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THE SITUATION ROOM
FEMA Director Brock Long Resigns; Trump Likely to Sign Border Deal to Avoid Shutdown; Interview with Senator Ben Cardin (D- Maryland); Federal Judge to Decide Whether Paul Manafort Lied to the Special Counsel; Federal Judge to Decide Whether Paul Manafort Lied to the Special Counsel; Trump Likely to Sign Border Deal to Avoid Shutdown; Feds: Former Air Force Intelligence Specialist Spied for Iran Aired. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired February 13, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, inclined to sign. Sources tells CNN President Trump is leaning towards signing the spending bill that would avert a government shutdown even though it doesn't contain the money he wants for a border wall. But tonight the president still won't publicly commit.
Long goodbye. FEMA director Brock Long becomes the latest member of the Trump team to leave, suddenly resigning in the wake of an investigation into whether he misused government resources.
Part of the probe. We are standing by for a judge's decision on whether former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team violating his plea agreement. Did Manafort deliberately mislead prosecutors about a meeting with a Russian associate that's believed to be at the center of the Mueller investigation?
And spying for Iran. A former U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist is charged with divulging highly classified intelligence information and the identity of an American intelligence officer after she defected to Iran. Where is she now?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The sudden and surprise resignation of the FEMA director Brock Long the latest in the growing list of Trump administration officials to leave under a cloud of controversy. His departure coming as the president has everyone guessing whether he'll sign the spending bill to avert another government shutdown in two days. Also breaking, we're standing by for a judge's decision on whether
former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort violated this plea agreement with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller by lying about a meeting with a Russian associate. That meeting believed to be central to Mueller's investigation.
I'll talk about the breaking news with Senator Ben Cardin of the Foreign Relations Committee, and our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's get the very latest on the breaking news. Our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is joining us.
Kaitlan, yet another member of the Trump team is out tonight.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And this was a surprise, Wolf, that the FEMA administrator Brock Long is leaving after less than two years on the job. Two years that were marked not just with hurricanes and floods but also a government investigation into his use of government vehicles to travel between Washington and his home state of North Carolina, and a feud with his boss, the DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Now today Long said this is one of the toughest choices he's ever had to make, and Nielsen announced that his deputy is going to take over for him.
We haven't heard any comment from the White House yet on Long's departure but that's because they're facing questions of their own on about whether or not President Trump is going to sign this border security spending deal and avoid another government shutdown when it runs out of money at the end of the week.
COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump leaving Washington guessing tonight.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to look at the legislation when it come and I'll make a determination then.
COLLINS: Declining to say whether he'll sign the border security spending deal until he's seen the final package.
TRUMP: Well, we haven't seen gotten it yet. We'll be getting it. We'll be looking for land mines because you could have that, you know.
COLLINS: Despite claiming earlier this week that Democrats would shoulder the blame for another government shutdown, Trump all but ruling one out today.
TRUMP: I don't want to see it shut down. Shutdown would be a terrible thing. I think a point was made with the last shutdown. People realized how bad the border is.
COLLINS: The president hinting that he if does sign the deal he could still use his executive powers to secure further funding for the wall.
TRUMP: Regardless of what I do, you know, we already have, as you know, a lot of money where we're building existing wall with these existing funds. But I have a lot of options just like we do with Venezuela. We have on the border.
COLLINS: Adding he has options most people don't understand to build the wall without congressional approval.
TRUMP: It's going to happen at a really rapid pace. We're giving out contracts right now and we're going to have a great wall. It's going to be a great powerful wall.
COLLINS: The bipartisan compromise includes just over $1 billion for 55 miles of new fencing, far below the $5.7 billion for 235 miles Trump shut the government down over in December.
SEN. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I'm extremely disappointed in the amount of money in this compromise. I assume the president is going to sign it. I don't think anybody is interested in having another government shutdown but he has to be frustrated.
COLLINS: But questions remain about whether the president could be swayed by conservative backlash.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I'm not happy either. Nobody should be happy. The president has every right to be angry.
[17:05:02] The so-called compromise is typical of the D.C. sewer and swamp, and its level of funding for security and safety of the American people is pathetic.
COLLINS: At least one immigration hard liner in the president's corner is framing it as a win for him pointing to remarks made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she said she would only give the president $1 for his wall.
LAURA INGRAHAM, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Well, try $1.375 billion. She might not want to call it a wall but that's what it is. And that's not all bad.
COLLINS: So, Wolf, the president seems to be inching closer to embracing this deal but he says he's still waiting on that final text. That final text is still being worked out on Capitol Hill right now. And that's why you won't see those White House aides go on the record to say that the president is going to sign this. Because, Wolf, they know better than anyone in Washington that the president can change his mind at the last minute.
BLITZER: So not a done deal until it's a done deal.
All right. Kaitlan, thank you very much.
COLLINS: Yes. BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House.
An urgent effort, meanwhile, is underway up on Capitol Hill right now as the clock ticks toward a shutdown in just two days and we're learning new information about work on the bill that would prevent that shutdown.
Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us.
Phil, when will the deal be finalized and could there be landmines like the administration has forecast?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'm told at this moment congressional negotiators and their staff are in the final stages of drafting a proposal. It's supposed to be north of a thousand pages, which explains why it has taken so long to get from announcing a deal on Monday night to actually releasing the proposal at some point later this evening.
Basically it is seven spending bills all put together. Obviously the most important, the one that's been the biggest central element of the fight is the Department of Homeland Security bill. I'm told that is finished. It's being reviewed by both sides. And the administration has been involved throughout the drafting process.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen making calls to several of the conference committee members throughout the process to try and engage, see where things are going. What we're being told right now is once the bill is released Congress plans to move quickly and with good reason when you talk to lawmakers in both chambers on both sides of the aisle.
I'm told both Democrats and Republicans are increasingly confident that they will not just pass the bill in the House and the Senate but they will pass the bill by a wide margin. House Democrats met earlier today behind closed doors. I'm told the proposal got a very positive reception even though some of the more progressive members of the conference aren't happy with all of the elements.
The expectation, losses on the Democratic side should be low. For Republicans, you've seen it both publicly and I've heard about it privately. Senate Republicans particularly on the leadership level, Wolf, stressing that the president needs to sign the bill. I'm told at this moment they have not gotten any explicit assurances but they are moving forward as if the president will sign the bill. Their pitch to the president both publicly and privately this is just part of the process. A multi-step process.
A down payment is a word that you're hearing a lot, trying to assuage to the president's concerns about the top line barrier funding number. As for when they would actually vote on something the House right now planning to vote tomorrow night.
And Wolf, I'm told the Senate if it can actually get it done will try and wrap it up potentially tomorrow night as well. They want to move quickly. They want to get this over with and to your point, they want to try and eliminate any possibility of landmines, any possibility of stalling, and obviously any possibility of a government shutdown Friday night.
BLITZER: They both pass it on and the president can sign it into law on Friday. And that would avert the government shutdown. We'll see what happens.
Phil Mattingly, up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Wolf, it's good to be with you. Thanks.
BLITZER: So do you plan to vote in favor of this proposed compromise deal?
CARDIN: Everything I heard I would support this compromise. It's a true compromise. I think the delay is to make that sure it's worded in a way that this money is spent on border security consistent with what the experts say we need. I think the negotiators did a good job in bridging the gaps between the Democrats and Republicans. So I think it will be approved by Congress by a wide margin.
BLITZER: A lot of your Democratic colleagues, though, they originally drew a pretty hard line against using taxpayer money to fund the president's border wall. But this bill does contain nearly $1.4 billion for barriers along the border with Mexico. Do you believe that Democrats were forced to cave in on that original promise?
CARDIN: No. I think there was a compromise breached here. We have provided in previous budgets, money for fencing and border security infrastructure along the southern border. There is need for additional fencing particularly in Texas with certain restrictions to make sure it's not this concrete wall the president was talking about.
So I think this -- it furthers the programs that we have supported in the past. The deal was sensible border security but certainly not yielding to the president's campaign commitment for a medieval wall.
BLITZER: The president is likely to sign this deal, avert a government shutdown but then he is expected to try to find even more money elsewhere in the federal budget to build more of his proposed wall.
[17:10:02] He thinks he's on solid legal ground to do so. Will Democrats like you challenge him?
CARDIN: I don't think this may be a partisan challenge. I hope that Congress exercises its responsibility as an independent branch of government. It's Congress that appropriates the money, not the president of the United States. The methods that he's talked about using I think would violate the separation of branches and really responsibilities that only can be exercised by the legislative branch of government.
BLITZER: The president thinks the money, the nearly $1.4 billion is just a down payment that you're expected to approve. Will Democrats offer up yet more money for physical border barriers in future deals?
CARDIN: I certainly hope we get this deal done. I hope it's done by tomorrow night and then we can move on and start the FY 20, fiscal year negotiations. We have to go through Homeland Security again. We want to continue to build our border security. We recognize that we have a responsibility to keep America safe. We believe the president is misguided on his wall, but there is need for improvements along the southern border, and by the way, we have other border locations.
We should be working to make sure we keep America safe. So I think Democrats and Republicans are prepared to work together. I hope the administration is prepared to work with us.
BLITZER: Yes. Fiscal year '20 begins October 1st. It's not too far down the road. You guys have a lot of work to do to appropriate --
CARDIN: No question.
BLITZER: -- funds for the entire federal government.
Do you worry that the president, though, will continue to use government shutdowns as a threat?
CARDIN: Well, we were hopeful that we could get some language in this bill that would prevent any further shutdowns certainly during the next two years. I doubt that that will be included in the final draft but I hope President Trump, I hope the congressional leaders, take a shutdown as a strategy off the table. It makes no sense. It's dangerous. It hurts this country. There never should have been a shutdown and there certainly shouldn't be any future shutdowns.
BLITZER: Yes. Your governor, Larry Hogan, told me the other day that of the 800,000 federal employees who did not receive paychecks, 200,000 actually, work in the state of Maryland. That's a lot of federal employees and their families who are suffering as you know.
I want to turn quickly, Senator, to some other breaking news we're following. You introduced bipartisan legislation today that would force the Trump administration to take action against Russia for a broad range of bad behavior.
Tell us what this bill would do?
CARDIN: Well, first, Mr. Putin is continuing his intervention into our affairs and into European affairs. He's still occupying Crimea and Ukraine, on the eastern part of Ukraine. He's still acting in a way that is making it difficult for Ukraine to govern. And the list goes on and on and on. And what he's doing here in America.
So our bill would tighten the sanctions against Ukraine, take away some of the administration's discretion on either imposing sanctions or trying to eliminate sanctions. It is pretty strong in regards to Russia's involvement in other countries. So it's a clear message to the Trump administration and to Mr. Putin that Congress will continue to take action to isolate Russia if they continue to interfere in other countries.
BLITZER: Yes. You meant tighten sanctions against Russia?
BLITZER: That's part of this bill. Do you think you can get enough support to potentially override a presidential veto?
CARDIN: Well, last time we took up Russia sanctions bill, the CAATSA bill, it had overwhelming support. The president signed it. It had a near unanimous vote in both the House and the Senate. I think there is strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate to isolate Russia and Mr. Putin in the type of activities that he is continuing to participate in.
BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on the indictment of a former U.S. Air Force counter intelligence agent who is charged today with spying for Iran. There you see her. Prosecutors allege that this woman, Monica Witt, helped the Iranians target her former colleagues in the U.S. government. How concerning is this report to you?
CARDIN: Well, it's deeply concerning. I authored a report in January of last year about Russia's asymmetric arsenal, how they use people like this to interfere in other countries, how they use misinformation, how they use their military, how they use energy. How they use involvement in the political process of other countries to undermine the political institutions themselves.
So this is exactly what Russia is trying to get away with. Mr. Putin is trying to get away with. That's the reason we passed the original bill on sanctions against Russia. And that's why we're continuing to be concerned about what Russia is doing.
BLITZER: What Russia is doing, but this is Iran that allegedly was involved in recruiting this woman to be --
CARDIN: Well, Russia --
BLITZER: To be a spy.
CARDIN: But Russia, of course, is involved in Syria, with Iran. Iran's activities are also very much of concern against us. We've already imposed sanctions against Iran on their nonnuclear front which is not controversial that we all agree that we can continue to impose those sanctions. Congress passed the strongest possible sanctions against Iran on the nonnuclear side that this administration could enforce those sanctions including what they're trying to do now.
[17:15:13] BLITZER: Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, thanks much for joining us.
CARDIN: It's good to be with you.
BLITZER: The breaking news continues next. A federal judge is deciding right now whether Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors, violating his plea deal with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. We're standing by for a decision.
Plus, a U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist -- there she is again -- accused of spying for Iran. We're getting new details on this case against her. Stand by.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following right now. We're awaiting a federal judge's decision on whether former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller in violation of this plea deal.
[17:20:11] Our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is working this story for us.
Shimon, if the judge decides that Manafort did lie, what would the consequences for him be?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: I mean, potentially he could get more of a jail sentence here if the judge finds that he lies, that he was misleading the special counsel. Right? This goes to his credibility. He agreed to cooperate. He gets in the room. He starts changing his story according to the special counsel's office. So it could hurt him in the end on sentencing.
But realistically, when you think about his age, given how much jail time he's already facing on the conviction out of Virginia possible sentence in this case is it really going to make a huge difference in his life? Probably not. But it could add a substantial amount of jail time to what he's already facing.
BLITZER: Prosecutors are suggesting that a meeting that Manafort had in New York City in early August 2016 right after the Republican presidential convention with a Russian national who was considered to be close to Russian intelligence. That that meeting was very consequential that Manafort lied about it to Mueller's team. And as a result that could become the heart of this investigation.
PROKUPECZ: Yes. And this is what the special counsel's office spent lot of time asking Paul Manafort about. They wanted to know about this meeting. It took place in New York at a cigar bar kind of the Grand Havana room in New York. This was in August while Paul Manafort is the chairman of the campaign. He's meeting with this Russian operative. Rick Gate is at this meeting. This happens to be in the same building as the Kushner Building 666, which obviously we've done a lot of stories on. But what's really interesting here is that he's meeting with Kilimnick at this Grand Havana Bar, the cigar bar, and then when they leave, they all leave through separate entrances.
PROKUPECZ: Separately. They --
BLITZER: They didn't want to be seen.
PROKUPECZ: They didn't want to be seen together. Rick Gates was there, the Russian operative and Paul Manafort. And obviously when you're the FBI, when your investigators in the special counsel's office, prosecutors you start asking all these questions, well, what were you trying to hide? Why were you afraid that you might be seen together. And it could be that Paul Manafort, knowing who Kilimnick is, know that he is suspected of being this Russian operative, could have thought that the FBI was keeping an eye on him, as they do a lot of times on people who visit this country.
So it could have been that. So that raised a lot of suspicion. Obviously discussions they -- when you read these court documents, they say that this meeting is at the heart of the special counsel's investigation. What was being discussed, a lot of it is redacted. But in reading the documents you could see it has something to do with sanctions.
So what was going on? What was Paul Manafort trying to accomplish? Look, the other thing, Wolf, I think it's fair to remind folks is that the FBI at the time, when they started investigating a lot of the contacts between people in the campaign, and Russians, they felt that because so many people in the campaign didn't think Trump was going to win they were hoping to somehow build business off of their relationship with the campaign and perhaps try and line their pockets down the line with Russians, to do business with Russians.
And that is what the FBI was concerned about. And that could be what was going on here. But nonetheless the special counsel's office has made it a point that this meeting, this particular meeting between this Russian operative and Paul Manafort has been something that they have been greatly concerned about.
BLITZER: And I assume that Mueller and his team are getting a lot of information from Rick Gates, Manafort's deputy who's already pleaded guilty.
PROKUPECZ: That's right.
BLITZER: And he's been cooperating.
PROKUPECZ: He's still cooperating.
BLITZER: So he obviously has a lot of information on this.
PROKUPECZ: That's right.
BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of this. Momentarily we're expecting to get a federal judge's decision on whether or not Paul Manafort did lie and how that will impact his upcoming sentencing amid March.
PROKUPECZ: That's right.
BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very much.
There's more news we're following. Will President Trump sign the spending bill that keeps the government open, even though it doesn't have the money he wants for his border wall?
Plus shocking espionage charges against the U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist who defected to Iran.
[17:28:56] BLITZER: Our breaking news. After a sealed hearing today, we're awaiting a federal judge's ruling on whether former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort broke his plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Prosecutors say Manafort lied after he agreed to fully cooperate with the investigation, hoping to get a reduced prison sentence.
So let's get some insight from our political, legal and national security experts.
And Susan Hennessey, momentarily, it could be now, it could be an hour from now, we're expecting the federal judge to go ahead and tell us whether or not she believes that Paul Manafort lied.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So this potentially could have a pretty substantial impact even though we're hearing report that the special counsel's office is getting ready to wrap up. On Monday special counsel's office prosecutor Andrew Weissmann apparently told a judge in this closed hearing testimony that this conversation between Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnick goes to the heart of what the special counsel is investigating.
Now we know investigators have been intensely focused on getting Paul Manafort to tell the full story. But they don't think he's been forthcoming with them, and so this is sort of their last chance to exert a lot more leverage on him in order to try and get him to be more forthcoming.
Now facing decades of jail time wasn't enough for Paul Manafort to tell the truth in the past so, you know, maybe that sort of -- too much to hope for in this case but look, the overarching question here is why. Why did Paul Manafort lie? Why would you risk your plea agreement? What is so important to hide here?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This document that his lawyers released the first words in the document. Mr. Manafort did not lie. They flatly deny that their client Paul Manafort lied.
HENNESSEY: Yes. So clearly there is a disagreement about what actually occurred here. And we're going to have the judge come in. That said in prior filing from the special counsel's office they laid out a very, very detailed case. Some of it redacted. And essentially not only do we believe that he lied, we believe that we can prove he lied.
BLITZER: If he did lie, Jeff, why would he lie? He's -- you know, he's facing years. He's, what, almost 70 years old. He's got years in -- he's in prison right now. It got potentially seven, eight, 10 years of prison ahead of him. What's the point of lying at this stage in his life?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's a great question and we don't know the answer to that. I mean, I think it, you know, certainly leads one to believe what is he hiding? Is he hiding something else? Is he trying to protect the president? Is he still trying to hold out for some type of a pardon or some type of a clemency or some type of something here.
But I think that we -- we'll just have to wait and see what the judge says here. But he's essentially facing if not a lifetime sentence, almost one because as you said, he's 70 years old. So we don't know exactly why he may have lied as the prosecution says. His attorneys say he didn't -- it's one of the many, many mysteries around this but it goes back to the part of the case here, that August 2016 meeting in the cigar room of all things, and near the Trump Tower. More intrigue in an already intriguing case.
BLITZER: And we know that federal prosecutors, you know, are really focusing in on what this August 2nd meeting in New York, 666 Fifth Avenue at the Grand Havana, you know, room where they're smoking cigars. And Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates who's also pleaded guilty to these charges. He's awaiting sentencing. And Kilimnick, the Russian, they're talking then they all leave separately. So they don't want to be followed or seen together.
This seems to be a critically important meeting they're looking at shortly after the Republican presidential convention. Donald Trump is already the Republican presidential nominee. And they're wondering what was going on. Why did they leave Trump Tower and walk down the street to this other building?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: Right. There was reportedly a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan and Manafort's attorneys are arguing that the discussion ended there. But the fact that Paul Manafort as the chairman of the Trump campaign at the height of the presidential election would sit down face-to-face with someone who has known ties to Russian intelligence, really, to Susan's point, cuts to the heart of what this investigation is all about.
And remember, one of the revelations when we learned that Mueller's team believed that Manafort lied to them. One of the key revelations there was that Manafort shared internal polling data from the campaign with Kilimnick. So why would he do that? That is again perhaps evidence of collusion.
And it's not just on the Kilimnick meeting that's significant. Mueller's team has also argued that Manafort lied about his contacts with the Trump administration. And in a filing of their own, the special counsel cited text messages and other electronic communications that they say purport to show outreach from Manafort to someone within the Trump administration. So there is a lot more here than just that meeting with Kilimnick.
BLITZER: Yes. And as Shimon Prokupecz reported, there's a lot -- there was a lot of Trump aides during the campaign, he may have won the Republican presidential nomination but they didn't necessarily assume he was going to be elected president of the United States. And personally they were already looking ahead. How were they going to make money down the road and maybe they wanted to establish some contacts with very wealthy Russian oligarchs and maybe that was a cause of this.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And who knows? That's certainly -- because obviously Paul Manafort, he had expensive taste, as we know, from the trial but was also in a great deal of debt and likely maybe in this situation he did want to preserve some business contacts, and sort of shake the trees there with some of the people he was meeting with, anticipating like the polls were anticipating, at least at that time, that Trump wasn't going to win. We'll see what comes out of this meeting. We'll see what comes out of the judge's mouth today in terms of whether or not he lied.
ZELENY: And at the time it's one of the whole reasons he went to work for him.
ZELENY: To freshen up his resume if you will. I mean, he knew he was --
BLITZER: Plus he knew Kilimnick. He had worked with Kilimnick.
ZELENY: Of course.
BLITZER: Made a lot of money. But at this stage in his life, even though he was getting a dollar a year or whatever, no pay from the Trump campaign, he was for all practical purposes pretty much broke.
ZELENY: He was broke. And he was trying to leverage this into new business deals, new relationships, to try and freshen this up. So, you know, if you go back to this moment he got him through the convention, which was no easy feat. If Paul Manafort was needed for the convention, then after the convention it was time for him to, I think, you know, begin to make these business connections.
[17:35:02] So the context, though, I think is important. He wanted to run this campaign because he was trying to re-freshen if you will his old successful business ways.
BLITZER: If the judge -- Judge Amy Berman Jackson, and she's pretty highly respected, very tough. If she concludes that Manafort did lie and broke the plea agreement, didn't cooperate fully, what happens? HENNESSEY: Well, she could add additional time to his sentence, and
also prosecutors can actually bring those additional charges, right? So there is still outstanding charges that they might move forward with. Look, I do think as we come to reportedly maybe the home stretch of the Mueller investigation, it is a little bit of a chance to set some expectations.
There's been assumption that Mueller knows everything. He knows lots and lots of stuff that the public doesn't know, that the press doesn't know. This is pretty clear evidence that they are still trying to get to the bottom of this. There are still big, big question marks in this investigation and we might never get them answered.
BLITZER: As this is going on, Nia, there seems to be a riff, a split developing among the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the chairman, Richard Burr, the vice chairman, Mark Warner. They disagree on whether there is definitive evidence of collusion or no collusion as far as the Trump campaign and the Russians are concerned.
Listen to the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Richard Burr said there's no evidence of collusion he found in his committee. What's your reaction to that?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: You know, Senator Warner differs with that conclusion and we certainly strongly disagree with it in the House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's your reaction?
HENDERSON: Yes, well, in many ways if you look back at Warner and Burr, they had pretty much been on the same page. Right? And certainly compared to what was going on in the House and a lot of the disagreements going on there between Republicans and Democrats. I think the fact that Schiff and Warner are basically on the same page here, basically mirrors where Democrats are more broadly with this.
I mean, they want further investigation. They feel like even the Senate Intelligence Committee, maybe there's some more witnesses that they'll bring before that committee. They are taking a wait and see approach. They don't want to make any sort of conclusions about collusion. And then you have more basically parroting of the president, or Burr essentially parroting the president, saying there's no collusion at least not yet. There's no facts to support that evidence and the president of course re-tweeting that over and over again as we've heard him say that all along.
BLITZER: And clearly the House Intelligence Committee is split. Now the Senate Intelligence Committee is split. The key to all this is what's Mueller going conclude? SIDDIQUI: Yes. I think this just reinforces that even though you
have these parallel investigations both in the House and the Senate Intelligence Committee this is really going to come down to because of the partisan nature of the climate on Capitol Hill. What's in Mueller's report. And I think that you look at the pattern of contacts. More than 100 points of contact between Moscow and people who were either associated with the Trump campaign or members of the transition team that within of itself suggests that there was something indeed going on.
You have these key moments like this Manafort-Kilimnick meeting. You have that Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016. I think members of Congress are obviously going to look and see what they want to see. But it's not just about whether or not Mueller is going to prove that there was in fact collusion in this report. There's also the potential for him to recommend charges on the basis of obstruction of justice. So that's really going to leave it then in the hands of lawmakers on Capitol Hill to either take action against this president or to leave it up to the American public.
BLITZER: Because there seems to be a split among those who say there may be some evidence but there's no direct evidence. You've heard that.
HENNESSEY: Right. So this is a question of how much work is this were direct actually doing. We know that there's evidence, we discussed it on this very show. Right? There's lots and lots of circumstantial evidence. There's even public circumstantial evidence. The question is whether or not there is direct evidence, that sort of smoking gun that directly ties the president and his associates, you know, to these Russian efforts.
Robert Mueller has pretty convincingly made the case for the operation on the Russian side. Certainly he's made the case for at least some points of criminality on the U.S. side. And so the real question here is whether or not any of those congressional investigations are going to produce that definitive link.
I think the other question asked is, do we need that definitive link? Though a little bit, I think, Burr is setting and the president's supporters are trying to set the expectation that unless there is the absolute smoking gun, the phone call between Trump Tower and the Kremlin, that this cannot lead to impeachment.
I think the Democrats' challenge here is if the Mueller, and we don't even know if there will be a Mueller report, but if the Mueller report is something less than that how are they going to then mount a case for saying no, what we have seen even short of that still amounts to impeachable conduct?
BLITZER: We'll see what Mueller has, as opposed to what the Senate and House Intelligence Committee had. Mueller has clearly access to a whole lot more individuals and a lot more information than the congressional committees.
And irrespective whatever Mueller decides and it looks, Jeff, like he's wrapping things up fairly quickly right now, it looks like Adam Schiff in the House Intelligence Committee and other House Democrats who are in charge of the committees and subpoena power, they're only just beginning.
[17:40:04] ZELENY: They're only just beginning.
BLITZER: Especially when it comes to allegations of money laundering.
ZELENY: Exactly. And looking specifically at the financial information. That's what this investigation is going to begin. One of the reasons they're only beginning is because Democrats are just now in the House majority. So this is something that is going to go on. It'll be, you know, unfolding at the same time as the 2020 presidential campaign.
The question here is, how much appetite will there be before this? And I think if it's a serious and a real investigation, and perhaps getting his tax returns, the financial links, I think Democrats run the risk of overreaching if it goes beyond that. But if it stays in that lane and uncovers new information I think there's fruitful, you know, a lot of interest there. But the White House has repeatedly discredited all of this.
One question I have, what if Mueller comes back and does not draw a link and the president has discredited all of this? What does that mean? So I think the -- you know, the eye of the beholder here will be able to find out whatever they want in this and the president of course is --
BLITZER: If Mueller comes back and says there's no link the president will say, I told you so.
BLITZER: There's no collusion. I kept saying no collusion, no collusion. And if Mueller comes up with nothing, right, no direct evidence, direct evidence of collusion, the president will boast about that.
HENNESSEY: Right. I think that's right. I mean, this is one of the reasons to be so suspicious of the president. His behavior towards this investigation has not been the behavior that you would expect of someone who really thought that there wasn't going to be anything. There was no there-there. This thorough investigation was going to completely exonerate right out the gate before any information really was public. The president already adopted a very, very strong tact of attempting to discredit the investigation in advance of any evidence coming out. You know, even if it's -- even he ultimately ends up being exonerated.
ZELENY: But the finances, though, are I think much more worrisome to the White House, the people I talk to --
BLITZER: It was the red line. HENDERSON: The red line.
ZELENY: Absolutely. Much more than collusion.
BLITZER: The president drew a red line. Don't go after his personal money, his Trump Organization or his family.
SIDDIQUI: It was a red line but actually, you know, if you look at what we learned from Michael Cohen's cooperation with the special counsel the discussion around a potential Trump Tower project in Moscow was ongoing well into the course of the campaign. Now nothing came of that project in the end but there was -- in those discussions and offer to give a penthouse to Vladimir Putin. And certainly it reinforced that the president's business dealings are not irrelevant to the investigation at hand.
HENNESSEY: And keep in mind, even though Robert Mueller is working with an unlimited jurisdiction, congressional committees are not. They have a much broader jurisdiction. They aren't just limited by what Rod Rosenstein says they can investigate. They can investigate anything related to any legislative purpose, anything related to impeachment. And so really we should view the special counsel's investigation, the Russia investigation, as a starting point from this.
BLITZER: Nia, looks like the president is going to sign this legislation into law to avert another government shutdown.
HENDERSON: Yes. Grudgingly, right? I mean, that is sort of the posture that they're giving at this point. That it's something he will sign. Likely the money is less than what he was asking for, about $4 billion less, and certainly less also than what he could have gotten last summer as well. And he is telegraphing that something else is going to happen in terms of building the wall. He is already saying the wall was being built. Of course it's not really being built. There's no additional fencing or wall at all there. And he's essentially saying that he's going to find some other money somewhere in the budget. Not likely.
I don't know, and Jeff, you might know this a little bit more. The national emergency seems maybe like it's a little bit less likely at this point. Republicans are certainly balking at that prospect but if he can find pockets of money elsewhere to move them around and build this wall.
BLITZER: The suspicion is, he's going to reprogram existing funds from other parts of the administration budget, whether the Pentagon or elsewhere, and not necessarily declare a national emergency. There is precedence for that. He says he can do it and Congress and the courts won't be able to overrule it.
ZELENY: Exactly. That's one thing he does not want this. If he declares a national emergency to have it held up in a litigation. He wants, as he begins, you know, looking ahead to 2020. A sign in El Paso this week said "Finish the Wall." It didn't say build the wall. It said finish the wall. That is just posture going forward. It's underway. It is going through. People are trying to block him. He's going to finish the way. So whether he does or not, he's going to create that narrative.
But I would be stunned at this point if he doesn't sign it on Friday. But no one at the White House will say that on the record that he's going to sign it because they thought he was going to sign it at the end of December as well. But he does not want another shutdown. He has said that. They know that's bad.
BLITZER: The legislation tomorrow is likely to be overwhelmingly approved in the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans coming together. But there will be a bunch of Democrats who will vote against this. They're not very happy with even $1.3 billion or $1.4 billion for the barrier.
SIDDIQUI: Well, I think Democrats were, from the outset, willing to offer funding in border security. In fact they had offered more than what's in this package back in December. If you rewind to a year ago Chuck Schumer had actually put $25 billion toward the border wall on the table for the president in exchange for permanent protections for Dreamers.
The President, obviously, did not end up accepting that deal which, one could argue, would have been a lot better than what he's been forced to sign today. But I think Democrats, of course, they did have to offer some concessions on funding toward a physical barrier.
Now, an aide that I spoke to is saying that the language specifies that the fencing that they have allocated this money toward is restricted to currently deployed designs. So they're arguing this is not actually the President delivering on his promise for the wall. I think that's the line that you're going to hear from a lot of them.
But they also wanted to get some more out of Republicans on interior enforcement --
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
SIDDIQUI: -- the expansion of ICE. That's probably going to be tabled for a discussion in the future on immigration.
BLITZER: That means no concrete wall.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right.
BLITZER: And the President himself says the new wall is going to be a lot more beautiful than a concrete wall.
BLITZER: It's going to be very pretty. It's going to be very nice. You'll be able to see through it and all of that. You've heard him say that many times.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We've heard him say that a lot.
HENDERSON: Matte black finish.
ZELENY: The reality is he is going to claim victory on this. And by -- I mean, he is going to say the wall is being finished here, so that's where this is going. The reality is not always exactly what he is saying, but we do expect him to sign it. I would be stunned if there was a government shutdown once again.
BLITZER: Yes, all of us would be stunned. And, hopefully, there won't be.
BLITZER: Because there was a lot of suffering going on the last time around.
BLITZER: Guys, stick around. There's more news we're following including a startling development. A former U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist -- there you see her -- is accused of spying for Iran. We'll have more on her story and the damage she is alleged to have done.
[17:51:04] BLITZER: We're tracking a truly alarming new espionage case tonight. The Department of Justice just charged a former U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist, accusing her of spying for Iran. Brian Todd is following the case for us.
Brian, this woman had been missing for years.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, she defected to Iran about 5-1/2 years ago, and she is still believed to be there, protected by the Iranians. Tonight, U.S. intelligence officials are saying that Monica Witt did some serious damage to U.S. national security, which is especially stinging given the top-secret clearances she had.
TODD (voice-over): For more than a decade, she was a trusted counterintelligence agent for the U.S. Air Force with access to information on clandestine agents, human sources, recruiters, and a trove of sensitive secrets.
Tonight, 39-year-old Monica Witt is charged with espionage, accused of spying for one of America's most dangerous enemies -- Iran and its notorious Revolutionary Guard Corps, known to sponsor terrorist attacks around the world.
The Justice Department, which announced Witt's indictment today, says she's been a serious threat to national security.
JAY TABB, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY BRANCH, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: And we actually do believe that she gave information about her colleagues and the identities of her colleagues to the Iranian government.
TODD (voice-over): As an Air Force intelligence officer, U.S. officials say Witt was deployed throughout the Middle East on secret missions. They say she defected to Iran in August 2013, and officials believe she's still being harbored there.
What specific intelligence do they believe she gave the Iranians?
TABB: Monica Witt provided the Iranian government with the identities of employees in the U.S. intelligence community who are operating covertly.
TODD (voice-over): And officials say Witt gave the Iranians the code name and target of a U.S. military intelligence operation and created so-called target packages the Iranians could use against American agents.
Former CIA officer Reuel Gerecht, who tracked Iranian spies for 10 years, says providing a target package means Witt would have given her Iranian handlers information on a U.S. agent's residence, daily habits, possible vulnerabilities. How could the Iranians use the target package?
REUEL MARC GERECHT, FORMER MIDDLE EASTERN SPECIALIST, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: They would allow the Iranians to track that individual, and I assume -- if they wanted to -- to target, hurt, recruit, kidnap, you know, all variety of possibilities there.
TODD (voice-over): Gerecht says while Witt's handlers may not have wanted to use her target packages against American agents who operated outside war zones, she still could do damage.
GERECHT: In a war zone, if they're giving a target package on individuals who operate in Afghanistan, who operate in Iraq, and are possibly accessible, then that's something else.
TODD (voice-over): Prosecutors say one of Witt's handlers was impressed with her, writing to her at one point -- should I thank the Secretary of Defense? You were well trained. They say Witt wrote back -- LOL. I love the work and I am endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil.
Tonight, the U.S. says it wants to find and arrest Witt. But with no diplomatic relations or extradition treaty with Iran, that may not be possible.
TABB: We would hope that someday she might travel outside of Iran, and we would be able to effect her arrest and render her back to the United States to stand justice.
GERECHT: I think the odds of the Department of Justice getting their hands on her in Iran are near zero.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Reuel Gerecht says any attempt by the U.S. to take Monica Witt
into custody would probably have to involve a covert operation to capture her from Iran, including surveillance and tracking by U.S. intelligence officers.
He says if the Iranians suspect that could happen, well, they're probably hiding her in a safe house with minders and their own surveillance of her which would make any U.S. attempt to grab her very, very dangerous, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Brian, she also allegedly helped the Iranians hack some of her former colleagues.
TODD: Yes, Wolf, that's according to the Justice Department. They say that -- U.S. officials are saying, tonight, Monica Witt helped Iranian intelligence direct hacking and identity theft operations which targeted at least eight U.S. government agents who Monica Witt had worked with.
[17:55:02] And today, the Justice Department also indicted four Iranian hackers in this case. But they probably won't get their hands on them, either.
BLITZER: Truly an explosive espionage development. Brian Todd, thank you very much.
There's more breaking news. A critical ruling in the case of Paul Manafort could come at any time. Did he violate his plea deal with Robert Mueller by lying to prosecutors?
[18:00:05] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Lying to prosecutors?