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THE SITUATION ROOM

With No Sign of a Deal, Another Shutdown Possible in 17 Days; Extreme Cold Spreading Across Much of U.S.; Interview With Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX); U.S. Intelligence Chiefs Contradict Trump. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 29, 2019 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: opposite views. U.S. intelligence chiefs contradict President Trump on critical national security issues, undermining his takes on ISIS, North Korea and Russia.

Tonight, the president also is facing new resistance from the top Senate Republican.

Stone-cold witness. As Roger Stone pleads not guilty, there are new signals that the special counsel may be considering an additional indictment of the longtime Trump adviser. What does Robert Mueller hope to learn from a witness fighting his subpoena?

Silence by Russia? A self-styled sex coach, she claims of evidence of election interference and collusion, says Kremlin agents tried to keep her quiet. But, tonight, she's speaking out in an exclusive interview with CNN.

And arctic blast. A deadly deep freeze is endangering millions of Americans. About one-fourth of the population will suffer subzero temperatures. We're going to tell you where and when the snow, the ice, the bitter cold all hitting the hardest.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, top U.S. intelligence officials are openly contradicting President Trump's assessment of some of America's most dangerous adversaries. The intel chiefs telling Congress that ISIS is far from being defeated, that North Korea isn't likely to give up its nuclear weapons, and that Russia's interference in U.S. politics is an ongoing threat, with the 2020 election now at risk.

In another rebuke of the president's global policy, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is now urging U.S. forces to stay in Syria and Afghanistan.

Also tonight, longtime Trump ally Roger Stone will return to court here in Washington Friday, after pleading not guilty to seven criminal charges, this as we're told Robert Mueller's team is singling to a Stone associate that another indictment maybe in the works of Stone or perhaps someone else.

I will talk to Congressman Joaquin Castro. He's a key member of both the Intelligence and the Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

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

Jim, Mr. Trump has undermined the intelligence community in the past, and now intel chiefs are effectively calling out the president.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're not on the same script, Wolf. That is true.

The president stayed behind closed doors today, and the White House has not yet responded to members of the intelligence community, as you said, pointedly contradicting Mr. Trump over and over again on critical national security issues, from ISIS to North Korea to Russia.

The contradictions raise the obvious question: Who should the public believe, the president or the intelligence community?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The nation's top intelligence chiefs delivered sobering warnings on global threats to the U.S., contradicting President Trump at nearly every turn.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers the terror group ISIS remains a potent threat.

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Remaining pockets of ISIS and opposition fighters will continue, we agree, we assess, to stoke violence. ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.

ACOSTA: The reality-based assessment stood in stark contrast with the president's rosier claims.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have won against ISIS. We have beaten them and we have beaten them badly.

ACOSTA: Coats also seemed to differ with the president on North Korea. Six months after Mr. Trump tweeted that there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea, Coats told Congress that's not quite the case.

That reality check coming just weeks before the president is set to meet once again with dictator Kim Jong-un.

COATS: We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities, because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.

ACOSTA: On Russian interference in U.S. elections, FBI Director Chris Wray said Moscow has yet to curb its behavior, inspiring other countries to follow the Kremlin's lead.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Not only the Russians continued to do it in 2018, but we have seen indication that they're continuing to adapt their model and that other countries are taking a very interested eye in that approach.

ACOSTA: Don't tell the president, who sided with Vladimir Putin on that question last July.

TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

ACOSTA: The president is also meeting resistance from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who warned the White House, its plans to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and Afghanistan could backfire.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We're not the world's policemen, but we are the leader of the free world.

ACOSTA: Part of the problem for the president, his sagging poll numbers, with 56 percent of registered voters in a "Washington Post"/ABC News poll saying they will definitely not vote for Mr. Trump, and one in three Republican and GOP-leaning voters wishing the party would pick another candidate.

[18:05:10]

The president's political team is advising him to hold his ground on his border wall, even as a former Trump Organization official told CNN not to expect the art of the deal to save the day before another government shutdown next month.

BARBARA RES, FORMER TRUMP ORGANIZATION EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: There is no documentation that says Donald Trump is a great dealmaker. He's made good deals. He's made bad deals. He's caved more often than I can tell you.

ACOSTA: Former White House aide Cliff Sims says in his new book that Mr. Trump has a tendency to exaggerate.

CLIFF SIMS, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE AIDE: When you're around the president, everything seems bigger, everything seems grander. And that could be -- there could be good things about that. But there's also kind of this atmosphere that gets created. It's extremely cutthroat.

ACOSTA: The president appears to have had enough of White House tell- alls, tweeting about Sims that: "He pretended to be an insider, when, in fact, he was nothing more than a gopher. He signed a nondisclosure agreement. He is a mess."

QUESTION: He is a mess.

SIMS: There it is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And there it is.

And the Trump campaign sounds like it's ready to throw the book at its former aide, with one top official tweeting, the campaign is preparing to file a lawsuit against Cliff Sims for violating the campaign's nondisclosure agreement.

But that seems to be the least of the president's problems these days, Wolf, as his own top officials from the intelligence community were up on Capitol Hill telling Congress and really the world that they don't see the world and the threats that are out there the same way their boss does -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It was truly an extraordinary hearing.

Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Now to the Russia investigation and today's not guilty plea by longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone.

We're joined by our political correspondent, Sara Murray, and our CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Sara, you were there in the federal courtroom today as all of this was unfolding. How did it go and what's next for Stone?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as expected, Roger Stone entered his not guilty plea for these seven charges that he's facing for lying, obstructing justice, for witness tampering.

And it was a pretty quick hearing. He was sort of in and out in 15 minutes. And I think he wanted to speak to cameras, speak to the reporters who were outside afterwards. But it was just mayhem when Roger Stone was leaving the courthouse.

There was someone with a speaker playing "Back in the USSR." There were people who were chanting "Lock him up." He was doing the Nixon victory V on his way out. But he did not ultimately stop and talk to the cameras. He will be back in court soon, though. He is going to be there on Friday afternoon. That's his first appearance before the judge who's actually going to end up overseeing this case, Wolf.

BLITZER: You have some new reporting -- and you have been doing excellent reporting -- that Mueller may have, what, some more in store for Stone?

MURRAY: That's right.

And this comes from another associative of Roger Stones, Andrew Miller. He's been challenging his grand jury subpoena. He's been challenging Mueller's authority, frankly, in court. And we heard from his attorney yesterday that the government told them, we still want testimony. We still want grand jury testimony from Andrew Miller. So that suggests that they are perhaps pursuing more indictments, more

charges against Roger Stone. We could see a superseding indictment in the future, because this kid, everything that had to do with his subpoena had to do with Roger Stone, with WikiLeaks, with Julian Assange. So his lawyer says, I'm not sure what else they would be looking for, aside from additional charges against Roger Stone.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Jeffrey.

What does it say to you that Mueller is continuing to press this guy Miller for some testimony before a grand jury?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it means the investigation continues, particularly of Stone.

Prosecutors are not allowed to use the grand jury just to prepare for an existing trial. They have to use the grand jury either to add more charges to an existing indictment or to indict someone else. That means, if Mueller -- if Miller, Andrew Miller, goes in the grand jury, it has to be about adding more charges.

Doesn't mean that they will, but that has to be the purpose. In addition, remember, the FBI searched three residences affiliated with Stone when he was arrested, his house in Fort Lauderdale, a storage facility and his apartment in New York.

Obviously, the FBI and the prosecutors are going to look and see what they found. And that may or may not lead to more charges.

BLITZER: What does the Stone indictment, Jeffrey, tell us about the president's potential exposure here?

TOOBIN: Well, I think this is a really important point.

The references to the superior who directed Stone's behavior suggest not criminal behavior on the part of that superior. It basically says someone is telling Stone, go find out what Assange, what WikiLeaks is up to. That's not criminal.

And I don't think there is anything specific in the indictment to suggest any criminal behavior by the president. However, if it is established, either through Stone's testimony, if he decides to testify, or other people, that the president directed Stone to interact in some way with WikiLeaks, that would be a proven lie on the part of the president, because he said over and over again to the public he had nothing to do with Stone, nothing to do with WikiLeaks.

[18:10:05]

And that would be a political problem for the president. But I don't think it would be a legal problem.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much.

Sara Murray, thanks to you as well.

Joining us now, Congressman Joaquin Castro, a Democrat who serves on the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's talk about Roger Stone right now. He appears to feel vindicated by the fact that he wasn't charged specifically with conspiracy or collusion, whatever you want to call it. Do you think he could face that charge, though, down the road?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: I think that, ultimately, he could.

And I also think that, if you look at that indictment, it's quite possible that the special counsel is setting up that charge later for other people, and is hoping for Roger Stone's cooperation in continuing to figure out who may have colluded.

BLITZER: The acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, says he's been fully briefed on the Mueller investigation and, in his words, it's close to being completed.

How much weight do you give his comments?

CASTRO: It's hard to say.

If that's just his best guess, if it's an estimation, then I think that's fine as a comment. But he needs to be careful not to interfere or try to put his hand on the -- his finger on the scale of that investigation.

BLITZER: Because the point is, before he said it would be over soon, the investigation, he said, "I have been fully briefed on the investigation."

So, if he's been fully briefed, I assume he knows something.

CASTRO: That's right, no.

And it may be that that's his understanding. But, again, what I would be uncomfortable with and I think the nation is uncomfortable with is Mr. Whitaker taking an active role in trying to pressure the special counsel to wrap it up, in the way that Donald Trump and others in Congress have tried to berate the special counsel to finish up for political purposes.

BLITZER: Would it be a problem if Whitaker briefed the president or others at the White House about what the Mueller investigators told him?

CASTRO: It would for me.

I don't think that there should be any communication to the president from Mr. Whitaker about it. I think that at this point they should keep that separate.

BLITZER: Whitaker also said, in his words, decisions that were made are going to be reviewed.

Do you understand exactly what he meant by that?

CASTRO: I don't.

And I hope that -- well, first of all, that the special counsel's report will be made fully public, that it will be available to the Congress, but also it's owed to the American people, and then, after that, that there aren't decisions that may be overridden by the attorney -- the acting attorney general or anybody else in the administration for political purposes, or simply to protect the president from something.

BLITZER: What about for intelligence-related purposes, to redact classified information? Would you be OK with that?

CASTRO: I mean, it depends. Hopefully, they would brief the Intelligence Committee -- committees in the House and the Senate about those actions before they take them, but there may be important information that's especially sensitive that needs to be protected.

I think that could be reasonable. But, again, it depends why they're doing it and what exactly they're taking out or they're redacting.

BLITZER: Your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, is working to deconflict, so-called, with the special counsel on Michael Cohen's testimony.

When Cohen testifies in this closed-door hearing before your committee, do you anticipate there will be any topics off-limits?

CASTRO: I hope not. I hope that we will have a chance to ask him everything that we need to understand.

There obviously will be questions about money laundering, obstruction of justice and other issues that will -- that we will try to broach. We also want to understand whether he was directed to lie to Congress the last time he came in front of our committee or other congressional committees, whether the president specifically directed him to lie to Congress.

So, right now, I don't see anything that is closed off in terms of questioning. And, remember, this is behind closed doors. It's a transcript right now that doesn't look like it's going to be released to the public, although I think all of this, as much as possible, should be done out in the open.

But, right now, I think everything's on the table.

BLITZER: Yes, I hope you do eventually release that transcript, or as much of it as possible.

CASTRO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You also serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

When you listened today to the country's top intelligence leaders discuss worldwide threats facing the United States -- they were in a congressional hearing -- are you concerned at all about whether the president respects their assessments, because, as you heard, there are some significant disagreements between what the intelligence chiefs are saying and what the president has said?

CASTRO: Yes.

I mean, when you listen to the intelligence agencies, the heads of the intelligence agencies, give their assessments, it's clear at a minimum that the president is not listening to them, is not taking their advice. They may as well be serving in a different administration, because what the president is doing and what he's saying are hardly related to the intelligence assessment that these folks are offering.

[18:15:05]

BLITZER: Let's get to the effort now to avert another government shutdown.

We have heard some Democrats say they're now open to at least some funding for some physical barriers along the border with Mexico, as long as it's not a big wall, as the president has proposed over these many years.

What do you think a deal will look like?

CASTRO: I saw a little bit of that reporting today. And I trust the negotiators that will be in the room trying to come up with a compromise.

I'm not keen on trading the lives and futures of TPS recipients or dreamers for a long wall across the United States of America. And right now, also, if you look at what's being negotiated, it's an appropriations bill, a spending bill on border security.

So, as far as we can tell, the other stuff has not been brought into the conversation. And, again, we're -- the Congressional Hispanic Caucus especially is going to be keeping a very close look -- eye on this.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on one sensitive issue that came up at the CNN town hall last night with Senator Kamala Harris.

She outlined her vision of a Medicare for all plan, but also said that that Medicare for all plan would eliminate private insurance plans altogether here in the United States. Do you support that plan?

CASTRO: The thing is, I would like to see these plans proposed in Congress, have hearings on them through the committees, before we take a position any particular plan, whether it's from a sitting member of Congress or somebody that's running for president.

BLITZER: All right, that's fair enough.

Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks so much for joining us.

CASTRO: Thank you. BLITZER: All right, just ahead: Is the Mueller investigation close

to being completed or not? We will talk more about the possibility of additional indictments of Roger Stone and perhaps others.

And we have an exclusive interview with a model and sex coach who claims she has evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. She reveals orders she got from Russian agents and why she feels lucky simply to be alive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:38]

BLITZER: Tonight, a model and sex coach who has claimed to have evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign is speaking out in an exclusive interview with CNN.

She is shedding new light on her arrest in Thailand and the threats she says she faced from Russia.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is joining us live from Moscow right now.

Matthew, tell us about your interview and what you learned.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we have been following the plight of this woman for the best part of a year.

She's been arrested twice in Thailand. She was then deported to Moscow, where she was arrested again, where she now lives, essentially, in freedom, but under the threat of security, all of this because she claimed to have evidence linking Russia with the Trump campaign, something that has thrust her right to the center of those allegations of collusion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE (voice-over): It is remarkable this self-styled sex coach is still willing to talk, but 11 months in a Thai jail that she describes as hell has made Nastya Rybka even more convinced of the value of publicity.

(on camera): Do you regret making those claims that you made about the evidence you said you had of Russia and the Trump campaign colluding? Do you regret that?

ANASTASIA VASHUKEVICH, RUSSIAN SEX COACH: I think it saved my life. How can I regret about that? Because if journalists not come at the time, and that story not come to newspapers, maybe I will -- I will die now.

CHANCE (voice-over): These were the images that got her into trouble, her and a Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, who's close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, on his yacht in 2016. There was another figure photographed too, a Russian deputy prime minister, sparking allegations this was a secret meeting to pass on Trump campaign briefings.

(on camera): Did Manafort owe you millions of dollars when he was the head of the Trump campaign?

(voice-over): The oligarch has already been offered private briefings by his former business associate and Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort -- Manafort now behind bars, convicted of financial crimes in the special counsel's Russia investigation.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, the sex coach promised even more details.

(on camera): You said: "I'm ready to give you all the missing puzzle pieces, videos and audio, regarding the connections of our respected lawmakers with Trump, Manafort and the rest."

Why did you say that?

VASHUKEVICH: After that, I was almost one year in the prison, for me, really enough.

I understand most of your question is about Oleg Deripaska, about connection of America and something like that. But I cannot answer.

CHANCE (voice-over): This was the welcome waiting for the 28-year-old when she finally returned to Moscow earlier this month, forced into a wheelchair and dragged away, terrified. All the evidence she once had, she told me, was confiscated.

(on camera): Do you think it's fair to say that you tend to tell people what they want to hear, and in doing that, you have put yourself in an extremely dangerous position?

[18:25:03]

VASHUKEVICH: I don't know what to say. Absolutely right, it's dangerous position, you know, for me especially. And -- but people should know the truth, you know?

CHANCE: What is the truth? Do you have evidence of collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign? Have you ever seen that evidence?

VASHUKEVICH: I never see Trump, really. It's true.

CHANCE (voice-over): It perhaps, unsurprisingly, the only admission this self-publicist in the eye of a geopolitical storm is prepared to make.

And, once behind Russian bars, she was given a stark warning about making any other claims, before being unexpectedly released.

VASHUKEVICH: I had some talk when I was in jail, in Russian jail.

CHANCE (on camera): Yes. VASHUKEVICH: And they explained me very -- very clear, what should I do, what should I say, and what should -- shouldn't I say, something like that.

CHANCE: Who explained that to you?

VASHUKEVICH: Russian -- Russian agents.

CHANCE: What did they say to you?

VASHUKEVICH: They said to me, don't touch Oleg Deripaska anymore.

CHANCE (voice-over): Don't touch him, she added, or risk replacing that Thai prison with a cell in Russia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: Well, Wolf, Nastya Rybka, or her real name is Anastasia Vashukevich, still faces prosecution. She is a suspect in a prostitution case in this country that is still ongoing, which means she can't leave the country, and is under that kind of threat, again, all because of these claims that she made, putting her at the heart of those collusion allegations, Wolf.

BLITZER: Excellent reporting from Matthew Chance.

Thanks for staying on top of this story. Appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, new signs that Trump adviser Roger Stone could be facing another indictment.

And get this. More than 200 million Americans are now facing freezing temperatures, as an arctic blast brings dangerous new lows to large sections of the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

[18:31:52] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: President Trump repeatedly contradicted his own intelligence chiefs as they testified today to the Senate about the threats, the major threats facing the United States. Let's get some more with our correspondence and our analyst. Phil Mudd used to work in intelligence community at the CIA. I want you to listen to what the President has said on somebody's major threats and compare that to what we heard today from the intelligence chiefs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them and we've beaten them badly.

DANIEL RAY COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLEGENCE: ISIS is intent and resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria. TRUMP: Chairman Kim, we have a great chemistry, and we're well on our way. We signed an agreement. It said we will begin the immediate denuclearization.

COATS: North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and it's unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities.

TRUMP: I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR OF THE FBI: Not only have the Russians continued to do it in 2018, but we've seen indications that they're continuing to adapt their model.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What's your reaction?

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: This is pretty simple. When the President sees a story he doesn't like, he makes up a story. In the intelligence business, if he were an asset, that is an informant, we call him a serial fabricator. You go through the election process and after the election, and he says, Russia interference could be a 400-pound guy in the basement. And the Intel guys say repeatedly, including after during the 2018 elections, it's the Russians. You get off a plane from North Korea and you say, we're safer. You don't have to be an intel guy to say, have they destroyed it. That is the North Koreans, a single missile or a single ounce of nuclear material.

The president goes on his first visit to Iraq and takes the generals. He could get a brief that is the President in the Oval Office every day. He has to go out to Iraq to have somebody say, actually, we're not destroying every single ISIS member in Syria. There are thousands left. The point is pretty simple. If the narrative doesn't match the President who wants to say, we're winning, he makes something up. It's not complicated.

BLITZER: If the President wants to keep the country safe, and he does, how does he do that and reject what the intelligence community, the assessments he is receiving?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, Wolf. He has got the general problem of creating a lack of faith between himself and the intelligence agencies that he commands and that the American public count on. And then as Phil just said, all those particular mismatches between the information that he says and what his chief say.

And I will point out one other thing about that clip you played, Wolf, which is that the President goes way out of his way to refer to Kim as Chairman Kim, even though people that he works with on a daily basis, Speaker Pelosi, he says, I call her Nancy, he calls other senators insulting nicknames, but it's always Chairman Kim. That's strange to me. BLITZER: They're going to be meeting next again month. Presumably, the reports are maybe in Hanoi. But we'll see where that unfolds.

Let's talk a little bit about Roger Stone. He appeared in a federal courtroom here in Washington today. Do you think he potentially faces additional charges down the road?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So I think that there are some indications of that. The most significant as was discussed earlier in the program is this pressure that the Mueller investigation appears to be continuing to pursue testimony from Andrew Miller, a Stone associate.

[18:35:10]

And they also executed search warrants the morning of the arrest.

And so I think that there is some indication. There also are just some mysteries, mysteries and the fact that Stone wasn't charged for certain things, namely that the substantive underlying conduct, not just that he lied but the stuff he lied about. Mueller's office went out of their way to include in that GRU indictment from way back in July 2018, the communication between Roger Stone and Russian hackers who were sort of posing as Guccifer 2.0. So one sort of big question is, why isn't that in the indictment that we've seen now?

Now, a possible answer might be that there are two investigations going on here. One is a criminal investigation and one is a counterintelligence investigation. And so the information we're seeing in this indictment is about what Mueller actually intends to charge Roger Stone with. But that doesn't mean it's the full story that's relevant to his investigation and it doesn't mean it's the full story that he is going to tell in that report, that ultimately will go to Congress.

DANA BASH, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's such an important point because I was talking to somebody on the Hill before coming on, a republican saying exactly that, that what was very mysterious, or your word, was that there wasn't anything clear in any of this that we've seen with regard to indictments of Roger Stone about the underlying WikiLeaks connections, which is at the heart presumably of the Mueller mission, which is the connections between Russia, which we know and knew back then, was connected to and is connected to WikiLeaks and anybody associated with the Trump orbit. That's at the heart of it. And it was completely absent here.

And so it does raise questions about that. But also whether or not the whole question of the Mueller Report is still going to be, and what we're going to be able to see, is really unanswerable now because if it is something that's classified, that's going to be a very, very big fight about making that public or not.

MUDD: First time in five years, let me solve the problem on The Situation Room. There's a difference between evidence, what you can prove or what you want to prove in front of a judge in a court of law and intelligence, what you think. I think what we have going on here is, I can prove to you that Roger Stone lied. And if you look at the other contacts with Eastern European people, like Paul Manafort, the report will be, here's a narrative of what we think happened. Intelligence is more about what we smell. Do we believe that there are inappropriate contacts with the Russians? The answer may well be yes, but that is not evidence you want to put in front of a court of law. Evidence and intelligence is two very different things.

BLITZER: You want to weigh on that?

HENNESSEY: I think one other potential significant sort of piece here is that the Special Counsel's office has said they are going to co- prosecute Roger Stone with the U.S. Attorney's office in D.C. Now, that may be an indication that they're expecting for the Stone sort of prosecution to endure past existence of the Special Counsel's office, right? They're going to have a sort of a plan in place to hand over that prosecution. And so they may see this Roger Stone indictment and prosecution really having a life that essentially even outlives the Mueller investigation.

BLITZER: Because in April of 2017, then CIA Director Mike Pompeo, now the Secretary of State, he said, it's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it is, a non-state hostile intelligence service often embedded by state actors, like Russia. And he also said the Russian Military Intelligence Organization, the GRU, had used WikiLeaks to go ahead and release data harmful to the United States.

SWERDLICK: When the Mueller report comes out, if it comes out, I think that's one of the big questions that we're all waiting to find out. Is Special Prosecutor Mueller treating WikiLeaks like a journalistic outlet, like Russian cut-out, or like some freelance agency that we haven't seen before?

Back to Phil's point, they probably indicted Roger Stone on the - what he calls process crime, this lying to Congress, because they probably thought they had a better case. He's obviously innocent until proven guilty. And maybe less solid case on all these emails between him and Jerry Corsi, between the summer and fall of 2016, which might fall into the intelligence.

BLITZER: Democrats, as you know, Dana, they have clearly no confidence in the acting Attorney General, Matt Whitaker, right now. Do you think they have more confidence in Bill Barr, who is about to be confirmed, we assume, in the coming days before the Senate to become the Attorney General?

BASH: I'm not offended [ph], but I would admit this publically, but, yes, I think they do have more confidence in Bill Barr, whether they vote for him or not, whether it's completely along party lines or mostly republicans with the sprinkling of democrats or not, I think they do because of the history that he has, never mind the memo he wrote, but just the long history he has of

never mind being Attorney General, but even in and around that, following the rule of law. So I think they do have confidence in him.

BLITZER: Was it appropriate for Whitaker to say he has been briefed about the Mueller probe, and then to go on to say, I think it's close to being completed?

[18:40:03]

HENNESSEY: No. So it appears that it was sort of an off-the-cuff for markets. It certainly goes against the policy about, discussed at length over the past three years about the FBI and DOJ policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations. And I also think it speaks to sort of a credibility crisis. The acting Attorney General says something. And everybody looks and says, well, is he telling truth? Did he mean what he says? I do think that it speaks to sort of the difficult situation that he has gotten himself into, not just a sort of potentially overseeing the Mueller investigation, but doing the many, many important parts of the Attorney General's job that has nothing to do with Russia.

BLITZER: Phil, you can see we shot some video of Whitaker yesterday. He seemed to be sweating when he was answering the reporter's questions.

MUDD: As he should. Barr is a pro, whether you're democrat or republican. Whitaker is an amateur. He just made a fundamental mistake. Take politics aside, he just put his boss in a box. His boss, the incoming Attorney General, I suspect, will be confirmed soon. What did he do? The boss comes in and says, I have more questions, Whitaker just said, it's almost over. The boss has to sit up maybe in front of journalists in 30 days and the journalists will say, your deputy said the investigation is almost over. Why is it still going on?

One rule in Washington, democrats or republicans, don't put your incoming boss in a box. Whitaker just did that. That's an amateur move.

HENNESSEY: And it does raise the question whether or not he might have done that intentionally. If making a statement like this was specifically designed to mount exactly the kind of pressure that Phil has described.

BASH: Well, I was just going to say, it's the process of the timing, but it's also the word that he used, review, which is also going to raise I think maybe even more questions for Barr and anybody else who is going to be facing questions about what exactly has gone on as the Mueller investigation has wrapped up. These are the people overseeing it.

BLITZER: He said, I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed. It's unclear what he was referring to.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: But that's, as you've correctly pointed out, a pretty significant statement. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:36] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and our analysts.

And, Dana, I know you've been doing some reporting on the advice the president is getting right now, as everyone is hoping that another government shutdown can be averted.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, went over there yesterday about this time and presented him with some data that he commissioned from a Republican polling outfit here, which suggested -- and this is the advice that he gave to the president -- don't back down on the border wall, because they did polling in ten swing districts, House districts, that showed that a majority -- a slim majority, but a majority said that they liked the idea of a border wall.

Now, this is -- you might ask the question, why is the president's re- election campaign polling in swing districts, most of which are not going to be areas where the president is going to be campaigning? It's very interesting that he is us using the political arm, more importantly, the political arm of Trump world thinks it's so important for him to get out of this in an even remotely legitimate way, that they are polling about how to deal with the next three weeks, not about how to deal with re-election in 2020.

BLITZER: An interesting tidbit right there. Very significant.

Phil, the president could still declare a national security emergency, assuming there's no deal worked out between the Democrats and the Republicans. And go ahead and use other money in the government to try to build his wall. But what's intriguing to me, when the intelligence chiefs were testifying before the Senate, they spoke about the major national security threats facing the United States, whether Iran or North Korea or whatever. They never mentioned what's going on between the border -- along the border between the United States and Mexico.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'll tell you an intel chief who did, that's El Chapo, who is one of the biggest narco terrorists we've ever had in this country. What did he say? Drugs come through legal ports of entry. They don't come through the desert.

If you look at what happened today in terms of the air gap between the president and intel chiefs, they said something different on things like ISIS, on North Korea, on Russia. They would also, as El Chapo did, say something different on intel, related to the border. They'd say stuff as people in the administration of earlier said, stuff comes through legal ports of entry, places where people drive cars through, not through the desert.

The point is that the president has the ability to persuade the American people that facts aren't facts. And the beauty of what he says is that 35 percent or 40 percent of the American people say, I don't care about the facts. It's not facts first. It's what the president said. And he wins. That's it.

BLITZER: Yes. You know, "The Washington Post" -- your newspaper -- Dave, together with the polling do you with ABC News, it shows that a third of Republicans would like to see someone other than the President Trump as the GOP presidential nominee in 2020. And what might be a bigger problem, more than half of Americans now say they would not vote for President Trump if he does win the nomination.

How big of an issue is this potentially for the president?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's a somewhat big issue. The fact that you now have one-third of Republicans in our latest poll saying they would like someone else to run gives fuel to the idea that someone like a Governor Kasich or maybe even Senator Flake to say, man, maybe I should mount a challenge. I don't expect that to happen, but at least it gives people ideas on the other hand.

If you look at President Trump's overall approval rating, it hovers right around 40 percent. Sometimes, it's a little below, sometimes it's a little above.

[18:50:01] It's been that way almost since he took office. And I think that's what the White House is hanging its hat on.

BLITZER: Former Senator Flake today ruled it out. He said he is not going to run. But Larry Hogan, the moderate Republican governor of Maryland, he's potentially thinking about it as well.

What strikes, Susan, from this polling?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN ANALYST: So, I agree with everything that David said. I don't think that any Democrats or sort of opponents of the president should take any real comfort in these numbers.

There was one lesson be learned in the last election is that there's a sizable group of Republicans in this country that are willing to express extreme displeasure with the potential nominee, even sort of flirt with the idea of voting for somebody else. And ultimately on election day, come back home and pull the lever for the Republicans nominee even whenever it's Donald Trump.

So, I think ultimately, rather than taking sort of comfort on polling numbers that I don't think are favorable to the president, you really have to focus on running a strong alternative. And avoiding things like a third party -- third party spoiler and fundamentally speaking of the worldwide briefing ensure it's the American people and exclusively the American people who are deciding who is in the Oval Office and not say the Russians.

BLITZER: One week from today, almost right now, we're going to be getting ready to listen to the president State of the Union Address before joint session of Congress. Today, the Democrats announced that the Democratic response to the president will be Stacey Abrams. She lost her bid to become the governor of Georgia.

What does that say about the direction that the Democratic Party is moving?

BASH: Well, first of all, it allows the Democrats to not - to sort of have a safe choice in that they're not picking one of their new members, choosing one over others, which is tough. It would be tough to do when you have all these new members, many of whom are stars in the party.

But also, I mean, I think that the message is transparent. They want the Democratic Party to look like and to feel like something outside of Washington and Stacey Abrams didn't win but she certainly got a lot of buzz and she ran a robust campaign considering the fact she is in the state of Georgia.

MATTHEWS: She was very close to winning. She almost won. What does it say to you?

SWERDLICK: I agree with Dana. I think they are sending a message with this pick. To me, they are sort of embracing what they have now as their strengths. It's a recognition that Democrats' most solid bloc of voters is African-American women.

It's a recognition that they want to continue to play in Georgia even though they lost this particular race and it's just sort of saying, we're not going to do the same old thing for the State of the Union response. As Dana said, we're not just going to put some back bench congressman out there. We're going to try to have a message.

BLITZER: We'll have extensive live coverage a week from today. We'll be working next Tuesday night.

Guys, stick around. There's more news. We're following the arctic blast that has millions of Americans facing record cold temperatures. We have a new forecast.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:32] BLITZER: A powerful blast of arctic air is spreading across the United States right now, bringing extremely cold and very dangerous temperatures that are expected to break records. Our meteorologist Allison Chinchar has the very latest forecast for us.

Allison, millions of Americans are facing a deep freeze.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's right. And it's really heavily focused into areas of the Midwest but that doesn't mean they're the only ones dealing with well below average temperatures. When we talk about areas that are looking at the temperature or below zero, you've got about 83 million people. That pink color you see on the screen. That's about a quarter of the U.S. population.

But this blue area here, that temperatures at or below 32 degrees, the freezing mark. You've got nearly three quarters of the U.S. population and yes, you're going to see temperatures get below freezing as far as south as Tallahassee, Florida.

Now, tomorrow morning, you've got about 27 cities that could potentially break record lows. Most of those heavily focused in the Midwest. But Thursday morning, it not only spreads, it begins to shift over into portions of the east. Now, you're talking nearly 40 cities that will potentially have record low temperatures.

Here's the thing. When you talk about those high temperatures, it's going to be the coldest on Wednesday for areas of Midwest. But for areas in the east, the coldest day is actually going to be on Thursday.

Now, we are still looking at areas that are contending with snow showers. That's mainly focused right now over portions of the Eastern U.S. The good news is, for a city like D.C., the snow is finally starting to come to an end. Baltimore, you still have some areas getting at least a little bit of snow showers at this point, but we're not dealing with the heavy snow like we were earlier.

Further up towards New York, it is rain basically in Manhattan, off to the east. But some of those western suburbs, you're still looking at the potential to have some snow showers there, as we go to the next couple of hours.

Here's an overall look again. This system will finally begin to push out, Wolf, as we go later on into the evening, just a few lingering snow showers, to kind of take us through tonight.

Again, the key however, Wolf, is after the snow finally ends, that's when those really bitter cold temperatures come in. And the one thing I want people to focus on, it's not just the temperatures, it's also the wind. That will make wind chills in the Midwest minus 30 to minus 60 degrees.

BLITZER: And people have to be careful about this freezing weather. Tell us about that.

CHINCHAR: Sorry? Say that one more time.

BLITZER: I said people -- well, never mind, because our time is up but people have to be careful in dealing with this frigid weather, because you get frostbite very, very quickly, at least you prepared. So, just watch this closely.

Allison, thank you very much. Allison Chinchar with the latest forecast and it isn't good.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.