Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland; Interview With Delaware Senator Chris Coons; Out Like Flynn?; Did Trump Break National Security Protocol?; Urgent Effort to Repair Threatened Dam, 187,000 Flee; Interview with Congressman John Garamendi of California. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 13, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But another White House aide claims Michael Flynn has the president's full confidence. So, what is really going on behind closed doors?

Big, big problem. Mr. Trump promises to show strength against North Korea just hours after a provocative new missile test. We're getting new details about why the Pentagon is escalating the warning that Kim Jong-un's weapons program is a great threat.

Dinner and danger. The president responded to North Korea's test launch with urgent talks an open terrace in Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, where patrons were within earshot, snapping photos and posting them online. Was national security protocol compromised?

And wall of water, damage to the nation's tallest dam prompts mass evacuations and fear of catastrophic flooding. I will ask a California congressman about the threat to hundreds of thousands of people right now.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the fate of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says President Trump is "evaluating the situation" by speaking to various people, including Vice President Pence. There are concerns within the administration that Flynn play have lied to Pence about whether he discussed sanctions with Russia's ambassador before Inauguration Day.

Spicer's statement coming just minutes after White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said something very, very different, publicly claiming that Flynn has the president's "full confidence."

Also this hour, a disturbing new assessment of North Korea's efforts to develop a nuclear weapon that could reach U.S. shores. U.S. officials tell CNN that a weekend test launch shows Kim Jong-un's regime is making advances in its missile capability. President Trump is promising to deal very strongly with North Korea, claiming the nation is a "big, big problem."

But he was not asked any detailed questions about the missile test during his news conference with the Canadian prime minister. Mr. Trump refusing to call on reporters from major news organizations, also managing to escape any questions about National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

I will talk about all of those stories and more with a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chris Coons. There you see him. He's standing by, along with our correspondents, analysts and other guests as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, based on what we just heard from Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn's future does not necessarily seem to be settled at all and President Trump remained silent on the subject as he met with another crucial ally, the Canadian prime minister.


We're hearing conflicting assessments of Flynn's job security from top Trump aides. Today, we heard President Trump talk border security, but his press conference was noteworthy for what was not discussed, Michael Flynn's future now that it has been reported he may have lied about his conversations with a top Russian official.


KEILAR (voice-over): As President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared at the White House today, they were quick to exchange pleasantries on trade, women's issues and fighting terrorism.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our two nations share much more than a border. We share the same values.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: No other neighbors in the entire world are as fundamentally linked as we are.

KEILAR: But their differences became evident when a Canadian reporter asked this.

QUESTION: President Trump, you seem to suggest that Syrian refugees are a Trojan horse for potential terrorism, while the prime minister hugs refugees and welcomes them with open arms.

I would like to know, are you confident the northern border is secure?

TRUMP: We can never be totally confident. But we have really done a great job. We're actually taking people that are criminals, very, very hardened criminals in some cases with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems and we're getting them out. KEILAR: And Trump in what has become common practice used the issue

to brag about his election victory.

TRUMP: I'm just doing what I said I would do when we won by a very, very large electoral vote. I will tell you right now, a lot of people are very, very happy right now.

KEILAR: But Trudeau quick to highlight Canada's openness to refugees, while also stressing border security, though he sidestepped a question about Trump's travel ban.

TRUDEAU: The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves.


KEILAR: Today's Q&A session had one glaring omission, no discussion of Trump's embattled national security adviser, Michael Flynn. It's come to light Flynn may have spoken to the Russians about lifting sanctions before Trump entered the White House, then apparently lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence, who backed Flynn up in mid- January.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose a censure against Russia.

TRUMP: We will take a couple of questions.

KEILAR: While the topic of Flynn's future didn't come up when the president called on reporters from a local news network and a conservative outlet during today's news conference, late today, after reporters made an issue of the White House not addressing the controversy, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway went on MSNBC to tamp thing down.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Yes, General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president.


KEILAR: But then, Wolf, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president is evaluating the situation, which is quite obvious language compared to what Conway said.

Trump is speaking to Vice President Pence about the conversation that Pence and Flynn had, that also according to Spicer, and one source tells CNN, Wolf, that Trump has expressed his displeasure with Flynn to him in recent days.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, thank you very much. We will have much more on this coming up.

Quickly, I want to get to North Korea's new missile test and President Trump's response. He's raising a lot of questions about security by discussing the missile threat over dinner with the Japanese prime minister. There were lots of people close by, they were watching, they were listening, they were taking photos, posting them online.

Let's bring in our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, this is not necessarily the typical way to handle a very sensitive situation like this.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, no, Wolf. We have a former national security advisers expressing surprise over this.

We don't know exactly the sensitivity of what could have been audible or visible at that time. But the unique weirdness of the situation was absolutely not lost on the people around who were watching it unfold, especially as officials were pointing cell phones, which are hackable, at the documents they were looking at in an attempt to see them better.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Tonight, Pentagon officials tell CNN North Korea's latest launch shows Kim Jong-un's missile program is moving forward.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea is a big, big problem, and we will deal with that very strongly.

KOSINSKI: As the president considers how to respond, questions about how the White House handled the chaotic hours after North Korea's leader celebrated test-launching a ballistic missile 300 miles off the Korean coast towards Japan.

It happened Saturday night just as President Trump, the Japanese prime minister, their wives and aides were settling into an opulent dinner at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, in full view of members and guests of the swanky club, a flurry of activity at Trump's dinner table. One posting it to Facebook: "Holy moly, fascinating."

Guests at the dinner describing to CNN the president making phone calls, talking with aides, reading documents in front with Prime Minister Abe, aides using cell phones to help them see in the candlelight, a potential security issue.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: That shouldn't happen in an uncleared facility. The basic problem here though is what do we do with crazy North Korea?

KOSINSKI: Eventually, the two leaders left the table and held an impromptu press conference.

SHINZO ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): North Korea's most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable.

KOSINSKI: President Trump's reaction? He cast aside prepared remarks seen on the podium, a joint statement with Japan. Instead, one sentence, 24 words. TRUMP: I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the

United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.

KOSINSKI: Not quite the same tone as when he tweeted a stern warning in January. "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen."


KOSINSKI: And, Wolf, just now, we're getting information from the White House press secretary who is saying that President Trump and Prime Minister Abe at that dinner were not discussing classified information. He says they were briefed prior to the dinner in a classified setting and what all the hubbub was about, what they were talking about were just the logistics for the press conference that followed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle, thanks very much. Michelle Kosinski is at the State Department.

Tonight, we're learning more about North Korea's new missile test at the same time and why it's causing alarm over at the Pentagon.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

What are you hearing, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, cast all the politics aside and just look at the military hardware.


STARR: What U.S. officials are telling us is this was the first test with a land-based launch of what has been a submarine-based launch of a ballistic missile.

This is an advance by the North Koreans able to now launch this from land from a fixed site. It also had solid fuel. That means it is much more difficult for U.S. satellites to detect the early fueling of the missile because you don't see the hoses, the tanks, you don't see all the paraphernalia associated with a liquid fuel launch.

Third item on military hardware, this launch went farther than any previous surface-to-surface ballistic missile launch by the North Koreans. Launched them their west coast, flew across North Korea and landed about 300 miles out in the Sea of Japan to the east. There are some key military advances here by the North Koreans, all of it underscoring the Pentagon's concern that the North Koreans plan to continue their advanced testing program and plan to continue to develop a ballistic missile eventually with a warhead that could potentially someday reach the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very disturbing. Barbara, thank you, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Let's talk about the president's response to North Korea and more.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you worried about the Trump administration and its response to the North Korean threat?

COONS: I'm very worried, both about the lack of confidence expressed in Mike Flynn, the national security adviser, because of credible reports that he lied to the vice president and that he misled the administration, and because of how this incident at Mar-a-Lago was conducted.

There is certainly enough evidence here to suggest that in a meeting with a head of state of a close ally in a country difficult circumstance, President Trump was frankly partly showing off for his country club guests and making this somewhat of a spectacle.

These sorts of important briefings between heads of state should be happening in a classified setting, not over cocktails and appetizers. And I'm concerned that North Korea continues to steadily make progress in their ballistic missile program and we frankly don't have a plan for how to deal with this, other than looking to China in being our partner in reining in North Korea's irresponsible and dangerous behavior.

BLITZER: The Chinese don't seem to be doing much, at least not yet.


And one of the things that concerned me about President Trump's diplomacy in his first week as president was that he took a call from the president of Taiwan and sort of set on its ear a 40-year established one-China policy where the United States and the PRC had a settled understanding about how we would handle that.

Just this past weekend, President Trump was forced to walk that back in a conversation with Xi Jinping.

BLITZER: Did he get anything in exchange for acknowledging this 40- year U.S. policy that there is one China and Taiwan is part of that China? As far as you know, did he win some concessions from the Chinese? Did they promise, for example, they would squeeze the North Koreans and slow down their ballistic program, the nuclear program?

COONS: As far as I know, no. It's possible. But I would think that President Trump would be boasting about having won that concession if that were the case.

I think, instead what happened was he made a significant misstep in his first days as president and has had to walk that back, just to get back to neutral, back to the position...


BLITZER: What you're saying, he blinked, that he didn't get anything in exchange, because he sees himself as the great negotiator. He knows how to deal with other countries and other people.

COONS: There is a very troubling article in the front page of "The New York Times" suggesting that within the National Security County, staff are somewhat concerned and demoralized that President Trump won't read anything more than one page, that he wants things with big maps and big graphs, and the lack of confidence in the national security adviser, Mike Flynn, and the lack of engagement with some of the career professionals who are there to provide advice on how to negotiate with China, how to engage them in this important work against North Korea.

It was a very alarming article and it's very disconcerting.

BLITZER: If his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, lied to the vice president and others, the White House chief of staff, White House press secretary, denying that the subject of sanctions ever came up in that phone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States, should he step down?

COONS: That's a call for President Trump to make, but if I were in his shoes, absolutely.

I would not rely on a national security adviser who on such an important and sensitive issue as outreach to the Russians before the inauguration on the issue of sanctions lied to the vice president and put me, as president, in the very uncomfortable situation of having to publicly distance myself from that position.

BLITZER: Do you trust the National Security Council with Michael Flynn as the head of that National Security Council? He's the president's chief national security adviser?

COONS: I have real concerns about General Flynn's background and experience, what he's said and done in the past and his relationship with our intelligence community and with the career staff at the NSC.


But that is, at the end of the day, the president's call whether to continue to rely on a national security adviser who is so compromised by his uneven relation with the truth.

BLITZER: What does it say to you that at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, goes on television and says the president has full confidence in Flynn, at 5:00 p.m., Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, says the president is evaluating the situation? No repeat of the words full confidence.

And then they put out another statement saying that that is the operative statement, that's what the president wants the public to know, that the situation is being evaluated.

COONS: This is the first three weeks of a new administration, but it suggests they haven't gotten their sea legs, that there is still a bit of a Keystone Cops aspect to their operation.

Having control on your message on such an important issue as whether the national security adviser retains the president's full confidence or is being reviewed and considered for being dismissed is an absolutely essential message control issue. And I frankly think this does not reflect well on the Trump administration.

BLITZER: We just heard from your leader, the Democratic leader, the minority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer. He wants an independent investigation of Flynn, conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and in the meantime he wants Flynn's national security clearances to be revoked. Do you agree with him?

COONS: That's a strong step. I will support Senator Schumer in those two steps to call for the security clearance to be suspended until there is some resolution about whether or not he intentionally misled the vice president on such an important national security matter as to whether in advance of the inauguration he was engaging in his own private diplomacy.

BLITZER: Do you believe he should have national security clearances, given the connections he's had with Russia since leaving the DIA, the Defense Information Agency -- Defense Intelligence Agency?


COONS: It's very troubling the role that he played in advocating for Russia Today, his very close relationship with Vladimir Putin and with the propaganda organs of the Russian government, particularly the ongoing investigation into whether or not there was coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in advance of the election.

I do think that is very troubling.

BLITZER: Senator Coons, thanks very much for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, did the Canadian prime minister deliver a jab to President Trump today regarding his travel ban? I will asking the Canadian foreign minister. She's here in Washington. You see her live. We will discuss what happened in that meeting and a lot more. Stand by.

We will also have the latest on the flooding threat in Northern California right now as a potential disaster unfolds at the nation's tallest dam.


[18:21:54] BLITZER: President Trump is offering an unapologetic new defense of

his travel ban, speaking at a news conference today with the Canadian prime minister at the White House.

Justin Trudeau made it clear he has a different view.

Let's talk about this pivotal meeting between two allies.

The Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, is joining us right now.

Foreign Minister, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Your prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said today he didn't come to Washington to lecture on how to govern, but did say Canada would continue what he described as -- quote -- "its policies of openness toward immigration and refugees."

And he tweeted this, very significantly, when President Trump's initial travel ban was enacted. "To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #welcometoCanada."

Do you believe, Foreign Minister, that President Trump is wrong when comes with indefinitely barring Syrian refugees from coming to the United States?

FREELAND: You know, Wolf, I'm really going to echo my prime minister. We didn't come here to Washington to tell you guys how to run your country, and I don't think Canadians would be very happy if American politicians came to Canada to tell us how to run our country.

We are very proud wherever we are in the world to tell you about Canadian values and what we think is the right thing for Canada to do. And when it comes to refugees, we very much believe in welcoming refugees to our country, and that includes Syrian refugees and that includes Muslim refugees.

As the prime minister said, we really believe that our diversity is our strength. It was a campaign commitment of our government in 2015 to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. We're now almost at 40,000.

But the main theme of our visit here today has really been talking about the close, neighborly relationship between Canada and the United States, and in particular the close economic relationship. And I felt we really made very good progress in talking about those close connections between our countries.

BLITZER: And you sound like you have emerged from being a journalist, Foreign Minister, to becoming an excellent diplomat in the process as well.

FREELAND: It's my job, Wolf. What can I say?


BLITZER: I know. You have got a tough job right now.

Let's talk a little bit about President Trump. He said today at the news conference -- you heard him -- he said he couldn't be sure that that 3,000-mile northern border that the United States has with Canada was, in fact, secure.

Do you believe it is? And do you believe he's suggesting that terrorists could emerge from that refugee population coming into Canada and then sneak into the United States?

FREELAND: I am not obviously going to put words into the president's mouth.

But what I heard from the president at the press conference today was a very strong, very warm endorsement of the relationship between Canada and the United States, a recognition that the border between Canada and the United States is a tremendous resource for both of our countries.


It's a secure border. It's a border that 400,000 people cross every day. It's a border across which $2 billion of business are done every day. And in our conversation, in our official statement afterwards, what we're talking about is actually making that border, while maintaining its security, which is a priority for Canadians as well, also making that border thinner, making it easier for all the Canadians and Americans who cross that border every to visit their relatives, to visit their friends, maybe to go out to a restaurant.

You're from Buffalo. You're used to do that. And to do business. And we're talking about ways to make that easier to do. And that is going to create more jobs and growth on both sides of the border.

BLITZER: Canada is the United States' largest trading partner.

The president, he called NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, that emerged more than two decades ago during the Clinton administration, he often called it the "worst trade deal in history." Prime Minister Trudeau made clear today NAFTA is a real concern for Canadians.

Do you believe President Trump will keep it, will he get rid of it? What assurances did you get from the president when it comes to the future of NAFTA, the trade deal with Canada and Mexico?

FREELAND: Wolf, I heard from the president exactly what you heard and what everyone who listened to that press conference heard, which is the U.S. president strongly endorsing and speaking to the strength, the mutual benefit of the economic relationship between Canada and the United States. And we really believe in that too. And Canada is the top export

market for 35 U.S. states. Nine million jobs depend directly on exports to Canada. We're not only your friends and your neighbors. We're also your clients. And that's something that we talked about today and we felt was really understood.

BLITZER: Canada, also a key member of NATO. But here is the problem.

FREELAND: I am not hearing anything now.

BLITZER: Can you hear me now? Foreign Minister, can you hear me?

Unfortunately, we seem to have lost the connection with the Canadian foreign minister. Let's see if we can reconnect. We will take a quick break.

We have more breaking news coming in as well, conflicting statements from inside the Trump administration on the future of the embattled national security adviser, Michael Flynn, plus the president's open- air strategy session that is sparking national security concerns.


BLITZER: The breaking news tonight. Conflicting statements from inside the White House on the fate of the national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

{18:32:28] He's under fire for a conversation with a Russian official before President Trump took office, in which Flynn may have illegally discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia. The White House now says the president is evaluating the situation.

Top aide Kellyanne Conway says Flynn has the president's full confidence. Sources say, quote, the -- and I'm quoting now -- "the knives are out for Flynn."

Let's discuss this and more. Jim Sciutto, the -- it's really extraordinary. Kellyanne Conway says Flynn has the president's full confidence. Then Sean Spicer says the president is evaluating the situation. And then he says that's the president's current system, evaluating the situation, which is clearly no vote of confidence in Michael Flynn.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that all happened within an hour.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Right. I was going to say, a vote of confidence from Kellyanne Conway lasted about an hour. Right? Stephen Miller on the Sunday talk shows giving kind of an equivocal answer, and now you have another equivocal answer.

I mean, you know, clearly, there's still a question mark there. The question is who is rallying to his defense? How much has the relationship with Vice President Pence -- that seems to be a key here -- apparently lying or not telling the full truth to the vice president of the United States. And it's happening as you have major national security crises playing out in real time. I mean, you know, General Flynn was next to the president and the Japanese prime minister as they were reacting to the North Korea missile launch as it was happening. So that's not the time that you want this kind of undermining and hard questions about your future.

BLITZER: And Dana, it's really unbelievable that, within an hour, as you point out, Dana, Kellyanne Conway says Michael Flynn has the president's full confidence. Then an hour later, Sean Spicer says, "Not so fast." The statement says the president is evaluating the situation.

BASH: And I know from two administration sources that one of the reasons that that happened is because new information came to light within that hour. Obviously, it's unclear what that information is or whether that means that the general's fate is probably -- he's less likely to stay in the White House or not, but it certainly doesn't sound like it is a good thing.

We don't know exactly how this is unfolding, what they are learning, how they are learning it. But the fact of the matter is, for Kellyanne Conway to say what she said -- and, you know, we're told that she felt at the time that that was the truth, that he had the full confidence; and then Sean Spicer changed it an hour later. Could be chaos, could be the fact that they -- the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, but I'm told that it is actually not that, that they have new information.

BLITZER: New information damaging -- damaging to Flynn?

BASH: Potentially. Potentially. Just about it. We shouldn't say that it's damaging or not, but I think that the fact that he had full confidence and then it was being evaluated, might suggest that that is the case.

[18:35:09] DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: We'll see where Michael Flynn ends up. We don't know that right now. And we'll see where that happens and can assess that once the situation is made and they put out a statement.

What we do know, what is before our very eyes is a White House process that is not at all buttoned down. A White House process -- where is the person -- this has been four days in the news now, that Flynn's story changed. Who did the president task, the moment he learned that the story changed, with reviewing everything, figuring this out, making a recommendation? What is the process that is happening in this White House? It just doesn't seem, what we're seeing in public, that there is a formalized process for a very senior aide.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But the other thing we do know is that this is a president who don't like to be embarrassed, not that any of them do but this one in particular. And also, this is someone who doesn't like to look like he's capitulating to anyone.

Remember Corey Lewandowski. After that incident where he assaulted a reporter he wasn't gone immediately. He stuck around for a couple weeks and then kind of quietly went into the night. So this is something -- we don't know what the president's going to do, but we've seen in the past that he's not -- he's loath to get rid of individuals who were loyal.

BLITZER: Yes, but he does. We've seen several individuals who got into trouble, and he basically dumped them in the process.

Listen to Chuck Schumer, the senator from New York, the Democratic leader, the minority reader in the Senate, speaking about Michael Flynn and this whole incident.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: First, we have asked for and demand an independent investigation of what Flynn's discussions were with the Russian ambassador and all others, and we'll be saying more about that soon.

Second, his security clearance ought to be withdrawn until that independent investigation is completed. And if he has violated any law or ethical precept, he ought to be fired.


BLITZER: Wow. That's a -- security clearances at least temporarily withdrawn. You can't be a national security adviser at the White House without security clearance.

SCIUTTO: No question. And keep in mind, there is some subtle under- the-surface messages there, as well. Remember back during the campaign when we talked about security clearances, et cetera. There's a little bit of that.

Also, this is -- this gets to the bigger issue, which is an issue for the Democrats -- not just the Democrats, many senior Republicans, as well, the larger Russia issue. Because it's about Flynn, but it's also about this administration's relationships -- relationship with Russia, which is the subject of a bipartisan congressional investigation.

You know, this is not just going to end -- whatever happens to General Flynn, it's not going to end there. This is -- this is -- I can tell from his comments but from other folks I speak to, it's an entree into this bigger issue which is hanging over the administration.

BLITZER: It's a real, real mess, shall we say in a technical term, right now. We'll see if they can clean it up.

Everybody stand by. Just ahead, Sean Spicer gets the "Saturday Night Live" treatment for the second weekend in a row. Is "SNL" changing the way America sees the president and his senior team?


MELISSA MCCARTHY, COMEDIAN (AS SEAN SPICER): Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? You'd better run. You don't have a chance. Spicey -- Spicey's coming through. (END VIDEO CLIP)


[18:42:45] BLITZER: We're back with our political team and the breaking news from the White House that the future of the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is still being evaluated.

What is clear tonight is that the president is very pleased with the work of another top adviser, Stephen Miller. We'll get to that in a moment.

We heard earlier about encrypted conversations that Michael Flynn may have had with the Russian ambassador to the United States. So we spoke with the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff. If there were phone conversations and separate encrypted conversations, that raises potentially some issues.

SCIUTTO: No questions. Adam Schiff, as you know, is very careful. Interesting for him to bring that up in a public context.

The key is how they were used, right? Using encrypted communications by themselves, not necessarily incriminating. There are loads of folks in Washington who do that, not even when they're worried about foreign intelligence services. They're just worried about having a constant digital diary for every word that you communicate, text, e- mail, et cetera. So that by itself is not.

Then it becomes a question of context. Was it with a Russian official? When? Was it before taking office? You know, what was the context of those discussions? Did it happen just after a phone call, where it would then give the insinuation that you were trying to avoid being watched? To my knowledge, there's no evidence that it was used to avoid surveillance by the FBI or for others, but it's still an open question.

BLITZER: It's a serious question. All right. We'll take a look at that.

The president's senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, David, he was on the Sunday shows yesterday, four Sunday shows, didn't go on CNN but he was on the four broadcast networks. Here's a sampling of what he said.


STEPHEN MILLER, TRUMP SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: We have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.

I do want to say that Sean Spicer, as always, is 100 percent correct and that what he said is true and important; and I agree with it.

It is a fact, and you will not deny it, that there are massive numbers of noncitizens in this country who are registered to vote. This is an ideological disagreement between those who believe we

should have borders and should have controls and those who believe there should be no borders and no controls. That's the essence of this debate. And the bottom line is the president's powers in this area represent the apex of executive authority. Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.


STEPHEN MILLER, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: That's the essence of this debate and the bottom line is the president's powers in this area represent the apex of executive authority.

[18:45:02] Our opponents, the media and the whole world will begin to see as we begin to take further actions that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And will not be questioned.

A lot of unpack there. What was your reaction?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He's a true believer. There's no doubt about that.

Listen, you know, the president made clear that he was pleased with Stephen Miller's performance yesterday. He got on Twitter to praise it.

Stephen Miller is a die hard in that way and he's going to fight until the end. The problem is when he does so without any facts, such as the voter fraud situation that you played a little clip to that, then how does that not ruin his credibility overall? If you're going to get on national television in an interview claim there is this massive voter fraud, that there is zero evidence that exists.

He was talking about New Hampshire. Today, the governor of New Hampshire said you can't find any voter fraud.

BLITZER: Republican.

CHALIAN: Republican governor of New Hampshire, exactly. Former Republican Party chairman in the state said, I know of no example of voter fraud. People who do this for a living day in and day out. So, Stephen Miller should stick to facts and he would serve his --

BLITZER: What he says, Jackie, what he says -- the powers of the president, in his words, will not be questioned.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's going to be disappointing for him, because Stephen Miller is a very smart guy and he probably, you know, should -- should read up because they will be questioned and the judiciary has the absolute authority to check the president. That's how all of this works.

But that said, when the president himself keeps this voter fraud issue alive and says that it happened, it's top-down.


KUCINICH: Stephen Miller is a loyalist. That's one of the reason he's where he is right now. He was a loyalist to Jeff Sessions and he's certainly a loyalist to President Trump.

BASH: And, you know, to that point, the people in the White House and those of us who covered the campaign know that Stephen Miller has kind of a special place in Donald Trump's heart for lots of reasons, but first and foremost is because Donald Trump thinks he is very smart and because he is very willing to go out and say things without any kind of fact or evidence basis to back it up like this voter fraud situation.

This is the ultimate example of an audience of one and people even today -- I was sort of asking around about what the president -- why he was so, you know, loving about Stephen Miller and his performance and it's because he just adores him. They spent a lot of time together, particularly at the end of the campaign. Stephen Miller was traveling nonstop, writing speeches, helping with policy, just hanging with the president.

BLITZER: He was doing the warm-up speeches at the rallies.

BASH: And doing the warm-up, exactly. And for somebody who needs to have a comfort zone like this president, frankly, to be fair -- any president, if you're in a place of isolation which is the White House, to have that and hear the person going out and say things that you want them to say, especially and even when there are things that don't have a basis in fact but you just want it out there.

BLITZER: But there are presidents, David, who like the idea of having, you know, people with different views, give them some different advice because it makes them look better when all is said and done.

CHALIAN: To be fair, I think this president has that. In the team assembled in the West Wing, I do think he has some people with some different views that he probably does hear from. But what this president we know loves because his appetite is insatiable for media consumption is somebody who can bring brute strength, just power to that interview, you don't concede a single appointment that's the way Trump presents himself and that's what he really respects when he watches somebody speaking for his case on television.

BLITZER: The president and his team, they have another problem, namely "Saturday Night Live," once again going after the president and his senior officials. Let me play some clips from this past Saturday.


MELISSA MCCARTHY AS SEAN SPICER: First of all, I'd like to announce that I'm calm now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to know what president intents to do now that the appeals court denied your request to stop the travel ban.

MCCARTHY: You're testing me, big guy. Look, it's simple. If the appeals court won't do what's right, President Trump will see them in court, specifically the people's court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the plaintiff, the president of the United States. He claims that some phony judges are being very mean to him. He's asking for broad unchecked power. Will he get it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Trump, you understand this is a TV court, right?

ALEC BALDWIN AS DONALD TRUMP: That's OK. I'm a TV president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. So, your travel ban has been rejected as unconstitutional once again, but here you are. What are we doing here then?

BALDWIN: I signed a tremendous travel ban. I didn't read it but I signed it. People took pictures of me holding up the paper -- very official.

[18:50:00] And these judges have been very disrespectful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump, look, I've read the ban, OK? It seemed rushed even to me and I decide three court cases in an hour, OK? And let me just say, you're doing too much, OK? I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me.


BASH: That was the best part.

BLITZER: The problem, Dana, that they have, you know, a lot of people watch that, and they get an impression of the president or Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, the grim reaper, if you will, that sticks in their mind.

BASH: Just ask Sarah Palin about Tina Fey. I mean, there are things that Sarah Palin never said, like "I can see Russia from my house", but everybody thinks she did because Tina Fey said that. Yes, of course, it is problematic. But you know what? It's satire and sometimes satire stings.

BLITZER: Yes. In this particular case, it certainly does, and these people, you know, they got these other characters playing them, it's going to be a problem down the road.

All right, guys. Stand by. There's breaking news we're following. Almost 200,000 Americans are forced to evacuate as a California dam threatens to give way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:56:06] BLITZER: Urgent efforts are now underway in a rain-soaked northern California to repair part of the nation's tallest dam. Fear of a possible failure has forced almost 200,000 people to evacuate and more rain is expected this week.

Congressman John Garamendi of California is on the scene for us. He represents this area. He's joining us on the phone.

Congressman, you're there in Oroville, California, right now. Is this an imminent disaster?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: It has the potential but it is not imminent. In fact, the first helicopters just took off with these thousand pound bags of rock to drop into the emergency spillway to shore up that spillway.

We still have a lot of water here in the reservoir. It's dropped a foot, maybe a little more than that over the last couple hours as the inflow has subsided and the outflow is still around 100,000 cubic feet per second.

So, imminent? No. Potential? Yes.

That spill way is badly damaged. The footings, the foundation is eroded as a result of the water coming over the top of the top of the emergency spillway. And the main spillway remains degraded with the huge hole in the middle of it. But that has not increased in size.

So, we're going to be hopeful. I do have 200,000 of my constituents that are no longer in their homes in various shelters scattered around northern California. So, it's a very tense -- but we're going to be hopeful here.

BLITZER: That spillway you're talking about is part of that dam. So, what would your greatest fear be, this nightmare scenario for the folks out there?

GARAMENDI: Well, it would have been last night, and when the water was flowing over the top of the emergency spillway, it was very rapidly eroding below the spill way, and coming back underneath the foundation, the concrete foundation for that spillway.

Have that erosion continued and the emergency spillway give way, it's 30 feet high. You would have a 30-foot wall of water rushing down the canyon immediately below the dam is Oroville, the town of Oroville, some 15,000 people, the water would have been 100 feet deep within a matter of an hour. And further down the river in Marysville and Yuba City, not as deep, but just as dangerous.

BLITZER: As you know, Congressman, environmental groups advised that an intervention was needed back in 2005, saying the dam needed upgrades. So, could this all have been avoided?

And you're an expert in this area. You served as a deputy secretary of the U.S. Interior during the Clinton administration? GARAMENDI: The answer is it could have and it should have, but it

didn't happen for reasons that are apparently -- the water contractors, the Metropolitan Water District, the current county water district and others didn't want to pay. And they certainly didn't want to be told by a bunch of environmentalists how to build a spillway.

But it turns out that the Sierra Club and Friends of the River was quite correct. Their concern was that should that spillway ever be used, there would be serious down stream sediment harming the fisheries and quite possibly stirring up the mercury that remains. It was a gold mining area.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman, unfortunately, we're going to leave it there. But good luck. We're hoping all of your 200,000 or so residents are back in their homes sooner rather than later.

Congressman John Garamendi of California joining us.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.