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FAA To Order Changes To Boeing 737 Max 8; Chinese Cell Phone Technology A Potential Threat To U.S. Nukes; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D) California Says, "I'm Not For impeachment, He's Just Not Worth It;" White House Refuses To Answer Questions About Whether Trump Said Democrats Hate Jews; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D) California. Aired on 6-7p ET

Aired March 11, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump said Democrats hate Jews and about the president's checks to Michael Cohen. And she's not ruling out a pardon for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Not for impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi comes out against impeaching President Trump, saying -- and I'm quoting her now -- "He's just not worth it." And she gives a scathing assessment of his fitness for office.

Simona speaks. The wife of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who went to jail for lying to FBI, talks to the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. What were lawmakers hoping to learn from her?

And too close for comfort. The potential threat of Chinese cell phone technology to American nuclear weapons. Some experts warn that towers next to missile silos could pause a national security risk.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, President Trump's record budget request to Congress being overshadowed by a report that he told a private audience that Democrats hate Jewish people.

In the first White House briefing in more than 40 days, the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, deflected questions about that and about the president's payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen.

Also breaking, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking out tonight about impeaching President Trump and revealing she's against it.

I will talk about the breaking news and more with Congressman John Garamendi of the Armed Services Committee. And our or correspondents, analysts and specialists, they are all standing by.

First, let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, Pelosi came out against impeaching the president. She went on to say, and I'm quoting her now, "He's just not worth it." Update our viewers.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, she went further than she has gone before in a public assessment.

She's long been skeptical about going the road down impeachment unless there's overwhelming support from both parties, but telling "The Washington Post" that this is not the way that she plans to go, saying this to "The Post."

She says: "I'm not for impeachment. This is news. I'm going to give you some news right now because I haven't said this to any press person before. But since you have asked, I have been thinking about this, and impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path because it divides the country and he's just not worth it."

Now, the fear that Democrats have, Wolf, is that there will not be the support of Republicans. They will go down this road for impeachment and then after if they do get support from the House, then they will go to the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and they won't get the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate to convict the president.

So then where will this lead the Democrats? And that's the point that Adam Schiff, who's the House Intelligence Committee chairman, made to me just moments ago, saying it's not worth it if there's not overwhelmingly bipartisan support, then it's not a good idea.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: In the absence of very graphic evidence, it would be difficult to get the support in the Senate needed to make an impeachment successful. So, again, my feeling is let's see what Bob Mueller produces. But the evidence will have to be pretty overwhelming.


RAJU: So the question is how do some liberals in the Democratic Caucus of the House react to this? Some, including some freshmen Democrats, like Rashida Tlaib of Minnesota, announced plans to file an article of impeachment resolution some time the month.

Other Democrats have moved in a similar way, but, overwhelming, there's a large portion of the Democratic Caucus, veteran members like Schiff, leaders like Nancy Pelosi, who are very skeptical about going this route. They want to tamp down this talk, continue to investigate this president, unless there's something very overwhelming in the Mueller report that reveals something that they need to do, but very clear here, Wolf, if they don't get support from Republicans, Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats are not going to go down the road of impeachment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's significant because any impeachment proceeding, of course, has to start in the House of Representatives. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, she was pressed on the president's latest line of attack on Democrats. Update our viewers on that.


For the first time in more than 40 days, the White House finally held a press briefing. It was supposed to be about the president's budget for the upcoming year, but the briefing went off the rails at times when the White House was asked about the president's comments that Democrats hate Jewish people.

It was another example of the administration seeming incapable of defending the president's questionable rhetoric and it's a preview of the ugly campaign to come.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Asked about one of President Trump's latest line of attacks, accusing Democrats of hating Jewish people, the White House doubled down, standing behind the incendiary comments.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's a question you ought to ask the Democrats.

ACOSTA: Over the weekend, Axios reported the president made that false claim in a private speech in Florida, essentially repeating what he said Friday.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They have become an anti-Jewish party and that's too bad.

ACOSTA: Press Secretary Sarah Sanders in her first briefing in more than 40 days defended the president's remarks, pointing to anti- Semitic comments made by Democratic Congressman Ilhan Omar, but she tried to sidestep Mr. Trump's troubling rhetoric after the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville.

(on camera): That just sort of drags down the rhetoric in the debate, when you're -- you're saying something that just is patently untrue?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Stating their policy positions is not patently untrue.

ACOSTA: But Democrats don't -- Democrats don't hate Jewish people. It's just silly. It's not true. HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think they should call out their members by name.

And we have made that clear. I don't have anything further.




ACOSTA: But the president...



April go ahead.

ACOSTA: He used rhetoric after Charlottesville saying that there are very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville, essentially suggesting that there are very fine people in the Nazis.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's not at all what the president was stating, not then, not at any point.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Sanders was also pressed on the Russia investigation, refusing to rule out a pardon for Paul Manafort.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president has made his position on that clear. He will make a decision when he's ready.

ACOSTA: And again accusing the president's former personal attorney Michael Cohen of lying to Congress when he denied seeking a pardon from the president.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: What I can tell you is that Cohen's own attorney stated and contradicted his client when he said that he was aware that those conversations had taken place. I think that it's time to stop giving him a platform. Let him go on to serve his time.

ACOSTA: Sanders declined to comment on the checks signed by the president that Cohen says were used to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of those specific topics. The president's been clear that there wasn't a campaign violation. Beyond that, I can't into -- I would refer you back to the president's comments.

ACOSTA: The briefing was supposed to be about the president's newly proposed budget that seeks more than $8 billion for a border wall. Gone is the promise that Mexico will pay for it.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: As the president has stated a number of times through the USMCA trade deal that we look forward to getting passed soon, that will be part of how that takes place.

ACOSTA: The White House tried to blame Democrats for the mounting debt in the president's budget with trillion-dollar deficits projected over the next decade.

RUSSELL VOUGHT, ACTING WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: Congress has been ignoring the president's spending reductions for the last two years.

ACOSTA: That's despite the president's promise to eliminate the national debt.

TRUMP: I know more about debt than practically anybody. I love debt. I also love reducing debt, and I know how to do it better than anybody.

ACOSTA: The president is still playing cleanup after he referred to Apple CEO Tim Cook as Tim Apple.

TRUMP: You have really put a big investment in our country. We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple.

ACOSTA: The president tweeted that he quickly referred to Tim plus Apple as Tim Apple as an easy way to save time and words. Sanders didn't answer that question as she ended the briefing.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Thanks so much, guys.

QUESTION: Sarah, why did the president deny saying something that was caught on tape?


ACOSTA: As for the president's comment that Democrats hate Jewish people, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders implied that the president has condemned Republican Congressman Steve King for his remarks praising white supremacy, but the president has never done that publicly.

Sanders said she was referring to her own comments about Congressman King. But, Wolf, as we both know, that's not the same as a statement of condemnation coming directly from the president. There just hasn't been one in reference to Congressman King -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

The wife of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was up on Capitol Hill today interviewed by lawmakers behind closed doors.

Our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray, is joining us with details.

Sara, her husband, he actually went to jail for lying about his contacts with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign. What did the Senate Intelligence Committee hope to learn from Simona Papadopoulos today?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, first of all, they're not saying, because they don't talk about what they talk about with the witnesses they bring in.

But what we expect is that they wanted to talk to her about Joseph Mifsud. This is a professor who met with her husband, George Papadopoulos, and offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. And she -- Simona actually had this preexisting relationship. She knew him before, Joseph Mifsud.

And so we know the Senate Intelligence Committee is still investigating collusion. They're trying to sort of turn over every stone to see if there was anything there and I think they see her as a part of that and specifically her relationship with this professor.

BLITZER: We're waiting for longtime Trump ally and adviser Roger Stone to submit a court filing today. And it will explain why his book that addresses the Mueller probe doesn't violate a federal court gag order.

Could the federal judge in this particular case actually wind up putting Stone in jail?

MURRAY: She absolutely could put him in jail. She could put him in jail. She could fine him.

They have a status hearing set for later this week. She could also just scold him in court in person. But this is supposed to be a filing where Stone essentially explains how he is going to comply with this gag order.


And we have seen that this judge, Amy Berman Jackson, is very frustrated with Roger Stone. She gave him a very lenient gag order to begin with, essentially allowing him to talk about pretty much anything except on the steps of the courtroom. He violated that one. So, she said don't talk about the case at all.

And then after that, she found out that actually he was re-releasing this book that had a forward that's very critical of the special counsel's investigation. So you can sense just through the filings that she's sort of at her wit's end with Roger Stone and we will see this week where that might lead.

BLITZER: The president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, Sara, he was just sentenced, as you know, to almost four years in prison. He could serve more time when he's sentenced for separate crimes later this week on Wednesday.

Today, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said a pardon for Manafort is still potentially on the table.

How significant is that?

MURRAY: Well, I think it depends on what happens next for Paul Manafort.

He could face up to 10 years in prison from this judge in D.C. She has a lot of reasons to be more unhappy with him than the judge in Virginia did who gave him that four-year sentence. But the other thing Paul Manafort potentially has coming is, you know, he could face other charges at the state level.

You know, we know that prosecutors in New York had looked at potentially bringing charges against Paul Manafort in the event that he's pardoned. And so I don't think he's out of the woods yet, although he certainly did catch a lucky break last week when he got much less jail time than many expected, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you, Sara Murray reporting.

Let's talk about this and more with Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You agree with Nancy Pelosi? She says she's not for impeachment at this time. She says it's just not worth it.

Are you willing to definitively rule out beginning impeachment proceedings in the House at least now?

GARAMENDI: At this moment, we don't need an impeachment at this moment, but there's things out there. The Mueller report's not in. We got three committees doing investigations.

As that work develops, it may very well be that we must impeach. We don't know right now.

BLITZER: Because there's a lot of anticipation that the Mueller report may wind up actually disappointing you.

GARAMENDI: We don't know, do we? We don't know what's going to come of that report. We do know that there are major questions. There's a lot of smoke around this presidency. And what does it all mean? We're going to find out over the next couple of months.

Will that warrant an impeachment? Could very well be. The president's been accused of criminal behavior. Is that impeachable? If it's proven, certainly, it would be.

BLITZER: So you think Nancy Pelosi, your speaker, she spoke prematurely?

GARAMENDI: No. The operative word was at this moment.

BLITZER: She said: "I'm not for impeachment. This is news. I'm going to give you some news right now because I haven't said this to any press person before, but since you have asked and I have been thinking about this, impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path because it divides the country and he's just not worth it."

GARAMENDI: Well, I think we have an obligation to the Constitution to hold the president accountable for misdemeanors, for high crimes.

If there is a serious breach of the law, and it's provable, then that would warrant an impeachment. We're not there at this moment.

BLITZER: But you would do the impeachment proceeding in the House even if you didn't think it would get the two-thirds majority in the Senate needed for conviction in order to remove Donald Trump from office?

GARAMENDI: Yes, I would.

BLITZER: You would just be satisfied impeaching him in the House, letting him continue to serve out his term, as Bill Clinton did? He was impeached in the House, but he wasn't convicted in the Senate.

GARAMENDI: That's correct, but you have to take a look at, what are the charges? What are we talking about here? Are we talking about serious criminal offense? We will see what happens.

Votes do change as information comes in, as there's new data, new evidence. Maybe the votes are there. We don't know the underlying issues right now. We know there have been very serious allegations. Are they provable? We're going to find out. The hearings are under way. Mueller's report is out there.

We're going to find out what's going to take place here. And if it's all there, then maybe the votes are in the Senate, as well as in the House.

BLITZER: In her White House briefing today, Sarah Sanders, she refused to provide details on what the president alleges, that he got a specific direct request for a pardon from his former lawyer Michael Cohen.

GARAMENDI: I have no idea what that's all about. We're going to see. Maybe he did. Maybe it was the president's lawyers that reached out to Cohen's lawyers. We don't know yet.

BLITZER: She also refused to discuss this report, you saw the report in Axios, quoting the president in a private fund-raiser for Republicans over the weekend in Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, when the president reportedly said, the Democrats hate Jewish people.

What's your reaction to that?

GARAMENDI: What is there to say about this president? He has more than 10,000 lies racked up already. He just speaks without thinking. Or maybe he is thinking and what comes out is unthinkable.

The Democrats, the Republicans, we have no problem, either party, with our Jewish friends and our Jewish supporters. We are open to all people in this country and we clearly, as Democrats, have good relationships with Jews. We have good relationships. [18:15:01]

We hate anti-Semitism, just -- and we have seen too much of that. And we have also seen a president that has equated white supremacists with those people that are standing up for civil rights and against that. So tell me where this president is coming from.

His statements just are outrageous. They're unconscionable. And they just continue to add up one after another.

BLITZER: Sarah Sanders at the briefing today, and it was the first briefing in more than 40 days by the press secretary, she refused to rule out potentially a pardon for the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. What message does that send?

GARAMENDI: Well, you just raised the question earlier about Michael Cohen, was he searching for a pardon?

Well, here, we have a situation where the White House press secretary is actually saying that a pardon may very well be in the offing for a fellow that has been accused and found guilty of tax evasion and other crimes, as well as lying.

So you take -- just step back for a second and consider what this president has done to this nation. There is no truth in the White House, and pardons are being tossed around. What effect did that have on what may have come about with the underlying information that Mueller was seeking from this man? We don't know.

Was there a message? There certainly could have been a coded message sent very, very clearly, and now we're getting a very clear signal from Sarah Huckabee Sanders that a pardon is in the offing.

BLITZER: Well, she said -- she didn't say it's in the offing. She said potentially it's not being ruled out.

GARAMENDI: It's in the offing.

BLITZER: That's your conclusion.

GARAMENDI: That's my view.

BLITZER: That's your interpretation.

Let's quickly talk about the president's new proposed budget that was submitted to Congress today. He's asking specifically for $8.6 billion for wall funding. How much are you willing, as a Democrat in the House, how much do you think you're willing to give him for wall funding?

GARAMENDI: About the same amount Mexico is willing to pay for it. Mexico going to pay for the wall? No. The American taxpayers are going to pay for the wall.

And what's that money going to come from? It's going to come from education. We're looking at a $1.5 trillion reduction in care for people around this nation that need health care. That's the Medicaid program.

That's in this president's budget. You're looking at a reduction for education. You're looking at a reduction for homeless and housing programs all across this nation. Why? So the president can have his $8 billion for a budget -- for a border wall? I don't think so.

BLITZER: Those are reductions in the rate of growth, not necessarily flat reductions.

GARAMENDI: No, there are...


BLITZER: In Medicaid?

GARAMENDI: That's over a 10-year period.


BLITZER: Yes, 10 years, but Medicaid will keep going up, but not at the extent that you would like.

GARAMENDI: There is, overall, over the next 10 years, yes, there will be inflation in health care. No doubt about it. There will be more seniors that will be seeking nursing home care.

Those are increases, but this president is determined to reduce that projected money necessary to care for seniors and other people in this nation by over $1.5 trillion. It's just unconscionable. And, by the way, we ought to give the president the same amount of money that Mexico is giving for the border wall, zero, nada, nothing.

BLITZER: John Garamendi, thanks for coming in.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues next with more on the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi revealing that she's against impeaching President Trump. So what does she hope her statement will accomplish?

Plus, the FAA takes action amid growing concern over the safety of a widely used airplane following a second deadly crash.



BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi coming out against impeaching President Trump.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and analysts.

And, David Swerdlick, here's what Nancy Pelosi told your newspaper, "The Washington Post," just a little while ago.

"I'm not for impeachment. This is news. I'm going to give you some news right now because I haven't said this to any press person before. But since you have asked, I have been thinking about this, and impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path because it divides the country and he's just not worth it."

What is she accomplishing with that statement, since so many Democrats in the House clearly disagree with her?


I think Speaker Pelosi recognizes her role and she's doing her job in that role. For Democrats, she's providing them cover. She knows her caucus, a lot of members want to go forward with impeachment. So she can be out there saying, I'm not for it, and allow them to continue to advocate for it, but also be able to say, look, leadership won't let us go forward.

In terms of the country, as the speaker of the House, she's putting this out there and saying, look, impeachment is within the power of Congress, but also recognizing that impeachment might do more harm than good to the overall democratic process, especially going into an election cycle.

And she's saying, look, let's slow down, go forward, but cautiously, wait for the Mueller report.

BLITZER: It comes at a time, Gloria, when a bunch of Democrats are increasingly concerned that the Mueller report, which presumably could be concluded very, very soon, is not necessarily going to live up to their expectations.


I mean, you have the House Intelligence chairman, Adam Schiff, saying, I think Mueller should have interviewed the president and shouldn't have -- you know, shouldn't have taken no for an answer.

Look, I think what Nancy Pelosi is doing is looking at the poll numbers which say that a majority of the American public do not believe that they should go through impeachment, even though lots believe that he may be guilty of something.


But I think they're exhausted by it. She was also there in 1998. You will recall 1998, when Newt Gingrich kind of overreached. He ended up losing seats in the House during that election, and eventually had to resign his speakership.

So she understands the ramifications of doing an impeachment when you don't have it in a bipartisan way. And that is exactly what she said. Now, lot of Democrats are going to say, why did you say this before the Mueller report? Why did you come out and say this now?

I think Nancy Pelosi is pretty savvy and wanted to do it before the Mueller report, so people didn't believe that it was in reaction to what the special counsel finds.

BLITZER: Yes, 1998 was when Newt Gingrich, the Republican speaker...

BORGER: Yes, speaker.

BLITZER: They got Bill Clinton, they impeached Bill Clinton in the House of Representatives, but he wasn't convicted in the Senate.

BORGER: Right. That's right.

BLITZER: As a result, he wasn't removed from office.

BORGER: And Newt lost his speakership as a result.

BLITZER: That's correct. That's correct.

You know, Phil, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, says failed impeachment isn't a good idea, that it doesn't make sense to move down that road -- quote -- "in the absence of very graphic evidence."

What do you think?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: They got a sense of smell here. That is Democrats on the Hill.

As Gloria was saying, everybody in this town is smelling that Mueller isn't going to deliver something compelling. Pelosi doesn't have an option. What would she say? If it's not compelling, we're going to proceed with some sort of impeachment process, which guarantees that Republicans won't sign up?

I think this is also as much a message for the Democratic Caucus, which after the midterms has been, some of them, a little bit out there, saying, slow your roll, unless we get something that's really good, this is not a good idea. Some of your constituents on the fringe might like it, but it's not great for the party to move to the center.

BORGER: And what is she supposed to say, let's wait for the Southern District of New York?

MUDD: Yes.

SWERDLICK: The only thing I would say in response, though, Phil, would be simply that I actually do think that Mueller has already delivered things that are compelling. They just may not be a slam dunk, So,, to your point, lowering expectations for the Democrats.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think that's what's interesting. She's saying nothing in the public record right now, right, by making this statement, there's nothing in the public record that she believes is worth the effort of impeachment.

I suppose she might believe that some of it is impeachable, but she's saying, politically, there's nothing she's seen so far that is worth impeachment. But I agree with Gloria that she's probably politically lowering expectations.

BORGER: Exactly.

LIZZA: Trying to get Democrats to take a deep breath, because people have been so far out in front of their skis on this question of impeachment and what the Mueller report will bring. She can always change her mind, right? If there's some very damaging

BORGER: Exactly.

LIZZA: ... claim in the Mueller report, she can always change her mind, say, ha, I was someone who didn't believe in impeachment, but now things are different.

BLITZER: Yes, because in this "Washington Post" interview, she was asked if she thinks the president is fit to be the president of the United States.

She says: "Are we talking ethically, intellectually, politically? What are we talking here?"

The reporter says, "All."

Pelosi, "All of the above, no, no, I don't think he is. I mean, ethically unfit, intellectually, unfit, curiosity-wise, unfit. No, I don't think he's fit to be president of the United States."

That's pretty scathing.

BORGER: Well, she's not backing down on her criticism of Trump. I mean, further on in the interview, she made the point which I thought was funny, she said, look, he's just not worth it.

He's not worth the political turmoil that it would cost the country and perhaps the Democratic Party and the Congress, in a country that is already so divided and exhausted by everything we have been going through. And when she said he's just not worth it, it was kind of like, you know, just shunting him to the side and saying, you know, he's really -- he's just not -- don't do it, it's not worth it.

MUDD: I think this is really the most fascinating piece. It's not the law. It's the decline of honor in America.

The president has been brilliantly setting a bar that says no collusion, that means we're out of the doghouse. If you have aides who are charged and convicted for federal violations, campaign chief, deputy campaign chief, personal lawyer, national security adviser, if I'm on tape talking about molesting women, and also if I have charges in a federal court, in a federal document that say I lied about paying off a porn star, that's OK, honor doesn't really matter.

If you can't get to a federal standard that says, I participated in conspiracy with a rival foreign power, then it doesn't really matter. Just remarkable resetting the bar he's done.

BLITZER: But if the Democrats don't have 67 votes in the U.S. Senate, even if they succeed in getting the majority in the House of Representatives, impeachment is not going to go anywhere. It's going to be -- he's going to be impeached, but he's not going to be removed from office.

SWERDLICK: Right, which goes back to Gloria's point about what happened in 1998 with Republicans trying to remove Bill Clinton, getting the impeachment in the House, not getting conviction in the Senate.

I will say, I agree with you, Gloria, that I think what I hear you saying is that this is smart politics, at least for now...

BORGER: For now.

SWERDLICK: ... on the part of Speaker Pelosi.

But Democrats also have to look at this from the other side, which is that it's an election cycle. It doesn't mean that President Trump is going to be gone in two years. His poll numbers, his approval rating is about where it was on Inauguration Day. He could win the election.

So they have to say -- you know, balance both sides of this question.

BORGER: Right. But these stories are not going away because of what's going on at the state level, right, and what's going on at the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of New York. And so there are going to be more things that will be keeping this in the news. But I do think that she's not dumb to lower expectations about what we know about the Mueller report, what we're going to learn.

BLITZER: Let's see what we will learn about the Mueller report. It's going to be made available to the new Attorney General. And then the Attorney General, Bill Barr, is going to have to decide what to release to Congress, what to release to the American public.

Let's talk about security clearances right now, some new developments unfolding today. The House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings says there was a session there, the White House provided some documents about security clearance for procedures in the White House. But he says the session was virtually useless. He says, most of the documents were already publicly available. It's a pretty frustrating business these Democrats are having right now investigating these kinds of issues.

LIZZA: Yes, I think this is a preview of the kind of cooperation they're going to get from the White House. Now, generally the security clearance issue has been very much an executive branch prerogative. Their view is basically the House should just butt out of this. The President can pass these security clearances out to whomever he wants. Phil probably knows a lot more about this subject.

But this White House is now set up to fight and resist all of the House investigations and there's not a lot of pressure on the republican side to change that.

BLITZER: We've got a lot more to discuss, so don't go anywhere. We're going to continue all of this right after a quick break.



[18:36:18] BLITZER: We're back with our experts and analysts. And, Gloria, the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, she was repeatedly asked today about his report from Axios that at a private fundraiser over the weekend in Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, the President reportedly said the Democrats hate Jewish people. Listen to this. Listen to see how she reacted, Sarah Sanders, reacted today.


REPORTER: Does the President really believe Democrats hate Jews?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the President has been an unwavering and committed ally to Israel and the Jewish people. And, frankly, the remarks that have been made by a number of Democrats and failed to be called out by democrat leadership is, frankly, abhorrent.

REPORTER: Yes or no. Does the President truly believe that Democrats hate Jews?

SANDERS: I am not going to comment on a potentially leaked argument [ph]. I can tell you what --

REPORTER: Does he think Democrats hate Jewish people as he sent this out on --

SANDERS: I think they have had a lot of opportunities over the last few weeks to condemn, so the abhorrent comments.

REPORTER: Does he really believe Democrats hate Jews? I'm just trying to get a sense of that.

SANDERS: I think that's a question you have to ask the Democrats.


BLITZER: What do you think?

BORGER: Well that was a lot of deflection, didn't you think, three times. And what sort of struck me was she said, remarks have been made by a number of Democrats failed to be called out by the democratic leadership. You could ask the question why the President hasn't said anything about Steve King, which he has not.

So I think this was a -- she had to dance there a little bit and she danced around it and she never answered the question, which is, is that what the President believes, is that what he said?

BLITZER: What do you think, Ryan?

LIZZA: Well, I think she said something about that, privately, he's denounced Steve King, which, of course, you could do anything privately. It's whether you do it publicly.

BORGER: Right. Exactly.

LIZZA: Or not that matters if you're President. This is classic Trump, using an issue that has divided Democrats a little bit. They've had some trouble with one member in the House of Representatives that they've had to discipline. And so this is Trump taking advantage of this, exacerbating attention within the Democratic Party.

Look, the Democratic Party is a much more diverse party. They're always going to have, frankly, more debates and it's going -- this -- and as the primary goes along here for the President on the democratic side, this is going to be Trump at every single moment lobbing grenades, whether it has to do with rhetoric from a House member or a policy, he is going to be in there slamming that wedge into the Dems.


SWERDLICK: Yes. No, I think Ryan makes an excellent point. In this case, Congresswoman Omar's comments gave President Trump the opportunity to make this claim whether or not there's any truth to it or not, and the President is going to play on that as long as he can. He's made his own statements that could clearly be called anti- Semitic.

Let me just read one that I have here, in 2015, at the republican Jewish Coalition. He said in a speech, "I'm a negotiator, like you folks. You know, you're not going to support me but you want to control your politicians. That's fine." But President Trump has no problem saying something like that one day and then condemning someone else for it a few years down the road.

BLITZER: Phil, it's hard to believe we're even having a conversation about this right now.

MUDD: It's funny. You know, I was just reflecting and thinking about this over the past day and remembering in my short lifetime, admittedly very short, a lot shorter than Ryan Lizza's. George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, whether you're a republican or democrat looking at some of the republican leadership in my lifetime and saying, the dignity that they brought that sort of character to the Oval Office, to the White House, is something that you would teach a child in civics class. And now, we have somebody saying, you know, well, if it sticks, I'll say, they hate Jews.


And by the way, the argument in the press office was not whether he said that some remarks were abhorrent. She dodged. The argument was, he said that the Democrats hate Jews. Let's make sure we understand what she's trying to dodge. That's not what he said about abhorrent remarks. He talked about hating Jews.

BORGER: And you can disagree over the way the Democrats handled this because there are -- you know, you could say they weren't direct enough with the congresswoman. They should have been more direct or they handled this in a political way they shouldn't have. Have that argument, but don't say that Democrats hate Jews. I mean, that's silly.

BLITZER: And Israel, too.

BORGER: Oh, yes. They hate it --

BLITZER: He made that accusation the other day.

BORGER: That's true, okay.

BLITZER: And supposedly in this private meeting as well.

Everybody, stick around. There's some other important news we're following right now. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is defending a sexual harassment investigation by her office against a senior staff member as she weighs a presidential run. Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, you asked Senator Gillibrand if she can acknowledge mistakes were made in the first investigation. Tell our viewers what she told you.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she's refusing to admit any mistakes, Wolf, and that's important here because there were, indeed, some mistakes made along the way. She is refusing to apologize and digging in, really, in every way, defending her office's investigation, and there have been two of them along the way into this former aide and these allegations of sexual harassment. She said that she believes the investigation was thorough and professional and she said many times that she took the allegations seriously from the start.

Here's more of what she had to say moments ago.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: We investigated claims of sexual harassment and derogatory comments. We interviewed all current employees that had relevant information. We were able to substantiate derogatory comments and did not able to substantiate the sexual harassment, the sexual harassment claims did not rise to the level of sexual harassment.

I told this employee at the time that she was loved, that we loved her. I deeply valued her, which is why we took her allegations immediately, investigated them immediately, and did a professional and thorough investigation.


SERFATY: Now, an important point there in what the Senator has said, she was saying that this was, in her opinion, a thorough investigation. And she said that they spoke to current employees. Now, that's an important point that the second investigation went back and made up for those mistakes. They did reach out and talked to former employees, those ones that did corroborate these claims of sexual harassment. So, again, they are notable that she is refusing to acknowledge mistakes were made on her congressional staff's part.

The closest, I believe, she ever came to showing regret in any way, Wolf, was when she said in the end, she said, we're always looking in ways we can improve here. And certainly these questions from the Senator who has made the MeToo moment a central part of her campaign will be facing increasing and many more questions about this.


BLITZER: A very awkward development for her. Sunlen, thank you very much.

There's more breaking news just ahead. Dozens of planes around the world, they are now grounded in the wake of a deadly crash. And now, the FAA is ordering design changes.

We'll be right back.


[18:47:58] BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. The FAA has just announced it's ordering design changes to the Boeing 737 Max 8.

Our aviation correspondent Richard Quest is working the story for us from London.

Some international carriers, Richard, they've grounded the plane. Why hasn't the United States and some of the European carriers as well done the same thing?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: For a simple reason. They say that they don't have any evidence or any reason to do so. Those that are grounded so far, notably, obviously, Ethiopia has grounded them because it's their country, the first place. Indonesia because Lion Air, that last crash back in October, came from Indonesia.

And the Chinese, that's a big one. The Chinese have said out of an abundance of caution, they are grounding up all 737 Max 8s. There are some who suggest that that is a bit of political opportunism bearing in mind the current state of politics between the U.S. and China.

As for the FAA, this is the statement, wolf. They say on this question about similarities between the Ethiopian and the Lion Air back in October, they say, this investigation has just begun and to date, we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions. And on these just briefly on these design changes that they've announced, these were already in the works.

What's happened is they've now given Boeing a date, they say they'll mandate them by April of this year, but they were changes as a result of the last crash.

BLITZER: Richard, what will the recovered flight data and cockpit voice recorders potentially reveal?

QUEST: Everything. It will tell you what the pilots were saying to each other. It will tell you if there was a failure of a system's angle of attack indication, whatever else it might be. And most important, Wolf, it will tell you how the MCAS, this new flight management system, that's supposed to be a safety net, it's supposed to be the bit that helps pilots in difficult circumstances, it will tell you, did it activate? And if it activated, how the pilots flew?

[18:50:06] One note tonight, Wolf, the CEO of Boeing, Dennis Muilenburg has just put out a statement. He says: We have confident in the safety of the 737 Max and he encourages all Boeing employees, he says, I encourage everyone to stay focused on the important work we do.

We will -- it will be a matter of days before we get the details from the flight recorders. They will reveal all.

BLITZER: The reputation of these planes clearly has taken a hit.

QUEST: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I have confidence in you. What do you think, Richard? Safe to fly?

QUEST: Bearing in mind the Chinese have banned it, the Ethiopians have banned it, you've got to -- I cannot unequivocally say yes, because there is a legitimate authority that says it's not. I would say it's individual choice whether to fly, if you're asking whether I would -- yes, I would.

BLITZER: OK, Richard Quest, he's an expert in these areas. Thank you very much.

Up next, a concern that rural cell phone towers containing Chinese technology could threaten some of the country's most sensitive military sites.


[18:55:50] BLITZER: Tonight, some experts are warning of the potential threat to American nuclear weapons posed by Chinese cell phone technology.

Our Senior International Correspondent Alex Marquardt is here with details.

Alex, this technology made by the Chinese company, Huawei (AUDIO GAP) a lot lately.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It has, Wolf, quite a bit, because most recently, Huawei technology, Huawei sued the U.S. government for banning their technology because it's considered to be a threat to national security.

Now, the American telecom giants don't use Huawei for that specific reason, but it's still very much part of the smaller, lesser-known cell phone network, some of which cover rural areas where the U.S. military houses its nuclear missiles and that, according to experts, is a serious concern.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): Hidden beneath this vast, snowy prairieland in central Montana are more than 100 nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, ready for launch.

It's desolate terrain, but vital to American national security, which experts worry could face a threat from China. This fenced in area is a missile silo, controlled by Malmstrom Air Force Base. Right next to it, a cell tower, belonging to a company called Triangle Communications System. It's an American company, but its network uses radio transmitters and receivers made by the Chinese company, Huawei, a telecom giant that's been called a national security risk by U.S. intelligence officials.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.

MARQUARDT: Given the power of the Chinese government over Chinese companies, experts say the Huawei technology could be weaponized by Beijing.

JAMES ANDREW LEWIS, CSIS SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR, TECHNOLOY POLICY PROGRAM: If they asked Huawei, turn off the phones, tell us what people are doing, scramble the data going over it, block calls, make random phone calls, there's nothing we could really do to stop that.

MARQUARDT: These bases use encrypted communications, but valuable intelligence could be gathered on the people working with the ICBMs. And the area could also be targeted with network attacks. There's no evidence that anything like this has happened, but CNN has identified dozens of cell phone towers equipped with Huawei technology. Some dispersed among the Malmstrom nuclear missile fields.

LEWIS: ICBMs are supposed to be pretty hard. That won't be easy to do, but that doesn't mean our opponents will try to figure out if they can do it.

MARQUARDT: Areas like this are so remote that often the only cellphone service comes from small networks. Unlike major carriers like Verizon and AT&T, smaller companies depend on government subsidies and many buy cheaper equipment made by Chinese companies like Huawei.

While the company is barred from U.S. government contracts and federal employees can't use their devices, rural carriers have no such restrictions. The companies that own these towers are part of the Rural Wireless Association, who say a quarter of their members buy Huawei because it's far cheaper and say it would cost up to $1 billion to replace.

LEWIS: We thought China was going to be a friend. We bought the technology from them, and now it would be really expensive to rip it out -- too expensive for most of these companies to afford.

MARQUARDT: The Pentagon would not say what kind of relationship, if any, it has with these carriers, but Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told CNN in a statement, they are working closely with our industrial and research partners to develop comprehensive and innovative solutions for both the department and commercial industries.


MARQUARDT: There was no response from that smaller carrier in Montana, which is called Triangle. Huawei told us they go to great lengths to protect their users' data, but a spokesman did admit that all networks are at risk by sophisticated countries and the fear here is what China would do if there's a serious crisis.

Now, we should note, in full transparency, that CNN's parent company, Warner Media, is owned by AT&T, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very important report. I'm so glad you did that, thanks so much, Alex Marquardt, for joining us.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.