACA fix before Friday's government funding deadline.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: It's going to get even harder now for us to come together and reach any sort of an agreement on DACA. We've got a federal government that shuts down this coming week, this Friday, if we can't come to an agreement. And it's just getting harder when we have a president who, rather than tamping down our distances and disagreements, fans them and inflames them.

BROWN: Senator Graham said lawmakers need to do more to work together.

GRAHAM: Mr. President, close the deal. Eighty percent of Americans want to give the DACA kids a better life, and 80 percent of Americans want to secure our border and change a broken immigration system. It's going to take you, Mr. President, working with Republicans and Democrats, to get this done. It's not going to be done on Twitter, by tweeting. It's going to be done by talking and understanding.

BROWN: The president is trying to blame Democrats for standing in the way of a deal.

TRUMP: I don't think the Democrats want to make a deal. I think they talk about DACA, but they don't want to help the DACA people. I think we have a lot of sticking points, but they're all Democrat sticking points. Because we are ready, willing and able to make a deal, but they don't want to.

BROWN: Even as House Speaker Paul Ryan says there won't be a government shutdown, some Democrats are insisting they will oppose a government funding vote if there's no deal on DACA.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: Well, I for one would not vote for government funding until we get a deal on DACA.


BROWN: And the president is expected to land back here in Washington just within the next couple of hours, as concern grows about a possible government shutdown. You can expect meetings here at the White House throughout this week as they try to figure out a path forward.

But Wolf, this war over immigration is really turning into a war over who's to blame if the government does shut down. I spoke to one White House official tonight who is already putting the blame on Democrats, if it does happen. Of course, that could be a tough case to make, considering Republicans control Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Pamela Brown, our newest senior White House correspondent. Pamela, congratulations on this new assignment. I look forward to all your excellent, excellent reporting. Thank you very much.

BROWN: Thank you.

BLITZER: The stalemate over the DREAMers is holding up efforts to pass a spending bill. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, what are lawmakers doing right now behind the scenes? Will they be able to avoid a government shutdown Friday night?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Wolf, that's very much an open question up here on Capitol Hill. Behind the scenes, yes, you have lawmakers really scrambling to try to game this out with not a lot of time left on the clock.

Democrats up here are saying that President Trump really ruling out that bipartisan agreement put forward to them on DACA. That killed that side of the deal. Also, they're continuing to insist that DACA be tied to the government spending bill. That is something they have continued to push going forward.

Republican leaders, though, they have been very clear and very vocal in recent days saying, "No, we've got to separate the two. We're going to do DACA separate from any short-term government funding bill, and that's where the threat of a government shutdown potentially becomes very real.

Republicans up here, they will need some Democratic resort to pass any sort of spending bill. And you have Democrats in recent days really drawing their line in the sand. Some Democrats coming out, point blank, saying, "Look, I'm not going to vote for any government funding bill, short-term or not, that does not include a deal on DACA." That's the calculation that many Democrats are right now making up here.

Wolf, the question being, are they willing to push this to a government shutdown? And they certainly are on an incredible amount of pressure from their base to make sure they get a DACA fix. But again, when they return up here on Capitol Hill tomorrow, four working days to get this solved and no resolution in sight.

BLITZER: Yes, not much time at all. All right, Sunlen, thank you. Sunlen Serfaty reporting. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey of Texas. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. MARC VEASEY (D), TEXAS: Thank you, Wolf. Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: We have lots to discuss. Let's start off with this. The president says he is not a racist. In light of his comments last week, in light of his comments over the past year or so, what do you think?

VEASEY: I think that he absolutely is. And look, Wolf, no one ever admits to being a racist. I mean, you've seen news reports with people like Richard Spencer, that's -- who's here from Dallas, people that are involved in other hate groups, even they won't say they're racists.

Now, people know that that's a very inflammatory word.

But I actually think that the president enjoys being an Archie Bunker- like character. If you go back and you look at his past comments, he seems to revel in them, questioning whether or not the president, that his predecessor was born here in the United States, to the way he talked about the football players, and so on and so on. He tends to like to get a charge out of his 36 percent, in my opinion, by saying these racial -- racially inflammatory remarks.

[17:10:26] And so I absolutely think that he's racist. I think the real question is can he rise to the occasion to bring this country together the way that previous people that also held similar views about race, that also occupied the office, how they were able to do so in spite of the ways that they may have felt negatively about minorities.

BLITZER: Do you think he can?

VEASEY: I don't know if he has it in him. I mean, he certainly hasn't showed that he can. I mean, I can remember people coming up to me in tears here in Dallas-Fort Worth, after he won in November 2016. And they were like, "Hey, is the act over? Is he going to be normal now?"

And I told people, "I hope so. I hope that that was just an act and that he's going to be normal now, that he's going to be presidential."

And so here it is. It's 2018, and he's still behaving in the same infantile way and saying, you know, these crazy, provocative things on race and what have you. I don't think that he can do it. I don't think that he has it in him.

BLITZER: Some of your colleagues, including top Democrats in the House of Representatives, say they plan to formally introduce a resolution to censure the president over his comments. Would you support that kind of resolution?

VEASEY: Oh, I would absolutely support that type of resolution. I thought that what he said about the African nations, I thought it was terrible. I think that it's reduced our standing in the world. And a president of the United States shouldn't behave that way.

And when you think about, again, just the things that he's done since he's taken the oath of office on January 20, 2017, suggests to me that he needs to be censured and that he needs to behave correctly.

I mean, I would hope that he would really care about his place in history, his legacy. And maybe him being censured is what he needs, in order for him to realize that being president of the United States is a very serious matter and that he needs to show that he can lead and that he can rise above himself and his antics.

BLITZER: Do you think it has a chance, a resolution of censure, of passing the Republican-controlled House?

VEASEY: You know, I think that these Republicans are very afraid of Trump. And more accurately, I think that they're probably more so afraid of that 36 percent that I mentioned earlier.

I mean -- I mean, I got to tell you, I go places here in Dallas, Ft. Worth. And that -- that sort of "right or die" 36 percent bunch that he has that back him, they're still with him right now. There are a lot of people that I know in the business community, there are a lot of people that that I know that are Republicans, that have worked very hard to make the metroplex here a much better place to live. And they've been lifelong Republicans. And they that say they're no longer Republicans and that they would definitely never back Trump.

But what I'm hearing from the people that I meet at cafes, people that live in my district, the people that work at normal places that are Republicans, and consider themselves conservative and support Donald Trump, that 36 percent. They're sticking by him.

And so my colleagues here in the north Texas delegation that are Republicans, and my other colleagues around the country, they don't want to alienate and upset that force. And I think that they lack the courage to really say, "Hey, this is the wrong thing."

I think that it would be great if they could show children, they could show the rest of the American public that, despite the fact that they may be taking a risk, that they should stand up and do the right thing and help put an end to this nonsense by standing up to this man. I think that that would be the more right thing to do. But I just don't know if they have it in them. Because this group that likes Trump, I've got to tell you, they really do like him and stand by him. And I think that my Republican colleagues don't have the spine to let these people know that he's doing the right thing.

BLITZER: Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- and you're a member of the Congressional Black Caucus -- they've already announced plans to boycott the president's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on January 30 because of his comments. Do you plan to attend?

VEASEY: I haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do as far as State of the Union is concerned. I do have a retired school teacher that lives in Ft. Worth, an African-American woman that is not a Trump fan. And she is going to attend the ceremony. And so again, I haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do.

But we've been invited to the White House for different events. I've been invited as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus to go and have not wanted to go on the occasions that I've been invited, just because, to me as a member, I need to do what is necessary to support the Constitution and to upheld to laws that govern our country. But as far as just spending time around the president, it's not something that I personally would like to do.

[17:15:18] But I consider the State of the Union, inaugurations, and things like that, to be something that, regardless of who the person is holding the office, that those -- that those things are very important. So if I go, I go; if I don't, I don't. But people that don't want to go, I can totally understand it.

BLITZER: Congressman Veasey, there's a lot more to discuss. We're getting some new information on the possibility of a government shutdown on Friday. Also on that horrible false alarm in Hawaii. Stand by. We'll continue this right after a quick break.


[17:20:22] BLITZER: Hawaii's false alarm about an incoming ballistic missile sent hundreds of thousands of people scrambling for shelter this weekend. It took 38 minutes for an all-clear message to go out after that wrong signal was sent by a state employee.

We're back with Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey of Texas. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, as you know, each individual state controls its own emergency alert systems. But only the Defense Department can determine whether or not a real missile is inbound. You sit on the Armed Services Committee. Is there anything Congress can do to fix this system? Because who knows what could happen if a blunder like this happens again?

VEASEY: Absolutely. This is very serious business. And I'm certain that when we go back, that a panel that will convene, that our committee will convene and look into what happened.

It's going to be really interesting to hear from the commanding generals and the commanding officers there in Hawaii that exactly what happened and how we can stop it from happening again.

I mean, when you think about the president of the United States saying things like Rocket Man and "My button is bigger than yours", people are actually, you know, really concerned about what's happening in Korea.

I can tell you that in 2001, I was a congressional staffer. I was working here for a member of Congress in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. And after 9/11, people would come up and ask me, "Do you think that we're going to war?" And no one has asked that question to me as often as they do now, since Donald Trump has assumed the office, just because of all of the things that he said, in particular in relation to North Korea.

And so we need to find out exactly, you know, what's going on. This is a very serious business. I can understand why the people of Hawaii were scared, particularly when you think about their proximity to North Korea. And so yes, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered this upcoming week.

BLITZER: Yes. They've got to learn the lessons of this blunder and make sure it never happens again.

Congressman, as you know, another critically important issue, members of Congress, they're trying to negotiate a bipartisan deal on immigration, DACA, the DREAMers. Are the president's comments making it more difficult right now for lawmakers to reach an agreement?

VEASEY: Not only do I think that the president's comments make it more difficult on this issue but on many others.

Of course, you know, in the Senate, he needs 60 votes to be able to pass anything. And so if you're talking about CHIP, if you're talking about DACA, if you're talking about an infrastructure bill, you know, he's really expending a lot of the chips that he has with people on the ridiculous and racist comments and other things that he says.

So I think that, again, he needs to clean up his act, be more presidential is that lead and show that he can work different people. I think that what he said in particular, as it relates to immigration and African countries and Haiti, I think that has made it very, very difficult. And there is no reason why people are going to be in a mood to want to deal with him after saying those sorts of things. People are very upset and troubled by his comments.

I can tell you that as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, that I'm certain that all of my colleagues feel the same way and the same with the -- with our other ethnic caucuses that's feel like we've particularly been under attack since he's assumed this office.

BLITZER: Congressman Marc Veasey, thanks so much for joining us.

VEASEY: Good to see you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. Coming up as his vulgar remarks on immigrants sent shock waves around the country and around the world, President Trump tries to quell the controversy.


TRUMP: I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed.


[17:28:51] BLITZER: Our breaking news. Just before heading back to Washington this afternoon, Trump ended his holiday weekend with an angry tweet attacking the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin, who publicly confirmed the president's vulgar remarks at a White House meeting on immigration.

Let's bring in our specialists and guests. Marc Morial, let me start with you. You're the president of the National Urban League.

President Trump says -- you just heard him once again say he's not a racist. Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, a man you know well, says the president's own words make it clear that he is a racist. What do you think?

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: What's clear right now, Wolf, is that the president's statement dividing countries based on race as being places we want immigrants, was a racist statement.

And I think it's clear, because he's been condemned from Port-au- Prince to Peoria, from Los Angeles to Long Island. He's been condemned almost universally for the statements that have been ascribed to.

But here's the concern, Wolf, that those statements reflect a view about public policy. That our immigration laws ought to have within them a racial preference, preferring European nations over nations from Africa or the Caribbean or Latin America. And I think, to the extent that that's the case, it's inconsistent with American values. It's inconsistent with the words on the Statue of Liberty. And it isn't the direction I believe that our immigration policy should go. Nor do I believe it's the direction that most members of Congress want to see our immigration policy go.

[17:30:24] BLITZER: In the past, as you know, Marc, presidents have embraced Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the United States as a day of service to honor Dr. King's legacy. Should President Trump have followed that example? Because as you know, he spent much of the day today playing golf down in Florida.

MORIAL: I think the president should have, his administration should have had a mobilization consistent with every president since President Reagan signed the holiday bill to say to the American people that this is how we should celebrate, if you will, the life and legacy of this great American, Martin Luther King.

Indeed, Wolf, this is 50 years since Martin Luther King died on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, due to an assassin's bullet. It's his 89th birthday. And I think it's stark that it was sort of a dark day with no acknowledgement, with no real meaningful celebration. That notwithstanding the fact the American people, in city after city, at school after school after school, I went to two events. Today I went to several events last weekend. Are celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.

And what is on their minds today is that we do not need to turn the hands of time back by rolling back civil rights, by if you will, not condemning coarse and divisive rhetoric here in the 21st Century. So I think the spirit of Dr. King is alive and well with the American

people, even if it's not being celebrated at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue today.

BLITZER: Mark Preston, the president tweeted yesterday that the DACA deal, a bipartisan compromise for the DREAMers is, in his words, probably dead. Is he right or just posturing?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think right now he is right. But I do think he's posturing. But what concerns me about his posturing is that he doesn't really understand the ways of Washington and how to get things done. He thinks by just saying that, that it's going to speed things up, and there will be a deal on DACA eventually and the government won't get shut down.

The bottom line is that these are too intertwined at this point. You have Democrats that are digging in on DACA right now, because it really is their only leveraging card that they can play. And really, what Trump is doing is that he's forcing Congress to try to come up with the votes to try to figure out DACA as well as keep the government open, and he's doing nothing to help with it.

BLITZER: Rebecca Berg, did the president's comments sort of poison the well right now? These are critical days.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly didn't help, Wolf. I mean, Mark Preston, you're absolutely right that these are incredibly delicate negotiations, especially when you consider how hyper-partisan things are right now. The fact that Republicans and Democrats are trying to work together is great news, but it's very, very difficult for them to come together on this issue. And the president made it so much more difficult.

Because what he did was essentially send the message that he doesn't care about immigrants. That he doesn't care about protecting these children, doesn't care about the families that might be trying to come to the United States and emigrate here. And that message is going to be difficult for Democrats to hear. And then make the case that they made a deal with the president that's really compassionate, that really helps immigrants when he's sending the -- exactly the opposite message.

BLITZER: Let me get Phil Mudd to weigh in. The tweet that he posted, "DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don't really want it. They just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our military." What's your reaction?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The president has got a credibility problem. If you look at his legislative agenda, he was successful on taxes. He wants to go into this year, talking about things like DACA and immigration reform and also things like infrastructure. Forget about the past. Let's look forward.

When we look at what the president -- or how the president will engage with the Congress and the American people on immigration reform, he's got an anchor tied around his neck. That anchor is negative comments about a U.S. federal judge who was of Hispanic heritage. That anchor is going back to the campaign, where he said we don't -- he didn't just talk about national security. He said, "We don't want Muslims in this country." That anchor is what he said in the wake of Charlottesville. And now that anchor is last week's suggestion that it's OK for a white man to come here from Norway but not a black man from Haiti.

So when you go into future negotiations or conversations with the American people and the Congress, and you talk about immigration reform, is it because you want to protect America and protect American borders, or is it because you don't like brown people and black people? I think he's got an albatross because of his own words, and I think that's going to affect his ability to put forward his legislative agenda.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's more news we're following. We're going to also talk about Republican Senator Jeff Flake's upcoming speech criticizing President Trump's attack on the news media. One particular excerpt from the planned speech already has critics accusing the senator of going too far.


[17:39:43] BLITZER: Let's get back to our specialists. And Mark Preston, Senator Jeff Flake, he's a Republican from Arizona, frequent critic, though, of the president, he's preparing some remarks for a speech on the Senate floor, defending the news media in light of the president's attacks. Let me read an excerpt that CNN obtained.

"Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase 'enemy of the people' that even Nikita Khrushchev forbad its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of, quote, 'annihilating such individuals' who disagreed with the supreme leader."

Senator Flake now insists he's not comparing President Trump to Stalin, but it is pretty stunning, that reference he makes in these remarks.

PRESTON: You know, stunning. Let's take a step back, because it's stunning on so many levels, right? It's stunning that he has done this before -- didn't use the word "Stalin" -- from the Senate floor where he condemned President Trump and members of his own party.

What's stunning is that two days before he would give the speech, he releases excerpts of the speech, saying that he's going to do it. That in itself is stunning. And then, of course, on Wednesday when he goes to the floor to give the speech, it is amazing.

Now, look, he doesn't have an election next year. He feels free. He's not bound by electoral politics. But the fact of the matter is, while he says that Stalin -- that Trump is not Stalin because Stalin was a killer and Trump is not a killer, he did put together how they used language, and that, in itself, is stunning. BLITZER: It was awful when the president called the news media the

enemy of the -- enemy of the people.

You know, Rebecca, the president -- Flake's remarks, I should say, go on to say that the president's actions, in his words, are a great source of shame for members of the Republican Party. Those are very strong words, as well.

BERG: Very strong words, and there is some truth to that. I mean, privately, we have heard Republican lawmakers and some in public criticize the president, express remorse at the way he governs, at the way he treats the office of the presidency.

But by the same token, I think it's important to point out that most Republicans are not doing what Jeff Flake is doing. Most Republicans are not speaking out against the president the way Jeff Flake is doing. And part of that is political. Most Republican voters still support President Trump and our elected officials who are Republicans recognize that and so far, also, continue to support the president.

BLITZER: How do you see it, Marc? Marc Morial.

MORIAL: I think that Jeff Flake is demonstrating a degree of independence and conscience. I don't think one would do as he's doing, take on the president of his own party so directly, so forcefully and do it on the Senate floor if he did not deeply feel what he is saying and the sentiment that he's expressing.

And people will look back on these speeches by Jeff Flake on these issues as being incredibly courageous, I think, at some point in the future; and some may say it was incredibly foolish of him to do so. But being freed of a battle for re-election, I've got to, in fact, take him for what I think is motivating him. And that is his conscience and his deeply-held view that the direction of the country is not the correct direction and that the coarse language coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and under the seal of the president, is inconsistent with what he views the president ought to be all about.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, what do you think?

MUDD: Boy, I'm nervous, Wolf, and I don't get nervous very often. There's a simple reason.

We saw an election in Alabama that pitted conservative Republicans against Republicans coming in, the Roy Moore Republicans who represented a Trump revolution. I see in the e-mails I get to me, the e-mails about people who support what President Trump does, and who doesn't, to have an element of violence that I have never seen before.

The reason I raise this is I see Jeff Flake representing a showdown. That showdown is between people who represent classic Republican values and people who represent what President Trump does, which I don't think is Republicanism. It reflects what he said last week about shithole states. It reflects what he says about women. It reflects a lack of respect for the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Defense, the Department of State. I fear that this country is being divided between not only people who

represent Democratic and Republican values, but people who feel their values so deeply that they think violence is the answer to solve some of these differences. I see in it my personal e-mail, and I'm afraid we're going to start seeing that in America, Wolf.

BLITZER: Marc Morial, do you agree?

MORIAL: You know, I'm hoping that he is not right. But I must tell you that I'm deeply troubled, deeply disturbed by, for example, what we saw in Charlottesville, which may have been a tip of an iceberg. And that is people who would be willing to confront people with whom they disagree and, if you will, incite violence and incite this sort of invective.

So I hope he's absolutely wrong.

What is necessary, Wolf, is that the people of good will who do not believe that violence is the answer -- and violence is not the answer -- will stand up and say, "We have to be able to disagree in this nation sharply and do it in a tone and a fashion that is not so divisive and so tearing us apart that we can never put the country back together again."

This is a tough time for America, but on Dr. King's birthday, let us raise up not only a champion of nonviolence but a champion of justice and tolerance.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good point. All right, Marc Morial.

Everybody, standby. Coming up, we're going to have more on the fallout from Hawaii's false alert. It's raising new alarm about the possibility of a mistake causing a real exchange of nuclear weapons.

Also ahead, two one-time members of the President's team soon will be heading to Capitol Hill to answer questions in the Russia probe. What will Steve Bannon and Corey Lewandowski tell investigators?


[17:50:24] BLITZER: Tonight, there's new alarm about the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons based on a misunderstanding that's sparked by this weekend's panic in Hawaii after an alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile was sent out by mistake.

CNN's Brian Todd is looking into what happened and why a similar mistake could prove disastrous. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we're getting some jarring new detail on the nuclear chain of command and just how quickly leaders on both sides of a standoff have to make decisions.

There are serious new warnings tonight from nuclear experts that, with all the missile-testing going on, all the rhetoric flying back and forth right now, we could be much closer to a nuclear strike than we believe. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): For hundreds of thousands of people in Hawaii, a gut-wrenching 38 minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. Pacific Command has detected a missile threat to Hawaii. A missile may impact on land or sea within minutes.

TODD (voice-over): Alerts were sent to TVs and cell phones: this is not a drill. Sending people all over the islands running for cover.

Tonight, new warnings from nuclear experts that other scares like Saturday's false alarm could prompt American or North Korean leaders to take measures that could take us on a path to war.

DARYL KIMBALL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION: You've heard of the fog of war. Well, the fog of nuclear war is even thicker. So we have to be aware that these tensions will and can get out of control.

CNN is told President Trump was briefed, within just a few minutes of the initial alert in Hawaii, that it was a false alarm.

But if, somehow, it had become unclear whether a North Korean missile was really flying toward the U.S. or not and the President felt he had to act, he'd have a frighteningly short amount of time to respond.

BRUCE BLAIR, CO-FOUNDER, GLOBAL ZERO: The President has five or six minutes to make a decision. There will be three or four minutes to implement that decision by the war room in the Pentagon. One additional minute for the underground crews to fire their missiles and another 15 minutes for submarine crews to fire their weapons.

TODD (voice-over): At that point, nuclear-tipped missiles are flying at four miles per second. Analysts now warn of what could happen in the coming months during this period of what one expert calls the Wild West of ballistic missile testing.

The North Koreans may take the next major step in their weapons program and test a nuclear-tipped missile over the Pacific.

KIMBALL: Instead of sending it high over the Earth's atmosphere and almost straight down, they could send it almost all the way across the Pacific Ocean. That would look like a missile intended to hit a target in the United States.

The United States would not know whether that missile is armed with a nuclear warhead or a dummy warhead. So in that event, we might have a U.S. reaction that then could lead to a kinetic response on the part of the North Koreans.

Bruce Blair, a nuclear launch officer at the height of the Cold War, says Kim Jong-un's regime will soon have its nuclear weapons on launch-ready alert like the U.S. does now.

BLAIR: In the future, if they deploy weapons on high alert, then they are going to be susceptible to false alarms, and we are going to be vulnerable to mistakes made by the North Korean military and Kim Jong- un.


TODD: Another dangerous component to all these, the personal attacks between the President and Kim Jong-un. Experts warn that a misinterpreted tweet from President Trump could lead Kim to think an attack on North Korea is imminent, and then Kim could launch at the U.S.

They point out the young North Korean dictator doesn't have the long experience with nuclear brinkmanship that the Americans do -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. There were some false alarms, Brian, during the Cold War which led American leaders to think they were being attacked by the Soviets, and the Soviets, by the way, to think the Americans were launching their own attack, right?

TODD: Several of those, Wolf. The closest call came in 1979. One night, the consoles at the American warning centers in Colorado just lit up, indicating there was a large-scale Soviet missile attack underway.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser at the time, he got back-to-back calls in the middle of the night telling him of an imminent nuclear hit on the U.S.

Brzezinski was seconds away from calling President Carter and giving him that six-minute deadline to order retaliation when Brzezinski got a third phone call telling him it was a false alarm.

It had been a human and technical error, Wolf. They could have been just a couple of minutes away from launching in 1979. That's how close this all can come --

BLITZER: Yes, that's why these --

TODD: -- even with a false alarm.

BLITZER: -- these false alarms are so, so dangerous.

All right, Brian, thanks very much.

[17:54:53] Coming up, the breaking news. As the fallout spreads from his vulgar remarks about immigrants and their countries of origin, President Trump insists he is not a racist. He now claims a Democratic senator misrepresented his Oval Office tirade.


BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news, word scramble. The President launches a new attack on the Democrat who publicly accused him of making vile comments about African immigrants. Are Mr. Trump and his allies playing a game of semantics to try to tamp down the firestorm? Stalled out? Bipartisan hopes for an immigration deal hit a wall as

the President faces another controversy of his own making and then tries to blame Democrats. Will it lead to a government shut down four days from now?

[18:00:03] Willing to talk. Steve Bannon's highly-anticipated testimony in the Russia probe is expected tomorrow. What do House investigators hope to learn from the President's fired chief strategist?