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Witness Claims $100 Million Bribe Paid to Former Mexico President By Drug Kingpin; Interview with Rep Jackie Speier (D-CA). Aired 5-6pm ET

Aired January 16, 2019 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.

[17:00:16] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Attack on Americans. Two U.S. service members and two Americans working with the U.S. military are killed in a bombing in Syria. ISIS claims responsibility, even as the Trump administration insists the terror network has been defeated.

State of disunion. Citing security concerns due to the government shutdown, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked President Trump to change the date of State of the Union address or deliver it to Congress in writing. Is this a move to keep the president from using his speech to attack Democrats?

Nationwide impact. As furloughed federal workers line up at food banks and passenger -- passengers line up for hours at airport security checkpoints, millions are now feeling the pain of the government shutdown. How badly is it damaging the U.S. economy?

And alleged drug bribe. An associate of notorious drug lord El Chapo testifies the cartel leader once paid a $100 million bribe to a Mexican president. If it's true, what could he have gotten for all that money?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, ISIS is claiming responsibility for a powerful explosion which has killed two U.S. service members and two Americans working with the U.S. Military in northern Syria.

The attack comes less than a month of after President Trump announced a Syria pullout, declaring at the time, quote, "We have won against ISIS." U.S. commanders later warned the president that ISIS was not entirely defeated.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham today slammed the president's statements on Syria, saying they've only served to encourage ISIS.

And with the government shutdown causing pain nationwide, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is all but disinviting the president from delivering his State of the Union address to Congress. Pelosi tells the president he should reschedule his speech, deliver it from the Oval Office, or send in a written copy.

I'll speak with Congressman Jackie Speier of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with the breaking news: the bombing which has killed four Americans in Syria. CNN's Jim Acosta standing by at the White House, but let's go to our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward. She's in northern Syria right now.

Clarissa, ISIS is claiming responsibility. You were in that city only a few days ago. Any sense this could have been targeted directly to attack Americans?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think there is no mistaking this was a deliberate targeting of Americans. There is an American base just on the outskirts of Manbij. We drove past it, and we were, just as you said, a few days ago, a couple hundred yards away from the restaurant where this blast took place.

If you take a look, if we show our viewers this video -- and I have to warn our viewers, it is incredibly gruesome and not pleasant to watch -- but you can see as the suicide bomber detonates his explosive vest, the entire block almost is engulfed in this huge fire ball. That gives you a sense of how much explosives would have been used in that explosive belt. And it also gives you a sense, Wolf, of the very real power that ISIS is still able to wield, even in a town like Manbij, which was liberated back in 2016 in September. It has been under the control of Kurdish-led security forces since then.

And when we were there, there was everyday life going on on the street. It was bustling. But I have to say, Wolf, it was tense. We happened upon a funeral. Two Arab local security officers who had been killed by an explosive device laid next to their car just the day before.

Still a very tense situation across huge swaths of northern Syria, with everyone here telling us that ISIS sleeper -- sleeper cells are still very much a problem.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward, one of our courageous journalists.

Clarissa, we'll get back to you. Thank you very, very much.

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, a deadly attack abroad, a bitter political fight here at home. What's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And President Trump is said to be standing by his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, even after that terrorist attack that Clarissa just mentioned in Syria earlier today.

The White House did not seem to have its message straight on all of this, though, as the vice president declared ISIS had been defeated in Syria, despite the bombing earlier this morning.

This uncertainty comes in the battle against ISIS as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the government shutdown is raising the stakes for the president.


[17:05:07] ACOSTA (voice-over): In response to ISIS taking responsibility for the suicide bombing in Syria that claimed the lives of U.S. service members, just weeks after the president declared he had beaten the terror group, GOP Senator Lindsey Graham called on Mr. Trump to rethink his strategy.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: My concern about the statements made by President Trump is that you'd set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we're fighting. So I would hope the president would look long and hard where he's headed in Syria.

ACOSTA: The attack in Syria appeared to catch the White House flatfooted. Even after the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS had announced the deaths of U.S. troops, Vice President Pence delivered a speech that stated the organization had been defeated.

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks to the leadership of this commander in chief and the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces, we're now actually able to begin to hand off the fight against ISIS in Syria to our coalition partners; and we are bringing our troops home. The caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated.

ACOSTA: Later in the day, Pence released a statement that was more carefully worded, saying, "We have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities."

Ever since the president said he was withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, he's been touting a military victory over ISIS, tweeting last month, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency."

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them, and we've beaten them badly. We've taken back the land, and now it's time for our troops to come back home.

ACOSTA: A message he repeated during his visit with U.S. troops in Iraq over the holidays.

TRUMP: We're no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren't looking at us as suckers. And I love you folks, because most of you are nodding your head this way. We're respected again as a nation.

ACOSTA: The lack of clarity on the president's Syria policy comes as tensions are flaring over the government shutdown, after House Speaker Pelosi told Mr. Trump to reschedule his upcoming State of the Union address, writing in a letter, "I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has reopened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29."

Pelosi cited security concerns.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is an -- requires hundreds of people working on the logistics and the security of it. Most of those people are furloughed or victims of the shutdown.

ACOSTA: The Department of Homeland Security rejected that argument, tweeting the department and the U.S. Secret Service "are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union."

The president is signaling he's not budging over his demand for a border wall, telling supporters on a phone call, "We're going to stay out far long time if we have to."

But the White House is just beginning to get a sense of the economic damage caused by the shutdown.

KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIRMAN, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL OF ECONOMIC ADVISORS: We made an early assessment right at the beginning of the crisis that was a little bit lower than the estimate you just cited and have been studying it hard as this has gone on. And it found that, actually, the damage is a little bit worse because of government contractors, something that was excluded from our first analysis.

ACOSTA: One part of the government that's still up and running: the White House spin machine.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, we are focused on the long-term economic goals of the administration.


ACOSTA: Now as for the vice president declaring this morning that ISIS had been defeated, a White House official tried to explain that, saying the White House had not yet publicly confirmed the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Syria at the time that Pence was speaking.

But we went back and found that the U.S. coalition against ISIS did tweet a message about those deaths a full hour before the vice president's speech.

As for the shutdown, Wolf, we should point out the White House has been asking lawmakers all day long to stay away from a bipartisan effort underway to temporarily reopen the government. So tonight, Wolf, it seems the White House is against bipartisanship when it comes to ending the shutdown -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Turning now to the Russia investigation, new questions and new scrutiny tonight after the attorney general nominee, William Barr, seemed to hedge about releasing the Mueller report to the public.

Our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is here. Evan, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein, she's now saying she won't vote for his confirmation unless he's more -- he's clear about exactly what he's going to do in releasing this report to Congress and the public.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, absolutely. I think Bill Barr left a lot of wiggle room in some of of his comments. And Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, I think, who was amenable to him, I think was very positive towards him, definitely had some qualms in the way he -- he answered the question as to whether or not this report was going to be put out to the public, Wolf, whether the Congress was going to get access to the Mueller report, or whether it's going to be a Bill Barr version of the report that's going to be released.

Here's Dianne Feinstein talking about this today.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: When I first asked him about the report, he said he would make it available. However, it seemed to me that, as the day progressed, he referenced writing his own report and treating the Mueller report as confidential.

[17:10:07] I intend -- I'm going to follow up with him in writing on this. I think it's essential that Congress and the American people know what is in the Mueller report.


PEREZ: And Wolf, I think you can see that there's a lot of uncertainty here.

But look, I think some of his other answers were helpful with regard to getting some of these Democratic votes. He talked about that he would not let the White House, essentially, dictate or edit any parts of this report, which is something that Rudy Giuliani had suggested. He said he would not fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel, without cause, no matter what the pressure came from the White House.

And on -- of course, there he also had a few other problems with regard to his view that perhaps the Justice Department should have been investigating the Clinton Foundation and other things related to Hillary Clinton. Again, these were opinions that he had before he became nominated to be the attorney general.

BLITZER: There was a vote in the U.S. Senate today, a vote that the administration -- in connection with the administration's desire to ease sanctions on some Russian firms. It didn't pass. It needed 60 votes. But 11 Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted with the Democrats, so it was pretty close.

It's interesting, because the sanctions, which the administration wants eased, involve a Russian billionaire oligarch who's right at the heart, at least in part, of the Mueller investigation. PEREZ: Right. Oleg Deripaska is the name of that oligarch, and he is

a name that keeps coming up in this investigation, partly because he's so connected to the Kremlin, Wolf. And we know that he worked very closely with Paul Manafort. He was a business associate of Paul Manafort. There was a lot of money issues with regarding Paul Manafort during the time of -- even up to the time that Manafort was serving as chairman to the Trump campaign.

And look, I think we're going to keep seeing Deripaska's name, and we're also going to see someone who was his go-between. This is Konstantin Kilimnik, somebody we've talked about a lot, who is somebody connected to -- according to the Mueller investigation, and according to the FBI, he's someone connected to the GRU and the Russian intelligence.

But you know, we're getting a little bit of pushback from people close to Paul Manafort, because they say that, you know, that might be the line from investigators now, but they believe that there's also information that's going to come out which will show that Konstantin Kilimnik was also very much in touch with the State Department.

So they're pushing back on this idea that Manafort was in business with people who are essentially Russian spies. They say more of this is going to come out. And so I guess we're going to see whether or not this comes out in more court filings or before sentencing of Paul Manafort in the next month.

BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting. Eleven Republican senators went against the Trump administration and voted with the Democrats on these sanctions against Russia initiative.

All right. Thanks very much, Evan, for that report.

Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California. She's a member of both the Intelligence and the Armed Services Committees.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

I want to begin with this breaking news out of Syria right now. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, says President Trump's statements about the U.S. role in Syria over the course of the last month or so, in his words, set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we're fighting. Four Americans were killed in that terror attack today. Do you agree with Lindsey Graham's assessment?

SEN. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: I certainly do, Wolf. In fact, I think the president is showing once again how reckless he is.

You don't signal to the opponent, to the enemy, that you have beaten them and suggest that, somehow, that's not going to go unanswered.

The truth is, ISIS cells continue to exist around the world, and that's why it is very important for us to have the intelligence on the ground. That's why it's so important for us to be able to have the presence in various locations to be able to repel them. So once again, the president has shown that he is ill-equipped to do

his job. Because he does not listen to his generals. He does not listen to his intelligence community. He listens to our enemies. He listens to people like Vladimir Putin, who wants us out of Syria. He listens to Erdogan, who wants us out of Syria, because he wants to be able to go after the Kurds.

I mean, this is truly a very dangerous time for our country. And the president's ignorance or unwillingness to listen to the people who know the most within the government is really shameful.

BLITZER: Have you been briefed on this bombing today in Syria? You're on the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.

SPEIER: So unfortunately, because the committees have not yet been reconstructed, we do not have access to intelligence. Another issue that we probably need to address as we move forward, because it does put us at a disadvantage.

[17:15:05] BLITZER: It certainly does.

All right. Let's turn to another important issue, the ongoing government shutdown. Do you agree with the speaker, Nancy Pelosi's, threat to withdraw the invitation to the president to deliver his State of the Union address later this month, citing security concerns?

SPEIER: So she is right, in that the continuity of leadership is a key concern for those who have that role within homeland security. You're going to have everyone in this country in a leadership role in one room. And typically, it takes hundreds of hours to prepare for the State of the Union.

I think strongly that we shouldn't have a State of the Union when the government is shut down. And until the president recognizes his role in having created this artificial shutdown and reopens the government, I'm not interested in hearing from him on the state of the union. We know what the state of the union is right now. And it's in deep trouble.

BLITZER: The Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, they both issued separate statements saying they'll be able to keep everyone safe despite the shutdown. If that's the case, why did the speaker cite security concerns?

SPEIER: Well, she did, because that was her belief, based on prior experience. But separate and distinct from that, the truth of the matter is, we are shut down as a government. What is the state of the union? What would be -- why do we want to hear some rosy development about the country when, in fact, we have 800,000 people who aren't getting paid. We have long lines at the TSA in various airports. We have many people who are concerned about not having Food Stamps, not having housing.

I think the government has to reopen. And so I'm not interested in listening to the president's State of the Union until the government is reopened. He has the bully pulpit. He doesn't have any problem communicating what he's thinking on a minute-by-minute basis. So he's not without his platform.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Speier, thanks so much for joining us.

SPEIER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, from coast to coast, millions are feeling the pain of the government shutdown as passengers line up for hours at TSA checkpoints. Federal workers are lining up at food banks. How big of a hit is it to the U.S. economy? We'll be right back.


[17:21:40] BLITZER: As we near the end of this 26th day of the government shutdown, we're seeing new protests across the nation as the list of problems caused by the shutdown keeps growing.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us from the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport.

Ed, air travel is just one instance where every-day Americans are beginning to really feel the pain of the shutdown.


And we're hearing ominous warnings coming from the people who are on the front lines of air travel in this country, from security agents working these security checkpoints to the air-traffic controllers. They say the government shutdown is putting a dangerous strain on the system.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Tonight in Washington, federal workers wait in line for food.

ROY BLUMENFELD, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CONTRACTOR: When I saw that there was a free hot meal for people who have been affected by the shutdown, I decided to come down and get -- you know, take advantage of that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for being here.

LAVANDERA: Celebrity chef Jose Andres's foundation is feeding thousands of federal workers going without pay. Coast to coast, unpaid federal employees are turning to charities for help.

But the effects could be even more widespread. CNN has learned an estimated 2 million contractors could be losing their paychecks, as well, and they would not be eligible for government back pay.

BLUMENFELD: So there will be no back pay for this. This is unpaid time off for me.

LAVANDERA: And there is also growing security concerns for air travel.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When do we want it?




LAVANDERA: TSA agents are protesting at airports across the country. The TSA is reporting skyrocketing absences: 6.1 percent yesterday, compared with 3.7 percent the same day last year.

ALANA BILLINGSLEY, FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Right now I'm mostly concerned about security. After September 11, the flight attendants cannot be expected to be the first one in security ever again.

LAVANDERA: And the air-traffic controllers union is worried about unpaid, overworked employees staffing control towers.

TRISH GILBERT, EXECUTIVE VP, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS: I would say it is less safe than a month ago, absolutely. We do not have the professionals on the job.

LAVANDERA: In San Jose, the city council is voting tonight on whether to pay local TSA salaries from city funds.

And then there's the Coast Guard, the first branch of the military to miss a paycheck during a shutdown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been pretty shaky and somber. We're living on our savings account right now.

LAVANDERA: Every American will feel the economic impact, now projected by the White House to be worse than expected.

Some analysts estimate a $1.2 billion loss each of the first three weeks the government was closed, and if it continues, growth could slow to zero.

As the shutdown stretches on, more people are being called back to work without pay. The IRS is recalling over half of its staff, totaling 46,000 workers, to process tax returns. Even the FDA is running low on funding, potentially delaying new drugs manufacturing and, therefore, treatment for patients.

Public health and environmental cleanup is threatened, as well.

JEANNE SCHULZE, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES LOCAL 1003: Sites are not being cleaned up. Inspections are not being conducted. Permits are not being issued. We're not outreaching to the community. We're not processing grants or contracts. So it has a spillover effect.

LAVANDERA: In the meantime, some workers say they're looking for new jobs in the private sector and hoping for some compromise.

[17:25:04] SELINA MINGO, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: I don't understand why we, as government workers, are being penalized for a wall that we have nothing to do with.


LAVANDERA: And Wolf, really, this is the concern that is starting to weigh on a lot of these government employees, is that the unexpected nature of this, unable to predict just how long this government shutdown is going to last. And many of them, Wolf, are starting to brace for the realization that perhaps they may not see paychecks for several months -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This could clearly go on and on. Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.

Coming up, four Americans are killed in a bombing in Syria. ISIS claims responsibility, even as the Trump administration claims ISIS has been defeated.

And saying the government shutdown has caused security concerns, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asks President Trump to change the date of his State of the Union address or deliver it to Congress in writing.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Our breaking news: the Pentagon this afternoon confirmed four Americans, including two U.S. troops, are among those killed in a bombing in Syria. ISIS claims responsibility for the attack. But two U.S. officials tell CNN there are no current plans to reverse President Trump's decision to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria.

[17:30:57] Let's bring in our experts and our correspondents to discuss what has happened. And Samantha Vinograd, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has been a very close ally of the president on so many issues. He had this to say about the terrorist bombing in Syria. Listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: My concern about the statements made by President Trump is that you'd set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we're fighting.


BLITZER: What do you make of his analysis?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, an ironclad rule in counterterrorism is typically don't accidentally goad the enemy. And in this case, you have a president that as issued statements about ISIS without coordinating with his own team.

In my experience, when we'd sit with President Obama in the situation room, we'd rely on an intelligence community assessment that clearly laid out the state of an enemy; and we would use that to inform any public talking points that we used to describe what they were doing. Because the fear is, if you make irresponsible statements that don't have the backing of the intelligence community, and that can inadvertently lead then to try to prove you wrong, you risk an escalation of attacks.

And kind in mind: during our withdrawal, our forces are under increased risk. This is a high-risk environment, and ISIS is trying to show both potential recruits and the rest of the world that it's still powerful.

BLITZER: Nia-Malika Henderson, just hours after the attack, the vice president, Mike Pence, he was at the State Department, and he said the caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated. This is after the attack. This is after the U.S. military announced that Americans had been killed in that attack.

What Pence said echoes what the president said last month. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them and we've beaten them badly. We've taken back the land. And now it's time for our troops to come back home.


BLITZER: Sort of -- the accusation is the administration is tone-deaf to what's really going on, not only in Syria but in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. This is their, essentially, "mission accomplished" moment, where conditions on the ground don't exactly match up with the kind of triumphalism of the Trump administration.

What's interesting is that Trump himself is on a different page than some of his advisers. We, of course, saw John Bolton. Bolton overseas, essentially saying they weren't going to withdraw troops right away, that they were -- it's going to be a condition-based withdrawal. But then the president came back and said that wasn't true. And we can see some of the equipment being at least withdrawn at this point.

They have certainly been all over the map. I think you might see the president make the argument that this is why troops should come home, that, you know, our boys and girls should come out of that region, that this is somebody else's fight. And there are some people, certainly, in his base, people like Rand

Paul, as well, who actually think the president is right on this. We'll see what the president's reaction is on this, but you certainly hear from the hawks in his party that this is the kind of thing that they were afraid of.

BLITZER: Jamie Gangel, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this. What are you hearing from your sources?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: To Nia-Malika's point, someone said to me, who had been in these White House meetings, Rand Paul is living in Donald Trump's brain, rent-free.

In other words, John Bolton, welcome to his world. Mike Pompeo, welcome to his world. The person who's had a tremendous amount of influence is Rand Paul, who's back at the White House right now and meeting, because this is what Donald Trump has always believed. He wants out.

Remember what he said about Syria? It's sand and death.

I was told first thing this morning, this is going to reinforce his desire to get out now.

BLITZER: Yes. He wants out. And Rand Paul, he doesn't like to be called an isolationist. He prefers to be called a noninterventionist. But clearly, he's got the president's ear on this.

But the president, even when he was a private citizen, a long time was very much opposed to U.S. involvement in the Middle East, whether in Syria or Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Let's talk a little bit about the confirmation hearings, Laura, that's going on right now for the attorney general nominee, William Barr.

[17:35:00] Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, says she's not going to vote for him, his confirmation, unless he's clearer as far as releasing whatever report Mueller comes up with. What are you hearing?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think lawmakers are breathlessly awaiting this report just as much as everyone else.

And the issue is that, under the regulations, he doesn't have to, if he's confirmed, Bill Barr, he doesn't have to provide Mueller's confidential report to Congress. All he has do is say the investigation is over. It's been closed.

And so even other Republicans on the committee -- it's not just Feinstein -- are saying, "Wait a minute. The public paid for this investigation. We're all entitled to know what's going to happen."

And Barr sort of yesterday put out a trial balloon, this idea of Mueller submitting his confidential report and then Barr providing some sort of executive summary to the rest of us. And I think that has not gone over that well on Capitol Hill. The question is, is anybody really going to push the point? If he is

confirmed, are they willing to subpoena for it? Are they willing to make this a fight that they want to have?

BLITZER: As far as the government shutdown, Nia, is concerned, what do you make of the speaker's surprise announcement today?


BLITZER: She wants the president to either delay or send up in writing his State of the Union address.

HENDERSON: Yes. A real stark reminder of -- that it's a different Washington, and Nancy Pelosi is in charge, at least, of the House. And it is her prerogative. She's the one who invites the president there. She, of course, is rescinding that invitation at this point, saying, "Oh, you know, maybe you just send it in writing." I'm sure that would make for some very interesting read. But that, of course, is the way it used to be with the State of the Union.

What's interesting to hear is this is why Nancy Pelosi assumed the speakership, right? I mean, she is incredibly powerful. She has a good strategy oftentimes. And she also has the ability to keep her caucus together. That has been one of the most surprising things about this. People often complain about Democrats being off-script, being unorganized. And here, they have been united behind Nancy Pelosi.

BLITZER: How do you see her strategy?

GANGEL: This is Donald Trump's wake-up call. She did to Donald Trump -- what is his worst nightmare? Take away his audience. This is like taking away your teenager's cell phone. And -- and I really think she has won round one, because if my math is correct, that letter went to the White House at about 9:30 this morning. It is now 5:30. The White House hasn't responded. The president hasn't tweeted. They're still figuring out how they're going to deal with this.

BLITZER: Because she cited security concerns, Samantha. All of the House, all of the Senate, all of the cabinet, except for one so-called designated survivor. All of the Supreme Court justices, if they want to come; members of the joint chiefs; the diplomatic corps. They're all there, and it requires enormous security. During a government shutdown, you shouldn't be doing this.

VINOGRAD: It requires security, both to make sense of the full range of threats that are impacting all those officials that might be coming and allocating resources to actually physically keep them safe when they're in the room.

I do think that we have to keep in mind that President Trump himself often plays the national security card when there are things that he doesn't want to do or that he wants to do. So we have to make sure that anything that we say about actually security risks is tied to conversations with the experts, whether we're Republicans or Democrats. BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following.

Shocking allegations as a witness claims a notorious drug kingpin paid a $100 million bribe to Mexico's ex-president.


[17:43:03] BLITZER: As the field for the 2020 Democratic presidential race grows, one of the most prominent candidates from the 2016 race is meeting with his one-time campaign staff to discuss allegations of harassment and sexism within the campaign.

Let's bring in CNN's Ryan Nobles.

Ryan, Senator Bernie Sanders says he knew nothing about this at the time.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. But he's also said that he believes those people making these serious accusations about his 2016 campaign. I'm told in this meeting today that Senator Sanders was conciliatory and that those in attendance were given an honest apology.


NOBLES (voice-over): Four year ago, Bernie Sanders caught a wave few saw coming.


NOBLES: It was a wave that he rode to millions of Democratic primary votes and more than $230 million in fundraising support, which firmly established the now 77-year-old veteran lawmaker as an undeniable political force.

But for Sanders, the environment in 2020 will be much different than it was in 2016. In an already crowded field of potential 2020 candidates, Sanders is no longer the lone clear-eyed progressive candidate. People such as Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who's formed an exploratory committee; and Sherrod Brown of Ohio; and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who are considering runs, occupy a similar space and create obstacles in Sanders' once clear path.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: That's what Bernie and I are fighting for. We're in this fight all the way.

NOBLES: And that's not the only challenge for Bernie 2020. A group of women and men who worked for him in 2016 voiced concern that the campaign had a serious sexual harassment problem.

Today, Sanders met with those accusers but refused to talk about their discussion, describing it as private. He has promised in the past, though, that if he runs in 2020, things will be different.

SANDERS: I certainly apologize to any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately. And of course, if I run, we will do better next time.

NOBLES: Amid the ongoing impact of the #MeToo movement, New Hampshire primary voters like Julie Applestein wonder if there's room for a second Sanders run.

JULIE APPLESTEIN, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I think with the #MeToo movement especially, it'll be something that's going to come up in campaigns. And it's going to come up in the 2020 election, so I don't think that we should run a candidate like that with that much risk.

NOBLES (voice-over): Sanders has already made changes, implementing new human resources standards for his 2018 re-election bid in Vermont and former campaign manager Jeff Weaver will not return to that role if Sanders runs again.

Despite the stumbles, he still enjoys a loyal following begging him to get back in the race. Last weekend, various groups launched House parties across the country, more than 400 in all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. An estimated 3,500 people took part according to organizers.

Whether he runs or not remains an open question, but Sanders has made it clear he will only do so if he thinks he can win.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: One has to got to try to be objective, not subjective, and say, OK, do I think I can be the best candidate in helping to turn the country around, helping to defeat Trump? That's kind of where we are right now.


NOBLES: And this sexual harassment issue further complicates the situation for Senator Sanders because of all the women that have decided to run for President in 2020 including Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

I talked to another female staffer who says she was sexually harassed during the 2016 campaign. She wasn't at this meeting today, but she still hopes that Bernie Sanders runs in 2020. She still believes in his ideals. And, Wolf, she told me there is no one like Bernie Sanders and there never will be.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Ryan, thank you. Ryan Nobles joining us from Capitol Hill.

Coming up, a shocking allegation at the trial of a notorious drug kingpin. A witness claims he knows about a $100 million bribe paid to a former Mexican president.


[17:51:28] BLITZER: Tonight, we're looking into a truly stunning allegation made during the trial of one of the world's most notorious drug kingpins.

CNN's Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Brian, tell us more. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that kingpin is Joaquin El Chapo

Guzman, once the leader of the vicious Sinaloa drug cartel. Tonight, there is significant fallout from the testimony of a former top aide to El Chapo who says the drug lord's reach extended to the highest levels of the Mexican government.


TODD (voice-over): He was the notoriously violent leader of the world's largest drug cartel, believed responsible for thousands of deaths, including allegedly taking part in the killings of 30 people himself.

U.S. officials say Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, who is now on trial in New York City, carried a monogrammed, diamond-encrusted handgun and a gold-plated assault rifle. But, tonight, it's the clout that he allegedly carried with at least one Mexican president that is shocking observers at his trial.

Alex Cifuentes, a trafficker who once served as a top aide to El Chapo, testified, Tuesday, the drug lord once paid a $100 million bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto who was in office from 2012 until last year.

CARL PIKE, FORMER ASSISTANT AGENT IN CHARGE, DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION: When you consider the fact that this was, if not, in my opinion, the largest, you know, trans-world, organized crime group probably ever, and the amount of cash, just free-flowing cash, that they had, it's -- you know, the more money you have, the higher you can buy up the food chain.

TODD (voice-over): His former aide, Cifuentes, says El Chapo told him it was President Pena Nieto who came to El Chapo to solicit the bribe, to say the drug lord wouldn't need to hide if he paid the money. What might El Chapo have asked for in exchange?

PIKE: The most important thing he'd probably ask for was information. What exactly are the law enforcement groups doing? What is the military doing?

ROBERT NORIEGA, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WESTERN HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS: He would have gotten is the complicity of policymakers, the kinds of decisions that they make about putting resources that get in the way of his ability to operate in various Mexican states.

TODD (voice-over): Cifuentes' testimony comes roughly halfway through El Chapo's trial, with the accused drug lord's former beauty queen wife, Emma Coronel, in attendance.

He is charged with international drug trafficking, conspiring to murder rivals, gun charges, and money laundering. El Chapo has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer says he was a, quote, leader of nothing.

The U.S. says he was the leader of a worldwide crime operation who eluded police for years. He broke out of a high-security Mexican prison in July 2015 through an elaborate tunnel, and he once escaped police through a trap door hidden under his bathtub.

In a dramatic raid three years ago captured by Mexican Marines on helmet-mounted cameras, El Chapo escaped through a sewer drain and stole a car but was finally captured and extradited to the U.S.

Tonight, analysts say the man whose nickname means shorty makes famous criminals such as Pablo Escobar, John Gotti, and Al Capone look like small-time thieves.

PIKE: You have Chapo everywhere. You have Chapo in the Far East, the Middle East, Europe, all through -- on the Western Hemisphere. He was truly worldwide, truly a transnational, organized crime king.


TODD: A spokesman for the former Mexican president, Pena Nieto, calls the testimony of Alex Cifuentes, quote, false, defamatory, and absurd. The spokesman says it was Pena Nieto's government which captured and extradited El Chapo. Officials under the current Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have not commented on the account of the enormous bribe -- Wolf.

[17:55:02] BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting. And you're hearing there could be some security risks for witnesses as well, right, Brian?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've beaten them and we've beaten them --

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Do the emergency action because that's the only pathway we're --



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Americans bombed. We're learning more this house about the ISIS claimed attack in Syria that killed four U.S. citizens, including service members. Tonight, a GOP ally of the President suggesting Mr. Trump may have egged ISIS on.

[18:00:00] Delaying Trump's address. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi raises the stakes in the shutdown standoff, telling the President he should reschedule his State of the Union speech.