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Interview With California Congressman Ted Lieu; Trump's Parade?; Senior Trump Aide Resigns in Wake of Domestic Abuse Accusations; Sources: White House Officials Knew About Porter's Assault Allegations; Planning Under Way for Trump's Military Parade. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 7, 2018 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: How long has the Trump team known about these allegations?

Compelled to talk. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee wants to force former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former chief strategist Steve Bannon to testify before the panel's Russia probe. Why are they refusing to talk?

And parade charade. The defense secretary says President Trump's call for a military parade is about his affection for U.S. troops, but critics are unconvinced, with one Republican senator calling the cheesy and a sign of weakness. Is the parade more about the president's ego than it is about celebrating the armed forces?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news tonight, an 11th-hour deal to avoid another government shutdown tomorrow.

Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have reached agreement on a two-year spending plan. But tonight it's not clear if that deal can pass the House. Congressman Ted Lieu of the House Judiciary Committee, he is standing by to talk about that and all the breaking news, along with our correspondents and specialists.

Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president just tweeted praise for Senate deal.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He certainly did, Wolf.

With one day before another government shutdown, the White House is welcoming the budget deal that is coming out of the Senate. As you said, the president just tweeted that he supports this budget agreement coming out of the Senate. But the big question tonight is what happens in the House, where both Republicans and Democrats say they're not happy with the agreement.

But the White House is not just focused on what's happening in Congress, as aides to the president are dealing with some housecleaning of their own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With the government on the brink of another shutdown, something almost unthinkable has happened in Washington, a bipartisan agreement in the Senate to keep the lights on.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The compromise will ensure that for the first time in years, our armed forces will have more of the resources they need to keep America safe.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: After months of fiscal brinkmanship, this is the first real sprout of bipartisanship.

ACOSTA: But there's bipartisan trouble in the House, where Democrats want a commitment for a vote to protect the undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, known as the dreamers, from deportation.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Our dreamers hang in limbo with a cruel cloud of fear and uncertainty above them. The Republican moral cowardice must end.

ACOSTA: And GOP fiscal hawks are outraged that the Senate deal will balloon the deficit.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: We didn't campaign on growing government. So, this is not consistent with what we would tell the voters and I would argue not even close to being consistent with what they said in the 2016 elections.

ACOSTA: At the White House, aides to the president are accusing Democrats of risking a shutdown over the immigration issue.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think we have made clear that the budget deal should be a budget deal, and that members of Congress like Nancy Pelosi should not hold our military hostage over a separate issue.

ACOSTA: The problem is the president did just that, threatened a shutdown over border security just one day ago.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would shut it down over this issue.

ACOSTA: Visiting the White House, Defense Secretary James Mattis said a shutdown would harm security.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It just paralyzes everything that we do if we go into that.

ACOSTA: The White House is also grappling with yet more turmoil inside the West Wing, as a key aide close to the president, Staff Secretary Rob Porter, suddenly resigned amid allegations of domestic abuse first reported by "The Daily Mail."

CNN has learned two of Porter's ex-wives accused him of abuse in their marriage. CNN has also learned some of those allegations were flagged during Porter's security clearance process. Asked about Porter's status, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed his departure.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: He is going to be leaving the White House. It won't be immediate.

ACOSTA: The White House released a statement from Porter that reads: "These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago, and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described. I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign."

Porter resigned even though Chief of Staff John Kelly was urging him to stay on. Kelly said in a statement: "Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor. And I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, confidant, and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him."

But one of Porter's former bosses, GOP Senator Orrin Hatch, walked back a statement of support, first saying: "It's incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man. Shame on any publication that would print this and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man's good name."

Then saying in a second statement: "I'm heartbroken by today's allegations. In every interaction I have had with Rob, he has been courteous, professional and respectful. My staff loved him. He was a trusted adviser. I do not know the details of Rob's personal life. Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable."

[18:05:09]

While sources told CNN that White House officials were aware of issues in Porter's security clearance, Sanders dodged the question.

QUESTION: Does the president have any concerns about these domestic violence allegations raised against Rob Porter?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I haven't spoken to him about specific concerns.

QUESTION: You haven't talked to the president about this...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: About whether or not he has specific concerns. I haven't him asked that question.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, a former senior White House official tells CNN questions about Porter's security clearance did not arise during the first few months of the administration last year.

The suggestion from this former administration is that all of this become more of an issue, more apparent when current Chief of Staff John Kelly took command of the staff inside the West Wing. Wolf, a lot of questions being raised about how John Kelly could put out a statement in support of Rob Porter in light of those allegations coming forward, along with photographs.

And, of course, the question moving forward is how long Rob Porter will stay on the staff here at the White House. There are no good answers to that. They are not saying when he's leaving the staff permanently -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much. Jim Acosta at the White House. We will have more on that story coming up.

Let's get some more now on the Senate's bipartisan budget deal.

Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, there's a lot in the spending plan that Democrats and conservatives don't like.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, Wolf.

And, look, when you talk to the aides of top negotiators, they acknowledge they went into this with their eyes wide open. They knew that there were going to be folks on the far right and folks on the far left who wanted no part of this.

For Republicans, it's all about the spending. Obviously, just on the spending caps alone, $300 billion, more than $80 billion in disaster relief. Billions more across the deal. That's significantly problematic for deficit hawks. You also have outside conservative amnesty groups that are completely against this.

On the Democratic side, there's no question about it, it's about DACA. The defense spending piece that Republicans and the president so dearly wanted increased was the key piece of leverage that Democrats thought they had to find some type of guarantee for a DACA resolution. That has now been decoupled from the deal, and that's why Democrats say there are serious problems with this, particularly in the House.

Here's the thing that I have been told by several aides who are working on this, and I think it's important to pay attention to. You have seen the vocal folks that are against this in both the House and the Senate on both sides, both poles, if you will.

Pay more attention at this point when it comes to counting votes to those that you aren't hearing from. There are a lot of Democrats who are not saying anything about this at all. If you read closely between the lines to the Democratic leaders, they're saying that they're speaking for themselves personally. They're not whipping the caucus against, they're not telling the entire caucus to vote against. There is space right now and a clear opening for the bill to get

through the House. The question right now is where the votes are going to be. I'm told at this moment they don't have a firm count, but right now top aides feel like they're in an OK place -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The minority leader, the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, is Phil, she's still on the floor giving this marathon speech on DACA, the dreamers. She's been going now for, what, about eight hours. Tell us about that.

MATTINGLY: Yes, just about a minute ago, Wolf, crossing the eight- hour mark, making this the longest continuous speech on record in the House. The last one that was close to this was 1909 about a tariff overhaul.

That was only five hours. The leader going far past that. The reason for that is DACA. The reason for that is drawing attention to this issue, making very clear that the leader, who has said she is opposed to this deal, even though deal even though she supports and her staff was crucial to negotiating the key pieces on the non-defense domestic side, want a guarantee from Speaker Paul Ryan similar to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given, a clear floor debate where no one side benefits more than the other.

Here's the issue on that. The speaker has made clear he wants DACA on the floor. His caveat, the president have to support that. That's the issue Democrats have right now. That's what the leader is trying to draw attention to right now. They want that commitment the Senate has gotten. I'm told that's not coming.

The question right now is what it means for Democratic votes. There's no question about one thing, Wolf. Democrats are going to need to vote for this to get it across the finish line. How many will actually be there, they still need to figure that out, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see tomorrow what happens. All right, Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

There's also breaking news in the House Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation. The top Democrat on the panel is now calling for two former key players on the Trump team to be forced to testify.

Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is working the story for us.

Jessica, there are several new and important developments tonight.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, there could be another internal battle brewing within the House Intelligence Committee.

The top Democrat, Adam Schiff, he is threatening to subpoena Corey Lewandowski and Steve Bannon. Well, Republicans aren't exactly backing Schiff.

In fact, New York Congressman Pete King set out tonight, it's not necessary.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, a warning from the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee to former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon: Appear before the committee, or else.

Adam Schiff is threatening to subpoena Lewandowski, while pledging to force Bannon to appear after a delay this week, saying: "Neither have articulated legitimate grounds for refusing to appear and answer questions before Congress. It will therefore be necessary to enforce the subpoena on Bannon and now move to compel Lewandowski's testimony."

[18:10:17]

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I'm going to answer every question truthfully, honestly, to best of my ability, and to the best of my recollection, but, because I have nothing to hide, I'm looking forward for this opportunity to help finally bring this to a close.

SCHNEIDER: Lewandowski spoke to the committee in January, but wouldn't answer every question. Schiff said Lewandowski promised to come back, but is now refusing.

Bannon first talked to the committee last month, but refused to answer questions related to his time at the White House or the transition. But the Republican on the committee leading the Russia investigation, Mike Conaway, won't say if he will back Schiff's push for a subpoena.

This as CNN has learned White House officials expect the president to authorize the release of the committee's 10-page Democratic rebuttal memo by Friday unless there is a grave threat to national security. The memo is expected to directly undercut allegations of FBI and Justice Department abuses leveled in the GOP memo Trump cleared for release last Friday.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to make speculations at this point. We're still going through the process that we went through with the Republican memo. We are going to continue to do that. And once that's completed, we will have something further to add. But as of this point, we don't.

SCHNEIDER: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly tells reporters that White House attorneys and Department of Justice officials are reviewing the memo, and he expects recommendations regarding its release or any necessary redactions by Thursday.

QUESTION: Are you leaning toward releasing it?

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: No, I would say this is a different memo than the first one. It's lengthier. It's different. And so not leaning towards it. It will be done in a responsible way. But, again, where the first one was very clean relative to sources and methods, my initial cut is this one is a lot less clean.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, the Republican who spearheaded the initial memo, Devin Nunes, says his investigation is moving into a new phase involving the State Department, but wouldn't elaborate further.

At issue, notes written by a colleague of longtime Hillary Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal. In those notes, uncorroborated claims about Trump and Russia based on conversations with other reporters and sources that colleague of Blumenthal's claimed were in Russian intelligence and elsewhere. According to source familiar with the matter, it was passed on to Christopher Steele by an official at the State Department.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Mr. Steele was more of a political operative than he was a reliable informant. Even though he had been used in the past and was reliable, in this case, he had a political bias. He was being paid by the Democratic National Committee and he was out to get Trump. And I think using his work product was a mistake.

SCHNEIDER: Tonight, a battle over legal strategy in the White House. President Trump is resisting the advice of his attorneys who say he should not sit down with Robert Mueller, according to a source familiar with the president's thinking.

In fact, Trump's allies say that he's eager to speak with Mueller, not only because he believes he is entirely innocent, but also because the president notes he has experience with lawsuits and testifying under oath during his time in his real estate business.

A source tells CNN the president thinks he can work this, but warns that Trump doesn't realize how high the stakes are.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And an intriguing development tonight when it comes to President Trump's former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, who's pleaded not guilty to money laundering among other charges.

Gates' three attorneys are now asking the court to let them withdraw, citing what they're calling irreconcilable differences. The lawyers would not give any additional details because they say that they would be prejudicial and potentially even embarrassing to Gates.

Now, this all comes as other lawyers from another firm are working behind the scenes for Gates, and they have visited Robert Mueller's office several times. So, of course, Wolf, this is leading to all kinds of questions and speculations, including could a plea deal possibly be in the works for Rick Gates?

BLITZER: Yes, if he cops a plea and starts cooperating, that potentially could be seriously problematic for others.

SCHNEIDER: He has got a lot of information.

BLITZER: Yes, who are being investigated right now. Thanks very much, Jessica Schneider, for that.

Just now, by the way, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, she wrapped up her record-breaking eight-hour floor speech and received a standing ovation from Democrats on the floor of the House of Representatives.

There you see it right there.

Let's get some more from Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California. He's a member of both the House Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.

I just came from the floor, and what Nancy Pelosi did was remarkable, remarkable courage and stamina. She hasn't eaten all day. And for her to deliver all those stories is amazing.

BLITZER: Eight hours, that's a lot.

Will you vote, Congressman, for the Senate budget deal, the compromise deal worked out by the Democratic and Republican leadership in the Senate?

[18:15:01]

LIEU: No, and let me tell you why.

In the House of Representatives, the Republicans control the House, and unlike the Senate, there's no 60-vote filibuster. So, Republicans can pass the Senate deal, they can any legislation they want just on their votes.

But if they want my vote, then they need to negotiate with us. And one of my reasonable requests is a fix to DACA, so we don't deport 1.8 million people. And if they don't need my vote, then they can pass it by themselves on their own votes.

BLITZER: Nancy Pelosi says if the speaker, Paul Ryan, agrees to do what Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, did, have a fair, full debate on the Senate floor or the House floor on the dreamers, on DACA, that she probably will change her mind.

Right now, she doesn't have that commitment from the speaker. If you get that commitment from the speaker, will you vote for it?

LIEU: I likely would.

And let's think how ludicrous this is. Speaker Ryan won't even allow a debate on DACA, won't even allow us to just cast votes on legislation that is bipartisan that could address this problem. And it's because Speaker Ryan's position is so absurd and so extreme that many Democrats don't want to vote for this bill right now.

BLITZER: But if he agrees, you will vote for the legislation.

There's a lot in the legislation, the Senate version, that Democrats wanted, major disaster relief for Puerto Rico, for example, community clinics, a lot of funding for community clinics. The debt ceiling gets raised. There's a lot of important information, important benefits that you want.

Why continue to lurch month to month with continuing resolutions if this isn't passed?

LIEU: You're right, Wolf. There is a lot in the Senate bill that Democrats support.

But, again, in the House of Representatives, they don't need my vote. The Republicans control it. They could pass it by themselves. But if they want my vote, they need to talk to us. They need to at least let us have the right on vote on immigration issues. And really deporting 1.8 million people who were brought here as children, that is cruel. And this is something that is worth fighting for.

BLITZER: If it does pass in the Senate, clearly, it will pass in the Senate tomorrow, then passes in the House of Representatives, the president just tweeted he wants Republicans to support the Senate bill.

He says: "The budget agreement today is so important for our great military."

But if it does pass tomorrow, are you still worried that even if the speaker makes a commitment to let there be a full debate on the House floor on the future of the dreamers, that it might not pass, the dreamer legislation? They could be in trouble.

LIEU: I am not worried, because there's bipartisan support for dreamers, not just in the House of Representatives, but among the American public. People understand that you don't want to deport children who were brought here through no fault of their own, that are working, going to school, being model citizens, that that's just plain wrong.

So, I think we would have bipartisan support if we just had the chance to vote on bipartisan legislation to address dreamers.

BLITZER: So what you believe that, if the legislation passes, there will be a deal on dreamers?

LIEU: Are you talking about if the Senate deal passes or if...

BLITZER: If the Senate deal passes and you get a commitment for a full debate on the House floor, will there be a deal, or will there never be a deal on the dreamers?

LIEU: If Speaker Ryan makes a commitment that we will have full debate and a chance to vote on legislation to address dreamers, then I do believe there will be a deal, because you will see very quickly that there is large bipartisan support to fix the issue for dreamers. BLITZER: All right.

Let's talk about another sensitive issue that's come up. What do you make of how the White House has handled the allegations of physical, verbal abuse by a senior White House staffer, the staff secretary, Rob Porter, who announced today he's resigning?

LIEU: I am pleased that Rob Porter has agreed to resign. It is not acceptable to commit physical abuse against women, against your ex- wives.

I am disappointed that Chief of Staff John Kelly continues to say Rob Porter is a man of integrity and honor. I think John Kelly needs to evaluate what he said in light of their horrific pictures, in light of the overwhelming evidence that Rob Porter committed physical domestic violence.

BLITZER: Are you concerned that he had access to classified information, even though these accusations preventing him from getting full security clearance?

LIEU: So we are trying to confirm whether or not in fact he had a security clearance.

Some of the public reporting suggests he did not. And this is another example of the White House not taking security clearances seriously. There's no reason Jared Kushner still has a security clearance. He's been on a temporary security clearance for a very long time because he lied on his security clearance forms, he lied on his financial disclosures.

So, the White House just doesn't take this issue very seriously. But in terms of Rob Porter, we just want to confirm he, in fact, didn't have a security clearance.

BLITZER: Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks so much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

[18:20:00]

BLITZER: Just ahead, Republicans now accusing Hillary Clinton's campaign of working with Trump dossier author Christopher Steele to influence the Russia investigation.

We are going to talk about that with a former Clinton senior adviser, Jake Sullivan.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the Russia investigation right now.

The senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is not cooperating and must now be subpoenaed. He also says it's time to enforce the existing subpoena against Steve Bannon.

[18:25:01]

Let's talk about this and more with Jake Sullivan. He's a former State Department official who also served as a senior to both Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.

Jake, thanks so much for joining us.

Speaking of the vice president, I assume you saw his interview with Chris Cuomo last night, in which Joe Biden, the former vice president, said if he were advising the president, he would advise him not to do any Q&A, answer questions from the special counsel, Robert Mueller. He thinks that would be a bad idea for Trump.

What do you think?

JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: Well, Joe Biden knows something about Donald Trump. And he knows that Trump has a long history of flatly lying on a regular basis.

And if you lie to a federal investigator, that's a crime. So it's not surprising that a guy who's been around the block a few times like Vice President Biden would say it would be a bad idea, from President Trump's perspective, for him to go before Robert Mueller.

But for the American people, it would be a very good idea, because President Trump should answer questions about his involvement in the various activities related to Russia and the campaign. And he should have his moment where Robert Mueller gets to ask him questions.

BLITZER: Clearly, his lawyers, they don't want him to answer those questions. Some of them have suggested to CNN that a threshold for a presidential interview has not been reached. Others are saying they fear a perjury trap. He could get caught lying or something like that.

But he himself, according to some of his aides, say he wants to do it.

SULLIVAN: Yes, which is also very consistent with Donald Trump's personality. He thinks he can walk into any situation and bluff his way through it.

I think what he doesn't understand is the seriousness with which Robert Mueller and his team are taking this investigation, and that this isn't going to be a reality TV show. This is going to be reality.

And so his lawyers are probably more aware of the stakes of this than Trump is himself.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, and Lindsey Graham, for that matter, another member, they have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal referral investigation into Christopher Steele, the author of that controversial dossier.

Grassley has argued that the Clinton campaign was working closely with Christopher Steele.

You were a top adviser to Hillary Clinton during the campaign. What's your response to that?

SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, I think what Senator Grassley and Senator Graham are doing is consistent with what Congressman Nunes is doing in the House. They're trying to muddy the waters. They're trying to besmirch the name of people like Christopher Steele, who was simply working to get to the bottom of Russia's involvement in our election.

And they're doing this for politics to protect the president of the United States. They're not doing it to actually figure out what happened.

BLITZER: What Lindsey Graham and Grassley are alleging is that he lied to the FBI, Christopher Steele, by leaking information to the news media, when he promised he wouldn't talk to the news media.

SULLIVAN: Well, the FBI would be in the best position to know what Christopher Steele told them and whether that accords with the truth. The idea that you have members of Congress referring to the FBI about conversations that Chris Steele had with the FBI, that's more of a political stunt.

That's not serious law enforcement undertaking or oversight, for that matter.

BLITZER: When did you first learn about the Steele dossier?

SULLIVAN: I first saw it when it came out in BuzzFeed. I think it was after -- a few months after the election.

BLITZER: It was January of last year.

SULLIVAN: But this is what I will say about it.

There's been a lot coming out from the Republicans that somehow supporting an effort to get to the bottom of Russia's involvement in 2016 is wrong, is not the right thing to do. In fact, given the mounting evidence over the course of 2016 about what Russia was doing in this campaign, the only prudent thing to do for the Democratic Party was to step up and try to figure out, was there actually conspiracy, collusion, coordination, cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia?

And the more that we have learned over the course of the last year- and-a-half, the more it appears that there was some kind of involvement between Trump associates and Russia.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise. You say the first time you saw the dossier was when BuzzFeed published it in January of last year. But had you heard about it earlier? SULLIVAN: Well, there had been news reports about the dossier and

about there being some kind of research project going back some months.

But in terms of actually understanding who Christopher Steele was, who was funding him, that was something that I learned after the campaign ended.

BLITZER: I don't think there were any news reports about the dossier until much later -- after the campaign, after the election, when Donald Trump won already.

SULLIVAN: Well, there was the report from David Corn.

BLITZER: That was at the end of October.

SULLIVAN: Right. Exactly.

BLITZER: But he didn't really get into the dossier in that "Mother Jones" piece. That's what you're referring to?

SULLIVAN: Right. And I'm saying this phrase the dossier, which was something that emerged and was floating around in the months after the election, was not something that I was familiar with, this dossier.

BLITZER: So, the first you heard about any of this was in the David Corn article that appeared at the end of October, just before the election?

SULLIVAN: Well, in fact, I didn't hear the name Christopher Steele, because David Corn didn't talk about him...

BLITZER: Right.

SULLIVAN: ... or know who was conducting this research or who was funding him until after the campaign.

I did know, of course, that we were very interested, both the Clinton campaign and the DNC, in trying to figure out what the Russians were up to.

[18:30:23] And frankly, what the Trump campaign was up to in potentially supporting the Russians. Because of course, during the campaign, you had President Trump go out and say publicly, "Hey, Russia, please, if you can, help me out by hacking Hillary Clinton's e-mails."

So over the closing months of the campaign, of course, all of us on the Clinton campaign were following this very closely. But in terms of Christopher Steele, his identity, his funding sources and so forth, that was something I became aware of later.

BLITZER: Much later after it was publicized. What do you say to those Republicans and the critics who are now accusing the Clinton campaign of colluding with the Russians through Christopher Steele? SULLIVAN: You know, it reminds me of that moment in the third debate

between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton where Hillary accused Trump of being a puppet of Russia, and Trump very famously said, "No puppet, no puppet, you're the puppet." This is the exact same logic. It's "No collusion, no collusion, you're the collusion."

The notion that the Clinton campaign, the DNC, Democrats, were working to try to figure out just what involvement there was between Russia and Trump to try to help Russia interfere in the 2016 election or accept their assistance, is collusion with Russia, that is a twisting of logic that's even extreme for the Trump campaign and the Republicans.

BLITZER: The secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, he says Russia is already trying to interfere in the midterm elections coming up later this year in November. And he doesn't know if the U.S. has any -- is any better prepared to deal with that threat as it was in 2016, to which you say?

SULLIVAN: Well, I say that's exactly right. That because the president of the United States refuses to wake up to the reality that Russia is a clear and present danger to the electoral system of the United States and to American democracy, this administration has basically done nothing to strengthen our defenses...

BLITZER: What can the U.S. do to strengthen those defenses, to prevent the Russians or anyone else, for that matter, to hacking and -- and interfering in the U.S. elections?

SULLIVAN: Well, there is at least three steps they could take. First, they could help states protect themselves so that Russia can't intrude into the voting roles and potentially be election machines in their states.

Second, they could increase the costs on Russia for what they've already done as a means of trying to deter them from doing it further.

And third, they could have a serious conversation with our allies and partners about how together we could mount a credible defense and push back against Russian interference going forward. If they took those steps, the chances that Russia could successfully do again what it did -- what it did last time would go down, but they aren't taking those steps.

BLITZER: You see any indication at all they're doing anything?

SULLIVAN: The Congress is trying to -- including in a bipartisan way -- is trying to move forward on this. Because this is not a political issue. This is a national security issue. But because the president of the United States is setting the tone from the top, the administration itself is not taking the necessary action.

BLITZER: Jake Sullivan, thanks for coming in.

SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me. BLITZER: There's breaking news. The top Democrat of the House

Intelligence Committee now calling for the panel to force the former Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and the former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to testify. Can they be compelled to talk?

Plus, the controversy over President Trump's call for a major military parade here in Washington. Details of what critics are now saying about that. M

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:38:14] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight. A call to force two former key players from the Trump team to testify before the House Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation.

Let's bring in our analysts and our experts.

And Dana Bash is with us. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, he wants Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowski, to come back, to force them to testify on sensitive issues. Will they be able to do so?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not in the House. It is not likely that he can force that without the support and the backing of the majority. You know, it is certainly true in the Senate, as well, but in the House in particular, the majority rules in a big way from the Senate -- excuse me, from the House floor all the way to key committees. And we have seen what has happened inside that committee.

So without support from Republicans, from the chair, and maybe other rank-and-file Republicans who can push the chair, it's going to be hard for Adam to achieve that.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, why is it so important that Lewandowski, who was the campaign manager for at least part of the campaign, and Steve Bannon actually come back and testify before the House Intelligence Committee?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, their testimony so far has not been released. So we don't know what they refuse to answer, at least with some precision.

But look, this is -- this is an investigation of the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia and Russian interests. Lewandowski and Bannon were central figures in that campaign, albeit at different time periods. But you know, their testimony is extremely important in learning what, if any, relationship there was between -- between the Trump campaign and Russia.

BLITZER: I assume members, at least the Democrats, Gloria, on the House Intelligence Committee, they want to find out more about this allegation of obstruction of justice. Steve Bannon was there, for example, during some of those sensitive moments.

[18:40:12] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Steve Bannon -- Steve Bannon was there, but don't forget; he came later in the campaign. You know, Corey had already been gone, and Steve Bannon, you know, Steve Bannon came in, I believe, in August.

BLITZER: Right.

BORGER: But I think that, you know, what they want to know from Steve Bannon is what he knows about what was going on in the White House. Did the president order Don McGahn, you know, to fire Mueller, et cetera, et cetera. So I think Bannon could be very helpful. Of course, as you know, Bannon has claimed privilege, and that could become an issue.

BLITZER: Yes, he doesn't want to answer questions before the congressional committees...

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: ... on what happened during the transition or what happened while he served as chief strategist in the White House. Corey Lewandowski was long gone, but then he never served, actually, in the White House. But clearly...

BORGER: They do cover different -- different parts...

BLITZER: Clearly, they have serious questions for both of them. So what's going to happen?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think eventually this rolls up to the Mueller investigation. So like Dana said, you're going to have more success, probably, getting consensus among Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to compel testimony from any witnesses, probably a steeper climb in the House.

But at some point, what happens separately in the Mueller investigation and is compiled into a report ultimately will be flipped back to Congress. You know, it could be months away, and that is when the rubber is going to meet the road in terms of -- you know, putting all these pieces together about who knew what when.

BORGER: Nobody's looking to...

TOOBIN: If I could...

BORGER: I was going to say nobody's looking to these congressional committees to solve the great mysteries here. Everybody knows that's going to come from Bob Mueller, the special counsel, who will -- who will be doing that. So you know -- yes.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeff.

TOOBIN: I was just going to say, you know, we keep asking, you know, whether these congressional committees are going to compel person "A" or person "A." I mean, my colleagues will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe to this point they haven't compelled anybody.

BASH: Right. TOOBIN: So I mean, you know, what does that tell you?

BASH: People have come voluntarily.

TOOBIN: Right, exactly. So it's a pretty passive investigation. It's not exactly one that they are, you know, beating the bushes. It's like, "Well, if you feel like coming in, it would be nice."

BLITZER: Speaking about being compelled to answer questions, Gloria, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this. Despite -- apparently despite the advice of his lawyers, the president thinks he should go ahead and answer questions if called to testify to answer questions before Mueller's investigation.

BORGER: You know, I'm not so sure this isn't a good cop/bad cop routine that -- that we've got going here, which is the president says, "Sure, I want to testify. But my lawyer -- you know, I have to listen to my lawyers."

And then the lawyers become the bad guys and say, "You know, we don't want him to testify," because if he doesn't testify or he makes the case that he shouldn't testify, or he has to take this to the -- to the courts, you know, he -- not only are they discrediting the FBI.

But, you know, they will also be able to say that Mueller hasn't passed a certain threshold here, that to compel me to testify. All the while, the president can say, "Don't blame me. I really want to talk. I do."

BASH: You know, Gloria, I totally agree that, you know, we've seen him -- you've been doing some amazing reporting on this thread of this investigation. A big one, as we get potentially toward the end, which is will here, won't he, will the president talk to Mueller or not.

And I definitely think there's a good cop-bad cop thing going on here. But my understanding is that the sort of good cop is, at its core, really, because Donald Trump believes he's got this. That he can do this. And he's done so many depositions before in the private sector, and more importantly, he wants to feel vindicated and that, at the end of the day, if he doesn't go, he knows that sort of the political chatter will be well, but they never heard from the president.

And I'm not saying he's going to win -- very unlikely that he's going to get that. And it's much more likely as you've been reporting, Gloria, that his lawyers are going to say, "No way."

BLITZER: Stand by. Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news we're following. A top aide to President Trump resigns amid allegations he assaulted two ex-wives. Why the White House response is now under great scrutiny.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:49:03] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: More breaking news. We're just getting word from our White House team, our White House correspondents, that White House officials knew about Rob Porter's allegations of abuse against his two ex-wives for months. Didn't do anything about it. In fact, his stock continued to rise in the process.

David, a serious allegation. He's now resigned amid these allegations.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and I think what this is starting to set up is this pattern with the White House where they circle wagons around someone in their orbit who has been accused of these kind of things until the very last minute. And that is probably the most damning thing.

Obviously, at some point folks didn't know what Rob Porter had done or is alleged to have done, but once they knew, what did they do about it?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think this could be a problem for the chief of staff, General Kelly. Obviously, this was an issue in his clearance applications, his wives were apparently interviewed. General Kelly knew. He's got some kind of interim clearance.

[18:50:01] But if General Kelly knew and it wasn't widely known and he protected him, I'm wondering what the reaction will be of people like, say, Ivanka Trump or the president.

BLITZER: Yes, Dana, you've been following this closely. Go ahead.

BORGER: I was going to follow on Gloria, or the president himself. If the president did not know about this, but John Kelly apparently did because of the FBI background check in the fall that showed, you know, that Rob Porter perhaps shouldn't get security clearance, that is potentially problematic, because you are not just talking about somebody who is close to the Oval Office, somebody who the president began to rely on. You're also talking about somebody who is dating Hope Hicks, who is practically family to President Trump. And that's no small thing.

BLITZER: And she's the communications director and helped draft these statements, these glowing statements about Rob Porter. But legally, Jeff, the fact that he didn't get full security clearances but he and John Kelly who does, was transmitting classified documents to the president to read even though he had temporary clearances potentially that's a problem.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, one of the dirty little secrets about security clearances is if powerful people want you to have access to classified information, you're going to have access to classified information. And clearly, the president and the chief of staff wanted Porter to have this access. So he got it.

But in terms of larger issue, I think the only reasonable conclusion to draw is that John Kelly, Donald Trump thought beating up two wives was just no big deal.

BLITZER: Well, it is a huge deal and he no longer has his job, although he's still there. There is going to be interim period, we are told by the White House that he will leave. But at some point, he will leave --

TOOBIN: Only when the press -- only when the press disclosed it did it become a big deal.

BLITZER: Yes, obviously.

All right. Everybody, stand by.

There is more reaction we are getting tonight to President Trump's controversial call for major military parade in Washington. One leading Republican calling it cheesy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:35] BLITZER: Tonight, planning is under way for U.S. military parade that the president has called for in the nation's capital.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us.

Barbara, there's mixed reaction to the kind of display the president clearly wants to see.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It's Washington. Here even a parade becomes politics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Tonight, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff confirming initial planning for a military parade is now under way. President Trump saw this military parade in Paris, and decided he wanted one of his own.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was one of the greatest parades I've ever seen. It was two hours on the button. And it was military might. And I think a tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France.

To a large extent, because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July 4th in Washington down Pennsylvania.

STARR: The Pentagon and the White House have been talking about a parade for the last couple of months.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: As far as the parade goes, the president's respect, his fondness for the military I think they reflective in him asking for these options.

STARR: Ideas will be forwarded to Mr. Trump for his decision. An initial plan, a November Veterans Day parade commemorating 100 years since the end of World War I. At least one veterans group is already worried.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: So far, it's going over in the military and veterans community like a lead balloon. We did a quick snap shat on Twitter account no means scientific, but last I checked, 88 percent of people did not support this idea.

STARR: American parades of military might are rare. The last one, 1991, as the Gulf War was ending. That costs a reported $12 million. The military tab for President Obama's inaugurations were approximately $20 million to $25 million.

France's parade commemorated its national day. But in recent years, military parades in not so friendly countries like China have showcased their military might on the world stage. Russia has a decades long love a fair showing its latest weapons in Moscow. Pyongyang's parade, a direct symbol of Kim Jong-un's rhetoric about striking America.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I'm not looking for a soviet style hardware display.

STARR: What type of parade Mr. Trump orders up has quickly become controversial on both side of the aisle.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MINORITY WHIP: We need to honor our men and women in uniform. But I think we ought to do so in a way that does not necessarily appear bellicose or threatening.

STARR: And fundamental questions if this parade is simply for and about Donald Trump.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's really about feeding his ego and his pomp and circumstance and being honored. Other thing that bothers me is it's just antithetical to American military culture. We are not against parades. Troops march in parades. But it's about going down Pennsylvania Avenue allegedly with tanks and missiles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And Democratic lawmakers today are asking the Pentagon for cost estimate and how many troops it's going to take to pull this off -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any idea about a cost?

STARR: Well, not yet because they haven't decided how many tanks, missiles, weapons, how many troops, how many units. It will be expensive. There is a lot of concern that these heavy tanks, these heavy vehicles could rip up city streets in Washington. Local government is not too happy. They want to know who is going it pay for it.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- thanks very much.

That's it for me.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.