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Trump Pulls Military Aircraft for Pelosi War-Zone Trip; Giuliani Flip-Flop: Not Ruling Out Trump Campaign Collusion; White House Prepares Strategy to Deal with Mueller Report; Interview with Mazie Hirono (D-HI). Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's all the time we have. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:17] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Travel ban. In a move that even a GOP ally calls sophomoric, President Trump grounds a congressional delegation led by Speaker Pelosi by preventing use of the U.S. military aircraft for the trip to the Afghanistan war zone. Are there any limits to this shutdown battle?

Admitting collusion? As presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani acknowledges the Trump campaign may have colluded with Russia, sources say the White House is quietly working to limit fallout from Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, including a legal fight to keep much of the report from seeing the light of day.

Rigged by Trump. Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen admits he paid a tech firm to rig online polls at the direction of and for the sole benefit of Donald Trump.

And held in Russia. A self-proclaimed sex coach, who claims inside knowledge of Russian election meddling, is taken from a jail in Thailand and flown to Moscow, where she says she's being detained. Is the Kremlin trying to keep her quiet?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: the White House drops a stunning bombshell in the battle over the government shutdown, a battle which polls suggest the president is losing.

The president informing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he's pulling the plug on a congressional trip overseas while the shutdown is in effect. The last-minute move to withdraw the use of U.S. military transport aircraft came as lawmakers had already boarded an Air Force bus up on Capitol Hill to take them to Joint Base Andrews.

The White House violating the standard secrecy that surrounds a trip to the Afghan war zone, a trip the president himself has never made. The president's action comes a day after Speaker Pelosi's blunt

suggestion that he should delay his State of the Union address.

Also breaking, the White House is quietly preparing to deal with the fallout from the special counsel's investigation. Sources say that includes a fight to keep much of Robert Mueller's report from becoming public.

And it all comes as Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani now concedes the campaign may, indeed, have colluded with the Russians.

I'll speak with Senator Mazie Hirono of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are standing by with full coverage.

Let's get right to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, this is now a Trump versus Pelosi shutdown battle.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Welcome to the sandbox. And President Trump kicked sand in the face of Nancy Pelosi today, firing off a letter to the House speaker, telling her that he is pulling her military aircraft for a congressional trip that was supposed to happen today.

With the president frustrated over the state of the shutdown, White House officials say they cooked up this idea earlier today as a way to retaliate against Pelosi for her letter calling for a delay of the upcoming State of the Union speech. The White House blasted out the letter to Pelosi just as she was preparing to leave on a sensitive trip to Afghanistan.

It's an escalation of what's become a deeply personal battle between the president and Pelosi that one adviser described to me as King Kong versus Godzilla.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With hundreds of thousands of federal employees working without being paid, the government shutdown has become a schoolyard brawl. One day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the president to delay his State of the Union speech due to the shutdown, Mr. Trump fired back, telling Pelosi in a letter that he was blocking her use of military aircraft for a congressional trip to Afghanistan just before her departure.

The president's word came down as buses were standing by at the Capitol.

The president told Pelosi in his letter, "Due to the shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will reschedule the seven-day excursion when the shutdown is over. If you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative."

Mr. Trump seemed to indicate in a speech at the Pentagon that Pelosi is getting under his skin.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal, Speaker Pelosi will not let them negotiate. The party has been hijacked by the open-borders fringe within the party. The radical left becoming the radical Democrats.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm not for a wall. I'm not for a wall.

ACOSTA: When Pelosi defended her decision to all but disinvite President Trump from the State of the Union, she took a swipe at the president.

PELOSI: I'm not denying him -- at all (ph). I'm saying let's get a date when government is open. Let's pay the employees. Maybe he thinks it's OK not to pay people who do work. I don't. And my caucus doesn't either.

[17:05:05] ACOSTA: A Trump adviser described the battle between the president and Pelosi as King Kong versus Godzilla.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is playing referee, calling the president's move inappropriate, adding, "One sophomoric response does not deserve another."

Despite the president's move to bar Pelosi's congressional trip, White House officials say they'll still allow cabinet members Steve Mnuchin, Mike Pompeo and Wilbur Ross to all travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos next week.

Another question for the White House is how Mr. Trump could reveal an upcoming congressional trip to Afghanistan when the details of those kinds of visits are typically closely guarded for security reasons.

The shutdown antics in Washington are overshadowing a disturbing report from a government watchdog that found the Trump administration has lost count of how many migrant children were separated from their parents under the president's zero-tolerance policy. The report says the total number of children separated from a parent or guardian by immigration authorities is unknown.

Thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017 before the accounting required by the court. And HHS has faced challenges in identifying separated children.

REP. BRENDAN BOYLE (R), PENNSYLVANIA: It's remarkably cruel. It's far more expensive. And I do wonder, once this whole period is behind us, how many children will actually go, never reunited with their parents.

It is -- I never imagined in my lifetime I would ever see a government of the United States enact such a policy. And sadly, I'm not surprised that the numbers were even greater than originally reported.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Getting back to Pelosi's trip, a spokesman for the House speaker described Pelosi's trip as primarily to a visit to Afghanistan to meet with American troops with a pit stop in Brussels, that spokesman saying that there was not supposed to be a stop in Egypt on that itinerary but that, when she was in Brussels, she and other lawmakers were supposed to meet with U.S. military commanders.

In his letter to Pelosi, the president called her trip to Afghanistan a public relations event, even though he just met with U.S. troops in Iraq. And as you mentioned, Wolf, at the top of the show, the president has not been to Afghanistan.

Still, a White House official tells me the president has been watching the coverage of all of this all afternoon and that he's pleased -- Wolf.

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

As the battle over the government shutdown goes far beyond previous showdowns, the president is taking a beating in the polls. Look at this. Recent polls, including one from CNN, find the public blaming the president for the shutdown by a wide margin over Democrats.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, and our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, Pelosi is clearly firing back. What's the latest?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Democrats are strongly criticizing this move, saying it's childish, it's unprecedented, and also revealed a very sensitive trip to a war zone, Afghanistan, which the president should not have done, taken such a dramatic action by revealing that in this letter to the speaker.

Now, Adam Schiff, who's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was scheduled to go on that trip. He met with Speaker Pelosi and emerged, talked to reporters; compared this president to a fifth grader, said they were no closer to a deal on the shutdown, blaming this on the president. And said that they were trying to, in this overseas meeting, do important things like meet with NATO officials concerned about the president's talk about potentially withdrawing from NATO, and others worried about the withdrawal from U.S. troops from Syria.

And when I asked him what this says about the state of affairs in this country, with the speaker proposing to delay the State of the Union and the president pushing back and denying the use of military travel, he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: All too often in the last two years, the president has acted like he's in the fifth grade. And to have someone who has that kind of character running the country is an enormous problem at every level. We are a co-equal branch of government, and it may not have been that

way over the last two years when he had a Republican Congress, willing to roll over any time he asked, but that is no longer the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Schiff would not say directly if that trip is going to go on or if it was going to be canceled. He said he doesn't want to talk more about the speaker's travel plan. But he insisted that they would still do, quote, "oversight" of this administration, even if the administration didn't want to.

And the speaker's office itself put out a statement disputing some of the things in the president's statement. For one, they said that Egypt trip was not going to happen as the president said. And also saying this in the statement: "The CODEL to Afghanistan included a required stop in Brussels for pilot rest. In Brussels, the delegation was scheduled to meet with top NATO commanders, U.S. military leaders and key allies -- to affirm the United States' ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance. The weekend visit did not include a stop in Egypt. The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation and thanks to our men and women in uniform for their service and dedication, and to obtain critical national security and intelligence briefings from those on the front lines."

And Pelosi's office goes on to say that the president traveled to Iraq during the first part of the shutdown, and another Republican-led official delegation did occur also by Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York. So the Democrats calling out the White House for hypocrisy, saying this is just an effort to go after the speaker because of the dispute over the shutdown and the president's border wall.

BLITZER: Yes, I want to show our viewers, Manu, a live picture of that U.S. Air Force bus. It's still up on Capitol Hill. This is the bus that was supposed to take the speaker, the other members of this CODEL, this congressional delegation, to Belgium for talks with NATO officials, and then on to Afghanistan. That bus is still there, for some reason. Unclear why. We'll continue to monitor and see if anybody boards that bus.

In the meantime, let's go to Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon. Barbara, other military flights, they are still heading to Afghanistan.

Is there any good security reason for this trip to have been canceled by the president, or is this all just politics?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, the president himself, he called it public relations. And I think that may be something that a lot of military people and military families might disagree, that traveling to Afghanistan is about public relations, if the speaker of the House is going there to meet with commanders, talk to the troops and see what is going on.

Military aircraft continue to fly their missions. And let us very soberly remind ourselves, just yesterday four Americans were killed in combat action when they were hit by a suicide bomber in northern Syria. Those bodies have yet to be put on an aircraft to be brought back to Dover Air Force Base.

So, you know, military aircraft have very specific, very sober-minded missions. They do not go gallivanting around the world. When somebody is on a military aircraft, on an approved mission, it's very serious business, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't remember a time when a president has ever canceled a congressional delegation trip along these lines, especially one led by the speaker of the House.

All right. Barbara, thank you.

Manu, thanks to you, as well.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She's a key member of both the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us. So what's your reaction to this stunning decision from the president today?

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: I agree with Adam Schiff that the president is acting like a fifth grader. Although that insults fifth graders. But clearly, we do not have an adult in the White House.

So let's not forget who started this trainwreck of a shutdown that is hurting 800,000 families and the ripple effect. It is the president who began the shutdown. He has the power to end it, but he won't because he's a child. Which insults children. So I'm sorry about that.

So the other person who can end the shutdown, as I've been saying for a while now, is Mitch McConnell. He has the power to bring these House-passed bills to the floor. And that's why more and more people are coming and saying, you know, "Where are you, Mitch?" And I know that there are billboards going up in his state, asking, "Where are you, Mitch?" And that's the question.

BLITZER: Yes. He says he won't bring anything up on the Senate floor that the president won't support. You know how --

HIRONO: So does that mean that -- you know what? It's almost like saying what do we need the Senate for? We can just have a president.

BLITZER: You know -- you know how these congressional, these CODELs, these congressional delegations work.

HIRONO: Yes.

BLITZER: The lawmakers were going to visit troops in a war zone. Was there any legitimate security reason -- and you're a member of the Armed Services Committee --

HIRONO: Of course.

BLITZER: -- to cancel this -- to cancel the trip?

HIRONO: No. It's very clearly the president being in a snit. And I'm sure he's very proud of himself, because he's very child-like; and his view of the world, it's all about him.

So certainly, I have gone on congressional delegations to Afghanistan, to Iraq, to China, to all of these places. And this is, as Barbara says, serious business. It takes a lot of work to put these trips together.

And when the president just calls it a P.R. event, that's because that's how he views this kind of trip. And that's not how the rest of us, who are adults in the room, view this very important effort to touch bases with our troops and also to reassure our allies that this getting out of NATO is not something that most responsible -- I would say most of us in the House and the Senate do not support, because NATO is very important to our own national security.

BLITZER: What about the precedent, Senator, this might set? Do you worry about this president and future presidents using congressional travel as a bargaining chip for all sorts of political disagreements?

HIRONO: I think it's a very bad move, but one hopes that whoever is the next president is not a child and will act responsibly. That is my hope.

But I have no expectation of that sort from this president, and this is why the adults in the room, which would be right now, since the House already did their job to keep government running. The adults in the room are the senators, starting with Mitch McConnell.

Where are you, Mitch McConnell? Do your job. Use your powers to end the suffering of 800,000 people and their families and all of the contractors.

BLITZER: What's --

HIRONO: It's inexplicable, really.

BLITZER: What's it going to take to finally end this shutdown? Do you believe Nancy Pelosi and the president, they can split the difference between, let's say, $1.3 billion for border security, $5.7 billion for border security, come up with a number somewhere in the middle, and get the government back up operating?

HIRONO: At this point, I am still of the mind that Mitch McConnell should do his job, and more people are coming to that recognition. It would be very easy for Mitch McConnell to bring these bills to the floor, and we should ask, "Why the heck aren't you doing it?"

So it could be that, you know, the adults in the room are going to have to come up with something. But if this results in the president using these kinds of childish tactics to hold people hostage at every turn, which I know he will, that -- this is not the end of the president using what he would call -- I would call misusing his powers to have his way, because we have a child who is the president. BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, with the White House already working to limit fallout from the special counsel's upcoming Russia report, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, concedes the Trump campaign may have colluded with Russia, while insisting Donald Trump did not.

And former Trump fixer Michael Cohen admits he paid a tech company to rig online polls in favor of Trump during the campaign, stating that he acted at Donald Trump's request.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:06] BLITZER: Our breaking news: President Trump pulls the plug on a trip to the Afghan war zone led by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, by preventing use of a U.S. military aircraft.

It's a move seen, in some quarters, as an effort to try to divert attention from the Russia investigation. And that comes as the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, concedes that the Trump campaign may, indeed, have colluded with Russia.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, and our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, tell us about the about face, seemingly an about face last night here on CNN with Chris Cuomo that Rudy Giuliani showed.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is certainly a new answer, a different answer from one we've been hearing all year, two years now from the president and his team: that there was no collusion. Take a listen to Rudy Giuliani with Chris Cuomo last night here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you have.

GIULIANI: I have no idea if -- I have not. I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here: conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC. He said he didn't. He didn't say nobody -- how would you know that nobody in your campaign --

CUOMO: He actually did say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And as you can tell from Chris Cuomo's arched eyebrow, he and we were all surprised by Rudy Giuliani's statement, because the president did repeatedly vouch for people in his campaign. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There is no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.

There is no collusion between, certainly, myself and my campaign.

There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

There was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And so the question is, what's going on here? What's going on behind the scenes? It appears that, certainly, the Trump team is trying to put some distance between the president and his campaign chairman, his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who it was revealed, just in the last week or so, was sharing internal polling data with Russians. And so perhaps they're getting ready for some other revelations that may come from this investigation.

BLITZER: And you've got, Pamela, some new reporting on how the White House is preparing for the Mueller report, assuming it's going to be coming out fairly soon.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's a hint. It's going to be broader than just relying on Rudy Giuliani as a spokesperson.

What you're going to see here, Wolf, is the White House readying its strategy, laying the groundwork for a public relations strategy and also beefing up their press team with more legal expertise to field these inquiries as Mueller wraps up his probe, files his report, and as Democrats launch House investigations.

Now, there isn't a war room set up at this point, but there likely will be. That is the plan.

And what the White House is looking to is the Bill Clinton White House model from 1998 in response to the Ken Starr report, where there was a mix of legal, and political and communications professionals all working together.

Also, the White House is readying for a potential subpoena fight between Congress and DOJ over the Mueller report. Bill Barr, the president's A.G. nominee, said during his confirmation hearing that he's open to releasing some of the report. The White House wants to keep all of it under wraps. As one source I spoke to in the White House said, the battle order is clear in terms of if there is a subpoena, that is something they're preparing for.

BLITZER: And all this is coming as Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer and his fixer, now admits that early during the presidential campaign, he actually tried to get someone, a tech expert, to rig some of these online polls to make it look that Donald Trump was really doing great in these polls.

BROWN: That's right. I spoke to him earlier today.

BLITZER: You spoke to --

BROWN: I spoke to Michael Cohen earlier today, and he confirmed the report, and he also implicated President Trump. He said that he did this, he asked for these polls to be rigged in Donald Trump's favor, at the direction of Donald Trump and to the benefit of Donald Trump.

And he told me that, once again, he regrets his blind loyalty to Donald Trump.

[17:25:04] So, this is a familiar line we've heard from Michael Cohen. He said the same thing in open court. He said he paid off the two women during the campaign to suppress their stories, at the direction of Donald Trump. He said the same thing here.

And this is all very interesting, in light of what Donald Trump said during the campaign about polls. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The polls are crooked. Everything is crooked. Man. It's a rigged system, folks.

These polls are rigged. They were rigged!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: I reached out to Rudy Giuliani to see if there was a response to Cohen's statement. So far I haven't heard back.

But this is just a window into what we could hear from Michael Cohen during his testimony in February in front of the Oversight Committee. You can imagine he's going to be asked about this report, among many other matters, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be pretty amazing when that day of testimony before the House Oversight Committee. And it raises the question of, if Donald Trump, during the campaign, was willing to have his lawyer pay some guy a lot of money, thousands and thousands of dollars, to try to rig some of these online polls, what else were they willing to do during the campaign?

PEREZ: Well, look, I think Donald Trump models himself and puts himself out there as the nontraditional politician, right? And I think that's the question that you're going to hear a lot from Democrats. I think when the Mueller investigation is over and, as they launch their own investigations and their own hearings, I think you're going to hear a repeat of exactly those words, Wolf: What else was he willing to do?

BLITZER: I suspect Mueller knows a lot about all the "what else."

All right. Guys, thanks very, very much. Coming up, we'll have more on the increasingly personal battle between

President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. After the speaker tells the president to postpone his State of the Union speech, the president abruptly denies a U.S. military aircraft for a Pelosi trip to the war zone in Afghanistan. Is this any way to end the government shutdown?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:30:31] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following multiple breaking stories right now, including President Trump's last-minute cancellation of a U.S. military aircraft that the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers were about to use for a visit to Afghanistan.

Apparently, it's retaliation for Pelosi's suggestion that the president put off the State of the Union address until the government shutdown ends.

Let's ask our political and legal experts about this mess. And it is a true mess. Why do you think, Gloria, the president decided to cancel this trip only a half hour before Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, these other members of Congress Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, were about to board a bus on Capitol Hill to take them to Joint Base Andrews to fly off?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Because he can't help himself. That's the answer. We were just discussing this before.

BLITZER: Yes, totally right.

BORGER: He -- this is petty. As Lindsey Graham said earlier today, this is sophomoric. If you read the letter itself, it also shows you that the president really has no idea that congressional delegations to places like Afghanistan are not exactly a day at the beach and that the service members really appreciate when you visit them and that they're fact finding, because you are the -- in Congress you have the power of the purse and you want to know what you're voting on.

He called it a public relations event and a seven-day excursion, as if it's a day at the beach for Nancy Pelosi. It is not.

And I would remind you that the president went to Iraq during the government shutdown. His people, including the treasury secretary, whatever, will go to Davos on government airplanes.

And this is a tit-for-tat situation. And the public, honestly, like most of us are kind of throwing up our hands and saying get out of the sandbox, all of you, all of you, and just reopen the government.

BLITZER: What do you think, Chris?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Largely, echo what Gloria said. Look, this is -- he did this because he wanted a way to get back at her and they found one that really did it. And the timing, I'm sure he reveled in, that they were already -- I guarantee you Donald Trump is seeing the image that we just rolled of the bus coming back and parking and absolutely loving it, because this is what he does.

In every circumstance where there's a high road option and a low road option, a good for the country option and a good for Donald Trump and the immediate -- you know, immediate satisfaction option, he takes the low road immediate satisfaction option.

Gloria notes, and we should -- look, this is not -- he is not doing this in a vacuum. He is doing this after Nancy Pelosi said hey, you know, that State of the Union speech you were planning to give, you're going to have to change that.

So, could he have not done that, knowing that anything he did would make the chances of a shutdown that much smaller? Of course he could have. But he's Donald Trump. And so he literally -- and we're talking about this, too. He literally just can't help himself. It's who he is. It's what he does.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Totally agree with everything that's been said. I mean, you know --

BLITZER: Always knew Jeff was smart.

TOOBIN: The whole thing is just embarrassing.

BORGER: Yes, totally.

TOOBIN: And the letter -- but, I mean, you know, the letter will be read on Fox and everybody will believe it on Fox News. So the idea that he wrote this false, misleading, ridiculous letter that shows no understanding of what congressional delegations do -- I mean, it probably serves its purpose, but it's just a despairing moment about how our politics have degenerated.

[17:35:02] BLITZER: Because you've already heard, Jeff, that Republicans are saying Pelosi invited this kind of retaliation by writing that letter yesterday, suggesting that the president postpone the State of the Union address until after the shutdown.

TOOBIN: I mean, that's probably not 100 percent wrong. I mean, she did - It was a petty stick it to him.

Hers was a lot more damaging. I mean, with all due respect to Afghanistan, it's not exactly a huge punishment not to have to go to Afghanistan whereas the State of the Union is something the president really wants to do. So I mean, there's a real imbalance there.

But I mean, look, the whole thing is petty and awful. And all I keep thinking of here are my former colleagues in the federal government. I was with a former federal employee now who's driving a cab. His wife is cleaning houses because they need money to pay their mortgage. That's who I'm caring about now, not Donald Trump's, you know, ridiculousness.

BLITZER: And, Laurie, you've heard the suggestions that all of this, this decision by the president today could be a distraction, doing it in order to prevent all of us from covering other news that he doesn't want us to cover, including Rudy Giuliani said, what Michael Cohen --

BORGER: We're covering that.

BLITZER: Of course we're covering it. But the president was trying to change the subject.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: But the reporting also suggests that he really did not like the coverage of the shutdown. He was angry at his aides, saying we're getting killed out there and the reporting from our colleague, Kaitlan Collins today said this was really about retaliation.

And he was mad about that letter from Nancy Pelosi. He was silent on Twitter. Everyone in the White House was silent. They didn't know what to do and so they dropped this bomb today.

BORGER: It reminds me of when my children were younger. And they would -- and I have two boys and they would say he started it. No, no, no, he started it. And it would, sort of, escalate into this craziness. And that's where we are right now.

And as Jeffrey was saying, I think the right word is embarrassing. I mean, can you imagine, they were going to stop in Brussels and they were going to talk to our NATO allies and reassure them. As Adam Schiff said today, that we're pro-NATO or the Congress is pro-NATO, even though the president has raised questions about that.

And our NATO allies are now not going to see the speaker of the house or Adam -- or whoever it is. They're not going to have the benefit of that conversation because their trip got canceled by the president.

BLITZER: And let's not forget what Jeffrey made an important point. Let's not forget those 800,000 federal employees.

BORGER: Of course.

BLITZER: Their families and millions of federal contractors who aren't getting paid and won't be getting paid. They're suffering right now as this little fight goes on.

Much more on the breaking news, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:21] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts. And, Gloria, listen to this exchange that our Chris Cuomo had with the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, have you.

GIULIANI: I have no idea of that. I have not. I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence that the president of the United States committed the only crime he could commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.

He said he didn't. He didn't say nobody. How would you know that nobody in your campaign --

CUOMO: He actually did say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Was Giuliani moving the goal post right now?

BORGER: Yes. He's defending his client. Look, he's looking at what the Mueller investigation has done so far. He's clearly looking at Paul Manafort, at Michael Flynn, at Rick Gates and he can't say that nobody in the campaign colluded. Because guess what? There's a lot of evidence out there. I mean, say what you want about him but Rudy Giuliani. He's an attorney and he can look at that.

He is protecting his client saying there's no evidence that Donald Trump knew anything about this. And that, of course, is the big question we have always had which is what did Donald Trump know?

TOOBIN: I would like to associate myself with Chris Cuomo's face during that interview.

BLITZER: Can we see how you would do that? Take off your glasses and show us how you would do that.

TOOBIN: He's way too handsome for me to imitate him. But just his expression. Incredulity. And, Gloria, I think you may be giving Rudy Giuliani a little too much credit.

BORGER: Maybe, yes.

TOOBIN: I mean, listen -- I mean, a campaign is not just the candidate. I mean, if the way -- if the way Rudy was describing it yesterday is if, if there was a Trump campaign office in the kremlin and they work together every day, that would not be collusion, because Donald Trump wasn't associated with it.

I mean, a campaign is not just the candidate. And as we now have seen the multiple contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign, including this distribution of secret polling data from Manafort to a figure from Russian intelligence. I mean, there is a lot of evidence here.

And to say that Donald Trump is not on a wiretap or not on an e-mail, which he doesn't even use, I don't think that's exactly exculpatory.

BORGER: There are 16 people in the Trump campaign, by the way. Sixteen, who have communicated with Russians during the campaign. BLITZER: And, Chris, I want you to listen Seth Meyers, the late-night host. He had this to say about the news that the FBI, actually, was looking in for possibility that Donald Trump in 2017 was working for Russia. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH MEYERS, LATE-NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: The FBI was investigating whether Trump was working for the Russians. I mean, what tipped them off?

Was it Trump's secret meeting with the Russians in the office? His son's secret meeting with Russians at Trump Tower, his lawyer secret deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow? Jeff Sessions' secret meeting with the Russian ambassador. Jared Kushner's secret backchannel with the Kremlin? Michael Flynn's secret back channel with the Kremlin? Erik Prince's backchannel with the Kremlin? Paul Manafort (INAUDIBLE) with the Russians with foreign policy (INAUDIBLE) secret meeting with the Russians. The Russian hackers who helped Trump win? Trump asking the Russian hackers to help him win? Or Vladimir Putin's smile every time he sees Trump?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[17:45:30] CILLIZZA: I mean, yes. It's made in a joking manner but this is to Gloria's point about how many people -- it's not as though three people in the Trump campaign had contact with France and five with -- it's all with this one country that, again, I always remind people, U.S. intelligence community, unanimously concluded in 2017 sought to actively interfere in our elections to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. That's the U.S. Intelligence community.

And just one other reminder, when Donald Trump is standing on a stage with Vladimir Putin, after their summit in Helsinki, Donald Trump effectively says, I'm paraphrasing, well, both sides are to blame in this.

If a Democrat did that and had any of the context that we're talking about, Republicans would be apoplectic -- I mean, there's just so much smoke. Is it possible all the smokes is a result of no fire? Sure. But it's getting less and less likely.

BLITZER: And you heard Giuliani, Laura, last night also say to Chris Cuomo the only crime, potentially, you could convict the president of it would be if he conspired to hack into the DNC.

JARRETT: Well, we know that's not true. One of the main issues here, and perhaps, the most dangerous, for the president in terms of his own exposure, is the obstruction of justice.

And when you look at the special counsel regulations and you look at Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general's sort of missive that allowed Mueller's investigation to continue, one of the little-known buried things in that regulation is not obstruction of justice and firing Comey or just heading to let the Flynn investigation go. But the obstruction of justice in Mueller's investigation itself. Everything he is doing at this moment to potentially affect the investigation counts.

CILLIZZA: Just very quickly. Remember, what Giuliani was doing and what Trump continues to do is fight -- Gloria mentioned this, fight a political battle, the impeachment argument. They're not really fighting the legal battle, because I think they already sort of know what's coming in the Mueller report.

But they are turning influence political opinion. Jeffrey mentioned it that you will see that argument that Trump made repeatedly over and over again on conservative networks and it will not be disputed. That's what they're trying to influence, facts be damned.

BLITZER: Stick around. There's more news we're following, including this. A mysterious woman who calls herself a seductress and claims to know about Moscow's election meddling. Now has been detained by the Russians. Will she ever be able to tell her story?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:42] BLITZER: Tonight, there are new questions about what's happened to a mysterious woman who claims she knows about Russia's election meddling.

CNN's Brian Todd has been following this case for us. So, what's the latest, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this woman was deported from Thailand today. And as soon as she landed in Moscow, she was detained by Russian authorities.

Anastasia Vashukevich is indeed mysterious. A self-proclaimed sex coach, linked to a powerful Russian oligarch. The key question tonight, does she have information on Russian election meddling as she claims?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANASTASIA VASHUKEVICH, RUSSIAN SELF-PROCLAIMED SEDUCTRESS: I cannot go back home.

TODD: Tonight, a self-proclaimed seductress and sex coach from Belarus who claims to have inside knowledge of Russia's attempts to meddle in America's elections tells CNN that she's been detained by the Kremlin.

Anastasia Vashukevich says she was rounded up as soon as she landed Moscow after being deported from a jail in Thailand.

KEITH DARDEN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: She is probably being interrogated. In particular, they're probably interested in where she has this information that she claims to have. And they'll probably keep her in cold storage until she produces it. TODD: Vashukevich bizarre tale began last year when she was arrested and jailed in Thailand on prostitution charges. At the time, she told CNN she believed she was being held on Moscow's orders.

In a bid for U.S. asylum, she said that she had previously witnessed meetings between a prominent Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin and at least three Americans, whom she refused to name.

VASHUKEVICH (through translator): I'm ready to give you all the missing puzzle pieces. Support them with video and audios.

TODD: But so far, Vashukevich has produced no recordings or photos of Americans meetings with the oligarch to CNN or other news outlets. And there has been no indication in court filings from the special counsel that she has talked to U.S. investigators.

CNN has learned FBI agents tried to meet with Vashukevich in the Thai prison last year but were not allowed to.

GARRETT GRAFF, AUTHOR OF "THE THREAT MATRIX": It's really impossible to know whether this was a real key source or someone desperate to get out of a Thai jail and avoid deportation back to Belarus.

TODD: Vashukevich's claims might normally have been laughed off if she hadn't produced these photos of her with the oligarch in question, Oleg Deripaska. They're seen embracing on his yacht. She says they had an affair. Something he denies.

Vashukevich also released this video of Deripaska, apparently on his yacht talking to Russia's deputy prime minister about the state of U.S.-Russia relations. All of which makes her story more intriguing that's because Deripaska, closely tied to the Russian president is the same billionaire who paid former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort millions for lobbying.

And the Washington Post" says Manafort once offered Deripaska briefings on the state of the Trump campaign. Manafort and Deripaska deny any briefings took place. And Deripaska denies being involved in election meddling.

OLEG DERIPASKA, RUSSIAN OLIGARCH: get lost, please. Thank you.

TODD: Last year in Thailand, Vashukevich posted on social media she feared she'd die in a Russian prison if she were sent back to Moscow. Tonight, that's exactly where she is.

Could her life be in danger?

Darden: Of course. If she really collected lots of compromising material about Oleg Deripaska. He's a very dangerous man to be dealing with. And she could very easily lose her life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:55:59] TODD: We have reached out to Russian officials in Moscow and here at their embassy in Washington to ask why Anastasia Vashukevich has been detained, exactly what she's being questioned about. Russian officials will only say she's detained as part of a prostitution inquiry.

We also asked the Kremlin to respond to her claim that she would die in a Russian prison if she was deported. They have not responded to that. Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story. All right. Brian, thanks very much.

Coming up, breaking news. President Trump drops a stunning bombshell in the shutdown battle. At the last minute, he grounds an Afghan warzone trip led by the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by preventing use of a U.S. military aircraft.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Grounded.