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Citing Intimidation, Cohen Backs Out of Congressional Testimony; Pelosi Disinvites Trump from State of the Union During Government Shutdown; Five Dead in Florida Bank Shooting; Venezuela Kicks Out U.S. Diplomats; Cohen Backs Out of Congressional Testimony; Pelosi: No State of the Union Until Government Reopens; Source: Trump Considering Executive Action on Border Wall; Interview with Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 23, 2019 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can see it at 10 p.m. Eastern on Monday. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. We actually read them. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:16] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, Cohen backs out. President Trump's former lawyer backs out of congressional testimony. Mr. Cohen -- Michael Cohen claims his family is being threatened by President Trump and current lawyer Rudy Giuliani, as Democrats warn that they won't let the president intimidate witnesses.

Disinvited. After the president challenges House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying he'll show up to deliver his State of the Union speech, Pelosi says there will be no address until the government reopens. The president calls that a great blotch on America. Will he find another venue?

Kicking out Americans. Venezuela's dictator breaks relations with the United States, kicking U.S. diplomats out of the country after President Trump recognizes the opposition leader as Venezuela's legitimate president.

And what's in it for Kim? North Korea says its leader, Kim Jong-un, has received a new letter from President Trump. As Kim prepares for a second summit, can he push the president into granting more successions than he got the first time around?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen postpones his scheduled congressional testimony, claiming threats against his family by President Trump and current lawyer Rudy Giuliani are to blame.

Democratic committee chair -- chairmen say they won't let their witnesses -- their witness be intimidated, insisting Michael Cohen must testify.

Also breaking, the president butts heads with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and loses. After President Trump announced that he'll be in the House chamber to deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Pelosi fired right back, saying the House will not pass the necessary resolution to authorize the speech until the government is reopened.

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

But first, let's get right to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, the president's former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, now postponing his congressional testimony, citing threats to his family by the president and Rudy Giuliani. What's the latest?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Surprising development. Even the Democrats and Republicans who have been anticipating this testimony, have been in touch with Lanny Davis's -- with Michael Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, were surprised. They were not expecting this announcement to come today that this highly- anticipated February 7 hearing would not take place because of Michael Cohen's concerns about threats to his family in the aftermath of President Trump's comments about Michael Cohen's father-in-law, and Rudy Giuliani, from over the weekend, raising issues about Michael Cohen's father-in-law.

Now, this is a statement that came out from Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen's attorney, saying, "Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani as recently as this weekend, as well as Mr. Cohen's continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen's appearance will be postponed to a later date."

Now, there are a lot of questions about what exactly that means. Because Michael Cohen is scheduled to go to prison in March. And will they reach a deal or try to subpoena him, urge him to come before the House Oversight Committee before March, as well as the other committees: the House Intelligence Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee? All three of which want to speak with Michael Cohen.

We had a chance just moments ago to catch up with Elijah Cummings, who's the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and he made clear his witness will not be intimidated.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: He felt that he was threatened by the president of the United States of America and of his lawyer. Let me be clear: that is simply unacceptable in a democracy.

We will get the testimony, as sure as night becomes day and day becomes night. RAJU: What about when he goes to jail? Can you get him if he goes to


CUMMINGS: Of course we can.


RAJU: Saying, "Of course we can get him" if he -- when he goes to jail. A real sign that they're not going to give up, even after March. That the Democrats run the House now; plan to hear from him, either in open session before the House Oversight Committee, which was the expectation for his February hearing, or in a private testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee.

They want to hear about those conversations that occurred in the run- up to the presidential campaign about that Trump Tower Moscow project, which Cohen previously lied to the House Intelligence Committee about how long those discussions took place, as well as that hush-money scheme in which Michael Cohen and federal prosecutors implicated the president in two federal crimes.

The question is can he talk about that in open session? Will he talk about that? Will these committees subpoena him if he decides not to come voluntarily? Cummings would not rule out a subpoena, Wolf.

So this -- this story not going away any time soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Manu, I want you to stand by. I want to bring in our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, who's also working his sources on this.

Evan, did the president intimidate Michael Cohen into not testifying?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, that's what Michael Cohen says was happening, Wolf. And you see that the president has been agitated about this. He has talked about Michael Cohen, talked about his family, talked about his father-in-law. You see Rudy Giuliani has also mentioned it.

But maybe you can decide for yourself. Take a look at the president just for the last few days.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, to keep his father-in-law out. Did he make a deal to keep his wife, who supposedly -- maybe I'm wrong -- but you can check it. Did he keep -- make a deal to keep his wife out of trouble?

(via phone): He should give information, maybe, on his father-in-law, because that's the one that people want to look at. Because where does that money -- that's the money in the family.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PEREZ: And Wolf, and then there was another tweet recently from the president. He was referring to a FOX News segment about Michael Cohen, and he says, quote, "Lying to reduce his jail time. Watch his father-in-law."

And that's -- you know, something that he's doing is sort of referring to this idea that Michael Cohen's father-in-law could be, perhaps, prosecuted for any criminal activity in New York. And so we don't know, obviously, what -- what exactly could happen from this, whether the prosecutors of the Justice Department could pursue what the president is saying.

But today, the president responded to Michael Cohen's excuses for canceling his testimony in this way.


TRUMP: I would say he's been threatened by the truth. He's only been threatened by the truth. And he doesn't want to do that, probably for me or other of his clients.


PEREZ: Look, whatever you make of what the president's comments and Rudy Giuliani's comments, it appears to have worked. Michael Cohen is not going to be testifying. This was going to be a huge day, as you know. It was going to be something that was going to dominate the air waves, and lord know what Michael Cohen would have said during this -- during this testimony.

BLITZER: Could these disparaging congremarks by the president about Cohen's family be considered, potentially, obstruction of justice?

PEREZ: Look, I think the Democrats in Congress view it that way. The issue is what do you do about it? They would have to refer this, perhaps, to the Justice Department. And, you know, I don't think anybody really believes the Justice Department would go after the president for these comments.

But Wolf, it is clear that during the time Michael Cohen was discussing a plea deal with the Justice Department, one of the things that was raised by prosecutors was the possibility that his wife could face some criminal liability as a result of some of the crimes that Michael Cohen was pleading for. As a matter of fact, that's one of the reasons why Michael Cohen viewed the deal as one that he needed to take.

So look, there is some -- some issue here that the Democrats and the president are going to have to fight out politically.

BLITZER: It's going to be a significant moment. All right. Thanks very much, Evan, for that report.

There's more breaking news right now. After President Trump dared the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to disinvite him from the Capitol, Pelosi pulled the plug on the event until the government reopens. But the shutdown stalemate continues, and we're now learning the president is considering taking unilateral action.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Abby Phillip. Abby, what are you hearing?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Sources tell CNN's Dana Bash that the president is once again looking at some form of executive action to begin building the wall at the border. Now, this is an alternative to an executive -- to declaring a national emergency in order to do that. But it would still require taking money from some part of the government and applying it toward the border wall.

This is being urged by conservatives, who tell the president this is a better alternative than to granting what they call amnesty to DREAMers. But the president is considering it, because negotiations right now are virtually nonexistent, though political theater is at an all-time high.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.

PHILLIP (voice-over): The State of the Union coming to a screeching halt today, as House Speaker Pelosi yanks her invitation to President Trump, citing the 33-day-old shutdown.

TRUMP: The state of the Union speech has been cancelled by Nancy Pelosi, because she doesn't want to hear the truth.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MAJORITY LEADER: The government is still shut down. I still make the offer, as we can agree on a date, as the original date was. Which would be -- so that we can (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

TRUMP: We just found out that she's cancelled it. And I think that's a great blotch on the incredible country that we all love.

[17:10:10] PHILLIP: Her response coming hours after Trump told Pelosi, in a sarcasm-laden letter, that he was making plans to be there on time on schedule and, very importantly, on location. Pelosi's move seeming to catch the president off-guard.

TRUMP: I'm not surprised. It's really a shame what's happening with the Democrats. They've become radicalized.

PHILLIPS: As sources tell CNN Trump and Pelosi haven't spoken for two weeks, the president predicting the shutdown won't be over any time soon.

TRUMP: This will go on for a while.

PHILLIP: The White House planned to ratchet up the pressure on Pelosi in the coming days, forcing her to either allow the speech to go forward in the House chamber or cancel it all together.

But aides are increasingly concerned that alternative venues for a presidential address won't pass muster, especially a campaign-style rally that might be dismissed as just another political speech.

REV. BARRY BLACK, SENATE CHAPLAIN: Lord, as some members of our armed forces seek sustenance at charity food pantries and prepare to miss a second payday, something has to give.

PHILLIP: All this as the real-world impacts of the shutdown are piling up.


PHILLIP: Frustrated federal workers and Coast Guard leadership speaking out.

ADMIRAL KARL SCHULTZ, COMMANDANT, U.S. COAST GUARD: I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members.

PHILLIP: One top Trump economic advisor even predicting this stunning result if the shutdown continues another month.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'd get zero growth. I just want to nail this down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We could. All right.

HASSETT: We could. If it extended for the whole quarter. If it extended for the whole quarter, and given the fact that the first quarter tends to be low because of residual seasonality, then you could end up with a number very close to zero in the first quarter.


HASSETT: But then again, the second quarter number would be humongous if the government reopened.

PHILLIP: Meantime, President Trump doubling down on the showmanship, even rolling out a new slogan to take Republicans into the 2020 campaign: "Build a Wall and Crime Will Fall."

As federal workers brace for a second missed paycheck of the shutdown on Friday, he added, "Use it and pray."

All this as new polls show the president may be on shaky ground. Seventy-one percent say the wall isn't worth shutting down the government in a new CBS poll. And the president's approval rating has fallen to 37 percent during the shutdown, according to a CNN average of five recent polls.

Asked how the president justifies keeping the government shut down until he gets his wall, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway focused on semantics.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: And so why would that be the question? Why is that a good question?

PHILLIP (on camera): I'm wondering what is the president's --

CONWAY: I'm asking why you're still saying "wall" when the president has said --

PHILLIP: -- view about whether --

CONWAY: I'm asking why you and the polling questions, respectfully, are still saying "wall" when the president has said, "You can call it whatever you want. Call it steel barriers."

PHILLIP: He calls it a wall himself, Kellyanne.

CONWAY: I was in the situation room when he said to --

PHILLIP: He called it a wall this morning.

CONWAY: When he said to Leader Schumer, Minority Leader Schumer that you can --

PHILLIP: He said -- He said it was a new slogan when he called it a wall this morning.

CONWAY: Yes, that's a great slogan: "Build a Wall and Crime Will Fall." We know that's true.


PHILLIP: And now begins the process of finding, perhaps, an alternative venue for the State of the Union address, a process that has been ongoing at the White House since last week.

Now, White House aides are considering options both inside the White House and also outside of Washington. But they want to maintain the gravitas of a State of the Union address but without the official setting of the U.S. Capitol.

Meanwhile, the fallout continues for President Trump. A new A.P. poll from this afternoon shows President Trump's approval rating dropping to 34 percent, down from 42 percent in December; and 60 percent of Americans blame him for the shutdown, Wolf.

BLITZER: Abby Phillip, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California. She's a member of the Oversight, Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. She's pretty busy up there on Capitol Hill.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: I want to quickly begin with the news that Michael Cohen decided to postpone, at a minimum, his public testimony in front of the -- your committee, the House Oversight Committee, citing alleged threats to his family made by the president and the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. First of all, how did you learn about this decision?

SPEIER: I learned about it just like everyone else: through the media. It's a shocking disclosure by Michael Cohen. And it is -- I feel like I'm in the middle of a "Godfather" movie, just the way the president is acting now. He is witness tampering, pure and simple. That is a crime, and you cannot tamper with witnesses who are about to appear before the Congress of the United States. If all of this is, indeed, true, we've got yet another article that could be posed in an impeachment trial.

BLITZER: Well, you think Robert Mueller should open a new investigation into witness tampering? I asked the question because, in the letter that he received for what he's allowed to do, among other things, in addition to any collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, he's also allowed to investigate, quote, "perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence and intimidation of witnesses."

[17:15:22] SPEIER: Well, it certainly falls into that last category. And it is remarkable to me that the president of the United States would lash out in a manner that he has. Oftentimes when people do that, it's -- they're lashing out because they have something to hide. And he clearly does not want to have Michael Cohen testify. He's trying to silence him.

Michael Cohen worked for Donald Trump for 10 years. And I'm sure has a lot to tell us.

BLITZER: So should Mueller open a new investigation into the president and Rudy Giuliani on the alleged charge of witness tampering?

SPEIER: I certainly would support it.

BLITZER: Do you know of any specific threats that were made against Michael Cohen or his family, beyond what we've seen publicly from the president and his lawyer?

SPEIER: No, I don't know of any outside of what we've been told. But if you go back to his December tweet, it was very threatening. And again, this is -- there's nothing presidential about what Donald Trump is doing. And he clearly is trying to send a very strong message to Michael Cohen in an attempt to silence him.

BLITZER: Are you optimistic, Congresswoman, that you'll be able to find another time for Cohen to testify before he heads to prison in early March for a three-year sentence?

SPEIER: I am confident that the Congress of the United States will have an opportunity to have Michael Cohen come before it and testify. It is critical to our investigation.

BLITZER: Will you move to subpoena Cohen if he doesn't voluntarily want to come back? SPEIER: I think we're going to leave that to the chairmen of the two committees at this point.

BLITZER: Would you be open to Cohen testifying in a private, closed- door session, instead of publicly, as originally was planned?

SPEIER: I would support that. But again, the public has a right to know. And I would ideally want to have him be able to testify in open session.

BLITZER: If and when he does appear and testify before your committee, will you press him for specifics on these threats to his family?

SPEIER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Because Cohen's testimony would have been fairly limited. Because he wouldn't have been able to talk about matters still under investigation by Mueller and his team. How do you respond to the criticism from some of your Republican colleagues that his testimony would have simply been a political side show orchestrated by the Democrats?

SPEIER: There's not a political side show when you have the attorney for Donald Trump for over ten years, who evidently was deeply involved with efforts to silence two porn stars in the -- in the election, in an effort to prevent them from coming forward.

I'm sure there are many more stories. This was just not a one-off. This is a person who, on a typical day, can do any number of things, I think, that may violate the law.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, one porn star. One "Playboy" Playmate.

SPEIER: Excuse me. You're right.

BLITZER: Just to be specific on that point.

Let's turn, while I have you, Congresswoman, to the ongoing government shutdown. Was it appropriate for the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to use the president's State of the Union address as a bargaining chip, in effect, during these negotiations?

SPEIER: You know, the president is using almost a million federal employees as bargaining chips. I was with the admiral from the Coast Guard this afternoon, who was very upset about what is taking place and is attempting to protect and defend all of his Coast Guardsmen.

So I would say that we don't have a right to have a State of the Union address when the state of the union is in such disarray. So I support the speaker, and I've always thought that the State of the Union address should not take place while the government is shut down.

BLITZER: Your committee, the House Oversight Committee, also announced today that you'll be investigating how the White House has handled security clearances for a whole bunch of senior officials. And we're showing our viewers some of them, including the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner; his national security advisor, John Bolton, among others.

What are you going to be digging into? What's your concern?

SPEIER: Well, I will -- we haven't actually organized to the point of sitting down as a committee. So Elijah Cummings is really in the position to answer that question, Wolf.

But what I would say, there is so much that has gone on in the last two years, among the many secretaries of the various departments, that's shown that they have a total disregard to the ethics that one has to bring to this job, coupled with any other irregularities that have gone on in the White House. So there will be plenty of work for us to do, for sure.

[17:20:01] BLITZER: You'll be busy. I know that. Congresswoman Speier, thanks so much for joining us.

SPEIER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, we have more breaking news. The Democratic Committee chairmen are warning they won't let the president intimidate their witnesses. Will they get Michael Cohen to agree to testify?

And this round goes to Pelosi. After the House speaker basically disinvites the president from the U.S. Capitol, what will he do about his State of the Union address?


BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking news stories, including President Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, now backing out of next month's highly-anticipated congressional testimony, blaming threats against his family from President Trump and from Rudy Giuliani.

Let's bring in our political and legal analysts and discuss.

Susan Hennessey, listen to what the president and Rudy Giuliani have recently said about Cohen and his family.


[17:25:08] TRUMP: Did he make a deal to keep his father-in-law out? Did he make a deal to keep his wife, who supposedly -- maybe I'm wrong, but you can check it. Did he keep -- make a deal to keep his wife out of trouble?

(via phone): He should give information, maybe, on his father-in-law, because that's the one that people want to look at. Because where does that money -- that's the money in the family.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: What is his father-in-law's name?

TRUMP: I don't know, but you'll find out, and you'll look into it, because nobody knows what's going on over there.

TAPPER: So it's OK to go after the father-in-law?

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Now -- of course it is, if the father-in-law is a criminal.

Well, he comes from the Ukraine. The reason that's important is he may have ties to something called organized crime.

When somebody testifies against your client, you go out and you look at what's wrong with them.


BLITZER: Does that language, in your mind, Susan -- you're a lawyer -- constitute witness intimidation?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I think it's clear that the intention -- there's no purpose to doing this, other than harassing and intimidating Michael Cohen and sort of threatening his family as retaliation for Cohen being willing to testify against the president.

Before we even sort of discuss the illegality or possible illegality, that's really unacceptable for the president of the United States to be singling out a United States citizen in retaliation for their family members. Whenever people talk about the rule of law, that's what they're talking about.

Now, the actual law says that anyone who threatens or intimidates someone with the intention of causing them to withhold their testimony. So like so many questions related to President Trump's conduct, the real sort of legal question here hinges on the president's mental state. What did he intend whenever he made these comments, not whether or not Cohen was actually intimidated or not, as he says that he was.

That said, I don't think there's really anything necessarily different than if Trump had sent a private message to Cohen, saying, "I hope nothing bad happens to your family." And so I do think that this is the kind of sort of question that might become part of an eventual impeachment hearing.

BLITZER: Intimidation of witnesses is something Mueller, potentially, could open up a new round of investigations. Do you think he should?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: No, I don't think so for a simple reason. It's a little late, Mr. President. Cohen has already been in front of the special counsel for who knows how long, and there's a couple of questions you'd have if you're the special counsel.

No. 1, is Mr. Cohen truthful and honest when he talks to you about what he knows going back years? And I suspect he's laid a bunch of stuff on the table.

Second, and I think equally significant, does he pass over everything he has in terms of things like computer files and documents?

So the special counsel's question, I think, is this might be intimidating, but if the witness has already passed everything over and he's not intimidated about passing that stuff over, I think this is just TV. It's not going to make a difference.

BLITZER: Gloria, you know, the Democrats, they really want to hear from Cohen in this open session of the Oversight Committee. Republicans, not so much.

Do you think the Democratic leadership now is going to go ahead and subpoena Cohen and force him, before he begins his prison sentence in early March, to appear before the committee?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you heard Chairman Cummings, and as Manu said earlier, it's not completely clear what they want to do.

But if you -- if you read the transcript of what Cummings said, he -- he was asked, "How do you prevent the same situation from happening with other witnesses down the road?"

And he said, "By making sure we get him here today and get him as scheduled."

In other words, Cummings believes that there's a larger issue here for whistleblowers, for people -- other people who may want to testify and who are being intimidated.

I -- I might also add here, Wolf, that in a way, you can really say that Rudy Giuliani and the president succeeded today, because what they wanted was for Cohen to postpone, delay or cancel his testimony, or try to cancel it. And that is exactly what he did.

So, you know, I don't think it was, you know, just by chance that Donald Trump was out there mentioning his father-in-law, that they were mentioning his wife. They were trying to intimidate him, and Michael Cohen is clearly afraid for his family; and that is what occurred today.

So round one goes to them, unless the committee can figure out a way to make sure Michael Cohen is there.

BLITZER: That's a very good point, very important point.

And Nia, the Republicans always said this was simply a side show the Democrats were doing, because Cohen was going to be limited into subjects he could actually discuss in open session.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he wasn't going to be able to talk about anything that's under investigation right now. He was just really going to be limited to talking about, almost anecdotally, what it was like to work for the president; what it was like to, you know, the president also after he got into the White House. But it wouldn't be a side show, right? And the president clearly

knows that it wouldn't be a side show. That's why he and his lawyer were so invested in preventing this from happening. It looks like they have done that.

You know, I think there would be a lot of eyeballs on this, to hear Michael Cohen, who has worked for Donald Trump for over a decade and has been involved in so many business dealings with this president and all sorts of fingers. Remember, he was called the president's fixer. I think one question would be, "So what were you fixing for the president for all those many, many years?"

[17:30:14] We'll see if this happens. We'll see how they go forward with this. But it would certainly catch a lot of attention to hear from this man publicly in such a unique and long way. Right?

I mean, this hearing would probably be hours and hours with Democrats and Republicans questioning him. We'll see if it ever happens.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It would be -- have live coverage.


BLITZER: There's no doubt about that.

Gloria, the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, she clearly is not backing down, disinviting the president from delivering his State of the Union address, originally scheduled for next Tuesday before a joint session to the House and Senate. And today she made it clear she's not backing down until the government is reopened.

Listen to how the president responded.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The State of the Union speech has been canceled by Nancy Pelosi, because she doesn't want to hear the truth. She doesn't want the American public to hear what's going on. And she's afraid of the truth.

And the super-left Democrats, the radical Democrats, what's going on in that party is shocking. I know many people that were Democrats, and they're switching over and they're switching over quickly. So I hope they know what they are doing for their party. So far they haven't.


BLITZER: So he thinks it's hurting the Democrats. What do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: "I know many people who are switching over quickly." That's kind of -- reminds me of some campaign refrains.

I think the president is clearly frustrated. He looks at the polls very closely, as you know. Our recent poll shows that 71 percent of the American public believe that a border wall, whatever you want to call it, is not worth the shutdown. So he's not bargaining from a position of strength here. And Pelosi just called his bluff.

And what we've got here is that the base of each party is dug in. The Democrats don't want her to cave, and the Republicans don't want him to cave.

Although I will add that conservatives are beginning to fray a little bit. That's why the president met with them today, because they don't like his latest proposition for some conclusion to all of this. And Ann Coulter tweeted, "We voted -- you know, we voted for Donald Trump, but we got Jeb Bush." They don't like what he proposed as, you know, temporarily helping DREAMers.

So he may be a little worried about that base crumbling. And Nancy Pelosi is -- is standing firm.

BLITZER: Yes. And look at the polls, Nia, the CNN polls of polls. The average of the reliable polls that we have, the president's job approval number, only 37 percent. That's pretty pitiful. Disapprove, 57 percent.

HENDERSON: Yes. And this obviously hasn't helped. And if you look at some of the polls, too, CBS had a poll. It also shows that Republicans aren't necessarily solidly behind this president. Something like a third of them disagree with this kind of trade-off with the wall with the shutdown of the government.

So it's hard to see how the president gets out of this. There were all sorts of speculation about, well, maybe you do a national emergency. Maybe at some point, there'd be an executive order, somehow. You know, ordering the building of the wall.

But what you have had all along was Nancy Pelosi, a stiff spine here. Hasn't budged in terms of, you open up the government and then you will negotiate. And we saw her today basically say, "You're not invited, again, to give this State of the Union address."

And we'll see what the president does, whether he delivers it in the Oval Office or somewhere else.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following. More on the House Democrats' attempt to get testimony from the president's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, who backed out of next month's scheduled appearance, blaming threats from the president and from Rudy Giuliani on his family.

Also breaking, a mass shooting and hostage situation in a Florida bank leaves at least five people dead. Stand by for the latest.


[17:38:38] BLITZER: There's breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now from central Florida. At least five people are dead tonight after a shooting and hostage stand-off at a Sun Trust Bank in Sebring, Florida. The alleged gunman has been captured alive. The incidents started at about 12:30 this afternoon. Police say the

gunman called and said he'd fired shots inside the bank. He barricaded himself inside and finally was captured by a SWAT team. The identities of the victims have not yet been released. We'll update you when we get more information.

Also breaking right now, Venezuela's leader, Nicolas Maduro, has broken relations with the United States, kicking out U.S. diplomats from the country, after President Trump recognized the opposition leader as Venezuela's legitimate president.

Let's go to our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, tell our viewers what you're learning.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Venezuela has hit a crisis level. The worst economic crisis in that country's history. We've seen it nose dive away from democracy and into economic ruin over the last year and a half.

So today President Trump took the extraordinary step, something he's been considering for days, something multiple lawmakers have urged him to do, to recognize Venezuela's democratically-elected president of the national assembly, a man named Juan Guaido, as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

[17:40:00] So prior recognized president, Nicolas Maduro, who was just inaugurated to a second six-year term, responded immediately, angrily and harshly saying in a speech, "the imperial government of the United States is leading a coup attempt against us in order to install a puppet presidency that they can control in Venezuela. I've decided to break all political and diplomatic relations with the U.S. Get out. Leave Venezuela. We have our dignity, dammit."

So he is ordering all U.S. diplomats to leave Venezuela in 72 hours. We have been waiting for some word from the State Department or from the White House on how do you respond to this? Because the U.S. no longer recognizes Maduro as president.

A senior administration official just said that order is meaningless. So barring any threats to their physical safety, the U.S. intends to take no action on that order to expel U.S. diplomats, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's pretty serious development. Michelle, I want you to standby.

Joining us right now, the farmer director of national intelligence, CNN national security analyst, James Clapper.

Thanks so much for joining us. Are American diplomats and other Americans who may be in Venezuela right now in serious danger?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think so, Wolf. It's obvious that Maduro is quite upset about this.

And if we are not going to agree to take out our diplomats, I think that does put them at some risk. And I'm assuming the appropriate planning has been done to minimize the profile and vulnerability of not only our official representation, representatives there, but the nonofficial population of U.S. people in Venezuela.

BLITZER: So what kind of advanced planning? Military operations, if necessary, to save and rescue Americans? I assume that's in the planning stage, at minimum.

CLAPPER: Mainly that they have done the homework on alerting a system, a communications system with people, staying in place with the residence and taking other safety -- prudent safety measures to lower the profile and the visibility of Americans. That's what I meant.

BLITZER: Do you fear -- do you fear this could be a prelude to a military conflict between the U.S. and Venezuela?

CLAPPER: Well, I certainly hope not. And I trust that the contingency planning has been done, if for nothing else, then if a rescue has -- some sort of rescue operation has to be mounted. I don't envision a full-fledged invasion of Venezuela. At least, I hope that's not what's contemplated here.

BLITZER: Let's hope those diplomats, American diplomats, their families and others, other Americans who are there are going to be OK.

I want to quickly shift gears. As you know, yesterday the new national intelligence strategy document was released. And among other things, and you know this well because you served as the director of national intelligence from 2010 to 2017. The new assessment reads, in part -- and I'll put it up on the screen -- "Traditional adversaries will continue attempts to gain and assert influence, taking advantage of changing conditions in the international environment. Russian efforts to increase its influence and authority are likely to continue and may conflict with U.S. goals and priorities in multiple regions."

Do you believe Russia is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than it was when you were director of national intelligence?

CLAPPER: I do. And it became a growing threat for me, compared to when I began my time as DNI in 2010 and when I left in 2017. And I think on the -- certainly, on the short-term basis, Russia poses a profound threat to the United States.

BLITZER: And the president, are you worried the president continues to say nice things about Russia?

CLAPPER: Well, that's the -- points out the kind of the -- in this national intelligence strategy, another manifestation of the schizophrenia between the president and the rest of the administration, and -- which is, that's not good to be -- to be inconsistent.

But the national intelligence strategy appropriately, I think, recognizes peer competitors, China and -- Russia and China, as well, which is quite important and perhaps a little less emphasis on counterterrorism. BLITZER: We'll see what the president has to say about his own

administration's national -- national intelligence strategy document. Thanks so much for coming in.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have more on the breaking news, including Michael Cohen's attempt to back out of testifying before Congress next month, blaming threats from President Trump.

Also breaking, North Korea hailing a new personal letter from President Trump to Kim Jong-un.