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"Times" Reports Trump Raised Idea of U.S. Withdrawing from NATO; Interview with Rep John Katko (R-NY). Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 15, 2019 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Bianca Nobilo in London for us. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

[17:00:06] You can follow me on Facebook, at Twitter, @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. "I will not be bullied." The attorney general nominee, who will oversee the special counsel's probe, says he won't be bullied and dramatically breaks with the president by declaring he doesn't believe Robert Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt.

Gates still open. The special counsel announces that former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates is still cooperating. Does that indicate the Mueller investigation could be far from finished?

No Brexit plan. A stunning defeat for the British government, in fact the worst defeat for any British government in nearly a century, as Parliament rejects the Brexit deal to separate from the European Union. Can Prime Minister Theresa May survive?

And leaving NATO? President Trump is already accused of siding with Vladimir Putin. Now a new report cites top officials as saying the president repeatedly suggested he may withdraw from the NATO alliance. So what's the White House saying?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: President Trump's pick for attorney general tells senators he will not interfere with Robert Mueller's investigation and vows he will not be bullied into doing anything he thinks is wrong.

Unlike the president, William Barr says he does not think Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt. Barr, who would oversee the special counsel's probe, pledged at his confirmation hearing today that he'd give Mueller the resources and the time to finish the job but seemed to hedge, at least a bit, as to whether the special counsel's report would be made public. I'll speak with the Republican Congressman John Katko of the Homeland

Security Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go straight to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, the president's nominee to head the Justice Department and oversee the Mueller probe is making it very, very clear he intends to be his own man.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He says he's going to be independent, and he will stand up to political pressure. Even if the president asks him to do something, he says he won't do it. He says he wouldn't even fire Robert Mueller unless there is good cause to do so.

But still, Democrats raised concerns about a memo that he drafted last year raising questions and concerns about the obstruction element of the Mueller investigation; and Barr was on the defensive as he tried to explain that that was just a narrow-in-scope memo, and it did not detail how he actually views this investigation going forward.



RAJU (voice-over): Today attorney general nominee Bill Barr vowed to protect the independence of the Justice Department and stand up to President Trump if he crosses the line.

BARR: I am not going to do anything that I think is wrong. And I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president. I'm going to do what I think is right.

RAJU: Under persistent questioning, Barr told senators at his confirmation hearing that he'd give Special Counsel Robert Mueller space to finish his investigation.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Will you commit to no interference with the scope of the special counsel's investigation?

BARR: The scope of the special counsel's investigation --

FEINSTEIN: By not limiting --

BARR: -- is set by his charter and by the regulations; and I will ensure that those are maintained.

FEINSTEIN: Will you commit to providing Mr. Mueller with the resources, funds and time needed to complete his investigation?

BARR: Yes.

RAJU: He set to reassure senators uneasy about the president's handling of the probe.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Would you say you have a close relationship with Mr. Mueller?

BARR: I would say we were good friends.

GRAHAM: Would you say that you understand him to be a fair-minded person?

BARR: Absolutely.

GRAHAM: Do you trust him to be fair to the president and the country as a whole?

BARR: Yes.

RAJU: Barr disagreeing with the president that the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt.

BARR: I don't believe Mr. Mueller would -- would be involved in a witch hunt.

RAJU: He also said the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was correct in recusing himself from the Mueller probe, even though Sessions's move infuriated the president.

BARR: I think he probably did the right thing, recusing himself.

RAJU: When asked if he would quit if Trump ordered him to fire Mueller, Barr said --

BARR: Assuming there was no good cause, I would not carry out that instruction.

RAJU: But Barr could not fully commit to publicly releasing Mueller's report detailing the finds of his investigation.

BARR: I'm in favor of as much transparency as there can be, consistent with the rules and the law.

[17:05:02] FEINSTEIN: Will you provide Mueller's report to Congress, not your rewrite or a summary?

BARR: The regs do say that Mueller is supposed to do a summary report of his prosecutive and his declination decisions and that they will be handled as a confidential document.

My objective and goal is to get as much as I can of the information to Congress and the public.

RAJU: However, he vowed to prevent Trump's legal team from editing the report.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Mr. Giuliani said the president should be able to correct the Mueller report before any public release. You commit that would not happen if you're attorney general? BARR: That will not happen.

RAJU: When asked if he would allow Mueller to proceed with a subpoena to question Trump, he said --

BARR: If there was a factual basis for doing it and I couldn't say that it -- it violated established policies, then I wouldn't interfere.

RAJU: Barr defended his June 2018 memo calling Mueller's obstruction investigation into the president, quote, "fatally misconceived," saying his concern was narrow in scope. Democrats said the memo should be grounds for his recusal from the Mueller investigation.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Just asking us to trust you is not enough.

BARR: I am not going to surrender the responsibilities of the attorney general to get the title.

RAJU: Barr did reveal a 2017 conversation with Trump after he turned down an offer, made first by the president's ambassador to Israel, to join Trump's legal defense team.

BARR: He said, "Oh, you know Bob Mueller. How well do you know Bob Mueller? And I told him how well I knew Bob Mueller and our -- and how the Barrs and Muellers were good friends. And he was interested in that, wanted to know, you know, what I thought about Mueller's integrity and so forth and so on. And I said, "Bob is a straight shooter and should be dealt with as such."


RAJU: Now Wolf, at least one Democrat is considering voting for Bill Barr. And that's Chris Coons of Delaware. I just caught up with him. I asked him about it.

He said he is seriously considering voting for him because of the way he vowed to protect the Mueller probe. He says he's got concerns about his views about immigration, in which Bill Barr defended the president's push to get a wall, for instance.

Dianne Feinstein told me that he's doing a good job answering questions, although she would not commit to voting or opposing him at this point.

But other Democrats on this panel very concerned, including Dick Blumenthal, who told me just moments ago that this nominee would, if he was confirmed, could invoke unknown rules and regulations that could deny the Mueller investigation from going forward in certain ways. And he told me this, Wolf. He said, "I'm concerned that he will fail when the Elliot Richardson moment comes." Of course, referring to President Nixon's attorney general. He does not think that Bill Barr will stand up to the president, as he's testifying that he will -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, Senator Coons is going to be joining us live later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll get his thoughts. Manu, thanks very much for that report.

Let's bring in our correspondents and our analysts and talk about what we heard today from the attorney general nominee.

Laura Jarrett, Barr said he's committed to releasing the Mueller report, but he did talk about some limits. We just heard that in Manu's report. So will the American people, will the Congress and the American public see all of them?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Not necessarily. I think he was pretty careful today to thread the needle to say over and over again, "Transparency is important to me. I think the American people deserve to know what happened here and to get to the bottom of it. But on the other hand, I'm going to follow the regulations, the special counsel regulations on the Department of Justice. I'm going to follow the law. I'm only going to do that to the extent I can."

And so I think he's putting that important qualifier on there to signal, hold on, guys; it may not be that simple.

He also signaled executive privilege could be an issue. He made sure to note that the president's attorneys are not going to get a chance to corrupt the report. But privilege may still be an issue. Classified information may be an issue. And so what he tried to preview is there may be a confidential report that's delivered to him and that he may provide his own executive summary that's released to the public.

BLITZER: So he will have, Evan, discretion to decide what to release publicly?


BLITZER: So will this be, you know, the attorney general's report or the special counsel's report?

PEREZ: Right. I think -- I think, actually, beginning now, we should start calling it the Barr report. This is not -- we've been calling it the Mueller report. But I think the Mueller report, at least if Bill Barr has anything to do with it, will remain under wraps. He believes that it's a confidential document that will allow him to prepare something that he believes he can -- he can try to thread the needle here.

But look, I'm not sure if he -- his is the final answer, because obviously, there's a legislative branch. There's the members of Congress. They have subpoena power. The Democrats have subpoena power. And even some Republicans, I think, in the Senate would want to get a copy of this and see what exactly was found.

So I think his may not be the final answer.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is very complicated, Wolf. Because does it go to the Gang of Eight, for example, in the Senate, who are privy to high-level intelligence matters?

[17:10:04] PEREZ: Right.

BORGER: Does he say, "Well, this ought to be redacted, and that ought to be redacted"?

And then, you know, today he was asked, "Would you explain why you're not giving us some of the things you're giving us?"

And he answered, "Yes."

Then if the Congress says, "Wait a minute. You know, we think we should have gotten that information," this is going to go back and forth. It can go to the courts. It's just not, like everything in life; it is not simple. And it could grow more and more complex.

BLITZER: How do you see it, Laura?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No one wants to see a repeat of the battling memos of Nunes and Schiff and now being Barr and Mueller. No one want to see that when it comes to this issue, of importance for democracy.

But I think to throw him a lifeline -- and I'm being generous -- one of the reasons I think that he was saying and hedging the way he does -- and of course, lawyers are known to hedge. He'll be the chief hedger of the land. Is because of the instance of having to have declinations. Meaning there are reasons that perhaps Mueller will decide not to prosecute some people or not to go forward on certain things. Notwithstanding, again a sitting president. Maybe there are other people.

And juxtapose that next to his comments about James Comey, where he really vilified him again today in the hearing, saying, "Listen, I do not appreciate; I don't approve of what he's done in terms of putting somebody out there to be tarred and feathered without actually making a prosecutorial decision to prosecute them."

So in many ways, perhaps, he's hedging to say, "I don't know if everything is needed to be told, particularly if what is included is the decision not to prosecute someone on foundational grounds.

BLITZER: Because you're talking about declinations, which comes from the word, "decline."


BLITZER: And the tradition in the Justice Department, the FBI is, if you investigate someone and you decline to prosecute, you don't reveal all that information.

BORGER: And Mueller wouldn't.

COMEY: And that's the reason that Comey has been vilified for his decision to go on a hearing publicly and say all the reasons he thought that Clinton, Hillary Clinton was extremely reck [SIC] -- careless but then not to prosecute her in the end. Everyone was against that decision. It actually loomed into Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions writing a memo to Trump about that issue. It wasn't why he was fired, but that's what everyone was talking about.

BLITZER: Bianna, you wanted to weigh in.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, not to mention that Barr spoke about Comey and being frustrated at the fact that Comey didn't seem to acknowledge that he made an error, at least in Barr's opinion. So there was no -- no sense of Comey saying, "You know what? Looking back, I shouldn't have done that." We clearly know how Comey views the situation.

But another thing that did calm a bit of nerves today was that Barr, at least he went out of his way to comment and compliment Mueller's character, saying that he had worked with him, that he knows him well. That he is judicious and that he is a very ethical man.

So -- and then lastly, I would just say, unlike Jeff Sessions, there is no real history between Barr and the president. He wasn't on his campaign. He wasn't with him since day one like Jeff Sessions was. So you do see a bit of a separation. And obviously, he has a deep history in Washington, as well, and is known in many circles there.

BLITZER: How many times a week, Phil, does the president of the United States say the whole thing is a witch hunt? That this is a witch hunt; this is a hoax. This is a witch hunt.

And today we heard his attorney general nominee say he does not believe that Robert Mueller would ever be involved in a witch hunt. If the president were watching, he probably was not too happy.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I find this fascinating, Wolf. Let's put this in a broader context.

Today, we have a nominee repeatedly saying he has fundamental disagreements with the president of the United States on the most significant law enforcement investigation of our generation. It's not somebody who's off the street; it's the attorney general.

Let me take a step further. When the president nominates a secretary of defense, I suspect that secretary of defense is going to be up before an open committee, before the cameras, saying, "I believe we should be committed to NATO regardless of what the -- what the president said."

We had a previous secretary of state who, when the president was talking about Little Rocket Man, said, "I'm going to go negotiate with the North Koreans. We need to" -- The distance between the president of the United States, who's supposed to set policy for the U.S. government, and not only members of his cabinet but prospective members, is fascinating. It's like the president does public diplomacy, and people below him actually do policy. I've never seen anything like it.

BLITZER: Do you think, you know, Gloria, that the president, when he nominated Barr to be the attorney general of the United States, knew that Barr and Mueller had been friends --

BORGER: Well --

BLITZER: -- worked together closely for 30 years, that their wives are very close, and that he doesn't believe this investigation is a witch hunt?

BORGER: Well, you know, as Barr said today, he had met with the president previously, because the president was interested, potentially, in putting him on his personal legal team. And at that time, of course, Barr turned him down.

But he said at that time, you know, he did tell the president that -- you know, he was asked, "What do you think of Mueller?"

And he said, "I told the president that he's a straight shooter and he should be dealt with as such." And then he told the president he couldn't do the job because of personal obligations.

I think the president knew that. But I think the president also saw the 19-page memo, which said that Mueller's theory of obstruction is wrong. Today, he clarified that to say he didn't have any inside information about what Mueller's theory was, and it may only have been one of his theories of obstruction.


[17:15:14] BORGER: But in any case, I think that was of greater interest to the president because, if Barr was saying this and distributing it widely, including to the president's own legal team, I think that the president probably figured "Barr is on my side. This is what's important to me."

GOLODRYGA: Look, I thought an interesting moment today was when Dick Durbin asked him, "Listen, given what you saw your predecessor, Jeff Sessions, go through, with the president constantly attacking him and the personal insults by recusing himself, which of course, most agreed that was the right thing for him to do, why do you want the job?"

And he said, "Listen, it's because I respect the institution. I want to protect the Justice Department." He did not spend much time answering the question with regards to his personal feelings about the president. It was more about the institution. And I thought that was an interesting takeaway.

BLITZER: Yes. What was impressive about Barr, among other things, he answered the questions, including some very, very tough questions. He didn't dodge. He was very forthright.

Up next, there's more breaking news. The attorney general nominee splits with the president when he says he doesn't believe Robert Mueller is on a witch hunt. Can William Barr maintain independence from the White House?

And the special counsel suggests his investigation is not over when he announces that former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates is still cooperating.


[17:20:56] BLITZER: We have some more breaking news just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

The special counsel, Robert Mueller, has provided a federal judge with information to back up his accusation that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to investigators.

Let's bring back our experts.

And Evan, here it is, 31 pages. This court document just released from the special counsel's office. A lot of it redacted right now. But give us a little -- give us a little detail of what we're learning.

PEREZ: Wolf, we tried our best to read what exactly is behind the redacted parts, and we can't decipher it.

But look, I think the two filings that we saw today, one was -- has to do with Rick Gates and the special counsel indicating that they're not done with that part of the investigation with Gates. All indications are, from people on all sides of this, is that Rick Gates has been one of the most fruitful, one of the most important witnesses in this investigation. They're not done with him. They asked for a two-month extension in which time to -- to come back to the court to provide an update.

And then, now just in the last few minutes, we got this -- this new filing. A lot of it has to do with Paul Manafort and his relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, someone that the FBI and the special counsel say is someone very close to the GRU, to the Russian intelligence services, and someone, obviously, that Paul Manafort was in business with for many, many years. The two of them have been indicted with witness -- witness tampering during Paul Manafort -- one of Paul Manafort's trials last year.

And so, according to this document, the special counsel is providing new information to the judge to explain why they believe Paul Manafort was lying at a time that he was supposed to be providing cooperation to this investigation and to explain why they believe that he broke the plea deal that he had signed.

BLITZER: And Laura, he was in touch with Kilimnik, this Russian with close ties to Putin and the GRU. Remember, the U.S. government has accused the GRU, the Russian military intelligence unit, of being involved in the hacking of the Democrats and Hillary Clinton, and the WikiLeaks, and all of that.

JARRETT: And our big question had been, when Manafort first revealed this, inadvertently messing up the redactions -- that's how we found out about this whole bit with the polling data. But out big question had been, at the time, was why? Why is Kilimnik interested in this polling data, and what was he willing to do to act on it? And what was being done in exchange, if anything? All of that we still don't know. Possibly behind those redactions

that Mueller has provided today.

But certainly, this was sort of the "put up or shut up" moment for Mueller's team. The judge had said, "Explain exactly what you have here." Manafort's team was -- wanted to know exactly, I think, what was he being accused of? Because I think even they didn't know at first.

PEREZ: One of the -- one of the things that this document does say is that -- I guess one of the reasons why we have so many redactions is that the special counsel says that there is a matter that is still under investigation, and it has to do with communications between Kilimnik and Paul Manafort.

And so that matter is still under investigation. We don't know what that is. But it clearly means that that is something that's very important that needs to be, you know, kept under seal for now.

BORGER: And Kilimnik, who is an intelligence operative, we believe. Right? I mean --

BLITZER: That's what the U.S. government --

PEREZ: That's what the FBI says.

BORGER: That's what the U.S. government says. Is at the center of this investigation, or so it would seem. And who is meeting with him and who is talking with him and who is e-mailing with him? Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman.

So when you want to talk about the question of collusion, you have to say why and you have to say when did this occur? Now, tell me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that Manafort opted not to kind of go over detail by detail --

PEREZ: He did.

BORGER: -- how he wasn't conspiring in any way, shape or form with Kilimnik, or communicating or breaking his deal. He just said, "OK, we're just going to go -- we're just going to pass by that. I'll let you guys --"

And then they come back with this rocket and say, "OK. We're going to detail everything you did," and they did.

COATES: He didn't -- you know, he didn't do that in his last filing.


COATES: And he talked about how it was an inadvertent error.

BORGER: Right.

[17:25:00] COATES: I mean, he didn't -- he didn't intentionally collude, although he was a chairman of the campaign, funneling polling information, very sensitive and sought-after details, to people, hoping to get to Deripaska, people close to the Kremlin.

But he very much angered somebody who, over a consistent period of time, has said that he will prosecute those who lie to him. And that was a lie, in Mueller's mind.

The reason you look at all the redactions, it's not like it's an ongoing investigation but because he's providing receipts. You'll see instances that he talks about, "Well, through text messages. And when you were confronted with the truth, you still chose to lie. When you were given opportunities to try to rehabilitate yourself, you still chose to lie," showing the judge this is not somebody who is inadvertently involved in what we're calling collusion or inadvertently not telling a complete truth.

It's somebody who they had information to believe that he was telling lies. They confronted him with it, and now he's being held to it.

And of course, the judge wants to see this, because the judge wants to know about that issue of intent. You're not going to prosecute or actually somebody to a very -- a big sentence unless you can show they actually intended to do so.

BLITZER: You know, Phil, the documents, there are 30 pages in formal document. Another 70 or 80 pages of various appendixes in this document. But it makes clear that Manafort was in touch with Kilimnik while he was still the campaign chairman, after he left and was no longer the campaign chairman, and he was also involved after both of them were formally indicted by the federal prosecutors.

MUDD: I think there's a couple takeaways here. You put a match lit in front of Director Mueller, and you're going to get a blow torch in response.

Let me tell you what's going on here. This is not about he said/she said. This is about FBI evidence. That evidence includes interviews with people like Rick Gates; it includes financial information, telephone calls, e-mail records, travel records.

Manafort is trying to get off the hook, I think for a very simple reason. He's already been burned in an Alexandria court by a wide margin, where they crushed him like a bug and said, "Regardless of what you say, the allegations about financial irregularities are true, and you're going to spend time in the big house."

Why now, after he's been convicted, is he doing this in the face of the blow torch of Robert Mueller? I think because he's looking at this saying it's much more significant than financial irregularities, as you're talking about, Wolf, with Evan and others. This is about illicit engagement with Russians. And that's a lot uglier than finances. Mueller is going to crush him.

BLITZER: Bianna, go ahead.

GOLODRYGA: Let's put this into context. Remember, Paul Manafort was brought in to be the adult in the room, replacing Corey Lewandowski. The biggest argument that the campaign had at the time, in going back and answering all of these questions, "Why did you meet with so many Russians?" was "Listen, we were naive. We were novices. We'd never brought a campaign before." Jared Kushner even joked at the time that "We couldn't even collude amongst each other. How could we do it with the Russians?" Well, you have Paul Manafort. He is a well-seasoned political operative.

The biggest question going forward is whether he acted alone, whether it was because of his past relations with Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians, or was he doing it with the president, or then Donald Trump, who possibly signed off on it or not? That's the question. What did Donald Trump know and when did he know it?

As far as Rick Gates, remember, even though Manafort left the campaign, Rick Gates stayed on, and he worked through the inauguration. A lot of questions raised just this week about what happened to all of that money that was raised during the inauguration. So, you know, when you're tying the two together you still wonder who knew what when, even after Paul Manafort left.

BLITZER: Mueller is now asking, Evan, for another 60 days before Gates is formally sentenced. He pled guilty in all of that, but he needs another 60 days, which suggests that this investigation is continuing.

PEREZ: Right. It does suggest it's continuing, Wolf. And keep in mind, the president -- the president's legal team has just rebuffed a request from Mueller to have the president have some follow-up answers, to answer some follow-up questions in response to those written answers that he provided right before Thanksgiving.

So what a lot of this has to do with is that this investigation is still ongoing. We don't know what specific questions Mueller wants to ask the president. Perhaps, you know, it has to do with some of this stuff. We do not know. But it does tell us that there's a lot more pieces of this puzzle to be put together.

BORGER: And you know, this is why Bob [SIC] Barr matters as -- as attorney general. Because he's going to get a report from Mueller, which will tell us exactly --

PEREZ: Perhaps a subpoena request.

BORGER: Perhaps a subpoena request for the president. We don't know that. Right?

PEREZ: Right.

BORGER: But he's going to -- he's going to tell us why Kilimnik matters, what Manafort was talking to him about, what their association was, and why the American people should be concerned concerned about it and what that has to do with Russian interference into the election.

And that's why members of Congress are so worried about getting the whole picture. You know, as Chuck Grassley said today, a Republican and former chairman of the committee, he said, "You know, the American people have spent $25 million on this investigation. They deserve to know what's in it."

BLITZER: Yes, and I think -- I think, based on everything we heard from Barr, he wants to release as much of it as he possibly can.

Everybody, stick around. There's other big stories we're following here in Washington today, including the crippling federal government shutdown.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. What's the latest on that front, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Trump stayed behind closed doors today as his pick for attorney general, William Barr, sparred with lawmakers at his confirmation hearing. That was one of the few signs that the federal government is actually up and running as the shutdown continues.

And then there is the other shutdown talk in the Capitol: whether Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King should be run out of town over his latest racist remarks.


ACOSTA (voice-over): One thing that's not shut down in Washington: the president's Twitter feed as Mr. Trump was back to playing the blame game, asking the question, "Why is Nancy Pelosi getting paid when people who are working are not?"

Pelosi fired back, tweeting, "Stop holding the paychecks of 800,000 Americans hostage."

And other signs the shutdown is dragging on, Republicans slammed Democrats for rejecting an invitation to negotiate at the White House.

REP. RODNEY DAVIS (R), ILLINOIS: But if you don't show up at the table, how in the world are we ever going to come to a solution?

ACOSTA: While Democrats pointed to the federal workers in key jobs who were suffering consequences.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: You have Coast Guard workers who are working without pay. You have Border Patrol agents working without pay. TSA patients working without pay. That is unconscionable.

ACOSTA: The only sign of bipartisanship was the condemnation of Iowa GOP Congressman Steve King for his comments to "The New York Times."

King, who has made racist comments in the past, said, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive?"

After being stripped of his committee assignments, King actually supported a resolution rejecting his own remarks.

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: I can tell you this, that ideology never shows up in my head. I don't know how it possibly come out of my mouth.

ACOSTA: King has been a provocateur on the issue or race for some time.

KING: The construct itself to be a 12-foot finished wall.

ACOSTA: Back in 2006, when showing off his own proposal for a wall on the border, he compared migrants to livestock.

KING: We could also electrify this wire with a kind of current that wouldn't kill somebody, but it would simply be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time.

ACOSTA: So far, the president has kept quiet on King.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no -- I haven't been following it. I really haven't been following it.

ACOSTA: The president is facing new questions of whether he's doing the bidding of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. "The New York Times" reports senior administration officials said the president suggested he may withdraw from the NATO alliance on several occasions last year. The president brushed off the notion he would go that route at the last NATO summit.

TRUMP: I think I probably can, but that's unnecessary. And the people have stepped up today like they've never stepped up before.

ACOSTA: A senior official with the NATO partner country tells CNN allied officials did work hard over the last year to convince the president to remain in the alliance, saying, quote, "We've raised it multiple times at all levels.:

Some NATO partners were concerned about the president's repeated complaints that some member countries were falling behind in their defense spending.

TRUMP: We have NATO. We have the U.K. And then we have Putin. And I said Putin may be the easiest of them all. You never know.

ACOSTA: Not to mention Mr. Trump's acceptance of Putin's denials that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.


ACOSTA: And as for these rumblings that the president may pull out of NATO, the White House released a statement this afternoon, saying once again, Mr. Trump does believe in NATO. But of course, Wolf, every time one of these questions pops up, it does call into question just how much the president is committed to that historic alliance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta at the White House.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman John Katko of New York. He's a key member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. You were one of those nine Republicans to attend lunch over at the White House with the president today. You were only one of a handful of Republicans who actually voted to reopen parts of the federal government without formal funding for a border wall. Did you hear a plan today from the president to end this partial government shutdown?

REP. JOHN KATKO (R), NEW YORK: The plan from the president I heard today was that he wanted to continue to engage in negotiations to try and find a solution, and he's dearly hoping that the other side will get engaged. And I hope they do, too. And I wasn't ever for a shutdown, but here we are. And let's get to the bargaining table and find a bipartisan solution.

BLITZER: As you know, the White House did invite some Democrats to the lunch that you attended today. But not a single one actually accepted the invitation. Do you believe it was a mistake for Democrats to skip this meeting?

KATKO: Well, I don't know if there's a mistake. I understand there's a tremendous amount of pressure for them not to do anything that might be -- might be perceived as caving.

[17:35:05] But we've got to get past that. We have 800,000 federal workers that are not working right now. We have a border that needs to be more secure. And I think moving forward we've just got to dispense a lot of this nonsense and just get a deal done.

And I'll tell you what, if I was Nancy Pelosi, I'd be licking my chops, because I'd be able to realize that I have a great opportunity to present a compromise proposal. Get -- make an ask, like for example, DACA. And say, "Listen, give me DACA, and I'll give you what you want, and let's get done with this." But just to not negotiate is not helpful, and it's not going to get us anywhere.

BLITZER: Some Republicans, including Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, they're urging the president -- at least, they have been urging the president -- at least to reopen the government for three weeks or so, a few weeks, and negotiate during those three weeks. If nothing happens, then the president can go ahead and declare his national emergency in order to fund the building of the border wall, if necessary. Do you believe that is a viable solution?

KATKO: Do I personally? Yes. I believe it's a viable solution. But I -- from the signals I received from the White House today, that's not what they're thinking about doing. They're thinking about holding the course and trying to engage the other side and try and get them to be engaged. Instead of just saying, "No, no, no," let's get something going is the tack he's taking.

BLITZER: But do you believe the president appreciates the hardship that this shutdown is causing, not only to the 800,000 federal workers and their families who aren't getting paychecks but to the millions over of others who are at least indirectly affected by this? Do you think the president understands the enormity of this pain?

KATKO: That's a great question, but that should be directed at both the president and the leadership in the House, Pelosi. Because they both should understand it.

I think the president has signaled that he understands it, but he sees that border security is such an important issue that he's willing to stay the course, no matter how tough it is.

But I don't think, on the other hand, that the Democrats can sit there and give all these speeches about how they're so concerned about these 800,000 workers when they're not even willing to try and strike a deal of any sort.

I mean, we've all got to find proper balance. I was a prosecutor for 20 years, and I constantly sat down and negotiated with people I knew were bad criminals to try and reach a solution that we could all live with. They've both got to do that now. And I really urge them to do that and, for the sake of the workers but for the sake of the country. We need bipartisanship, and we need compromise. It shouldn't be a dirty word.

BLITZER: Let me get your reaction while I have you, Congressman, to the breaking news we've been reporting. The special counsel, Robert Mueller, he's just filed factual evidence to support his accusation that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, lied while he was supposedly cooperating in the Russia probe.

You're a former prosecutor. What does that tell you about where Mueller's investigation is headed?

KATKO: It really doesn't tell you much about where it's heading, but it does tell you that Mueller is -- is going forward with the investigation. And you know, if you recall back not too long ago, so many people were concerned about that investigation being impeded. It's gone on unimpeded. And I support that.

And it sounds like the new attorney general that's coming in is going to support that, as well, and that's a good sign. We would all like to have -- find out, for better or for worse, what the ultimate conclusion is of the investigation for the good of the country so it can move on. But he definitely running the investigation like he should.

And I've charged people with false statements before, as well. And that's a legitimate crime. And he had his warnings, and Manafort sounds like he screwed up, big time.

BLITZER: Good point. Congressman John Katko of New York, thanks so much for joining us.

KATKO: Any time.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have a lot more on the breaking news right after this.


[17:43:18] BLITZER: We're following more breaking news. Tonight, there are very serious doubts about whether the government of British Prime Minister Theresa May can survive. In a truly crushing defeat, the British lawmakers soundly rejected the deal he had negotiated for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

Let's so to our CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. He's over at No. 10 Downing Street, London.

So what happens now, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Wolf, it was a defeat of historic proportions: 432 votes against 202 votes for. That was a loss of 230 votes, far greater than, perhaps, the prime minister was expecting. More than 100 members of her party voted against her. The European Union has now said that she must clarify the United Kingdom's position of which way that they will move forward.

She is also under pressure from Parliament to come up with a new plan, a Plan B, by Monday next week. But the most immediate thing that she faces, Wolf, is a vote of no confidence in her government, tabled by the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.


JEREMY CORBYN, BRITISH LABOUR PARTY LEADER: She cannot seriously believe that, after two years of failure, she is capable of negotiating a good deal for the people of this country.

The most important issue facing us is that the government has lost the confidence of this House and this country. I therefore, Mr. Speaker, inform you I have tabled a motion of no confidence in this government.



ROBERTSON: Well, this evening, we've already seen the chancellor of the exchequer, the Brexit secretary, Theresa May's chief whip, all going into No. 10, go in for meetings, come without saying a word.

But what isn't clear at the moment is how Theresa May really is going to tackle this. She's played everything very close to her chest so far, and it's not clear that she has given up yet on her withdrawal plan even though there seem to be no more possible concessions coming from the European Union, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll see what happens with that vote of no confidence. Nic Robertson in London for us. Thank you.

Coming up, there's plenty of fallout after a bombshell "New York Times" report revealed that, on several occasions last year, President Trump floated the idea of pulling the United States out of NATO. Would such a move give Vladimir Putin exactly what he wants?


[17:50:11] BLITZER: In the wake of a bombshell "New York Times" report revealing President Trump, on several occasions last year, privately said he wanted the United States to withdraw from NATO, the White House put out a statement calling the story, quote, meaningless. But CNN's Brian Todd has been checking with experts.

Brian, what are they telling you about the impact, potentially, of such a move?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're saying tonight that the impact of that could be potentially devastating. The security of Europe could be placed at huge risk because the move would embolden the Kremlin to act much more aggressively toward Europe.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, there's new concern that one of President Trump's foreign policy goals is, again, playing into Vladimir Putin's hands. "The New York Times" reports that several times last year, the President privately said he wanted to withdraw from NATO, the 70-year- old military alliance designed to protect Europe from aggression by leaders like Putin.

The President has long objected to America's contribution to NATO, telling Wolf during the campaign that NATO allies don't pay enough toward the shared costs of military defense.

BLITZER: Do you think the United States needs to rethink U.S. involvement in NATO?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, because it's costing us too much money and, frankly, they have to put more money.

TODD (voice-over): But experts say America pulling out of NATO completely would be an incredible gift to the Russian president.

JAMES GOLDGEIER, VISITING SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: It's beyond Putin's wildest dreams if Trump were to decide that the United States should pull out of NATO. Putin has viewed NATO as an enemy for a long time. He want -- he's wanted to undermine NATO.

TODD (voice-over): The "Times" reports that around the time of a contentious NATO meeting last summer, President Trump told his top aides he didn't see the point of the NATO alliance. He complained at that summit about Germany's energy deals with Russia.

TRUMP: How can you be together when a country is getting its energy from the person you want protection against?

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the news Trump was even talking about pulling out of NATO, experts say, strengthens Putin's hand. The former KGB colonel has always seen NATO as a threat to his borders and to his military. ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE OFFICER FOR

RUSSIA AND EURASIA, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE COUNCIL: President Putin sees NATO as a superior military alliance. He's avoided confrontation with NATO because he simply knows he would lose the fight.

TODD (voice-over): That's because one of the key components of NATO is Article 5, an agreement that says if any of the 29 member countries is attacked, the other members, including the U.S., are duty bound to step in and defend it.

And while Putin has not attacked a NATO country, he has harassed NATO forces by having his fighter jet buzz American ships and planes near Europe. Putin's submarines and ships routinely spy on American and European vessels, and he's built up his weapons arsenal near NATO borders.

Tonight, experts warn if Trump pulls America out of NATO, Putin could become even more aggressive.

KENDALL-TAYLOR: I think we would see a Putin who is much more emboldened to use military force, potentially occupying parts of the Baltic countries. And he would certainly be emboldened to be much more provocative and seek to disrupt the politics even into Western Europe. This, really, from President Putin's perspective, I think, would be a game changer.

TODD (voice-over): The White House calls the "Times" report, quote, meaningless and points out that President Trump has called America's commitment to NATO very strong.

But experts are concerned that the spymaster in the Kremlin could, in their next face-to-face meeting, try to privately manipulate the President into cutting the NATO cord.

GOLDGEIER: He could simply encourage that and say to Trump, you know, this is an institution that stands in the way of better U.S./Russia relations. If you really want better U.S./Russia relations, it's better if we just move on.


TODD: What analysts are also worried about tonight is that just the talk of President Trump considering pulling out of NATO, even if he doesn't end up doing it, is going to prompt America's allies along Russia's borders, allies like those Baltic countries, to start hedging their bets, cut their own security deals with Vladimir Putin just for their own survival and start bending to his will -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I understand, Brian, you've been told that the concern over President Trump's potentially pulling out of NATO is even greater now that James Mattis is no longer the Defense Secretary.

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Analysts are telling us that when Mattis was Defense Secretary, America's European allies, well, they were reassured that a senior Trump administration official had their back because Mattis had been a former NATO Supreme Commander. Now that Mattis is gone, the allies are said to be very worried that the security net is also gone.

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

Coming up, the breaking news. The Attorney General nominee who will oversee the Special Counsel's probe says he won't be bullied and says Robert Mueller should get the time and the resources he needs to finish his job.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Not a witch-hunt. The Attorney General nominee William Barr flatly rejects the President's claims about the Mueller investigation and vows to be independent from the White House. This hour, I'll ask a Democrat who was in the confirmation hearing if he's feeling reassured.

Proving Manafort lied. The Special Counsel files a nearly 200-page brief. It's packed with evidence as to why he believes the former Trump campaign chairman repeatedly misled investigators he was supposed to be cooperating with. So where does the Manafort case stand right now?

[18:00:06] Not shutting the Gates.