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THE SITUATION ROOM
Two Years after Steel Dossier Revealed, Key Parts of Intel on Trump-Russia Contacts Have Been Proven True; Trump Plans Primetime Speech to Pitch Border Wall; Schumer: Dems Won't Be 'Bullied' by Trump Into Paying for Wall; New Showdown in Mueller Probe As Russian Firm Seeks Info U.S. Deems Sensitive to National Security; Sources: U.S. Might Send Hundreds More Troops to Syria to Complete Any Military Withdrawal; U.S.-Backed Militia: Two Americans Captured in Syria Suspected of Being ISIS Fighters; Interview With Virginia Senator Mark Warner. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 7, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: selling the shutdown. President Trump says he's giving a prime-time speech, and traveling to the southern border to make his case to fund the wall. Is he laying the groundwork to defy Democrats and declare a national emergency?
Going nowhere slowly. That's where talks on reopening the government stand right now on this, day 17 of the shutdown. Is there any hope for progress, as hundreds of thousands of federal workers and their families are about to feel a new level of pain?
Looney Tunes. In the Mueller investigation, a lawyer for a Russian firm talks cartoons and the judge tells him to knock it off. We will look at the substance behind the surprising courtroom antics.
And details of the dossier. It's been two years since Mr. Trump first learned about the sensational claims in a private intel report about his Russia connections. How much of the now-infamous Steele dossier turned out to be true?
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 on President Trump trying to use the powers of his office to get his way on his border wall. The president announcing plans for a prime-time speech on border security tomorrow night, followed by a visit to the southern border on Thursday.
This comes as he's threatening to declare a national emergency to secure funding for the wall, potentially going around Democrats in Congress, who refuse to agree to his demand. The stakes are escalating right now as the partial government shutdown is now in its third week and Americans are feeling the consequences.
This hour, I will talk to Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, what are you learning right now about the shutdown negotiations and the president's strategy?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're still at a standstill. But President Trump is planning a full-court press over the next few days for his border wall with an address to the nation and a trip to the border both planned for this week.
Earlier today, Vice President Pence held a briefing with reporters and tried to make the case that there is a growing crisis at the border, as this shutdown drags on.
ACOSTA (voice-over): For President Trump this week, it's the wall or bust. Today, the White House announced the president will deliver a prime-time address to the nation Tuesday night and make a special trip to the border, all part of a last-ditch effort to ram his wall through Congress. Democrats doubt the speech will be worth the airtime.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: I expect the president to lie to the American people. Why do I expect this? Because he has been lying to the American people and his spokespeople continue lying to the American people.
ACOSTA: With Democrats refusing to give the president his wall, Mr. Trump is warning he might declare a national emergency to get his way.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters in an off-camera briefing that the White House counsel is looking at whether Mr. Trump can declare that emergency, despite the fact that the president said on Twitter that there's no doubt he has that authority.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I may declare a national emergency, dependent on what's going to happen over the next few days.
ACOSTA: Democrats predict that's a fight that will go to the courts.
REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: He'd be challenged in court because there clearly is no emergency, there's no reason for this on border security grounds. It would be wrong, it would be horrible policy, and I'm totally and completely against it, but, from a legal standpoint, he could do it.
ACOSTA: With a shutdown now entering its third week, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are facing the prospect of working without pay. The president claims he can feel their pain. TRUMP: I can relate. And I'm sure that the people that are on the
receiving end will make adjustments. They always do. And they will make adjustment. People understand exactly what's going on.
But many of those people that won't be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I'm doing.
ACOSTA: Democrats argue it would be a mistake to cave to the president who vowed he would own the shutdown.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: If you reward the president with that kind of tactic, Jake, then we're going to see every year the president shutting down the government. And we just can't afford to do business that way.
ACOSTA: One way the White House is trying to win the shutdown battle is by declaring war on the facts. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tried to suggest that thousands of known or suspected terrorists are coming across the border with Mexico, only to be fact-checked live by FOX.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's by air, it's by land, and it's by sea. It's all of the above. It's all of the above, but one thing you're forgetting is the most vulnerable point of entry that we have into this country is our southern border and we have to protect it. And the more and more...
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": They're not coming across the southern border, Sarah. They're coming and they're being stopped at airports.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: They're coming a number of ways. They're certainly -- I'm not disagreeing with you that they're coming through airports. I'm saying that they come by air, by land and by sea.
ACOSTA: But a State Department report out last year found no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.
The president is also finding himself contradicted on his vow to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, after declaring late last year that ISIS had been defeated. National Security Adviser John Bolton says the fight against is will continue, at least for now, with U.S. troops.
JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We're going to be discussing the president's decision to withdrawal, but to do so from Northeast Syria in a way that makes sure that ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again.
ACOSTA: As for the White House claim that there are terrorists coming across the border with Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, she was in that briefing with the vice president earlier this afternoon with the president. She insisted that is happening.
But when pressed for hard numbers, she could not provide any to reporters, insisting that that information is classified. And we should point out even the president's own allies have been warning him that his immigration message has not been resonating with his supporters, which is why you will see the president insist in his speech tomorrow night that the nation faces a border crisis.
He will probably use that word repeatedly, a crisis. But that begs the question, Wolf, if it's such a crisis, why didn't the president take care of it when he had a Republican Congress up on Capitol Hill?
BLITZER: During his first two years in office.
ACOSTA: That's right.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
Let's go to Capitol Hill right now for more on the shutdown standoff,, what happens next.
Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is following all these development.
Phil, at least right now, neither side appears willing to budge.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Far from finding areas where to give, it appears both sides are firmly entrenched and not giving in at any point.
Look, the bottom lines are the same as they have been for weeks, Democrats saying, look, they are happy to have negotiations over border security, but the government must be reopen first. The president and his team making clear that border security negotiations come before the government reopens.
There were talks over the weekend between Vice President Pence, top Capitol Hill staffers. They did not receive or end up in an outcome of any way. What they did end up with is the administration for the first time laying out in detail its $5.7 billion wall proposal.
And why that matters more than anything else, besides the fact the administration put something on paper, is because they did not move an inch from that top-line number, $5.7 billion. That's now the paper on the table and that more than anything else is why the negotiations are still at a standstill.
Wolf, the most interesting element now, when you look at the president's planned trip to the border, his speech tomorrow night, is that it's now not trying to figure out if there's a pathway forward. It more so seems like it's shoring up their own bases.
Tomorrow, Vice President Mike Pence before the speech is expected to come up to Capitol Hill with Department of Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to talk to House Republicans, on Wednesday, supposed to do the same with Senate Republicans. The reason, Capitol Hill aides tell me, they want to ensure Republicans stay with them, stay in line throughout the course of this fight as it moves into its third week.
Over on the Democratic side, they have made clear their position and also that they want to move on their own efforts to reopen the government. In the House, House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to start moving individual funding bills for the shuttered agencies.
In the Senate, Senate Democrats are considering not voting to move forward on any legislation until legislation to address the shutdown is considered. What that all means right now, basically gridlock. Nobody's moving forward. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear he will not bring any proposals to the floor until the president signs off.
The president has not been willing to sign off on anything Democrats have put on the table. And, Wolf, one of the most interesting elements of this moment, as both sides seem to shore up their own bases, is the pain of the federal government shutdown is going to start to bite in a major way.
Starting on Friday, more than 800,000 federal workers will miss their first full paycheck. You're seeing an array of areas throughout the federal government where the bite will actually start to occur. But with all that in mind, when I'm talking to Republicans communicating with the White House from here on Capitol Hill, they say one thing has been made clear, they're in it for the long haul right now.
The answer is not, will this be finished in days? Right now, Wolf, it seems like weeks, maybe even longer, is the more likely case.
BLITZER: The pain will only intensify. Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you.
Now to Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and an unusual case we have been following. It included an allegation of a nude selfie and now pop culture references have also come up, from Looney Tunes to "Animal House."
Let's bring in our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, a very serious case, but there have been these sensational claims and quotes.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this is a company that -- a Russian company that is part of -- that's been charged with helping to essentially help the social media -- the Russians used social media to interfere in the 2016 election.
And one of the things they have been done is they have been arguing that they should get access to sensitive information that the U.S. government says that if they provide will end up in the hands of the Kremlin. And so that's been the fight that's been happening behind the scenes, as you said, extremely serious matter.
But behind the -- in these court filings that this company's been using, essentially, they have been bringing up a lot of pop culture references, including a reference to "Casablanca."
You mentioned the nude selfies, "Animal House." And, finally, the judge, Dabney Friedrich, who is a Trump appointee, by the way, she's had enough and she said, you need to cut it out, you're undermining your own credibility with the court.
And she told them that they should stop using these types of references in their court filings. As a result of this, Eric Dubelier, the lawyer who's been writing these court filings, says that now he has to go back to his client to determine whether or not he can continue to represent them, because he believes now the court is biased against them.
And amidst all of this, there's a deadline later tonight for Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, to respond to allegations that he lied while he was supposedly cooperating with federal authorities.
PEREZ: Right. That's right.
The filing will come some time in the next few hours, Wolf, and we expect to hear whether or not Paul Manafort's lawyers plan to fight the government on these allegations that he lied during those 12 times that Manafort met with the Mueller investigators.
You will remember that they had a cooperation agreement, and the government decided, the Mueller team decided to blow it up, saying that Manafort repeatedly lied during those times that he was supposed to be cooperating. We're expecting to hear whether or not they plan to fight the government on this and whether we're going to have essentially another mini-trial to argue over these allegations.
Now, the one possibility here is that the Manafort team can say, we dispute whether or not he lied, we believe that he did tell the truth, but we're not going to fight you on this because this makes no difference in his ultimate sentence. We will see what they say in this court filing. Again, we, expect it in the next couple hours.
BLITZER: In the meantime, Manafort sits in federal prison...
PEREZ: That's right.
BLITZER: ... awaiting all of this.
Thanks very much, Evan, for that report.
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: We have a lot to discuss on the shutdown. I know it affects
a lot of Virginians. We will get to that in a moment.
But let me start with this Russia investigation. The federal judge in this case says Concord, this Russian troll farm, as this company is known, wants to share this information with Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is known as Putin's chef. What are your concerns if that happens?
WARNER: My concerns are this individual, Putin's chef, is one of the oligarchs, that in a sense Putin outsourced the responsibility for the intervention into our elections to this individual.
He's got a catering company. He also set up and ran something called the Internet Research Agency out of St. Petersburg. That is where a lot of the Russian activity, the individuals who created the fake accounts, the individuals who targeted particularly African-Americans, the individuals that literally touched over 150 million Americans with their fake accounts, originated out of.
So I think the efforts of these lawyers are to basically try to find out how the American intelligence services through these kind of inquiries were able to get as much information and how and why Mueller was able to get such great documentation on the illegality of the IRA and folks affiliated with that.
BLITZER: Interesting points.
The president's nominee, as you know, to oversee the Russia investigation, William Barr, he will have his confirmation hearing for attorney general of the United States next week. You have already said his nomination should be withdrawn due to a memo he wrote questioning the special counsel's investigation.
How will you assess his confirmation hearing?
WARNER: Well, I think we have the one thing we have seen from the Trump administration is, they want somebody in the Justice Department that will clamp down on the Mueller investigation.
Rod Rosenstein has not done that, so Trump wants to put someone in who is loyal to him first. The acting attorney general, Whitaker, obviously didn't pass the smell test. Now, unfortunately, Mr. Barr, who has got a good reputation, but it appears during the summer was putting forward these memos saying the president in a sense is above the law, almost soliciting for the attorney general's position.
And I feel that those kind of memos, in this case, at this moment in time, disqualifies him. This will be up to the Judiciary Committee -- I'm not on that committee -- to do the review. But I'm going to try to convince my colleagues that there should be someone else in that position, someone that will allow the Mueller investigation to go on unimpeded.
BLITZER: Yes, and if he's confirmed in the Senate, he clearly is not planning on recusing himself...
BLITZER: ... as the former attorney general did.
Let's turn to the government shutdown, which affects so many people. The White House is asking now for what they call a steel barrier on the border, but they also want funding for other security measures and for humanitarian needs.
Do you reject all of these requests or simply reject the barrier funding?
WARNER: Wolf, I'm all for additional smart border security, 21st century security. Technology. Drones. Electronic fencing. Whatever the experts say we need.
What I'm not in favor of, though, is holding 800,000 federal employees hostage who won't get their paychecks come Friday, hundreds of thousands of contractors who even when the government reopens won't be reimbursed at all, literally thousands of businesses who are close to national parks who've missed weeks now of high tourist trade.
And those parks where folks did go in, unfortunately, without supervision, have been trashed. And the maintenance costs are going up dramatically. I'm worried about the fact that our Coast Guard has not been paid for weeks. They are supposed to be interdicting both undocumented immigrants and drugs and narcotics.
I wonder how many folks after they don't get paid on Friday are going to come to work on Saturday. I wonder the same when we see TSA officials phoning in sick in record numbers, because, again, they're frustrated.
Reopen the government. At least let us vote on what the House passed so that we can have our say about reopening government. And this is a crisis that was manufactured by Mr. Trump. I think there's willingness to try to meet additional border security needs, but let's not do it with this ongoing threat of the government being shut down.
Why is he playing with all these people's lives as political pawns on a political issue that, frankly, let us fight over, but don't hold these other folks hostage?
BLITZER: Well, if some of those border security measures are necessary, why can't you reach a compromise? A lot of people are wondering, what is going on with the federal government?
WARNER: Well, Wolf, I'm all for the $1.3 billion that we put forward last year. We even put forward $1.6 billion in an earlier -- in an earlier assessment.
We also had the assurance that actually Donald Trump would sign that legislation. That's why Leader McConnell brought it up. It passed. And then Donald Trump changed his mind. We then heard he sent up Mike Pence, and he had a separate offer. Donald Trump rejected this own vice president's offer.
So we now have at least documentation for what Trump asks for. I think there can be a way to get to an increased border security, but let's not do this that, in a sense, at the point of a gun, when he's got that gun held against the economic future of not only the 800,000 federal employees, but a whole lot of other folks who depend on federal services.
BLITZER: As you know, the president is planning a prime-time Oval Office speech tomorrow night, a visit to the border on Thursday to hit home his message that this is a crisis.
He's also considering declaring a national emergency, Senator, to build his wall, to use funds already appropriated by the Department of Defense for the U.S. military to build that wall.
What's your reaction to that approach?
WARNER: Well, my reaction, first of all, in terms of a speech tomorrow night and a political visit to the border on the following day, it means that he's not anxious to have this -- have this dispute be resolved.
I mean, I was a governor. I had difficulties with my legislature. I'm a Democrat. I had a 2-1 Republican legislature. When we had disputes, I put everybody in a room and we kind of locked the door and we wouldn't let anybody leave until we got to an agreement.
That's not this president's approach. He has it my-way-or-the-highway approach. And he's willing to hold literally hundreds of thousands of Americans' lives and economic well-being in jeopardy until he tries to extract what he wants. That's not the appropriate way.
Now, in terms of this national security explanation, I'm not an expert on what he can declare national security or not. But I do know this. This is not the way normal presidents, Democrat or Republican, treat the Constitution, treat the laws or treat the legislative process.
BLITZER: Are you, Senator, personally going to try to block all bills in the U.S. Senate until the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, allows a vote on reopening the federal government?
WARNER: Wolf, we're going to take this a day at a time. I mean, one of the reasons why we got into this position right now is people backed themselves into corners where they can't get to yes.
I do know this, that the first piece of legislation I would hope the Senate would take up would be the bill that's already passed the House that would reopen the government. I would like to have a chance to have my view expressed on that. And, frankly, I think the reason why Donald Trump doesn't want that to be voted on is, I think a number of Republicans realize we owe an obligation to reopen the government.
Now, that's going to happen tomorrow. I'm not going to vote to move the bill that Leader McConnell is doing to put up. We will see what happens after that, after Mr. Trump makes his national address and then goes to the border security.
But the fact of the matter is, the pressure is going to only ratchet up as people don't get their paychecks on Friday. And what we have seen from this administration is, they don't connect the dots. They said, we want to have a shutdown and not make any kind of pains.
So they furloughed the Park Services, but left the parks open. They did, not realizing that was going to lead to the kind of destruction that's taken place at the parks.
They now are saying, well, you're going to give tax refunds, but they have not said when. And how are they going to do that, when they have got 88 percent of the Treasury employees furloughed?
Saying they're going to do stuff is not a plan. And what we have seen from this administration time and again is the haphazard approach that just, frankly, is irresponsible.
BLITZER: Senator Warner, thanks so much for joining us.
WARNER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead: the now infamous Trump/Russia dossier. Two years after the president was first briefed on its existence, how much of the sensational allegations are true or false?
BLITZER: Tonight, it's been two years since a seminal moment in the Russia investigation.
In early January of 2017, then-president-elect Trump was briefed about a secret dossier compiled on him and his campaign by a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele.
In the allegations, the Steele dossier, as it came to be called, the allegations remained a source of major controversy and deep concern to this very day.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, was among the first to report on the existence of the Steele dossier and the fact that intelligence chiefs briefed Mr. Trump about it.
Jim, what more do we know about it now two years later?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the fact is, despite the fact that the president has and continues to deny it, fact is that some of the central claims, allegations in the dossier have been corroborated in the last two years of repeated contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials or people tied to Russian intelligence, of discussions of a major business deal that would benefit Trump between him, his associates and Russia. That has been corroborated, as well as Russian offers of help to the
Trump campaign during the campaign. And that's just what's public. We don't know what Robert Mueller has been able to turn up or corroborate, himself ,as well.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): After endless debate in Washington and countless denials and dismissals by President Trump...
TRUMP: Fraud of the fake dossier, the phony dossier.
SCIUTTO: ... parts of the new infamous dossier on Trump have proven to be true.
The dossier began as opposition research on Trump, first funded by his Republican opponents and then Hillary Clinton's campaign. It was then that retired British intelligence officer Christopher Steele began to take part, later compiling a series of raw intelligence leads which formed the 35-page document.
The dossier included salacious and unverified claims about Trump, as well as broader allegations of a potential conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and Russian nationals tied to the Kremlin and Russian intelligence, which Trump has repeatedly denied.
TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia.
SCIUTTO: However, special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, as well as probes by committees on Capitol Hill, have, in fact, corroborated some aspects of the dossier.
Take the claim that Russians tried to develop a closer relationship with Trump by offering him fruitful real estate business deals.
TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, OK?
SCIUTTO: During the campaign, Trump repeatedly and emphatically denied that he had any deals in or involving Russia.
TRUMP: Zero. I mean, I will tell you right now, zero. I have nothing to do with Russia. Zero. Zero.
SCIUTTO: Despite denying it for months, Trump's one-time fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen testified in December that he and Trump were, in fact, negotiating a potential deal with a Russian company that would bring a Trump Tower to Moscow, with efforts continuing as late as the summer of 2016, as Trump was clinching the Republican nomination for president.
With his earlier denials proven false, Trump now brushes the project aside.
TRUMP: I decided ultimately not to do it. There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it. SCIUTTO: Claiming the deal was well-publicized at the time, though it
was not, and suggesting that the negotiations were merely part of his obligation to run the Trump Organization.
TRUMP: This deal was a very public deal. Everybody knows about this deal. I wasn't trying to hide anything. When I run for president, that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to do business. I was doing a lot of different things when I was running.
SCIUTTO: Despite Trump's claims of little to no contact with Russia prior to his election victory and inauguration, we have learned that, in fact, at least 16 Trump associates had contacts with Russians either during the election campaign or the presidential transition.
One such interaction took place in June 2016 at Trump Tower in New York, when Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort all met with several Russians who were offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Today, President Obama sending a message to Russia, essentially, we're coming for you.
SCIUTTO: A further allegation in the dossier relates to U.S. sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration.
The dossier includes the allegation that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page met with the president of a Russian state-run oil company and discussed lifting the sanctions. In 2017, Page testified before the House Intelligence Committee that he did visit Russia in 2016 and met a different senior official of the oil company and that the campaign was fully aware of the trip.
However, Page claims that he visited Russia as a private citizen, and that his meeting was not specifically about sanctions, though the topic was discussed during his visit.
CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: A few people may have brought it up in passing, but, you know, again, it's a major economic issue. And so, you know, there may have been a loose conversation.
[18:30:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Still unresolved allegation, and a potentially explosive one if proven true, the dossier also claims that Michael Cohen traveled to Prague in the summer of 2016 to coordinate with Russian officials on covering up Russia's interference in the election. Cohen has consistently publicly denied any such trip.
And all the while. the president has stood firm insisting --
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's been no collusion. After two years, no collusion.
SCIUTTO: Some of the dossier's other allegations remain uncorroborated, including the allegations that the Russian government has damaging, highly salacious material on President Trump, which the Kremlin could use as compromising material, kompromat in Russian. TRUMP: And I have to say, if they had it, it would have been out long
SCIUTTO: Throughout, President Trump had one very public companion in his denials: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I'd like to add something to this. After all, I was an intelligence officer myself, and I do know how dossiers are made up.
SCIUTTO: Putin did admit that another allegation in the dossier is true, that he preferred Trump to win the election over Hillary Clinton.
PUTIN (through translator): Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing U.S./Russia relationship back to normal.
SCIUTTO: Soon after we reported that the U.S. intelligence officials had briefed Trump and President Obama on the dossier, we reported that U.S. intelligence had corroborated multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
At the time, not only did the White House deny it, it enlisted Republican lawmakers to call other news organizations to deny the story. Those denials, of course, proven false, as well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Excellent reporting as usual. Jim Sciutto, thanks for that update.
Just ahead, as millions feel the pain of a government shutdown, President Trump plans an Oval Office speech and a border visit to make the case for his wall.
[18:36:35] BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning more about the president's decision to deliver an Oval Office speech and visit the southern border, moves Mr. Trump and the White House announced just a little while ago.
With the government shutdown now in its third week, we're told advisers have warned the president that his arguments about border security and the need for a wall aren't resonating.
Let's bring in our analysts and Gloria Borger, clearly, the president feels he's got to do something, so he's going to -- deal with the tweets and sort of the off-the-cuff exchanges with reporters not working.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is not working.
Look, a majority of people in the polls we're looking at blame the Republicans for the shutdown. More than 60 percent oppose the wall. I would presume that most of those people do not consider this to be a national emergency.
So the president has got to now -- he understands he has to talk to the American public, but he's got to convince the American public that it is a crisis. And so far, they're not -- they're not buying it. And what they're hearing from the president is, yes, this is a crisis, but they're not hearing from him any empathy for any of the people who are losing their salaries, who are losing their paychecks, who cannot pay their mortgage. He's not talking about that, and most of the American public is thinking about those people. That's what the Democrats are talking about. And he's saying, "You know what, they understand. They support me. They support the wall," and we've seen no proof. We've seen absolutely no proof for that.
So the people around him at the White House understand that he has to do something. And I am not sure that going to the border is going to help him at all. I mean, that's kind of a stunt, too, right? So how is that going to help him?
BLITZER: Well, he could announce tomorrow night in his Oval Office speech, Laura, that he's declaring a national emergency, diverting billions of dollars already appropriated to the Department of Defense for the U.S. military to go ahead and build that wall.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He could, but the question is, if he does that, why are we on day 17 of the shutdown? If he had the authority all along, which he claims that he does -- and Democrats will dispute that, they will immediately take this to court.
But if he could do it all along, and this was truly a national emergency, that national security is at risk, you wonder, well, what was it all for?
And I think there are real questions about what happens not just on the federal land, putting on steel slats, but what happens to private land? Are you taking this in some sort of eminent domain? Again, all kinds of legal questions are raised here. I think even Republicans saying you want to be careful here. You see John Cornyn saying this raises a whole host of problems.
BLITZER: And he's going to have some trouble, Jackie, justifying a national emergency. Look at these numbers. We've got a graphic to show southern border arrests over these past many years. You see how it's gone down, and it's going down right now.
JACKIE ALEMANY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And, you know, the president has obviously manufactured a political crisis.
But my colleagues at the "Washington Post" actually have done some great reporting about a smaller bubbling crisis about, you know, unaccompanied minors and to larger families that are now crossing the border. So whether or not Democrats and Republicans can agree as to the term "crisis," I think the fundamental disagreement here is that the wall doesn't address the problem of these bigger groups of families that are now crossing the border, which is more of a humanitarian crisis. It's that border agents aren't equipped and don't have necessary medical equipment to handle the inflow of people that are now crossing in larger groups.
BLITZER: And there's a lot of ramifications of this continued shutdown, Ron. The president of the National Pilots Association is urging President Trump to end the shutdown. He warns this-- and I'm quoting him now -- "The disruptions being caused by the shutdown are threatening the safe operations of this network." That's a serious, serious concern to the millions of people who want to fly.
[18:40:17] RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It is. I mean, you have ironies, really, on both sides of the ledger here.
First, you have the impacts of the shutdown on genuine areas of national security. And first on that line are people worried about the air-traffic control system, the TSA agents who are working without pay, the Coast Guard.
But even more directly, the e-verify system that is used to verify the legal status of new hires is down, a key element of the enforcement enforcement -- immigration enforcement machinery. The immigration court system is down.
And all of this, you know, on the other side of the ledger, toward as we've been talking about, something that is very hard to portray as a crisis. The undocumented immigration population in the U.S., by the best estimate we have from the Pew Research Center, peaked in 2007. It's 1.5 million lower today than it was at the high point.
And as you point out, the arrests at the border are about one-fifth of the level they were in 2000 and somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of the level in 2008. You put all of this together, you have this strange situation where the claim of a national security emergency is driving the president toward actions that weaken national security, you know, in response to a problem that he is enormously inflating on the other side.
BLITZER: The president, Gloria, says he understands what federal workers and government contractors and their families are going through right now, the pain that they're enduring. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can relate, and I'm sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do. And they'll make adjustment. People understand exactly what's going on.
But many of those people that won't be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I'm doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think?
BORGER: That's ridiculous. It's -- it's absurd. I'm sorry, but these are people who are trying to pay their mortgage. Lots of people live paycheck to paycheck. I am not saying that you can't be a billionaire and relate to these
people. You can, but this president has not been able to do so. You don't hear him talking about those people.
I mean, he is making a political argument, but he is -- the lack of empathy here is kind of stunning. And I think one of the reasons is that as he said early on in this fight, that he believes most of them are Democrats. He believes the one in Washington -- in Washington, D.C., are part of the deep state that don't like him, anyway.
So the lack of concern from a president for 800,000 people, for the national parks, for the FBI, for the IRS, whatever it is, is kind of remarkable to me.
BLITZER: If those 800 -- most of those 800,000 who are not going to be getting paid are Democrats, why does the president say, "They agree 100 percent with what I'm doing?"
ALEMANY: That's a great question, Wolf. And the president really can't get his story straight on this crisis, which is why he's finally, I think, taking to the bully pulpit tomorrow to try to put together a more coherent argument that's, hopefully, a bit more streamlined than what we've seen, because he really has been all over the place.
BLITZER: There's more news we're following. Everybody, stick around. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[18:47:20] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with our analysts.
And, Laura, there's a case that we've been watching very closely involving this Concord Management, a Russian company indicted by the special counsel. Now, the federal judge says he's upset that these Concord -- these documents potentially if they go forward could provide valuable information to this guy, Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of Putin's close associates.
What's going on over here? Because there's a lot at stake.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is, and the Justice Department is taking this pretty seriously, so seriously, in fact, they've been fighting tooth and nail for months to try to keep these documents out of Prigozhin's hands. In fact, having a Justice Department lawyer in the national security division dedicated to reviewing these before they go out to make sure that there's nothing national security that's put at risk by disclosing these and discovery is a regular part of litigation.
But the issue here that the Justice Department is saying is there's an ongoing grand jury investigation, there are cooperating witnesses. We can't turn this over to the very people who were accused of interfering in the 2016 election.
BLITZER: She was appointed, this federal judge, by Donald Trump, and she's calling this Russian company unprofessional, inappropriate, ineffective. The arguments raising all sorts of comparisons to loony tunes, this Russian company is suggesting. This is a serious problem.
JACKIE ALEMANY, ANCHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST "POWER UP": Yes, it is, and although I do want to point out the irony of a lawyer for a Russian troll company very clearly trolling Robert Mueller, but I think what it speaks to really overall is, you know, he's sort of picked up these Trumpian tactics in trying to undermine the special counsel and trying to sort of, you know, conduct this smear campaign and Mueller and his, you know, group of lawyers have just been super professional and not engaged or leaked or taken any of the bait here. And that's been consistent for over a year and a half as all of these different threads play out in the investigation.
BLITZER: You saw Jim Sciutto, Gloria's excellent report, exactly two years after we all first learned about this so-called dossier.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Has it been two years?
BLITZER: You know, we know a lot more but we clearly don't know --
BLITZER: -- what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, knows. He knows a lot.
BORGER: And he does know a lot more. We may eventually know some of what he knows. We may not know all of what he knows. But I was looking, you know, by the numbers. There have been 36 plea deals and indictments. That includes the Russians.
A handful of administration officials and campaign officials have been indicted. And we've had 16 associates of the Trump campaign or administration who were dealing with Russians. And the main question I think we have to answer here is why?
This is not the way campaigns normally operate, when they're conducting business, which is, dealing with Russians.
[18:50:08] We know what Michael Cohen was saying about Trump Tower Moscow, that while the president was talking to us saying that he had no business in Russia, he was, in fact, trying to arrange a deal there, which fell through. So, clearly, Bob Mueller right now is connecting all of these dots. And there are so many dots, we don't -- we don't know about, that eventually I hope we do.
BLITZER: Are you saying, Gloria, this is not normal?
BORGER: I will say this is not normal, and I will also say, this is not over.
BLITZER: It's not over by any means.
BORGER: No, no.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Ron. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I was going to say, in the not over category, I mean, this is part of the reason why the shutdown, I think, is not over. If you have a president who has never had as a goal winning majority support, it was only focused on holding passionate support among a small base, from his point of view, all of this keeps everything else out of the foreground.
I mean, it delays, inhibits the investigations that Democrats want to pursue against him, across a wide range of other issues, starting with Russia, but also, having to do with government corruption or EPA enforcement or the Interior Department. Basically, he is not only holding the government hostage, he is, to some extent, holding back the Democratic majority in the House from advancing its approach to how it wants to structure these last two years. And if you're not worried that a majority of the country opposes a shutdown or that roughly, as Gloria said, 60 percent of the country opposes the wall, you could see how he could view this as something that could benefit him tactically, for quite a while.
So, it may be that ultimately, it's Senate Republicans rather than pressure directly on the White House, it may be pressure on Mitch McConnell that may be more dispositive in bringing this to a conclusion.
BLITZER: And, Jackie, amidst all of this, we're about to get a whole bunch of announcements from Democrats that they want to be the next president of the United States.
ALEMANY: That's true. But I just want to go back really quickly to the point about this case. And I really think in the broader scheme of things, it is just a minor speed bump, especially as we're looking ahead, something that I was calling around about today is that Mueller, as he gets closer to potentially releasing his full report, is going to have to potentially face another barrage of attacks from the White House, who are considering exerting executive privilege in order to prevent Congress from seeing this full report.
But, yes, at the same time, there are, you know, up to 40-something Democrats who are potentially going to be running for president. I don't know what the rest of these senators are waiting for, but --
BLITZER: These presidential debates --
BORGER: I'm going to tie this up. We'll hear whether Joe Biden is going to run for president before we hear from Robert Mueller. How about that?
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around.
Just ahead, the president's plan for a Syria withdrawal gets more confusing as we're learning more U.S. troops may actually be deployed there.
And U.S.-backed forces in Syria say they've captured to Americans fighting for ISIS.
[18:57:37] BLITZER: Tonight, we're following new contradictions and lots of confusion about President Trump's order to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria.
Now, sources tell CNN a pullout might first require a buildup.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, what are you learning about plans for a withdrawal?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
Well, there are mixed messages about how long now the president will permit U.S. troops to stay in Iraq. But regardless of that, there is a plan now that calls for inserting more U.S. troops into Syria in order to safely get the 2,000 ground troops out of there.
Why put more in? They are going to need air power. They're going to need cargo aircraft and helicopters to help get troops and equipment out. They're going to need heavy vehicles to drive out, to put weapons and ammunition securely on those vehicles and drive them out of Syria, and perhaps quite significantly, they are going to have to add security forces, we are told, by defense officials.
It could actually require the deployment of a significant number of infantry forces into Syria, to secure the areas that U.S. troops may be moving through. It could all mean several hundred additional troops in some sort of phased approach, going into Syria, to get everybody else out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And if you listen to the president's national security adviser, John Bolton, those troops aren't leaving anytime soon. Now, the president has said ISIS is defeated, but tonight, the Pentagon is investigating where there were two ISIS fighters captured in Syria are Americans.
What do we know about these two men?
STARR: Wolf, over the weekend, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is a group that the U.S. military has supported, released these two -- there are these two photos that you see. They say these are two Americans. One man is named Christopher Clark. He may be from Texas. The other one, Zaid al-Hamid. No location on him.
The SDF fighters say they were captured in a group of foreign fighters fighting in eastern Syria. They say both of these men are Americans. The Trump administration not officially confirming that, but it is an indication, if you think ISIS is defeated, think again. Foreign fighters still active in Syria, still on the battlefield -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Clearly, ISIS has not yet been defeated. Barbara Starr at the pentagon, thanks for that report.
We'll continue to watch all of these developments unfold, the consequences, ramifications are significant. To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in
THE SITUATION ROOM.
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