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Pelosi Invites Trump to Deliver State of the Union; White House Won't Rule Out Pardon for Stone; Interview with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI); Matt Whitaker: Mueller Investigation 'Close to Being Completed'; Kamala Harris to Meet with Iowa Voters. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired January 28, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.
[17:00:07] Don't miss it tonight. I'll be moderating the live town hall right here in Des Moines, Iowa, with Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris. It starts 10 p.m. Eastern on CNN.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Wall for nothing. After a 35-day shutdown battle over a border wall, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just invited President Trump to deliver his on again, off again State of the Union address a week from tomorrow in the House chamber.
The White House says President Trump doesn't want to go through another shutdown. At the end of his holdout, the president got nothing and now says the odds that Republicans and Democrats will strike a deal are less than 50/50.
No Stone unturned. Besides raiding his homes, the FBI searches Roger Stone's storage unit. As the Trump pally heads to Washington for his arraignment on charges stemming from the Russian probe. Will Stone stand by his refusal to make a deal with Robert Mueller?
Getting in. Senator Kamala Harris is the latest Democrat to jump into the 2020 race and will meet with Iowa voters and will be at tonight's CNN town hall.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says he may launch and an independent run for president. Why does that have Democrats worried?
And rift with Putin? As Russia's president backs the embattled Maduro regime in Venezuela and President Trump recognizes the opposition leader and imposes sanctions, will Venezuela become the first real test of the Putin/Trump romance?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news, House Speaker Pelosi has just invited President Trump to deliver his State of the Union address a week later than originally scheduled. It's now scheduled for next Tuesday in the House chamber. The speech fell victim to the 35-day shutdown, showdown between the
speaker and the president. And White House press secretary Sarah Sanders took the lectern just now for the first time in some six weeks to say the president does not want to go through another government shutdown. But -- but the president himself tells "The Wall Street Journal" that it is certainly an option.
And just a day after officially launching her 2020 presidential run, Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California is in the early caucus state of Iowa, where she'll meet voters tonight in a CNN town hall. That's five hours from now at 10 p.m. Eastern.
I'll speak with Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are standing by with full coverage.
Let's begin with the breaking news. Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is standing by.
Jim, the White House receives an invitation from the Hill and sends out a tough message to Venezuela.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be moving closer to getting a State of the Union address back on the calendar.
The speaker just re-invited the president back to the Capitol one week from tomorrow. No word just yet as to whether the White House and the president have accepted that offer.
The White house, meanwhile, just wrapped up its first briefing, as you said, in more than a month as top administration officials announced new sanctions on Venezuela, aimed at prodding that country's embattled leader, Nicolas Maduro, to step aside.
But the White House has its hands full these days as aids are scrambling to prevent yet another government shutdown.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have to have a wall.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It's as if President Trump has been hiding in a cave. He's largely been out of sight ever since he backed down in a standoff with Democrats over his quest for a border wall. And with just 18 days and counting before yet another government shutdown, the president doesn't sound optimistic, telling "The Wall Street Journal" the odds of reaching a deal to prevent another lapse in funding are less than 50/50. Which is why top White House officials are warning the president is declared to prepare a national emergency so he can try to go around Congress.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What I do know is if they don't come back with a deal, that means Democrats get virtually nothing. That will make the president and force him to have to take executive action.
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's still better, John, to get it through legislation. That's the right way to do it. But at the end of the day, the president is going to secure the border, one way or the other.
ACOSTA: Despite days of complaints from conservative allies that Mr. Trump was taken to the wood shed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi --
LOU DOBBS, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK HOST: She has just whipped the president of the United States.
ACOSTA: -- the White House is trying to insist the president somehow won the stalemate.
SANDERS: Because the negotiations are still ongoing, and I would argue that conservatives that actually have influence have supported the president throughout this process. This is a simple fix. It's easy for Democrats to sit down and come to an agreement and work with us to get border security.
ACOSTA: Democrats are already sounding worried about the prospects of reaching an agreement with the president.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), MARYLAND: I think the 35-day-long federal shutdown was completely senseless. I think for the president to take us back into another shutdown would be senseless. But the point of compromise is to not begin by saying "Absolute no" at this end or this end. It was the president who caused this shutdown by demanding 5.7 billion for a wall.
[17:05:09] ACOSTA: The shutdown appears to have done some political damage the president, with the latest CNN poll of polls showing less than 40 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Trump's job performance.
The Russia investigation likely isn't helping, with his longtime adviser Roger Stone sending mixed messages about whether he might cut a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller after the Nixon-era dirty trickster was indicted last week. Stone telling ABC News Sunday --
ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: I would certainly testify honestly. I'd also testify honestly about any other matter, including any communications with the president.
ACOSTA: And then today, just 24 hours later.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you willing to cut a deal with Mueller to avoid the case going to trialpa?
STONE: I don't answer hypothetical questions. I have no intention of doing so, however.
ACOSTA: As he has with other targets of the Russia probe, the president is downplaying his relationship with his close friend, tweeting over the weekend that "Stone didn't even work for me anywhere near the election." Another friend of the president's, former New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie, is out with a new book, claiming that that Mr. Trump thought he had put an end to the Russia investigation when he fired former national security advisor Michael Flynn, an assessment shared by son- in-law Jared Kushner.
Christie writes he told the president, "'Sir,' I said, 'This Russia thing is far from over.'" The president responded, "What do you mean? Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It's over."
Kushner added, "That's right. Firing Flynn ends the whole Russia thing."
The White House was asked whether the Trump presidency was somehow endangered by the growing number of aides and associates ensnared in the Russia investigation.
(on camera): Roger Stone last week, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn. Are you concerned, is the president concerned that, as more and more of his associates, former aides, are brought into this investigation, are indicted, plead guilty in this investigation, that this presidency is in danger?
SANDERS: Not at all. In fact, I think nothing could be further from the truth. The more that this goes on, the more and more we see that none of these things have anything to do with the president.
ACOSTA: One thing we should also note. Press secretary Sarah Sanders did not really knock down the idea of a presidential pardon for Roger Stone, meaning that remains a live option for Mr. Trump.
And today's White House briefing was the first in 41 days. How long was that? It was so long, we never had one during what was the longest government shutdown in American history.
And as for the shutdown, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that came at a cost of $11 billion to the U.S. economy. That's more than what the president was demanding for his border wall. But not surprisingly, Wolf, White House officials at that briefing earlier today were disputing those numbers coming out of Congress.
BLITZER: Not surprisingly at all. All right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
Just days after longtime Trump ally Roger Stone was indicted in Mueller's Russia probe and arrested in an FBI raid, the White House won't, as we just heard, flatly rule out a pardon for Stone or say whether the president had any interaction with him about WikiLeaks.
Let's bring in our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
Evan, is Stone, first of all, signaling for a pardon? EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think what
Roger Stone is doing is making sure that he stays in the good graces of the president for just that reason. I think Roger Stone says he has no plans to turn on the president. He says there's nothing to turn on the president about, and he's keeping to that story.
So even though, obviously, you -- we've seen many other people, including Paul Manafort, who have gotten into this -- into these legal problems because of the Russia investigation, Roger Stone is obviously one of -- one of the crucial figures in this investigation. And you can bet that, if they have any pardons that are going to be doled out he would be -- his name would be right at the top of the list.
BLITZER: What should we expect tomorrow when Stone is formally arraigned at a D.C. federal court?
PEREZ: Well, he's going to hear the charges that are -- this is the first time he's appearing here before a D.C. magistrate here in Washington, where he would presumably go on trial.
Now, we don't know whether Roger Stone, as you've seen mixed messages from him over the last couple of days -- he says he would cooperate with the Mueller investigation, and then he -- this morning, he seemed to say that he has nothing -- no plans to cooperate.
So I think we're going to hear a little bit more from Roger, as Roger tends to do. He's going to have his chance at the cameras tomorrow here at the D.C. court. And we'll see how long this show can go on.
Because Wolf, you know these judges here in D.C. are not really big fans of defendants holding press conferences and so on. So let's see how long this show goes on from Roger Stone.
BLITZER: Yes. That's a very important point.
We know the FBI raided his home, Stone's homes. And now we've learned they've also raided his storage facility in Florida. What does that tell you?
PEREZ: Well, it really -- it shows you how thorough they're being, as you said, leaving no stone unturned to try to get ahold of any records there are.
Now, we know, Wolf, that as recently as just, you know, in the fall the Mueller team had reached out to the president's team to try to get any records of Roger Stone visiting Trump Tower. Phone records.
So we know that, even in the last few months, they've been trying to gather up records of any contacts between Roger Stone, people in the campaign and the president himself.
[17:10:11] So is there something in that -- in that storage facility that may point to some of those unanswered question that we all have, the prosecutors may still have? I think that's the key there.
BLITZER: That's a good point, as well. All right. Thanks very much, Evan, for that.
Joining us now Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She's a member of both the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Certainly.
BLITZER: So let's begin with the breaking news. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has now formally invited President Trump to deliver his State of the Union address on February 5, a week from tomorrow. That's a week later than originally scheduled.
Do you think it was a good idea for the speaker to make that offer while the president is still threatening to shut down the government again if lawmakers can't come up with a border security deal?
HIRONO: She made her offer. I think she's being very gracious. I personally would have preferred that he give his State of the Union remarks after we keep government running, at least until the end of the fiscal year. I certainly support Nancy in what she does.
BLITZER: Are you surprised that she made this -- this invitation, as she did?
HIRONO: I think she probably doesn't want this particular aspect of the whole terrible shutdown to continue to be a focus. We should be focusing now on how to make sure that government keeps running until the end of the fiscal year, and I hope that the committee, the joint committee, will be able to come up with a border security proposal that we can support.
And the only person who keeps talking about a wall, basically, is the president. So again, I reiterate that, if this joint committee can come up with good border security, which Democrats and Republicans support, that we should pass the legislation; and the president can veto it, if that's what he wants to do. And we should override his veto.
BLITZER: Would you support any bill that includes funding for a border wall with Mexico?
HIRONO: I support and I have supported proposals that would ensure border security. And part of that includes fixing the walls that are -- are needing to be fixed, et cetera.
But when we talk about border security, it means much more than what's going on with the border. It, of course, includes what's happening in our ports, which is where most of the drugs come in. So it has to be much more of a total aspect of how to ensure our security at our borders and ports, not just totally focusing on the wall in some sort of -- I don't know.
The president really is so adamant about it that I'm afraid that he will contemplate another shutdown. In fact, it's appalling that, after 35 days of tremendous harm to not just the federal employees but all the contractors, as well as, by the way, the $11 billion lost to our national economy, which will not be recovered, it's appalling that he still thinks that maybe we can have another shutdown so he can get his vanity wall.
BLITZER: We've got some breaking news, Senator. And I want to inform you and our viewers of what's going on. It involves the Russia investigation.
And we're just now learning that the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, has just said that he's been fully briefed on the Mueller investigation, and the investigation, in his words -- and I'm quoting now -- "is close to being completed." Close to being completed. Your reaction?
HIRONO: Well, for one thing, I don't think that Whitaker should even be that acting attorney general. I'm part of a lawsuit to -- to say that he should have been confirmed. So he is a total Trump supporter. And I am very cautious about anything that he has to say.
This just points out how important it is for the Mueller investigation to proceed. And by the way, the next person who's coming up for attorney general is Barr, who has said that he doesn't think that Mueller should be looking into any obstruction of justice claims against the president.
So in the coming attorney general, we have somebody else who is looking, it seems to me, to limit the Mueller investigation. So once again, Mitch Miller [SIC] -- Mitch Miller [SIC] -- Mitch McConnell should bring the bill that would protect Mueller investigation to the floor of the Senate.
BLITZER: Senator -- Senator I want you to stand by for a moment. Our justice correspondent, Laura Jarrett, was at this briefing with the acting attorney general.
So be precise, Laura. Tell our viewers about the breaking news. Tell ours viewers what he said, because he's giving the first really public indication that this Mueller investigation is getting close to an end.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Some news out of the Justice Department today at a completely different case, related to Huawei indictments against that big tech firm. The acting attorney general revealed that the special counsel is close to being completed with his investigation, and he also said that he has been fully briefed on the investigation. The first indication that we really received today about what has happened since he has overseen the investigation as the acting attorney general, since early November when Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ousted, as of course, we all remember, the day after the election.
[17:15:18] But we haven't known exactly what Whitaker's role has been except for the formal role overseeing the investigation. Obviously, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, is the man we all think of as being in charge, managing the investigation day-to-day.
But Whitaker did confirm today, Wolf, that he has been fully briefed on the investigation and said that he looks forward to seeing a report from Mueller and that it is close to being completed. He did not go any further than that when pressed, obviously, but he held all of our attention at those words, Wolf, the first we've heard of it.
BLITZER: I have -- I think you probably have it, as well. Let me read it to our viewers. The precise words -- this is very significant. And Senator Hirono is standing by. Let me read to you what the acting attorney general said: "I've been fully briefed on the investigation. I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report. I really am not going to talk about open ongoing investigations otherwise, but sort of -- but sort of the statements I made were as a private citizen, only with publicly available information. And I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed through the various means we have. But right now, the investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible."
Tell our viewers, Laura, why he decided to speak publicly on the state of the Mueller investigation.
JARRETT: Well, it's interesting, Wolf. We weren't sure exactly what he would say. This is the first we have heard from Whitaker since he assumed the role of acting attorney general. And we weren't sure he was actually going to take questions at all. As usually -- sometimes Justice Department officials in -- at least in the past couple months have gotten up there and departed shortly after.
But he stayed for a while taking questions on a variety of issues, did not shy away from anything related to the Mueller investigation.
But the real question is whether it's even going to be up to him, as of course, the president has nominated Bill Barr to be the permanent attorney general. And he is scheduled for a vote later -- early next month, I should say, in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
So this may not be up to Whitaker at all, what happens with the Mueller investigation. But for now, he does still technically oversee it. So anything, of course, that he says about it or as he weighs in on it is certainly significant.
BLITZER: Certainly is significant, because he says he has been briefed on the state of the Mueller investigation, and once again, he says it's close to being completed.
Stand by. I know you're getting more information, Laura. I want to go back to Senator Mazie Hirono right now.
You heard the precise statement that the acting attorney general made.
BLITZER: I'll give you a chance to respond.
HIRONO: Well, this is an administration, starting with the president, who has continued to call the Mueller investigation a witch hunt. And he -- the president handpicked Whitaker because of his comments about the Mueller investigation that comported with the president's.
So I would hesitate to characterize what Whitaker is saying in anything other than we shall see.
At the same time, I know that in Barr, he's got another person who says that, "Well, even if the Mueller report is issued, that we're not so sure that that is going to be made public." This is candidate Barr speaking. So it remains to be seen.
What I care about and what so many of us care about is that there be no effort to limit the Mueller investigation at all. And I certainly hope that in the briefing that Whitaker got, that he did not in any way indicate to Mueller that the investigation should come to a close.
BLITZER: It's interesting. Two of your colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Blumenthal, a Democrat, Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, the former the immediate past chairman of the Judiciary Committee, they just release a bipartisan bill that would require the Mueller report to be made public. I assume you support that legislation.
HIRONO: Yes, I do. Yes, I do.
BLITZER: Do you think it has any chance of passing? And do you think if the president were to veto it, that you guys could override that veto with 67 senators?
HIRONO: I certainly hope so. And that would be the optimal thing. But of course, optimal things are not happening around here. And the fact that McConnell still has not brought the protect the Mueller investigation bill to the floor gives me pause. But nonetheless, I'm glad that, in a bipartisan way, that we are asking for the Mueller report to be made public. Something that Barr did not commit to, by the way, very significantly.
BLITZER: Have we decided whether or not you'll vote to confirm Barr as the next attorney general?
HIRONO: For all the reasons that I had been articulating over the last several weeks about Barr, you know he auditioned for this job. And when he testified I believe that he was testifying for an audience of one, meaning President Trump. He made sure that he would be very supportive of the president.
In fact, he even said, "Well, I think I could understand why the president would think that it is a witch hunt. Maybe he knows some things that we don't know."
[17:20:08] Well, the underlying investigation has to do with the Russian interference with our elections, which all of our intel communities have said happened. So I don't know why the -- why Barr would think that the president has some basis for continuing to call it a witch hunt.
So he's not making the Mueller report public. And he certainly didn't reassure us that he would follow the ethics guidelines about recusing himself, if that's what the -- the ethics people in the Justice Department recommend -- recommended to him.
BLITZER: So does that mean you're going to vote against this confirmation?
HIRONO: So -- I will. Yes. I was getting to it. I will not be supporting him.
BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.
Up next, Senator Kamala Harris is the latest Democrat to enter the already crowded 2020 field. She'll meet Iowa voters just hours from now in a live CNN town hall.
And as longtime Trump associate Roger Stone prepares for tomorrow's arraignment on charges stemming from from the Russia probe, is the White House already hedging on a pardon?
[17:25:28] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, just now telling reporters he's been fully briefed on the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, probe. And Whitaker says the investigation is now close to being completed.
This comes as Senator Kamala Harris of California is the latest to join a fast-growing Democratic 2020 field. Harris is already making key hires in Iowa, will appear in a CNN town hall there later tonight, 10 p.m. Eastern.
Let's go to Iowa. Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is in Des Moines for us.
Jeff, Senator Harris's launch event was the first really big rally of this, the 2020 presidential campaign, which clearly is already underway. How significant was it in terms of the number of people who attended and her messaging?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening.
It was clear that Senator Harris has given a lot of thought to this presidential campaign. She's certainly given a lot of thought to her message and her vision.
While she did not mention the president by name, he was the subtext of virtually everything she said at that rally yesterday in her hometown of Oakland, California.
It was the biggest crowd that we have seen for a presidential announcement. Her campaign said some 20,000 people there or so. But Wolf, one word she said over and over and over again was "truth."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In this moment, we must all speak truth about what is happening. We must seek truth, speak truth and fight for the truth. So let's speak some truth. Shall we?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So she was there talking about speaking the truth, drawing a contrast, an implicit contrast with the president in her view, of course. Also rolling out a litany of liberal and progressive policies, as many others in the Democratic field are, as well.
juWolf, this is shaping up to be one of the largest and, certainly, the most diverse Democratic fields in the recent party history.
She will be taking questions here on this stage behind me on the campus of Drake University later this evening at our first CNN town hall. But it will be Iowa voters, Wolf, asking those questions. One year from the end of this week, that's when the Iowa caucuses are scheduled to open up this presidential campaign.
So Wolf, all of this will be going on as, of course, President Trump also vowing to run for reelection back in Washington.
BLITZER: Yes. Let's not forget the first Democratic presidential debate is only a few months away in June of this year, then a second Democratic presidential debate in July.
BLITZER: So this 2020 campaign is getting ready to heat up dramatically.
As part of that, we also heard that the former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, said he's considering running for president but not as a Democrat; as an independent. How concerned are Democrats -- and you're speaking to a lot of them -- that this will simply dilute the opposition to President Trump?
ZELENY: Wolf, speaking to Iowa Democrats here, as well as Democrats nationally, they are concerned and, indeed, are worried about the potential candidacy, the independent candidacy of Howard Schultz.
Of course, it's very difficult to get on the ballot as an independent candidate. But he would have the resources to do it without question. He also is driving this message, essentially Washington's broken, and it's time for someone in the middle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD SCHULTZ, FORMER STARBUCKS CEO: I am seriously thinking of running for president. I will run as a centrist independent, outside of the two-party system.
We're living at a most fragile time. Not only the fact that this president is not qualified to be the president, but the fact that both parties are consistently not doing what's necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged every single day in revenge politics. (END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So you may wonder why Democrats would be concerned about this, Wolf. Well, the reality here is, if there was a three-way general election contest, the thinking goes among Democrats that Howard Schultz or another independent candidate could siphon off an anti-Trump vote so it could dilute the -- essentially, the Democratic candidate's support, running against the president.
Of course, Wolf, this is a very long way from this happening. He said he's on a listening tour now, going across the country. But again, would have to get on the ballot.
But Wolf, this took Democrats by surprise and is giving them heartburn tonight.
BLITZER: Yes. They're clearly not happy about that. Jeff Zeleny in Iowa for us, thanks very much.
We have a lot to ask our political and legal experts. They are all here, standing by. Guys, we'll get to you in a moment.
BLITZER: Lots of breaking news today, including the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, telling reporters just a little while ago he's been fully briefed on the special counsel, Robert Mueller's. probe. Whitaker says the investigation is now close to being completed.
Let's bring in our political and legal experts to discuss all of this.
Laura Jarrett, you were there when he was meeting with reporters. Let me play the clip. This is the acting attorney general, the exchange he had.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, I've been fully briefed on the investigation. And, you know, I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report.
And I really am not going to talk about an open and ongoing investigation otherwise, but you know, sort of the statements I made were as a private citizen only with publicly available information. And, you know, I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed, you know, either through the various means we have. But right now the investigation is, I think, close to being completed. And I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as we -- is possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:35:04] BLITZER: We haven't heard much from Whitaker in recent weeks, but now that's a pretty significant statement. After being fully briefed by Mueller on the team, the state of the investigation, he says it's now close, he believes it's not close to being completed. That's pretty significant.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely it is, Wolf. This is the senior-most official at the Justice Department, weighing in for the first time about the timing of the Mueller investigation winding down, as we've been guessing for many months now when exactly it would end, how it will end. So this is the man who is in charge of the Mueller investigation saying that it is close. It's end of days here.
Now, of course the question is whether it will even be up to him at all, as the president has nominated someone else, Bill Barr, to be the permanent nominee for attorney general. If he is confirmed, he will be the one that actually receives Mueller's report. But it is still very significant, Wolf, as you said, for Whitaker to be weighing in, as he did in sort of unequivocal terms today for the first time.
BLITZER: Yes. We don't know, Dana, what he means close to being completed. But it sounds like it's maybe only a few weeks if it's close to being completed.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. We don't know.
But given how long this has been going on and the fact that he says, as you mention and Laura did, as well, that he's been briefed, it is absolutely noteworthy.
And it is in keeping with what we've heard with lawyers who are involved with clients, who are -- either have been interviewed or in and around this investigation, that the feeling has been that Robert Mueller is just about done, was wrapping up. And certainly our reporting after last week when Roger Stone was indicted that that would be the last major indictment. Could be. You never know for sure but could be the last major indictment before we actually see this report.
Then, of course, once the report comes, there are all kind of questions, questions that Barr who will be, if we assume he is confirmed, the attorney general overseeing this. Who sees the report? How much of it is public? Is any of it public? And all of those questions are very, very important, and they don't have answers yet.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": And to Dana's point, that's been one of the big questions facing William Barr. The Senate Judiciary Committee is preparing to consider his nomination and expected to hold at least a vote within the panel by February 5.
And one of the issue that Democrats had with his testimony, even as he tried to portray himself as independent and, certainly, lavish praise on Robert Mueller, is the circumstances which Barr would be willing to, as attorney general, make Mueller's report public and what he would do if the president tried to invoke executive privilege to withhold some of that information from the public. And he didn't really give a clear answer.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: No. I think that was one of the sticking points for people like Mazie Hirono and others who we expect to oppose him. I don't know if Mazie Hirono would have voted for William Barr anyway.
But look, I think that this bill, and you talked about it earlier, with Dick Blumenthal and Chuck Grassley, is probably the right thing for Donald Trump to want to do if he believes that, ultimately, the Mueller report is, as he has repeatedly said it's a witch hunt. It's a hoax. It's not those things, given the charges that we've already seen. As Dana mentioned, Roger Stone just being the latest of Trump's associates.
But if you're Donald Trump and you think ultimately, you will be fully exonerated: you didn't know anything, there was no attempts at collusion, no attempts at obstruction, you should want McConnell to be willing to bring this bill. Because that's the key here. And Mitch McConnell controls the Senate floor. Mitch McConnell doesn't want the bill to come up, the bill's not going to come up.
But I think transparency is, if Donald Trump is telling the truth, transparency is his friend here. I don't think we 'e going to get the full report made public ultimately, but I do think that would be, for his politics, his best move.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news coming into the SITUATION ROOM right now. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, has just announced that Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer, spent a decade working for Donald Trump, has now agreed to testify on February 8, 2019. That's coming up in a couple of weeks. That's going to be very significant.
In a statement he release, he said, "Efforts to intimidate witnesses, scare their family members or prevent them from testifying before Congress are tactics we expect from organized crime, not the White House. These attacks on Mr. Cohen's family must stop. Federal law prohibits efforts to discourage, intimidate or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress."
A strong statement. This testimony from Cohen is going to be behind closed doors.
BASH: And that's the key, a very strong statement for sure, but this is the testimony that we are not going to see, because it's going to be classified. The Intelligence Committee is going to keep it behind closed doors.
We are still waiting to find out what's going to happen with a different committee, the House Oversight Committee. That's the one that Cohen had agreed to testify before, in public, before all the cameras, for all the world to see, and then rescinded it for the reasons that Adam Schiff just stated. Because he said he was concerned about threats to his security, about legal threats to -- from the president himself to his in-laws and so forth. So that's going to be -- it's significant that he's going to go back, but it's still the open question, whether we are going to see and hear him.
[17:40:23] BLITZER: And he's already subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well.
BLITZER: So -- but this is the beginning. February 8, he will testify before the House Intelligence Committee.
We have a lot more to discuss. There's more breaking news. We'll be right back.
[17:43:10] BLITZER: We're back with our political and our legal experts. And Dana, let's talk politics for a moment. There's a lot of breaking news, but Kamala Harris, the Democratic senator from California, she announced she's running for the White House. She's going to be on the CNN live town hall later tonight, 10 p.m. Eastern.
How did she do yesterday in generating support among her fellow Democrats?
BASH: I mean 20,000. Twenty thousand people?
CILLIZZA: Twenty thousand.
BASH: That's no small thing.
BLITZER: Straight up at --
BASH: Showed up at her rally. She's in a blue state of California. But to have people come out and support -- that many people come out and support her is a big deal; it's something that she should and could be proud of.
We've been around long enough, all of us -- maybe not you -- but us to remember a lot of really tremendous out-of-the-gate campaign announcements and even maybe the beginnings of campaigns where somebody was thought of to do something really well and it didn't turn out so well.
Having said that, she has good people around her. Her message is right from the beginning. Obviously, it's going to need to be honed, but it's a start that even other people who are working for other candidates tell me that they, you know, kind of, they're praising.
BLITZER: It's already a big Democratic field. It's about to get even way, way bigger.
BLITZER: How does she stand out?
CILLIZZA: I think it will double in size, at least by -- in two months' time.
How does she stand up? Harry Enten and I do rankings every month of the top ten folks at this moment most likely to become the nominee. We've had Kamala Harris No. 1 for the last two or three months for a lot of what Dana just talked about. Look, if you read that speech or watched it, she is setting up -- she
is the anti-Trump, right? He's not mentioned by name in the speech. He's mentioned sort of by reference.
BLITZER: She doesn't refer to the president.
CILLIZZA: Right. But in everything from the fact that she is an Indian-American and African-American woman in her 50s, contrasted to a 70 -plus-year-old White male; two, her focus on, you know, we need to be strong together. It's not us versus them, talking -- on everything, healthcare, climate. She talks about the need for the freedom of the press.
A lot of candidates will do this who are running on the Democratic side. I thought one other thing that's worth noting in contrast to Trump or with Trump in mind, she does say truth a lot in there. And we've played that.
She also uses the word fight or fighter a lot. And I think you're going to see Kirsten Gillibrand from New York doing a lot this, which is -- the Democratic Party is angry.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
CILLIZZA: They want someone to stand up to Donald Trump in a real way.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
CILLIZZA: Maybe not Michael Avenatti but something sort of, you know, near-ish that. So I think, totally, you're going to see a lot of willingness to be that fighter.
BLITZER: What do you think, Sabrina?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, it's certainly shaking -- shaping up to be a very crowded and diverse field, and it -- a lot of these candidates are sort of positioning themselves as the ones who could take the fight to Trump. But it's obviously not going to be within of itself alone to be the anti-Trump candidate because everyone on that stage --
SIDDIQUI: -- is going to be an anti-Trump candidate, so it's really going to come down to the progressive priorities that are front and center for the Democratic base right now.
And I think you saw Kamala Harris, as well as Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, of course, they've all backed Medicare for all. They've all backed some form of debt-free college tuition. So it's really going to be a lot about that economic populism that Bernie campaigned on in 2016.
BLITZER: It's going to be lively. We're going to watch it very, very closely. CILLIZZA: Lively and large.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stick around. Much more coming up, including the United States announcing new sanctions targeting Venezuela's strongman who's backed by the Russian President Vladimir Putin. It's another sticking point on a growing list of problems straining the relationship between Putin and President Trump.
[17:51:21] BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking stories, including the Trump administration's announcement of new sanctions targeting Venezuela's state-owned oil company. It's a way to pressure the Venezuelan strongman, Nicolas Maduro, who has the backing of Russia's Vladimir Putin. The United States has thrown its support behind Maduro's rival, and it's another sore spot in a growing rift between Putin and President Trump.
CNN's Brian Todd has been working his sources for us. The so-called Trump/Putin bromance, Brian, seems to be getting a little bit more difficult.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It could very well be, Wolf. You know, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin still have not said anything negative about each other personally in public. But tonight, observers say the actions of their governments, first in Syria, now in Venezuela, point to what could be a real divide between the two men.
TODD (voice-over): It may turn out to be the biggest test of the bromance between President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in the most surprising of places.
Half a world away in Venezuela, a standoff between the embattled sitting president, Nicolas Maduro, and opposition leader Juan Guaido has now also pitted Putin against Trump.
Russia is backing Maduro after investing billions with him. Juan Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, is supported by President Trump. And neither side is budging.
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Maduro has made clear he will not recognize Guaido or call for new elections. Now is the time to stand for democracy and prosperity in Venezuela.
TODD (voice-over): Meantime, Putin's Foreign Minister has blistered the Trump team, accusing them of meddling.
SERGEY LAVROV, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): It is another flagrant interference into the internal affairs of a sovereign state.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, experts see the standoff in Venezuela as symbolic of a growing rift between the American and Russian leaders on some key global issues.
CRAIG UNGER, AUTHOR, "HOUSE OF TRUMP, HOUSE OF PUTIN: THE UNTOLD STORY OF DONALD TRUMP AND THE RUSSIAN MAFIA": I think the Trump/Putin relationship is entering a different phase, a new phase, and it's a lot rockier. The Russian press has been very, very critical of Trump lately.
TODD (voice-over): During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump openly voiced a desire to improve America's relationship with Putin who had a tense relationship with former President Barack Obama. Trump sided with Putin in Helsinki, repeating Putin's own denial that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia.
TODD (voice-over): But fault lines between the two governments, analysts caution, could become personal over things like Venezuela, backing opposing sides in Syria, and over Putin's military engaging in increasingly aggressive moves against American forces, like buzzing U.S. warships.
Analysts are now worried that U.S. national security could be damaged if serious fissures emerge in the two men's relationship. That Trump could be distracted and weakened over his recent domestic political losses and vulnerable to Putin's manipulation.
UNGER: I think what is very, very scary in all this is Donald Trump is a neophyte when it comes to geopolitical affairs; the Kremlin is not. They are playing three-dimensional chess. By contrast, Trump is more like a pro-wrestler, and all he can do is overthrow the chess table.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, experts warn about the powder keg in Venezuela and how it could draw Trump and Putin into a Cold War-style conflict.
MATTHEW ROJANSKY, DIRECTOR OF THE KENNAN INSTITUTE, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: If the situation on the ground becomes violent, if there is a real chance that the outcome will be decided by force, then there is a very serious risk of violent proxy conflict that could look like things that we saw in the 1980s in Latin America.
TODD: Is there a way this potentially widening Trump/Putin rift can be repaired? Analysts say Venezuela may actually be the best way out of that situation. They say if the two leaders can maybe work together to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff in Venezuela, then they might be able to maybe come together again. Otherwise, they say this potential rift might only get worse, Wolf.
[17:55:08] BLITZER: Significant developments, indeed. Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report. Coming up, breaking news. The Acting Attorney General says he's been
fully briefed on the Special Counsel's probe and declares -- and I'm quoting him now -- it's close to being completed, even as longtime Trump ally Roger Stone faces arraignment on charges stemming from the Mueller probe and the White House hedges on a possible pardon.
[17:59:56] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Close to completed. We could learn the results of Robert Mueller's investigation soon as the Acting Attorney General now says the Special Counsel's work is nearly done.