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Mueller's Grand Jury Extended; Will Trump Declare National Emergency to Build Wall?; Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; President Trump Threatens to Keep Government Shut Down For Year or More; American Arrested in Russia Appealing Espionage Charges, U.K. Official Warns Kremlin Against Using Whelan As a Pawn; Combat- Ready Troops Sent to Africa By President Trump Due to Fear Americans in Congo May Need to Be Evacuated. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 4, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Trump confronting Democrats over at the White House, even as support for his hard-line position is eroding within his party.

Declaring an emergency? The president says he's considering going around Congress to build his wall by using his emergency powers to tap into military funding. We're told that national security officials already have been discussing the possibility.

Extending Mueller's jury. A new sign tonight that the special counsel has more work to do in the Russia investigation. Why did a federal judge order a secret grand jury to remain in session?

And framed as a spy? New intrigue in the case of an American citizen arrested in Russia and charged with espionage. We are learning more about his criminal background amid questions about whether the Kremlin set him up.

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. President Trump going to new extremes in his border wall demands 14 days into the partial government shutdown.

Tonight, he's warning the standoff could last for months or even years. If doesn't get his way, Mr. Trump says he could go around Congress and get the wall built by simply declaring a national emergency.

The president speaking to reporters after talks with congressional leaders that Democrats called contentious. Neither side is backing down, as 800,000 federal workers aren't getting paid.

Also breaking, a federal grand jury used by Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation has been extended, suggesting the special counsel may be seeking more indictments. This hour, I will talk with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president sounded hopeful about negotiations to end the shutdown even as he was making some new threats.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, Wolf. He seemed to make two arguments while speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden, at times saying that he felt that that meeting was productive with Democrats and that this could be wrapped up pretty quickly, but then going to saying that he would use his emergency powers if he had to and the government would stay shut down for years if it needed to.

Wolf, one thing was clear, is that they did not come any closer to breaking this deadlock.



COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump amping up his threats over funding for his border wall tonight, declaring he's considering using emergency powers to build it.

TRUMP: I may do it, but we can call a national emergency and build it very quickly.

COLLINS: After a two-hour meeting with congressional leaders that Democrats described as contentious, Trump threatened to leave the government shut down for years if it comes down to it.

TRUMP: Absolutely, I said that. If we have to stay out for a very long period of time, we're going to do that.

COLLINS: Asked if he still owns the government shutdown, the president said he's no longer calling it one.

TRUMP: I'm very proud of doing what I'm doing. I don't call it a shutdown.

COLLINS: On the campaign trail, Trump promised his supporters a concrete wall paid for by Mexico. Now, with the government shut down over a demand from his administration that the American taxpayer fund it, he says it could be made of steel.

(on camera): So how can you say you're not failing on that promise to your supporters?

TRUMP: Well, we just made a trade deal, and we will take in billions and billions of dollars, far more than the cost of the wall. The wall is peanuts compared to what the value of the trade deal is to the United States. As far as concrete, I said I was going to build a wall. I never said I'm going to build a concrete -- I said I'm going to build a wall.

COLLINS (voice-over): Even though he did.

TRUMP: No windows, no nothing, precast concrete, going very high. Let's see, about a little higher than that.

COLLINS: But the president continued.

TRUMP: Steel is stronger than concrete. If I build this wall or fence or anything the Democrats need to call it, because I'm not into names, I'm into production.

COLLINS: Trump claiming the recently renegotiated trade deal with Canada and Mexico will pay for the wall, even though it hasn't passed Congress yet and he didn't explain why the government is shut down if USMCA is paying for it.

A redo in the Rose Garden after Trump took no questions from reporters during his first appearance in the Briefing Room yesterday. The president describing his meeting with Democrats as productive, though that's not what they said.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We really cannot resolve this until we open up government and we made that very clear to the president.

COLLINS: Friday ending with no solution to the government shutdown in sight, but the president said he has assigned a team to huddle with Hill staffers over the weekend. Asked about his message to those federal employees who won't receive a paycheck during the shutdown?


TRUMP: Those people in many cases are the biggest fan of what we're doing.

QUESTION: How do you know that, sir? Do you have evidence to support that?

TRUMP: All right, please, Major, go ahead.

COLLINS: And while hundreds of thousands of federal workers are going without pay during the partial shutdown, new documents reveal that hundreds of the president's political appointees are slated to receive annual raises of around $10,000, including Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and even the vice president.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, will you turn down the raise?

COLLINS: Mike Pence vowing not to take one today, and Trump said he's considering asking his Cabinet to forego theirs.

After several rank-and-file House Democrats brought up impeaching the president, Trump said he discussed it directly with Speaker Pelosi today. TRUMP: You can't impeach somebody that's doing a great job. I said,

why don't you use this for impeachment? And Nancy said, we're not looking to impeach you.


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, we're learning a little bit more about what went on during that two-hour meeting between the president and congressional leaders. Someone in the room said the meeting wasn't so long because it was incredibly productive, but because the president was essentially making the same arguments to those Democrats that he had made to reporters in the Rose Garden earlier today.

We are told by sources that the president came into the meeting, he immediately launched into this hard-line stance of $5.6 billion for his wall and he was not negotiating anything lower. The Democrats made their arguments, but we're told by sources that the president flatly rejected those arguments.

And in the pretty blunt words of one person -- quote -- "There was no progress made."

So, Wolf, that doesn't give a lot of hope to people who thought that we could be a little bit closer to ending this shutdown.

BLITZER: Yes, good point, Kaitlan. Thank you very much.

While Democrats are standing firm against the president's border wall demand, some key Republicans are breaking with Mr. Trump's shutdown strategy.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu Raju, is either side feeling real pressure right now to back down?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The leadership certainly is not, Wolf, but impatience is growing on Capitol Hill about the shutdown and about the fact there appears to be no end in sight.

Two Republican senators who are up for reelection in 2020, Cory Gardner and Susan Collins, both have indicated they support reopening the government and continuing the discussion about border wall funding on a separate track.

That's the same position that Democrats in the House took yesterday, on the first day of the new Congress, passing two pieces of legislation that would reopen the government, the shuttered agencies, and a separate one to open the Department of Homeland Security up until February 8 and punt on the issue of the border wall.

Now, on the House side, initially, five Republicans voted for that Homeland Security bill and seven Republicans voted to open up the rest of the federal government. And one of the Republicans, Pete King of New York, made it very clear to me it is time for the president and the Democrats, but particularly the president, to negotiate.


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I just thought it was wrong to hold those hundreds of thousands of employees hostage over an issue they have nothing at all to do with. I think the president should negotiate. I think the Democrats should negotiate.

I don't know what is going on behind closed doors, but I think if Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi weren't bound by their base, they would be able to negotiate more, and the president shouldn't always listen to the Freedom Caucus.


RAJU: And the Freedom Caucus is the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group that's been very influential in urging the president to take a hard line, which he has done so far.

On the Democratic side, there have been some concerns being voiced, including by a freshman Democrat, New Jersey Democrat Jeff Van Drew, who told me earlier today Nancy Pelosi should negotiate and perhaps come closer to the president's number for the border wall.


RAJU: So, she should cut a deal essentially?

REP. JEFF VAN DREW (D), NEW JERSEY: In my opinion. I know that there are some people in my party that don't agree, but there are people that are now not working and not getting paid. I wish we weren't. And the Republicans are digging in so much. Everybody is digging in too much.

And you know who doesn't like it, in my opinion? The vast majority of the American public.


RAJU: Now, despite those comments, most Democrats in the House feel they're in a good position. They support Nancy Pelosi's position.

At a closed-door meeting this morning, Wolf, I'm told by members who attended there was no desire to budge from the position, and even one very sharp Pelosi critic, Kathleen Rice of New York, told me that she supports Pelosi's position on this.

You are hearing some frustration from the Republican side, not as of on the Democratic side and no real desire from the leadership to end this standoff any time soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Another potential problem for the president, Manu, the Democrats in Congress, they have plans to launch what could be the largest congressional investigation of a sitting president. How quickly could that begin? RAJU: Well, it is going to begin as soon as these committees start to

get organized. It could happen as soon as next week, but it could be a slow drumbeat, a steady drumbeat.

Letters are going to be sent to respective agencies demanding information, documents that they have been asking for such a long time on issues ranging from immigration to the Russia investigation to the citizenship question on the census, a wide range of things they have not gotten answers to.


And if they don't get responses, that's when the subpoenas will start flying and that's when things will really start to intensify. But expect a number of these contentious hearings to take shape in the early part of the new Congress.

And, Wolf, one person to look out for, Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general. That's the House Judiciary chairman's -- Jerry Nadler's, one of the first targets. He wants him to come. And he told me that he's prepared to subpoena Whitaker if he does not agree to come before the committee this month, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see what happens. Manu, thank you very much.

Now to the breaking news on the Russia investigation. A federal judge has just extended Robert Mueller's grand jury.

Let's bring in our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

So, Shimon, does this mean that Mueller isn't close to finishing the investigation?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is quite possible that that's what it means. We don't know exactly how long he's asked to extend the grand jury, but the fact that this grand jury has been extended, has been working already 18 months, so many witnesses, indictments already, suggests that they are still working.

And we know of at least several issues that are still before the grand jury. Of course, there's the mystery subpoena that this foreign company has been fighting, now waiting on a decision from the Supreme Court. We know people associated with Roger Stone have been before the grand jury. Paul Manafort has been before the grand jury.

Rick Gates, he is still cooperating. We don't know when his cooperation is over. Presumably, he's been before the grand jury. So, there appears that there's still a lot of work that the Mueller team is going with before the grand jury and really, by every expectation, you know, there seems to be more work that needs to get done here.

BLITZER: Could the government shutdown have an impact on this grand jury?

PROKUPECZ: I don't think so, Wolf. Look, I think we have asked the special counsel about this, whether or

not any of the shutdown would affect them. They have said, no, that's not the case. And I think given what this grand jury is doing, given the type of work they're doing, I think they will be OK. And, also, keep in mind they're not there every day. They're there maybe twice a week, sometimes half-a-day, sometimes just for a few hours.

So they're going in, they're hearing evidence, perhaps they're doing votes, but I don't think that the shutdown or anything like that should affect them.

BLITZER: Those grand jurors, they have been doing it for 18 months. They might have to do it as long as another six months. That's a lot of work.

PROKUPECZ: And also keep in mind, Wolf, their work could continue even after Mueller is gone, because there are other investigations that are before them that are not being handled necessarily by the Mueller team.

They're being handled by the Department of Justice. So those investigations could still be ongoing for a year, six months, who knows.

BLITZER: Who knows.

All right, Shimon, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a Democrat who serves on the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

I want to get to the Russia investigation in just a moment, but let's start with the government shutdown. President Trump is standing by his demand of $5.6 billion for the wall. He says he is willing to keep the government shut down for months, maybe even years. At some point, do you believe Democrats have to compromise and come up with some offer, at least some money for his border wall?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There is a clear path forward, Wolf. It is the path we were on when the United States Senate unanimously approved an approach that now has been adopted by the House of Representatives, and would be passed by the Senate.

Let me emphasize, I believe that reopening the government with full- year appropriations to all of the agencies that have nothing to do with border security and then funding through a continuing resolution the Department of Homeland Security, which would give us time to reach that kind of compromise, and yet...

BLITZER: But the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, says he's not going to allow it to come up for a vote because the president is threatening to veto it.

BLUMENTHAL: And you took the words right out of my mouth, Wolf. The impediment here is simply the refusal to allow the United States Senate to vote.

This Trump shutdown is wholly on Donald Trump, who wants this vanity project that he promised the Mexicans would pay for. He has failed to spend the money that's already been appropriated, that $1.3 million, only 6 percent of it is spent on border security.


BLITZER: One-point-three billion.

BLUMENTHAL: One-point-three billion.

But the refusal to allow the Senate to vote, I think, is a major impediment, because I think that sending the bills to the White House would put President Trump on the spot, and he would have to decide whether he wants to make a counteroffer that would enable us to move forward.

BLITZER: It doesn't look, Senator, like the DACA issue, the dreamers, as they're called, is on the table right now.

Is there anything President Trump could offer you and your fellow Democrats that would get you to agree to border wall funding?


BLUMENTHAL: The president has really not been a serious or credible partner in any talks about DACA.

What the Republicans in the Senate are discussing is a three-year work permit extension, which is simply a non-starter. And there has to be serious and substantial and credible conversation about comprehensive immigration reform.

So there has been nothing substantive or specific discussed as yet. The United States has to provide a path to citizenship right away for the dreamers and, indeed, a path to earn citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in this country through comprehensive immigration reform.

But so far, there's been no credible or serious discussion.

BLITZER: The president now says the wall could be steel, not necessarily concrete. It might be called a barrier. It might be a fence. Is that a concession, from your standpoint?

BLUMENTHAL: The president's been, again, a moving target. Negotiating with him is like trying to talk to Jell-O, as Senator Schumer said.

So I think, again, extending and reopening the government, so that we can have serious discussions and work out exactly what border security would be, because that's the common ground. To go back to your very first question, the common ground here is border security. We all want it through better technology and more manpower, training the border agents and allocating more of them, surveillance, sensors. The top administration officials who come to Congress have provided no

evidence whatsoever that the southern border is a source of terrorism or terrorists coming across. And the stopping of illicit drugs requires more and better surveillance at the ports of entry.

The commissioners and the secretaries who have come to us over the past two years have provided evidence that we need better border security, and we're all for it in the Congress.

BLITZER: The president says that, you know, he is willing to use his national security emergency powers to build the wall if you guys continue to refuse to provide some funding for the wall.

Wouldn't a compromise be better than allowing him to declare a national emergency to build the wall through the U.S. military?

BLUMENTHAL: The president's threats are really a disservice to the rule of law and to the American people.

They undermine the credibility of his office. There's no legal theory, no credible claim that the president can make under the Constitution or the laws of the United States, like the anti- deficiency statutes, that basically prohibit him from reallocating money that's already been appropriated.

The Congress has the power to appropriate, the power of the purse, which was so rightly given to the Congress by the founders. And there is no evidence either of a national emergency based on terrorist threat or drug importation that would justify that kind of claim.

So I think that this kind is threat really has to be regarded as totally fact-free and law-free.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the news on the Russia investigation, with yet another extension for Robert Mueller's federal grand jury, perhaps for as long as an additional six months. What does that tell you?

BLUMENTHAL: What it tells me is that Robert Mueller has miles to go before he sleeps or stops.

There are going to be more indictments in this new year, as I have predicted repeatedly. The record of this special counsel investigation is already extraordinarily substantial. And that's the reason why the judge concluded that it was in the public interest for this grand jury to be extended for another six months.

Now, remember, he could have impaneled a new grand jury and transferred all of the evidence to that grand jury. So it is a mark of this grand jury's interest in this case that they were willing to continue to serve in this capacity, which is extremely onerous for the average citizen.

There are very substantial sacrifices involved, and they are a key part of our justice system. So, bottom line, I believe that we're going to see substantial work still to come by this grand jury, by the investigations in New York in the Southern District, and by the Eastern District of Virginia.

BLITZER: Listen to this, Senator, what the president said today on the issue of impeachment.



TRUMP: Well, you can't impeach somebody that's doing a great job. That's the way I view it. I probably have done more in the first two years than any president, any administration in the history of our country.


BLITZER: All right, what's your reaction?

BLUMENTHAL: My reaction is that we need to await the special counsel's report before we make any judgment about what the remedies would be for potential law-breaking.

And there's already a credible case of obstruction of justice against the president of the United States. And, as for his performance in office, the American people can judge for themselves.

But I challenge the president to direct his Cabinet to donate their pay to charities of their choice. I'm donating my pay to Homes for the Brave, a Connecticut organization that benefits veterans here in Connecticut.

And the hardship and the harm from this shutdown to the American people and to the dedicated federal workers, including, by the way, all the members of the Coast Guard, who are unpaid, unlike other members of the military, undermines that claim that he is doing such great service to the nation.

BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead.

Now that the special counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury has been extended, what will he use the extra time to do?



BLITZER: Breaking tonight, sources tell CNN that President Trump immediately took a hard-line position on a border wall funding package in talks with congressional leaders.

He's warning the partial government shutdown could last a year or more and that he has the power to simply declare a national emergency to get the wall built if he wants. The Democrats and the president, they're clearly at an impasse right

now on the wall and at odds over whether they have got anything really accomplished during their two-hour meeting at the White House today.

Let's bring in our analysts and experts.

And, Rebecca Buck we heard the president say it was a very, very productive -- very, very productive meeting, also said, though, the shutdown could go on for months, maybe years. What is going on?


Well, Wolf, you used the word impasse. I think that is a perfect description of where we're at right now. The meeting was not particularly productive, if what you want is a solution to the shutdown, if what you want is to reopen the government, because the Democrats who were in the meeting and the president did not get any closer to finding a solution in the middle, a compromise, the president holding fast to his demands for the walls and Democrats saying that they're not going to give it to him.

And so we are kind of where we were before the meeting. The good news is that the parties are having these discussions. At least now they're at the table trying to figure things out. They're talking about it on the staff level, but it is unclear who is going to give what and when.

And, of course, there are federal government workers who are wondering where their pay is going to be coming from and when they will have it.


Jeffrey Toobin, our out White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, she pressed the president on what type of wall he is talking about.

Listen to what he said today and what he used to say.


COLLINS: You ran your campaign promising supporters that Mexico was going to pay for the wall...

TRUMP: Oh, here we go again.

COLLINS: ... and that the wall was going to be made of concrete.

TRUMP: As far as concrete, I said I was going to build a wall -- I never said, I'm going to build a concrete --" I said I was going to build a wall.

When you build buildings like I build buildings, believe me, walls are easy. No windows. No nothing. Precast concrete, going very high. Let's see, about a little higher than that.

The politicians would come up to me, and they would say, you know, Donald, you can't build the wall. I said, you have to be kidding. You have to be kidding. Concrete plank. You have to be kidding. Precast. Precast, right? Precast. Boom, bing, done, keep going.


BLITZER: What do you think, Jeffrey?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, it is just more lying.

I mean, you know -- his lying is so epidemic that, you know, it is hard for us to keep track -- yes, as "The Washington Post" is keeping track in the thousands.

What matters now is, how do we get out of this situation? Because, you know, Nancy Pelosi could not have been more explicit yesterday, publicly saying, there will be no wall. He is insisting on a wall.

You know, what's going to have to happen is there will be some solution where both the sides will claim victory, because Donald Trump always claims victory even when he loses.

So, something has to -- you know, some sort of compromise has to be put forward.

But, you know, as a former federal employee myself, you know, I just have to think about the largely forgotten thousands of people who have mortgage payments, who have food payments, who have lives to live, some of whom have to go to work without being paid, and it is just a disgrace, the kind of suffering that they're being forced to endure.

BLITZER: And as I know many of these federal employees here in the Washington, D.C., area, it is not only 800,000 federal employees around the country who aren't getting paid. It is 800,000 federal employees and their families who are impacted pretty dramatically by this.

You know, the president, all of a sudden today, Laura, he came up with a new option for perhaps resolving all of this, using his national security emergency powers to go around Congress and build a wall.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, there's no question that he has the discretion to declare a national emergency. He's the president.

But I almost liken it to the pardon power. The question isn't whether he can do it. It's whether he should do it. And I think this is another example where we see sort of the norms breaking down. When you know, there are expansive executive powers here, and part of the bargain is that you're going to use them responsibly.

And so if he does this and he declares a national emergency, it's going to trigger an immediate court challenge. The Democrats have already said this is a massive abuse of power, and they're going to come after him hard on this. Now, it's -- he has floated things like this in the past and not

followed through on them, so it may be the case that this never comes to pass, but it would turn into an ugly court fight.

BLITZER: You see this --


BLITZER: Let me -- hold on one second. Because Phil used to work in the national security area at the CIA and the FBI. Do you see this as a potential national security emergency threat?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: A threat? Not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow.

Look, we've dealt with declining immigration in this country. I'm not talking about month to month. I'm talking about year on year going back to the earlier parts of the century. We're 19 years into this century. We've dealt with declining immigration across the border.

Five years ago Americans would not have told you immigration was a problem, and they could not have told you how much of the border was secured by a wall.

The bigger emergency for me is whether I can get a latte tomorrow morning. This is a created emergency, because the president has backed himself into a corner.

We're not talking about big-ticket issues like infrastructure, military, education. We're talking about a wall. We're talking about a few billion dollars, and he's stuck. So now he's saying, "I've got an emergency." There is no emergency, Wolf.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And by the way, Democrats have also sort of backed themselves into a corner here with Pelosi saying that she won't give the president anything for a wall.

It makes Democrats look like they don't care about border security, potentially. There could have been a compromise, and there might still, be where they give him something for a wall, a fence, what have you. But Democrats have now put down a marker saying they don't want to do even that.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, you wanted to weigh in?

TOOBIN: Well, I just wanted to talk about this national emergency issue.

You know, I think Laura has it exactly right. It's a complete departure from the norms of presidential behavior.

However, I think it is quite possible that the president legally could get away with it. In fact, I don't know that the courts would even allow a court challenge. I don't know who would have standing, the right to sue. The Congress -- the president -- the courts almost never allow members

of Congress to sue the president. They discourage those kinds of suits.

So, again, I don't think -- I think the president might actually get away with declaring a national emergency, even though, as Phil says, it by any objective standard, there is absolutely no emergency.

BLITZER: The president --

MUDD: Well, let me give you one standard here. The president says we've beaten ISIS, but we've got to worry about terrorists coming across from Mexico. Well, where the heck are they coming from? Is this like Honduran al Qaeda?

I mean, he's -- the controversy here has to do partly with the vocabulary out of the White House which says we have a huge national security problem, but we're withdrawing from Syria and potentially from Afghanistan because we won. Well, where the heck are the terrorists coming from then?

BLITZER: Phil, let me goat your thoughts on the president says the 800,000 federal workers who aren't getting paid right now, he says most of them are with him. They support his call for a border wall, because these believe there is a national security threat. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This really has a higher purpose than next week's pay. And the people that won't get next week's pay or the following week's pay, I think if you ever really looked at those people, I think they'd say, "Mr. President, keep going. This is far more important."


BLITZER: What's your reaction?

MUDD: You've got to be --

TOOBIN: Name one.

MUDD: You've got to be kidding me. I mean, his mortgage is paid by us, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

When I worked in government, even as I moved up the executive ranks, I would say more than 50 percent of the time -- a little embarrassing -- I was month to month. That is, if I didn't have a paycheck that month, my bank is not going to get the mortgage statement.

As the clock ticks I'd have one question. It's not just about families. It's about those banks when they don't get a check. What are we going to say? What are we going to say? The families are going to start to suffer. And this issue is going to become more about people and less about politics, because people are going to say, "I can't pay."

TOOBIN: And -- and remember also that even before this crisis, the president, who signed this massive tax cut for rich people, froze the pay of all federal workers. You know, froze the pay. Didn't even give them cost-of-living increases, you know, for the Secret Service agents who follow him around the golf course. They're not going to get a raise that they were supposed to get. I mean, the abuse and maltreatment of our federal workers by this president, in and of itself, is a total disgrace.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's a lot more we're following. More on the breaking news right after this.


[18:39:31] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts. We're following multiple breaking stories, including the extension just announced of a grand jury used by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, in the Russia investigation.

Jeffrey Toobin, what do you make of this? It's been going on already for 18 months and now for maybe an additional -- as long as six months.

TOOBIN: Well, it is not unusual for grand juries to be extended, but the obvious single conclusion you can draw is that Mueller isn't finish, the investigation isn't over.

Now, is he just at the wrapping-up stage or is he still doing an active investigation? I don't think any of us can say that with certainty. The only thing this tells you for sure is that Mueller isn't finished.

So the people who were saying, "Well, he's about to hand in his report in the next few weeks," I think that's -- that idea at this point is extremely unlikely.

BLITZER: Phil, what does it tell you?

MUDD: I spent four and a half years with that guy. Let's go through characteristics.

BLITZER: You're talking about Robert Mueller.

MUDD: With Robert Mueller, yes, as his intel adviser. Valor, experience, judgment. I did not list the word "patience." He's meticulous, but sitting beside him for four and a half years, he does not like to sit around and say, "Well, why don't we just continue and tie up loose ends."

I agree with Jeffrey. We don't know what's happening here. But I'd wager he's not sitting here saying, "Let me just figure out how to -- how to conclude the final report." There will be more indictments. He's sitting around saying, "How do we get the people who are higher up the food chain?" I'd say. BLITZER: The new House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler,

he's setting a pretty high bar for evidence that would be needed to launch, in the Judiciary Committee, impeachment proceedings. Listen to what he said earlier today on CNN.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: What I've said is that impeachment can't be partisan and that -- and that you shouldn't do an impeachment unless you believe that you have such evidence, such great evidence of such terrible deeds that, when that evidence is laid out to the American people, you will probably get an appreciable fraction of -- of the voters who supported the president to agree that you had to do it.


BLITZER: That's pretty significant, suggesting you need Trump supporters on board for impeachment proceedings to move forward.

BUCK: That's right. Well, it suggests to me, Wolf, that Democrats and Jerry Nadler understand the political reality here.

You could -- there are no written rules here that say you couldn't bring impeachment if the public didn't support it, but the political reality is you wouldn't want to move forward with an impeachment if the public didn't understand why you were doing it and support the underlying reason for why you were doing it.

And so that's what he is saying there. He's not saying all Trump supporters would need to necessarily understand and get on board with an impeachment proceeding, but he is saying that some Trump supporters would need to see the wisdom of that.

And it's worth remembering, if you look at the way that Watergate unfolded and the public approval ratings for Richard Nixon during that time, it was a very slow erosion of support for him among his original supporters. And it was over time that people explained, that Congress explained and they had their hearings and showed the public why this was so important, and that's the process you need to go through in this case, as well.

BLITZER: And they played the audio tapes. That's what did it in convincing a whole bunch of Republicans --

BUCK: Evidence. Evidence.

BLITZER: -- his own party, to go ahead and support some sort of impeachment. How do you see it?

JARRETT: I think the Democratic Party is in sort of an inflection point on this. You can see where the party leaders are trying to have a wait-and-see, measured, calm approach; and other, you know, certainly more junior folks in the House are ready to impeach him yesterday. But it's going to make covering the candidates in 2020 really

interesting, because they're all going to be asked this question right away. They're going to have to come prepared with an answer that satisfies the Democratic base but also doesn't go too far out on a limb. And they don't want the make promises about things when Mueller still has, potentially, months left to go on his investigation.

BLITZER: Because they don't want to really do impeachment, Jeffrey, most of the Democrats, until Mueller comes out with his report.

TOOBIN: And maybe not even then. I mean, you know, Jerry Nadler and Nancy Pelosi were both in the Congress in 1998 when the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton. And they saw that it was a political disaster to impeach a president when it was quite clear that the Senate was never going to vote to remove him from office. That 67-vote barrier in the Senate is enormous.

And I think what Jerry Nadler was saying there was, "Unless we can virtually guarantee that a substantial substantial chunk of Republican senators will be willing to vote for removal of Donald Trump from office, we're not going to start this process in the first place." That's how they interpret the lesson of 1998.

BLITZER: Yes, and as someone who covered that impeachment of Bill Clinton in the House of Representatives, his job approval numbers were actually going up as he was being impeached; and he wasn't convicted, as we know, during the trial in the Senate.

Everyone, stick around. Just ahead, how seriously is the president considering declaring a national emergency to build his border wall with Mexico and get around his opponents in Congress?

And we're also learning right now more about the suspicious arrest and the criminal record of the American citizen charged with spying in Russia.


[18:49:20] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, the American citizen charged with spying by Russia is seeking help from multiple countries as he appeals his detention in a former KGB prison. One British official is warning that the Kremlin may be using Paul Whelan as a pawn for leverage in a potential spy swap with the United States.

We have new information about Whelan's international ties and his criminal record.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance who is joining us live from Moscow.

And, Matthew, what are you learning, first of all, about Whelan's past?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in terms of his criminal past, I mean, there's new details have emerged about why he was kicked out of the U.S. Marines. It seems that back in 2008, a special court martial found him guilty of attempting to steal more than $10,000, $10,410, according to court documents that have been obtained by CNN, while he was on tour in Iraq.

[18:50:17] Previously, we've reported that he was found guilty of attempting larceny and of using someone's Social Security number, as well as writing bad checks. It's also emerged that Paul Whelan has not just one passport, not two, but four passports from the United States, Britain, Canada, and Ireland as well, and a product, his family says, of his complicated family background. He was born in Canada to British parents, he had Irish grandparents and then chose to become an American citizen.

All of which, though, may have highlighted his presence to the Russian intelligence services, having multiple passports is not a normal thing here, but ironically, now you've got diplomats from all of those countries essentially beating a path to the door of the Kremlin asking for further explanation as to why he's been detained and of course demanding his early release, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, could Whelan really be a spy or is he simply being set up?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, I think that the more we learn about his background, the less he fits with the traditional profile of a spy. He was in the military, yes, but he was kicked out of the military for theft. He has multiple passports, yes, but they're not multiple identities. He's just got this complicated family background.

And of course, he did have all these many friends, dozens of Russians, ordinary people, that he friended on social media sites. Certainly his family say that he was not a spy and, in fact, they are now calling for President Trump, who's been remarkably silent on this issue, to intervene.

His brother, David Whelan, writing an op-ed in the "Washington Post" saying, we urge President Trump to intercede on Paul's behalf. U.S. government action will reinforce that Americans traveling abroad should not do so in fear and ensure other American families are less likely to have their loved ones go missing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance in Moscow for us, thank you very much.

Just ahead, we're getting breaking news on a potential U.S. military operation to rescue Americans. We have new details. We'll be right back.


[18:57:08] BLITZER: We're getting breaking news right now to potential U.S. military operation to rescue Americans. Combat ready U.S. troops have been ordered to move into position.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are you learning?


Tonight, we are learning that 80 heavily armed U.S. troops have landed in the nation of Gabon in West Africa. Let's put the map up and show everybody what we are talking about. They are in Gabon, on standby, heavily armed, ready to go to the east into the Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence has broken out for several days following very unsettled elections in that country. They are ready to go in and protect the U.S. embassy but also ready to go in and rescue Americans out of that nation if it becomes necessary.

This is something the U.S. military is very expert at. I think it's quite significant that when Congress was notified about this today, we learned that they went with combat equipment, so they are ready if ordered to cross the border, go into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we are also told that more troops besides the initial contingent of 80 may be sent if it comes to that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and the president actually, as you point out, wrote this letter to Congress. I'll read the first sentence. The first of these personnel arrived in Gabon on January 2nd, 2019, with appropriate combat equipment and supported by military aircraft. The -- is the U.S. military taking this precaution to prevent the loss of U.S. life similar to what happened when that diplomatic mission was overrun in Libya in Benghazi?

STARR: One of the great lessons, tragic as all of it was, out of the Benghazi attack on the diplomatic compound, is Africa is a country -- a continent, pardon me, a continent of vast distances. The U.S. military has to be ready, has to preposition if they believe there is a chance they need to rescue Americans. They cannot wait for violence to break out because they may not be able to get to the Americans in time. That was the lesson of Benghazi.

So, what we are seeing tonight is U.S. troops move on to the African continent to be much closer to where this trouble is. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, very troubled right now. They are having another Ebola outbreak and there has been violence after these elections where the strongman, Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for some 18 years, very much apparently wants to hang on to his power and there is a lot of unrest in that country.

The State Department had warned Americans that they should consider very strongly leaving the country and now U.S. troops are on standby next door, ready to go in if ordered to help get Americans out and to protect American property in that country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and the president's letter to Congress, he says, additional forces may deploy also if necessary. We're watching this story very, very closely. Lots at stake right now.

Barbara, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.