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THE SITUATION ROOM
James Comey: Trump Lying about the FBI, Republicans Should Speak Out; Trump and His Lawyers Take Aim at Mueller Probe; Giuliani: Trump Will Testify Before Mueller 'Over My Dead Body'; Senate Intel Reports: Russian meddling in U.S. Politics 'Active and Ongoing'. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 17, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Dan Simon, thank you so much.
[17:00:03] Follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
Happening now, breaking news. "Overcome your shame." The former FBI director, James Comey, censures GOP lawmakers for not standing up to President Trump, who he accuses of constantly lying about the FBI and undermining the rule of law.
Isolated and tweeting. The president holed up and on the attack, along with his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, blasting the Russia investigation, even as he changes his story and calling his former fixer, Michael Cohen, a rat.
Exploiting divisions. New reports from the Senate Intelligence Committee reveal new details of the extent of Russian meddling in U.S. politics and how Moscow continues to use social media to sow discord.
And exchanges of fire. North Korea accuses U.S. government agencies of sabotaging Kim Jong-un's deal with President Trump and warns -- warns that new sanctions may spark a new war of words between the two countries.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news this hour: a stinging rebuke of President Trump and Congressional Republicans from the former FBI director, James Comey. He says the president is, quote, "lying about the FBI and undermining the rule of law," and that GOP lawmakers are enabling him. I'll talk about that and more with Congressman David Cicilline of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior Congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, Comey's remarks followed his second closed-door appearance in recent days before the House judiciary and Oversight Committees. What is his message tonight? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he came out
of that closed-door meeting, blasting the president and Republicans for standing silent over President Trump's handling of the Russia investigation, over his criticism of the FBI and the Justice Department, and for a number of Trump tweets, raising doubts and questions about the raid that occurred for the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen.
James Comey, talking to reporters, did not hold back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The president of the United States is lying about the FBI, attacking the FBI, and attacking the rule of law in this country. How does that make any sense at all?
Republicans used to understand that the actions of a president matter. The words of a president matter. The rule of law matters and the truth matters. Where are those Republicans today?
At some point, someone has to stand up and, in the face of fear of FOX News, fear of their base, fear of mean tweets, stand up for the values of this country and not slink away into retirement but stand up and speak the truth.
I find it frustrating to be here answering questions about things that are far less important than the values that this country is built upon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, what really set James Comey off was the president's tweet from over the weekend in which he called Michael Cohen a rat and also questioned how the FBI, in the president's words, broke into Cohen's office, even though the FBI had legally executed a search warrant to go through Cohen's premises.
But when I asked James Comey directly about the president's contention that Michael Cohen is a rat, Comey pushed back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: This is the president of the United States calling a witness, who has cooperated with his own Justice Department, a rat. Say that again to yourself at home and remind yourself where we have ended up.
This is not about Republicans and Democrats. This is about, what does it mean to be an American? What are the things that we care about, above our policy disputes, which are important? There is a set of values that represent the glue of this country, and they are under attack by things just like that.
We have to stop being numb to it, whether you're a Republican or Democrat. You need to stand on your feet, overcome your shame and say something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, behind closed doors, Comey has faced questioning about his decision not to announce publicly in 2017 that President Trump was not under investigation, as the president wanted at the time to clear his name.
Comey defended that decision, Wolf, saying that it appears that he may be right in not making that decision, that announcement now, because it appears, according to Comey, that the president is now under investigation.
Now, Comey based that on public reports, not any inside knowledge. But he said that had he made that declaration then, then the FBI would have to come out now and clean that up. He said good decision for not making that decision back in 2017, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Good point.
Manu, Comey also defended the FBI's investigation of the president's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after the president repeatedly attacked the FBI for the way it questioned Michael Flynn. What's the latest on that?
RAJU: Yes, I asked him directly about that, too. He said it's nonsense to criticize how the FBI handled this. This was something that was normal procedure, from going in and interviewing someone at this of capacity.
And he also said that Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, so there's no question that he did lie to the FBI.
And I also asked him about the questions that have come out in the recent court proceedings, that James Comey did not inform his superior, Sally Yates at the time, that the FBI went in and interviewed Michael Flynn. He said, "Well, the reason why I didn't do that was because, had I done that, Sally Yates is an Obama holdover, would have been strongly criticized by the president for greenlighting an FBI interview of the president's national security adviser, Michael Flynn." He said, "Look, I'm probably right about that."
And one other point, Wolf. I asked him also if he has confidence in the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, and he said no comment, and he walked away -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Manu, thank you very much.
Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, first of all, any reaction there to Comey's rather stinging appraisal of the president?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Wolf. But we should point out, the president has not been bashful about going after Jim Comey in the past. So I would expect that that's going to be happening within the next 24 hours after what we heard from the former FBI director up on Capitol Hill. But as you know, Wolf, President Trump's legal team is scrambling to
stay ahead of the latest twists and turns in the Russia investigation. The president and his outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, are both beating up on the special counsel's probe, throwing punches in just about every direction.
But it seems to be the truth that's taking a pounding.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The president's legal team isn't exactly spreading yuletide cheer when asked whether Mr. Trump will sit down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation.
RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: They're a joke. Over my dead body, but, you know, I could be dead.
ACOSTA: The president's outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, suggested, without any evidence, that Mueller's investigators are now digging deeper into Mr. Trump's past business dealings, complaining the Russia probe is now out of control.
GIULIANI: This is a witch hunt. They are going back now. They're going back to 1982, 1983. They're going through business records. My goodness. They went from collusion to obstruction, no evidence. Now campaign finance.
ACOSTA: Giuliani is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. When asked whether one of the president's associates, Roger Stone, gave Mr. Trump advance warning that WikiLeaks was about to dump damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the campaign, Giuliani said no but then added, it wouldn't be a crime either way.
GIULIANI: Not at all. I don't believe so. But, again, if Roger Stone gave anybody a heads up about WikiLeaks leaks, that's not a crime. It would be like giving them a heads up that "The Times" is going to print something.
Once -- the crime -- this is why this thing is so weird. Strange. The crime is conspiracy to hack. Collusion is not a crime. Doesn't exist.
ACOSTA: Giuliani also seemed to offer a new detail about the Trump Tower Moscow project. The president's former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the project, admitting discussions about the proposal lasted until June 2016. But Giuliani suggested that Mr. Trump may have had discussions which went on longer than that.
GIULIANI: According to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all the way up to November of -- covered all the way up to November 2016. He said he had conversations with then about -- the president didn't hide this.
ACOSTA: With Giuliani at the Sunday talk shows, the president worked over Cohen on Twitter, tweeting his one-time fixer only "became a 'Rat' after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable and unheard of until the Witch Hunt was illegally started. They BROKE INTO AN ATTORNEY'S OFFICE!"
But that's not true. Cohen later said those federal investigators were courteous and professional. House Democrats are eager to hear more of Cohen's story when they take control of Congress next year.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I'm hoping that Mr. Cohen will come before the Congress, where he can tell the American public exactly what he has been saying to Mueller and others without interfering with the Mueller investigation.
ACOSTA: The president spent much of the weekend airing his grievances about the Russian probe, blaming it all on former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, tweeting, "Jeff Sessions should be ashamed of himself for allowing this total hoax to get started in the first place."
With the president staying behind closed doors, acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, was one of several administration officials stopping by the White House. From outgoing interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, who is suddenly leaving the Trump team to incoming chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who has some explaining to do after this video surfaced from just before the 2016 election.
MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: Yes, I'm supporting Donald Trump. I'm doing so as enthusiastically as I can, given the fact that I think he's a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad.
ACOSTA: The president hasn't lashed out at Mulvaney, but did vent his frustrations on "Saturday Night Live," tweeting, "The show is nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts. Can't be legal?"
That may have something to do with the "SNL" sketch showing what life would be like if Mr. Trump had never been elected.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:10:04] BEN STILLER, COMEDIAN: I would never, ever flip on you. You're my best friend!
ACOSTA: The president's outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, also seems to be conceding that Mr. Trump did not initially tell the truth when he said he didn't know about the payments made to his alleged mistresses before the 2016 election.
The president, Giuliani pointed out, was not under oath when he denied knowledge of those payments to reporters earlier this year. So as far as the president's legal team is concerned, Wolf, it's just fine for the president to change his story, not tell the truth, as long as it's to the media -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta, thanks very much. Let's dig deeper into Rudy Giuliani's latest remarks about the Mueller
investigation. Our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is with us.
Evan, Giuliani says there's no way he's going to allow the president of the United States to sit down with Mueller and his team for an interview, a Q&A. In fact, that would happen, according to Giuliani, "over my dead body."
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
BLITZER: Why is he so opposed? If the president is telling the truth, has nothing to hide, why is he so opposed to the president sitting down and answering some questions?
PEREZ: Wolf, I think it's because they're afraid of from the beginning, they've been against an interview. The president has publicly said that he would be willing to what could happen in such a session.
Look, the president, as you know, when -- when pushed in a corner, tends to say things that may or may not be true. And so, this is what his legal team has worried about from the beginning. They have been against an interview. The president has publicly said that he would be willing to do one.
More recently, you've seen the president kind of come around to his legal team's thinking. And you remember that they had -- they had responded in writing to the questions from Robert Mueller's team.
And, you know, I'm told that they're not even expecting to respond if the Mueller team asks for clarifications to those written questions. They should not expect any more information from the president's legal team, simply because at this point, they believe they have given enough to the investigators, and that they should be able to provide -- they should be able to use what information they have to produce the Mueller report, whenever that is.
BLITZER: Now, you remember Michael Cohen. Originally, he told FBI, the investigators, that he stopped having conversations with the Russians about building a Trump Tower in Moscow in January of 2016. Later he said that was a lie. It really continued, what he said, until June of 2016.
But then yesterday, all of a sudden, Rudy Giuliani says that that those conversations, Michael Cohen, may have had additional conversations with the Russians about building a Trump Tower in Moscow as late as November 2016, on the eve of the election.
PEREZ: Right. I was struck by -- by that comment, simply because that pushes the time line a lot further along, Wolf. And keep in mind, candidate Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both given briefings in the late summer, around September. They were given their first intelligence briefings.
And one of the things that they were told about was the initial findings -- you know, the belief that the Russians were already doing things to interfere with the elections. For instance, the hack of the DNC.
So the fact is that the president, or the now-president -- then the candidate Trump, would have been pursuing business in Moscow. A Moscow Trump Tower project, well into the election, well into the election season, even after he was told about what exactly was happening.
Obviously, some of this information was also public. So it's a remarkable thing for the president's lawyer to be saying, simply because it means that, you know, while the president was still pursuing business in Russia, he was aware that they were doing things to, essentially, to help his campaign.
And I think that's going to be something that we're going to see in the Mueller report, whenever that comes out. Because I think that's an important thing for the American public to know, especially because the president, during the time of the election, said he had nothing to do with Russia.
BLITZER: -- my own suspicion -- and it's clearly a suspicion, is that Giuliani knows something about what Mueller knows. That Mueller may have some evidence, meaning that the talks conditioned until November 2016. And Giuliani is trying to get ahead of that kind of disclosure by saying what he said.
PEREZ: That's possible.
BLITZER: That's just the suspicion that I had.
Now, Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser, he's going to be sentenced tomorrow. He's going to be making a statement, we assume. What is he likely to say?
PEREZ: Well, one of the things that he's going to say, obviously, is that he's -- he's sorry. He's taking responsibility for lying to the FBI, Wolf. That's part of these hearings.
But outside of this hearing, you know, there's a lot of atmospherics. The right wing certainly is animated about this. They believe that the FBI snookered Flynn into lying, that they essentially framed him.
And so I think we're -- what this hearing is important for us to hear in Michael Flynn's own words is that he is taking responsibility for lying to the FBI. Judge Emmett Sullivan, as you know, Wolf, is not somebody who suffers mistakes by the government. So if there are any mistakes by the FBI, we're going to hear about it from this judge.
[17:15:06] BLITZER: We certainly are. All right. Thanks very much. We'll see what happens tomorrow. That could be a big story. Evan, appreciate it.
Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island is joining us. He's a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. Congressman, thanks so much.
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Yes, thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: What do you make of the former FBI director speaking out so forcefully against the president and in defense of the FBI and the Justice Department?
CICILLINE: Well, it's not a surprise. I mean, here's a gentleman who's dedicated his life to the rule of law, is the director of the FBI, who takes a lot of pride in the work that the professionals at the department do. And I think, frankly, he's sort of sick and tired of the president's efforts to undermine the rule of law, to attack the good men and women at the FBI; to call into question the motivations of those that are doing the work at the Office of the Special Counsel.
And to remind people that the president of the United States described the person who is cooperating with Department of Justice to get to the bottom of this as a rat. I mean, that's something you hear from a crime boss or a criminal -- someone who's running a criminal enterprise. Not something you expect to hear from the president of the United States.
BLITZER: Is it wishful thinking, Congressman, for -- that a former FBI director, Comey, to think he can persuade Republicans to act as a check on the president?
CICILLINE: You know, hope springs eternal. I have the same conversations with my Republican colleagues and remind them that, you know, their grandchildren are going to look back at this period in our history and say, "Grandpa or grandma, you were in Congress when Trump was president, and all this happened. What did you do?"
And many are going to have to say, "I did nothing." Or "I facilitated this."
So I think Director Comey was hoping to spark some interest in their part to stand up and do their jobs and hold this administration accountable, protect the rule of law, recognize the core values that have made this country the envy of the world. And reignite in them some responsibility to stand up and defend the rule of law and the values of our country.
BLITZER: Yes, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as you heard, is defending President Trump. He's now arguing that collusion is not a crime. Do you see a new legal strategy emerging now from Giuliani?
CICILLINE: Well, I mean, it's sort of a pattern. They deny things happened at all. Then when they're caught and there's evidence that, in fact, those events occurred, they say, "Well, if it did occur, and if the president was somehow involved in this activity or that activity or knew about it, it's not a crime anyway."
Look, the crime is conspiracy to defraud the people of the United States. And I expect that Mr. Mueller is going to continue his work to help us mind what the facts are and to report to the Congress. But this notion that it's perfectly OK to conspire with a foreign
adversary and in an effort to change the results of a presidential election or attack our democracy and then lie about it, that that's OK, Mr. Giuliani is dead wrong. And Mr. Mueller is going to establish that, I think.
BLITZER: Congressman, do you have any direct evidence as we speak right now that the president personally conspired with a hostile power, namely Russia, to try to interfere in the U.S. elections set to his benefit?
CICILLINE: Well, we know a whole bunch of data points. We know about a meeting at the Trump Tower with Russian operatives. We know they lied about that meeting. That they changed the real subject of that meeting. That they finally had to admit it happened.
We know of now 38 indictments or pleas. We know about multiple contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. We know about the release of e-mails and the contacts between Roger Stone and WikiLeaks.
I think the special counsel is putting these pieces together, point by point, and I expect when he has his final report to deliver to us, we'll have the opportunity to read it and determine what action is necessary.
But there's a lot of information out there about contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians, about certain activities and certain events. And it's either the biggest coincidence in the history of the universe, or there's something going on here that I expect we're going to learn about in more detail when Mr. Mueller finishes his investigation.
BLITZER: Because I asked the question, Congressman, because the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, says there is absolutely no evidence that the president personally -- maybe some others -- but that the president personally was involved in any such conspiracy.
CICILLINE: Well, again, we don't know. We don't know all of the information that Mr. Mueller has. We know the way the Trump Organization ran. We know people who are now cooperating with the investigation. We don't know all the information they have shared with the special counsel.
But I know one thing for certain. When this investigation is done, and Mr. Mueller delivers his report, we'll have all of the facts and we'll be able to make the right judgments at that point.
BLITZER: Congressman Cicilline, thanks so much for joining us.
CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: All right. There's more breaking news just ahead. The former FBI director, James Comey, urging Republican lawmakers to stand up to President Trump. Will they heed his call? And straight ahead, we have disturbing new details emerging right now
of Russian meddling in American politics, broader than previously known, and continuing right now.
[17:24:27] BLITZER: Stunning new reports out from the Senate Intelligence Committee, now warning of active and ongoing efforts by Russia to meddle in American politics through social media.
Let's go to our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin. He's working the story for us.
Drew, there are some truly shocking new details in these reports.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, although we've been reporting this for two years now, the scope of the problem and, specifically, the Russians' attempt to drive the entire dialogue in U.S. politics is just astounding.
Researchers analyzed more than 10 million tweets, Instagram posts, 61,000 Facebook posts, 1,000 videos, all posted by the Russian government-linked Internet Research Agency. That is the troll group indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year.
And these efforts are ongoing. Haven't stopped. In fact, Wolf, as Twitter and Facebook crack down, IRA turned to Instagram. The report obtained by CNN shows how these trolls as a group regularly tried to co-ops unsuspecting Americans to work for them by holding rallies, staging protests or even hand over personal information.
We have reported on some of this before, but it includes that the Russians were behind Black Matters protests, behind pro-Trump rallies, anti-immigration groups. They even paid a guy to build a cage and put a fake Hillary Clinton inside it and drive around. All of that directed by these Russian trolls.
But listen to this, Wolf. According to the report, Russians made up another fictitious group. It was called the Army of Jesus, which was targeting Christians and offering free counseling to people with sexual addiction. Why? According to new knowledge, the company that did the research, this could have been a way to create an opportunity to blackmail or manipulate individuals, essentially a way to pressure Americans into working for the Russians -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's all very, very sophisticated stuff.
According to the report, Drew, it seems there is no doubt the Russians were backing the campaign of Donald Trump and attacking his critics. There also appears to be a possible coordination of one of the biggest news stories late into the campaign.
GRIFFIN: Yes. On the pro-Trump support, that actually began in the early primaries, combined with what the report calls comprehensive, anti-Hillary Clinton operations. And as it relates to that big news event, it was the leaking of the
John Podesta e-mails that remains at the heart of the current investigation into possible collusion with the Russians.
This is a passage from the report concerning the e-mails, WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange. Here's what it says. "It is perhaps notable that there were a number of posts -- posts expressing support for Assange and WikiLeaks, including several on October 4, 2016. That was the day before Roger Stone's text message history indicated that Mr. Stone believed hacked e-mail data would be made public via WikiLeaks."
In addition, Wolf, the report finds the tactics were aimed at eroding public support for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and for former FBI director, James Comey -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Very sophisticated work, in fact, by the Russians. Drew Griffin, thanks for that reporting.
Our experts are here to discuss this and more. Everybody, stand by. We're going to have a lot to discuss, right after this.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, the former FBI director, James Comey, is slamming President Trump and congressional Republicans after hours of closed-door testimony up on Capitol Hill. In a blistering new statement this afternoon, Comey implored lawmakers to stand up to the president and, quote, "overcome your shame." His words.
[17:32:42] Let's get some analysis from our experts.
Laura Jarrett, you cover the Justice Department for us. Listen to Comey emerging from this closed-door session.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The president of the United States is lying about the FBI, attacking the FBI and attacking the rule of law in this country. How does that make any sense at all? Republicans used to understand that the actions of a president matter, the words of a president matter, the rule of law matters, and the truth matters. Where are those Republicans today?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what exactly set Comey off?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, on the one hand, it strikes me as deeply personal, right? The president attacks James Comey relentlessly, besmirches his character every chance he gets, has called for him to be investigated, has called for him to be jailed. And so I think Comey takes his moments to punch back a little bit.
You see him looking directly into the camera there. He's using his platform.
But he is also, I think, is genuinely, you know, offended by the deafening silence from Republicans on Capitol Hill every time the president politicizes the Justice Department and the FBI. We saw just, you know, this weekend calling Michael Cohen a rat, suggesting that cooperators are somehow not legitimate. And so I think Comey is genuinely moved by that, as well.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And, you know, we've become so used to Comey stepping into politics, because he's been doing it for about a year. Obviously, even more so since he wrote his book and he did his book tour. He's been very out there.
But even so, we shouldn't forget that he is the former FBI director, who was -- I guess maybe was, a registered Republican. But more importantly, was in a ten-year term job, focusing on law enforcement. And to see him walk out of an hours'-long meeting with Democrats and Republicans, standing in the halls of Congress, and being that aggressive and that political against Republicans, because, he says, that that's the right thing to do, is pretty remarkable.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS WRITER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: I'd also point to -- we didn't play the clip, but he's asked about whether he has confidence in Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general. And he says, essentially --
JARRETT: No comment.
CILLIZZA: No comment. That's a remarkable thing, because Dana is right. We see him through this partisan lens, but certainly, in contrast to Donald Trump, right?
[17:35:06] But this is someone who, prior to being fired, was a lifetime Justice Department official, broadly -- I'd defer to Laura here, but broadly well-regarded. Certainly, rose up the ranks.
So for him to say that about the acting attorney general, given what he said, someone has to stand up for the FBI, is pretty remarkable stuff.
BLITZER: It is. And Bianna, the president, though, has succeeded, for all practical purposes, in politicizing both the FBI, the Mueller investigation, amongst his supporters, that base out there. They agree with him that these guys are run amok; it's a witch hunt; it's a hoax.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, at this point, it's clear pretty that base is going to stay with the president, regardless. No matter what.
But it is true that, over the course of the past two years, Mueller's reputation and approval rating amongst that base, in particular, but among Republicans, as well, has taken a hit. But not to the extent that the president's has with regards to how he's handled the Mueller investigation. I believe his approval ratings are in the 20s. And as you see now, with even the "Washington Post" headline that -- I
mean, you take a step back and virtually every facet of the president's life is now in some way, shape or form under investigation. That is pretty stunning.
And you hear from people like Jim Comey. You hear from other -- other constitutional law experts who sometimes are even described as survivors. One takeaway is that nobody had prepared for a president like Donald Trump. There had been many guardrails and many provisions put in place for potential hypotheticals but nothing to the extent that we've seen thus far had been anticipating -- had been anticipated.
So you do see real-time reactions, which is something that I think you hear from Jim Comey. You heard from him about that today. And we do at times get desensitized to that.
But take a step back and remind ourselves what these headlines we are covering on a daily basis are. And it's something that we haven't seen in decades, if ever, really.
BLITZER: That's a good point. You know, Dana, the -- according to Rudy Giuliani, and you had a chance to speak with him yesterday, he says the president is innocent of everything he's being investigated of right now. But even if he weren't innocent of everything, nothing he's being investigated for is a crime.
BASH: Right. He said collusion is not a crime, which technically -- and I defer to the lawyer here -- all of us play lawyers on TV, you're an actual lawyer -- is not technically a crime.
But the things that he is being investigated for, many of them, could be crimes if he weren't president. You know, maybe even if he's president. And obviously, the people around him.
So technically, he's right. But realistically, and certainly politically, not so much.
BLITZER: You know, but Bianna, a conspiracy with -- to engage in a conspiracy with a hostile foreign power like Russia, which is hostile with the U.S. right now, to engage in a conspiracy with Russia, if, in fact, proven, to interfere in the election to try to help one of the candidates get elected, that sounds like a potential crime to me.
GOLODRYGA: Well, the big takeaway is if proven. Like you just mentioned. So when you hear the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, constantly move the goalpost to, "Oh, well, that wouldn't be illegal if, in fact, you know, that did take place." Or "the president wasn't under oath when he said X, Y and Z," I think it is really going to come down to not only what he's legally bound to, but, again, what the president is hoping this will come down to. And that is the court of public opinion, which is why he keeps muddying all of this in the press and with his tweets.
CILLIZZA: We've talked about this before, but I think Bianna has such an important point. People -- I always remind people. There's a legal track, and there's a political track.
I think for months and months now, Rudy Giuliani is the tip of the spear, as it relates to this, is the guy who is running -- they are running a political campaign to try to influence opinion, no matter what the Mueller report says. That Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, et cetera. That's what they're doing. Legal piece, who knows?
BLITZER: But there are laws barring foreign entities of interfering in American politics, certainly without disclosure as a foreign agent.
Everybody stick around. A lot more news, right after this.
[17:43:58] BLITZER: Let's get back to our panel. Dana, is there going to be a partial government shutdown at midnight Friday?
BASH: We don't know. Stay tuned. I mean, the reality is that we are just days away from part of the government running out of funding. This is not a surprise. Everybody knew this was coming. And since that now famous meeting at the White House, there's been deadlock.
And more importantly, the Republicans who still control all of Congress, according to our team on Capitol Hill, they have gotten no word from the president on how he wants to proceed.
CILLIZZA: I would rank it this way. Some sort of short-term bridge thing that gets them into January and through the holidays, No. 1, most likely.
BLITZER: You have a Democratic majority in the House.
CILLIZZA: I know, it's a problem. No. 2, shutdown. No. 3, deal, because of what Dana said.
If Donald Trump wants to make this a place where he's going to fight on the $5 billion in funding, it's just very problematic to see how that gets through.
BLITZER: What do you think, Bianna?
GOLODRYGA: There likely will be little C.R. at this point. Nancy Pelosi was intent on calling it the Trump shutdown, government shutdown for a reason. And the president himself walked into it by saying that he would be held accountable and he would own it.
So as Dana said, Republicans still control everything.
[17:45:00] BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: -- he is in. And the President himself walked into it by saying that he would be held accountable, and he would own it.
So, as Dana said, Republicans still control everything, so this will be on them. And many believe that if, in fact, we do have a shutdown, it won't be short-term. It could go weeks into the New Year.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But, you know, there is no doubt, even if there's a partial government shutdown, Laura, the Mueller probe continues. They have the funds.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. I mean, it's fortunate. I think we lose sight of the fact that federal workers are actually the ones who bear the brunt of this, and they get caught up in this political gamesmanship.
But the one person who will go to work, no matter what, is Robert Mueller. He does not stop for the shutdown.
BLITZER: He's not slowing down at all, by all accounts. Is there any indication he's gearing up to release his final report?
JARRETT: I wish we knew that. We are all anticipating, you know, what 2019 brings. But we'll see Michael Flynn in court tomorrow, of course, the former national security adviser. We'll see what he has to say about his cooperation.
BLITZER: Right, but there's -- recommending no jail time for him. He doesn't want jail time. So he's not going to get jail time, right?
JARRETT: Probably not, but he may disclose a little bit more details about what exactly he's been up to in all those 19 meetings with Mueller's team.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more news, including more threats emerging from North Korea right now.
Kim Jong-un's regime is accusing the U.S. government of sabotaging Kim's nuclear deal with President Trump. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
[17:51:02] BLITZER: New tonight, North Korea's lashing out at the American government after a fresh round of U.S. sanctions. But Kim Jong-un's regime is taking pains to not go after President Trump personally.
Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, what are the North Koreans saying?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the North Koreans are saying that the U.S. government wants to go back to the worst days of last year when tensions with North Korea were at their highest.
But as Wolf mentioned, the North Koreans have spared President Trump any personal insults, and analysts believe the North Koreans are trying to drive a wedge between the President and the State Department.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Kim Jong-un's regime is making an overt
threat to the U.S. government to pull back on its effort to get rid of its nuclear weapons. The North Koreans accusing the State Department and other U.S. government agencies of sabotaging Kim's deal with President Trump.
Pyongyang is furious over new sanctions on three top officials close to Kim for their human rights violations. Kim's regime saying, in a new statement, those sanctions could, quote, block the path to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula forever.
BRUCE KLINGNER, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW FOR NORTHEAST ASIA, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It's typical North Korean negotiating behavior. They either want a door prize before they come into the negotiating room, or they're sending a signal as to what they want. So it's trying to put pressure on the U.S. to reduce pressure or provide benefits if we want the process to continue.
TODD (voice-over): Experts say Kim Jong-un badly wants a second summit with President Trump. They say the dictator likely feels he can get more concessions from Trump in a one-on-one meeting.
And the North Koreans are trying to drive a wedge between Trump and his own diplomats, saying that, unlike the President's statements, the State Department wants to bring U.S./North Korean relations back to where they were last year, quote, marked by exchanges of fire. Which analysts believe could mean the war of words from last year.
KLINGNER: North Korea has been very careful not to criticize President Trump personally. They will praise not only him but also the agreement that he made with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, and they will blame the lack of progress on denuclearization on either Secretary Pompeo or unidentified senior officials.
TODD (voice-over): While Kim's regime gets more irritated over international sanctions, sources are telling CNN Kim and his aides are taking new steps to get around those sanctions.
One example, smuggling at sea. North Korean tankers are illicitly receiving barrels of oil, mostly from Chinese and Russian vessels.
JONATHAN SCHANZER, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR RESEARCH, THE FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Down here you've got the North Korean ship. Over here is apparently a Chinese ship. They are tethered together to make sure that they don't come apart. And they're transferring barrels of oil, a large amount of oil, from one to the other.
TODD (voice-over): U.S. defense officials say North Korea is changing tactics to evade surveillance from American planes and warships.
RANDY SCHRIVER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR ASIAN AND PACIFIC SECURITY AFFAIRS: The North Koreans are learning, evolving, getting better, so the ship-to-ship transfers are taking place further away from the Peninsula. TODD (voice-over): Tonight, key questions over whether the U.S. and
its allies should keep enforcing sanctions and whether those measures threaten a second meeting between Kim and Trump, which could move them further toward a historic nuclear deal.
SCHANZER: They should not be paused. The point of all of this is to demonstrate to the North Koreans that if they engage, if they work with us to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, then the sanctions will go away.
TODD: But tonight, analysts are really concerned that the resolve among the Americans and their allies to keep up this pressure campaign against the North Koreans could actually be weakening.
They say President Trump has been personally reluctant to call for new sanctions even though his State Department and Treasury Department have been doing that. They say the South Koreans have been backing away from calling for new sanctions or wanting to enforce them.
And they say Kim Jong-un is well aware that that resolve for sanctions could be weakening -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.
Breaking news next, the former FBI Director James Comey castigates President Trump for lying about the FBI and congressional Republicans for their silence.
[17:54:59] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Stand up and speak. James Comey unloads on Republicans, saying their silence about President Trump's attacks on the FBI are shameful. The fired FBI director firing back after House Republicans haul him back for another closed- door hearing.
Alone and angry. Holed up in the White House, Mr. Trump goes on an angry tweet storm against the Russia probe as Rudy Giuliani offers a confusing defense of his client-in-chief. Are they worried about new leads being followed by the Special Counsel?
[17:59:59] High stakes info war.