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Trump Soft-Pedals Putin's Aggression, Says He May or May Not Meet Russian Leader; Draft Mueller Docs Reveal Trump Ally's Alleged Efforts to Get Info on Clinton Campaign E-mails; Manafort Denies Report That He Met Secretly with WikiLeaks Founder; White House: 'President Was Involved in No Wrongdoing'. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 27, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper, or tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

[17:00:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. What Mueller knows. CNN receives draft court filings which show -- which may show Robert Mueller is in the home stretch of a collusion case. The documents detail alleged steps by a Trump ally to obtain information on Democratic e-mails stolen by Russia.

Manafort's meetings. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort denies a report that he met secretly with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, even as the special counsel says Manafort broke his plea deal by repeatedly lying to prosecutors and investigators.

Narrowing denials. As the Mueller investigation closes in, the White House now says President Trump did nothing wrong, but this time, there's no blanket denial of wrongdoing for those who were in his inner circle.

And not sharing intel. Is the White House blocking the CIA director from briefing U.S. senators on the murder of a U.S.-based journalist by a Saudi hit team? And is the Trump administration trying to shield the Saudi crown prince?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. CNN has now obtained draft court document which may show the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is getting closer and closer to making a collusion case.

The papers lay out moves allegedly made by longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone in seeking information from WikiLeaks on Democratic e- mails stolen by Russia.

Meantime, "The Guardian" newspaper reports former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort secretly met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange around the time he became chairman of the Trump campaign. This as the special counsel calls for the immediate sentencing of Manafort, saying he breached his cooperation agreement by lying repeatedly to federal authorities.

I'll speak with Congressman David Cicilline of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are standing by with full coverage.

Let's get straight to the breaking news with CNN political correspondent Sara Murray.

Sara, these documents came from a plea agreement that collapsed between Mueller's team and a man named Jerome Corsi, a Roger Stone ally and the alleged conduit to WikiLeaks. Walk us through all of this.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this gives us a really good insight, not only into why investigators were interested in Jerome Corsi. Remember, he believes he's in legal hot water and could face charges for lying to investigators. But also into this collusion investigation that we know the special counsel's team has been looking into.

And in these draft filings, which, you know, of course could change. They were provided to us by Jerome Corsi. You see these e-mail exchanges between Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone in the summer of 2016. So I want to walk you through some of them.

I mean, one of the things you need to know as you look at these e- mails, is that "Organization 1" is WikiLeaks. So here's Roger Stone telling Jerome Corsi, in July 2016, "Get to" Julian Assange, " the founder of Organization 1," WikiLeaks, "at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and get the pending WikiLeaks e-mails. They'll deal with the Foundation." Allegedly he's referring to the Clinton Foundation there.

So you can see how badly Roger Stone allegedly wanted to get his hands on these WikiLeaks e-mails.

And then in August, August 2nd of 2016 -- this is before any of these John Podesta e-mails are public -- you get an e-mail from Corsi to Roger Stone saying, "Word is a friend in the embassy plans two more dumps, one shortly after I'm back, second in October. Impact planned to be very damaging." And this e-mail goes on to suggest that some of this could have to do with Podesta.

So it shows you that these two guys are going back and forth, talking about this at a time when, you know, a lot of this stuff isn't public information.

Now, Roger Stone insists that he never saw anything before it was published by WikiLeaks. Jerome Corsi insists he was not directly in touch with Julian Assange. But you can see why investigators are looking at these two men and saying, are these guys the key to a collusion question?

The other thing Roger Stone did that we know drew a lot of scrutiny was he put that tweet out, now-infamous tweet in late August of 2016, saying it will soon be the Podestas' time in the barrel. And Roger Stone has said, "This was just -- this had to do with the Podesta brothers' business dealings. It didn't have to do with their e-mails. And it was based on some research I had Jerome Corsi did for me."

Well, now Jerome Corsi is saying, actually, the tweet came first and the research came later. Here's how he described how he helped Roger Stone sort of clean up that mess.


JEROME CORSI, ROGER STONE ASSOCIATE: Political campaigns frequently develop alternative explanations for clients. And I was doing that. I mean, they said, "Is it lying?"

I said, "Well, yes, it's lying, but it's pretty normal practice in politics."


[17:05:03] MURRAY: "Pretty normal practice in politics." You see Jerome Corsi, associate of Roger Stone, explaining how he helped Stone come up with a reasonable explanation that he could offer publicly for why he put that tweet out, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Sara, WikiLeaks, they released John Podesta's e-mails the same day that "Access Hollywood" released a videotape where Donald Trump is heard talking about groping women, among other things. So what does Corsi know about the timing of that release by WikiLeaks?

MURRAY: Well, Corsi said this is one thing investigators were really interested in his interview with them. They wanted to know if this was somehow orchestrated.

And he said, you know, in fact, Roger Stone was very alarmed when he found out that this video was going to be coming out and says he actually contacted Jerome Corsi. Here's how Corsi described it when I asked him about it today.


CORSI: We get to October 7, which was a very, very busy day for him here in New York. And Roger calls me three times. We have -- three times we have a discussion.

Now, my recollection is that Roger is saying, you know, "This Billy Bush is going to be dropped, and Assange better get going. You know, why don't you get to your buddy Assange and tell him to start?"

Well, I didn't have any contact with Assange. You know, but, Roger, going back to July and August, may have -- you know, may have led him on.


MURRAY: And again, Corsi has said that he shared this information with investigators. He shared this information with the grand jury, and suggests that Roger Stone knew, even before this "Access Hollywood" Billy Bush tape was released that was so damaging, that they were going to need something to mitigate the fallout and that he was trying to work behind the scenes to make sure that WikiLeaks document dump came later.

Now, Roger Stone is insisting that this is patently false. In a very colorful Roger Stone statement, he said, "It is pure unadulterated, unmitigated B.S. And why would I ask him to contact Assange, who even today he says he does not know? Neither logical or true."

Wolf, this is what investigators are having to dig through, these conflicting version of events from these two gentlemen.

BLITZER: Lots to work on for Mueller and his team, though. No doubt. Sara Murray, good reporting. Thank you very much.

Even as the special counsel says he broke his plea deal by lying, the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is denying a new report that he secretly met multiple times with the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

Let's bring in our senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt. So Alex, what's the latest on this front?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is an explosive report that comes at a very fraught time for Paul Manafort, who is currently in solitary confinement in a jail in Virginia.

"The Guardian" newspaper put out this report. They are alleging that Manafort has known Julian Assange for years, since well before the 2016 campaign; and that, as Manafort was coming on the campaign, he met with Assange again in London, a meeting that could provide the missing link between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): Tonight, a new report claims it was here at the Ecuadorian embassy in London that its most famous occupant, Julian Assange, met at least three times with Paul Manafort.

The first meeting, according to "The Guardian" newspaper, took place as far back as five years ago. But it's a March 2016 meeting, around the time that Manafort joined the Trump campaign, that would be of most interest to Robert Mueller and his team. And while what was discussed in the meeting is not known, the special counsel is seemingly zeroing in on tying Russian government hackers, via WikiLeaks, to the Trump campaign.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The timing makes it very, very significant that this could be exactly the link that we have all been missing. And you know, Mueller's team may have already known this.

MARQUARDT: CNN has not confirmed "The Guardian's" report. Manafort has denied it, saying in a statement, "This story is totally false and deliberately libelous. I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to WikiLeaks, either directly or indirectly. I've never reached out to Assange or WikiLeaks on any matter."

And in a strongly worded tweet, WikiLeaks says they are "willing to bet 'The Guardian' $1 million and its editor's head that Manafort never met Assange."

Manafort was not officially in the visitor's logs for the alleged meeting, but Ecuadorian intelligence sources reportedly showed the newspaper a document listing Manafort as a guest.

The meeting came just a few months before WikiLeaks published their first batch of Democratic e-mails that were stolen by Russian military hackers. The president repeatedly praising WikiLeaks on the campaign trail.


MARQUARDT: CNN has also learned that Mueller has been investigating a meeting between Manafort and the Ecuadorian president after the election, in 2017. The special counsel specifically asked whether WikiLeaks or Assange were discussed.

All this as Mueller's office on Monday accused Manafort of violating his plea deal by committing crimes and lies on a variety of subject matters. Manafort's lawyers shot back, saying Manafort believed he provided truthful information.

[17:10:03] The special counsel will now have to tell the judge what Manafort lied about, revealing part of the investigation.

The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, telling CNN on Tuesday he did know Manafort's team was running into problems and that the president is angry, arguing, "This wouldn't be happening to him if not for this perverse overzealous desire to get him."


MARQUARDT: And back when Manafort struck his plea deal with the special counsel two months ago, part of it included dropping the charges, 10 out of 18 charges that he was accused of.

Now a judge says those could be brought back, since Manafort has been found to be violating his plea by lying. It does remain to be seen if that will happen, but Manafort is due to be sentenced on the other eight charges he was convicted of in Virginia this coming February.

BLITZER: That's when he's going to be sentenced? In February?


BLITZER: Alex Marquardt, thank you very much.

Let's go live to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's on the North Lawn of the White House.

So Jim, with all of this news coming out of the Mueller investigation today, the White House isn't making much of an effort to defend or protect Paul Manafort or others targeted by Mueller.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, that's right, Wolf. At the first on-camera briefing with reporters in nearly one month, White House officials tried to carefully answer some questions today on the Russia investigation.

The press secretary, Sarah Sanders, appeared to indicate that there weren't talks going on inside the White House on pardoning former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but the White House didn't exactly encourage Manafort to cooperate with the special counsel's office, just as he's been accused of lying to investigators.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Handle with care. That seems to be the White House approach to dealing with the allegation from the special counsel's office that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort violated his plea deal by lying to investigators.


ACOSTA: At the White House briefing, there was no talk of pardons.

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any conversations for anyone's pardon involving this process at all.

ACOSTA: But notably, no real push to urge Manafort to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

(on camera): Would the president recommend that Mr. Manafort begin to cooperate, offer full cooperation to the special counsel's office?

SANDERS: We can only speak to what our role is in that process. And not only has the president, but the entire administration has been fully cooperative with the special counsel's office, providing hours and hours of sit-downs, as well as over 4 million pages in documents. We continue to be cooperative, but we also know that there was no collusion, and we're ready for this to wrap up.

ACOSTA: Press secretary Sarah Sanders appeared to make a point of only defending the president, not the rest of the campaign.

SANDERS: Certainly, I remain confident in the White House's assertion that the president was involved in no wrongdoing, was not part of any collusion.

ACOSTA: Still, with expectations building that Mueller could be closing in on new indictments in the Russia investigation, the president remains agitated with the probe, tweeting, "The media builds up Bob Mueller as a saint, when in actuality, he is the exact opposite. He is doing tremendous damage to our criminal justice system, where he's only looking at one side and not the other. Heroes will come out of this, and it won't be Mueller."

The White House is also standing its ground on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, with national security adviser John Bolton dismissing questions from reporters about whether he should listen to an audio reporting of the murder of the Saudi journalist.

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I guess I should ask you why you think I should? What do you think I'll learn from it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you're the national security adviser. You might have access to that sort of intelligence.

BOLTON: Yes, how many in this room speak Arabic?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't have access to an interpreter?

BOLTON: What you want me to listen to it? What am I going to learn from -- I mean, if they were speaking Korean, I wouldn't learn anymore from it, either.

ACOSTA: Sanders pushed back on the notion that the president is rejecting the assessment of the CIA that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing.

SANDERS: We haven't seen definitive evidence come from our intelligence community that ties him directly to that. What we have seen is a number of individuals that we know are tied to that, and those individuals have been sanctioned.

ACOSTA: As Sanders was speaking, the president upstaged his press secretary, breaking the news that he may punish General Motors over its plans to close car factories in the U.S., tweeting, "We are now looking at cutting all GM subsidies."

The White House is blaming GM, not Trump administration economic policies, for its current woes.

SANDERS: They're making a car, frankly, that people don't want to buy.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House said the president won't be meeting with the Saudi crown prince when Mr. Trump travels to Argentina for the G- 20 summit later on this week.

The president, however, will be meeting with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin; and Russian aggression against Ukraine is likely to come up in that discussion when those two leaders meet. What the president will do about it, though, Wolf, that remains a big open question -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta, our chief White House correspondent reporting tonight from the North Lawn of the White House.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure (ph).

BLITZER: And I quickly want to begin with these documents given to CNN by Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi. They lay out in detail how Stone pushed Corsi to obtain information from WikiLeaks about those stolen Democratic documents during the 2016 presidential campaign. Is this evidence of collusion?

[17:15:16] CICILLINE: Well, I think, again, this is more evidence of an ongoing conspiracy or collusion between high-ranking Trump campaign officials and WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and the stolen e-mails.

You can see that he's not only directing Jerome Corsi to get information about -- to get the copies of the e-mails or get information about them, he reports back to Roger Stone on August 2. The following day, Roger Stone has already said that he spoke with the president.

So again, this is more evidence of a high-ranking official in the Trump campaign or an associate of President Trump in conversations with individuals that have possession of the stolen e-mails and discussions about their release.

So I think this is very disturbing, very explosive information. I think it shows the special counsel is really focusing in on the coordination that occurred, potentially, between the Trump campaign and Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and the Russian intelligence services that helped steal those e-mails.

BLITZER: Let's turn to that report in "The Guardian" newspaper, which alleges that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange multiple times. That's in the report. Both Manafort and WikiLeaks deny the report, but if it's true -- if it's true that Manafort did, in fact, meet with Assange, do you believe that would be a smoking gun?

CICILLINE: Absolutely. This is the campaign manager, the president's campaign manager, meeting with the individual who was really taking charge of the stolen e-mails that were then released in an effort to hurt the Hillary Clinton campaign. A meeting with Julian Assange would be the smoking gun. Very significant development.

But I think all of this points to one important fact. We need to protect Robert Mueller and allow this investigation to come to its conclusion, to present this report to the American people, so we know exactly what happened here. And we have to resist any effort to interfere, impede, stop in any way this very critical investigation.

BLITZER: At the White House press briefing today, the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, would only say that the president himself was not personally involved in any collusion. She declined to defend anyone else on the campaign. So what does that -- what does that very narrow denial from the White House now say to you?

CICILLINE: Well, I think it says to me that they recognize that the special counsel is in possession of evidence of this coordination and communication between Trump associates and WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and Guccifer 2, the Russian intelligence services. And now they're trying to develop a new scenario where maybe all of this happened, but the president knew nothing about it.

I think that's ultimately the question that the special counsel will have to answer, is what did the president know, when did he know it, who was briefed on these activities?

But this flies in direct contradiction to the assertions by so many of these individuals that they had no contact with Russia; they had no contact about the e-mails; they didn't know anything about their release. These e-mails confirm that there was an ongoing coordination between Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks related to the release of these stolen e-mails in an effort to undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and to help the candidacy of President Trump.

BLITZER: Let's not forget: The e-mails were stolen by the Russian military intelligence unit, the GRU, according to the U.S. government.

The news comes, Congressman, just one day after the special counsel, Robert Mueller, terminated Paul Manafort's plea deal, alleging he repeatedly lied during what was supposed to be his cooperation. Why would Manafort lie to the special counsel and the FBI after already pleading guilty?

CICILLINE: Hard to know, except that it is a very dangerous move by Mr. Manafort. His plea agreement requires him to be truthful and fully disclose everything he knows in response to the special counsel's inquiry. He now is on the hook for, not only the charges he pled to, but potentially, for other charges which had previously been dismissed, to be refiled. All bets are off in terms of leniency.

So one has to wonder. The only thing he could be hoping for is a pardon from the president. The only way that you would risk spending the rest of your life in jail in an effort to lie about what happened and protect the president is some expectations that the president is going to take care of you.

We don't know that, but there's really no other explanation for this decision by Mr. Manafort to not provide truthful information to the special counsel and run the risk of spending the rest of his life in federal prison.

BLITZER: Congressman Cicilline, thanks so much for joining us.

CICILLINE: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, more on our breaking news. How much does the special counsel know? Do the court filings obtained by CNN show that he's getting closer and closer to nailing down a collusion case?


[17:24:28] BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the Russia investigation. CNN has now obtained draft legal documents that give us significant new insights about what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, knows.

This includes new details about Trump ally Roger Stone's alleged efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to get information from WikiLeaks about the Clinton campaign e-mails stolen by the Russian intelligence service.

Let's bring in our experts. Phil Mudd, what does -- what stands out to you from going through these documents?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: One piece of this. Look, we've been at this for a couple of years now. There's a couple of pieces that have already come in place. We know what the Russians did. The Mueller indictments show us. It wasn't only Russians involved in hacking. It was Russians involved in military intelligence.

We know who they hacked and how they released the information. That was the intermediary, WikiLeaks, putting out the information.

We're waiting for the final piece.

We knew Roger Stone was involved in looking at WikiLeaks. We didn't have a great deal of detail. That final piece -- was there an element in the Trump circuit who was connected with WikiLeaks? -- slowly coming into focus? The piece we're missing, though, is whether they ever got what they were seeking. We're half a step away from that, closing in.

BLITZER: What do you make of Corsi's claim, and it's a claim by him, that he just happened to correctly guess -- it was a guess on his part -- which e-mails WikiLeaks would release?

MUDD: It was a guess? OK, the serious answer to this is, if he's telling that to the special counsel, he better be pretty darned sure the special counsel doesn't have information that show, for example, e-mails or telephonic communication with WikiLeaks numbers or e-mail addresses that shows that Corsi already had linkages to WikiLeaks people.

I don't buy it for a minute. If you buy that, put a tooth under your pillow tonight, because you're going to get a dollar in the morning. It doesn't make sense.

BLITZER: In these documents, you know, Laura, the prosecutors outline what they say are three specific lies they allege Corsi told federal investigators, including FBI and the special counsel's office. Why would Corsi reject a plea agreement, knowing the kind of evidence that the special counsel has?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It could be he's simply not listening to his lawyer. Clients sometimes reject really good advice, even when it's in their own best interests.

I mean, there's no question, the e-mails are a really bad look for Corsi and Stone. They're explicit; they kind of all lay it all out there. But as Phil said, we haven't seen sort of the back end of those e-mails. We haven't seen the communications between Corsi and someone involved in WikiLeaks. We haven't seen an e-mail between Corsi and Julian Assange, for instance, which is really damning.

But the other piece of this is that e-mails are coming from a draft statement of offense, which would have been included if he had actually pled guilty. There may be more to it that Mueller just didn't lay out here, knowing that Corsi is publicly talking to everyone about this.

BLITZER: And we only have a tiny clue --

JARRETT: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- of what Mueller and his people really know.

Dana, is this the most damning evidence of collusion that we've seen so far?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I guess probably, but the last part of your sentence is the key, what you were saying, what we've seen so far. We don't know what we don't know. And that -- as much as we, understandably, seize on the sort of tidbits that we get, the little drops of information that we get through these various negotiations over plea deals or indictments of maybe lesser characters, there is a year and a half's worth of work that is the basis for what Robert Mueller and his team really do have. And we have to keep that in mind.

And although there have been, you know, public suggestions of people who talk to the Mueller team that he could be wrapping up, looking at this -- I don't know what you think, both of you guys with the legal background -- it doesn't look like someone who's going to wrap up anytime soon.

BLITZER: It looks like he's working. He's got a lot of information.

Bianna Golodryga, how do you see all this unfolding?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, one person throughout all of this continues to surprise us, and that's Robert Mueller, in the sense that he is not one but a thousand steps ahead of us. And nothing thus far has leaked. So every time we think we see where something is going and the direction that it's going, another surprise pops up.

Another question that comes to mind is going back to the Manafort and Trump connection. Remember, initially, when he was brought into the campaign, it was almost coincidental, perfect timing, stars sort of aligned.

Now that you see the track record, not only with his contacts in Eastern Europe but also his contacts with Julian Assange, going back as far as a few years ago before the campaign, one has to wonder about the connection between Trump associates and Manafort himself and whether he just happened to stumble into the campaign or whether there were closer ties there. BLITZER: You know, Phil, let me get your reaction to this report in

"The Guardian" today, which alleges that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, made multiple visits with the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, including during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Manafort denies it. Julian -- Julian Assange denies it. But if it's true, would that be clear-cut evidence of collusion linking the Russians, WikiLeaks, Trump associates, and the Trump campaign?

MUDD: Half a step. The one final piece you need is if he traveled -- that is, if Manafort traveled to London to meet Assange, I want to see Assange giving him something in exchange.

That doesn't have to be a piece of paper. It could be, "We will release information on WikiLeaks in states that are important to you, and we'll let you know in advance."

I'll tell you, the one thing that's interesting here -- Manafort is obviously denying this -- if they've got -- that is, the Mueller people have things like his travel records, airplane records, visa records, e-mail. If he's lying again for about the 18th time, A, he's in trouble, and B, if this is confirmed, we're a half a step away from saying the campaign colluded. Not there yet.

[17:30:15] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's the key. I mean, finding out if somebody who's an American citizen traveled to a place like London is not that hard. I mean, you need a passport; and you can get that information if you're any federal official, never mind Robert Mueller. Right? I mean, finding out the basic information --

MUDD: For example, go to the British and say, "What are the immigration records for people coming in?"

BASH: Right. Right.


BLITZER: Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Go ahead. I was going to say, that leads you to one of two conclusions. One, that Mueller -- or that Manafort is really this naive. That he's gotten away with lying his whole life, so why not now to Bob Mueller?

Or that maybe that it would be worth going to prison for, as opposed to the sequences of divulging everything he knows in exchange for possibly, you know, upsetting some untoward people -- let's just leave it at that -- in Eastern Europe.

BLITZER: You know, yesterday, Manafort, according to Robert Mueller, is a liar. In the plea agreement that they released yesterday, the document they released before the court, the federal prosecutors said, "Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the special counsel's office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement."

What's your analysis of why Manafort, at this stage, after pleading guilty, promising to cooperate in order to get a reduced sentence, would go ahead and lie?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what's so confounding, is why, given the level of exposure and the serious -- I mean, the criminal case that they have built around him, why would he risk that?

And I think that's what's led everyone to the speculation that he could only be possibly holding out for a pardon. Otherwise, you wouldn't risk this.

But he has a credibility problem. He has a history of lying. He has pled guilty to lying to the investigators here. And we all remember even when he was in jail and he was facing a criminal trial, he was using his e-mail in violation of the rules. And he was doing things that suggest that he was being less than transparent with the special counsel's office, which has really got him in a lot of hot water there.

BLITZER: You spoke to Rudy Giuliani, Dana, the president's personal lawyer. What did he say?

BASH: Well, what's interesting is that he is very open about the fact that he's in communication with Paul Manafort's attorneys. And there's nothing wrong with that.

BLITZER: Nothing wrong with that. Defense attorneys can do that.

BASH: Absolutely. And it is -- it's done a lot when you have multiple people who are -- who are represented by different lawyers, who have common interests.

And at this point, the Giuliani -- Giuliani -- the Trump legal team and the Manafort legal team believe that they still have common interests, which I think is noteworthy.

But he also explained -- so Giuliani said that they have known for some time that Paul Manafort was sort of moving away from this plea deal, because he felt that he was being pressured, according to Manafort, to not tell the truth.

But also explained why the president has been, you know, even more aggressive on Twitter, going after Mueller, is because of what he's seeing with Manafort and what he's saying with Corsi. Which he argues, he the president argues in private, just as he's done publicly on Twitter, that this is Exhibit A of the Mueller investigation going way too far, going after people as a way to get at and get to and take down the president.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, some have suggested that Manafort may be motivated by a potential presidential pardon. What do you think?

GOLODRYGA: Look, that is a big risk to put yourself out there for, in hoping that the president, who at times, as you know, through Twitter and other means, has distanced himself from Manafort. So to think that now he would happen to pardon him would be a big risk for Manafort not to take, not to mention that state charges do not apply here. So this would just be for federal pardoning and federal crimes.

So in addition to that, remember, Manafort's woes go back way before he joined this campaign. Tax evasion, all of that, all of his dealings in Ukraine and Russia go back decades. If anything, one could say that he's possibly more concerned about the consequences of what Mueller has dug up about his time there and what that has led up to now, and not wanting to upset people and former business partners that he worked with in Ukraine and Russia, as opposed to just worry about how this impacts the Trump campaign administration.

BLITZER: You know, Phil, I asked the question about pardons --

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: -- because of the president's three tweets earlier today, in which he really goes -- I mean, he's been blasting Mueller and the Mueller probe for a long time. Some of the things he said about this, quote, "phony witch hunt," "Mueller and his gang of angry Dems. They are horribly and viciously treating people, ruining people's lives. Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue. He's doing tremendous damage to our criminal justice system. He's got a gang of angry Democrats. The now $30 million witch hunt continues, and they've got nothing but ruined lives."

[17:35:11] And then he, at the end, he says, "Let these terrible people go back to the Clinton Foundation," and then he puts in quotes, "'Justice' Department."

This is what he's saying right now.

MUDD: Can we differentiate between the president and the commander in chief?

Last winter, starting in late winter, we had the initial huge tranche of indictments about Russian citizens who were involved in hacking an American election and who were affiliated with people who had direct business ties to Putin. Fine.

We move, fast forward, we have another huge tranche of indictments from the Mueller team, these people who are supposed to be angry Democrats, who directly connect Russian military intelligence, presumably authorized by Putin, to get involved in hacking an American election.

Can the president spend one second telling us why an investigation funded by America, that shows us, in black and white, that Russian military intelligence is interfering in elections is a hoax? Why is that a hoax? Why can't he be commander in chief? I don't get it.

BLITZER: Dana, if the president of the United States believes that what Mueller is doing is doing tremendous damage to our criminal justice system, why doesn't he do the right thing and simply fire Mueller and end this injustice to the criminal justice system? Why is he sitting back and just watching it unfold, if he believes what he's actually say?

BASH: I mean, look, that's a good question. The answer is being he's being told by every single person around him, "Do not do that," for a lot of reasons. You know, the most pressing is the political ramifications for doing that, particularly with the Democrats poised to take over the House.

But what you say is a logical outgrowth of what you just saw and what you just read in those Twitter comments this morning. There is no question. And he is expressing his frustration. And the question is, how is that going to manifest itself? Particularly since, remember, he now has -- has a hand-picked acting attorney general, who has been very publicly, you know, critical of the Mueller probe. And so that is something that is a big question mark.

And it is also why, even though there's a lot of Republican criticism of this idea, there is even more talk this week of legislation in the U.S. Senate and then, ultimately, in the House to protect Robert Mueller.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys. Everybody, stick around. There's a lot unfolding. We're just beginning to assess all of this. Much more, we're going to have on what we're learning about the special counsel's investigation from drafts of court papers prepared by Robert Mueller's team and now obtained by CNN.

We're also following breaking news in Mississippi, where there are just over two hours left to vote in what's become a very controversial runoff for a U.S. Senate seat.


[17:42:29] BLITZER: We're following a breaking story in Mississippi. Voters have just over two more hours to cast ballots in what's become very controversial and polarized U.S. Senate runoff. Republicans are expecting to hold the seat. It's a much different story in the House of Representatives.

Our political director, David Chalian, is here.

David, you know, Democrats, they keep picking up seats in the new House.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: The votes are still being counted. Today in New Mexico, in the Second Congressional District there, a Republican-held seat, flipped to the Democrat, Xochitl Torres. Small wins there in New Mexico. This -- this is now the 39th net pick up for Democrats in the House of Representatives. They are on the precipice of 40, because there's a seat in California.

Now, the only race that doesn't have a call yet from CNN, in the 21st Congressional District, San Joaquin Valley in California, Wolf, where David Valadao, the Republican incumbent, has now fallen behind the Democratic candidate there, T.J. Cox. Democrats ahead by about 436 votes. If that false to the Democrats, that will be a clean 40 net gain pickup for Democrats.

BLITZER: That's a pretty impressive sweep. And beyond that, if you add up all of the American votes for members of the House of Representatives in all the congressional -- 435 congressional districts, the Democrats nationally, what, they picked up some 9 million more votes than the Republicans.

CHALIAN: Yes. It's an astonishing gap between the two parties. Nearly 9 million raw votes, advantage for the Democrats over Republicans, in the national House race. As you said, if you total them all up. That is a record-breaking gap between two parties in House votes in American history.

And so not only did we see some record turnout for a midterm election season, Wolf, but we now are seeing this record win for Democrats and this 40-seat gain. As you said, this really is a blue wave that has been extending now for three weeks.

BLITZER: But in the Senate, the Republicans did pick up at least two, maybe three seats, right?

CHALIAN: Well, this wouldn't be a pick-up in Mississippi, it would be a Republican hold --

BLITZER: Right. They would have 53/47 instead of 51/49.

CHALIAN: That is exactly right. So they look poised to have a net gain of two, the Republicans, in the United States Senate. They had a hugely advantageous map, so the fact that Democrats were able to keep them to two actually, probably best at expectation.

BLITZER: And the Democrats did really well in the governor's races. They did really well with state legislatures. So what does this mean as far as a blue wave is concerned?

CHALIAN: Well, this is a pretty significant blue wave that has swept across the country. And there is little doubt that it is in retaliation to President Trump's first two years. That's what midterms are. They're sort of a report card from the American people on President Trump's first two years.

That's what midterms are. They're sort of a report card from the American people on the president's first two years. And President Trump did not get very much of a passing grade from the American public in these midterms.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right. And we'll all look forward to see what happens in Mississippi tonight in the special Senate runoff election.

CHALIAN: That's right.

BLITZER: All right, David, thanks very much.

Coming up, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort denies a newspaper's reporting he secretly met with WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange.

Also breaking right now, in a brand-new interview just posted, President Trump says maybe he won't meet after all with Vladimir Putin at this weekend's upcoming G20 Summit in Argentina. What do the President's relationships with dictators and strongmen mean for the U.S. on the world stage?


[17:50:18] BLITZER: Breaking news. Just days after Russia seized three Ukrainian ships, President Trump now says he's awaiting a full report but suggested in new "Washington Post" interview that he may not even meet with Vladimir Putin at this week's G20 Summit in Argentina.

Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us. Brian, the President not exactly holding Putin's feet to the fire right now, but we've seen this movie before.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have seen it before, Wolf. And, tonight, we're watching to see if we get a sequel of that movie.

In that "Post" interview, the President says he doesn't like the aggression which occurred in the waters off Ukraine. The question now is, is he going to give Vladimir Putin a pass as he's done before?


TODD (voice-over): After his U.N. Ambassador lambasted the aggression of Vladimir Putin and his military following their confrontation at sea with Ukrainian ships, President Trump once again appeared to let Putin slide.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Either way, we don't like what's happening. And hopefully, it'll get straightened out.

TODD (voice-over): Not unlike how the President seemingly let Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman slide after the CIA made the assessment that the Prince directed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

TRUMP: You can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn't.

TODD (voice-over): Critics say the pattern is consistent -- a dictator behaves badly; Trump either sidesteps the issue or praises the strongman like he's often done with Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: And then we fell in love, OK?

TODD (voice-over): Even when pressed by CBS' "60 Minutes" on Kim's record of human rights abuses, the President wouldn't budge.

LESLEY STAHL, CBS NEWS HOST: Why do you love that guy?

TRUMP: Look. Look. I have -- I like -- I get along with him, OK?

TODD (voice-over): Trump has often extolled his warm relationship with China's Xi Jinping.

And even though Philippines' President, Rodrigo Duterte, has admitted engaging in extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, a leaked transcript of a Trump phone call with Duterte quoted Trump as saying, I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem.

Trump biographers say some of this speaks to how Trump often seeks to portray himself as the tough guy.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": I think that he is drawn to authoritarian strongmen. I think that he admires the way that they wield power. But I also think he is afraid of them.

TODD (voice-over): The admiration along with a lack of willingness to go toe-to-toe with dictators, biographers say, could trace back to Trump's childhood.

D'ANTONIO: This is an instinct developed when he was very young in a household that was dominated by a very strong father figure and who sent him away to military academy when his father was exasperated with him.

TODD (voice-over): Others say this speaks to Trump's business instincts, willing to overlook a dictator's transgressions for practical purposes as he's done with the Saudi Crown Prince.

TRUMP: Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof.

TODD (voice-over): Business instincts which also led to an admiration for how dictators don't have to deal with the bureaucracy that he does.

MARC FISHER, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP REVEALED: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY OF AMBITION, EGO, MONEY, AND POWER": He was fascinated by people who were able to smash through the rulebook and get things done.

TODD (voice-over): But analysts say most of the dictators the President is friendly with now understand they can play Trump, get what they want from him by flattering him.

FISHER: Kim in North Korea and Xi in China, and now the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, have worked the President by showering him with praise, by receiving him with great pomp and circumstance in their countries, and by promising to buy American.

Do this for Trump, and he will be, at least rhetorically, praising of you and open to working with you in a way that previous American presidents were not.


TODD: Now, tonight, analysts are worried that by cutting so much slack to the regimes like the Saudis, the North Koreans, and the Vladimir Putins, President Trump could also be whittling away America's leverage over those countries.

Not only to get what the U.S. needs from them but to stop them from behaving badly on the world stage, from committing human life abuses and even murder, Wolf.

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

Coming up, the breaking news. CNN receives court papers detailing alleged steps by a Trump ally to get information on Democratic e-mails stolen by Russia. Is Robert Mueller getting closer to making a collusion case?

And Paul Manafort denies a report that he met secretly with WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, even as the Special Counsel says the former Trump campaign chairman broke his plea deal by repeatedly lying to the FBI and federal prosecutors.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Evidence of collusion? CNN has obtained draft documents of the Russia probe that shed new light on the alleged connections involving Trump ally Roger Stone, WikiLeaks, and stolen Clinton campaign e-mails. Tonight, a Stone associate is speaking out about what he knows.

Secret talks. Paul Manafort is denying a new report that he met multiple times with WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, including once around the time that he became the Trump campaign chairman. Is Robert Mueller looking into that as he declares Manafort's plea deal is dead?

[18:00:05] Discrediting Mueller.