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White House Offers No Proof for Debunked Voter Fraud Claim; Israel Expanding Settlements After Talk with Trump; Confirmation Battles; Interview With Texas Congressman Will Hurd; President Trump Claims Massive Voter Fraud in His Election. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 24, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: questioning democracy. The White House says President Trump believes millions of votes were cast illegally in the presidential election that propelled him into the Oval Office. So, what proof does he have?

Hill climb. Some Trump nominees are being bogged down in confirmation battles, while others are sailing through with ease. Why are senators delaying a vote on Trump's attorney general nominee?

What's next? After a huge worldwide demonstration, organizers of the women's march are working to channel their protest into political action. Can congressional Democrats offer a road map?

And unsettled. Israel announces a major expansion of settlements just days after a call between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

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: We're following breaking news, a stunning and unsubstantiated claim by President Trump. The White House says he believes three million to five million people voted illegally in the presidential election, robbing him of a victory in the popular vote, despite his win, an impressive win, in the Electoral College.

But the White House offered no proof or evidence of widespread voter fraud. The press secretary, Sean Spicer, referred to an old study on voter registration whose authors have since said could be incorrect. I will talk to the political science professor who coordinated data for that study.

We're also following confirmation battles for Trump's nominees including Congressman Tom Price, the president's pick to head the Health and Human Services Department. Democrats are grilling Price, who's also an orthopedic surgeon, on how Republicans plan to replace Obamacare and how closely he's working on it with President Trump.

Price deflected those questions. We're covering that, much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Will Hurd of Texas, a former CIA clandestine officer and a member of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are standing by.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, the president is leveling a very serious and unsubstantiated claim.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is a claim that goes directly at the heart of our democracy here. That's free and fair elections. Donald Trump still making the claim that even though he won the White House, he says he was still robbed in November.


ZELENY (voice-over): The White House is standing by President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claim that millions of people voted illegally in the November election.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president does believe that. He has stated that before. I think he stated his concerns of voter fraud and people voting illegally during the campaign. And he continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence that people have presented to him.

ZELENY: Press Secretary Sean Spicer doubling down on the president's claim, but repeatedly unable to point to evidence that backs up the charge that has been debunked by Republicans and Democrats alike.

(on camera): You said the president believes that there was voter fraud. I wonder if you believe that. You were at the Republican National Committee at the time and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was the chairman of the RNC at the time. Do you believe there was widespread voter fraud?


ZELENY: How can he be comfortable with his win if he believes...


SPICER: He's very comfortable with his win.

ZELENY: ... there was three million votes. Maybe he didn't win it.

SPICER: No, he's very comfortable with his win.

It's an electoral-based system. He got 306 electoral votes; 33 of 50 states voted for him. I think, look, Jeff, I have asked and answered this question twice. He believes what he believes, based on the information he's been provided.

Yes, ma'am.

ZELENY: What does that mean for a democracy, though, Sean?


ZELENY: If he does believe that, what does that mean for democracy?

SPICER: It means that I have answered your question.

ZELENY (voice-over): The allegations of voter fraud which Trump has repeatedly made before taking office surfaced again after the president repeated that claim Monday night while meeting with congressional leaders at the White House.

SPICER: I think he won very handily. He's very comfortable with his win.

ZELENY: But he doesn't sound like it, repeating charges that three to five million people voted illegally, a claim as unsubstantiated as when he first made it after the election.

But now it carries the weight of the presidency, which troubles leaders of both parties. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, if Trump believes it, he should disclose his proof and ask for an investigation, telling CNN's Manu Raju such allegations erode the president's credibility.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So, I would urge the president to knock this off. This is the greatest democracy on earth. You're the leader of the free world. And people are going to start doubting you as a person if you keep making accusations against our electoral system without justification.

ZELENY: From the White House podium, Spicer left open the door to launching an investigation, but repeatedly brushed aside questions from reporters.

SPICER: There is no investigation. I said it was possible. Anything is possible. It was a hypothetical question. My point to you is that to ask us on day two -- he made a comment last night on something that he has believed and said for a long, long time. And the question that was asked to me is whether or not -- it's been asked and answered.

ZELENY: Even as he gets to work laying out his agenda, Trump is still on a quest to prove his legitimacy.

The exchange came on the fourth full day of Trump's presidency, overshadowing his executive actions to revive the Keystone pipeline and clear the way for the Dakota Access pipeline, two more reversals of the Obama administration. The president said today he is closing in on his first Supreme Court nomination to replace the yearlong vacancy of former Justice Antonin Scalia.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will pick a truly great Supreme Court justice.


ZELENY: And President Trump met tonight with four top Senate leaders about that Supreme Court pick.

Wolf, I am told he has narrowed it down to three top choices here. There's no word if the discussion of the election was mentioned with the Senate leaders, but Republicans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, Wolf, hope Donald Trump stops talking about this.

They say it simply not only questions his legitimacy, but theirs as well. They were on the ballot as well last November, so any questions about that certainly raises all kinds of questions here. The White House trying to get back on message. They are going to sign more executive orders, Wolf, tomorrow.

BLITZER: Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, reporting, thank you.

Let's bring in our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill for us.

Manu, you have been monitoring the confirmation hearings. Talk about how the Trump administration's handling of the facts is playing into what you're seeing today.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Kellyanne Conway, who is Donald Trump's top adviser, a comment over the weekend about believing in -- quote -- "alternative facts" when discussing the inauguration crowd sizes have given Democrats fodder in hearings with Congressman Mick Mulvaney, who is Donald Trump's choice to lead his Budget Department.

Now, at this hearing earlier today on multiple occasions, Democrats brought up the issues of alternative facts and whether or not Mr. Mulvaney believes in those facts are the actual black-and-white facts, something that actually Jeff Merkley, the Democrat from Oregon, brought up and used some visual images to reinforce his point.


SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: I have behind me two pictures that were taken at about the same time of day in 2009 and 2017. Which crowd is larger, the 2009 crowd or the 2017 crowds?

REP. MICK MULVANEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Senator, if you would allow me to give the disclaimer that I'm not really sure how this ties to OMB, I will be happy to answer your question, which was, from that picture, it does appear that the crowd on the lefthand side is bigger than the crowd on the righthand side.

MERKLEY: Thank you.

The president disagreed about this in a news report. He said: "It's a lie. We caught them. We caught them in a beauty," referring to the press reporting. He says: "It looked like a million, a million-and-a- half people." The reason I'm raising this is because budget often contain buried deceptions. You and I talked about in my office about the magic asterisks.

This is an example of where the president's team on something very simple and straightforward wants to embrace a fantasy, rather than the reality.


RAJU: Now, Mulvaney's nomination running into resistance from some Republicans as well.

John McCain, the Arizona Republican, launched into Mulvaney at the confirmation hearings earlier this afternoon, questioning his commitment to increasing defense spending, actually, because -- pointing to Mulvaney's report supporting defense cuts in the past and also his support for withdrawing groups from Afghanistan, at that confirmation hearing, McCain saying -- quote -- he's "deeply concerned," and he believed that Mulvaney has showed -- quote -- "lack of support for our military."

And I just talked to John McCain in the hallway, asking him, will you support Mick Mulvaney's nomination? He said, "I haven't decided yet." I said, well, did he alleviate any of your concern? He said -- quote -- "Not many."

But, Wolf, I also talked to chairman the Homeland Security Committee that is one of the committees overseeing Mulvaney's nomination. And he said, if he doesn't have the votes to get out of the committee, Republican leaders will try to advance it to the floor anyways to ensure Donald Trump gets his budget director in office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu Raju reporting for us.

Manu is our senior congressional reporter.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas is joining us. He's a former CIA clandestine officer. He's now a member of the House Intelligence Committee, the newest member of the House Intelligence Committee.

You took Congressman Mike Pompeo's seat. He's now the CIA director.



REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Let's talk -- I want to get to intelligence-related issues in a moment, but I want to get your reaction to this uproar that has developed last night. The president met with congressional leaders and said he would have won the popular vote, but three million to five million illegal votes occurred. The White House is defending that assertion today. There's no basis in fact to that. What's your reaction?

HURD: I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that there was that number of illegal voting.

The integrity of our voting process is tantamount and important. And I would suggest that the White House looks in their windshield and not the rearview mirror. They did something that nobody thought they could do and they should be proud on that and not let this be a distraction on some of the other important issues like fighting ISIS, making sure the Pentagon is funded and national security funding is where it needs to be.

BLITZER: Because it's become a distraction, whether if there were millions of illegal voters, or the size of the crowd. There are clearly a lot more important issues that these guys have to focus on.

HURD: You're absolutely right, and the fact that it's seeping into the hearings in the Senate on confirmation of our officials, I want to know what some of their policies are going to be going forward, rather than showing pictures on what's big or what's not and what is going on.

BLITZER: All right, you're a former CIA clandestine officer. You risked your life overseas for the United States. I want to play a little clip. This is the president on Saturday when he made that first visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and was at that Memorial Wall honoring the 117 CIA officers who died serving this country.


TRUMP: I can only say that I am with you 1000 percent, and the reason you're my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.

I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks and they show an empty field. I said, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out, the field was -- it looked like a million, a million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there.


BLITZER: What was your reaction? And I'm sure you watched that speech on television.

HURD: It wasn't Shakespeare, but the fact that he was there was important.

The fact that his first official stop was to the CIA, and he told the men and women of the CIA that he loved them and that they were important and that Mike Pompeo was probably his most important selection for the Cabinet, was an important message to deliver to the men and women in the CIA.

And the reason is because of Grizzly Steppe. That's what the intelligence community refers to as the hacking by the Russians of the DCCC and the DNC. That was a successful covert action operation because it drove a wedge, whether real or perceived, between the White House, the intelligence community, and the American people.

And this was an attempt to say, there is not a wedge, you are important, you're vital to the global war on terrorism.

I think that was an important step.

BLITZER: I think it was an important step, too, to go visit CIA headquarters. Friday, he's going to go to the Pentagon, another important step. These are men and women who risk their lives for U.S. national security.

But then he was rambling and talking about all sorts of other issues in front of that wall. I don't know if you know any of the 117 men and women who died...

HURD: I know several.

BLITZER: ... on behalf of the CIA. Leon Panetta, the former CIA director, was talking to me 24 hours ago and he said this.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I just got the impression when he was speaking there that somehow he forgot that he was president of the United States and was speaking to the intelligence officers that spend their lives trying to serve this country.

That was not the appropriate place to start whining about what was happening in terms of numbers at the inauguration and what have you.


BLITZER: Because he said that was really hallowed ground. Your reaction?

HURD: It is.

When anybody that comes into the CIA headquarters, the first stop is always there in order to talk about the 117 men and women that gave their lives. So this really is hallowed ground.

But that environment, the folks that were there, it felt like a little bit of a campaign rally. And the reality, when -- the CIA is not always depicted positively within the press, either. They don't have a press shop. They don't fight back.

And I think this is something that people recognize sometimes in agreement with the president on sometime the disdain from the media. BLITZER: I will correct you. They do have a press shop, a public

affairs office. I have worked with them. Reporters work with them. So they do speak to the news media, but usually on what we call background, not for attribution.

But they do have a public affairs office.


HURD: Yes, but they're not coming on shows like this. They're not talking about what they did or why they didn't do this.

That is something that you do not see official spokes men and women from the CIA happening.

BLITZER: Mike Pompeo, who's going to be -- who is now the new CIA director, he was confirmed last night, he did during his confirmation hearings -- I'm curious to get your reaction -- leave open the possibility of maybe reinstating water-boarding, enhanced interrogation by CIA officers, as happened after 9/11.

Others have said that is illegal, inappropriate, not even worthwhile. What's your reaction to that?

HURD: I think Pompeo was very clear that he believed that was not a tactic that is valuable in gathering intelligence, and that you can get more with honey.

And I think he made that clear. And I think in some of the forms that he filled out leading up to that, that there was some ambiguity. But, in his hearings, he made it clear that this was not something that he was interested in pursuing and would actually, if told to do it, would say no.

BLITZER: Because General Mattis, the new defense secretary, himself, has said it's not appropriate and he seems to have had an impact on President Trump, himself, who's walked back that whole water-boarding issue.

Hold on for a moment.

We have a lot more coming up. We're also getting word that the Senate just confirmed Governor Nikki Haley to become the next United States ambassador to the United Nations. We will have details on that right after this.



BLITZER: We have breaking news and a first 100 days alert.

The U.S. Senate just voted to confirm South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The final vote bipartisan and overwhelming. Look at this, 96 in favor, four opposed. Haley was elected in 2010 as South Carolina's first female and Indian-American governor, parents from India.

Tonight's confirmation likely will be the last time this week the full Senate votes on one of President Trump's Cabinet nominees. They're going into recess as of tomorrow.

We're back with Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. He's a former CIA clandestine officer, now a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Want to talk to him about some pointed questioning for President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Democrats pressed Georgia Congressman Tom Price on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.


SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Under the executive order, will you commit that no one will be worse off?

REP. TOM PRICE (R-GA), HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY NOMINEE: What I commit to, Senator, is working with you and every single member of Congress to make certain that we have the highest-quality health care and that every single American has access to affordable coverage.

WYDEN: That is not what I asked. I asked, will you commit that no one will be worse off under the executive order? You ducked the question. Will you guarantee that no one will lose coverage under the executive order?

PRICE: I guarantee you that the individuals that lost coverage under the Affordable Care Act, we will commit to making certain that they don't lose coverage under whatever replacement plan comes forward. That's the commitment that I provide to you.


BLITZER: So, Congressman, when will the American people know the specifics of what's happening to their health care?

HURD: Well, a lot of the details are already out there now.

We have principles. We have five plans that are actually pieces of legislation that we're working to pull together. We have made it very clear that there's no interest in pulling the rug out from under people. We have to remember that Obamacare is a failed law.

In Texas, my home state, the premiums this year are increasing 36 percent on average. There's likely to be another premium increase in March. I represent a long part of the border, 820 miles. When I'm in border towns, people come up to me and say, what's a deductible, and why is it $10,000?

If you have a $10,000 deductible, you basically don't have health care. And so -- so we have to remember that we're trying to fix something that is flawed. And we're going to make sure that people that have a preexisting condition, that they're not disenfranchised from getting health care.

That is an important tenet of our health care plan. The -- when Tom Price gets confirmed, Tom Price as the secretary of HHS has a lot of ability to do things as the secretary of HHS. For example, the bronze plans, these are -- he can widen the number of plans that actually are approved by bronze.

So, what does that do? That increases competition and that's one of the problems that we're having.

BLITZER: Let me get back to the question. When is this plan -- and you guys have been opposed to Obamacare, what, for six, seven years. You have had a lot of time to work on it. When will the specifics be ready for a vote in the House of Representatives?

HURD: Well, many of those key pieces will be coming up during the reconciliation process. We went through the first step, which is a budget vehicle. That directs the Ways and Means Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee to come back and save $1 trillion -- $1 billion -- excuse me -- each.

So those will be coming to us in about 60 days. That's going to have a lot of the things that we will repeal. Some of the new things that we want to add in will be included in that piece of legislation. And then when Tom Price is confirmed as secretary of HHS, he will be announcing a lot of -- a lot of new priorities for the department.

So we're going to be seeing this unveiled piece by piece over the next couple months.


BLITZER: Let me get back to our top story, the breaking news we have been following, President Trump's assertion that three million to three to five million people voted illegally in the last presidential election.

If he's right, shouldn't there be a federal investigation, at least a congressional investigation? I see none of that on the horizon.

HURD: Well, we haven't seen any indication that that was in case the fact.


BLITZER: He misspoke? He just doesn't believe -- because he says he believes that three million to five million people voted illegally; that's why he lost the popular vote.

HURD: Well, if that's what he believes, I haven't seen any evidence, to the contrary.

And, again, I think it would be valuable for them to focus on the future, rather than what happened in the past, because he accomplished something that nobody thought he could accomplish. And he should cherish that. BLITZER: So you believe the president -- I don't want to use the word

lied, but the president doesn't know what he's talking about? Is that what you're saying?

HURD: I haven't seen the information that the president may be referring to. I haven't been given anything contrary. The secretary of state of California hasn't provided any such detail. You haven't seen a challenge in the courts when it comes to this issue.

Someone who's come out...

BLITZER: In your district in Texas, have you seen widespread voter fraud in your congressional district?

HURD: I haven't. And I won by -- I won by a narrow margin, and this is something that we follow. We haven't seen that type of...


BLITZER: But you would like to see his evidence, whatever it might be?

HURD: Of course. If there is evidence, let's look at it. Let's investigate it. Let's make sure that we protect our voting system. This is important.

I chair a Subcommittee on Information Technology. We had a hearing on how do we make sure that our voting systems are protected from hackers, from folks that are trying to do bad things to our election cycle.

And so protecting this is of the utmost importance. And if there's not evidence, let's move on to other things, you know, the business of the people. And that's keeping them safe, making sure we're fighting ISIS, things like that.

BLITZER: Congressman Will Hurd, thanks for coming in.

HURD: Always a pleasure.

BLITZER: Thanks for your service to the country as well. Good luck on the Intelligence Committee.

HURD: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news ahead. I will speak to a key figure in a study that President Trump may believe is proof of voter fraud. Do the authors believe the study is correct?

Plus, huge turnout for women's marches around the country, and indeed around the world. Is a new movement in the works, and, if so, what's next?


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. The White House is saying that President Trump believes 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in the presidential election.

[18:32:24] Let's get some more with Brian Schaffner. He's a political science professor and a coordinator of the study the White House press secretary Sean Spicer was apparently referring to when asked about proof that the president has in making this assertion.

Professor Schaffner, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: You were involved in collecting the data used in one of the studies President Trump has cited to back up his false claim that millions voted illegally. That 2014 study found 14 percent of noncitizens said they were eligible to vote. Why do you think that study's conclusion, based on your data, is not reliable?

SCHAFFNER; Well, what the office did was essentially use a question on our survey that asked people whether or not they were a citizen.

What we did was actually go back and ask those people again whether or not they were a citizen, and a lot of people had just basically erroneously clicked on the wrong button. And the people who we could confirm were actually noncitizens, there were basically no voters among that group.

BLITZER: They're -- so what you're saying, that no noncitizens voted as far as your study, your data, was concerned, in those elections?

SCHAFFNER: That's right. We could find -- of the people who we were sure were noncitizens, we could not find any who had actually cast a vote.

BLITZER: So when the president says that, in the most recent election, 3 to 5 million illegal voters actually participated, and that's why he lost the popular vote, when you hear that, and the suggestion is it's based on some of your data, what's your reaction?

SCHAFFNER: Well, it's very frustrating, as I'm sure you can imagine. The data certainly do not show that.

We published a study basically showing that the study that the data -- that uses our data to say that is wrong. That study has been widely cited by news networks to basically say that what the administration is saying is false.

And the notion that millions of people could vote illegally and there -- and no one would have any data to be able to show that this is the case is just absurd. It's absurd that millions of people, millions of noncitizens, would have voted in 2016. It's just not even plausible.

BLITZER: Do you have an estimate of how many illegal votes were cast in 2016? Or a sense of, on average, what percentage of the votes cast were illegal?

[18:35:00] SCHAFFNER: I mean, our data, our best data would suggest that nobody who was a noncitizen voted in 2016. Now, it's possible that there's a handful of people nationwide out there that, you know, were missing, but that there's anything systemic or anything that would have swung an election is just -- it's just not plausible. There's no evidence for that whatsoever.

BLITZER: You've done a lot of academic research in this area. If President Trump is watching right now, what's your message to him on this very important and sensitive issue?

SCHAFFNER: My message is that this is very dangerous thing. You are calling into question the validity of American elections, using data that's clearly false. That it's dangerous to -- dangerous message to send to the American people.

I think, you know, the member of Congress you had on just before me, you know, said it quite right, that this is not the kind of thing we want to do, we don't want to be using false data to basically make people question how valid our elections are. It's just -- it's totally baseless and it's very dangerous.

BLITZER: Professor Brian Schaffner, thanks very much for joining us.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about what we just heard with our correspondents, analysts and commentators. And David Swerdlick, let's -- let's start this conversation with you, because this is a really sensitive and important issue right now, the assertion by the president of the United States of such widespread illegal voting.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, and as the professor said and others have said today, right, this has been widely debunked. The whole broader notion of voter fraud has been debunked, of widespread voter fraud has been debunked in study after study, by the Brennan Center, by the Advancement Project. Arguably liberal groups, but still there's not this evidence of widespread voter fraud; and yet President Trump persists with it.

I think there's two possible reasons. Neither of them are good, Wolf. One is, is that he wants to keep alive this issue of voter fraud, because there will be elections down the road.

The other is maybe just as simple as this is the first time he's run for office, and unlike a career politician who just takes the win and moves on, he is sort of deflated by the idea that he didn't win the popular vote.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, what's your sense of what we're seeing right now? Because this is enormously important.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. Listen, you know, I think we could dispense with the unsubstantiated claim and just call it straight out, it's a false claim. There's no evidence. The president, himself would present no evidence. And when pushed, the evidence that Sean Spicer says the president is citing, we just had the author of that evidence on the air who said he couldn't find a single noncitizen who voted, let alone 3 million to 5 million. You know, he held out the possibility that maybe a handful that they didn't detect.

But, listen, you know, the reality that is being presented by the president and the press secretary here is just galaxies away from actual fact. And I think, you know, that's something that's worrisome.

You've heard a lot of senators, Lindsey Graham today talking about the danger that is to confidence in our democratic system. Just one point I would add. It is ammunition to foreign countries who love to poke holes in America's democracy, Russia among them, but China, as well. They like to say, "Look over there." Because this is part of American soft power, right, we got a democratic system; they don't. and they will say, "Look at America. Look at that, even their presidency says the system is rigged." That is ammunition to those countries. And that's something you're going to be hearing from them. It's going to be in their newspapers. I don't think we should underestimate the damage it does not just at home but abroad, as well.

BLITZER: Abby, how much damage is being done to the president right now by his own words?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, he's calling into question the legitimacy of an election he already won, so the whole thing is very perplexing, especially to Republicans on the Hill, who on a separate issue have been trying to get the president to acknowledge that -- that there was foreign meddling in the election that may not have affected the outcome. He won't even acknowledge that.

And yet a separate -- what it amounts to a conspiracy theory about fraudulent voters is getting this kind of attention.

You know, Trump is in a very perilous place right now. This is the first week of office. He spent the weekend consumed over the crowds at his inauguration, his first few days struggling to stay on track. Last night he had an opportunity to continue a little bit of momentum and failed to do that.

The longer that this goes on, the more it's going to solidify in the minds of Americans that there is something wrong, that he doesn't have the temperament for this office. And that's what -- that's the worry that some on the Hill have, that he's demonstrating the fears that have been brought up throughout the campaign by his political opponents now that he actually has the job.

BLITZER: What does it say to you, Jackie, that the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, came out today and was very strong in defending the president's remarks?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, we talked about hashtag "#alternativefacts" this week. Sean Spicer seems to be bent on creating an alternate reality when you walk into that -- into that pressroom because he's not there to -- he's there to justify what Trump says. He's not there to provide a good explanation, because he was citing a study. And I think it was like the second or third time the question was asked he actually put that study forth.

[18:40:24] He kept saying that's what the president believes, full stop. Well, you know, he's -- and he's going to -- and you could see the frustration build. Well, got to get used to that if your boss is saying things that plain don't make sense.

BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, I want you to listen to what Senator Lindsey Graham said today about this. Listen to -- listen to this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If the president of the United States is claiming that 3 to 5 -- 3 to 3.5 million people voted illegally, that shakes competence in our democracy. He needs to disclose why he believes that. I don't believe that. It is the most inappropriate thing for the president to say without proof.


BLITZER: Should more Republicans, Phil, be pushing back on President Trump on this issue?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think they should, Wolf, but I think we've got to be careful to pick our spots. Even in the past four days, it feels like we're on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride here.

We've got, within 24 hours of the inauguration, an insult to the CIA. We've got a fourth grader's obsession with how many people showed up at his inauguration. And now we have, like, a magical mystery tour about how many people voted in the election. That's in four days, Wolf.

In the election preceding that, we had a president who commented negatively about the appearance of one of his opponents; who made comments, negatively, about a deformity of a "New York Times" reporter; and he commented publicly in a debate about his own genitalia.

We have to think about China, about an Iran nuclear deal, about what we do with Russia on hacking, and about how we get out of Syria. I think the challenge -- I agree with Senator Graham. What I'm saying is the challenge through all this noise that we've seen through the campaign, and now in the past four days is going to be how do we prioritize the things that are important? Because I fear we're entering an era where there's going to be so much noise that we're going to lose our eye on the ball.

BLITZER: Good points. I want everybody to stand by.

Just ahead, President Trump says he'll make a decision on a U.S. Supreme Court nominee next week. And Democrats, they are already digging in for a fight.


[18:47:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following the breaking news.

President Trump continuing to claim millions of people voted illegally in the recent presidential election. On Saturday, the president spent part of his visit over at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, complaining about media reports about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. He made his complaints while r standing in front of the wall containing stars representing CIA officers who died in the line of duty.

Phil Mudd, you worked at the CIA. You're a former CIA officer. What was your reaction to his speech over at CIA headquarters?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Well, you almost want to cry, wolf. I mean, there's a sense of outrage, but a sense of sadness. Those aren't stars. Those are people. Those aren't people from decades ago. Those are people from today. That is one star, Jennifer Matthews, who lost her life to an al Qaeda suicide bomber in Afghanistan and whose children were still growing up.

And we have a president who has to talk about how many times he's been on the "TIME" magazine cover in comparison to a football player. He's got to talk about how many people showed up at his inauguration. He's got to talk about how many people in the CIA enjoyed his speech.

That's what we get to honor the people who lost their lives and also to talk about what the future of American security is in front of hundreds of CIA officers who want the story, again, for what life is for people who want to live on the city on a hill. That's America, the shining city on the hill.

And what do we get? How many times he's been on the "TIME" magazine cover. It's disgusting, Wolf. I mean, I don't know what else to say. You can't do that if you're the president.

BLITZER: Did you know any of those 117 CIA officers who were killed in the line of duty?

MUDD: Yes, I did know. I mentioned Jennifer Matthews because I knew her. That was the double agent from al Qaeda who came into a base in Afghanistan, a CIA base who was supposed to be a CIA agent who was actually working for al Qaeda. He detonated himself when he was being accepted into a meeting on that base, and among them was Jennifer Matthews.

Unbelievable that you've got -- that you have to sit there and talk about yourself, instead of honoring those who did more than you did.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, I know that you've spoken to a lot of CIA officers who are totally upset by what the president did.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Echoing Phil's point there, because it's personal for them. These are real people.

And keep in mind, CIA work has gotten more dangerous in the last 10, 15, 20 years. The number of stars on that wall have jumped because of where CIA agents are working.

He mentioned Jennifer Matthews. There were several CIA agents killed in that suicide blast in eastern Afghanistan. The two CIA agents who were killed on the Benghazi consulate there. Johnny Micheal Spann, the first American killed in Afghanistan during U.S. military operations there after 9/11.

You know, as the U.S. fights the two longest wars in its history, there are many soldiers there as we know deployed.

[18:50:06] But there are also intelligence agents on the front lines of these battles, at war in other countries. They face real risks and dangers, and they're facing those kinds of risks every day. That's what I heard in text messages, e-mails and phone calls as that speech was being made. It was an enormous disrespect, but I also think I heard a lot of sadness as well.

BLITZER: Let me get Phil Mudd to weigh in on this.

How does he repair this relationship? And I know he's visiting the Pentagon, Phil, on Friday. Presumably, he'll have a more prepared statement, if you will, that one at CIA headquarters on Saturday was rambling.

But what does he need to do now?

MUDD: Well, believe it or not, I'm a CIA officer but I'm an eternal optimist. I have ten nieces and nephews and I believe they will grow up in a world that's safer than ours.

He can repair it and that repair comes in two words. That's Mike Pompeo. CIA officers will be led by the CIA director, not by the president. It's not about President Trump, it's because they don't interact daily with the president of the United States.

If the president of the United States gets off Twitter, stops insulting the CIA, if Mike Pompeo comes in as a serious individual who interacts daily with CIA officers, who's interested not only in what's going on in Syria but in the wives, the children, the husbands of the CIA officer who served him, I think we can move beyond this and I think most CIA officers would reflect that view.

What happened Saturday can be forgotten but it can't be repeated.

BLITZER: I want to thank you for your service, Phil. Thank you very much. And thank all of those 117 individuals for their service as well.

Much more breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:56:13] TRUMP: Effects of the Trump administration are being felt in the Middle East. Israel has announced a major new expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has details.

Elise, we're talking about, what, 2,500 new homes?


Well, it's one of the largest expansions since 2013, just days after President Trump took office and a sign that after eight years of fighting with the U.S. over settlements, Prime Minister Netanyahu is taking early advantage of President Trump's Israel-friendly new government.


LABOTT (voice-over): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moving forward with one of the largest settlement expansions in years, 2,500 new homes in the West Bank. Just two days after his phone call to President Trump and promising, quote, "no daylight between the U.S. and Israel."

"We are building," he tweeted Tuesday, "and we will continue to build." On Sunday, Netanyahu lifted all restrictions on settlement construction in a contested part of East Jerusalem, and announced 500 new settlement homes there, telling his cabinet it was just the beginning.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): On the issue of settlement, we will continue to look out for it wisely and responsible, for the benefit of the settlement enterprise and the state of Israel.

LABOTT: The new settlements built in areas that Israelis claim will always remain part of Israel were a blow to the Palestinians who rejected the move and promised consequences.

MAEN AREIKAT, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO THE U.S.: We will continue to use whatever available means available to us, diplomatic, nonviolent, political, to defend the rights of our people against these Israeli policies.

LABOTT: In 2003, Trump donated $10,000 to the Beit El settlement, one of the same sites as the planned expansion, in honor of his friend David Friedman, Trump's hard line pick as ambassador to Israel. Friedman supports legalizing settlements, annexing the West Bank and promising to back the captain for Israel's government in whatever policies it chooses.

DAVID FRIEDMAN: Israel is a friend. The Trump administration will be loyal to its friends, trust its friends.

LABOTT: A welcome sentiment for Netanyahu after eight years of sparring with President Obama. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, we have to

protect Israel. Israel to me is very, very important.

LABOTT: President Trump has promised to have Israel's back and recently lobbied to head off a controversial U.N. vote criticizing Israeli settlements. The Obama administration's decision not to veto the measure allowed it to pass.

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: The peace process is dead. You have an outgoing administration that's been hypercritical. You've got an incoming administration that has a very strong pro- Israeli sensibility. It's a perfect storm and I think Prime Minister Netanyahu sees it to his advantage to move now.


LABOTT: Now, do these new announcements reflect a new policy by the Trump administration giving Israel a green light on settlements? The White House would not say. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today that President Trump wants to grow closer to Israel and the settlement issue will be on the agenda when he welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu to the White House early next month, Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks like on the sensitive issue of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Donald Trump promised would happen if he were president, that's on hold for now.

LABOTT: I think they're going to slow it down. I think, initially, the ambassador, David Friedman, is going to live and work in Israel. I think --

BLITZER: In Jerusalem.

LABOTT: In Jerusalem, sorry -- and I think they will continue to have discussions with the allies and with the government and with the government of Israel. But I think that's a way off, the White House saying they're in the beginning stages of those discussions, Wolf.

BLITZER: Elise Labott reporting for us. Elise, thank you very, very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.