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Trump Visits Pentagon a Day After Deaths of Four Americans in Syria; Battle Against ISIS Still Raging Despite Trump's Order Withdrawing U.S. Troops. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Grounded. President Trump orders the Pentagon not to let House Speaker Nancy Pelosi use a military plane to travel to a war zone, even as a bus was running and ready to leave for the airport.

Tonight, a White House official admits it was an act of retaliation, as Democrats slam the president as mean and petty.

Redefining collusion. The president's lawyer flips his script again, now admitting to CNN that there may have been collusion between the Trump campaign, at least some Trump campaign aides and Russia. Is Rudy Giuliani hinting at criminal charges on the horizon?

Blind loyalty. The president's once loyal fixer is incriminating Mr. Trump again, saying his former boss directed him to get polling rigged in his favor during the campaign. Was it an early indication of how far and how low the Trump team would go?

And misdirection? As the president stews over the Mueller probe, the government shutdown and more, is he punishing Speaker Pelosi as a way to change the subject?

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: Breaking news, the shutdown showdown gets uglier, as President Trump uses his power and the Pentagon to hit back at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

After Pelosi asked him to postpone the State of the Union address, Mr. Trump refused to let her use U.S. military aircraft to fly to a war zone, as she and lawmakers were preparing to leave.

Also breaking, we're told the White House is ramping up its political response team ahead of Robert Mueller's final report and as more bombshells explode. In a stunning CNN interview, Rudy Giuliani now admits it's possible that someone in the Trump campaign other than the president colluded with Russia.

And former fixer Michael Cohen tells CNN that Mr. Trump directed him to pay thousands of dollars to rig online polls during the campaign.

I will get reaction from Republican Congressman Mike Turner, a key member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the bus was waiting up on Capitol Hill. Pelosi and lawmakers were about to travel overseas. And then all of a sudden, the president unloaded.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And it's federal workers who feel thrown under that bus,Wolf.

President Trump kicked sand in the face of Nancy Pelosi, firing off a letter to the House speaker, telling her that he is pulling her military aircraft for a congressional trip that was scheduled to happen today. With the president frustrated over the shutdown, White House officials say they cooked up this scheme earlier today as a way to retaliate against Pelosi for her letter calling for a delay to the upcoming State of the Union speech.

The White House blasted out that letter to Pelosi just as she was preparing to leave the Capitol on a sensitive trip to Afghanistan. It's an escalation in what's becoming a deeply personal battle between the president and Pelosi that one adviser earlier today described as King Kong vs. Godzilla.


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 order 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 this 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, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While many Democrats and 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 Mr. Trump from the State of the Union, she took a swipe at the president.

PELOSI: I'm not denying him a platform at all. We're 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.

ACOSTA: A Trump adviser described the battle between the president and Pelosi as King Kong vs. Godzilla. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is playing referee, calling the president's move inappropriate, adding: "One sophomoric response does not just deserve another."


Despite the president's move to bar Pelosi's congressional trip, White House officials say they will 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 (D), 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.


ACOSTA: Now, on the Pelosi trip, a spokesman for the House speaker described Pelosi's trip as primarily a visit to Afghanistan to meet with American troops, with a pit stop in Brussels, where she and other lawmakers were scheduled to meet with U.S. military commanders.

There was no Egypt stop on the itinerary, according to that spokesman. Now, 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 under similar circumstances.

Still, a White House official tells me the president has been watching the coverage of his letter to Pelosi all afternoon, and that he is pleased. And, Wolf, we should point out, while he is denying a government plane to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, one was provided to his wife, the first lady, Melania Trump, as she was heading down to Mar-a-Lago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us at the White House, thank you.

The president is striking back at the House speaker tonight, as multiple polls out this week show a majority of Americans blame him, not her, for the shutdown.

Tonight, Democrats are also working to try to maintain the upper hand as they slam President Trump for behavior they're describing as simply childish and petty.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, we will talk about the Democrats' response in a moment. But, first, you're getting some new information about shutdown talks. What are you learning?


Potentially, a key meeting going on right now on Capitol Hill just in the last half-an-hour. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Vice President Mike Pence arrived up here on Capitol Hill. They are inside Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader's office up here on Capitol Hill.

This day, as we have been talking about, has been so much defined by the back and forth between Democrats up here on Capitol Hill and the White House, so much squabbling, tit for tat, going back and forth. So this key meeting could be critical, significant that it's any meeting, because that's something that they have had so little of in the past few days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What more -- Sunlen, what more are you hearing from Pelosi and the Democrats after the president grounded Pelosi's overseas trip?

SERFATY: They are certainly not pleased, Wolf. And they made that known up here on Capitol Hill today. They are railing against the move by President Trump, calling his move petty, mean-spirited and something beneath, they say, the president of the United States, and very strong boards from Adam Schiff.

He is the chairman of the House Intel Committee. He was supposed to be on this CODEL with Nancy Pelosi, and he said, it's quite obvious that this was an action directed at the speaker.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: 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.


SERFATY: Now, notably, we have not heard directly from Speaker Nancy Pelosi herself at all today.

We did hear from her spokesman, a rather long statement that they issued after the president issued his letter this morning, basically trying to correct the president, correct the president over the details of the CODEL that was previously unknown.

I want to read this statement in full. This is from Drew Hammill, her spokesman.

He says -- quote -- "The CODEL to Afghanistan included a required stop to 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. This weekend's visit to Afghanistan didn't 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.


"The president traveled to Iraq during the Trump shutdown, as did a CODEL led by Representative Zeldin."

So, Pelosi's office there not only getting that last jab at President Trump for his own travels during the shutdown, but also taking direct issue clearly with the president claiming that their CODEL was a public relations event, in his words, emphasizing clearly there that they're traveling to Afghanistan to thank the men and women in our armed services.

And left off the statement, though, notably, Wolf, is any sort of confirmation directly whether this CODEL will go on in any form or not. And we have not heard confirmation from Pelosi's office yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

Let's get some Republican reaction to all of this.

I'm joined by congressman Mike Turner of Ohio, who serves on the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R), OHIO: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: Republic Senator Lindsey Graham, he reacted to the

president's letter by tweeting -- and I'm quoting Lindsey Graham now -- "One sophomoric response does not deserve another."

What do you think?

TURNER: Well, I think the troops in Afghanistan would much rather hear that Nancy Pelosi is in her office, which is right behind me, working to end this stalemate, close our border, end the open-border policy that she's been pursuing, and come to a resolution.

Also, I think they'd be much prouder to hear that the speaker standing up at the podium with her gavel announcing the president of the United States for a State of the Union.

The fact that we're in this situation that Nancy Pelosi has, with Chuck Schumer in tow, is pursuing this open-border policy, while the government is being shutdown and when we should be turning to national security, really is -- I think dishonors those who are serving in national security and certainly something that she needs to...


BLITZER: But, Congressman, they're not pursuing an open border. They want border security. They disagree with the president on how much money should be spent on border security right now.

The last kind of negotiation had the Democrats at $1.3 billion in the coming year's budget. The president wants $5.7 billion.

It shouldn't be that difficult to come up with some sort of compromise.

TURNER: Well, Wolf, as you know, I mean, it really is an open border vs. a closed border.

The border is currently not closed. If it's open, it's not closed.

BLITZER: But they want border security. They have paid for all sorts of technology. They have paid for fences. They have paid over the years a lot of money, the Democrats I'm talking about, and certainly the Republicans as well, to try to have border security.

It's by no means perfect. They need to work on it. But they don't want an open border, where anybody can simply cross the border.

TURNER: Well, that's what we currently have.

And, Wolf, as you know, we're not dealing with a Democrat proposal and a Republican proposal and negotiations ongoing, which they should be, right behind me. What we have is Nancy Pelosi saying, a wall is immoral, closing the border is immoral, and leaving it in the condition which it's in, which it's in disrepair.

It is not the barrier that the American public wants.


BLITZER: But, Congressman, they haven't even -- they have acknowledged this, the Trump administration.

The money that already has been appropriated to strengthen the fences, the barriers, the wall, whatever you want to call it, there is extensive wall for several hundred miles already, a lot of that money that's been appropriated last year and the year before, that still hasn't even been spent.

TURNER: But, Wolf, as you know, people are crossing the border every day. It is not closed. It is open.

And when you pursue a policy where you're not putting up a barrier, which the American public are for having a barrier -- and certainly a majority of Congress is and a majority of the Senate is -- really, Chuck Schumer should stop following Nancy Pelosi's path toward closing the government and an open border and sit down and negotiate this.

This is something that has been going on for two years. It weakens our national security. And it's something that needs to be addressed. It certainly shouldn't be the speaker getting on a plane and going to Afghanistan. She should be behind her desk right now working diligently to make certain everyone gets paid and that the border gets closed, our country is safe, and this shutdown stops.

BLITZER: But it wasn't simply a trip to Afghanistan. It was -- it was supposed to be a briefing. They were supposed to meet with U.S. troops, meet with commanders. The chairman of the Intelligence Committee was on this CODEL, this congressional delegation.

The new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee was on this delegation. They wanted to not only express their support for the troops, but they also wanted to get briefed on the latest intelligence, the latest military developments.

You have been on many congressional delegations, CODELs, as they're called. It was going to be a relatively quick trip to have some inside information. What's wrong with that?

TURNER: Well, that can be done at any time. Reopening the government needs to be done now.

I mean, this is -- we're to an emergency. And I truly believe that one thing that I look to it at this is the partisan nature of the battle. You look at what Nancy Pelosi is doing in the culture here. When we saw the list, the manifest of who she was taking with her, there was -- it was all Democrats.


I have never heard of a trip like that before. I was on Speaker Ryan's very first trip to the Middle East, when he was speaker. And it was a bipartisan delegation.

She loaded this up with a very partisan group, and was taking off, when she ought to be right at her desk.

BLITZER: So you think that's why the president -- you think that's why the commander in chief decided to tell the U.S. military no U.S. military aircraft?

TURNER: Well, I think, certainly, that should be looked at, because my understanding and most members' understanding is if the speaker is pulling out a plane and going to Afghanistan for briefings, it should be on a bipartisan basis.

But, right now, she should be at her desk working to reopen the government and end this bypass.

BLITZER: Was it a blunder on the part of the president in that letter which was made public a half-hour before this delegation was supposed to leave Capitol Hill, head over to Joint Base Andrews for the flight to Brussels, and then continuing on to Afghanistan, was it a mistake for the president to tell the world that these, the leaders, the Democratic leaders, as you point out, of the House of Representatives, including the speaker of the House, second in line to the presidency, was coming to Afghanistan?

Because you well know the U.S. never tells Afghanistan, never makes public a visit like this by a president or congressional leaders until they are already there on the ground. They don't want to tip off the Taliban.

TURNER: Well, my assumption is that they're not going. So I don't think there's any risk in telling people that they were going to go, because they're not going.


BLITZER: But was it a mistake for the president, was it a mistake for the president to make it public, when it was still up in the air?

TURNER: Well, they weren't up in the air. They were grounded. So I don't think it was a mistake at all.

I think you can certainly -- when you get back from trips, you can talk about them. You can certainly talk about trips that you have been canceled. And this one has been canceled.


BLITZER: Certainly, you can when you come back.

But in advance of a sensitive trip like this -- and, remember in that letter, the president said, you can go on the trip if you want to fly commercial. If they wanted to charter some private planes, presumably, they could have gone on this trip.

But why notify al Qaeda and the Taliban that the leadership of the House of Representatives is on the way?

TURNER: Well, you will have to ask the president of the United States of that.

But they're not on their way. And when a trip has been canceled or when a trip has occurred, there's no risk in making it public. And, obviously, the fact this was grounded is very public.

BLITZER: Because the president said it was simply a public relations event. No one knew they were going on this trip until they were going to presumably get there. That was the whole purpose.

It's obviously a very -- and I have been on some of these trips as a reporter covering these trips. I have gone to Iraq during very dangerous times. You never -- you never tell in advance a serious high-level official is on the way, because you don't want to tip off the enemy.

And I'm sure you have been on those kinds of congressional delegations as well.


Well, certainly, no one knew they were going, but everyone did know she wasn't working on reopening the government and finding a solution to this. And that, I think, is the bottom line of the president's letter.

It's like, let's stop playing these games. Let's stop disinviting the president from his State of the Union.

Can you imagine if John Boehner or Paul Ryan had disinvited President Obama?


BLITZER: Well, let me ask you this. Let me ask you this.

TURNER: And if she doesn't want to hear his message, perhaps she shouldn't attend.

But the president of the United States should be honored with his State of the Union in the House of Representatives.

BLITZER: From your perspective, Congressman -- and you have been around for a while -- do you believe the president of the United States has any responsibility for this government shutdown?

TURNER: Well, I think certainly, when two parties don't agree, it certainly takes those two parties to agree.

Now, in this, I think Nancy Pelosi has made it clear from the beginning that she's not negotiating. Well, I think that, when someone says they're not negotiating, that's the one of the two you need to look at.


BLITZER: Well, let me just interrupt you for a moment, with all due respect.

The last time they were meeting in the White House Situation Room, the president, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, their top leaders, they were going back and forth. And, at one point, the president said, you're going to spend some money if you have a 30-day -- let's say a 30-day delay, in the end, are you going to spend some money for the wall?

Nancy Pelosi said no, at which point the president got up and said bye-bye.

He's the one who ended the negotiations on that point. Was it a mistake for the president simply to say bye-bye?

TURNER: Well, I -- the president -- first of all, I wasn't in the room, and neither were you.

But I -- but we all know the president has an open invitation to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to come to the table and negotiate. No is not negotiate. No is an answer and a position. And it certainly is the type of answer that puts you on a plane to Afghanistan, instead of behind your desk trying to resolve this closing.

BLITZER: But why would he say bye-bye if you want -- this is -- there are 800,000 federal employees and their families right now. They're not getting paid. They're suffering right now. A few million government contractors, they're not getting paid. They and their families are suffering right now.

Why would the president end that discussion, simply leave the room and say bye-bye?

TURNER: Well, again, I -- I -- I wasn't in the room, but I know the president has had an open invitation for them to come any time.

They could probably come now, now that she's grounded and here and not going to Afghanistan. But for her to just openly be planning a trip with her -- her Democrat colleagues to go, you know, to Afghanistan and to Europe for four days clearly show she had no intention of -- of continuing the negotiations.


And that's what's needed to happen. She needs to come to the table and negotiations need to occur. This escalation in disinviting the president, dishonoring the presidency by dishonoring him disinviting him to the State of the Union, is wrong.


BLITZER: During the government shutdown, the president went for a visit to Iraq himself. There was no word of that until he landed on the ground, for security reasons.

But the president went over on that kind of mission.

TURNER: Well, you know, Nancy Pelosi has said that she's equivalent to the president of the United States. Well, she's not.

He's been elected by the entire country. He's the chairman. He's the head of all of our armed forces. And, in that position, he certainly should go to -- to places and speak to our troops that report to him.

But she's been elected from a small area in San Francisco. He's elected from the nation. If the -- if our commander in chief wants to go to that -- to our troops, it's a whole lot different than the speaker going on a fact-finding trip.

BLITZER: The speaker of the House, as you know, the speaker of the House the second in line to the presidency. And they're supposedly co-equal branches of government, that -- you're a member of one of those branches, the legislative branch of the U.S. government.

Well, why was it OK for the president to fly off to Iraq with no Democrats, but it wouldn't be OK for the speaker to fly off to Afghanistan with no Democrats -- with no Republicans?

TURNER: Well, the policy in the House, because we're a member -- we're a body of 435 members, has been, if you have a military plane, it's a bipartisan delegation.

The president is the president, commander in chief. He's the commander, and he's one. It's not as if he...


BLITZER: But you don't have a problem with the president traveling during the shutdown. You do have a problem with the speaker traveling during a shutdown.

TURNER: I think the president of the United States represents the entire country as commander in chief. I think, if he wants to go speak to the troops, that it certainly honors our entire nation.

I think Nancy Pelosi has been elected from a small portion of San Francisco, and she should be behind her desk right now, working diligently to open this government, close the border, not pursue the open-border policy she has, and make certain that we can move forward.

BLITZER: She was not only elected by a small delegation, a small district out in California. She was elected by 435 members of the House of Representatives.

TURNER: Well, not 435.

BLITZER: She got the majority. As 435 members of the House of Representatives voted, she got the majority. As a result, she is speaker of the House.

It was very...


TURNER: Right. And there's the Senate and there's also the Supreme Court. She is not equal to the president of the United States. And she's made that statement over and over again.

She needs to come to some recognition that she's not equal to the president of the United States. And she needs...

BLITZER: She is not equal to the president of the United States, Congressman, but the legislative branch of the U.S. government is equal to the executive branch. And they are both equal to the judicial branch.

That's what the founding fathers wanted, three co-equal branches of government, correct?

TURNER: Right.

And that still does not put her on a plane to Afghanistan when the government is closed and we have a crisis at an open border that needs to be addressed and a president of the United States who is sitting at the White House saying, come visit me, let's negotiate, or get behind your desk and work on a proposal and send it over to me.

BLITZER: Congressman Turner, it was very nice of you to spend some quality time with us today.

TURNER: Thank you.

BLITZER: We will continue this dialogue down the road.

TURNER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.

TURNER: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we're going to have more on Rudy Giuliani leaving the door open to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Is it a new twist in the Trump defense team strategy?

And we're going to break down Michael Cohen's new revelation about rigged polling and the orders he says he got from Mr. Trump.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news, President Trump ordering the Pentagon not to let the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, use a U.S. military plane for a trip to the war zone shortly before she was supposed to leave.

A White House official admitting it was an act of retaliation after Pelosi asked Mr. Trump to reschedule his State of the Union address because of the government shutdown.

It could also have been an attempt to try to change the subject from coverage of the Russia investigation and a new, very serious admission by Mr. Trump's former lawyer about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, Giuliani's comment in the CNN interview, that was really jaw- dropping.


Rudy Giuliani seems to constantly be moving the goalposts. He once said there was no collusion whatsoever. Now he says he never said there was no collusion when it came to the campaign.

But, either way, it's amounted to what House Intelligence Committee chairman and Democrat Adam Schiff calls a collusion evolution. Plus, really, it's just a whole lot of plain old confusion.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Some Democratic leaders jumping all over the stunning statement from the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on CNN Wednesday night.

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: 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.

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani's seeming about-face comes days after revelations in what was supposed to be a redacted filing from former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort that Manafort provided private polling data from the Trump campaign to Konstantin Kilimnik, a man with ties to Russian intelligence.

It was a bombshell that exposes how Mueller's team is finding potential contact between at least one Trump campaign official and the Kremlin.

GIULIANI: If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago. It's either provable, or it's not. It is not provable because it never happened.

CUOMO: What do you mean if it happened?

GIULIANI: The obstruction...

CUOMO: I thought you used to say there was absolutely no chance it happened.

GIULIANI: I'm telling you there's no chance that happened with the President of the United States.

CUOMO: How do you explain Manafort? But it's his --

GIULIANI: I have no idea.

CUOMO: Doesn't that matter?

GIULIANI: I have no idea, I never have, what other people were doing.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: But the President has repeatedly vouched for his campaign staff consistently denying that he or the campaign colluded with Moscow.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 Russian --

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

SCHNEIDER: The conflicting statements now have democrats demanding even more answers.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), I.L.: It's a tangled web, it just makes no sense. It either reflects his client who may be leading or misleading him or his own musings as to what might have occurred here. I don't see any clear statement from him, credible consistent statement that I would want to take into a courtroom.

SCHNEIDER: And House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, saying this.

ADAM SCHIFF, INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: He had said quite a contrary earlier. This is an attorney who has continued to issue misleading and false representations about his client's actions from the very beginning.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, sources tell CNN the White House Counsel's Office in outside groups have started laying the ground work for a political and public relations response to Mueller, including planning to beef up the White House press teams to field inquiries related to the investigation. Giuliani though continuing to call for a quick end.

GIULIANI: What's going here is an investigation that should be reported on now. It's gone far enough. Let's see if his got anything.

SCHNEIDER: Now, Rudy Giuliani told our Dana Bash today, he did not intend to send any new signals about the Trump Legal teams understanding of the investigation. He put it this way saying, the President did not himself nor does he have any knowledge of collusion with Russian. If anyone was doing that, he is unaware of it, and so am I, but neither he nor I can possibly know what everyone on the campaign was doing. And, really, even if that's an attempt to clean up his statement from last night, Giuliani seems there to still be leaving the door open that Mueller might find collusion coming somewhere from the campaign. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Yes. Good point there, Jessica, thank you very much. And we're going to talk about all of these with our correspondents and our analysts, but I want to start with our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, you're getting some new information now about the President's nominee to be the next Attorney General.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And the President's reaction as he was watching that nominee testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday during his confirmation hearing. We are now learning from sources that the President was startled as he watched Bill Barr testifying part of this Senate Judiciary Committee and describing the warm relationship that he has with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Now, on Tuesday, when Barr was testifying, he was talking about how he first met the President in the summer of 2017. And he said, the President was interested in the relationship that he had with Mueller. Listen to what he said.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: The President wanted to know -- he said, oh, you know Bob Mueller. How well do you know Bob Mueller? 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.

COLLINS: So, Wolf, he says there that the President was interested in that relationship. But later, he goes on to describe what a relationship they've had and how it's spanned for decades. And we're told that those are the details actually caught the President off guard and that he bristled as he watched Bill Barr speaks so favorably of Robert Mueller, even referring to him on his first name basis multiple times. The President did not like that. He was complaining to aid [ph] saying, he didn't know how close they were and that he didn't know how much their work at the Department of Justice had overlapped previously.

Now we're being told this by three sources. It doesn't mean that the President is thinking of withdrawing Will Barr's nomination, but it does give you some insight into how he feels about this. And we're told the President later rationalized this and calmed down from being so upset about the new details that emerged during that hearing, that he rationalized this by saying, well, Bill Barr and Robert Mueller are part of the Washington establishment and that's why they have this relationship going on.

But, Wolf, it's interesting in the backdrop that not only the President's complaints about the Russia investigation but also his complaints about the Former FBI Director, James Comey, who he fired. And multiple time, he said he was best friend of Robert Mueller even though James Comey testified he doesn't even have Robert Mueller's cell phone. But now, the President's pick for Attorney General is someone who's actually friends with Robert Mueller.

BLITZER: And I assume the President was deeply irritated when he heard Bill Barr say he doesn't believe Mueller would ever be involved in a witch hunt, the President calls that whole investigation a witch hunt, as our viewers know.

Jim Sciutto, let's talk about Rudy Giuliani. That was quite a bomb shell we heard last night.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's a very simple statement to make that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia, but the Attorney for the President who has made that statement multiple times no longer says that.


He no longer denies that members of the Trump campaign did so. So the question is, did he learn something about what Robert Mueller has discovered, that has changed his approach to this. Folks will often to say, well, that just Rudy Giuliani going off again. But as we know, with, for instance, the Stormy Daniels' payments, which the President, of course, initially denied it was Rudy Giuliani who already thought what's going on and mistakenly confirming that the President knew about them, when, in fact, that turned out to be true. Was Rudy Giuliani laying the ground work for a revelation perhaps from the Mueller investigation? That's possible.

The next question then is this, for the President's involvement. You would have to believe that the President's son set up a meeting into Trump Tower in June 2016 without the President's knowledge. You would have to believe that the President's National Security Adviser spoke with the Russian Ambassador during the transition about relaxing sanctions without the President's knowledge. You have to also believe that Paul Manafort, his Campaign Chairman, shared polling data with the Russian without the President's knowledge. It creates a web here where Giuliani is trying to create a separation which you would imagine would be difficult to hold through that time, especially given house small that campaign was.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. How do you read Giuliani's comments?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: Yes. So I think, first of all, it's worth noting that they're plainly wrong, right? He's asserted that the only possible crime here was this - was collusion involving the hack of the DNC, that's just wrong. Robert Mueller has actually indicted people for crimes that are not related to that, including conspiracy to defraud the United States.

And I think it's always significant whenever you the President and his advisers, the legal team moving the goal [ph] post, right? Originally, their story was there was no contact with any foreign entities, whatsoever, then it was, there was no contact with Russian, then there was, well, yes, there was a meeting with Russians but it was about adoptions. And then all of the sudden, it was all, well, there was a meeting with Russians but it was about obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton.

So I do think that what we're seeing here is that as the facts are against them, whether did Giuliani is now shifting to try and argue with narrower legal theories, I think it's notable that he is attempting to sort of carve out or make a distinction between the President personally versus the rest of the campaign. Giuliani has not been terribly careful in the way he speaks in the past so I don't know how much we can credit those those statements.

And I also think it's interesting that Giuliani is really narrowly focusing on a criminal statutory legal theory here. He is someone who said over and over again that a sitting President can't be indicted. And so I do think that it's a little bit of a hint that Giuliani understands that, ultimately, they're going to be making their case to Congress and they're attempting to argue with the Congress potentially that the President hasn't technically violated the law, as Congress may be considers impeachment.

BLITZER: And if that we're not enough, David Swerdick, we also learned today that the President's long time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, that he was paying some IT for thousands and thousands of dollars that try to rig some of these online polls to make it look like support for Donald Trump was much bigger than it actually was during the campaign.

DAVID SWERDICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Look, Cohen has tried to repair his image, but he is a bottom list mug of this kind of sort of dirty tricks that he did on behalf of President Trump or at least has alleged to have done on behalf of President Trump and the Trump campaign. He was flunky and that is going to continue to be around his neck until we learn the whole truth about everything that's happened.

BLITZER: Yes. You wanted to weigh in on that?

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, look at what he admitted to, and he implicated the President in, if not a crime, in a massive dirty trick, faking the polls. Of course, this was a President who claim the post were poll rigged when you have his fixer and lawyer here saying that they paid money to rig the polls and in a way that is the right out of a mob story, a paper bag full of money and boxing glove.

HENNESSEY: But it's also part of the theme of the President's campaign being about tricking the American people into electing the President.

COLLINS: Didn't also shows how much of this - a lot of this, Michael Cohen, since he has pleaded guilty, has tied so many of his action back to the President. But in his story, one of the more bizarre details is that he paid someone to create a Twitter account, Women for Michael Cohen, that's said flattering things about his looks, they praise when he praise the President, it essentially amplified anything good he said or anything good about him.

And today, when he was responded to that story, he said, I simply regret my blind loyalty to the President, but anything I did with regards to the polling story was that this all benefit and direction of Donald J. Trump. And I don't think it benefits the President to have Michael Cohen's looks being praised on Twitter.

It goes to show how caught up Michael Cohen was in this world, not only in assisting the President and trying to help inflate these polls, so the President - he could take those back to the President, someone who pays very close attention to polls, he was also in this for himself.

BLITZER: And if he was willing to do this, a dirty tricks like this, to rig some online poll in order to shows tremendous support for Donald Trump and pay some IT expert to do that, by the way, it's one of the reason CNN does not appreciate these online polls, we're worried about them all of the time, but if he is willing to do this, what else he might be willing to do?

SCIUTTO: Pay off a porn star, right, with a lot of money and break campaign finance law and plead guilty to that crime and implicate the President.


We know that. And, again, this would be another thing where do we believe that the President, then candidate, did not know that his long time lawyer and fixer was paying $50,000 to an outside provider to rig a poll to the President's benefit? It's one more on a long list of things where you've got to believe a lot. You've got to be pretty credulous to imagine these whole series of acts happened without the President's knowledge.

HENNESSEY: Yes. And, look, I think it's worth noting that Michael Cohen was sort of President Trump's least competent sort of fixer here. And so you do have to ask whenever you have to look at people who are incredibly well-versed and confident, people like Paul Manafort, what might they have been up to on his behalf.

BLITZER: The Seth Myer, the late night comedy host, they had some fun with the President last night. Listen to this, and it's very, very cute. Listen to this.


SETH MYERS, LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MYERS: 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 Oval Office, his son's secret meeting with Russians at Trump Tower, his lawyer's secret deal to build the Trump Tower at Moscow, Jeff Session's secret meeting with the Russian Ambassador, Jared Kushner's secret back channel with the Kremlin, Michael Flynn's secret channel with the Kremlin, Erik Prince's secret back channel with the Kremlin, Paul Manafort sharing secret polling with the Russians, [INAUDIBLE] with the Russians, the Russian hackers who helped Trump win, Trump asking the Russian [INAUDIBLE] or Vladimir Putin's smile every time he sees Trump?


SWERDICK: Yes, it is clever. Look, Susan mentioned conspiracy to defraud the United States before, that hasn't been proven. What that clip does prove is that people were playing footsy with the Russians.

BLITZER: What do you think?

SCIUTTO: Listen, I mean, we learn to - in the whole host of things we learned today, we learned that the President repeatedly parroted a talking point given to him by the Russian President on hacking of the election, saying that our hackers are so good that they would never be caught by U.S. Intelligence community, which you know the story. He called David Sanger of The New York Times, he repeated it in the Reuters interview, a poor Anthony Scaramucci repeated it to our colleague, Jake Tapper, that became a statement from the White House regarding Russian interference.

BLITZER: He bought that, Kaitlan. He bought that argument from Putin.

COLLINS: And he said he thought it was a good argument. And that's why you've seen the President so many times when asked about believing them or not just believing them but confronting them, which is what most of the intelligence agencies have said, not only that he did, but they believe it would be the appropriate response. And that's you see time and time again, he said, well, I confronted him about it but he denied it and there's only so many times I can ask him. That's why you saw what we saw in Helsinki. When you witness the President standing next to him on stage and essentially not confronting him at all for it, saying, he didn't see why it would be Russia, and then the next day, trying to clean it up even though there's not really much cleaning that up.

BLITZER: Yeah. Clearly, the President right now is not good, reporting on Bill Barr, the Attorney General nominee, but he was clearly not happy. We saw him earlier today at the Pentagon. He was pretty, pretty angry about what's going on.

Stick around. There's more news. We're following President Trump stoking uncertainty and anxiety over at the Pentagon.

Tonight, top officials are privately speaking up.


[18:47:41] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A day after four Americans were killed in an ISIS attack in Syria, President Trump visited the Pentagon. He briefly paid tribute to the fallen and launched into an angry political rant about border security and his border wall.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, you've noted that the president had already been causing some frayed nerves inside the Pentagon. What's the latest? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's start

with the notion, troops are encouraged to do their civic duty. They are allowed to have political opinions. They are not allowed to engage in partisan activities while serving in their official capacity.

And the concern right now that you hear more and more every day is that President Trump is bringing partisanship to the ranks.


STARR (voice-over): President Trump initially greeted by applause at the Pentagon.


STARR: Then suddenly --

TRUMP: We need security --

STARR: -- a sharp partisan attack from the commander-in-chief on border security.

TRUMP: 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.

STARR: And the room went silent.

TRUMP: The radical left becoming the radical Democrats.

STARR: And it stayed that way.

Donald Trump is fuelling unprecedented uncertainty and anxiety inside the Pentagon. More than a dozen personnel tell CNN they worry he has politicized the institution and that his impulsive decision-making poses risks. One senior military officer told CNN: The amount of time we have to spend making sure our statements and what we say is apolitical is astronomically higher than ever before.

The military cannot publicly criticize the president. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staffs wants to make sure, however, Americans know troops fight for the entire country.

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We do have a strong non- partisan, apolitical ethos in the U.S. military. And I view one of my responsibilities as being the steward of that ethos.

[18:50:00] STARR: Some troops privately expressed skepticism about being sent to the border, feeling they were sent there to fulfill a campaign promise.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think President Trump plays a significant role because he doesn't really make the distinction between a political campaign and governing. STARR: In Iraq, troops brought in hats with the campaign slogan "Make

America Great Again" for the president to sign. The commander said it was okay since the hats were personal items.

A red MAGA hat showed up during the Pentagon speech today though it wasn't clear if a military or civilian person was holding it.

In holiday phone calls to troops, Trump complained about political issues, talking to one coast guard officer --

TRUMP: How are they feeling about trade because, you know, trade to me is a very big subject all over. We've been taken advantage of for many, many years.

STARR: The impact of quick decisions like announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria in a White House video is what has caused national security concerns at the Pentagon.

TRUMP: They're all coming back, and they're coming back now. We won.


STARR: Many people raising the question whether that ISIS attack in northern Syria that killed four Americans yesterday might have happened because ISIS saw vulnerability when the president announced troops were leaving -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's an important point indeed. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

Just ahead, the fight against ISIS raging on despite President Trump's claim that the terrorists have been defeated. We're going to go live to Syria for the very latest.


[18:56:12] BLITZER: In the wake of the bombing that killed four Americans in Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are vowing to step up their fight against ISIS, despite President Trump's order withdrawing American forces and his insistence that ISIS has been defeated.

CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the ground for us in northern Syria. She saw that ISIS is far from defeated as President Trump and Vice President Pence are claiming.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The battle against ISIS is still raging. As the U.S. allied Syrian Democratic Forces known as the SDF push in on the last sliver of territory under the militant's control.

Here, the fighters prepare to move into the village of Al Shafa (ph). Flares turn the dark night into day. Coalition aircraft circled overhead providing crushing air power. By daylight they push further in. This is where ISIS ends, SDF

commander Simko Shikaki tells his men.

Moments later, panic breaks out. ISIS has launched a counter attack. The SDF fire back, al Shafa is quickly liberated.

We travel down the front line as they approach the next village. Our escorts insist on taking an armored vehicle. Even liberated territory is far from secure.

(on camera): These roads are still dangerous especially early in the morning because there are ISIS sleeper cells in the area that come out overnight and they plant roadside bombs.

(voice-over): We stop at a house that the SDF took from ISIS just days earlier. Mortars are fired off at militant positions.

Commander Shikaki takes us up onto the roof to show us the front line.

(on camera): So, the next village over is where the front line is now, and they're hoping that they'll be able to liberate that by tomorrow.

(voice-over): American forces provide assistance from just a few hundred yards away. The commander warns the battle is not over.

The pressure we have militarily is ending, he says, but the fundamental war is eradicating the ideology of ISIS.

That will be a much tougher fight to win. Support for ISIS still lingers here. On the way back, we pass through another recently liberated area.

(on camera): This is what is left now of the town of Hajin. You can see it's been basically completed obliterated. And to many of the people who were living in areas like this and others, this is what liberation looks like, miles and miles of rubble.

(voice-over): Many here fear that buried in the destruction, the seeds are being sewn for another war.


WARD: Once the village of Sousa is taken, Wolf, there are really just a handful of towns and villages that are left under ISIS control. But I think what our experience and our journey down the front lines showed us and what we saw with that explosion yesterday in Manbij, which is hours away from the front lines, is even that victory is vulnerable and tenuous at best -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward on the ground for us in Northern Syria, Clarissa, be careful over there. We will continue to -- continue to wait for your excellent, excellent reporting. Thanks so much for doing what you're doing. We are grateful to you.

And our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.