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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Spins New Conspiracy Theories; Interview with Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Penn.), Judiciary Committee, on Mueller Reviews of Cohen Documents; Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 19, 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]

DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the fact that they have somebody who's so focused on digital at the helm of the Trump campaign they don't -- well, Trump had --

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Dana Bash, she'll be moderating that town hall with John Hickenlooper tomorrow night for CNN.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JakeTapper. 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: pushing new conspiracies. President Trump in full conspiracy mode appears with the Brazilian president known as the Trump of the tropics. After the president alleged social media collusion against Republicans they both attacked the news media.

The Cohen warrants: unsealed documents from the Michael Cohen search warrants showed the Mueller probe targeted the Trump lawyer almost from the start, scrutinizing email and computer and phone records.

What message does it send to others in the Mueller investigation?

Leading the pack: a new poll shows Joe Biden leading the Democratic pack with Bernie Sanders a close second. There are signs that the other is also breaking out.

Assault on North Korea, a daring raid by a shadowy group opposed to Kim Jong-un. They reportedly wore masks and escaped in luxury vehicles.

Did they make off with top secret information?

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

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

BLITZER: Breaking news: President Trump picks up where his Twitter rampage left off, flanked by the Trump of the tropics, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. The president today attacked what he called social media collusion against Republicans and warns of "a very dangerous situation" with news networks saying he was very proud to hear his guest use the term "fake news."

That comes as federal warrants unsealed in a Michael Cohen case revealed the president's former lawyer was a target of the Mueller probe almost from the start and that Mueller's team was allowed to review years of Cohen's email and other data.

Cohen was a focus of investigators months before they raided his home and office. I'll speak with Madeleine Dean of the Judiciary Committee and our analysts will have full coverage of today's top stories.

Let's go to Jim Acosta.

Jim, Trump is pushing more and more today.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. He called it a dangerous situation. He sounded off on what is a growing conspiracy theory in conservative circles, that they are being discriminated against by social media companies.

The president offered this without any hard evidence but also spent the day going after the mainstream press as well as late senator, John McCain, continuing his battle with a nemesis whose legacy appears to haunt Mr. Trump.

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ACOSTA (voice-over): Latching onto a new conspiracy theory, Trump accused the biggest social media companies of collusion to attack conservatives.

TRUMP: There is collusion with respect to that because something has to be going on.

Something is happening with those groups of folks that are running Facebook and Google and Twitter. I do think we have to get to the bottom of it.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president said he supported an effort by California Republican Devin Nunes to sue Twitter, accusing the tech giant of having a political agenda, complaining anonymous parody accounts have mocked him, standing with Brazil's leader Jair Bolsonaro that has been dubbed the Trump of the tropics and uses the term fake news himself. The president used the opportunity to slam the American press.

TRUMP: You look at the networks. You look at the news. You look at the newscasts I'm proud to hear him use the term fake news. You look at what's happening with the networks, look at what's happening with different shows and it's hard to believe we win. It is a very, very dangerous situation. So I think I agree. I think something has to be looked at very closely.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president made the complaints despite having a powerful social media presence. Today Mr. Trump tweeted to his nearly 60 million followers, "The fake news media has never been more dishonest than it is right now. fake news is the absolute enemy of the people and our country."

Bolsonaro was asked why "The Daily Caller" whether Democrats in the U.S. are supporting socialist causes.

JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will respect whatever the ballots tell us on 2020. But I do believe Donald Trump is going to be reelected fully.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Earlier the president defended the recent tweetstorm attacking John McCain, saying he will --

[17:05:00]

ACOSTA (voice-over): never forget the late senator's vote.

TRUMP: I think it's disgraceful. There are other things. I was never a fan and I never will be. Thank you very much. Thank you. Frankly it's so I don't end up screaming at her about it.

You know, I wouldn't entertain that. The only reason is they want to try to catch up. So if they can't catch up through the ballot box they want to try doing it in a different way.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president weighed in on the husband of White House counsel Kellyanne Conway and George Conway, who's questioned whether Mr. Trump is mentally ill.

On his tweets about the president, George Conway told "The Washington Post," "The mendacity, the incompetence, it's just maddening to watch. The tweeting is just the way to get it out of the way so I can get it off my chest and move on with my life that day. That's basically it, frankly, and so I don't end up screaming at her about it."

The president made it clear he's ready for the 2020 election, teeing on Democratic calls to expand the Supreme Court.

TRUMP: No, I wouldn't entertain that. They want to try and catch up so if they can't through the ballot box they want to do it in a different way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Trump also weighed in on the crisis in Venezuela, repeated all options were on the table as well as the military option. Trump told Bolsonaro he is making Brazil a major non-NATO ally and both leader appear to be in sync on a whole range of topics.

Bolsonaro was all but fawning over Mr. Trump as he used the term fake news.

The attacks on the press are just the latest sign that Trump's rhetoric aimed at the media is spreading across the globe. When Bolsonaro used the term fake news today, President Trump smiled. BLITZER: He certainly did. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Unsealed warrants in the Cohen case showed President Trump's lawyer was a key target of special counsel probe almost from inception. Pamela Brown has been digging into all of this.

What have you learned?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We are learning that Mueller's interest started much earlier than previously known, with investigators tracking his incoming and outgoing calls.

But what's not revealed is raising more questions than answers about one investigation.

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BROWN (voice-over): Hundreds of pages of newly released documents reveal the extend of the probe into President Trump's former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: The next President of the United States.

BROWN (voice-over): Still it is almost 20 pages of redactions about Cohen's involvement in payments to women that allege affairs with Donald Trump that signal that investigation may not be over.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you investigating President Trump?

BROWN (voice-over): Robert Mueller reviewed years, going back to the same month Trump declared he was running for president in 2015. Two months after Mueller's appointment and eight months before the FBI raided the home, office and hotel room Mueller obtained the first warrant.

Ten another in August 2017 for Cohen's iCloud and twice more Mueller got approval to track the phone numbers of Cohen's incoming and outgoing calls. April 2018, in conjunction with the Southern District of New York, the FBI conducted multiple raids, with immediate condemnation from Trump.

TRUMP: It is a disgrace. It is a real disgrace. It is an attack on our country in a true sense. It is an attack on what we all stand for.

BROWN (voice-over): The documents detail the lengths investigators went to probe Cohen. Investigators obtained the authority to use an electronic spoofing device to called a "triggerfish" to track Cohen's cell phones and pinpoint the room Cohen was staying in when the FBI raided his hotel in New York. Investigators interviewed people, including bankers and his accountant, to better understand his finances.

The documents allege he was using "encrypted communications applications" such as WhatsApp, Signal and Dust.

Prosecutors subpoenaed Google for IP and other data related to Cohen's Gmail accounts.

What is not known is the justification from federal prosecutors in New York for warrants related to Cohen's involvement in payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels.

After writing the FBI was seeking evidence that Cohen committed a criminal violation of the campaign finance laws, around 20 of the following pages are redacted.

The documents also reveal a business relationship between Cohen and a company linked to Russian national Viktor Vekselberg from January 2017 through August 2017 nearly $600,000 poured in to one of Cohen's bank accounts from one of his companies.

COHEN: I'm ashamed of my own failings and publicly accepted responsibility for them by pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York.

Since late last year President Trump has called Cohen a rat saying he is lying about the president in the Southern District of New York.

BROWN (voice-over): Since late last year, President Trump has called Cohen a rat, saying he is lying in order to strike a deal with prosecutors.

TRUMP: Very simply, Michael Cohen is lying and he is trying --

[17:10:00]

TRUMP: -- to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Cohen's attorney says the court ordered release only furthers Cohen's interest in continuing to provide information about Trump and the Trump Organization to law enforcement and Congress. Cohen reports to prison in May.

BLITZER: All right. Stay with us.

Evan, almost20 pages as we just saw were blacked out or redacted in all of this. What does that signal?

Could there be more indictments or charges in the works?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There may be, Wolf. This is an investigation that is still ongoing. We knew that the Southern District of New York, Manhattan, have been digging further into campaign finance violation.

One of the lawyers on the president's side has been that essentially prosecutors are interested to know whether anyone else was part of the cover up, part of campaign finance violation that occurred here. So that's going to be something that is being investigated further.

The question is how long does that investigation take?

Certainly the president's legal team is prepared that this will continue through the end of Donald Trump's presidency.

BLITZER: They really went all out to get so much information.

PEREZ: They did.

BLITZER: All sorts of information. I suspect others are reading that document. They are saying, I wonder what they have.

PEREZ: Right. This is an extremely intrusive search that the prosecutors and the FBI were able to do. Look, I mean they were able to subpoena all of his emails. They were able to get into his iCloud, his Gmail.

At one point, Google refused to turn over certain information they said was stored overseas. They were able to persuade a judge to force Google to provide that information, as well as WhatsApp and Signal. All of these were turned over.

And anybody who was communicating with Michael Cohen at that time has to be looking back and wondering what they have on them as well.

BLITZER: We learned today the Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, the number two at the Justice Department, was supposed to be leaving right about now but he's delaying.

Does the Mueller probe have legs?

Is it going to go on and on and on?

BROWN: All signs we've been reporting is that the Mueller probe is wrapping up. It is in the final stages right now. But Rod Rosenstein thought he would be leaving the DOJ by now. That is not the case. He is staying longer than he had anticipated.

Talking to someone close to Rosenstein basically his thinking is he was the one that appointed Robert Mueller and he wants to see this through. He feels his obligation is to be the heat shield if there is fallout after all of this is done.

BLITZER: Pamela and Evan, good reporting as usual.

Joining us now is Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania. She is a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

Do you think the tactics used by Mueller over many, many months tells you how he conducted his overall Russia investigation?

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PENN.), MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It confirmed for me what I think we already thought of Mueller, that he is a thorough investigator. So it doesn't surprise me that it goes back to June of '15 if we all remember.

Donald Trump, without making any attempt at work, stepped onto a downward gliding escalator in Trump Tower on June 16th of 2015 and thus began this journey we have been on here in America. I'm not surprised Mueller would be that thorough.

BLITZER: These new documents reveal Mueller's extensive reach into Cohen's data and communications.

Should other subjects -- Roger Stone -- be especially worried right now?

DEAN: I'm assuming they are. They know they are being closely looked at. We know Cohen was the so-called fixer. Stone loved being in the mix, of trying to clean up whatever mess was surrounding this man before he was president, as he campaigned and now after.

I just think --

[17:15:00]

DEAN: -- it's exactly what we expected Mueller to do and all of the more reason we make sure that the Mueller investigation is protected and then made fully public. As you saw, our vote in the House was unanimous. Democrats and Republicans said this Mueller report needs to get to the American public.

BLITZER: Yes, 420-0.

Many of the documents released today remain heavily redacted, particularly the documents to campaign finance violations.

What does that tell you?

DEAN: I think it is important that we recognize that everything is not yet being revealed. There must be ongoing investigations. We know Cohen came before a congressional committee recently after his sentencing and revealed and brought with him documents on the payments to Stormy Daniels and the other woman.

So we have documentary evidence that is really troubling. These investigations are terribly important.

BLITZER: The House Judiciary Committee, which is an extensive investigation. Out of the 81 individuals your committee has requested documents from, we are told only eight or nine have fully complied at least so far. The White House is likely preparing a claim of executive privilege over many of these.

Do Democrats have a plan to counter those claims?

DEAN: I would say that reporting the not perfectly accurate. My team met with the judiciary team, Mr. Nadler's team today in D.C. And what we know and what we were told is tens of thousands of pages have been turned over and communication is ongoing with many of the subjects and entities of those 81 document requests. So they are working to bring the documents in. That the president is

obstructing turning things in does not surprise me at all.

BLITZER: So how many of the 81 individuals and entities that, you know, that he requested information and documents from, how many of them have at least delivered the documents or they're on the way?

DEAN: I don't have a number but I was told the reporting of eight correct.

BLITZER: That eight or nine have fully cooperated?

You're saying there are more that already fully cooperated and handed over all of the documents?

Is that what you're hearing?

DEAN: What I'm hearing is we have gotten tens of thousands of pages and some have said I'll need an accommodation. I can give you some; I'll need more time for others. So I can't confirm how many have fully delivered their documents.

BLITZER: Madeleine Dean, thanks for joining us.

DEAN: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Up next, joined by the Trump of the topics. President Trump is peddling more conspiracies, claiming social media companies are colluding against Republicans.

And some 20 pages of details from the newly released search warrant documents are redacted.

Does it mean the Mueller investigation is still going on?

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BLITZER: Tonight there are plenty of questions following the release of hundreds of pages of court documents related to Mueller's investigation of Cohen.

Phil Mudd, on the tactics that Mueller used to investigate Cohen, months before his office, hotel room and home were raided by the FBI, what does it say to you that Mueller was granted such extensive access to all sorts of personal information involving Michael Cohen?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: When you look at an investigation, we're not talking about a terrorism case where you're worried about somebody blowing something up. You're looking at dirty money here. You can have different intrusive tactics to look at somebody. You can Google them. It is open information and anybody can do that.

You can put an informant to walk up and say, hey, I want to buy you a beer. The most intrusive is reading somebody's email and listening to their phone calls. To go to a judge in a case about dirty money and say from the outset, we want to read his emails, they must have had some mud on him.

BLITZER: Joey Jackson, what do these tactics tell you about the bigger picture, the way Mueller's conducted this investigation?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This is what prosecutors do.

Number one, the prosecutor's job is getting to the truth. Sometimes getting to the truth is ugly. You're going to suspect that there are going to be wiretaps and text messages and emails, et cetera. That's how you get to the truth.

Who are you going to focus on?

If you're trying to get to the core of what's happening, you're going to go to --

[17:25:00]

JACKSON: -- the person closest to you.

Prosecution is a contact sport. There are going to be indictments, raids, arrests, jail time. This is what prosecutors do. This is what Mueller is doing. He is establishing the first point that I made, which is to get to the truth at the end of the day. That's a report everyone is awaiting.

BLITZER: We are waiting indeed.

Gloria, should some of the current targets of Mueller, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, attorney for District of Columbia, Virginia, should some of the other subjects -- Roger Stone -- worry about the extent, the enormous collection of such personal information?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Absolutely. Don't forget, Wolf, this occurred, you know, Michael Cohen was a target almost immediately after Mueller took over.

We only knew about the raid -- and the raid occurred in April. This was happening in July, nine months earlier. So Mueller knew what he wanted right away.

What did he have? We don't know. But he was figuring out who Michael Cohen was talking to, he knew what he was looking for here. So if I'm Roger Stone or anybody else, I'm understanding that Bob Mueller knows a lot more than I may think he knows.

And I feel the same way about it. There is so much more that we don't know that Mueller knows.

BLITZER: Yes. He certainly knows a lot.

Nia, after the raid on Michael Cohen's home and office and hotel room, the president actually expressed sympathy for his long-time lawyer.

Is there anything here we've seen in these new documents that would give support to the president's initial outrage?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. This idea that the FBI was breaking in -- also Giuliani likened them to storm troopers as well. The president also expressed concern about attorney-client privilege.

There's nothing to suggest that the FBI was operating outside of their mandate essentially. So it goes to show how far we have moved from when Trump was expressing outrage to now calling Cohen basically a liar and a snitch. That's where we are now.

Michael Cohen never expressed that kind of outrage. He said that the FBI handled themselves professionally.

BLITZER: He said they were very polite.

All right. Stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss. We'll do that right after this.

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[17:30:00]

[17:32:42] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: We're back with our analysts and our experts. And, Phil Mudd, if you go through this document, 400 pages or so, Unite States District Court for the Southern District of New York application for a search warrant involving Michael Cohen, a lot of it is open. But there are plenty of pages that are fully redacted. What does that say to you?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: I can tell you what it tells me. People keep focusing on individuals, like Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. That is not the story here, Wolf. The story is getting simpler and simpler. Let's look at the front end of the pipeline. There're multiple members of the campaign that is including Paul Manafort, now a member of the President's inner circle, his personal lawyer, who are taking dirty money from Russian-connected people, Kremlin-connected people not declaring dirty money and not declaring to the U.S. government they are lobbying for those interests. Who the heck would you lobbying if you're the personal lawyer for Trump and if you're the campaign manager? I think by the way you're lobbying the campaign.

Other end of the pipeline months later, we learned that someone, mainly Michael Flynn, the National Security Adviser, is actually calling the Russians, saying they're going to get a sweet deal on sanctions. So you take dirty money in favor of Kremlin-connected people, you don't declare it, you don't declare that you're an agent of a foreign power. And then all of a sudden, the dirty money that you get helps somebody get a sweet deal on sanctions. And this is a hoax? It's starting to look pretty ugly to me, Wolf. The story is getting simpler.

BLITZER: You know, Joey, what do you think the prosecutors are doing with all of the information that we don't see that's been blacked out or redacted from this lengthy document?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Wolf. They're putting [INAUDIBLE] the pieces. There's no question. Now, let's remember why it's redacted that way. Remember what the judge said in releasing the information, certainly, you want to be transparent. You want people to know what's happening at the same time. Prosecutors said, well, wait a minute, your honor. We are having an ongoing investigation here. So in light of that, of course, we can't see everything.

What we do know and the things we can see is that what will prosecutors do, right? They're not on the business of selling refrigerators or microwaves or anything else. They are in the business of indicting people. They are in the business of doing justice and getting to the heart of the matter. So I would only believe that those redacted areas, concerned people under investigation, concerned shoes that are yet to drop and concern issues that they will put the pieces together and ultimately release. And I think that will be released in the form of indictment, not necessarily by Mueller, perhaps, the Southern District, maybe. But at the end of the day, people will be held accountable.

[17:35:02]

We just don't know who specifically is.

BLITZER: Well, you think some of those pages are redacted because they involve the President of the United States?

JACKSON: There's no question about it. I mean, I'd certainly would believe -- look, you know, that piece, I think, we could put together. We have almost 20 pages redacted. We have it pertaining to an election issue. We have Michael Cohen speaking to the issue before Congress and taking a please about assisting someone he named is Trump when he testified in terms of circumventing the electoral process. And so, yes, I think it pertains to that. They are protecting the integrity of the investigation, we can't know everything. But from the pieces we do know, I think it will look ugly moving forward to whomever is named in the 19 pages that we don't see.

BLITZER: Gloria, let's turn to the 2020 presidential campaign. CNN has a brand new poll just off right now among the top democrats who are running for the presidential nomination. There has been some movement since our last survey in December. Look at this. Right now, Joe Biden is still ahead at 28 percent, Bernie Sanders, 20 percent, but Kamala Harris, she's gone from 4 percent in December to 12 percent right now, Beto O'Rourke has gone to 9 percent to 11 percent, everybody else in single digits.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's hard to know what this means. It's early on. We know Biden and Sanders are well known, name, recognition, Vice President, ran last time. And Kamala Harris is the one we ought to really be looking at here. She had a great rollout when she started her campaign. She's raised $1.5 million pretty quickly, not as much as Beto O'Rourke, who raised $6.1 million --

BLITZER: Or Bernie Sanders.

BORGER: -- or Bernie Sanders. But she in -- with every group, she's made in roads. And so I think if you have to say who is the candidate you out to be looking at now, the sort of tortoise at this point, I think you'd say, Harris. But let me caution, this is early. This is very early, so, yes.

BLITZER: What do you think, Nia?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL: No. I think that's right. I mean, what I can tell from just talking to voters is they feel like it's wide open at this point. They are very much engaged with the issues, with the policy, pronouncements of all of these candidates. You've gotten big crowds from people like Beto O'Rourke, people like Kamala Harris, people who are out there running and really talking about the issues. You saw this with Warren last night, very heavily focused on specific policies in some way. She is setting the pace, I think, for a lot in terms of policy.

But in terms of Biden here, I think if you're Biden, you like these numbers. But if you're Biden, you also wonder if this is sort of the ceiling for him, right? He is well known. He's at 28 percent at this point would the day he announce essentially be the best day of his candidacy. And if you're somebody like Harris, you like this because you do see some momentum. But listen, it's so early at this point.

BLITZER: Because Biden hasn't even announced yet. Especially he has hinted. Obviously, we all anticipate or early next month, he's going to make the formal announcement. Do those numbers go up as a result of numbers go up as a result of becoming an official candidate?

BORGER: Well, we don't know. You know, as Nia just said, that could be the best day of his campaign. We have no idea. But the thing that -- if you look at our polling today, what matters the most the democratic voters is somebody who can beat Donald Trump. So they are looking at all of this. And maybe they are looking at Joe Biden, saying, he's got the right stuff to beat Donald Trump. He can take Donald Trump on. That's what they want. I mean, they're looking at the issues, they care about the issues, but they want to win more than anything else.

And the problem for the democrats right now, again, if you look at our poll, and it's early, is they're not as energized as republicans, which is just the opposite of the way it was during the midterm elections. So that's good news for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Still early.

HENDERSON: Still so early, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. All right, guys, stick around. There is more news we are watching, including significant safety concerns over the huge smoke plume created by a fire in a chemical plant near Houston.

And later, new details emerging right now about a brassed raid on a North Korean Embassy. It's being blamed on a mysterious group opposed to the dictator, Kim Jong-un.

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[17:2835:] BLITZER: We're monitoring a huge fire at a chemical plant near Houston. The fierce blaze has been burning since Sunday and spread to more chemical storage tanks last night. And it's sending towering clouds of black smoke into the sky and raising serious questions about air quality.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us. Ed, the fire intensified after there was a dip and the water pressure needed to fight the blaze. What's the very latest?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're trying to figure out what caused those water pressure problems. But here, the main concern is that, just a few hours ago, we were told there were five tanks burning inside this International Terminals Company, also known as ITC, this chemical plant. There were five tanks burning. But now, we are told the latest information from company officials is that eight tanks are burning. And this is sending up a massive plume of smoke here in the Harris County area. We are just southeast of the city of Houston. It is hard to understate just how widespread this plum and what kind of eerie shadow it is essentially casting over large parts of Harris County, where this plume of smoke is, Wolf, pushing out to the northwest from the city out into Harris County. And, literally, as you drive around town, it is a shadow that is cast over the city.

Now, having said that, officials here say that air quality standards are okay, that it is safe, that this plume of smoke has essentially gone up so high in to the sky that it is not affecting air quality on the surface.

[17:45:03]

But, of course, that could change, officials here have said, because of the favorable weather conditions that that is what has helped out this particular situation. But, clearly, it's something they will continue to monitor. The winds have been rather strong here, Wolf, throughout the day pushing that plume of smoke up here from southeast Houston across the City of Harris County.

And right now, those firefighters inside that facility are essentially trying to contain it, waiting for this fire to burn itself out, Wolf. They're using foam and water to try to contain it. But it's not exactly clear how much longer it will take to put out the fire. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: An awful situation over there. Ed Lavandera, thanks, for that update.

Coming up, there is new details about a daring daylight raid on a North Korean Embassy. It's being blamed on a shadowy group of opponents of Kim Jong-un. Are they are serious threat to his regime?

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[17:50:00]

[17:5:] BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning new details about a shadowy group of North Korean opponents of Kim Jong-un. They are believed to have pulled off a daring raid only days before the brutal dictator met with President Trump in Vietnam.

Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. Brian, what have you found out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're getting new information from sources tonight on that raid on North Korea's Embassy in Madrid and on this mysterious group of dissidents. They are very secretive. They want to bring down Kim Jong-un. And they've just pulled off a brazen operation that is sure to have angered the dictator.

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TODD: It was a raid stunning in its audacity, an operation launched against one of Kim Jong-un's most important foreign embassies all done in broad daylight. According to Spanish media reports, a group of assailants infiltrated North Korea's embassy in Madrid late last month. The perpetrators reportedly wore masks, restrained embassy staff members, stole several items, including computers, then got away in luxury vehicles.

BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER CIA KOREA ANALYST: To barge into an embassy and to overpower the people there and then hold them hostage, ins some reporting that they beat them, they put hoods over their head. I mean, it's incredibly brazen.

TODD: A source familiar with the incident tells CNN a mysterious North Korean dissident group called Cheollima Civil Defense is believed to be behind the attack.

GREG SCARLATOIU, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: This is the only group we've known to be militant, action-oriented, clearly against the Kim regime and clearly keen on bringing down the Kim regime by any means available.

TODD: The Washington Post was first to report the involvement of Cheollima Civil Defense in the embassy raid in Madrid. In 2017, that group posted this video.

KIM HAN-SOL, KIM JONG NAM'S SON: My name is Kim Han-sol from North Korea, part of the Kim family. My father has been killed a few days ago.

TODD: This is the son of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un's half brother who was killed in a VX nerve gas attack at the Kuala Lumpur Airport, a hit which South Korean and Malaysian officials accused Kim Jong-un of ordering, but which Kim's regime denied.

When it first posted the video, Cheollima Civil Defense said, Kim Jong-nam's son and his family were transmitting from a secret location and feared for their lives.

HAN-SOL: We're very grateful to -- we hope this gets better soon.

KLINGNER: This organization somehow has spirited [ph] him out of Macau. They have been harboring him or protecting him

TODD: Back in Madrid, Spanish authorities confirmed to CNN an investigation is underway, but they're not giving any other information.

The raid took place on February 22, just days before President Trump's second summit with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi. Experts say, given that, it's doubtful the U.S. would have risked being involved.

Tonight, U.S. Intelligence is not commenting on what happened in Spain or on this shadowy group. Still, analysts say if Cheollima Civil Defense was behind the raid and if they did steal computers, what they took could be valuable to U.S. Intelligence.

SCARLATOIU: The North Korean embassy in Madrid has been identified by experts as a hub of illicit activity, running contraband, running arms, selling arms to hot conflict areas all over the world, and also procuring luxury goods aimed to keep Kim Jong-un's elites content and happy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Another reason why western intelligence might benefit from information on those computers taken in that raid, a top official North Korean named Kim Hyok Chol, Kim Jong-un's point man in nuclear negotiations with the United States was, until recently, posted to that same North Korean Embassy.

Now, the Cheollima Civil Defense group has just posted a statement on its website neither confirming nor denying any involvement in that raid on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid. The group asks the media and others to keep the identities of its members secret if anyone learns those names. Analysts say, there is no doubt, Kim Jong-un's regime has its operatives tracking the group all over the world likely trying to kill them. Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, Brian, there has been other cloak and dagger intrigue recently at another North Korean Embassy. Is that right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. North Korea's top man at their embassy in Rome, a man named Jo Song Gil, well, he vanished into thin air along with his wife back in November. He has still not resurfaced. Now, if he hasn't been captured by the regime, he is believed to be seeking asylum in the U.S. or Europe.

[17:55:00]

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you.

Coming up, breaking news, President Trump spins new conspiracy theories warning of collusion against republicans by social media companies and TV networks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:59:37] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, peddling conspiracies. President Trump claims social media giants are out to get him and his allies. Why is he lashing out at his favorite platform for spreading his message and launching attacks?

Inside the Cohen probe, hundreds of pages of new information now are public, revealing how Robert Mueller set his sights on the President's fixer early on, reviewing his emails, tracking his phone calls and so much more.

[18:00:06]

Should other targets to the Mueller investigation be worried?