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THE SITUATION ROOM

White House Releases Results of Trump's Annual Physical; William Barr Sworn in as Attorney General, Gains Broad Control Over Mueller Probe; Former Acting FBI Director Confirms Talks Inside Justice Department About Invoking 25th Amendment To Remove Trump From Office; Trump to Declare National Emergency; Interview with Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas); White House Says President in "Very Good Health Overall". Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 14, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00] TAPPER: Appreciate it.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news.

Declaring an emergency. As lawmakers move to avert a shutdown President Trump decides to go around Congress to get funding for his border wall by declaring a national emergency despite serious concerns among congressional Republicans and the threat of a lawsuit by Democrats.

Raising the Barr. William Barr sworn in as the new attorney general, becoming Special Counsel Robert Mueller's boss with broad powers over his Russia's investigation. What are his plans for the probe?

Concern or coup? The former acting FBI director confirms publicly for the first time that there were high-level discussions inside the Justice Department about moving to invoke the 25th Amendment to have President Trump declared unfit for office and removed.

An alleged spy's friend. New details of accused Russian agent Maria Butina from a woman who befriended her and her boyfriend, even taking a trip to Disney World together. But even then there were signs of something unusual.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: The breaking news this hour the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell dramatically revealing on the Senate floor, and the White House confirming that President Trump will sign the spending bill, averting another government shutdown but also will declare a national emergency to secure the money he wants for a border wall.

I'll talk about the breaking news with Congressman Joaquin Castro of the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's get the latest details on the breaking news. Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us.

Jim, it's been a rather chaotic process to get to this point.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And there was a stunning moment this afternoon, as you mentioned, when the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell came to the Senate floor. The high drama came as President Trump was taking the prospect of another government shutdown down to the wire.

First, aides were hopeful that the president would sign this spending bill earlier this week, then the White House was starting to sound less certain. Now the president says he'll take executive action to build his wall but that plan could hit another barrier in a court challenge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump's latest cliffhanger, whether he would plunge the nation into another costly government shutdown came to a climax. But after days of hand wringing at the White House, it was not the president who made the big reveal. It was Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I've just had an opportunity to speak with President Trump, and he -- I would say to all of my colleagues -- has indicated he's prepared to sign the bill. He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time. And I've indicated to him that I'm going to prepare -- I'm going to support the national emergency declaration. So for all of my colleagues, the president will sign the bill. We will be voting on it shortly.

ACOSTA: Minutes after McConnell made the announcement, the White House finally revealed what the president was planning to do, saying in a statement, "President Trump will sign the government funding bill and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action, including a national emergency, to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the president of trying to pull a fast one.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: It's not an emergency what's happening at the border. It's a humanitarian challenge to us. The president has tried to sell a bill of goods. Putting that aside, just in terms of the president making an end run around Congress.

ACOSTA: With little more than a day before the government runs out of money, some in Mr. Trump's own party were starting to worry.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: We've got to pass it and then we all pray that the president will sign it.

ACOSTA: As Republican lawmakers were praying the president would sign the bipartisan spending deal.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), UTAH: Let's all pray that the president will have wisdom to sign the bill so government doesn't shut down.

ACOSTA: Part of the reason for the high drama, the president's allies on conservative media were pleading with Mr. Trump to reject the deal, as it fell well short of his promise to build a wall on the border.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Any Republican that support this is garbage compromise, you will have to explain.

ACOSTA: As one FOX News personality tweeted, this bill must not be signed. But as the president was dragging his feet, he was once again making it all about him. Despite his wish to blame Democrats should there be another shutdown.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think you're going to see a shutdown. I wouldn't want to go to it now. If you did have it, it's the Democrats' fault.

ACOSTA: Democrats say there's a reason why Republicans were pulling away from the president.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: On the funding of the government, I don't think Republicans want another shutdown. It was disastrous for them and their brand and it really hurt this president. They don't want to repeat that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:05:06] ACOSTA: But after the president signs this bill and declares a national emergency, he is simply setting up the next fight in the battle over his border wall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier this afternoon, you just heard it, she's taking a hard look at whether to mount a legal challenge to block the president from using a national emergency to go around the Congress.

The White House press secretary just told reporters a few minutes ago that they are ready to take this fight to the courts.

But, Wolf, the president does not have the best record when it comes to having his policies challenged in the courts. You remember the travel ban and any kind of legal challenge at this point could add another delay to the president's quest for his wall.

And one thing that we also have to point out, Wolf, it seems there's always a tweet for something like this. Check out this tweet from the president back in 2014. He tweeted this. When Barack Obama, the former president, took executive action on immigration, the tweet from Donald J. Trump at that time, "Republicans must not allow President Obama to subvert the Constitution of the U.S. for his own benefit. And because he is unable to negotiate with Congress."

Now you have Democrats accusing the president of doing the very same thing. And Republicans who were very critical of the president at that time standing with the president in all of this. And you'll have plenty of new legal assistance and guidance as to what he should be doing moving forward. His new attorney general William Barr was sworn in as the new attorney general over here at the White House just a short while ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The legal challenge will be significant, I am sure.

Jim Acosta at the White House.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Some Senate Republicans, they themselves have very serious concerns about the president's declaring a national emergency to fund a border wall with Mexico.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly, he's up on Capitol Hill. So what's happening there right now, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just ran into one Republican senator, asked him how he felt after the vote 83- 16, moving the process forward to ensure no government shutdown. And he said relief. But there's also a recognition, according to senators and aides I'm talking to right now that this is just the first battle of another one to come.

And as you know, Wolf, there are several Republicans, including high- ranking Republicans, who have been raising significant opposition to the idea of a national emergency. They're opposed to it on constitutional grounds. They worried about it on precedent grounds as well. Among them Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told the "New York Times" last month, "I don't think much of that idea. I hope he doesn't go down that path."

Now, Wolf, you heard Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, in order to ensure the president will sign the bill, will support an emergency declaration. But that doesn't mean the rest of his Republican senators will. A number of senators after the vote said they thought it was a bad idea, said they still had concerns and the reality is, Wolf, Congress has the ability to block any emergency declaration, something the House is almost certain to take up under Democratic control and which would force Republicans in the Senate to have to vote on that.

An open question right now whether or not both chambers may actually block that vote. As to where Democrats are right now, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer already putting out a statement decrying the president's decision to declare a national emergency or declaration that he will declare a national emergency, and adding, this line, "The Congress will defend our constitutional authority."

Wolf, one thing is clear. The House is about to vote in about a couple of hours, should pass the bill rather comfortably, I'm told, by aides, thus officially averting a government shutdown. But it's become very clear here on Capitol Hill that there is yet another fight to come. There's likely to be more votes to come on this issue, whether it's on legal challenges, or whether it's one the House and Senate floor, the fight over the border wall is done for the moment but certainly will return in the future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly will. The president will sign this legislation into law. There will not be a government shutdown.

Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

Let bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, you're learning more about the behind the scenes negotiating that was going on, including what the majority leader had to engage in to ensure that the president would actually sign the legislation. What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was now or never for Mitch McConnell. Recognizing that he needed to pass this, he needed to have the Congress send the president this compromise because there was, as Phil has been reporting, no plan B. It was this or another shutdown. And so what McConnell did -- McConnell, by the way, we should remember, has been, over the past six weeks or so, on the -- obviously very involved behind the scenes but at least publicly not been as aggressive until now. Until he had to be.

I'm told he got his ducks in a row, he made sure that he had the votes, even though people weren't saying publicly that they would vote for it. And he knew that to get it over the finish line in the United States Senate, he had to have the blessing of the president because if the president didn't say publicly or at least through Mitch McConnell that he was going to sign this, Mitch McConnell might not even have gotten enough Republican votes for it to even look good politically.

So what Mitch McConnell did is once he got his ducks in a row he put the phone call into the president and he got the president to say, explicitly, I will sign this.

[17:10:07] And, remember, the context. We were on the air reporting. Kaitlin Collins, Kevin Liptak, others reporting that even though the president said he was going to sign it, he was having second thoughts. McConnell wanted to quash that and quash it fast and get this thing passed and get the president on the record, which is why he did what he did.

The missing piece to this, and the missing link, Wolf, is the national emergency. McConnell clearly felt like he had to give the president something. He to show the president that they really are on his side by going to the floor of the Senate, saying that he was for a national emergency, which, as Phil was just talking about, he has made very clear along with most Republicans, never mind Democrats, in the United States Congress is a bad idea to go around Congress.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Dana, that the final vote was so lopsided on the floor of the U.S. Senate. 83 in favor.

BASH: Yes. BLITZER: Sixteen, only 16 senators voting nay against the

legislation, 83 in favor. That's a lot more than the two-thirds necessary to override a potential presidential veto. That's 67 votes you have. This is 83.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: Did the president really have any choice? Because if they would have held firm they could have overridden a presidential veto.

BASH: It's a great question. The problem with looking at it that way, because I was thinking the same thing, Wolf, is would the president have or would Mitch McConnell or anybody, would the deal have gotten those 80 -- those 80 votes, rather, without a promise from the president to sign it? And we won't know the answer to that. Maybe McConnell has the headcount on that. And you would think that the fact that he went out and said what he said, particularly about supporting a national emergency, which he does not like, makes you think that he felt like he had to do that in order to get a big vote. Or maybe even, you know, again the majority of the Republican caucus. It's possible that that 80 vote would not have been anywhere near that high had McConnell not come out and said the president is going to sign this.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you very much.

Lots going on. I want to get some analysis right now, some reaction from Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. He's a former of both the Intelligence and the Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. So it passed the Senate overwhelmingly. How are you going to vote on this legislation?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: I'm going to vote no, actually, although you're right, I do think that it will pass. I said early on that I was concerned about two things. Number one, not building any border wall or fencing, and particularly in Texas. And the bill specifically spells out that there will be fencing built along -- in the Rio Grande Valley. And then the second part is on detention beds, and unfortunately the bill still enables the administration to move money around and increase the number of detention beds that are being used by ICE and so because of that, I'm going to vote no.

BLITZER: But you would be willing to go along and see another government shutdown affecting almost a million federal employees and their families even though the bill clearly from your perspective is not perfect?

CASTRO: No, you're right. I mean, that is a big concern. And none of us wants a shutdown. But I still think that we could do very short term CR and negotiate further, especially in light of the fact that the president has now declared a national emergency or is going to declare a national emergency and spend -- try to spend billions of dollars more on a wall basically on his own by circumventing Congress.

BLITZER: So do you believe the president has the legal standing to go ahead and declare a national emergency, move existing appropriated funds around in order to build more of his wall with Mexico?

CASTRO: I don't, Wolf. I don't think that it's a national emergency. I think this would be a fake emergency. If you look at the active national emergencies right now, those mostly revolve around national security issues. And so I'm prepared if the president does declare a national emergency to build his border wall to file a joint resolution under the National Emergencies Act that would essentially terminate his declaration.

And we'd have a vote either on my resolution or somebody else's on the House floor and then it's my understanding that that resolution would have to be voted upon in the Senate and there have been very critical comments that have been made by senators, including Republican senators, about the president's ability and the wisdom of declaring a national emergency for this purpose.

BLITZER: They're concerned that if this president, a Republican president, does it a future Democratic president could declare a national emergency and skirt around Congress as well.

CASTRO: Right.

BLITZER: But right now this president seems determined. What if he doesn't declare a national emergency? He just uses his executive authority to move money around, which is also a clear possibility. Other presidents, as you well know, they have done that many times over the years.

[17:15:01] CASTRO: Yes. I mean, it obviously depends on what he's trying to do. But we also believe that he's very limited in his ability to move money within DHS to build a wall. So we'll challenge him in Congress. We'll challenge him in the courts and I think the American people will challenge the president.

BLITZER: Who is the winner in this battle? Because there was a 35- day government shutdown. The longest in American history. The president is going to sign this legislation now into law. He doesn't get what he really wanted, more than $5 billion for fencing or a border wall. He's going to get a whole lot less, almost $1.4 billion. Looking back from right now, who wins and who loses?

CASTRO: You know, Wolf, that's hard to say. Honestly, I haven't thought of it in those terms, about whether Republicans win or Democrats win. I think the fact that the government was shut down for 35 days was a loss to the American people and really a loss for Congress and getting the work of the American people done here.

BLITZER: So, specifically, what are you going to do? You're going to file some lawsuits? Is that what's going to happen once the president declares a national emergency or if he uses his executive authority to go ahead and move money around?

CASTRO: Yes, I believe that there will be a lawsuit filed in the courts and then also here in Congress, in the House, we will file likely a joint resolution to negate or terminate his declaration and hopefully take a vote on that. I believe it will pass in the House of Representatives and, as I understand, the Senate would then have to take a vote on it, a mandatory vote so they couldn't block taking a vote on the resolution.

And I don't know that the president would have the votes at that point to uphold in the United States Senate his declaration of emergency to build the border wall.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the Russia investigation. I want to get your quick thoughts. You're on the Intelligence Committee, you're following this very closely. There's a new interview and a new book out by the former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. And he makes some startling assertions in this new book. I want you to listen to what he told Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes" about the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion, that were I removed quickly, or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what's your reaction?

CASTRO: I think that's a legitimate concern. The idea that the president, based on his actions with regard to Mr. McCabe, Mr. Rod Rosenstein, with regard to James Comey, and how he tried to bully them and, I believe, obstruct justice. The idea that he could do something to interfere with the investigation or someone else in the administration could do something is a reasonable concern.

BLITZER: Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks so much for joining us.

CASTRO: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. We have a lot to discuss with our political correspondents and our analysts, including Dana Bash, who is still with us.

Dana, you heard what Joaquin Castro had to say. The Democrats are clearly getting ready to fight but they don't have the majority in the U.S. Senate.

BASH: They don't but that's what's so interesting about that dynamic among Republicans, Wolf. This is going to be one of those classic cases. There have been a lot of them but this may be the biggest, of whether or not Republican like Roy Blunt, for example, senator from Missouri, member of the Republican leadership, has been saying before today -- today's vote and since today's vote, he still thinks the national emergency is a terrible idea.

If somehow some way that was put before him and he had to vote on it, how would he vote? Would he vote with the president or with his conscience? So that is going to potentially, if we get down the road that far, the House passes a resolution to try to stop the president, it goes to the Senate, the Republican leadership has no chance -- no choice but to bring it up. How those Republicans actually vote.

BLITZER: It's an interesting question, and Pamela Brown, I want you to listen to a whole bunch of Republicans right now expressing, as Dana pointed out, their deep concern about the president declaring a national emergency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: The national emergencies that have been issued in the past have not been contentious. I'm pretty sure that this one would be.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Today the national emergency is border security entitles him to go out and do something, we all support that. Tomorrow the national security emergency might be, you know, climate change.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Just be another erosion of congressional authority in this particular area.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I think it's a dubious constitutionality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As you know, CNN has been reporting that the president initially thought that the Republicans had been outplayed in the negotiations leading up to this point. And you just heard what a bunch of Republicans are saying. There's a whole lot more who express their deep concerns about a national emergency.

PAMELA BROWN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I mean, the big concern, of course, is that now this sets a precedent for a Democratic president down the road to do something on a policy issue that Republicans don't like.

[17:20:10] So that has been the concern all along. But in talking to sources certainly there has been a shift in tone on this idea of the president declaring a national emergency. One source I spoke with said look, we view this as a last resort and we are now at the last resort here. You know, we've already been through one government shutdown. We don't want to go through another government shutdown. And had there not already been this back and forth in the Congress -- the conference, I should say, then we wouldn't be OK with it but there has been all of this.

And so now we have no choice but to sort of back this, some Republicans, not all of them, of course, but some Republicans are now actually have been urging the president to do this because they said, look, you want to build your wall, you've been talking about it, it's a campaign promise, and you don't want another government shutdown, the only way to accomplish that is to sign this bill and to declare a national emergency. And that is where we are today. CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, it's -- just to

echo what Pam said, I think this is -- so there are two big parts of Mitch McConnell. One is, sort of Mitch McConnell, political strategist, and the other one is Mitch McConnell institutionalist. Right? These things often work in coordination, sometimes they don't. This is a case where Mitch McConnell, institutionalist, opposes this, because he understands in the same way that when Harry Reid, as a Senate majority leader earlier this decade, changed the rules on how federal judges get confirmed, he understands the precedent.

So now we have Neil Gorsurch and Brett Kavanaugh because Harry Reid did that earlier this decade. Mitch McConnell understands that there's danger here in that exactly what Marco Rubio said, Nancy Pelosi said it earlier. Well, maybe a Democratic president will think that gun control, you know, that guns in this country are national emergency. In the Constitution, right, there in Article I, it says it's Congress' job to appropriate the money.

If you are setting a precedent that Congress can appropriate money and say, OK, we're going to put it over here in Sabrina's cup and over here, and then I can say, well, I'm going to take this and this, and I'm going to move it over here, it's a hugely dangerous precedent. Mitch McConnell knows that but to Pam's point he also knows the hit Republicans took during the 35-day shutdown and it would -- be believes it would be exponentially worse if they did it again so soon after.

BLITZER: Because a Democratic president, as Chris points out, the Democrat could not only on climate change or guns, guns for example, a Democratic president could say there's a national emergency, too many homicides going on all over the country.

CILLIZZA: Right.

BLITZER: Assault type weapons are now banned across the United States. A lot of Republicans would react very negatively to that.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all but said in her reaction to the president declaring a national emergency that that is the precedent that he is creating and she specifically did invoke the anniversary of the Parkland shooting to say that the Democrats believe that gun violence is a emergency. And you know, Pam and Chris both bring up the issue of climate change.

And so what's now to stop a future president -- Democratic president from declaring a national emergency to advance some of the Democratic Party's priorities on those issues? I also think it's worth noting a lot of the Republicans from whom you heard pushback, they're not exactly changing their tune in recent hours as the president has made or is poised to make his declaration. Senator Marco Rubio, one of those critics, just put out a statement saying there is a crisis at our southern border but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution.

And you're hearing a lot of Republicans say that they are skeptical of his authority. They're going to wait and see exactly how he justifies it. But that really does bring up this question of how Republicans would vote, to Dana's point, if Democrats are to move some sort of resolution to terminate the president's national emergency, that would put the Republicans squarely on the record having to actually take a position and put that in the official record.

BASH: You know what it does, though? This is something that is crass but true. It keeps this front and center politically, which is just fine with President Trump. It really is. He wants to keep the fight going. The fight brings in small dollar fundraising to his campaign and the fight keeps his base excited.

Now his political advisers understand that it's time to move beyond the base, it's time to try to get those independent voters back and perhaps there's another way for him to do it. But the president, since almost day one of his campaign, has thought of the wall as an extension of himself and politically imperative for him to keep fighting for and so the fact that there is going to be a new fight, whether it ends up on the floor of the House and the Senate or in the court or both, politically it's just fine with him.

CILLIZZA: And he was always the problem. $1.37 billion in this compromise for effectively wall funding. That's less than the $1.6 billion that passed the Senate before the shutdown and it's $4.325 million less than he said he needed, the $5.7 billion. That was always going to be the rub.

[17:25:02] I am certain Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell had a conversation in which Donald Trump said, to Dana's point, I can't sell a quarter loaf of bread as a full loaf of bread. I'm good but I'm not that good. And therefore this was a deal. McConnell had to back down on the national emergency in exchange for Trump keeping the government open, giving Mitch McConnell what he wanted, which is not another government shutdown.

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: It's interesting, you know, Pamela. Look at this poll. A recent CNN poll showed that two-thirds of the American public, two- thirds, 66 percent, don't think the president should declare a national emergency, 31 percent said they're OK with a national emergency.

It's interesting because when the president indicated the other night when there was a deal in the Senate and the House, a compromise, appropriators came up with a compromise, it looked like he was OK with it. Some of his friends and some would call them advisers in the conservative media, said this is a garbage compromise, it's awful. But then the next day, once they got an indication from the president he was looking like he was going to sign it, they said well, sign it but only if you declare a national emergency. Guess what? The president seems to have accepted their advice.

BROWN: That's right. As we know he listens very closely to what some of his conservative allies say on television. But I can tell you in talking to White House sources and allies of the president, he certainly has sort of been waffling on the idea of a national emergency, on declaring that. I talked to a White House source a couple of days ago who said, I thought he was going to do it before. Now I'm not so sure.

Because he knew what the political blowback would be in that you're declaring a national emergency. Why didn't you do this before? And you're declaring it for something that's going to take actually years to build which of course is the wall at the border. But when the White House looked at the numbers, the only way he could get to that $5.7 billion, which is the number he has said he needs for the wall, is by declaring this national emergency not just issuing an executive order.

It is also worth noting that President Trump did ding President Obama back when President Obama declared a national emergency, you know, criticizing him for not negotiating with Congress. And he also knows that that could be something that could come back.

SIDDIQUI: And frankly, all of that just reinforces that this is an overtly political move on the president's part. If there was truly an emergency, he could have declared one on December 22nd when they hit that first funding deadline which caused what was the longest government shutdown in this country's history. He could have been, at any point during those 35 days, declare a national emergency.

But even then he made it pretty clear that he was acting politically because he said if I don't get a deal that I like, then I will reserve this as an option to take. And he is, in fact, fundraising off of it. The president's 2020 reelection campaign sent an e-mail to supporters polling them on whether or not he should declare a national emergency. So to Dana's point, all of this just keeps this issue alive for him as you look ahead at the 2020 election.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Dana.

BASH: And what Pamela just said that she's hearing from her sources is important to underscore, that the president even understood how politically perilous the notion of declaring a national emergency would be and he was going back and forth. And that underscores how important it is and how much of a political win it was a couple of hours ago to have Mitch McConnell stand on the Senate floor, the Senate majority leader, who, as Chris said, is an institutionalist, and say he backs the national emergency. That is huge for President Trump.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We've got some more breaking news we're following right now.

I want to bring in our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, the White House has just released some of the results of the president's annual physical. Give us the main points.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the letter that the doctor, Dr. Connelly, released along with these results mimics sort of what he released on Friday, basically saying not only is the president in good health but Dr. Connelly predicts that the president will remain in good health for the rest of his presidency.

There are some more results and test results that came out, just a few. And I'll show you quickly, Wolf. We put up last year's results, this year's results. You can take a look. You know, he's gained four pound, 6 feet, three inches tall. He is on a higher dose of this medication known as Crestor, a statin medication. And not surprisingly his total cholesterol has come down from 223 to 196.

You can see all the numbers there. When you look at that heightened weight and put that together, he does now. Last year he was sort of borderline obese. Now he is clinically obese based on those numbers.

Let me show you something else really quick, Wolf. All the tests, there was, you know, this exhaustive press conference last year where they talked about all the tests that he had done, several tests that he had done were specifically looking at his heart. He had an echocardiogram of his heart, he had a stress test.

[17:30:00] He had a Coronary Calcium Scan. And you remember what the outside of Montreal Cognitive Exam. That was at the President's request, the doctors told us last year, and he scored a perfect score on that.

We have no indication of whether he had any of these tests this year. There was no mention of it in this -- in this report that we just received, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Because there was some concern and you expressed it a year ago when we got the results of that Coronary Calcium Test, he apparently -- there's no information if he had that similar test this year, what the final number was.

GUPTA: That's right. We don't know that he had it or not had it -- had it this year. I should point out that last year, that test was not part of his official report either. I asked the doctor about it and then that's when we figured out that, in fact, he had had that exam.

The doctor did not disclose it, did not make it part of his official record, which was surprising because the numbers were important on that test. Let's just show that for a second here. This Coronary Calcium Test he had back in 2009, 2013 and then again, last year.

When you get above 100 here, you know, what you -- the number is relevant because that increases the chances that you could have a heart attack over the next three to five years. And that's why doctors pay attention to that. It's good news, obviously, that his total cholesterol has come down.

That's something doctors want. But, we don't really have any new assessments, if you will, of his heart. And that's probably the biggest concern here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the President being technically obese, by just a pound or two or three. Talk a little bit about that and what it means.

GUPTA: Well, you know, this is based on what is known as BMI, Body Mass Index. And that is not a perfect assessment by any means. There are people who can have high BMIs and actually be fit and people who have lower BMIs and not be that fit.

You've got to -- you've got to put that information along with all the other information, if someone is very muscular or are they carrying a lot of fat around their abdomen, specifically? How does it fit in with their cholesterol, other testing?

So, I think what most people will say when they look at that complete picture that there is a concern here, and the concern is specifically around cardiovascular disease. So, concerns about his heart, concerns about the blood vessels that lead to other parts of his body. That's the real concern.

So, clinically obese in and of itself, is an important thing to know and typically denotes that someone is not in good health. But, when you start to add in all this other information, it kind of makes a clearer picture, that there's a real concern about someone's heart health in particular here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did his cholesterol go down because of increased levels of medication he was taking?

GUPTA: It seems to be, Wolf. The numbers did go down. Before, they were over 200, 223, I believe, now, below 200. That's what you want to see, certainly. It's worth noting that his HDL -- people may know that as the good cholesterol. That has also gone down. You don't want that to go down. You want that HDL number to go up.

The way that it goes up is due to exercise. The fact that it went down, may suggest that, you know, really, exercise is not been something that has impacted his lipids, so far, this past year. I think most of what you're seeing with his cholesterol numbers is probably due to that bottom line, which is the fact that his Crestor dose went from 10 milligrams to 40 milligrams. They increased that significantly.

BLITZER: That's a significant increase from 10 milligrams of the Statin that he has taking, now 40 milligrams. That would explain why the cholesterol was going down.

GUPTA: That's right.

BLITZER: How many -- how often should someone for -- to check for potential cardiac disease get a calcium score? Should they take that test every year, every three years, every five years?

GUPTA: No, you know, I think it's not something that people typically take every year. And there's not really a consensus as to how often people should get it. People who are at the very low end have no calcium and people at the very high end. They probably don't need it as frequently because you kind of know where they sit, unless something dramatically has changed with them. It's more people, sort of, in the mid-range that you say we're going to follow the coronary calcium scores. But, even then, Wolf, the reason you wouldn't get it every year, it's still a test that involves radiation and then you want to -- you want to, sort of, limit the exposure to radiation, unless you think it's going to change something in terms of how you treat the patient.

In this case, they knew the president was going to increase the medication that lowers his cholesterol. He doesn't complain of any symptoms, any chest pain or anything like that. So he doesn't have any clinical problems. So, you could make a reasonable, sort of, recommendation not to get that this year, and maybe not even next year.

If something were to change more dramatically, then, that's maybe when they would recommend additional testing.

BLITZER: Good point, Sanjay, thank you very much, Dr. Sanjay Gupta helping us appreciate these results.

There's more breaking news we're following with more on President Trump's decision to declare a national emergency in the United States to fund his border wall with Mexico.

[17:35:05] Plus, what the swearing in of the new Attorney General William Barr means for the Robert Mueller investigation.

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BLITZER: There is more breaking news, William Barr has just been sworn in as the new Attorney General, gaining broad control of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Chief Justice John Roberts performed the ceremony at the White House just a little while ago.

Let's bring in our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez, our Justice Reporter Laura Jarrett, along with Former FBI Supervisory Special Agent Josh Campbell. He's a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst. Evan, Barr is now overseeing the Russia investigation, expected to start work formally tomorrow. Is this an indication that Mueller will issue his report fairly soon?

[17:40:06] EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It could be an indication that we might see something from Robert Mueller soon or, at least, the Attorney General might see something soon from Robert Mueller.

Look, I think everybody at the Justice Department did not want the Mueller investigation to end under Matt Whitaker, the Former Acting Attorney General. They wanted to wait, at least, until Bill Barr was in place.

We expect, Wolf, that one of the first things he's going to get is a national security briefing and then, probably the second thing he's going to get is a briefing on probably the most important investigation that he will oversee. And then, we'll see how long it takes before we hear what he's going to do with the Mueller investigation, whether or not Congress will get to see a lot of what Mueller found or whether they'll get very little of it.

BLITZER: This comes, Laura, as the Former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe detailed some extraordinary discussions he said he had about recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to remove Donald Trump from office. How far did it go?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, it really depends on who you talk to. McCabe's account, if you believe him, is that there were very high-level discussions within the top levels of the Justice Department and FBI about potentially recruiting cabinet members to oust the President, remove him from office.

And that he also had discussions with the Deputy Attorney General as we reported back in September, discussions about the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, potentially, wearing a wire to actually record the President. Now, the Justice Department has pushed back on those reports, pushed back again today, pretty hard, in a statement on Rosenstein's behalf.

I just want to read to you a part of it, Wolf. They say the Deputy Attorney General, again, rejects Mr. McCabe's recitation of events as inaccurate and factually incorrect. The Deputy Attorney General never authorized any recording that McCabe references.

As the Deputy Attorney General previously has stated, based on his personal dealings with the President, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, nor was the DAG in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment.

So, they're not saying it didn't get discussed, but it was never pursued, it was never authorized. Essentially, we never did it. So, it's irrelative. The other issue that McCabe raised in his interview with 60 Minutes, that's pretty amazing, Wolf, as he talks about sort of the turmoil at the FBI because officials couldn't figure out why the President was seeming to take actions that seemed to benefit Russia.

I want to play just a little bit of his exchange on 60 Minutes if we could.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, FBI: I was speaking to the man who had just ran for the presidency and won the election for the presidency and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage, and that was something that troubled me greatly.

SCOTT PELLEY, 60 MINUTES ANCHOR, CBS NEWS: How long was it after that, that you decided to start the obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations involving the President? MCCCABE: I think the next day, I met with the team investigating the Russia cases and I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine where are we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward.

I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion that, were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanished in the night without a trace.

I wanted to make sure that our case was on solid ground and if somebody came in behind me and closed it and try to walk away from it, they would not be able to do that without creating a record of why they'd made that decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: It didn't take long for President Trump to react to McCabe's interview in his book, calling it a disgrace this morning, and the Justice Department not hesitating to point out that McCabe has been under investigation for misleading Justice Department investigators in an internal unrelated probe, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Now, Josh, there were, what, eight days between when Comey was fired and Robert Mueller was appointed the Special Counsel. You worked for Comey and then for McCabe, set the scene for us on what was happening during what seemed to be that rather chaotic time. You were there at the time.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, I've heard that word chaos, you know, being used. I'm not sure that really applies to this situation. I was there. I was down the executive four-door there at FBI headquarters. And I wouldn't describe it as chaos. It was certainly disconcerting in the sense that you have the FBI director who had been fired.

But, it was more funereal in nature, where you had people that were wondering, you know, why did this happen. You have the FBI director, obviously, who'd been removed. And so, the organization was shocked, but I wouldn't say it was chaos.

For McCabe's part, I sat in on many meetings with him where he told the senior leadership team that look, this was a blow, but we're going to continue to do our job, we're going to continue to do our work and conduct our investigations. That's what the American people expect. And so, I wouldn't really call it chaos.

Now, with respect to the President, and I have to be a little careful here because I'm still bound by nondisclosure agreements, but going just based on what McCabe got approved, the question that he faced as a leader was, what do I do now?

[17:45:10] It looks as though the President of the United States may have just obstructed justice. We have to investigate that. I have to protect this investigation. And then, the last thing I'll say, Wolf, is that, you know, you have this small but very loud stable of Comey and McCabe haters that are out there saying, well, the FBI overreacted in opening this investigation.

This is United States of America, Wolf. This is not a banana republic. If someone breaks the law, the FBI has information or allegation that there's a violation of federal law whether you're a dog catcher or the president of the United States, the FBI will investigate. And that's what -- that is what happened here.

BLITZER: Important point there, Josh Campbell, thanks very much. Laura Jarrett, Evan Perez, thanks to you guys, as well. Stick around. We have much more on all the breaking news coming up.

Up next, new insights into the gun rights activist and alleged Russian agent Maria Butina. A friend describes Butina's life here in the United States, including a trip to Disney World.

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[17:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, we have new details about Maria Butina's time here in the United States. Butina is the gun rights activist who was arrested last year, just before she planned to leave the country, and is accused of acting as an agent for the Russians. CNN's Brian Todd has spoken to a woman who knows Butina. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've gotten an exclusive interview with this woman, Elena Nicolaou, who says she and her family went to Disney World with Maria Butina and her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, in 2015. The family took the couple in, as friends, and now she says they're left with many questions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

It's a view of Maria Butina, the 30-year-old, accused of being a spy for Russia, previously, never seen. Instead of carrying a gun, she's playfully pointing to a Moscow sign at Disney World, the pictures, along with several others, we taken by journalist, Elena Nicolaou, who befriended Butina in 2015.

The two women met, she says, through Republican Operative Paul Erickson, who went to Yale with Nicolaou's mother and who was secretly dating the much younger Russian. Erickson and Butina shared a mutual interest in guns.

ELENA NICOLAOU, JOURNALIST, FORMER FRIEND OF MARIA BUTINA AND PAUL ERICKSON: He made her laugh and she tended to be on the serious side.

TODD: Nicolaou and her parents took a trip to Disney World with Butina and Erickson in 2015. A three-day excursion that Nicolaou says captivated the young Russian.

NICOLAOU: We swam with dolphins. We -- Maria's favorite ride ever was Space Mountain, right after Space Mountain, she paused and she looked at my sister and me, and she said that was the most fun I've ever had in my life. And in that instance, she seemed like a kid. TODD: But prosecutors say she was not a kid. In December, Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiracy to being an unlawful, unregistered agent for a foreign government. Prosecutors say Butina infiltrated groups like the National Rifle Association to network with Republicans.

But, in an exclusive television interview with CNN, Elena Nicolaou says that back in 2015, Butina came across as a fun-loving 20 something, with a fondness for all things Disney. These pictures, Nicolaou says, were sent to her family by Erickson, of Butina and Erickson on a Disney cruise before that Disney World trip, the two of them wearing pirate outfits and Beauty and the Beast costumes.

NICOLAOU: I think that was, sort of, their like, relationship icon, Beauty and the Beast, because she was very beautiful.

MARIA BUTINA AND PAUL ERICKSON: Beauty and the beast.

TODD: Butina's Beauty and the Beast affinity reflected in a recorded duet she sang with Erickson, in Russia. But Nicolaou says even during that Disney trip, Butina displayed some mysterious behavior, like missing a whole day of activities after claiming she'd chipped a tooth.

NICOLAOU: She may have done something to her tooth or maybe she was gone for different reasons. But, I don't know.

TODD: Nicolaou who wrote about her experiences with Butina, in the online publication, Refinery 29, says Butina and Erickson made splashy entrances at two parties at Nicolaou's parents' house, Erickson once dressing in a toga. And in one bizarre moment, the future accused Russian spy read Nicolaou's palm.

NICOLAOU: I remember giving her my hand. And she looked at it and looked at me very seriously, and she goes, I am 21, I think at this moment. She goes, you will definitely cheat on your husband, 100 percent cheater. And I was really taken aback.

TODD: Nicolaou says Butina, at the time, was open about her interests in advocating for gun rights in Russia and working closely in the United States with leaders of the NRA. Looking back, Nicolaou says she didn't suspect Butina was a spy.

NICOLAOU: I wasn't surprised when I read all of the allegations, because those were what she was open about, that those are what she was saying she was doing. So, I'm not sure if she's a spy.

TODD: A former Justice Department counterintelligence attorney says Butina's interactions with her Nicolaou might have been part of a plan to blend in.

CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER COUNTERINTELLIGENCE ATTORNEY, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Just because her activities were out in the open, doesn't mean that she wasn't doing them at the behest of the Russian government or Russian intelligence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, as for Paul Erickson, Nicolaou calls him a con man. Erickson was indicted last week on fraud charges. Elena Nicolaou says he duped her parents out of money. We reached out to Paul Erickson and his attorneys to respond to that. We got no response from them.

[17:55:02] But, Erickson's attorney in South Dakota had previously said about his indictment for fraud that Erickson's side believes a different story from the government is going to emerge. Maria Butina's attorney told us he had no comment on Elena Nicolaou's accounts about Butina. Wolf?

BLITZER: Fascinating developments. Thank you very much, Brian, for that.

Breaking news, next, President Trump sets the stage for a new battle with Democrats as he decides to declare a national emergency to get money for a border wall.

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