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Trump: 'I Never Worked for Russia'; A.G. Nominee: Mueller Should Be Allowed to Finish Report. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 14, 2019 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, ANN ANCHOR: Happening now, "It's a disgrace." After first refusing to answer, President Trump says he never worked for Russia, calling the very idea a disgrace. But stunning new disclosures show the the FBI had looked into whether the president was following the directions of Moscow.

[17:00:21] Matter of interpretation. The president reportedly acted to keep his talks with Vladimir Putin secret, even confiscating his interpreter's notes, leaving top U.S. officials in the dark about his conversations with a Russian leader. Will Democrat-led committees now subpoena the interpreter?

Setting the Barr. The president calls the whole Russia investigation a big, fat hoax. But his nominee for attorney general, William Barr, is promising to let the special counsel finish his probe and says the results should be made public.

And shifting the blame. Polls showed the public clearly blames the president and the Republicans for the government shutdown. But the president won't budge on his border wall and is blaming Democrats for a shutdown that he had promised to own.

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

It's come down to this: a U.S. president publicly declaring that he, quote, "never worked for Russia." President Trump took that extraordinary step today after stunning revelations raised new questions about his seeming reverence for Vladimir Putin. They include disclosures that the FBI opened an investigation to determine if the president was secretly working at the direction of the Kremlin, and that he went to great lengths to hide the details of his private talks with Putin.

The president today called the Russia investigation "a big fat hoax." But his attorney general nominee is already pledging to let Special Counsel Robert Mueller finish his investigation and says he believes the results should be made public.

I'll speak with Congressman Joaquin Castro of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by with full coverage.

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

Jim, it has to be a first: a U.S. president denying that he's worked for Russia.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It's a jarring thing to hear from a commander in chief of the U.S. President Trump did that, though, responding to a series of bombshell reports on the Russia investigation, insisting he has never worked on behalf of the Kremlin. The president is facing new questions in the Russia probe just as he is refusing to budge from his demand for border wall in order to reopen the government.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump's response to the question as to whether he has been working on behalf of Russia can be summed up in one word. Nyet.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never worked for Russia. Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it's a disgrace that you even ask that question, because it's a whole big fat hoax. It's just a hoax.

ACOSTA: The president pushed back on a series of hair-raising reports on the Russia investigation. Both "The New York Times" and CNN reported that FBI agents launched an inquiry into the president's decision to fire the bureau's director, James Comey, in 2017, to find out whether Mr. Trump had done so to directly benefit the Russian government.

The president still defends that decision.

TRUMP: I guess they started it because I fired Comey, which was a great thing I did for our country. So the people doing that investigation were people that had been caught that are known scoundrels. They're -- I guess you could say they're dirty cops.

ACOSTA: The president initially justified the Comey firing by saying he had an axe to grind with the Russia probe.

TRUMP: When I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."

ACOSTA: Over this past weekend, the president didn't give a direct answer when he was asked whether he was working on behalf of the Russians.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?

TRUMP (via phone): I think it's the most insulting thing I've ever been asked. I think it's the most insulting article I've ever had written. And if you read the article, you'd see that they found absolutely nothing.

ACOSTA: The White House is also scrambling for answers after "The Washington Post" reported Mr. Trump tried to conceal his private meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin by taking notes from an interpreter and instructing that person to stay quiet after one face- to-face encounter at a summit in Germany in 2017. Aides to the president say he was just worried about leaks.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: The president at that time in 2017 was suffering from a great number of leaks.

We're always concerned about leaks, obviously, particularly national security leaks.

ACOSTA: Democrats are seizing on the new revelations, saying they may explain why the president seems eager to accept Putin's denials that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election, like he did in Helsinki last year.

TRUMP (on camera): I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be.

ACOSTA: Hillary Clinton, Democrats say, may have been onto something after all.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States.

TRUMP: No, no puppet.

CLINTON: It's pretty clear --

TRUMP: You're the puppet.

CLINTON: It's pretty clear you won't admit --

TRUMP: No, you're the puppet.

CLINTON: -- that the Russian --

ACOSTA: The president is also digging in his heels on whether to reopen the government, still insisting on his border wall. Though he seemed to rule out declaring a national emergency to force the military to build it.

TRUMP: I'm not looking to call a national emergency. This is so simple, you shouldn't have to.

ACOSTA: New polls continue to show the public blames the president more so than Democrats for the shutdown. That's not how the president laid it out when he spoke to a group of farmers in New Orleans.

TRUMP: The government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: the Democrats will not fund border security.


ACOSTA: Now getting back to Russia, the president brushed off any worries that he was trying to hide is interactions with Putin. Talking with reporters earlier today, insisting that those encounters with the Russian leader have been what he called successful. But that's exactly what concerns Democrats, who also say the president's meetings with Putin can be described as successful for the Russians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House. Thank you very much. Dramatic developments indeed.

Let's bring in our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez; and our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, why would the president go to these extraordinary lengths to keep the contents of his meetings with Putin secret, even from some of his top national security advisors, who have the highest top-secret security clearances?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is extraordinary when you think about it, Wolf. How many months have we been talking about this? And we still don't really have direct answers as to why the president continues to behave like this.

And it's caused a lot of suspicion. And you can understand why people who are in this space, in the national security space, have been concerned for quite some time about what was said in these meetings. Because really, the only other person in this meeting is Vladimir Putin. In all of these meetings, no other officials are usually allowed in. And the only other American official would be the translator.

And what we've learned is that even some of the information that a translator may have had, those notes were taken away from the translator. So certainly, a lot of concern among national security people, those who have -- who work there now and, certainly, a lot of people who have left, that something is going on.

BLITZER: According to "The Washington Post," that translator was told, "Don't say a word about that meeting to anyone, and the president wants your notes."

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. And I mean, I think the president has had a change of behavior since the beginning of his presidency. If you remember, earlier in the presidency, there were some of his -- some of his calls were leaked. The details of those calls were leaked, I believe, to "The Washington Post." And so he has become a lot more secretive in some of his meetings with other world leaders, as well.

But look, there's no other relationship like the relationship with Russia, obviously because of their actions during the 2016 election. And a great deal of suspicion about what exactly Vladimir Putin is up to, not only with regard to the United States but also his actions in Europe. I think this is way it actually leads to a dysfunction in the way his own administration is able to function; in the way they're able to manage the relationship with Russia. And our other allies.

BLITZER: Yes. Because it's -- it's amazing that the Russians know everything that happened during those meetings, but the president's advisers on Russia, with these top-secret security clearances, they're still --

PEREZ: They do not.

BLITZER: -- in the dark. I mean, I've never heard of anything like that before.

So now the leadership, the new Democratic leadership of the House Intelligence Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I take it, they're thinking of subpoenaing the interpreter --


BLITZER: -- trying to get ahold of notes. Maybe even asking Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, who participated in one of those Trump meetings with Putin, also to testify.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. So here's -- here's some of the issues with that. And I think some people are concerned that bringing in a translator before members of Congress would hurt future diplomacy efforts, perhaps. Because presidents need to know that, in these meetings, there is a high level of confidentiality, that certain things won't be shared.

And perhaps there is concern that, if you do bring this translator before members of Congress, certain information could be released, could hurt future efforts. And presidents may not want to bring certain people into these meetings.

But the fact of the matter is, we don't even know how much this translator will know about these meetings, because from what we're told, is that the translators, when they take these notes, it's generally words that they just want to confirm or something that they're not sure about what they're translating, that it's not necessarily a readout of what these meetings are about. And the translator may not even remember at this point what was said in these meetings. We'll see.

The Democrats have been talking about doing this for quite some time. There are two different committees that want to do this. It would be highly unprecedented for them to do something like this.

We've seen the Republicans, certainly, do highly-unprecedented things in subpoenaing information or putting information out into the public. This would certainly be a somewhat highly highly -- certainly would cause a lot of concerns for people within the diplomatic world.

[17:10:18] BLITZER: Yes, it would be extraordinary.

And, you know, CNN has learned, Evan, that after the president fired the then-FBI director, James Comey, the bureau began investigating why the president was taking steps that some officials thought was beneficial to Russia. Steps that some officials continue to believe he's taking right now. PEREZ: Right. I think some of the -- some of this testimony which came from FBI officials to the Hill, I think, explain a lot of what was going on, the alarm that was going on inside the FBI at the time after the firing of James Comey.

Look, I mean, you're talking about a president or a candidate who openly was hostile in talking about, denigrating our intelligence services. He talked about undermining the importance of NATO, for instance. These are things that the Russians, of course, really like to hear. He praised how Vladimir Putin managed his own country. So I think you can see why there are certain people at the FBI who had some concerns, and so decided to launch this investigation.

What we don't know, Wolf, is the answer to that: whether those initial suspicions have been confirmed in the year and a half or so of the investigation. That's what Robert Mueller is going to tell us eventually, when that -- when his report is finally complete.

BLITZER: Very significant. All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. He's a member of both the Intelligence and the Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. As you know, FBI officials apparently debated a range of possibilities as they opened the investigation into the president's behavior. They considered the possibility that the president was completely innocent but also entertained that theoretical worst-case scenario that the president was acting at the behest of the Russians. Based on all the evidence you've seen, where on that spectrum does the reality fall?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Obviously, Wolf, that's a tough question. You know, when this story broke last week, in many ways, it's a jarring story for any America to read, the idea that the person at the very top of American government, the president of the United States, would be an agent of the Russian government or somehow helping Russia, particularly given the history between the United States and Russia.

But on the other hand, for those of us who have watched Donald Trump's words and actions over the past three years, in some ways it's not a surprise at all. Because he's been very friendly to Russia. He has never said a bad word about Vladimir Putin. He's done things that are essentially what the Russians would want in terms of foreign policy. He's undermined our alliance with NATO. He said he was going to pull out of Syria in a haphazard way. He's basically aligned himself with -- with autocrats around the world and weakened our relationship with our long-standing allies. So Russia could not have asked for a friendlier United States president.

BLITZER: When did you first learn, Congressman, about this investigation into the present?

CASTRO: That's something that, obviously, because I'm on the Intelligence Committee, that I can't discuss. But I can also say that it's something that, at least in terms of our work, we have not gotten a conclusive answer to. The committee that was run under Devin Nunes was run in such a way that it was a take-them-at-their-word investigation.

We would bring in witnesses, ask them questions for a few hours, and basically, there was no follow-up. There was no -- there were no subpoenas that were issued for travel records or bank records or phone records to verify anything that was told to us or to go deeper and try to get the answer to one fundamental question, which is what leverage, if any, does Vladimir Putin or Russia have over Donald Trump, his family and his businesses?

BLITZER: Let's talk about the bombshell report in "The Washington Post" about the extraordinary lengths President Trump has gone into in order to try to conceal the contents of his meetings with Putin, including taking possession of an interpreter's notes after that meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany? Should lawmakers now subpoena the interpreter from that meeting?

CASTRO: Another great and tough question. Ordinarily, I would say no because of professional ethics. Under the law, for example, a wife cannot be made to testify against a husband. A psychologist can't be made to testify against a patient and so forth. Ordinarily, you would think that you would want to put interpreters in that -- in that batch of people.

But this is in not your ordinary case. Usually, any American president would have not only an interpreter with him but a whole range offer aides and assistants. There would be a transcription of the meeting.

What's remarkable is that Donald Trump insisted on going into this meeting with nobody else in the room except somebody that could obviously help he and Vladimir Putin communicate.

[17:15:04] So with that said, I think all options should be on the table. Because the American people deserve to know what was said by their president and somebody who was the head of an adversarial nation who interfered with our 2016 presidential election.

BLITZER: The president's nominee for attorney general, Bill Barr, he's been critical of the special counsel's investigation, at times; wrote a very, very lengthy piece months ago about some criticisms that he had. But now he's taking pains to ease those concerns about how he plans to handle the probe ahead of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow.

Do you think his prepared remarks effectively addressed some of the questions that Democrat -- Democrats have raised about his nomination?

CASTRO: You know, I trust that Senate Democrats will continue to ask him tough but necessary questions for information that they need to know in order to make a vote or decision on whether to confirm him or not.

BLITZER: Because he now says he believes the report that Robert Mueller and his team comes out with should not only be made available to Congress, but he says it's vitally important that it be made available to the American public. I assume those are assuring words to you?

CASTRO: Yes. They are, Wolf. But I also don't think that's much of a concession.

This report is owed not -- I mean, to Congress, yes, but most of all to the American people. I see this as a report to the American people.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Castro, thanks so much for joining us.

CASTRO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, an extraordinary turn of events as the president of the United States denies working for Russia. Our experts standing by to weigh in on a series of stunning revelations.

And the president calls the Russia probe a big fat hoax. But his nominee for attorney general is already vowing to let Robert Mueller complete his investigation and says the results should be made public.


BLITZER: President Trump again is denouncing the Russia investigation in the wake of this weekend's disclosures, including revelations the FBI actually opened an information to look at whether he secretly was working to benefit Russian interests.

The president declared to reporters this morning -- and I'm quoting him now -- "I never worked for Russia."

Let's ask our political and legal experts about this and more.

Gloria, we're learning more and more about the FBI's inquiry, its investigations. What are you hearing?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, our colleagues -- Jeremy Herb, Pamela Brown and -- and Laura Jarrett -- have been reporting the -- on the transcripts of some folks from the FBI who testified before Congress.

And what they are saying is that they were wondering whether, in fact, the president was completely innocent or whether he was actually executing the will of Russia. And this testimony comes from James Baker, who was then the general counsel of the FBI.

And so I think the questions they are raising are, in fact, the questions we were raising, which is why did it seem, and why did it appear, and still continues to appear, that this is a president who cannot say a bad word about Vladimir Putin? And is this because he was, in effect, working for them?

And the president, you have heard over the weekend and today, say that's ridiculous. But it is ridiculous that we actually have to ask that very question.

BLITZER: Yes. Who would have thought that ever --

BORGER: I know. Yes.

BLITZER: -- we would have to ask the president of the United States --


BLITZER: -- "Are you working for the Russians?"


BLITZER: You know, it's hard to believe.

You know, Laura, you're part of this CNN team that's been going through some of the new information, including some transcripts of FBI and other Justice Department officials, their closed-door testimony to members of Congress.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And as Gloria said, you know, you have the testimony of James Baker, who's the top lawyer at the FBI. It's pretty extraordinary for the man who's the general counsel, to be saying, "We were worried about whether the president wanted to execute the will of Russia." I mean, his words are quite strong.

But you also have another lawyer, Lisa Page -- we've heard a lot about her text messages sort of disparaging the president -- and she said they were actually considering opening the investigation before Comey got fired. They were looking at all of the president's behavior surrounding Michael Flynn and other issues. And so they were sort of puzzled by it. They're trying to figure out what's going on.

But Comey's firing is the cap stone, and it creates a sense of urgency. And remember, there's still a great deal of mistrust at the time between the FBI and DOJ, because Rod Rosenstein, who is a Trump appointee, wrote the memo that sort of is used as the pretext for Comey's firing initially. And so you have the tension there between Rod Rosenstein and the man who becomes the deputy of the FBI, Andrew McCabe.

And so all of this is sort of playing out. But what we know is this all eventually gets transferred to Mueller. And the question is, what is Mueller going to do with it?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: And just on the -- the eye test, remember at the time, Donald Trump, the day or the day after he fires James Comey, we learn was in the Oval Office talking to Sergey Lavrov -- Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, two high-ranking Russian officials, saying, "There's a tremendous weight off of me."

Laura mentions the attribution of the firing of Comey to the Rosenstein memo. Yes, but Trump told Lester Holt "this whole Russia thing," and he was going to fire him before.

So the thing -- Gloria's point is, ridiculous is the right word but only in -- not in regards that we're asking this question. In the fact that we are to the point where this is a credible question that can and, honestly, should be asked.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, because Saturday night, he was going, doing an interview on FOX News, April. And he was asked about these allegations, was he an agent of Russia? And he sort of dodged it. He really didn't answer.

This morning, he was very forceful, and he answered it directly. Why didn't he do that Saturday night?

[17:25:00] APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's interesting that the president did not say something. You know, typically he has these knee-jerk reactions that get him in trouble. This time, I guess -- I guess he's learning how to keep quiet.

So what they did since that interview, they've coalesced, come together and figured out what to say. Kellyanne Conway was the first one to test out their new talking point this morning, talking about the reason why they have not given things out or talked about it is because they didn't want it leaked.

So now -- OK, so they didn't want it leaked. So what are you going to do now? That's the question.

Transparency is very important, especially for a president who was a civilian who did do business with Russia prior to, or had some failed business attempts with Russia and Russian officials.

So this is very important. And the question is -- you know, Wolf, if he does release information, the question is can we believe it? Can we believe it? And that's another sad thing in 2019, for a U.S. president, to wonder about the credibility of anything he says or anything he releases.

BLITZER: It's not the first time, Chris, that the president has defended his relationship to Putin.


BLITZER: Listen to this exchange, 2016, an exchange he had with Hillary Clinton. Listen to this.


TRUMP: Eighteen-hundred nuclear warheads, and she's playing chicken. Look, from everything I see, has no respect for this person.

CLINTON: Well, that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president --

TRUMP: No puppet.

CLINTON: -- of the United States.

TRUMP: No puppet.

CLINTON: And it's pretty clear.

TRUMP: You're the puppet.


BLITZER: What do you think?

CILLIZZA: I remember it well. Look, in a vacuum, what April is talking about, which is the president of the United States, according to Greg Miller, my former colleague at "The Washington Post" -- the president of the United States went out of his way to collect information related to his conversations with Vladimir Putin and keep them from even people within his administration. In a vacuum, that would be troubling.

Given, as Gloria has outlined, all of the things that we know -- seven people have pled guilty in the Mueller probe. Paul Manafort was convicted by a jury of his peers, 192 criminal counts. Thirty-six people or entities charged.

Given all of those connections, all of these people lying about the nature and breadth of their conversations with Russia, this strikes me as something that, if he says he's innocent, I take him at his word. But he's -- this is the most guilty thing you could possibly do. He said, in that interview with Jeanine Pirro, he says, "It was totally fine. I'm -- it's like meeting with anyone else."

But it's not like meeting with anyone else. No one else in the U.S. intelligence community has unanimously concluded sought to interfere

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following. More analysis right after this.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our political and legal experts.

[17:32:31] And Gloria, "The Washington Post," as you know, reporting that the president took the notes of his interpreter, who was at that meeting that the president had with Putin in Hamburg, Germany, in 2017. Rex Tillerson, the then secretary of state, he attended that meeting, as well.

Why is the president, though, trying to prevent top U.S. national security advisers, including his advisers on Russia, from knowing what the Russians clearly already know? And all these U.S. advisors have top-secret security clearance.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: That's the -- that's the question we all want the answer to, Wolf. I mean, Tillerson was in that meeting. And if I recall, after the

meeting, he was not particularly forthcoming about what occurred during that meeting. And during the Helsinki meetings, the president was alone.

So you can imagine, after this 2017 meeting, that the president -- you have a president of the United States saying to a translator, "Here, can I have your notes, please, from this meeting?" And telling the translator, who apparently was asked about what occurred during that meeting afterwards, telling the translator, "You know what? Don't say anything to anybody about what occurred."

My question, Wolf, is did he also say this to Rex Tillerson? Did Rex Tillerson then come out and give less -- less than a robust briefing about who occurred during the meeting, because he was asked to stay quiet by the president? We don't -- we don't know the answer to that question.

BLITZER: Take a look at this time line that we put together. This is involving the Trump Tower meeting, when "The New York Times" learned about it. Also, the Trump-Putin interactions around the same time.

Morning of July 7, "New York Times" reaches out to the White House about the Trump Tower meeting. Mid-day, there's a meeting between Trump, Putin, and their top aides in the evening, a private conversation between Trump and Putin during dinner. Trump later told "The New York Times" they discussed adoptions.

Then on July 8, President Trump dictates a misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting on Air Force One.

On July 11, e-mails show Don -- Donald Trump Jr. believed the Trump Tower would include Clinton dirt.

And on July 18, news reports reveal Trump Tower dinner meeting.

There's a lot of suspicious activity going on here.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: A lot of smoke, and a lot of smoke, Wolf, that centers around that meeting that we just keep coming back to as a -- as a, you know, a central part of it, which is that June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower.

Look, the thing that's mentioned there but I think is really important, remember, with that statement, Donald Trump Jr. dictates the statement -- Donald Trump dictates the statement, excuse me, to Donald Trump Jr. And then the White House and Don Jr. totally obfuscate and do not tell the truth about how much of a role the president had in the statement. He dictated it. It is his statement, in the words of Donald Trump Jr.

[17:35:23] Why did he feel the need to, A, be so involved that he had to put words in his son's mouth; and B, not tell the truth about it? Let's not lose sight of that. They did not -- when asked about it, they insisted "He may have seen it. He may have -- a word here or there." That's not the case. It was his statement through his son. So there's just so much smoke. Is it possible all this smoke doesn't

mean that there's a fire? Sure. It's possible. But it seems unlikely, given everything else we know.

BLITZER: Laura, do House investigators have the legal authority to subpoena the interpreter's notes?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They do. And I think the question is whether they want to pull the trigger on that. And I think there's been some hesitation about what kind of precedent that sets, not for President Trump but for future presidents down the line? Does this chill, you know, diplomatic conversations that you -- you want them to have sort of, you know, open reign to have free conversations without worrying that they're going to appear on the front page of the newspaper, as much as we'd like to know everything that they say. So I think that that's sort of the concern that you see.

Some House lawmakers weight in. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was tweeting out yesterday that, you know, they -- they voted this down last time around. But now Democrats control the House, it's a different ball game.

BLITZER: You know, April, it's very intriguing, because during the campaign back in 2016 -- it seems like a long time ago -- "The Washington Post" unearthed some audio from a private meeting with where House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, was heard saying these words, quote: "There's two people I think Putin pays. Rohrabacher" -- Dana Rohrabacher, a member of Congress, a Republican -- "and Trump."

And it's very intriguing, because "The Washington Post" said that Paul Ryan, the speaker, then said, "This is an off-the-record" -- laughter -- "No leaks," blah blah blah."

It's very intriguing what McCarthy said then, even though it may have been said, at least in part, as a joke.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, sometimes there's truth in jokes.

One thing that we did know before this president became president, he has international dealings. We know that he had made attempts to have business with Russia. We didn't know the extent.

And this also goes back to showing your taxes, showing -- just being more transparent in your financial dealings so -- so all of these questions won't be so big.

This president has to deal with issues of transparency. You've got this joke that could be -- have a little tinge of truth. Well, not a little tinge. Let's say some truth in it.

And this is about transparency. At this point two years in, and you go back to 2016, but it still plays in 2019. At this point the learning curve is over. The naivete is over. The American public needs to know. This is serious. This is about the United States of America and the

influences be continued and more serious influences that Russia may have on our governing of this nation.

BLITZER: The attorney general nominee, Laura, Bill Barr, he goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow for his confirmation hearings. He's now saying what I'm sure a lot of Democrats and others want to hear: that he thinks the Mueller report should be made available to Congress and to the American public.

JARRETT: Well, we have to remember, Bill Barr has been through this rodeo before. Right? So if confirmed, this will be his second stint as attorney general. And of course, I think it was pretty smart strategy to get out ahead of the question that we know every single Democratic, and possibly Republican, senator wants to get out there. What are you going to do to make sure Mueller can complete his work? What are you going to do about this report? Are you going to let the public see it?

He doesn't say, "We will let, you know, Congress and the public actually see the reports." He says, "We'll make sure the results are made public, to the extents that that's legally allowed, and it's within my discretion." I mean, there's a lot of talk around this.

BORGER: Wiggle.

JARRETT: And I think tomorrow you're going to see the senators try to really pin him down on this. Because they want to know not only, "What are you going to do about Mueller" but I think they want to know what exactly precipitated that memo that he wrote that was so controversial, explaining that the president could not have obstructed justice in the firing of James Comey. And they're going to want to know who did you send that two? How did this come about? Who did you talk to about it? What did the president think when you raised this?

BORGER: And why. And why did you send it? Were you auditioning for a job?

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following. We're getting some new fallout right now from the bombshell report on President Trump's efforts to keep from revealing what happened during his meetings with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.


[18:44:15] BLITZER: Tonight, we're looking ahead to a high-stakes vote that's sure to have very dramatic impact on some of the United States' closest allies.

The British House of Commons votes tomorrow on the terms of the United Kingdom's pull-out from the European Union.

Let's bring in CNN business editor-at-large Richard Quest. Richard, is there a request that Brexit may not happen?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: It's a possibility. If, as expected, Theresa May loses the vote tomorrow, then there will be a strong argument that somehow it should all be put off until it be -- can be sorted out.

But the prime minister today was very forthright in her last-minute appeal. Bearing in mind, she's likely -- not likely, she's almost certainly going to lose this vote, but she still went at it anyway.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: That's why I say to members on all sides of this house, whatever you may have previously concluded, over these next 24 hours, give this deal a second look.




THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: So I say to members on all sides of this House, whatever you have previously concluded, over these next 24 hours, give this deal a second look. No, it is not perfect; and, yes, it is a compromise.


QUEST: And that compromise will not be accepted by MPs on her own side. And frankly, the issue is not what happens tomorrow as such but what happens next. And one of those options very much is the idea of delaying Brexit, putting it off to the future and so forth.

Now, Wolf, the one comparison that everybody is making at the moment, commentators are talking about, is the similarity at the moment between the United States and the United Kingdom, who are both united tonight in seemingly paralyzed government -- the U.S. because of the shutdown and all that's going on, the U.K. because of Brexit.

And the irony here is not lost on anyone -- it was the populist vote that propelled both Brexit in 2016 and Donald Trump later in the year. So put it all together and you have both sides of the Atlantic, tonight, looking extremely uncertain.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And the stakes, clearly, are enormous. Richard Quest, thank you very much.

Coming up, a closer look at President Trump's treatment of Vladimir Putin and the events that lead the FBI to investigate whether his actions intentionally benefited the Russians.


[17:51:06] BLITZER: After a weekend of eye-opening and disturbing new reports about his behavior around Vladimir Putin and the Russians, President Trump, today, made a point of telling reporters -- and I'm quoting him now -- "I never worked for Russia."

Our Brian Todd has been looking over the President's record. Brian, what have you found out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've gone back to well before the 2016 campaign and found what appears to be a pattern of deference on the part of President Trump, a deference to Russia, to Vladimir Putin, and a seeming lack of willingness to publicly go after Putin even when the evidence screams that he should.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the concerns over President Trump's deference to Vladimir Putin seemed to have reached new levels, following new reporting from "The New York Times" and CNN that after Trump's firing of James Comey, the FBI investigated why the President was acting in ways that seemed to always benefit Russia.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: This is the first time in American history you've ever had an American president who is being seriously investigated by law enforcement, given the possibility that he may not be loyal to this country, that he may have actually sold out this country.

TODD (voice-over): While there has been no evidence released publicly showing the President is under Russia's influence, analysts say Trump has shown a pattern of deference to Russia that is both unusual and hard to explain.

Throughout the campaign, Trump denied having financial ties to Russia.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia.

TODD (voice-over): But in 2008, his son, Donald Junior, said Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of the Trump Organization's assets.

And his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump pursuing a deal to build a tower in Moscow while he was running for office, something the President later downplayed.

But it's not just business with Russia. Trump openly encouraged Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

TODD (voice-over): And then disparaged his own intelligence agencies over their findings that Russia did, in fact, interfere. He even parroted Putin's denials of that.

TRUMP: I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. TODD (voice-over): At their summit in Helsinki last summer, Trump

almost seemed to give Putin's talking points on election meddling for him.

TRUMP: He just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.

TODD (voice-over): There have been other alarming episodes. Just after firing James Comey in 2017, in an Oval Office meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister and Russian Ambassador, Trump reportedly told the Russians he got rid of the FBI Director because Comey was a, quote, nut job and because it eased great pressure, apparently, from the investigation.

And he reportedly shared highly classified information about a joint counterterrorism operation with Israel, something the President said he had the right to do. He also said he didn't divulge its origin.

TRUMP: I never mentioned the word or the name Israel.

TODD (voice-over): And "The Washington Post" now reports Trump has gone to great lengths to keep the specifics of his conversations with the Russian President under wraps and that there are no detailed records of his five meetings with Putin.

Trump denies hiding anything, but experts are warning tonight this overall pattern signals that Putin, a former KGB colonel now in charge of the Kremlin, could have the upper hand in the relationship and may continue to use Trump's deference toward him to his own advantage.

BOOT: He's doing things like stepping up his aggression in Ukraine and in Syria, and he feels pretty safe from American pushback. If you look at what Russian T.V. says, they basically play around with Trump. They make fun of him as being a Russian lackey.


TODD: And analysts are warning tonight that President Trump's patterns with Putin are sending signals to America's other rivals and to dictators around the world.

[17:55:00] They say his deference to Putin is almost an invitation to those rivals to try their hand at interfering with America's elections or try other forms of sabotage -- Wolf.

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

Coming up, the President of the United States declares -- and I'm quoting him now -- says he never worked for Russia.

But stunning new accounts show the FBI opened a formal inquiry to determine if President Trump was secretly following directions from the Kremlin and that he took great pains to hide details of his private talks with Vladimir Putin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:59:56] BLITZER: Happening now, never worked for Putin. President

Trump denies he ever followed the directions of Russia as transcripts confirm that possibility was debated within the FBI.