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Special Counsel: Russians Altering Evidence to Discredit Mueller Probe; Trump Fires Back at Intel Chiefs for Contradicting Him; Trump Held Meeting with Putin at G-20; Foxconn Backtracking on Providing Thousands of Wisconsin Jobs; Interview with Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA). Aired 5-6p ET
Aired January 30, 2019 - 17:00 ET
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Altering the evidence. A new court document from the special counsel says Russians have altered evidence from the Mueller probe in an effort to discredit the Mueller probe.
Secret conversation. A new report says President Trump met again privately with Russia's Vladimir Putin without a U.S. interpreter or note taker. That comes as the president slams his intelligence chiefs for contradicting him, saying they should go, quote, "back to school."
"Wasting their time." Lawmakers meet to figure out how to head off another government shutdown even as the president warns ominously that, without a border wall or physical barrier, they are wasting their time.
And dangerous freeze. Eighty percent of the United States was below the freezing mark this morning, with many Americans experiencing temperatures well below zero. Is there an end in sight?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news, a new court filing says nonpublic documents from the special counsel's investigation used to build a case against the Russian company were altered and used in a disinformation campaign aimed at discrediting the Mueller investigation.
That comes as President Trump blasts U.S. intelligence intelligence chiefs who dared to contradict him publicly on the threats to the United States. The president, who often states that he knows more than anyone on just about every topic, tweeting that the intelligence chiefs are naive, wrong and should go back to school.
At the same time the White House is shrugging off a new report that the president met privately with Russia's Vladimir Putin last November, once again, without a U.S. interpreter or note taker. I'll speak with Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence and
Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are standing by with full coverage.
Let's begin with our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, and the breaking news out of the Mueller investigation. Evan, tell our viewers the very latest.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is another Russian disinformation campaign. According to the special counsel's office, this time the Russians were, essentially, targeting information and documents that came from the Mueller investigation.
According to a court filing, they say that this is a case that deals with Concord Management. This is the Russian company that was running the social media troll accounts. And according to the special counsel, what they did was they took documents that have been provided to the legal team representing Concord, and they altered the documents and then released them, again, according to the special counsel's office.
Now, this all began in October, using an account that's called @HackingRedstone; posted on Twitter a web page with documents that had some of the criminal case against Concord Management. The computer that, you know, basically published the documents was in Russia, according to the FBI.
I'll read you a part of what the Twitter account said in October of 2018. It said, "@HackingRedstone published the tweet that said: 'We got access to the Special Counsel Mueller's probe database as we hacked -- as we hacked Russian server with information from the Russian troll case Concord LLC versus Mueller. We can view all of the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!'"
Now, it turns out this isn't true. The FBI investigated, found that it appears that they were using documents that actually had been provided to some of the lawyers that were representing Concord.
So this goes back to a -- to a concern that the Mueller investigators have been raising, which was that if they share information with the lawyers for this Russian company, it could end up back in the hands of the Russians and, according to the special counsel, that's exactly what happened.
BLITZER: And they didn't just release these non-sensitive documents, Evan. They distorted some of them, as well, to make it look like they were totally discrediting the entire Mueller probe.
PEREZ: Right. Exactly. And that's what the concern here was, is essentially, they took documents that were marked by the Justice Department. It was for their own internal recordkeeping. And so these were legitimate documents from the Mueller investigation; and then they were altered and then disseminated on the Internet, again using this Twitter account that had been newly-created.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting. Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
These were what were described as non-sensitive documents that the Mueller team made available to this law firm representing this Russian company. But Mueller is making the case they can't hover [SIC] -- hand over classified information, sensitive documents, because it would compromise U.S. national security. Tell us about that.
[17:05:02] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it would be almost comical breach of U.S. national security, because you'd be giving a vision inside the Mueller investigation, including classified information gathered by U.S. intelligence, to a Putin ally here, Concord Management, a company deeply involved in the interference in the 2016 election.
But also, you have Geny Prigozhin. This is a Putin friend. He led the Internet Research Agency. This is the troll farm that created all those trolls, a lot of the fake news. It was involved in the interference in the U.S. election.
He's basically Putin's Luca Brasi. I mean, this is the guy who does all of Putin's dirty work, not just the interference in the election. Sending mercenaries to Syria. There is thoughts within the U.S. intelligence community that he leads much worse operations for Putin. It gives the Russian leaders some plausible deniability on some of their malign activities abroad.
And because, you know, you filed these charges against these Russians here, because the U.S. has a legal system that has processes like discovery, a by-product of that is that these bad actors get a vision inside that case there.
So Mueller is saying here, "OK, they've got the non-sensitive information. They've already misused that. They've weaponized it to attack the investigation. We cannot give them the classified information, because that information would go right to -- right to Russia, right to the Kremlin and right to some of the worst actors, really, in Russia today doing Putin's dirty work."
BLITZER: They've got some legitimate fears as far as that's concerned.
Evan, an intriguing footnote to all of this: CNN was actually offered up these documents by this Twitter account a while ago. Tell us about that.
PEREZ: Yes. Back in October, Katelyn Polantz, who's been covering this -- this case in the courts, she actually got an outreach from what we believe now to be the people behind this Twitter account. And they sent a message saying -- essentially, offering access to this information. And I'll read you a part of what they said in the e- mail.
It said, quote, "We are anonymous hackers. We are like hundreds of others. But we are the one and only who got the special counsel Robert Mueller database." And then it describes how they got into this database that was controlled by ReedSmith, the lawyers for Concord Management, Wolf. And it says, "So you're just one of the few who can handle it in the right way. You are the only one who can tell people the truth."
Now, we are -- our reporter did not respond to the message. Instead, we reached out to the special counsel's office. We reached out to the lawyers to try to figure out whether or not there, indeed, had been a hacking. We were told that there had not been any kind of breach. And so everybody was sort of puzzled exactly what was going on behind the scenes.
It turns out the FBI started investigating, and that's what you see today from the special counsel. Essentially, the FBI determined there had not been a hack, but instead, it seems that some documents that had been provided to the lawyers ended up with the company back in Russia.
And again, going back to Jim's point, this is exactly what the concern had been with doing this. But then, you know, you also have to wonder why the special counsel ended up charging this company. One of the things, if you talk to lawyers at the Justice Department, there was a mistake made here by charging this company.
None of the 13 people who were charged in this case have ever shown up in court to defend themselves. This company has managed to get investigation by simply hiring these lawyers and showing up in court to challenge this case.
BLITZER: Seems, you know, Jim, that the Russians are trying to do to Mueller exactly what Mueller is investigating the Russians having done during the U.S. presidential election.
SCIUTTO: That is the irony of ironies right here. A disinformation campaign against the special counsel's investigation of a disinformation campaign during -- during the election here. And that's the issue.
And listen, remember what the intelligence chiefs testified yesterday in the Senate. Not just, of course, that they interfered, Russia, in 2016 but that Russia did the same in 2018 and is laying the groundwork for similar in 2020. So it's part of a continuing attack on the U.S. election system, and it's something that intel chiefs are taking very seriously.
BLITZER: As we heard yesterday, indeed, when they all testified before the Senate. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, Evan Perez. Good reporting.
President Trump, meanwhile, slammed the heads of the U.S. intelligence agencies for daring to publicly dispute his take on global threats.
Let's go live to our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, what's the latest?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there was one thing on President Trump's schedule today, and that was an intelligence briefing with those same officials that he spent the morning attacking after they publicly testified on Capitol Hill contradicting him, disagreeing with him on what they believe are the most pressing national security matters facing the U.S.
The president made clear this morning he disagreed, and he thinks he's the right one.
COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump is blasting the nation's top intelligence chiefs as passive and naive after they publicly contradicted him while testifying on Capitol Hill.
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.
[17:10:06] ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.
We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities.
COLLINS: On Twitter, Trump telling his own spy chiefs "Go back to school" after they said North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons and that for now Iran isn't taking steps to produce a nuclear weapon. Trump insisting they are wrong about Iran, North Korea and ISIS.
The sharp rebuke deepening the divide between what the president tells the nation and what his intelligence officials tell him.
TRUMP: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.
COLLINS: This as a new report from "The Financial Times" claims Trump came face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in November, chatting privately for 15 minutes with no U.S. translator or note taker present. Just first lady Melania Trump and Putin's translator.
The White House isn't denying the report but tells CNN Trump merely reiterated to Putin why he cancelled their formal meeting at the summit, due to tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Asked if Trump's private conversation put the intelligence community at a disadvantage, the director of national intelligence said he'd rather answer behind closed doors.
COATS: Well, Senator, clearly this is a sensitive issue, and it's an issue that we ought to talk about this afternoon. I look forward to discussing that in a closed session.
COLLINS: Meantime, the president has a warning for a group of bipartisan lawmakers meeting for the first time today in hopes of avoiding another government shutdown, tweeting that they're wasting their time if they don't factor in his demand for border wall money. A Democratic lawmaker involved in the talks drawing a line in the sand
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: If it's called a fence, does that change it for you?
REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: No.
COLLINS: Democrats may not be reversing course, but a technology company that claimed it would create thousands of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin is.
TRUMP: They wouldn't have done it here, except that I became president, so that's good.
COLLINS: Foxconn now saying it will build a technology hub instead of the factory full of blue-collar jobs it promised the president.
TRUMP: As Foxconn has discovered, there is no better place to build, hire and grow than right here in the United States.
COLLINS: Trump touted the move as proof he was making good on his campaign promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. But now, Foxconn will make LCD panels overseas before shipping them here.
COLLINS: Now, of course, Wolf, the president doesn't control the actions of a private company, but President Trump cited this company specifically multiple times, saying it was proof that he was following through on those campaign promises to not only bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States but also as foreign investment.
Now, we asked the White House what the president's reaction to this latest story about Foxconn several hours ago, but they still haven't gotten back to us -- Wolf.
BLITZER: If you get a response, let us know. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks very much.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a member of both the Intelligence and the Judiciary Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the breaking news. The special counsel now says, as you heard, that the Russians have altered and disseminated evidence from his investigation as part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Have you been briefed on this?
SWALWELL: I can't talk about what I've been briefed. I can just say this is what they do. It's a surprise at all that Russia is doing it. It is a surprise that our president has not taken it seriously. And for all of his claims that he's confronted Putin and others have confronted Putin, it's not working if he truly has confronted him. It's not working, because this persists.
And I think this is, you know, all the reason that we have to view Russia as an adversary who's working against our interests.
And I hear inside Washington every day that people outside Washington don't care about what Russia did. And that's just not true, because people outside Washington know that the very idea of America, whether it's free markets, human rights, free press, capitalism, is at risk if Russia is able to continue to undermine us and we don't have a president who stands up.
BLITZER: This latest development seems to be a tactic straight out of the Russian playbook. Have you seen any evidence that over the past year, let's say, two years, the Russians have curtailed, slowed down, stopped doing these kinds of activities aimed at the United States?
SWALWELL: No, Wolf. And we're on the eve of the Super Bowl, and if you were a team that kept running a hook-and-ladder play and the defense never responded to it, you would just keep running that same play over and over.
And what Russia sees right now is a president, the person who calls the shots at the top, is not doing anything to put up a defense against the same old play. So I expect them to keep running it until we defend against it.
BLITZER: So what does it say that they're continuing this disinformation operation?
[17:15:02] SWALWELL: That our 2020 election is at risk, that they will continue to turn us against each other, because although Donald Trump may have viewed what Russia did as something transactional and they helped him, so he's going to ease sanctions, pull us out of Syria, diminish the role of NATO, I think Russia was seeking to really just undermine our democracy.
And so they're going to continue to do this until we, I think, unite in a bipartisan way and put the resources in place to defend the ballot box and make sure the American people have the awareness that they need about who's doing this.
BLITZER: We heard that from the intelligence chiefs yesterday, who all testified before the Senate that the Russians not only are not slowing down but they're gearing up to do exactly what they did in 2016 in 2020.
Let's talk a little bit about that. Because a day after they publicly -- the intelligence chiefs, all of them were lined up -- they publicly contradicted what the president has said on so many of these national security issues.
The president called them today passive and naive. And then he said this, ridiculing all these chiefs who he himself nominated for their positions: they should go back to school. This is the head of the CIA, the director of national intelligence. All of them -- the FBI director, Christopher Wray. He says they should go back to school. SWALWELL: Yes.
BLITZER: How much of a threat to national security is it when you see a president publicly ridiculing the intelligence community like this?
SWALWELL: It's devastating, Wolf. Because we are supposed to, you know, follow the lead of what our national security officials tell us, especially in Congress, when we fund their priorities. And to see the president just, again, undermine them.
And also, Wolf, they did not fall out of the sky into those seats. They were appointed by a president who promised he would only appoint the best. So this says more about the president's failed leadership than these individuals.
But this, I think, is a call for us now, having he majority in Congress, to fund where they see the risks are, not where the president would rather fear-monger. Because you didn't hear one person say that we should be worried about these caravans or immigrants at the southern border. They told us who our enemies are.
BLITZER: Yes, that was conspicuously missing from all of the threats facing the United States, national security threats facing the United States. They didn't talk about any threat coming from Mexico along the border with the United States.
"The Financial Times" is now reporting on another undisclosed meeting that the president had at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires recently with -- with Vladimir Putin. The only other person, only other American there was Melania Trump. Putin was there with his Russian interpreter. There were no American note takers, no American interpreters. What does that say to you?
SWALWELL: Again, to me, it's a consciousness of guilt. This source was not a U.S. person. It was a Russian source. We never would have known this, had the president [SIC] not told us.
In the two years that Donald Trump has been president, there's been no reporting that he had a secret meeting with Theresa May or, you know, President Macron or any of our allies. He is only having secret meetings with the Russian president. He's only taking the interpreter's notes when he meets with the Russian president.
It's something I would like to learn, is whether he talked about Syria and withdrawing our troops from Syria in this meeting. Because this was a November 2018 meeting, and cut to December where we have this abrupt withdrawal from Syria.
And again, I think, as long as the president embraces a country who's rooting against our success, that affects our national security.
BLITZER: You've been telling me for quite a while now that you're thinking of running for president of the United States in 2020. I know you're headed to New Hampshire tomorrow. Are you about to announce your candidacy? SWALWELL: I'm getting pretty close, Wolf. And what I see is a country that wants a vision that goes big, you know, acts boldly and does good for the American people. I come from a generation that wants to do that but hits this Washington wall and wants to believe government can solve problems.
I'm the first of my family to go to college. I have two kids under 2. We're living the American dream but see that it's not reaching everyone. And I think, you know, for those reasons and my work on the Intelligence Committee, that would be a unique candidacy that I'm excited about.
My wife is traveling this week for -- for work, so I'm taking care of two kids. And I'm appreciating what this is going to mean to her. And so it's just right now a family decision at this time.
BLITZER: Sounds to me like you're going to be -- you're going to be running.
SWALWELL: I'm getting pretty close, Wolf.
BLITZER: What does that mean, pretty close?
SWALWELL: Well, you've got to put in place, you know, how your family's going to handle this. I mean, there's child care issues. My wife has a great full-time job that she's worked hard to achieve. And I've got responsibilities on the Judiciary Committee. We're doing the Voting Rights Act and gun violence measures in the next couple weeks. I just want to make sure that I, you know, can responsibly attend to those duties and also, you know, tell Americans what I believe.
BLITZER: Sounds like you're not only getting close. To me, it sounds like --
SWALWELL: We're getting close.
BLITZER: -- you're about to announce that you're -- you're welcome back to make the announcement.
SWALWELL: Give me a few more minutes, Wolf, we might break some news.
BLITZER: You want to talk --
SWALWELL: No, no.
BLITZER: We can vamp for a while if you want to.
SWALWELL: Phone a friend. Phone a wife. Right?
BLITZER: We'll be in close touch. Thanks very much.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
BLITZER: Much more news coming up. More on the breaking news as a court filing alleges Russians altered documents from the special counsel's investigation to try to discredit the entire Mueller probe. Plus, 80 percent of the United States dipped below the freezing mark
today, and some areas dipped well below zero. How long will the deep freeze continue?
[17:24:24] BLITZER: Our breaking news: a new court filing from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, accusing Russians of altering and releasing evidence in an attempt to discredit the ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. political system.
Let's ask our diplomatic, national security, diplomatic experts about this surprising development today.
Susan, it is a surprising development. Give us a sense of proportion. In this lengthy court document that Mueller released, he says -- he makes clear that the Russians were releasing and disseminating and altering all of this information as part of a major disinformation campaign.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So once thing, it's remarkable to see the extent to which the president's interests and the Russians' interests are over-lined or are aligned. First, it's getting Trump elected. Now it's discrediting the Mueller probe.
So essentially, what occurred here is these are defendants that are entitled to U.S. legal process. It doesn't matter that -- you know, that they're accused, essentially, of defrauding the United States government. And so part of that legal process is discovery. The government has to present you with the evidence they intend to use against you.
Now, instead of actually, whenever they got this information, instead of using it to prepare their own defense, what they did is essentially used it to engage in a disinformation campaign, which by the way, is what they're accused of doing in the first place. So not a great defense by sort of publicly leaking, which would be bad enough, but actually something even more nefarious and actually altering this information.
Now, what Mueller's team can do now is ask the judge to attempt to limit the discovery to certain people, to certain circumstances in an effort to prevent this from -- this kind of behavior from occurring and also from sensitive information getting back to -- back to the Russian government.
BLITZER: Because Gloria, the Russians are trying to discredit the Mueller probe. And the president keeps calling it a witch hunt, a hoax. He's trying to discredit the whole thing, too.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's kind of ironic, right, that -- that the special counsel who's looking into Russian disinformation has become a victim of Russian disinformation.
But Mueller was smart. He did not give them sensitive documents. I mean, they -- they toyed with them and played with them and made stuff up and distributed it around, probably, to Russian oligarchs; but the stuff that Mueller gave him was not his most sensitive stuff. That doesn't mean they couldn't -- you know, they couldn't mess with it.
BLITZER: They did mess with it.
BORGER: They did.
BLITZER: They distorted it.
BORGER: And so the president calls it a witch hunt, and they call it a witch hunt.
BLITZER: Is this a typical Russian disinformation campaign operation?
ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Actually, it's fairly unsophisticated. It's a fairly ham-fisted way of dealing with this. Taking a document that a company's been given, and then distorting it and putting it out online. There was no real hack here.
They are capable of far worse activity in cyberspace. But it does, I think, show the degree to which the Russians, and particularly the Kremlin, care about the Mueller investigation.
KIRBY: And the fact that they do want to discredit it. It shows you how nervous they are potentially getting about this.
BLITZER: But Sabrina, this discrediting of the -- of the Mueller probe, it seems to resonate with that base, with that Trump base out there.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Absolutely. It's not just that the president's base is susceptible to the Russian efforts to discredit the probe. It's that the president himself has used his platform to wage his own misinformation campaign around the special counsel and its work.
And he repeatedly, as we said, called it a witch hunt since taking office, used some variation of "witch hunt" over Twitter more than 120 times, and that was as of just last October.
And it seems to be working when you look at the polling that shows that it's really only Republicans who do not buy into the integrity of this investigation, who buy into the notion that it's partisan.
I think that because this is happening against a backdrop of the Russians still actively trying to sow discord and disrupt the political institutions here in this country, it also calls into question what the president is willing to do to deter the Russians from being able to meddle in future elections, particularly as he himself is going to be on the ballot in 2020.
BORGER: What will he tweet about this, if anything? BLITZER: Yes. We're going to have a lot more. Everybody, stick
around. Much more right after this.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our political, national security and diplomatic experts.
[17:33:05] And Susan, "The Financial Times" now reporting that the president, when he was in the G-20 had another private meeting with Putin. Melania Trump was there. Putin's translator was there. No American note taker, no other American was there. No American interpreter was there. How much of a problem, potentially -- you used to work in the intelligence community. How much of a problem is that?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: OK, Donald Trump talks about falling in love with Kim Jong-un, but it's actually Vladimir Putin that he kind of can't stay away from. We keep hearing reports of this over and over again. Secret meetings, no U.S. officials involved, and it really is incredibly suspicious. It's hard to describe it any other way.
Ordinarily, in these meetings, you have -- you have American staff there, not just to take notes and brief other people and ensure that the administration is coordinated and cohesive but actually to protect the president himself, right, to ensure that the foreign adversary isn't going to manipulate that meeting, get him to make commitments that he doesn't understand that he is making, or frankly, lie about it after the fact. All of those concerns are especially heightened whenever it comes to Vladimir Putin.
And so the other thing, I think, that heightens the concerns here is that these meetings are taking -- are all occurring in a period of time in which the president of the United States is taking pro-Russia positions, positions that are -- are not just in favor of the Russians but actually counter to U.S. allies' interests and, frankly, counter to the interests of the United States. And so really, he couldn't do more to exacerbate the existing concerns if he tried.
BLITZER: Is it ever a good reason for an American president to have a private meeting like this, one-on-one, with an adversary? I can understand with an ally, with Theresa May, Angela Merkel -- but with an adversary.
ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: No. And for all the reasons Susan very well articulated. You want to have a record of it. You want to be able to brief your own team, and you certainly want to be able to communicate the results of that in your own way, because certainly with Putin, they're going to spin it however they want to do it.
I am more concerned -- actually, I'm equally as concerned by the fact that nobody knew about it.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. KIRBY: I mean, in what world do we live in, where the president of the United States can meet with Vladimir Putin and nobody knows about it? That's really deeply --
[17:35:00] BLITZER: The Russians clearly knew about it.
BORGER: Well --
KIRBY: Well, other than the Russians. I mean on his own team.
BORGER: Yes, and also, we found out about it, or "The Financial Times" found out about it, from the Russians.
And by the way, there are already conflicting views of what occurred. According to "The Financial Times," Trump aides say it was just informal that he had. It wasn't a big deal. And Putin's people are saying that they spoke for 15 minutes about a number of foreign policy issues, you know, including the conflict in Syria.
So which is it? Where are we -- which is the accurate read-out? I mean, there's no note taker. And if there was a note taker, maybe the notes would have been destroyed anyway, because the president likes to do that.
So how can this be? It's -- it's --
BLITZER: That's a good question.
BORGER: -- stunning.
BLITZER: Sabrina, what do you think?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": It's remarkable. There's been such a lack of transparency around the president's interactions with Vladimir Putin, especially since we're talking about the leader of a country that has been actively interfering in U.S. elections.
And the White House has done away with many of the readouts that provide a public accounting of the president's conversations with foreign leaders. But because this is Putin and the president has continually professed his desire for improve relations between the U.S. and Russia, there is a very real question as to what is motivating the president in these interactions? What is the nature of their discussions? And what is driving the president to take many of these pro-Russia positions?
Now, some of this is the subject of the special counsel and its probe. And we did learn, of course, through the testimony of Michael Cohen that those conversations on the Trump Tower project in Moscow were ongoing well into the point that the president -- that then-candidate Trump was soon to be the Republican presidential nominee. And even if there was no follow-through on that project, it does invite more scrutiny as to the president and his decision making when it comes to Russia.
BLITZER: What do you think of the latest humiliation by the president of the U.S. intelligence community? The intelligence chiefs yesterday testified before the Senate. They made it clear they have a different view on several very sensitive national security issues than the president. And today, the president said perhaps the intelligence chiefs should go back to school.
HENNESSEY: Right. These are his own national security officials. These are his hand-picked officials that he's criticizing as naive.
Now, you might not agree with the policy positions of any of these people, but they are most certainly not naive and passive on any of these issues.
The problem is, is that they have an obligation to tell the truth. It actually would be a crime for them to sit in front of Congress, under oath, and lie about the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community.
And the danger here, really, is that any time the president is confronted with facts that are contrary or not helpful to his personal narrative, he ignores those facts and actually goes ahead and attacks the messenger.
And you know, to borrow a phrase from -- from the president's own supporters, the facts don't care about the president's feelings. The North Korean nuclear program doesn't care if the president of the United States believes it exists. ISIS doesn't care if the president thinks it's defeated or not.
And so really, what we are seeing is, is that, you know, the -- all of these issues are continuing to develop at the same time that the United States can't develop a coherent policy.
BLITZER: Not the first time he has embarrassed and ridiculed the intelligence community.
KIRBY: No, it's not. And look, I don't think they're humiliated. These are professionals, shoulder to the wheel. They're back at it today. They do this in an apolitical, non-partisan way. I think they're dedicated professionals, and I think all Americans should be proud of the way they presented themselves and the information in the context yesterday to members of Congress.
BORGER: But don't you worry that the president doesn't sit and talk to his intelligence officials and absorb the information, whether it's from the presidential daily brief --?
KIRBY: It bothers me that it's almost willful ignorance of the context.
KIRBY: That bothers me, not so much that he's not listening. I don't know what his briefings look like, but he certainly seems to be willing to be --
BLITZER: You know -- BORGER: What if there's an emergency? What if we're, God forbid, attacked?
BLITZER: It's a serious -- it's a serious development. Maybe Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, should accept the president's advice and apply for graduate school at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, my alma mater.
BORGER: Maybe --
BLITZER: Go back to school, and get -- and get a master's degree.
BORGER: -- Donald Trump ought to go back to school.
KIRBY: Well, if you have a degree, Wolf --
BLITZER: I went there a long time ago. But maybe he should go back and get some education.
And Sabrina, congratulations to you, the new White House correspondent for "The Guardian."
SIDDIQUI: Thank you so much.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Coming up, more than 200 million Americans wake up to freezing temperatures with nearly a quarter of the country below zero. So what will that bring tonight? Stay with us for the latest updated forecast.
[17:44:08] BLITZER: Today saw the peak of this winter's record- breaking cold wave. Eighty percent of the country was below freezing this morning. Over the next few days, 200 million Americans will endure temperatures at or below freezing. The worst cold is in the Midwest, where some states saw windchills of 60 below.
Let's go to our meteorologist, Tom Sater. Tom, so what will tonight bring?
TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I think, Wolf, tonight we may see slightly lighter winds, which would be a blessing, but the air temperatures are going to get colder.
So any way you look at it, we're still in record-breaking territory. And this is an arctic blast like we usually, typically don't see. Usually, they're with light winds. There's snow cover on the ground. Clear skies, and you really see the temperatures drop.
But this came in with such force and such winds that we have now, at Chicago, minus 38 wind chill; Minneapolis, minus 30. Those are the best numbers we've seen all day. [17:45:00] When you look at some of the wind chill values now and what it's going to feel like in some of the hours ahead, we're still looking at minus 40, minus 50 in some areas.
Now, the temperatures in Chicago could drop down to about minus 25. The record is not -- minus 27, so in record territory.
Hard to see these but in Minnesota, our wind chills, the lowest we found, minus 66, minus 63. All-time Minnesota wind chill record was minus 71, so we're in that territory.
A couple of hours ago, whiteout conditions with snow moved through New York and Philadelphia. That's the leading edge now of this Arctic blast that is moving towards the east.
The temperatures are going to get critical, though. Minus 25 as mentioned in Chicago, coming close. That record's 1994. That's why we're calling it a generational cold snap. If you're 25 years or younger, you haven't felt this cold before.
But if we get to 27, just below 27, that's the coldest in record keeping in Chicago in almost 150 years.
Now, it slides to New York. The temperatures -- the high temperatures, from 34, Wednesday, down to 18 degrees. Chicago goes from minus 14 to 23. This could be another record. We could see a record, Wolf, this weekend in Chicago, the greatest warm-up that we've ever seen going from cold temperatures to warm.
But still, 43 possible record lows overnight tonight. It's not done with just yet. By the way, in Fairbanks, minus 12; Chicago, minus 25. They have been canceling Iditarod qualifying runs because they don't have snow. They've got rain.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well -- all right, Tom, thank you very much. Tom Sater with the latest forecast.
Coming up, we'll have more on our breaking news, the Special Counsel Robert Mueller accusing Russians of altering and releasing evidence in an attempt to discredit the ongoing investigation.
And as President Trump gets ready for a new summit with Kim Jong-un, there are now some very disturbing signs that the North Korean dictator may be forming a closer alliance with Russia's Vladimir Putin. What could they be up to? We'll be right --
[17:51:40] BLITZER: While President Trump is busy slamming his own intelligence chiefs, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, two authoritarian leaders praised by the President, may be forming a closer alliance, potentially posing an even greater threat to U.S. interests. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.
Brian, what are you finding out? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we're hearing of
important meetings in Moscow between North Korean and Russian diplomats and a possible summit between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong- un.
It seems, tonight, the former KGB colonel in the Kremlin is trying to muscle his way into the diplomatic process between Kim and President Trump.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, new indications that two of America's most dangerous adversaries, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, could be teaming up.
Russian officials say North Korean representatives have been in Moscow this week, discussing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that's been such a prominent initiative for President Trump. And Putin's Deputy Foreign Minister says a possible visit by Kim to Moscow is, quote, on the agenda, but he didn't mention a specific date.
ALEXANDER VERSHBOW, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL, NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION: I think they're both a little paranoid about regime change being perpetrated on them by the United States and the international community. Regime survival, I think, is their number one motivation. I think they both are trying to reduce U.S. military presence in northeast Asia.
TODD (voice-over): Meantime, "The Washington Post" reports that Putin's government made a secret offer to North Korea this past fall -- Russia offering to build a nuclear power plant for North Korea if Kim's regime would dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
"The Post" says it's not clear how the North Koreans responded or if the offer is still being negotiated. A top Russian diplomat denies an offer was made, but experts wouldn't put it past the former KGB colonel in the Kremlin.
SUSAN GLASSER, CO-AUTHOR, "KREMLIN RISING: VLADIMIR PUTIN'S RUSSIA AND THE END OF REVOLUTION": Vladimir Putin, of course, would love to insert himself right into the middle of the North Korea talks, especially at such a crucial moment for Donald Trump.
Russia likes nothing more than reminding the world that the United States is not the only global superpower. This seems, to me, a classic Vladimir Putin move.
TODD (voice-over): Neither the White House, the State Department, nor the CIA are commenting on "The Post" report.
The Kim dynasty has a longstanding relationship with the Kremlin, an alliance that's always worked against American interests. Kim's father and grandfather both took long trips to Moscow, on board armored trains much like the one Kim has traveled on to China. Tonight, experts warn of how a new alliance between Kim and Putin
could work against America. They could share intelligence against the U.S. and other capabilities.
VERSHBOW: The North Koreans, you know, do have tremendous skills when it comes to cyber. They are using Russian technology, older technology, to develop their missile program, and there could conceivably be a renewed cooperation in that area.
TODD: But analysts, tonight, have their own words of caution for Kim Jong-un. They say if Kim's diplomatic dance with President Trump breaks down and Kim decides to return to his threatening posture with the U.S., well, he likely won't be able to count on Putin or the Chinese to completely back him up, Wolf.
BLITZER: But I understand, Brian, you're also hearing this teaming up with Putin does seem to be a shrewd move, though, on Kim's part, right?
TODD: Right, Wolf. It's a way for him to show President Trump that Trump is not his only option here, that he's not cornered by the U.S. in this diplomatic process.
Experts are telling us Kim is brilliantly playing off the big powers against each other right now with his overtures to the U.S., to China, and now to Russia. Only about, what, 36 years old and he is playing off the powers against each other.
[17:55:08] BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd with the latest.
Coming up, breaking news. A new court document from the Special Counsel says Russians have altered evidence from the Mueller probe in an effort to discredit the Mueller probe.
And 80 percent of the United States dropped below the freezing mark today with many Americans experiencing temperatures well below zero. How long will this dangerous freeze continue?
[17:59:56] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Faking Mueller evidence. The Special Counsel is warning that materials from his investigation are being doctored and used in a Russian disinformation campaign.