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Interview With Delaware Senator Chris Coons; Government Shutdown Continues; Attorney General Nominee Questioned Before Senate; British Lawmakers Reject Brexit Deal. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 15, 2019 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So, where does the Manafort case stand right now?

Not shutting the Gates. Mueller also revealing that former Trump campaign official Rick Gates is still cooperating in multiple investigations. Is it a sign that the Russia probe will continue for months?

And Brexit dis-May. British Prime Minister Theresa May suffers a historic defeat, as lawmakers throw out her plan for the U.K.'s exit from the European Union. How will the crisis impact one of America's closest allies and the world?

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 the man poised to oversee the endgame of the Trump-Russia investigation.

The attorney general nominee, William Barr, promising senators he would not interfere in Robert Mueller's work or be bullied into doing anything he felt was wrong, including an unjustified order to fire the special counsel.

During his daylong confirmation hearing, Barr repeatedly indicated he was ready and willing to push back against President Trump. But he left some wiggle room on how far he'd be able to go in ensuring that Mueller's findings are made public and how he would handle a potential subpoena of Mr. Trump.

This hour, I will talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee member Chris Coons, one of the Democrats who questioned Barr. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, William Barr appeared to distance himself repeatedly from President Trump and his views on the Mueller investigation.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Barr put it bluntly, saying he will not be bullied into interfering

with the special counsel's investigation. And the attorney general nominee repeatedly stressed he stands by Robert Mueller and will do everything he can to be transparent once Robert Mueller reaches his conclusion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): President Trump's pick for attorney general asserting his independence on his first day of confirmation hearings.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: 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.

SCHNEIDER: But Democrats pressed William Barr and demanded assurances when it comes to the Mueller probe.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Will you commit to providing Mr. Mueller with the resources, funds and time needed to complete his investigation?

BARR: Yes.

FEINSTEIN: Will you commit to ensuring that special counsel Mueller is not terminated without good cause, consistent with department regulations?

BARR: Absolutely.

SCHNEIDER: Barr stressed his 30-year friendship with Robert Mueller and how he disclosed the close bond to the president.

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 how the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this is all over and so forth.

SCHNEIDER: Barr also committed to releasing what he says he can of Mueller's results.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When his report comes to you, will you share it with us as much as possible?

BARR: Consistent with the regulations and the law, yes.

SCHNEIDER: But Barr later clarified. Mueller's actual report wouldn't be released. Instead, the attorney general's office would release their own summary.

But Senator Feinstein wants Mueller's report.

FEINSTEIN: Will you provide Mueller's report to Congress, not your rewrite or a summary?

BARR: Well, 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, as are internal documents relating to any federal criminal investigation.

Now, I'm not sure -- and then the A.G. has some flexibility and discretion in terms of the A.G.'s report.

SCHNEIDER: The nominee did leave a lingering question when he blasted fired FBI Director James Comey's decision to announce no charges against Hillary Clinton.

BARR: If you're not going to indict someone, then you don't stand up there and unload negative information about the person. That's not the way the Department of Justice does business.

SCHNEIDER: The question being, would Barr released a report addressing all of Mueller's findings, even if there wasn't an indictment of the president?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Do you see a case where the president could claim executive privilege and say that parts of the report cannot be released?

BARR: Someone might raise a claim of executive privilege.

SCHNEIDER: Even though Barr cited executive privilege and left room for the president to redact, he categorically rejected the president's power to edit any report.

[18:05:03]

BARR: That will not happen.

SCHNEIDER: And Barr cast doubt that he would ever fire Mueller, even for good cause.

BARR: It would have to be pretty grave and the public interest would essentially have to compel it, because I believe right now the overarching public interest is to allow him to finish.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: So, most famously, when directed by President Nixon to fire the special counsel, the prosecutor investigating Watergate, Richardson refused, and resigned instead. Would you follow Richardson's example and resign instead?

BARR: Assuming there was no good cause?

COONS: Assuming no good cause.

BARR: Yes, I would not carry out that instruction.

SCHNEIDER: Barr batted away questions and concerns about the 19-page unsolicited memo he sent to the president's lawyers, saying his point was not that the president could never obstruct justice and that he didn't do it to curry favor with the president.

BARR: If I wanted the job and was going after the job, there are many more direct ways of me bringing myself to the president's attention than writing an 18-page legal memorandum.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Now, on the issue of whether a sitting president can be indicted, William Barr just told senators he saw no reason to change Justice Department guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

And Barr was also asked several questions about presidential pardons. And while he said it is within the president's power to pardon individuals, he did stress it's possible the president could abuse his power by issuing certain pardons.

And, Wolf, he said he could abuse that power by issuing pardons to family members. He could also possibly obstruct justice by pressuring witnesses.

BLITZER: Stand by, Jessica, because I want to bring in our justice correspondent, Laura Jarrett, and our CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, to talk about some of these late-breaking developments, including some breaking news that we're getting right now, Laura.

A new filing of more than, what, 200 pages filed by Mueller and his team involving -- involving the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, making the case that he lied to the federal prosecutors, to the government, even while he was supposedly cooperating in order to get some sort of reduced sentence.

Tell us about what these 180 pages show.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So what they're laying out here, even though it's heavily redacted, is all the ways in which he lied, chapter and verse.

They have an affidavit here from an FBI agent attesting to all of those lies. And the two big takeaways that I'm seeing so far, Wolf, is, one, that they're accusing Manafort of lying about his communications with the Trump administration dating into 2018.

Now, we don't know exactly who he was talking to. The name is redacted. But, of course, this is bearing the fruit from the cooperation from one of his associates, Rick Gates, who we know is still cooperated with the special counsel's office.

And according to Gates, Manafort was in discussions trying to get someone appointed to the Trump administration. That's what these documents show. The second one is that Manafort was having, at least according to the special counsel, discussions that were misleading about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, somebody that has been accused of having connections to Russian intelligence, has been accused of participating in the interference in the 2016 election.

And we know from a previously filed version that Manafort messed up the reactions, that he was sharing polling data related to the 2016 election with Kilimnik. And so the fact that he was lying about his communications with this person is something that has attracted the attention of the special counsel's office as well.

BLITZER: And the fact that Kilimnik's name was not redacted, that's significant, Shimon, in and of itself.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I will tell you, Wolf, reading through this, we're getting a play by play of what -- some of what Mueller has been doing in this last year, is that we're getting sort of an inside look into this grand jury evidence that has -- though it's redacted, you can kind of read and see some of the evidence that is being presented to the grand jury.

And what's really striking is that Kilimnik seems to be one of the people that is the target of this grand jury. Yes, he's been charged already with witness tampering. But there is other information. Perhaps this is the collusion investigation that Mueller is putting together, because it seems that there are questions being asked, that were asked of Manafort -- yes, he was misleading at some point -- about his interactions with Kilimnik, about other facts in this case that we don't know.

But it seems -- and this is very important -- that the investigation against Kilimnik is still very much ongoing. And that is important because he has been accused of being this Russian operative, this intelligence agent of the Russian government. Manafort shared secret internal polling data with him. That has become an important aspect of this investigation.

This is stunning, really. Every time Mueller puts something out, you read something, and this is -- though it's -- 30 pages is the affidavit, but over 100 pages is just the evidence that they have showing and explaining how Paul Manafort lied to the special counsel.

And then another point I want to make is where they say Paul Manafort, when he put out his filing, said, I have cooperated, I have given them everything, I have given them passwords to my e-mails, I have given them documents.

[18:10:08]

Well, this FBI agent says, that's not the case exactly. In fact, he says that there are more than 10 instances in which Manafort did not provide passwords to access his electronic communications, thumb drives or documents.

So, clearly, there's still more information out there that perhaps the special counsel doesn't have. We from these documents have a good look inside this grand jury now.

BLITZER: Laura mentioned Rick Gates, the former Manafort deputy. He was involved in the Trump campaign, also involved during the Trump transition. And now he's pled guilty, but Mueller says he needs at least another 60 days before he is sentenced.

PROKUPECZ: Yes.

And speaking of Gates, he is named in these documents. They talk about information that Rick Gates has given the special counsel about Paul Manafort, some of that having to do with communications with administration officials.

They did not react the help that so far Rick Gates has been giving them. Yes, today, there was a filing, Wolf, asking to extend the time in which he's going to be sentenced. They want more time. The special counsel, his attorneys both say, we need more time.

Clearly, he's still cooperating. This grand jury, I mean, they are still very much in the thick of this. And so Rick Gates clearly from this filing today, from what the special counsel has asked for, and more time in sentencing him, it's still very much ongoing.

BLITZER: All this is happening as the attorney general nominee was testifying today before the Senate Judiciary Committee for hours and hours and hours.

And he said he wants to release the final Mueller report, but he also said there are some restrictions, some limits.

JARRETT: Limits, I think, are a big point here to key in on. This is not sort of an unequivocal, yes, you will get absolutely everything you want. The public is going to know everything.

That's not this at all. He raised the issue of executive privilege, something we have heard from Trump's attorneys before. He raised the issue that obviously the Trump lawyers will not get to correct the report. No one thought that that was going to happen in the first place. But at least he went out on the record.

And he also sort of gave a preview of where his head is at all this, kind of rehearsing chapter and verse about why what James Comey, the former FBI director, did was so wrong in terms of the Hillary Clinton investigation. And what he said was, you don't get to go out and put out derogatory information about somebody that you're not going to charge.

So when it comes to this report, whether it's the Mueller report, the Barr report, whatever name we're putting on it, whatever information that is put out there, it's not going to be I think a chapter of everything we saw from Comey, if it has to do with somebody who's not been indicted.

He feels really strongly about following DOJ protocols on that.

BLITZER: Yes, it's significant, Jessica, that, in his testimony responding to questions, Barr did not completely take off the table the possibility of subpoenaing the president, if the White House and the president's lawyers continue as they have to reject any in-person kind of Q&A.

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's exactly right.

The side-by-side here is really stunning. As Laura and Shimon and our team are going through this massive filing by Robert Mueller, we're seeing the possible man who's going to oversee this entire investigation testifying before the Senate committee, saying that, right, he will not take subpoenaing the president off the table.

That is huge, especially given all that we're seeing in this Mueller filing as it pertains to Manafort. William Barr here being very careful to really toe the line, saying that -- stressing he's not going to take any power from Robert Mueller. He's not going to stop this investigation.

And he's also trying to let Robert Mueller have some power here and do what he needs to continue and finish this investigation. Quite stunning also the fact that William Barr also saying, look, the president can abuse his power here by possibly interfering, by meddling with witnesses, and maybe even dangling those pardons, as he has done.

He still hasn't completely taken off the table pardoning Paul Manafort. That's something he has not denied he would do.

PROKUPECZ: On the subpoena issue and why this is important today is because given our reporting from last night that Mueller still wants to talk to Trump.

It's clear that they still want information. Remember, they want to follow up. Right now, the president and his team are saying, we have no interest in talking to them. What is going to happen in the end? And this subpoena issue is going to -- could be a big one.

BLITZER: A very significant development, indeed.

Guys, thanks very much, Shimon, Laura and Jessica.

There's more we need to discuss right now.

Joining us, Senator Chris Coons. He's a Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee. He took part in William Barr's confirmation hearing today.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

COONS: Always good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, I want to get to the Barr hearing in just a moment, lots of questions on that.

But I want to begin with your quick reaction to these late-breaking developments in the Mueller probe. What does it say to you that the special counsel was able to produce so much documentary evidence supposedly proving that Paul Manafort lied?

[18:15:05] COONS: While it's striking that Robert Mueller continues to investigate, develop and release through a variety of filings and charges more and more evidence.

I will remind you ,this is President Trump's campaign manager from his presidential campaign, who is now by Mueller being confirmed to have not just failed to fully cooperate, but to have actively lied and to have broken his cooperation agreement.

The Mueller investigation is the farthest thing from a witch-hunt. I was encouraged today that Bill Barr agreed that it's not a witch-hunt, as the president has so often suggested. Instead, it's produced more than 30 indictments.

And I will remind you the president's longtime personal counsel, Michael Cohen, the president's national security adviser, and the president's campaign manager have all either pled guilty or been convicted of a range of charges.

That's why in the Barr investigation -- excuse me -- in the Barr confirmation hearing today, I reminded him that we are in a national period somewhat similar to when Elliot Richardson appeared in front of the Judiciary Committee back in 1973.

BLITZER: Elliot Richardson was then the attorney general.

I want to turn to the Barr confirmation hearing today, and you were there, one of the senators asking questions.

After meeting with Bill Barr in private, you raised some concerns about how he may handle the Mueller probe if he's confirmed as attorney general.

Did you find, Senator, his public testimony today reassuring?

COONS: Well, broadly speaking, yes.

He made forceful statements about his respect for Robert Mueller, his long relationship with him, and his belief that it is in the country's best interests to ensure that he has the resources and the independence to complete his investigation without interference.

However, I carefully went through questions that U.S. senators asked Elliot Richardson in his confirmation hearing back in 1973, similar context, similar concerns.

And Bill Barr did not make the same kind of unequivocal commitments that Elliot Richardson did. He did not make an unequivocal commitment that Robert Mueller would be allowed to pursue this investigation wherever it leads, including by making his own decisions about whether to compel testimony by the president.

He didn't make what I was hoping for, which was an unequivocal commitment to share with the committee the fruits of Robert Mueller's labors, a final report. And he didn't make an unequivocal commitment that he would both seek and follow the conclusions of the Department of Justice ethics specialists around recusal.

Those were three particular concerns I had today. I was broadly encouraged by his tone, his forcefulness, his determination to be independent of the president and to protect the Department of Justice and Mueller's investigation.

I was not encouraged by his very careful wording around those specific topics.

BLITZER: So how will you vote on his confirmation?

COONS: Well, we have a whole second day of hearings tomorrow, and then I will have questions for the record.

I'm keeping an open mind, Wolf, because I think it is an important confirmation hearing.

BLITZER: What will it take to earn his vote -- the vote in favor of his confirmation?

COONS: More specific and concrete commitments around these critical issues. And then there are other areas of concern around his past statements, previous actions, around civil liberties, civil rights, criminal justice reform, LGBT rights, that we haven't really touched on much today at all.

I will say, on that front, I was encouraged that, when it comes to criminal justice reform, although, like Senator Sessions, former Attorney General Sessions, Bill Barr, as attorney general, was a tough-on-crime prosecutor and attorney general back in the '90s, he did say he would fully implement the FIRST STEP Act just signed into law by President Trump, an important bipartisan criminal justice reform measure.

BLITZER: Senator Coons, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: House Democrats refuse to accept the president's invitation to talk about the government shutdown, as Mr. Trump tries to drive a wedge between the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and her caucus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:43]

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now.

Robert Mueller offering new evidence that Paul Manafort lied to investigators, as the attorney general nominee, William Barr, was up on Capitol Hill promising to protect the Russia investigation.

While all of this was playing out, President Trump was trying to create a question in Democratic Party unity, as the government shutdown drags on. Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, what are we hearing from the president tonight?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, no cracks in the Democratic front just yet.

The president did stay behind closed doors most of the day, as his pick for attorney general, William Barr, sparred with lawmakers at his confirmation hearing. That was one of the few signs, that confirmation hearing, that the federal government is up and running right now, as the shutdown continues.

But there is talk of another shutdown in this Capitol. And that is whether Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King should be run out of town over his latest racist remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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."

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

[18:25:00]

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 are suffering the 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 agents 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: But I can tell you this. That ideology never shows up in my head. I don't know how it could possibly come out of my mouth.

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

KING: 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, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't -- 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 official 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 have never stepped up before.

ACOSTA: But a senior official with a 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 have 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: So, we have NATO, then 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And, as for these rumblings that the president may want to pull out of NATO, the White House said today that the story in question in "The New York Times" is -- quote -- "meaningless."

The White House insisted once again that Mr. Trump believes in NATO, but added that member countries -- and this is according to the White House today -- added once again member countries need to increase their defense spending.

So the president and his team over here at the White House still very much focused on that issue -- Wolf.

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

There's certainly lots to discuss with our experts and our analysts. In fact, they're all here.

We will discuss right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news in the Mueller investigation, a new filing on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman.

[18:32:51] Let's get some more from our experts and our analysts. And Susan Hennessey, the filing, 180 pages just released, a lot of it redacted, obviously, but it does make the case from Mueller that Manafort repeatedly lied on all sorts of issues during the time he was supposedly cooperate with federal prosecutors, in order to try to get a reduced sentence.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I think the sheer volume of information shows that Robert Mueller is prepared to show his -- to show his work here. Right? Whenever he accuses Paul Manafort of lying, you know, he has all of this documentary evidence that he's prepared to bring on this case.

And I do think that it shows that other individuals should be on notice. And his filings also give a little bit of a hint of how incredibly fruitful and important Rick Gates' cooperation has been. Gates is mentioned a lot. And it also indicates the centrality of Konstantin Kilimnik as sort of -- as a central figure. We see him popping up again and again in different lines of inquiry in what is clearly an ongoing investigation.

BLITZER: Rick Gates was Manafort's deputy for -- throughout the time he was campaign chairman. But then he stayed on; and he stayed on, in fact, during the transition. Now he's pled guilty, and he's awaiting his sentence that -- another 60 days now before we will know the sentence. He's apparently still cooperating.

But this whole Konstantin Kilimnik, this Russian who was working with -- with Manafort while he was the campaign chairman, after he was campaign chairman, after he was supposedly -- after both of them were actually indicted, Kilimnik supposedly has ties to the Russian GRU, the military intelligence service, which was responsible, according to the U.S. government, for all the hacking and all the WikiLeaks.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Kilimnik does appear to be a central figure in all this. He is apparently still in Russia. And one thing you can be sure of is he ain't coming back to deal with this situation. But he is potentially the answer to the question of was there

collusion and how did it work? Because he is a tie, someone who is in close contact, both with Manafort, the chairman of the Trump campaign, and Russian intelligence. There was a lot of information going back and forth.

We learned last week that Robert -- that Manafort gave him polling data from the Trump campaign. Something very precious and expensive and difficult to produce. That just suggests the degree of connection between the two, and in its redacted way, so did -- so did this filing today.

BLITZER: And the fact that Gates's sentencing has begun been delayed as the investigation continues, David, what does it say to you?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it suggests, you said, Gates was a lieutenant to Manafort, both in the campaign, and in their consulting business. He would know, if anyone, what was going on between -- between Manafort and some of their clients, if there are any connections left to be buttoned up between Manafort, Kilimnik, Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs, as has been alleged possibly, the GRU. They probably want to ask him further questions to know exactly where the holes are in any story that they got from Manafort and hoping he has --

BLITZER: I just want to be precise on this one point, because you raised the issue of collusion. We hear the president every other day, sometimes multiple times a day, say no collusion, no collusion, there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. What's the point that you're making right now?

TOOBIN: The point is that giving -- the campaign chairman, giving an official associated with Russian intelligence a campaign document in return for, we don't know what, presumably something, that is the kind of connection that could be proof of collusion. I mean, this is what this investigation is all about. It's not over. We're getting bits and pieces.

Just the other point about Gates is that the delay means, this investigation isn't over. If the investigation is over, he would have said, go ahead and sentence him now. A 60-day delay means it's not going to be over for 60 days.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens in the next 60 days.

You know, Sabrina, we did hear all this unfolding as the new attorney general nominee was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his confirmation hearing. And what was significant, he was saying only the most positive things about Robert Mueller, saying he could never believe that Mueller would be engaged in a witch hunt. Now, who says witch hunt almost every other day?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, the president of the United States. And William Barr had one objective as he appeared on Capitol Hill today, and that was to reassure lawmakers that he will not take his cues from President Trump when it comes to now being the gatekeeper of the Mueller investigation.

And there were certain elements of his testimony that the president certainly wouldn't like if he was watching today. One, that Barr said he would not follow orders to fire Robert Mueller, unless, of course, there was some grave cause, which he said would be unimaginable. He also said the president cannot intervene to protect himself or his family. And he was skeptical of the president trying to use pardons to protect, for example people who might be close to this investigation.

So I think those are some things that would be cause for concern. For the president, but then there were some unanswered questions when it came to the extent to which Barr would be willing to make the Mueller report public. That is something that Democrats expressed frustration with today.

BLITZER: What did you think, Susan?

HENNESSEY: I think, look, that Barr did a good job of sort of reassuring people that he's smart, that he's rational, that he's a DOJ institutionalist. He's committed to these institutions. He repeatedly referred to this sort of longstanding friendship with Robert Mueller.

That said, I think that there are reasons to continue to be concerned. Whenever he made comments about his commitment to transparency. Some of the things that sort of hedged against Donald Trump. He used very specific sort of lawyerly speak that actually, you know, those are the loopholes you can kind of drive a truck right through, right?

He said that the president shouldn't be able to use pardons in order to prevent somebody from testifying, but he said if it was a quid pro quo. Right?

And so I think he gave every indication of an attorney who, consistent with his reputation, takes a very, very broad read of Article II powers and really is, you know, when the rubber meets the road, prepared to argue that the president of the United States, Donald Trump, is empowered to do a great deal, even if the consequences are to impede or otherwise instruct an investigation into the president or his close allies.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

TOOBIN: I don't agree entirely. I mean, I think he really did make as clear as he possibly could that he's not firing Robert Mueller. That is just not happening.

On the issue of the disclosure of Mueller's report, that he was a lot more hedged about, and there were. It was -- there was a lot of very confusing testimony about how and whether the report will be released. That could be the central battle, frankly of the next two years, about that report. And I don't think Barr gave anything like a categorical guarantee that he's going to --

BLITZER: So you think he was lawyering it too much? TOOBIN: I think he -- you know, he said he wanted to be transparent,

but you know, we all want to work out more and lose weight, and you know, -- it's like, it doesn't -- it's very different from actually committing to doing it.

[18:40:10] HENNESSEY: I mean, one thing he said again and again was consistent with the rules and regulations, consistent with the regulations. How he reads those regulations is the entire ball game.

TOOBIN: Right.

HENNESSEY: If he reads them broadly or narrowly.

TOOBIN: Exactly right.

HENNESSEY: So the problem was the answers weren't at the end of the day substantive about what he was prepared to handle.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, because you know, Barr was very effusive in his praise of Mueller, said they'd known each other, worked together 30 years. Their families know each other. He says he couldn't believe that Mueller would ever be involved in a witch hunt.

And I'm not sure the president was fully aware of this. Listen to what the president said at one point about Mueller's relationship with Comey. This is the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted. In fact, Comey is like his best friend --

When you see Comey with all the lies that he's told. When you see Mueller with the conflicts, he's so conflicted. Comey's his best friend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So Comey and Mueller are not best friends. we've done a lot of checking on that. But you know who are very good friends?

SWERDLICK: Right.

BLITZER: Mueller and Barr.

SWERDLICK: Mueller and Barr.

BLITZER: For 30 years.

SWERDLICK: Right. And that effusive praise that you describe that Barr gave to Mueller was actually the effusive praise that all Republicans gave to Mueller when Mueller first got that job.

As this has dragged on, fewer and fewer Republicans have had nice things to say about Mueller. The president is just off-base here. Look, it would -- it's obvious that Special Counsel Mueller and former Director Comey would know each other and have communicated with each other. They succeeded each other as FBI director. But this is about how they're going to go about doing their jobs.

BLITZER: I want to put that picture up from 30 years ago, Sabrina, the two of them. They were working together 30 years ago. He was then a young, what, 41-, 42-year-old attorney general of the United States. And Mueller was right there by his side.

SIDDIQUI: He was, and one thing that Barr said is when he met with the president, he told the president that Mueller is a straight shooter, so he was clearly someone who was out there speaking to Robert Mueller as being well-respected. How he, obviously, treats Mueller in his job as attorney general, we'll wait and see.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stick around. There's more news we're following, more breaking news. With just weeks to go, Britain now faces leaving the European Union with no plan in place, after the prime minister's proposal goes down in a truly historic defeat.

Plus, Russia responds to speculation that President Trump may have been working as an agent of the Kremlin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following breaking news out of London, where the British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit blueprint has suffered a truly crushing defeat with the worst parliamentary loss in almost a century.

CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is joining us live from 10 Downing Street in London.

Nic, this leads the U.K. with, what, no plan less than three months before it's supposed to leave the European Union? So, what happens now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, this was a defeat of historic proportions, 432 votes against, 202 votes for. That was a loss of 230 votes, the biggest defeat for parliament since 1924, way beyond what Theresa May was very likely expecting.

Immediately, the European Union has asked for Britain to clarify its position going forward. She is expected by parliament to come up with a plan B by Monday, but her biggest and most immediate pressure is a vote of no confidence called by the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEREMY CORBYN, BRITISH LABOUR PARTY LEADER: She cannot seriously believe that after two years of failure, she's 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 now tabled a motion of no confidence in this government.

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Now, that vote and the debate around it is expected to come tomorrow, Wednesday. However, Theresa May is expected at the moment to survive that. Why? Because many of the more than 100 conservative parliamentary members from her own party, who voted against her today say that they will support her tomorrow. And that small group of Northern Ireland MPs in the Democratic Unionist Party, those 10 MPs that prop up her majority, the ones who have also been opposed to her Brexit plan, say also they will support her in this vote of no confidence.

But as you said, Wolf, the clock is ticking and without a deal, there's a possibility Britain could lead the European Union, without a deal in 72 days, and that could have a catastrophic effect catastrophic effect on British and European business, as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very important indeed. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

Nic Robertson in London, thank you.

Well, also breaking tonight, at least ten Senate Republicans have broken with President Trump and joined with Democrats to oppose easing sanctions against three Russian companies with ties to an oligarch who's also a Kremlin ally.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen. He's joining us live from Moscow.

So, Fred, what's the latest on that front?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, and the Russians already expecting that to happen.

[18:50:02] It was interesting, because even before the vote took place, the head of Russia's industrial union came out and said the sanctions will stay in place. He was blaming it on Democrats, mostly, saying Steve Mnuchin had not managed to convince those Democrats that the sanctions need to be lifted.

It was interesting, because earlier today, the spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, came out and said that sanctions would not change Russia's behavior and Russia's policy. Now, Dmitry Peskov also commenting on those reports and those questions about whether or not President Trump may have been an agent for Russia. I want to read you a little bit of what he said earlier today.

He said, quote, this is a conspiracy that has no relation to reality, he said. America has found itself in a situation unique to itself. There's a division in society and in the government, and the result is the difficult conditions in which President Trump has to work.

Now, one of the things that the Russians do hope President Trump works on, those apparent reports that apparently president Trump is thinking of pulling the United States out of NATO. That, Wolf, is a gigantic topic here in Moscow, certainly was one of the main topics on one of Russia's main political talk shows.

I want you to listen in to what they said there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLEG MOROZOV, RUSSIAN SENATOR (through translator): He does not admit that he is a Kremlin agent. And I, too, honestly do not believe in it, as much as I would like to. I think that he is not a Kremlin agent. As for Trump's statement on NATO, I would not exaggerate the meaning of this statement here.

EVGENY POPOV, RUSSIAN TV HOST (through translator): Why? Because no one takes the American president seriously?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: Now, in that talk show, there certainly were some people who believe that President Trump does want to pull the United States out of NATO. That, Wolf, would be a victory for the Russians that I don't think that anybody here would have fathomed being possible only a couple of years ago, certainly before President Trump became president of the United States. For the Russians, that's one of the main topics.

Now, of course, you can also see what that would mean for possibly for other nations, as well. Like, for instance, Ukraine, like for the Baltic nations. But for the Russians, they never thought that something like that was possible. Now at least a little more it seems to be within their grasp, wolf.

BLITZER: It would be a huge, huge victory for Moscow.

Fred Pleitgen joining us from Moscow, thank you very much.

There's more breaking news we're following. New details emerging right now of a high-level North Korean negotiator coming to Washington. We're getting new information tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:10] BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight. CNN has learned that North Korea's top negotiator will visit Washington, two days from now, as President Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un try to finalize a second summit.

CNN's Will Ripley is working the story for us.

So, Will, you're getting new information from your sources. Update our viewers.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is pretty significant, Wolf, because it shows that the U.S. and North Korea appear to be moving closer to the second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. But there's still a lot of details that they need to sort out. And we know that one final step in the process before a summit has been traditionally that Kim Yong-chol meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump.

Remember, it happened back on June. It was on June 1st. Kim Yong- chol flew to New York, he made a day trip to Washington, he met with President Trump, gave him that giant envelope with a letter from Kim, and it was 11 days later that they held that historic first sit-down meeting between a U.S. president and North Korean leader in Singapore.

Of course, the meeting didn't result in a whole lot. It was a vaguely worded statement promising to work towards denuclearization. And since then, the talks have really fallen apart. Secretary Pompeo had that disastrous trip to Pyongyang over the summer where he left the country, and then hours later was being blasted by their state media, accused of making gangster-like demands.

Now, my colleague Kylie Atwood is reporting that this time around, Kim Yong-chol is expected to overnight in Washington. He's expected to meet with Pompeo, still not yet determined if he'll meet with President Trump, although I'm told that is the expectation on the North Korean side, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what do we expect will emerge from these talks, whether or not he meets directly with President Trump? He's going to at least meet with Secretary of State Pompeo.

RIPLEY: Well, we know that last time, shortly after the meeting with Trump, they announced that the summit was going to be happening. They announced where it would be happening and they announced their expectations for what was going to be accomplished.

So, perhaps we could get word that this summit is going to be held and when. Could it be in Hanoi or Bangkok, the two locations that are being floated around? I would say Hanoi is more likely possibility, but we just don't know at this point.

But also, they could meet and decide that at this stage, the U.S. and North Korea are still way too far apart on the key issue of how denuclearization is going to play out, because remember, the North Koreans have really dug in their heels. They want economic relief right away in exchange for a step-by-step long-term process. The U.S. have stated repeatedly that they're not going to lift any sanctions until North Korea gets rid of all of their nukes.

So, is the U.S. willing to compromise? Are the North Koreans willing to give the United States a list of their arsenal or take tangible steps? Because they really haven't done anything, in fact, their arsenal has probably grown since this diplomatic process began.

So, if the two sides are closer together on that key issue, then I think they can move forward with a summit, because, Wolf, if Trump and Kim sit down and walk away from this second meeting with another vaguely worded statement, another photo op with no tangible results, there's going to be a lot of egg on a lot of people's faces.

BLITZER: Let's see if it is Hanoi. That would be dramatic indeed.

Will Ripley reporting for us, good information. Thanks very much for your excellent reporting.

And that's it. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.