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Justice Department to Announce Mueller Probe Has Concluded, Report May Be Delivered as Early as Next Week; McCabe Explains Investigation into Trump; Interview with Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA.), Ways and Means Committee. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 20, 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 HOST (voice-over): Happening now: breaking news: ready to report. CNN learned after almost two years, the Justice Department and the new attorney general are preparing to receive the findings of special counsel's Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

How much will they share with the public?

Trump's first draft: the former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe revealed he has seen a letter President Trump himself wrote justifying the firing of FBI director James Comey because of Comey's failure to fire McCabe.

Putin's new threat: the Russian president puts the U.S. and NATO on notice, warning if Washington deploys weapons in Europe, Russia will respond by aiming missiles directly at the United States and European allies.

Executed by North Korea: ahead of his second summit with Trump, Kim Jong-un is reportedly purging anyone in the regime he thinks opposes the overtures to the U.S., including some said to have been executed by firing squad.

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

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news this hour, a new sign that special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation is in the final days. CNN learned that the attorney general Bill Barr is preparing the announce the completion of Mueller's nearly two-year probe as early as next week.

That's according to people familiar with the plans who also say that the Barr intends to submit a summary to Congress soon after. I'll talk about it with analysts and specialists also standing by.

First, details of the breaking news. Evan Perez and Laura Jarrett are both working the story for us.

Laura, tell us about the preparations we learned are underway.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The end is near. After nearly two years of investigating and dozens of indictments, we learned that the special counsel is ready, preparing to submit to Bill Barr a confidential report. Barr will then announce to the public that the investigation is complete and then he will submit his own report.

What exactly it will say we don't know and the timing is yet to be determined. It is important to note here, even though Mueller's work is complete, the investigations through other U.S. attorneys' offices are expected to live on.

BLITZER: Evan, this may the clearest indication that the Mueller investigation is coming to a close.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We have been hinting at some of those signs in our coverage here for the last few weeks. We have seen some very good signs, including out at the special counsel's office. We have a team staking out, two of our reporters are there every single day.

One of the things they noticed is people carrying out boxes of files apparently from the special counsel's office. This is another sign they are preparing to hand off some of their work to the U.S. attorneys' offices, to the Justice Department and other parts of the Justice Department that will be doing more of this investigation.

We have also seen some of the prosecutors assigned to the Mueller team that have started leaving the office. Again, another indicator. We have seen some of the U.S. attorneys' offices have started showing up to take over the prosecution of Roger Stone, which is being handled by the U.S. attorney in Washington D.C.

All of these little signs we have been picking up for some time now.

BLITZER: How quickly will the American public know what Mueller does?

JARRETT: I think we should expected this to be a fight. Under the special counsel regulations, Bill Barr has wide discretion as attorney general to say to Congress Mueller's work is all done.

We expect he will say more than that, it's to be determined at this point. But listen to what he told Congress about how he'll try to thread the needle here in terms of offering transparency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: When his report comes to you, will you share it with us as much as possible?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Consistent with regulations and the law, yes.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIF.: Will you provide Mueller's report to Congress, not your rewrite or a summary?

BARR: All I can say at this stage because I have no clue as to what's being planned is that I will try to get the --

[17:05:00]

BARR: -- information out there that is consistent with regulations. And to the extent I have discretion, I'll exercise that discretion to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Already lawmakers have signaled they are not interested in Barr's executive summary. I think we should expect to see subpoenas start to fly and lawmakers will want to hear from Robert Mueller himself.

BLITZER: What might be held back by Barr once he submits the report to Congress and some sort of summary to the American public?

PEREZ: I think that's important. Under Justice Department regulations, if someone is not indicted, you're not supposed to then air out all of the things they did wrong. In other words, don't do with Comey did to Hillary Clinton back in 2016. That is definitely not where Bill Barr is going go.

There are things related to the Trump family, things that are still under investigation. In the Southern District of New York, there are all kinds of things that the Justice Department is not prepared to share. Listen to Bill Barr describe a little bit of this to the Senate a couple of weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR: If you're not going to indict someone you don't stand up there and unload negative information about the person. That's not the way the Department of Justice does business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And you can expect, Wolf, that the members of Congress are not going to really like the answer there if they don't get to see everything. You're going to see litigation and see some bipartisan members of Congress who've already introduced legislation to see if they can fix this. They believe the public deserves to see everything that Mueller has --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: James Comey didn't indict or charge Hillary Clinton but he stood up there days before the election and he revealed all sorts of negative information about her and he was condemned. A lot of Democrats thought that was totally inappropriate and went against all of the Justice Department regulations.

PEREZ: Exactly. And he did that press conference, in which he usurped the authority of his superiors in the Justice Department back in July of 2016 and then that really set up a lot of bad things, including when they found new information, he had to -- he said he had to report that to Congress.

So it set up a cascade of bad things for the Justice Department as a result of that decision. I think everybody realizes that is not where they want to go again.

BLITZER: And Bill Barr, who was once an attorney general, would not do the same thing that Comey did.

Laura, this is clearly not over for the president. Yes, the special counsel's investigation seems to be coming to a close as early as next week. But there are so many other investigations underway, including Southern District of New York, the U.S. attorney there, the attorney general of the state of New York. There are congressional investigations, investigations involving the U.S. attorney in D.C. and Northern Virginia. There's a lot of stuff going on.

JARRETT: For sure. That graphic is just a piece of the main investigations that we know about and Mueller has referred several cases to different federal prosecutors throughout the country, especially where it appeared those cases didn't fall within his strict mandate about the Russian investigation.

We expect those cases to live on. For instance, even Roger Stone, which did fall within the Russian mandate, that case will continue on through the D.C. U.S. attorney's office as well as the mystery grand jury. You remember talking about that. Andrew Miller, a Stone associate, all of those cases will continue on through the D.C. U.S. attorney's office.

BLITZER: So even if this one investigation is over, there are plenty other investigations of the Trump Foundation, of the transition of the inaugural committee, a lot of stuff still going on.

There is one new piece of evidence that Andrew McCabe just released. He said he actually saw a draft of the letter that the president wrote explaining why James Comey should be fired and he says that that letter is significant.

Tell us what he is said.

PEREZ: That's right. He's saying that one reason why James Comey was fired, according to this letter, is that James Comey refused to fire Andrew McCabe. The president had some beefs with Andrew McCabe, including what he thought McCabe was secretly a Democrat.

He wasn't, by the way.

But listen to McCabe describe some of that interaction here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCABE: I have to be careful the way that I talk about this. I have seen the letter that the president wrote, purportedly himself, justifying the firing of Jim Comey.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC ANCHOR: What does it say?

MCCABE: In a rambling four-plus pages it goes through all the different reasons why he is firing the director of the FBI. I'm not going to go through all those with you but I will tell you that one of them is it claims to want to fire the director of the FBI because of his failure to fire me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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PEREZ: And Wolf, it's important to remind everyone that McCabe was fired for not telling the truth and the FBI's own internal investigators. He believes he was wrongfully fired. Now he is also under criminal investigation. He is looking at that issue. It is still under investigation by the Justice Department here in Washington.

And so we may -- this may be a preview of what we might see to come from Andrew McCabe versus the Justice Department depending what happens with that investigation. Again, we believe he was wrongfully fired hours before he was qualified for his pension.

BLITZER: All right. Laura and Evan, thank you. We'll continue to follow all of this. Great reporting for CNN. Appreciate it very much.

Meanwhile the president is reacting to all of this, while blasting these bombshell new revelations by the former acting FBI director, our White House correspondent Abby Phillip is working this part of the story for us.

Abby, the president has been extremely vocal about McCabe but less so about the Mueller news.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Trump has been some what muted about the prospect the Mueller probe could be ending soon. He is lashing out at McCabe, whose comments have painted the president as being disloyal and he's talked about these investigations opened under his watch as to whether he obstructed justice or not he colluded with the Russians.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump leaving the Mueller report in the hands of his new attorney general, Bill Barr.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): Should the Mueller report be released while you're abroad next week?

TRUMP: That's be up to the new attorney general. He is a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department. So that will be totally up to him. PHILLIP (voice-over): Trump offering a muted response to what would be the end of an investigation that he's railed against for two years. Instead, Trump lashing out at the former acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, who played a role in starting the probe.

TRUMP: I think Andrew McCabe has made a fool out of himself over the last couple of days and he really looks to me like sort of a poor man's J. Edgar Hoover.

PHILLIP (voice-over): The president's comments coming in the midst of McCabe's bombshell media tour that has raised questions about whether Trump might have been acting on behalf of the Russian government.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Do you still believe the president could be a Russian asset?

MCCABE: I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our investigation. And I'm really anxious to see where director Mueller concludes that.

PHILLIP (voice-over): McCabe even hinting that ongoing investigations could involve the president's children.

COOPER: Was the president's family being looked into either before the appointment of Mueller or after?

MCCABE: That is something I don't feel comfortable talking about as it goes to -- could go to ongoing investigative matters.

PHILLIP (voice-over): And making it clear that a bipartisan group of congressional leaders were in the loop as the Department of Justice opened obstruction of justice and collusion investigations into the president.

MCCABE: At the conclusion of my remarks there were no objections. There were no protests. There was no -- there was a clear sense in the room that people were resigned to the fact that we had taken a necessary step. That was my impression.

PHILLIP (voice-over): Trump dodging a question about that revelation, focusing instead on attacking McCabe.

TRUMP: I think he's a disaster and what he was trying to do is terrible. And he was caught. I'm very proud to say we caught him. So we'll see what happens. But he is a disgraced man. He was terminated, not by me; he was terminated by others.

PHILLIP (voice-over): And despite publicly supporting the Director of National Intelligence today...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): Are considering replacing Dan Coats as your Director of National Intelligence?

TRUMP: I haven't even thought about it.

PHILLIP (voice-over): -- CNN has learned Trump is privately telling associates Dan Coats may soon be out of a job.

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons.

PHILLIP (voice-over): Sources tell CNN Trump is still angry about Coats' congressional testimony and he believes undercuts his own rosy portrayal of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And President Trump also told reporters this next meeting with Kim Jong-un is unlikely to be his last. He also expressed optimism that Kim would decide to choose total denuclearization but he added he would not lift sanctions until there was more meaningful steps making -- that Kim made more meaningful steps toward that goal.

BLITZER: Abby Phillip, thanks.

Let's get more on all of the breaking news. Democratic congressman Don Beyer of Virginia is joining us. He is a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Thanks for coming in.

REP. DON BEYER (D-VA.), MEMBER, WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you believe the new attorney general, Bill Barr, should release to Congress the entirety of the Mueller report?

It could be completed --

[17:15:00]

BLITZER: -- and submitted to the Justice Department as early as next week.

BEYER: In principle, yes. There is a meaningful case to be made that we don't want to unnecessarily tarnish people who've been investigated and found they did nothing wrong.

But the notion of a very limited confidential report is not what Congress needs and certainly not what the American public needs.

BLITZER: If Mueller were to conclude there was "no collusion" between the president himself and the Russians during the campaign, none of that information, how he got to that conclusion, do you believe should be released?

BEYER: No, I do think most of that should be released.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Even though the president isn't charged with anything wrong? BEYER: But I also think the president is not an average citizen on the street. He is the president of the United States. There have been so many warning signs, including McCabe talking about whether he is a Russian asset or not.

We have been confused again and again about why he has given Russia a free pass on everything from the Crimea and the Ukraine to its interference in our elections to its intelligence assessments rather than his own.

BLITZER: Because you weren't happy that Comey released all of that dirt on Hillary Clinton, even though he concluded she will not be charged with any crime.

BEYER: We weren't happy about it at all, especially the timing of it. But here in Mueller's case, this is two years from the next election. He spent two years preparing it. Everyone is really expecting it right now.

BLITZER: Do you trust the new attorney general to release to Congress almost everything that would be appropriate for Congress to know?

BEYER: I don't know him well enough to say that I trust. I want to believe that. I want to believe he's a public servant, that he's honest.

BLITZER: What about an accurate summary of Mueller's conclusions?

BEYER: That I think, because of the way that he comes at this, I would hate to just rely on his accuracy. I think the closest we can get to a comprehensive release, the more confidence in Congress the American people will have.

BLITZER: If you don't get what you want, should you go ahead and subpoena the entire report?

Should the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives go ahead and issue a formal subpoena?

BEYER: Yes, absolutely. And I hope it won't be necessary. But we should not take that option off the table.

BLITZER: Do you think Mueller himself should be called to testify before Congress?

BEYER: Yes. I do. He has been at the center of this for so long, he's had a leakproof operation. It's been very well managed. I think having him have the chance to have that conversation with congressional leaders is very important.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You have confidence in Mueller?

BEYER: Oh, I have complete confidence in him.

BLITZER: So you think whatever he concludes and submits will be fair and responsible and accurate?

BEYER: As a Democrat, we have been making the case for two years that he impartial, that he is above politics. that he has a whole career of doing the right thing.

BLITZER: There will be a bunch of other investigations once the special counsel's Russia investigation is over. It could be as early as next week. There's going to be -- I guess there is a sense that Mueller and his team have farmed out other stuff to the U.S. attorney in New York, the U.S. attorney in Northern Virginia, in D.C., the attorney general of the state of New York is investigating the Trump Foundation, a lot of other investigations that are going to continue, including a bunch in the House of Representatives.

BEYER: Absolutely. He teed up a great deal of things. His mandate is ended. But this is all of the people who have confessed to crimes, been indicted, been convicted. All that will lead to other things as they begin to talk.

BLITZER: On the issue of Dan Coats, the DNI, you heard our reporting that the president is losing confidence in him and may get rid of him, the Director of National Intelligence. He told Congress during the global threats analysis testimony that it was unlikely North Korea was going to give up nuclear weapons. The president believes they will engage in complaint denuclearization. He is losing confidence in him.

What is your reaction to that?

BEYER: I got to serve with Dan Coats on the Joint Economic Committee. When I was overseas, many of the foreign service officers I worked with had worked with Dan when he was ambassador to Germany.

He is universally trusted, loved and respected. I'm surprised Trump hasn't fired him yet. He fired Mattis, he fired McMaster, he fired Comey. He wanted to fire Andrew McCabe. He didn't fire anybody --

BLITZER: Tillerson, the secretary --

BEYER: -- Tillerson, anybody that doesn't agree with him.

BLITZER: Yes.

BEYER: And Dan Coats, as Director of National Intelligence, again and again has disagreed and his classic response, when he found out Trump's statement coming back from Helsinki with Putin.

BLITZER: I remember, when Coats testified to Congress on the various global threats, that's not just Dan Coats; that's the entire U.S. intelligence community coming up with their best assessment.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

BEYER: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues here with the Mueller report, now believed to be imminent. What other investigations might dog the president for the rest of his

term?

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BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Sources are telling CNN the Justice Department is preparing to receive special counsel Robert Mueller's finding in the Russian investigation as soon as next week and Bill Barr is planning to release a summary to Congress soon thereafter. Let's dig deeper.

Laura, you have been doing excellent reporting on all of this. Give us the very latest on what you're learning.

JARRETT: So Robert Mueller will present his findings to the attorney general in the next week. He will lay everything out. Barr will say to the public I received the report and then sometime soon after, maybe in the next couple of weeks, he will release his own report to Congress, not --

[17:25:00]

JARRETT: -- Mueller's full report but his own summary.

BLITZER: Which is technically what the regulations allow at the discretion of the attorney general to decide what to release to Congress and what to make public.

JARRETT: I think before Barr's confirmation hearing the public had a different view of what they might see. I think even some lawmakers on Capitol Hill were surprised to see how restrictive those regulations are and how much discretion it gives to Barr. Barr only has to say Mueller's all done and if there's anything that anyone in the Justice Department, Matt Whitaker, Rod Rosenstein, anyone who did anything to stop Mueller or his investigators from taking any significant step, they do have to report back to Congress but they don't have to say anything else.

BLITZER: He can go further. In the regulations, the attorney general may determine if public release of these reports would be in the public interest to the extent that release would comply with applicable legal restrictions.

So he has a lot of, you know, leeway to do what he wants to do.

JARRETT: He can do anything he wants. Congress will be up in arms saying it's not enough most likely and then we'll go from there.

BLITZER: What comes next? SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: Barr will review this report and decide how much information to share. There is an enormous amount of discretionary control.

The only legal limitation on what he could release is essentially grand jury secrets. Nothing else would prevent him from including this information. Barr has hinted he only intends produce this summary. He was evasive during his confirmation testimony. What he decides to include in that summary will shape the narrative. You can imagine a Mueller report that basically said we found evidence. We don't think it rises to a chargeable crime or maybe the president can't be incited. But we think it is relevant to and impeachment inquiry.

Nothing would stop Barr from turning over a summary that said the Mueller report found no evidence of a chargeable crime and ending it at that. So there really is an enormous amount of discretion.

One thing to keep in mind is Barr isn't going to have the final say here. If he tries to withhold even one word from Congress, they going to litigate this to the absolute end of the Earth. They are really going to push the executive privilege issues.

It is almost certainly going to wind up in the United States Supreme Court.

BLITZER: They will subpoena the Justice Department for the whole report.

HENNESSEY: Exactly. And one question is also how much of this report Mueller wants to be released to the public. There are ways he could have written this report, written executive summaries that didn't include classified material, didn't include privileged information that would make it very easy for Congress to obtain it.

Or he might have written something that was more traditional and easy for the Justice Department. Keep in mind Mueller didn't know until mid-December that Bill Barr was the person that was going to be the relevant attorney general. How might that have shaped his thinking in how much he wanted to insulate the report from people who didn't want it to leak.

BLITZER: The Watergate prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, he got the grand jury to go ahead and release a lot of this information to Congress. Presumably it could happen now as well.

HENNESSEY: So it's possible. One thing we should be looking at is what the House Judiciary Committee intends do here. In the Watergate example, the House Judiciary members actually asked for the Department of Justice to refer to them any evidence relevant to an impeachment inquiry.

We haven't seen at the House of Representatives as inclined to take a similar step hee and say -- assert their own constitutional prerogatives and say, look, you had to decide whether or not there was prosecutable crimes here. We have to decide whether or not there was impeachable crime.

BLITZER: Based on what you know about Barr and the Justice Department, how do you see this unfolding?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Simple, one word: it sounds easy but it will make everybody unhappy. Barr is seen in this town as a pro. He is not a spring chicken. He is coming at this before the Senate. I don't care if I get fired. He is not going sit there and say, I will do something just for the president. He is going to say I want to try to do what's right.

That said, there's a flip side. A lot of people were interviewed. There are things called declinations. We interviewed people. That's the Mueller team speaking. We interviewed people that said things that were uncomfortable and we declined prosecution.

Those people are private American citizens.

How much information do you want to reveal about what those private citizens said during interviews?

They are still private citizens. Some of them -- Sean Spicer -- are outside government, should you give that information to the public?

That balance is what you'll see and everybody will be unhappy.

BLITZER: The politics of all this are enormous.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, enormous. And you do expect, if you are Jerry Nadler, to execute his subpoena power. He's already said he would subpoena not only the report but likely Robert Mueller.

There is enormous curiosity about what's in this report. If you're a Democrat, you want it to essentially prosecute the president, perhaps show that he colluded with the Russians. This has been a narrative among Democrats for months and months.

[17:30:02]

If you're a republican, you're looking actually what the President said, that there's no collusion between the Russians and the President. He's obviously said this was a witch hunt for months and months and months and months. So there is so much curiosity.

I think, ultimately, whatever comes out of this will be seen through that political lens, right? Whatever Mueller comes out with, if you're a republican, you're going to see this is exculpating the President and essentially setting him - you know, saying he is not guilty. And if you're a democrat, you're going to see him in a very different lens.

But I think the big move is going to be on this House Judiciary Committee. Jerry Nadler is certainly going to move to get this out in the public, and he's already said that, right? It will move to get this out in the public, and he's already said that, right?

And you might expect to see Mueller before the House Judiciary Committee as well. This is somebody we haven't heard from. We have seen him on TV. He's obviously have been the subject of a lot of speculation. But to hear him talk about findings, that's something that something that we could see in the House at some point.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: If he agrees to testify --

HENDERSON: If he agrees, exactly.

BLITZER: -- before Congress and we'll see if he does.

We do know that Mueller and the Special Counsel, they've already farmed out a lot of these investigations to the U.S. Attorney in New York or here in Washington D.C. or Northern Virginia and presumably elsewhere around the country that we don't even know about, right?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: And it was with one of the ways, if you think about it, that Mueller has sort of insulated the investigation just in case things went south. You can't fire the whole Justice Department. You can't fire the Southern District of New York. So even if you fire me, these cases will live on.

And some of them didn't fall within his jurisdiction. And so he made sure that other prosecutors were handling them. Some of them did fall within his jurisdiction. But as long as the ground work, investigative body of this is complete, he can now hand them off. We're not going to see Robert Mueller's prosecutors do the trial of Roger Stone. The D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office will handle that.

BLITZER: Is that the normal way it's done? They farm out to local - regional U.S. Attorneys the job of prosecuting individuals once the Special Counsel's operation is completed?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. And so we have a limited set of presidents and sort of Special Counsels into the President. But, no, this isn't uncommon. And certainly it's not uncommon for prosecutors. They are investigating one issue, one set of crimes whenever they sort of reach their jurisdictional limits to hand that over to other prosecutors. Clearly, Mueller has been planning from the beginning that any day in the office might be his last. He did want this investigation to outlive him.

But there is also an investigation that is just beyond what he is doing, right? So these other investigations are not subject to the same jurisdictional limits, they aren't subject to the same scrutiny, and, ultimately, as has been reported, some of the individuals close to Trump actually believe that his greatest legal parole [ph] has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation but is instead related to inquiries related to inquiries into the Trump organization.

BLITZER: Well, take a look at this graphic. We'll put it up on the screen, Phil. Under investigation, the Trump Organization, the Trump Foundation, Trump Campaign, the Trump Transition, Trump Inauguration, the Trump Administration. Various U.S. attorneys are looking at this with the Special Counsel. He is getting wrapped up. But Congress is investigating a lot of this as well, especially the new democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Let me tell you, one thing to look at, if you put that graphic up again, I'll give you one clue about looking at this. And that if you think about what Americans have discussed over the past couple of years, it's an investigation in Russia. Look at the number of investigations there and the number that relate to Russia versus the number that relate to money.

The Southern District of New York, that is the prosecutors who are continuing the investigation after Mueller, are dealing with money. I'm not that old. I'm going to croak before they finish the investigations relate to money. We're going to be going at this forever because, again, that doesn't just relate to the presidency, that doesn't just relate to Russia, it could be 2013, 2012, Russians in 2011, this is going to be going on forever.

BLITZER: Our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, had the chance to ask the President a question about this new CNN reporting. Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Mr. President, should the Mueller report be released while you're abroad next week?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: That will be totally up to the new Attorney General. He is a tremendous plan, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department. So that will be totally up to him, the new Attorney General.

REPORTER: Mr. President, what do you expect from last night [ph]?

TRUMP: Well, I guess from what I understand, that will be totally up to the Attorney General.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He clearly has high regard for Bill Barr, at least now.

HENDERSON: He does, at least now. We're seeing the President being a bit of a fickle boss in terms of people he appoints. And then if he detects that they are not sufficiently loyal to him, then he sometimes has turned on them. So we'll see where this goes with Barr. He's obviously going to be in the spotlight here on what he decides to do. Does Congress see it as efficient? Does the President see it as too much, right?

You know, the President again expects loyalty. Does he see what Barr gives to Congress as revealing too much information? One of the interesting things that Barr said was he wasn't going to give the President any discretion in terms of what he submitted to Congress there. So, you know, who knows how much - how that landed with the President. [17:35:01]

But you see him there basically saying, this is up to Barr, somebody he appointed and sees in high regard at least right now.

BLITZER: And, Laura, we also learned today that Michael Cohen, the President's former longtime lawyer and fixer, he got the judge to agree to delay the start of his prison sentence, so from March 6th to May 6th. That's an extra two months. He is recuperating from some surgery. He also wants to appear before three separate committees in Congress. He wants to prepare for that. What did you make of all of that?

JARRETT: Well, he certainly has plenty of time now to appear before Congress before he goes to prison. He has that it's for health issues to take him at this word. You would think those would be done within the next several months before he goes to prison so his schedule would be open.

But lawmakers have appeared ready to take him on no matter what, whether he's in prison or not. They have said, we are going to get you in front of our committees. Whether it's behind closed doors or opened, that remains to be seen. I think most of them, we think, will be behind closed doors, especially for the intel committees, not necessarily the oversight committees.

BLITZER: The Senate and the House Intelligence Committees, presumably, those will be behind closed doors. That's what the Chairman of those committees say. But the House Oversight Committee, that's suppose to be open, and who knows how that's going to be played . JARRETT: And think about it. It might be easier for Michael Cohen to say his piece, to tell his story if the Mueller investigation is complete. Because there had been some reporting and the House Intel Committee Chairman, Adam Schiff, had said, we're delaying the testimony due to respect for the investigation, presumably being the Muller investigation. If the Mueller investigation is over in the next few weeks, that could open Michael Cohen up to be a little bit more free. We'll have to wait and see.

He said he wanted to tell his story. He hasn't yet told his story publicly or at least not everything.

BLITZER: I'm sure he's got a lot to say. Everybody stick around, there's more we're following.

I've just been given some new information, U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant has been charged with planning a mass terror attack here in the United States, going after members if Congress and journalists, including journalists here at CNN. Let's take a quick break. We'll have all the news for you right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:00] [17:41:50] BLITZER: We have more breaking news just coming in to The Situation Room, a very disturbing information. Federal prosecutors have just charged a U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant for allegedly planning a terrorist attack targeting democratic politicians and journalists here in the United States.

Our Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider, has got the details for us. These are awful, awful details. Tell our viewers what you have, Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was a 49- year-old Coast Guard Lieutenant. His name is Christopher Paul Hasson. He was arrested last week, and the details about what he was plotting, a full-scale attack. The prosecutors say it was against media personalities, politicians and civilians, all of the details now coming out in a detention memo that's been filed with the court in Maryland.

Prosecutors say that this man, Christopher Paul Hasson, was stockpiling weapons. They say they found at least 15 guns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition inside the basement apartment of his Silver Spring home, Silver Spring, Maryland, just a few miles outside of Washington D.C.

And prosecutors in their detention memo that was just filed, they've put it very starkly and very stunningly. They put this at the top of their memo saying, the defendant intends to murde9r innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country. And that's why they are asking for the judge at a detention hearing tomorrow to hold this suspect.

What's quite stunning is that this suspect has been a member of the Coast Guard for many years, most recently assigned at the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington D.C. The Coast Guard has put out a statement about this saying that they, in fact, worked with the FBI and Department of Justice. So it looks like the Coast Guard may have actually seen some red flags, raised them and been part of this investigation.

What's also most chilling is that prosecutors say that this man, the 49-year-old Coast Guard Lieutenant, he was actually inspired by a manifesto written by a Norwegian far right domestic terrorist himself, the name of Anders Breivik. And what's startling about this is is that Breivik actually plotted out a terrorist attack in Norway in July 2011 and that attack led to the death of 77 Norwegian citizens.

Prosecutors have found a lot in this basement apartment of this 49- year-old Coast Guard Lieutenant, ncluding draft emails, and I'll read part of that for you. Prosecutors say that this man, Christopher Paul Hasson, wrote it this way. He said, "I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth. I think a plague would be most successful, but how do I acquire the needed Spanish flu, botulism, anthrax, not sure yet, but we'll find something. Interesting idea the other day, start with biological attacks followed by attack on food supply." So, Wolf, all of these details now coming out, this man, the 49-year- old, was arrested last week, the detention memo really spelling out in stark detail exactly what he plotted. But, again, up until just very recently, up until his arrest last week, he was stationed at the Coast Guard headquarters right here in Washington D.C., but prosecutors saying he was plotting this full-scale attack.

[17:45:07]

BLITZER: I have been going through the charges -

HERE

[17:45:00] JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: -- at the Coast Guard headquarters right here in Washington, D.C. A prosecutor is saying he was plotting this full-scale attack.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I've been going through the charges here on the U.S. District Court, and it's awful especially when you go through the list of targets that he wanted to attack, major politicians here in the United States and very prominent journalists as well. Tell us a little bit more about that.

SCHNEIDER: You can see right there, Wolf. That's what prosecutors say that Christopher Paul Hasson was searching, was googling. Media personalities, including media personalities from CNN, MSNBC, as well as very prominent Democratic politicians.

These were all the names that made up this hit list that was on the computer of Christopher Paul Hasson. So prosecutors say this was in the works for several years. They say he was stockpiling these weapons for two years.

And, again, I'll point to that first line of this detention memo. They say that he was, you know, intending to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country, so really raising the alarm bells, asking the judge, in this case, to keep him behind bars.

But the fact that he was doing this at the same time while assigned to Coast Guard headquarters, working as a lieutenant for the Coast Guard, it is quite stunning here, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, I want you to stand by. Phil Mudd is with us as well. He used to work over at the FBI.

If you look at these targets --

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: -- it's very scary, especially the politicians. He's got Schumer. He's got -- he calls her Poca Warren -- Senator Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, Maxine Waters, Ilhan Omar. He's got a whole list of prominent politicians. He refers to Senator Blumenthal as Senator Blumenjew.

He's got journalists including some of our friends here at CNN, like Van Jones and Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon. From MSNBC, he's got Joe Scarborough, Chris Hayes. He's got Ari Melber.

It's very scary to hear a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant plotting, according, to the U.S. government, to kill these individuals.

MUDD: Well, I walked back from this, and I was just reading the report out of this. Thank God for mistakes, you're right. And looking at the target list, if you think this target list is notional, think about the devastation we've seen before, Dylann Roof, a few years ago, a White supremacist in South Carolina.

If you don't see a mistake, you could miss something. I look at what we're seeing in terms of the statements he's made, focused violence -- establish a White homeland, kill almost every last person on earth.

I'm going to make a judgment, Wolf, that he said something wrong on the Internet or something wrong to a member of the -- of his family or friends that led federal investigators to him. Because, otherwise, the line between finding somebody like this who plots in private and finding somebody like this who presumably, in this case, made a mistake is not that wide.

Thank God he made a mistake that led federal prosecutors and investors -- investigators to him. One last comment, I think everybody in my shoes would say without mistakes people like this succeed. Thank God somebody spoke or he said something wrong on the Internet.

BLITZER: In his draft letter, he said we need a White homeland as Europe seems lost. I am a long time White nationalist.

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: This is very chilling material. We're going to have a lot more on this coming up.

Phil, thank you very much.

There's a lot more news we're following right now. During his state of the union address, Russian -- state of the nation address in Russia today, the Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed some ominous new threats at the United States and its European allies. Our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDRIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening to target Washington, D.C. with nuclear weapons if the U.S. deploys medium-range nukes in Europe. The thinly veiled threat coming during Putin's annual speech to Russian lawmakers.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): Russia will be forced to create and develop weapons which can be used not only toward those territories from which threats may be directed at us but also toward those territories with centers of decision-making in employing rocket systems that are threatening to us. PLEITGEN (voice-over): Putin ripped into the U.S. for pulling out of

the treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear weapons. The U.S. and its allies say Russia breached the deal, secretly developing and deploying medium-range nuclear-capable missiles. Putin also announcing a new hypersonic weapon he says will be deployed soon.

PUTIN (through translator): Can they count? I'm sure they can.

(APPLAUSE)

PUTIN (through translator): Let them count the speed and the range of the advanced weapons we are developing. We ask them just one thing. Do the calculations first and only then make decisions that can create additional serious threats for our country which, of course, will lead to retaliatory actions from Russia.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Putin claiming Russia wants better relations with the U.S. but saying Washington needs to take the first step. But Moscow isn't hopeful. A senior Russian lawmaker blasting remarks by former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, saying President Trump could be a Kremlin asset.

[17:50:10] ALEXEY PUSHKOV, SENATOR FROM PERM KAI, RUSSIA: All this nonsense about President Trump, I think, shows that there is some kind of deep psychological crisis back in Washington. I mean, you know, when former state officials suggest that an American president can be an agent of Russia, I think it says something wrong about the mood (ph) of the United States.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Vladimir Putin says Russia doesn't want a confrontation with the West and would only retaliate if attacked, but Moscow is ramping up its arsenal and its rhetoric as relations with the U.S. continue to sour.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, the U.S. and its allies have also now reacted to Vladimir Putin's speech. A spokesperson for the State Department is saying that Vladimir Putin was trying to avoid responsibility for Russia breaching the INF. And NATO is saying that Russia needs to tone it down as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, very disturbing information, indeed. Fred Pleitgen, in Moscow, thank you.

Other important news we're following -- while President Trump makes optimistic predictions about next week's summit meeting with Kim Jong- un, there are some new grim reports indicating that North Korea's brutal dictator has not changed his ways. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, getting new information tonight from North Korean defectors that Kim Jong-un has gone on a tear again, purging several officials who he apparently believed were standing in the way of his dealings with President Trump.

This raises new questions tonight about who inside Kim's regime is going against him and whether Kim will face other challenges ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Just days ahead of his second summit with President Trump, new indications that North Korea's ruthless 35-year- old dictator is crushing anyone inside his regime who might get in the way of his ambitions as a statesman.

A think tank founded by North Korean defectors says Kim Jong-un has recently exiled, jailed, or executed several officials who he suspected had opposed his diplomatic outreach to President Trump.

MICHAEL MADDEN, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, NORTH KOREA LEADERSHIP WATCH: Certainly, as we've seen, there's been a couple of examples of North Korean officials that faced the firing squad under the old principle of you shoot a couple of chickens to scare the monkeys.

TODD (voice-over): The information comes in a new report from a group of defectors at the North Korea Strategy Center. That document obtained by "The Wall Street Journal" indicates that this round of Kim's purges is his deadliest since 2013. That's when he had his own uncle, Jang Song-thaek, reportedly executed with an anti-aircraft gun.

The new report says, this time around, Kim targeted some members of the North Korean Guard Command, the unit responsible for his own personal security.

PATRICK CRONIN, SENIOR FELLOW, THE HUDSON INSTITUTE: This is about coup prevention. You do not want people around you who might put a bullet in your head if you go down a path that you may embark on. Maybe he realizes there are people around him who would not tolerate that kind of opening to the West.

TODD (voice-over): Analyst Michael Madden, who consults with U.S. intelligence agencies about North Korean leaders, tells CNN one of the top people believed to have just been purged by Kim is North Korea's vice foreign minister, Han Song-ryol, who analysts believe could have been imprisoned or executed for espionage.

MADDEN: This is somebody who had channels to foreign countries. So if Kim Jong-un and senior North Korean officials are negotiating with the United States or negotiating with China about nuclear weapons, they do not need to have some sort of alternate back channel undermining those negotiations.

TODD (voice-over): The new report says some officials were targeted by Kim for skimming money from the regime. Experts say these purges could be a signal from Kim to President Trump that the dictator is cleaning house, rooting out corruption from within, to show the President he is serious about negotiations. But they say the President should be wary.

CRONIN: President Trump has to ask himself, can Kim deliver denuclearization? Can he deliver even substantial steps toward denuclearization, or does he have real opposition inside the party and the military around him?

TODD (voice-over): But it does not seem that President Trump is heeding those concerns, telling reporters today that next week's summit with Kim probably won't be their last.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chairman Kim and I have a very good relationship. I wouldn't be surprised to see something work out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But are the President's or any members of his team concerned about these purges by Kim Jong-un, and does the President intend to talk to Kim about those moves when he meets him face-to-face next week in Vietnam?

We reached out to the White House, the State Department, and U.S. intelligence about all of that. None of them would comment on the alleged purges -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

We're getting word of another breaking story right now. Chicago police have just announced that the "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation.

[17:54:58] Smollett is suspected of filing a false police report. Detectives are presenting evidence before a grand jury.

Stand by, we'll have more on this breaking story as well as the breaking news on the Robert Mueller investigation. Lots going on. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Delivering the report. Buckle up. Robert Mueller could hand over the results of his Russia investigation in a matter of days. We're breaking down CNN's new reporting and the potential battle ahead to make Mueller's findings public.

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