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Trump's Approval Rating Edges Up as His Latest Twitter Meltdown Raises Concerns; Deadline for 81 Individuals to Answer House Judiciary Request for Info on Possible Obstruction Charges; Documents from Michael Cohen Search Warrants to Be Made Public; Interview with Carson on Cohen Briefings; Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 18, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The reality has changed; the laws will, too -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alexandra Field, thank you for that report.

And you can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: counterintel probe. Top Democrats demand the FBI investigate a Florida spa founder with ties to President Trump and whether she tried to peddle that access to Chinese clients.

That comes as 81 individuals and groups face a deadline to answer a House Judiciary request to face possible administration abuses.

Bitter on Twitter: President Trump goes on a Twitter tirade aimed at the news media, even FOX News, General Motors and the late senator John McCain. It comes as he plays down the role of white extremism in the New Zealand terror attack, leading a top official to insist the president, quote, "is not a white supremacist."

Calling it insanity: top presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway is forced to say she doesn't share her husband's publicly stated concerns that the president is mentally ill and getting worse. George Conway says it's something all Americans should be thinking seriously about.

Cashing in: after jumping in to the Democratic presidential race, Beto O'Rourke is cashing in with a record fundraising haul of more than $6 million in his first 24 hours.

Can he keep it going?

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

BLITZER: Breaking news: powerful congressional Dems are demanding an FBI investigation into a Florida spa founder's tie to President Trump and whether she sought to leverage those ties by selling access to Chinese clients; that as 81 individuals and organizations face a deadline tonight to respond to a House Judiciary Committee request for information on possible obstruction and abuses by the Trump administration, campaign and business.

Also tonight the dust still hasn't settled from Trump's latest Twitter storm. A 24 -our rant aimed in all directions and taking place in the grim aftermath of the New Zealand terror attack. His refusal to acknowledge a rise in white nationalism forced his acting chief of staff to declare that the president, quote, "is not a white supremacist."

I'll speak with Congressman Andre Carson of the Intelligence Committee and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage. Let's begin with breaking news. A new CNN poll just out showing President Trump's approval rating has edged up even as he melts down in an extraordinary Twitter rant.

First up, our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, what's the fallout from this tweetstorm by the president?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president's Twitter feed is cooling down after a fiery weekend of Trump tweets aimed at all of the president's adversaries, it seems, both real and imagined.

Once again, top White House officials found themselves in the surreal position of cleaning up after the president's social media messes. White House officials have had to both say that the president is not mentally ill and not a white supremacist.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It started over the weekend when the president made a rare trip to church and lasted until his Monday morning executive time, an unholy tweetstorm airing an avalanche of Mr. Trump's grievances. The president lashed out at the press after the mosque massacre in New Zealand, tweeting, "The fake news media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attacks in New Zealand. So ridiculous."

But it was the New Zealand killer who called attention to the president's rhetoric, describing Mr. Trump in a manifesto as a symbol of light identity. The president is back on his heels after downplaying white nationalism.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't really. I think it is a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that's the case. I don't know enough about it yet. They're just learning about the person and the people involved. But it is certainly a terrible thing, terrible thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): In response to the barrage of tweets, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, prominent D.C. attorney George Conway suggested the president suffers from some kind of personality disorder, adding, "his condition is getting worse," a view not shared by his wife.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: No, I don't share those concerns. And I was getting -- I have four kids and I was getting them out of this morning before I got here so I haven't talked to the president about substance.

So I would not be up to speed on all of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president also attacked his old nemesis, John McCain, accusing the late senator who died in August of peddling a dossier of Mr. Trump's alleged misdeeds before the 2016 election, tweeting, "So it was indeed John McCain that sent the fake dossier to the FBI and media, hoping to have it printed before the election. He and the Dems working together failed as usual."

McCain's daughter --

[17:05:00]

ACOSTA (voice-over): -- fired back at the president.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S DAUGHTER: Your life is spent on your weekends not with your family, not with your friends but obsessing over great men you could never live up to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

MCCAIN: That tells you everything you need to know about his pathetic life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

ACOSTA (voice-over): In a side of Republican reluctance to criticize Mr. Trump, McCain's old friend, senator Lindsey Graham, only offered a muted response to the president, tweeting, "Nothing about McCain's service will ever be changed or diminished."

The president's poll numbers have ticked up in recent weeks, in part because of the healthy economy with 71 percent saying the nation is in good fiscal shape, which may explain why the president feels emboldened to call on FOX News to bring back Judge Jeannine Pirro, one of the network's hosts, who was suspended after making bigoted comments about Muslims in a rant about congresswoman Ilhan Omar. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANNINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: Think about it, Omar wears a hijab. Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to sharia law, which, in itself, is antithetical to the United States Constitution?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president defended Pirro on the same weekend as people in New Zealand were reeling from a terror attack on Muslims. White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney insisted Mr. Trump is not a racist.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president is not a white supremacist. I'm not sure how many times we have to say that.

ACOSTA (voice-over): As the president attended church on Sunday he was exposed to a message of tolerance at the service as the reverend called on Americans to reject hatred.

W. BRUCE MCPHERSON, ST. JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH: We're called on whenever we overhear or oversee hateful slurs against other people. Perhaps we need the holy courage to call them out and to say It's just not us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The president will soon find himself in the company of a like-minded foreign leader when Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro visits the White House tomorrow. Bolsonaro has been described as the Trump of the tropics, once saying immigrants coming to Brazil are the, quote, "scum of the Earth."

And, Wolf, I think it's very likely that the president will be asked about some of these tweets he's been firing off over the last 48-72 hours when he holds a joint news conference with the Brazilian president here tomorrow.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right. All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

There's more breaking news right now. Senior Democrats from the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees are demanding the FBI look into a Florida spa founder's ties to President Trump. Our senior congressional Manu Raju is joining us from Capitol Hill.

Manu, what do these top Democrats specifically want the FBI to now investigate?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They want the FBI to open a counterintelligence and criminal investigation into Cindy Yang, who's the former owner and the founder of a number of spas and massage parlors in the Florida area because of concerns that she may have improperly sought to sell access to Chinese clients to try to leverage her relationship with President Trump and other top political leaders.

Now Cindy Yang came under attention last months when Robert Kraft, who's the current owner of the New England Patriots, was charged with soliciting prostitution at a massage parlor in Florida he had owned and since sold her interest. And that was all part of an FBI sting into prostitution and trafficking that ensnared Kraft.

Now afterwards a number of reports show that Cindy Yang is a prominent Republican donor. She had ties to apparently to Republicans. There were photographs of her with some key Republican lawmakers and there are reports of her being at the Mar-a-lago estate, the president's estate in Southern Florida.

What the Democrats say in this letter is they say, although Ms. Yang's activities may only be those of a unscrupulous actor allegedly selling access to politicians for profit, her activities also could permit adversary governments or their agents access to these same politicians to acquire potential material for blackmail other even more nefarious purposes.

The Democrats' Mark Warner, Adam Schiff, Dianne Feinstein, Jerry Nadler are all asking for responses to a number of questions about the president's ties to Yang by Thursday. They want this investigation to move forward.

Democratic leaders all (INAUDIBLE) to move forward. Tonight Yang's attorney pushing back, calling this all a politically driven expedition. They said they will address more of these matters in the coming days ahead.

BLITZER: Also tonight, a key deadline: House Judiciary had requested documents fro many more than 80 individuals, including the president's son, Donald Trump Jr.

Do we know where things stand on this huge request?

RAJU: When I talked to Jerry Nadler, the chairman of that committee, late last week, he told me he expected more than half to comply with his request. He expected to issue subpoenas for others who would refuse to comply, saying they would only comply if there were subpoenas and he expected some others to be defiant and not come --

[17:10:00]

RAJU: -- forward with anything, expecting a longer fight over those documents that they are requesting.

You mentioned people all within Trump's orbit, his family members, people in his business, other people in the White House, 81 individual and entities they're demanding information from. Today is the deadline. Expect hearings going forward and expect a response from the committee in just a matter of moments to detail exactly the extent of the cooperation.

But this is a start of what is expected to be a year long or even more investigation here on Capitol Hill. BLITZER: All right, Manu. Thanks very much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

Nearly a year after the law enforcement raid on Michael Cohen's office and residences, redacted documents from the search warrants are about to be made public. Let's bring in Evan Perez.

Evan, what can we learn about these raids from these documents that are about to be released?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: These are documents that are being released by a judge after CNN and other organizations asked for them to be released. And what we might learn is a little bit more information about what exactly the FBI and the Justice Department provided to the judge in order to carry out this raid.

One of the concerns at the time was that Michael Cohen might destroy evidence; at least that's what the FBI thought at the time and U.S. attorney's office there in Manhattan. They wanted information on some of these payments made to women, including Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

This raid changed a lot for the president. It certainly made him feel that he was being targeted for the first time. He felt that they were coming after him. And if you remember, he had a very strong reaction to that. Let's listen to some of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, good man. And it's a disgraceful situation. It's a total witch hunt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: You also know that Michael Cohen immediately said afterwards that he believed that the FBI behaved professionally after their carried out this raid. If you remember, the FBI carried out a raid of his office as well as his home and a hotel room where he had been staying. Now we'll see a little bit more about what exactly the FBI was working with.

BLITZER: Get those documents tomorrow. He begins his prison sentence in early May. That's coming up fairly soon as well. Evan, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic congressman Andre Carson of Indiana. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D-IND.), MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: Let's begin with demands from top Democrats for the FBI to investigate Florida spa owner Cindy Yang and whether or not she attempted to leverage her relationship with the president by selling access to Chinese clients.

What specifically do you want the FBI to look into?

CARSON: I think this is something that needs a thorough investigation to see if Ms. Yang was unscrupulous in granting access or if, in fact, there's a serious national security threat. The Chinese government has demonstrated throughout the years an acute expertise at placing specific assets and targets to really target and home in on high- profile folks. If this is the case we need to see if she is connected to, in fact, the Chinese intelligence services.

BLITZER: We'll see where this investigation heads.

Also tonight, that's the deadline for some 81 individuals and entities to respond to the House Judiciary request for documents pertaining to multiple investigations involving President Trump. The Trump administration has indicated they intend to fight many of these requests.

How should Democrats respond if the White House tries to stonewall your colleagues' congressional investigators?

CARSON: I think if there's nothing to hide I would hope that the administration would be cooperative with the investigation. Those who are subpoenaed are certainly -- they're required to cooperate. They should cooperate. Anybody that refuses to cooperate, it raises red flags for me.

Listen, the legislative branch was created to act as a check on the executive branch. And Democrats are doing that. Republicans had two years to act as a check. They failed miserably. And now Democrats are assuming the responsibility to act as a check in line with the framers' vision for our government. And I think it's panning out quite well.

BLITZER: You just heard Evan Perez, our justice correspondent, report that if they don't respond, subpoenas potentially could be down the road.

Amidst all of this, redacted documents pertaining to the raid of Michael Cohen's home and office are also about to be released. The public had learned significant new information about the circumstances surrounding the search warrant; for example, as well as the documents seized by authorities. Evan Perez was also reporting about that.

As you know, Cohen has been cooperating with your committee, with --

[17:15:00]

BLITZER: -- federal prosecutors and investigators.

Do you access to all the documents that you need?

CARSON: Well, we are still waiting for Director Mueller's documents to be released. You mentioned his investigation; I think it will be very insightful. I think it will allow us to have a clearer path in terms of where the Congress goes from here.

So we are waiting patiently. But to your earlier point, Michael Cohen was cooperative with our query about a week an a half ago. And so I am hopeful that the American people are finally getting a chance to see that the Democratically controlled Congress were acting as good stewards and trustees over their interest in taxpayer dollars.

BLITZER: I want to get your thoughts on the president's response to the massacre of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand last week. The president said he doesn't see a growing global threat from white nationalists, white supremacists.

You're one of three Muslim members of Congress.

What's your response to the president?

CARSON: Well, I was disappointed with the president's timidity as it related to addressing the cancerous element that white nationalism has presented itself to be for decades; one would argue centuries now. And I think our resources, law enforcement resources, intel resources have been largely devoted to exploring and identifying Islamic extremists. I think more resources need to be devoted at identifying having a collection database of white nationalists and white supremacists, many of whom serve in law enforcement capacities, unfortunately; many of whom have become a lot harder to detect because institutionally they have been protected.

And so I think now is the time for our resources to be devoted with the kind of specificity necessary to unearth this cancerous element from our society.

BLITZER: Some of your colleagues in the House and elsewhere, Democrats, have actually called the president a white nationalist.

Do you believe the president is a white nationalist?

CARSON: I won't speak in absolute terms but I will say that the president unfortunately has been dogwhistling, winking, tiptoeing through the tulips, if you will, signaling to that part of his base in a way that is reaffirming, in a way that allows them to assume that he is in absolute support of them and he appreciates their support and vote.

BLITZER: Congressman Andre Carson, thank you so much for joining us.

CARSON: Thank you, Wolf. Always a pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, an extraordinary Twitter meltdown by President Trump, lashing out in all directions.

So what's behind this stunning outburst?

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[17:20:00]

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BLITZER: Our breaking news into CNN poll just out shows President Trump's approval rating edging up even as the president's weekend-long tirade on Twitter has White House aides scrambling to defend their boss' character and fitness for office.

Let's ask our analysts about all of this.

Chris Cillizza, a weekend tirade on Twitter. It sort of, among other things, the president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, he went on some of the Sunday shows, had to insist the president is not a white supremacist. He actually had to utter those words.

One of his other top advisers, the counselor, Kellyanne Conway, had to tamp down speculate that the president is mentally ill. Her own husband had made that kind of suggestion.

Explain what's going on right now.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: I think he, Donald Trump, had some free time. We know what he does in his free time. He either watches television or watched -- he either watches live television or taped television. That gets him fired up.

You know what?

I think he is a very grievance oriented person. He does tend to see himself as the victim here. He is someone who is prone to conspiracy theory as it related to his own time in office and his own role.

He floated a lot of these debunked conspiracies among them that the Democrats tried to steal the election with illegal votes. He's said that before. There's no evidence of it.

It should be concerning to the country that we have a chief executive who sent 29 tweets -- retweets on a single Sunday. I tweet a lot and a lot more than my wife would like me to and probably a lot more than CNN president Jeff Zucker would like me to.

But, I sent 15. So twice as many, many embracing conspiracy theories. And we've talked about this a lot, Wolf; remember, Twitter is the closest thing to a peek inside his mind and temperament at any given time. This is who he really is. And if you read through those tweets, it's concerning.

BLITZER: We all read those tweets.

Phil Mudd, what was pretty shocking -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- was this tweet attacking the late senator, John McCain for passing along that so-called Steel dossier to the FBI.

You once worked over at the FBI.

What did you make of that accusation against the late senator? PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I looked at not only the comment about the Steel dossier but some of the comments that the president was making about Senator McCain.

Remember, Senator McCain was a veteran who was a prisoner of war in horrendous conditions in a war where our president decided he couldn't go because he had fake bone spurs. And this is the guy who is making fun of McCain. I have a couple comments here.

First, the president's making fun of a dead man for being last in his class. That is McCabe at university. Evidently the president's so embarrassed about his own academic performance that he's asked the university he went to not to release his transcripts.

The president's making fun of McCain and whether McCain was working with Democrats, suggesting that Democrats never win, except I suspect for the

[17:25:00]

MUDD: last midterm elections, when the Republicans got hammered in the House, which is why now the president has Nancy Pelosi around his neck.

And the best part of this, the president getting on McCain about distributing what looks like opposition research from a British intelligence officer, former officer, when the president's son was so embarrassed about meeting a Russian to acquire information about Hillary Clinton from an adversary -- that is the Russians -- that the president tried to lie about whether that meeting happened.

And do people take this seriously?

I'm irritated because the man's dead. Let it go. But the substance behind it is laughable if it weren't so sad.

BLITZER: He branded John McCain last in his class at Annapolis. It is pretty awful to hear that kind of talk about the late senator John McCain.

What was a little surprising -- maybe more than just a little bit surprising, Ron Brownstein, was that there was sort of a mild, tepid response from McCain's best friend in the Senate, senator Lindsey Graham, who tweeted nice words about McCabe, adding, "nothing about his service will be changed or diminished," but actually never mentioned the president in his response.

Why are so many Republicans right now so afraid to criticize the president at all?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all you can't underscore how anemic that response was from Lindsey Graham, especially given that John McCain was not only his best friend but his mentor.

John McCain elevated Lindsey Graham from the back benches for really a decade in the Senate, roughly a decade. And for him to not manage more of a condemnation of the president is really just, I think, an abject betrayal of the McCain friendship and memory.

The short answer is that Donald Trump remains very popular among Republicans and it's kind of become a smart, conventional wisdom in the Republican Party that you don't cross him for fear of inspiring a primary challenge.

But as we have often talked about, Republican base voters, Trump supporters are not the only people listening to these decisions and particular along the Southwest states. Cory Gardner in Colorado; Martha McSally in Arizona and John Cornyn in Texas, all voted for to uphold his declaration of emergency in states that will be on the front line of the 2020 election where his approval is now at 50 percent or below.

And the idea of using eminent domain, particularly in Arizona and Texas, to take land from mostly conservative ranchers, is going to be a very, I think, polarizing issue. And I think if your voting to open hold this emergency declaration, you're basically saying to voters, there is essentially nothing that Trump can do that I will vote to constrain.

And that is a risk that goes beyond this idea of safeguarding yourself in a primary challenge.

BLITZER: In our new poll, 89 percent of Republicans approve -- say they approve of the job the President of the United States is doing. So clearly his base is remaining solid.

Laura, the president's tirade on Twitter, at least to some, suggests he is bracing for a new development in the Mueller probe, something that he's trying to preempt.

What do you think?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's accurate. The idea, mentioning popularity and opinion polls, remember, he is equally concerned about the Mueller probe as he is about the court of public opinion that leads to possible impeachment proceedings. He wants to be able to use the opportunity on Twitter to say, hey, can I get an amen to my congregation and to my choir without any consideration for those that he may be able to convert down the line.

One of those people will be Robert Mueller, who he cannot do that with. So I think he is very aware of the notion that I have to get ahead of this. I have to get ahead of the notion that everyone is against me. But I want to use networks like FOX News. One of those tweets included bringing back Jeanine Pirro show because he needs to have a mouthpiece that helps to redress his credibility in the court of public opinion, among so many other things.

So I think he is very aware of his role and about the looming proposition of a Mueller report that may be condemning -- or at least give him that sword of Damocles that's been over his head for the last two years. BLITZER: Everybody, stick around.

We have to take a quick break. Lots more on all of the news right after this.

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[17:31:31] BLITZER: We're back with our experts and our analysts. And, Phil Mudd, the former White House Chief Strategist, Stephen Bannon, says, democrats have taken the right approach to investigating the President. Listen to what Bannon said on Showtime's The Circus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MCKINNON, CO-HOST, SHOWTIME: How would you grade Nancy Pelosi the last couple of months?

STEPHEN BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: A ten. A ten and a ten. You know, she's a war horse. And I think she's done from what she is trying to accomplish. I think Pelosi has done a good job.

MCKINNON: One thing she did this week was she said, we're not going to call for impeachment. A smart move?

BANNON: The move, you say, the facts are there and the American come along, I'll reconsider it. But we have the people's work in there. It's a perfect message.

But I think the investigation, so the next five or six months are going to be close to insanity. I think every day they will be pounding the President. They will be pounding with subpoenas, they will be pounding with information request. The House is just going to be a bear pit. While democratic candidates running for president run downfield, right, they are there to stop Trump. If they can wound him enough that he is not competitive in 2020, they will consider that a good two years of --

MCKINNON: And that's exactly what Steve Bannon would do?

BANNON: A 100 percent. It's quite -- it's not even a question. I kind of admire it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think, Phil?

MUDD: Get out the bet book, the democrats will blow this. Look, John Boehner was a war horse. The question wasn't simply that he -- whether he was a good politician. He couldn't beat the tea party. I think the problem with Nancy Pelosi is not whether she's talented. She's got to spend a year-and-a-half in hearings dealing with her version of the tea party That's soy latte democrat.

So she is going in this. It's not a question on whether she can win, it's whether a question whether she can get all these new people elected not to get out there every day and say impeachment should happen despite the fact that they don't have any facts. I think that's the problem they have, the same problem that John Boehner had that got him, I think, out of the Congress.

BLITZER: Chris Cillizza, is Bannon right?

CILLIZZA: Yes. Pelosi has done an extremely good job. He is also right that the 2020 democrats will be run to the aspirational liberal wing of the party, which is we need to do everything to get Donald Trump. Nancy Pelosi will continue to maintain the pragmatic approach of we will see what the information and evidence bears. In the meantime, we will work on behalf of the American people. That's the right message. She proved it in 2018.

To Phil's point, can she keep message disciplined? She can. She and her leadership team can. But can newer members who are more liberal than her who are going to be siding much more with 2020 democrats than her, that's the real question.

BLITZER: Let's talk about these new poll numbers, Ron. They're pretty specific. He has improved a little bit in terms of his overall job approval number, 42 percent of the American public now, according to our new CNN poll, approved the job he's doing. 51 percent disapprove.

And look at this. How is Trump handling the economy? 51 percent of the American people approve of the job he is doing. 42 percent disapprove. As James Carville used to say, if it's the economy stupid, that's certainly encouraging. I'll go one step further. 71 percent say current economic conditions in the country are good.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And that's the Trump gap right there between the 71 percent that say the current economic conditions are good and only 42 percent that approve of him overall. Those are voters who are most uneasy about the way he comports himself as President. When you look particularly at college educated white voters, 80 percent of them say the economy is good and strong.

[17:35:01]

Only half that many, 40 percent say they approve him his overall performance, very similar among independent voters. So while he is drifting slightly up in this poll with the overall improvement views about the economy, he still remains in a very precarious position because of doubts about his personal behavior as President.

And it's worth noting for context on the election day exit poll 2018, as Chris will remember, 45 percent, slightly better said they approved President Trump and republicans lost the popular vote by about 10 million, the biggest midterm margin in the history of our elections.

CILLIZZA: But that gap, to Ron's point, that gap is theoretically where Donald Trump makes this argument. You may not like me. You may not like my tone. You may not like me personally. But do you like the economy? Do you like the jobs reports? Do you like feeling better about things? Do you like being able to afford that vacation or that car or your kid's school, whatever? Then you should vote for me.

Now, I think that the dislike towards him so ingrained so deep among a lot of that delta that doesn't change. But that's the argument. That's the argument. If he was smart strategically, that would be the argument he would execute --

BLITZER: I couldn't help, Laura, but notice that a 42 percent approval number he has right now among everyone in the country is roughly that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had at this stage in their first term, and both of them went on to get re-elected.

COATES: I mean, it's noteworthy especially given the fact that both those gentlemen also had problems in terms of the media and the core public opinion about parties that were uncovered. It's very interesting to know the idea of what we think is so important and will shift and sway opinion and clutch people's pearls. Oftentimes, there's nothing to actually change their mind. But that's why Nancy Pelosi's statements are really dead on to say, let me see if the actual tide will change. And once it does, we will be able to do something about it. Until that time, we have to wait and see. And that's why this Mueller report is going to be so influential and impactful.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stick around. We've got a lot more to report on what's going on, including important new developments in the 2020 presidential race.

Up next, Beto O'Rourke sets a fundraising record in the first 24 hours of his presidential campaign. He did even better than Senator Bernie Sanders.

And later, the husband of a top Trump adviser raises serious concerns about the President's mental health, but she doesn't agree.

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[17:41:56] BLITZER: We're following several important developments in the 2020 presidential race, including Beto O'Rourke's record setting fundraising haul in the first 24 hours of his presidential campaign. His 6.1 million tops the $5.9 million Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign took in after he announced. Tonight, Senator Elizabeth Warren takes question at a CNN Presidential Town Hall in Jackson, Mississippi.

Our Senior Political Analyst Mark Preston is on the scene for us. Mark, former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to announce his presidential run next month. What are you learning about the strategy he may use to generate some immediate excitement?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, this is is certainly breaking news right now when it comes to the political world. Now, our Arlette Saenz and Jeff Zeleny are reporting that Joe Biden's advisers are looking at potentially having him name his running mate early. To do so would be to try to solidify his position with the democratic base. Now, he met with Stacey Abrams who ran last year for Georgia Governor, almost won, a lot of people thought. In fact, she did win. But there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia. Now, folks are saying -- sources are saying that they did not necessarily discuss this. But she would be an interesting person for Joe Biden to reach out to.

Now, this comes, Wolf, as Joe Biden, as you said, we expect him to announce that he is running next month but he'd let it slip in typical Joe Biden fashion. Let's listen what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRM. SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), D.E.: I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the -- anybody who would run. I didn't mean -- with anybody that would run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESTON: And there you have it, Joe Biden as well. A lot of people think, Wolf, including myself, that he would be tackling [ph] more to the middle lane, more of a centrist democrat, someone who could reach out to that part of the party. But, clearly, he's trying to solidify his progressive roots there with that comment. We do expect him to announce that he's running next month. Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, Mark, you're there in Jackson, Mississippi where another democratic contender, Elizabeth Warren, will be answering questions tonight at a Cnn Town Hall. What will she be pressed on?

PRESTON: Well, listen, we're down here, of course, down in Jackson, Mississippi, not a place you necessarily see democrats campaigning in such a big event. But we will see her today at this historically- backed college university, Jackson State.

I'm going to tell you, the questions are very much what we've seen throughout the past couple of months from other voters who have spoken to candidates across the country, specifically in our Town Halls. People are concerned about the economy. They're concerned about the future. They're concerned about their children. But we'll hear it from a little bit of a different perspective here down in what is known as the Deep South. This is going to be a very interesting night here on CNN. Wolf?

BLITZER: Sure, it will be. All right, Mark Preston, thanks very much. And be sure to tune in later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern for CNN's Presidential Town Hall with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, 9:00 P.M. Eastern later tonight, Jake Tapper moderates.

[17:45:04]

Coming up, a closer look at a political odd couple. She is a top adviser to President Trump. Her husband is one of the President's harshest critics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:49:54] BLITZER: Top White House Adviser Kellyanne Conway is being forced to distance herself from her husband's latest truly stunning attack on President Trump. Conservative lawyer George Conway is publicly arguing that the President of the United States is mentally ill.

[17:50:08]

Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this has been a crescendo from George Conway. Over the past several days he's Tweeted many times that the President's mental health is deteriorating. Conway has even tried to play amateur psychiatrist himself, pulling excerpts from a top diagnostic manual.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: George Conway is a staunch conservative, but he has never been afraid to consistently and openly express disdain for President Trump and his administration. All the more notable because he's also married to one of the President's top advisers and possibly his most staunch defender, Kellyanne Conway.

But tonight, George Conway is moving beyond mere insults. In a series of new Tweets, Conway now says he believes President Trump's mental health is spiraling downward, saying, quote, all Americans should be thinking seriously now about it, saying, the President's condition is getting worse.

His wife was asked today if she agrees with his Tweets.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't share those concerns. And I was getting -- I have four kids and I was getting out of the house this morning before I got here, so -- and talk to the President about substance. So I may not be up to speed on all of them.

TODD: George Conway appeared to be talking substance too in an attempt to bolster his argument. He posted screen grabs from the definitive diagnostic manual used by psychiatrists detailing the definitions of certain mental conditions. One is narcissistic personality disorder. Among the criteria, the person has a grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerates achievements and talents and requires excessive admiration.

Conway also posted criteria for anti-social personality disorder, including deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, impulsivity.

Forensic psychiatrist and progressive activist Lise Van Susteren believes Conway is on to something.

LISE VAN SUSTEREN, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: I haven't personally examined the President, obviously, but I think most of us can see on television and have seen in reports and in written material that the President does embody many of these characteristics.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: -- actually be higher than 40 --

TODD: The President has repeatedly not only defended his mental health, but bragged about it.

TRUMP: I'm very consistent. I'm a very stable genius.

TODD: Psychiatrist Daniel Lieberman says it's not fair for George Conway to make an amateur diagnoses of the President from afar.

DANIEL LIEBERMAN, PSYCHIATRIST, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: There are a couple of problems with an untrained clinician trying to make a diagnosis. First of all, it's not going to be valid without proper training. A layperson can't just match up the criteria. The second is, even for a physician, they can't make diagnoses from across the room.

TODD: But George Conway has never held back from diagnosing what he believes is wrong with Trump or his administration. After years of Tweets and op-eds questioning Mr. Trump's competence, Conway unloaded back in November on the Yahoo! podcast, Skullduggery.

GEORGE CONWAY, KELLYANNE CONWAY'S HUSBAND: It's like the administration is like a shit show in a dumpster fire.

TODD: The President has taken Conway's barbs in stride.

TRUMP: You mean, Mr. Kellyanne Conway? He's just trying to get publicity for himself.

TODD: But tonight, as George Conway's criticisms of President Trump become more serious, Van Susteren says his Tweets raise an important question.

SUSTEREN: Certainly, the question arises in my mind, is this good cop/bad cop? Is he hearing something from his wife? Is she telling him something? Is this pillow talk? I obviously have no idea, but that is a question that comes to mind.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: We reached out to the White House on that very question of whether Kellyanne Conway said anything to her husband about the President's mental condition. The White House refused to comment on that or any other aspect of our story and did not make Kellyanne Conway available for an interview with us.

We also reached out to George Conway to ask him why he sent that series of Tweets, and whether his wife had said anything to him about the President's mental health. He never got back to us.

Also, Wolf, it looks like George Conway is not letting up tonight. Just moments ago, he re-Tweeted this about the President's mental state, quote, it doesn't take a person with an advanced degree in psychology to see Trump's narcissism and lack of empathy, his vindictiveness and pathological lying. The Tweet goes on to say, quote, his condition is getting worse, not better, and there are now fewer people in the administration able to contain the President and act as a check on his worst impulses. And, again, Wolf, the White House tonight not commenting on any of this as of now.

BLITZER: That's truly stunning, indeed. All right, Brian, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, breaking news. A new CNN poll shows President Trump's approval rate has edged up a bit even as he melts down in a truly extraordinary Twitter rant.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:59:15] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, illegal leverage? Top congressional democrats demand an FBI probe into President Trump's ties to a Florida spa chain founder and whether she tried to sell Chinese clients access to the President.

Plus, the deadline arrives for documents requested by the House Judiciary Committee, as part of its sweeping new probe of the President's world.

Tweet insanity. President Trump goes on a Twitter tirade touting his conspiracy theories, lashing out at democrats and a dead republican senator and defending one of his favorite TV personalities while not even Mentioning the shooting massacre in New Zealand, all of that and more,

prompting Kellyanne Conway's husband to Tweet that the President is mentally ill and getting worse.

High lows. Our exclusive new CNN poll shows President Trump's approval number up thanks to a healthy economy.