Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Dems Reach Threshold to Filibuster Gorsuch; House Intel Committee Meets Behind Closed Doors; Second Device Found, Defused at Russian Metro Station. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Missouri attorney general Josh Holly, thank you. Good luck.

[17:00:08] That is it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, who is right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: breaking news. Nuclear showdown. Democrats now have enough votes to keep President Trump's nominee off the U.S. Supreme Court unless Republicans unleash the nuclear option and change Senate rules to lower the number of votes needed for confirmation. Will either side blink?

Committee thaw? The House Intelligence panel goes behind closed door for its first meeting since a bitter partisan dispute froze its investigation into Russian election meddling. We're standing by for lawmakers to come out. Is this the ice-breaker they need to move forward?

Subway terror attack. An explosion rips through a metro train while President Putin visits the Russian city of St. Petersburg. At least 10 people are dead, dozens hurt. Who's behind the bombing?

And go it alone. President Trump warns China that if it doesn't help solve the North Korean nuclear threat, the U.S. is ready to go it alone. Beyond sabre rattling, like this week's naval exercises, what options does the president have?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news right now: Senate Democrats have the votes to block President Trump's U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, unless or until Republicans use the nuclear option and blow up the Senate rules, lowering the threshold for confirming Supreme Court nominees from 60 --60 votes to 51 votes.

The White House says it's comfortable with going nuclear and warns the Democrats are setting a very dangerous precedent by resorting to a filibuster.

Also breaking: The House Intelligence Committee is meeting behind closed doors this evening, its first session since the Republican chairman paid a secret visit to the White House grounds and publicly announced that Trump aides had been picked up in intelligence collection. He then briefed the president before his own committee. That led Democrats to call on Chairman Devin Nunes to step aside.

While the House panel's Russia probe has stalled, the Senate Intelligence committee has been moving full speed ahead, hearing expert testimony today.

And ahead of the Chinese president's visit this week to his Florida resort. President Trump is warning that, if China doesn't help solve the growing nuclear threat, the United States is prepared to go it alone. I'll talk to Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of the House Homeland Security Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

The president may be focusing on foreign policy today, but there's a nuclear showdown playing out at the other end of Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue. Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, what is the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with the Russia question swirling around, and President Trump is talking tough on global affairs, signaling a shift in U.S. policy for beefing up security overseas and away from human rights. But the president's diplomacy skills are also being tested here at home as he hopes to see his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch making across the finish line.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House is all but calling on Senate Republicans to bring it on when it comes to triggering the filibuster- ending nuclear option to stop Democratic efforts to block Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Democrats are setting a dangerous precedent when it comes to how they want to do this is literally trying to stop using the filibuster for something that it was never intended for; nor has it ever really been the principle the we would vote down someone who is qualified.

ACOSTA: Democrats appeared to reach the 41-vote threshold needed to filibuster Gorsuch.

SEN. DIANNE WEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I cannot support this nomination.

ACOSTA: Leading Republicans warned they may have no choice but to pursue a maneuver that may damage the Senate's ability to handle Supreme Court nominees for years.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Hamilton is rolling over in his grave. I'm sorry, we got here, but we are over here.

ACOSTA: On the same day he condemned a terrorist attack in Russia...

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terrible. Terrible thing, happening all over the world. Absolutely a terrible thing.

ACOSTA: ... President Trump offered a warm welcome to Egypt's controversial leader, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who pledged his nation's help in the war on ISIS.

TRUMP: We are very much behind President El-Sisi.

ABDEL FATTEH EL-SISI, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT: Our heart, our deep appreciation and admiration of your unique personality, especially as you are standing very strong in the counterterrorism field.

ACOSTA: But when asked about accusations of human rights abuses in Egypt, the president remained silent.

All week long, the president is expected to flex more muscular foreign policy. Following his meeting with Sisi, he'll sit down with King Abdullah of Jordan and China's president, Xi Jinping. He's already signaling he won't rely as much on China to control North Korea, telling "The Financial Times" newspaper waiting for China to pressure North Korea didn't work for Bush. It didn't work for Obama, and it won't work for Trump. We just don't have the same priorities."

REP. MAXINE WATTERS (D), CALIFORNIA: He may think that he can threaten people and that we have the biggest guns, et cetera, but he should be about trying to avoid war. He should be about trying to figure out ways to work with China in such a way that they will want to work with us to deal with North Korea.

ACOSTA: The president also appears to be trying out a fresh face on the world stage. His son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, is visiting Iraq with Joint Chiefs Chairman, General Joseph Dunford.

SPICER: Going over and getting a first-hand understanding of the work that's being done, to thank the government of Iraq to see some of the sacrifices and progress that our team is making on the U.S. side, is an opportunity that every government official and every member of the media should, frankly, take advantage of, offered that opportunity.

ACOSTA: But critics of the administration are wondering if that's a better job for the nation's secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. The raised eyebrows last week suggesting the U.S. is no longer focused on forcing Syria's brutal leader, Bashar al-Assad, from power.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Did he miss the barrel bombing? Did he miss the Iranian Revolutionary Guard? Did he -- did he miss the Russians striking, with precision weapons, hospitals in Aleppo, deliberately killing people?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you heard what...

ACOSTA: In the hopes of reviving efforts to repeal Obamacare, the president took a swing at winning over an old rival, GOP senator and Trumpcare critic Rand Paul. SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We had a great day with the president

today. We did talk about some healthcare reform. I think the sides are getting closer and closer together, and I remain very optimistic that we will get Obamacare repealed.

ACOSTA: Even as a Republican source close to healthcare negotiations told CNN there is still nothing substantial happening behind the scenes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And the White House announce today that President Trump has begun donating his salary back to the federal government, telling reporters that the first quarter of his take-home pay will be sent to the National Parks Service for the upkeep of historic battlefields. Wolf, as you know, that was a promise that President Trump made, and the White House wanted to make it very clear today he is trying to keep that promise, Wolf.

BLITZER: OK. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Also breaking, after bitter partisan infighting, canceled hearings and postponed meetings, the House Intelligence Committee is gathering behind closed doors this hour.

Our senior political reporter, Manu Raju, is up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is actually the first time they have met since Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, went to the White House and reviewed classified surveillance reports last week and which Devin Nunes had seen previously. The chairman of committee raising concerns about some incidental collection of Trump team communications.

Now some reports say today that Susan Rice, a former Obama national security adviser, was involved in the so-called unmasking of some of those Trump associates, but my colleague, Tom Labianco (ph), just caught up with Devin Nunes and asked him about those Rice reports, and he said, quote, "I'm not going to get into what I know or not. I'm just going to leave it at that."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): Tonight Congress's investigation into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election is taking shape, with the Senate Intelligence Committee now interviewing witnesses and the House panel once again meeting after weeks of turmoil.

But the White House and Republicans now raising new questions over whether the identity of any of Trump associates were improperly revealed or unmasked within the intelligence community during Barack Obama's final days as president.

The president tweeting Sunday, "The real story turns out to be surveillance and leaking."

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Serious allegations have been made invading the privacy rights of American citizens who might have been caught up incidentally in collection of foreign intelligence. That's a serious matter.

RAJU: Democrats say the White House's focus on unmasking of certain Trump associates is a smokescreen, intended to distract from allegations of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russians seeking to influence the elections.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: I think to answer to the question is is this effort to point the Congress in other directions. Basically say, "Don't look at me. Don't look at Russia. There's nothing to see here."

You know, I would tell people whenever they see the president use the word "fake," it ought to set off alarm bells.

RAJU: Behind the scenes, the House Intelligence Committee is trying to finalize a list of witnesses to interview as part of the Russia investigation, while the Senate panel is looking to talk to at least 20 witnesses as part of its sweeping inquiry.

That's all in addition to the FBI's ongoing criminal investigation.

And a major question loomed: how will Congress deal with former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who has asked for immunity in exchange for his testimony? Even some Republicans called the proposal a strange idea.

(on camera): Do you think Congress should give immunity to Michael Flynn?

GRAHAM: I don't know what he has to offer. I wouldn't give immunity to somebody unless I knew they had something to offer.

RAJU: What about the president saying that he should be given immunity?

[17:10:05] GRAHAM: I think he's trying to encourage him to come forward, but I'm not so sure that's appropriate. The bottom line is, if there were any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian intelligence services that were inappropriate, I want to find out about it; and I want the whole world to know about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, Wolf, John Cornyn also telling me that it's too premature to talk about giving Michael Flynn immunity. There's still a ways to go. And Devin Nunes, I mentioned, making some remarks off camera just moments ago, saying that, actually, he believes that he has not gotten a direct request from Michael Flynn for immunity. He believes these discussions are still just taking place about the conditions for Michael Flynn to testify. But he says there has actually been no direct ask of his committee yet for any immunity in exchange for his testimony, Wolf.

BLITZER: Apparently, no one's in a hurry to give him immunity in exchange for his testimony. All right, Manu, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of New York. She's a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: So the Intelligence -- your House Intelligence Committee, they're finally meeting this hour, after weeks of turmoil, as you well know. Do you believe that their investigation can get back on track, or is it too late?

RICE: I certainly hope so. I think it's an embarrassment, the way that the chairman of that committee has behaved over the past couple of weeks. I certainly was one that was calling for him to step aside in the interest of maintaining integrity, which is so incredibly important for this committee to have.

I'm incredibly proud of Adam Schiff. I think anyone who has watched him over these past couple of months as an American -- forget about as a Democrat or a Republican -- can be proud of the measured. mature, grown-up way that he has been dealing with his responsibilities, and I hope that they will be able to proceed. But I think it's going to be difficult to do with Nunes at the -- in the chair.

BLITZER: So as long as Devin Nunes is the chairman of this committee, you're not very hopeful that they'll be able to get much serious work done?

RICE: Not in light of the -- his recent behavior that shows that he was actually more interested in representing the Trump administration's position and attempt to kind of deflect from what we had a couple weeks ago which was pretty damaging testimony from Comey and Rogers as to the Trump campaign and the administration in the two or three short months that they had been in power.

So I think that he's compromised his credibility. And when you have someone at the top of an investigation that is supposed to look into a foreign adversary, trying to affect our elections here, forget about whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, is this going to happen -- is this going to be just the norm going forward? Because we can't seem to have a committee whose chairman can actually work in the best interests of the committee and the American people. I though that's problematic.

BLITZER: As you know, the committee, they're trying to finalize a list of witnesses to come before the panel. Who do you think they should prioritize?

RICE: There's no question that they should talk to anyone who is related to the Trump campaign that may have had contract. There was Roger Stone. There's Michael Flynn. There are a bunch of people. Look, Jared Kushner, the son in law of the president, actually said that he had had some contact with some Russian officials after the election.

Look, as a former prosecutor, what I want to do is reach out and get every document that could possibly be relevant in this investigation and speak to anyone who may have relevant information. And then from there, you can build a case to see if there is even a case to be made.

Now, that's a separate thing, whether there was actually any kind of criminal behaviors. But I think what the American people want to see and want to hear is what -- to the extent and what did Russia do to actually try to affection this election? Because that is -- that's not even in dispute any more by any rational thinking person. And how can we prevent this from happening in our elections in the future?

That to me -- and I've spoken to a lot of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, Wolf, and they all agree that put all the other distractions and the obfuscations aside, we need to get to the bottom of exactly how the Russians did this and try to harden our infrastructure to make sure it doesn't happen again.

BLITZER: You're -- as you point out, you're a former federal prosecutor. How should your colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee treat General Flynn's offer to testify, but only in exchange for immunity from prosecution?

RICE: Well, as far as I know, Wolf, that was actually something that was a statement that was put out there by, I believe, Flynn and/or his attorney. It wasn't even a real offer that was made confidentially between his attorney or him and the committee. If you really think that you have information that could be helpful to this committee and their investigation, you go directly to them. You don't go out in the public and create another diversion.

That's what's so disturbing about all of this, Wolf, is it seems that the administration is trying to put as many people out there to say as many different things as possible to kind of take us away from the issue at hand here, which I think for every single American, and for the future of our democracy, is whether or not -- to what extent Russia did interfere and how can we prevent this from happening again.

[17:15:19] So I wouldn't even take that offer as a real offer by Flynn.

BLITZER: Well, his attorneys did issue a statement saying he would be willing to testify in exchange for immunity. And they also said in that statement he's got a story that he wants to tell.

The White House says he should go ahead and testify.

But you know that typically, immunity is only granted if the subject can offer up a bigger prize for prosecutors. In this case, there aren't many people who would outrank the former national security advisor to the president. There's the president, the vice president. Should -- do you believe the White House should be worried if Flynn is granted immunity and testifies?

RICE: It's totally inappropriate for the president to comment at all on Michael Flynn's offer to testify in exchange for immunity, especially given the level of entanglements people in his universe have in this investigation.

But look, as far as we know, we don't even know -- as a federal prosecutor, when someone says they want immunity, you say, "You know what? You're going to come in, and we're going to give you what's called a queen for a day, and you're going to tell us everything you know and then we're going to decide if it's relevant or not." Right?

We don't even know what he's planning on saying. It seems that he's just throwing these things out there to kind of divert the attention of the America people from the issue at hand.

If it comes at some point where he is offered immunity, well, that tells you something.

Michael Flynn himself, Wolf, said a couple of months ago, if you are -- if you are a witness in a case or you have some involvement in a case and you're asking for immunity, Michael Flynn himself said it's probably a pretty good bet that you're guilty, or you think that you are. And I think it's pretty ironic that here we are, two months later, with him offering [SIC] that immunity that he himself said is, you know, Exhibit A, as we say in the legal world, to someone's potential guilt.

BLITZER: During the campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump said something very, very similar.

Congresswoman, we're getting new information on this terror attack in Russia. I want you to stand by. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:55] BLITZER: We're talking with Congressman Kathleen Rice.

Congresswoman, stand by for a moment. There are some important news coming in from Russia. It now says terrorists are behind the bloody bombing on a metro train in the city of St. Petersburg. At least ten people were killed; dozens more were hurt when an explosion tore through the train. A second device was found and defused at a separate station.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, who's following this story.

What's the latest, Clarissa?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. The Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, is now calling this an act of terror.

The bomb actually detonated between two stops on the metro, and authorities are saying a lot more people could have died, had the driver not had the foresight to keep on driving to get to the second station so that some of the casualties could be evacuated from that train car in a quick and efficient manner.

Now this attack, Wolf, could have been a great deal worse. That second device that was defused, that device was several times bigger then the bomb that actually went off. So this could have been quite a bit worse. Authorities found that device in a separate Metro station, reportedly behind a fire extinguisher. No one so far has claimed responsibility for the attack, but as I mentioned, Russian officials are calling it an act of terror.

And of course, Russia is no stranger to terrorist attacks. Back in 2013, there was an attack on a train station in the city of Volgograd. In 2010, there were twin bombings on a Moscow metro stations, 40 people killed in that. Those attacks were carried out by so-called black widows. Those are the widows of Chechen fighters. Russia has been fighting against an Islamic insurgency in the Caucasus region. And of course, with Russia's involvement in Syria, both against the opposition of Bashar al-Assad and against ISIS, there are many different contenders for who could be responsible for an attack like this.

BLITZER: And curiously, Clarissa, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, he was in St. Petersburg at that exact time, right?

WARD: he was. He was there for a media event. Some officials have suggested that, potentially, this could have been, you know, the target of the attack or that they had tried to time it accordingly. We have seen images of him this evening, laying flowers, roses to commemorate the dead.

But it's important for our viewers to understand, Wolf, that St. Petersburg is an obvious target anyway. This is Russia's second city. It is the cultural capital, and some 2.3 million people use that underground system every day, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Clarissa Ward with the latest on that. Thank you.

We're back with Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of New York, a member of the Homeland Security Committee.

Congresswoman, what are you wearing about the attack, specifically responsibility? Are you getting an indication who may have -- who may have done it?

RICE: First, my condolences go out to all those who host their lives and were injured. I'm from New York, as you said, Wolf, and we are all too familiar with tease kinds of terrorist incidents. There is no statement yet or finding yet as to what group is responsible for this.

But we have seen an alarming trend of these kind of attacks on transportation systems all over the world. They are high-value targets because there are many people, millions of people using them every day. And you can have high impact, which is horrible. [17:25:16] We fight this in New York City. We have one of the largest

subway systems. We fight this through our New York City Police Department every single day. But this is just another stark reminder that we are all are facing the same enemy here, and we have to do everything that we can to root these kind of terrorist acts out.

And another thing that we really have to do is, at a time when every -- you know, money is tight, the concern especially with the budget that was just proposed by President Trump, would cut funding to organizations like the NYPD in my home state of New York that is, you know -- They are at ground zero trying to combat these kind of terrorist attacks. So we have to make sure that we put as many resources behind rooting out these kind of terrorist attacks as we can.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of New York, thanks for joining us.

RICE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Still ahead, President Trump threatens the U.S. will go it alone to solve the problems of North Korea's nuclear threat. We're going to have a closer look at what some of those options might be.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. We're standing by to hear from members of the House Intelligence Committee. We'll have that. They've been meeting behind closed doors right now.

[17:30:55] It's the first full committee meeting since the Democrats started calling for the committee's Republican chairman to recuse himself from the Russia investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.

All of this comes as the president is seizing on unconfirmed reports that a senior official in the Obama administration asked for the unmasking of Trump campaign associates' names in secret surveillance reports.

Let's bring in our correspondents and experts. And Jim Sciutto, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this. We know the president, his aides, supporters making a big deal out of this surveillance, and they're citing the name of the former president's national security advisor, Susan Rice.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, citing Susan Rice name.

So I've spoken to former senior intelligence officials who served, to be clear, both Republican and Democratic administrations. And they say, based on what they know, this is not out of bounds from their experience. And let me give you the reasons why.

One, to be clear, unmasking is not leaking. When a U.S. person's identity is unmasked at the request of a senior national security official, that official is the one who sees that identity. It's not, you know, put out on a U.S. government website; it's not tweeted out, that kind of thing. That information is shared among those people with clearances.

Two, I'm told that the NSA has to give approval to do that. The national security official can request, but it's the NSA that makes the decision. And I'm told that, based on experience from very senior U.S. intelligence officials that the NSA is notoriously conservative as to when they grant those requests.

Finally, it's legal. There was a process put in place post-9/11 for there to be a legal protocol to follow for unmasking U.S. citizens' names.

And just not to over, you know, crowd everybody's brains on this, I'm told that, in general, when this happens -- keep in mind, this is surveillance not of U.S. persons. It's surveillance of foreigners. Sometimes in those conversations from foreign officials, U.S. persons' names come up, or they're on the other end of the line, just by their natural -- you know, Americans talk to the Russian ambassador, et cetera. But I'm told that, by and large, it's often that they're talked about rather than party to those conversations.

So speaking to U.S. intelligence officials, at least, they look at this story, and they say that's not out of bounds with what happens and what's legal and what's regular with the treatment of confidential information by people with security clearance.

BLITZER: Let me speak to a former U.S. intelligence official. Phil Mudd used to work at the CIA and the FBI, for that matter. What do you make of these reports?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, this is like Christmas for me. I can't wait to see how the politicians hose this up. So before they do, let's step into the fray and explain -- and give you a reality check, because this is not that complicated.

Going back to the fall, as you know, through the election cycle, everybody -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- are concerned about Russian intervention in the election. The FBI is so concerned that we now know they've already opened an investigation.

Meanwhile, Susan Rice, who is responsible for executing the president's policy, is receiving intelligence about Russian contacts with Americans. Then interventions, January 2, her boss, President Obama, issued sanctions against the Russians. She's still getting intelligence, I'm going to guess, about conversations between the Trump team and Russians. Those conversations, I believe, would suggest that American citizens who are not yet in the White House are interfering with the president's ability to set foreign policy on sanctions with the Russians.

So she has this choice: "I want to know who is interfering with the president's prerogative to set foreign policy, so I want these names unmasked." Or, she does something that I think would be professionally irresponsible. She says, "I'm afraid to get the names unmasked. I don't want to know."

This is going to be toyed with by politicians this week. But her decision was not only the right decision; it's the only defensible decision. I've got to know who's interfering with the president's prerogative.

BLITZER: And the president has been tweeting on this very subject, Dana, on the Russian investigation into Russian's meddling. But he tweeted this yesterday: "The real story turns out to be surveillance and leaking. Find the leakers."

What -- what's your reaction to these developments?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that it seems maybe, on its face, that with the president continuing to tweet about this, that it kind of keeps the story going. The bigger story about Russia, which is never good for him.

[17:35:12] However, I think that they realize inside the White House that, as one official once described it to me is death by a thousand cuts, and it's going to happen. It's -- the conversation is going to be about Russia.

So the president talking about surveillance, talking about leaking, talking about the Obama administration, and for the people and the conservatives who thought Benghazi was the biggest political story that they had against Hillary Clinton, to have Susan Rice now a character of this drama is like -- Phil Mudd said it's like Christmas for intelligence person. It's like manna from heaven from -- for conservative political operatives who want to turn the conversation away from potential collusion, potential cooperation to the politics of, "Oh, the Obama administration, they were coming after Trump officials," instead of potentially doing what Phil Mudd, who is actually an expert on this, described as the more likely scenario of what happened.

BLITZER: And you see the White House is seizing on this to try to give credibility to those four tweets the president initially leveled several weeks ago on an early Saturday morning, suggesting that the -- that his predecessor, President Obama, was wiretapping Trump Tower in New York.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This -- that piece isn't really going to work out well for them, because as Dana says, when they're talking about Russia, they're not winning.

And this does run the risk -- we're talking about politicizing this -- of becoming a Benghazi-like scenario, in that it becomes more of -- of a political tool to beat your opponent over the head with, rather than an actual investigation into something that was very serious when it comes -- that happened in this country during the election.

SCIUTTO: And to be clear, the Trump-alleged surveillance of Obama wiretapping.

KUCINICH: Right. SCIUTTO: This was surveillance of foreign individuals, right? Part of regular, legal collection where either U.S. citizens were discussed or on the other end of the phone line. Now, being on the other end of the phone line is not necessarily a bad thing. Some of these conversations are normal.

But again, that's not what the president alleges. So even if this is true and controversial, and people disapprove of it, it does not prove the president's claim, because the president's claim has been disproven.

BASH: Which we would add that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who is read in on things like this -- he's part of the so- called Gang of Eight -- explicitly said yesterday that he has not seen any evidence that that's the case.

BLITZER: Because he and plenty of other officials have said exactly the same thing.

All right. Everybody stand by. There's a historic battle underway on Capitol Hill right now involving the United States Supreme Court. We're going to update you on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:26] BLITZER: We're back with our experts. And Dana, you used to cover he Hill for a long time. You know the Senate, and you know that right now the Democrats, they have enough votes to sustain a filibuster to block the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to become a United States Supreme Court justice, unless they change the rules in the United States Senate, and it's very possible they will.

BASH: Probable that they will. It's -- by the end of the week, we will see a United Sates Senate that is very different. And what I mean by that is something that -- that has made the Senate different from the House, back since the Founding Fathers. I mean, these are -- these are not, you know, constitutional rules. They are practices, which is why they can easily be changed, to allow the Senate to take a breath and, more importantly, the filibuster had been used in order to force bipartisanship, bipartisanship that you don't see in the House very much at all, more so in the Senate.

Now, this is not about legislation. This isn't about healthcare or tax reform and so forth. But the concern among a lot of people is that it's a slippery slope. That the filibuster, the last bastion of the filibuster when it comes to nominations, presidential nominations right now, is the Supreme Court. Already, the Democrats changed this.

So what does that mean in practical terms? It means, believe it or not, a more partisan Washington. There's blame to go around across the board. Democrats who changed the rules. Republicans who, Democrats believe, simply stole this Supreme Court seat from Barack Obama; it should be Merrick Garland's seat.

So it basically -- it is a mess, but it is really unfortunate that they can't get, once again that they can't get their act together to figure out a way out of this, because it is so partisan right now.

BLITZER: So you don't see, Jackie, any way that they could avoid triggering what they call that nuclear option, which would change, you know, the rules of the Senate and allow this nomination to go forward?

KUCINICH: Democrats have enough votes to block this right now, and Mitch McConnell is not going to have that. He has said that -- that Gorsuch is going to be on the Supreme Court. And this is what he's left with.

And this is one of these things, when you actually look at the statements back from 2013, when they first -- when Democrats changed the rules, you can flip them now, because the Senate has flipped. And you have different caution coming from the other side, and the fingers are pointing. They're both pointing fingers, but it's sort of on the opposite side at this point.

But yes, we're looking at the Senate that is going to look a lot more like the House. And you've kind of seen this in the rhetoric. You never used to see some of the hot rhetoric, the nasty personal attacks on the Senate floor, in the Senate that you saw in the House. And so you've seen just the mentality turning this way, and now the rules are following.

BLITZER: You know, let me just switch gears with Phil Mudd. Very quickly on this Russian terror attack in a subway in St. Petersburg today, at least 10 people killed, dozens injured, a lot of people suspect it was either ISIS or al Qaeda or some jihadi group. I assume you are among them?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'm not sure, maybe Chechens. I'm not sure. It could have been any among them. But we've seen this in Russia in the past.

As I look at this, my concern would be, as with air attacks, we saw the laptop problem earlier in week where we're seeing ISIS and al Qaeda try to return an air attacks. Transportation continues to be a target for terrorists whether they're in Russia or here.

Terrorists return to the scene of the crime for a simple reason. Not only are these soft targets, but if you want to recruit a 19-year-old kid or if you want to get a fundraiser to support you, you've got to attack a target that's high profile. And what we saw with the laptop threat earlier in the week and in Russia today as high profile is transportation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And, you know, Jim, a lot of people suspect that because the Russians are so deeply involved with Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, they're going to become, for the terrorists, even a bigger attack location than the United States.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And I think we don't talk about it often enough, but a lot of recruits to ISIS in Syria and Iraq came from the former Soviet republics, Chechens in particular. Even senior leadership came from the former Soviet republic, including former members of the Soviet-Russian armed forces, who went on to senior positions in ISIS, so there is a pipeline.

So it is natural, sadly, that that pipeline doesn't just go on one direction, from Russia to Syria. Sadly, it goes back to Russia as well.

BLITZER: Yes. It's awful situation in St. Petersburg in Russia today. Stay with us.

There is more news, the latest saber rattling in the standoff between the United States and North Korea. President Trump says if China won't keep Kim Jong-un in line, the U.S. is willing to go it alone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:18] BLITZER: President Trump is warning China that if it doesn't help solve the growing North Korean nuclear threat, the United States is prepared to go it alone. That comes as the U.S. and key allies hold antisubmarine exercises near South Korea. Brian Todd is looking into all of this for us.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, President Trump is venting his growing frustration with China for not doing more to curb Kim Jong-un's nuclear and missile program.

The President could be signaling that Chinese President Xi Jin Ping will have to be prepared to make more of a commitment to helping with North Korea when President Xi visits the United States later this week because, right now, the options for President Trump to go at it alone in dealing with Kim Jong-un range from unpalatable to outright dangerous.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A ballistic missile fired from a North Korean submarine, a frightening capability that Kim Jong-un is racing to perfect.

Tonight, the U.S. Navy and its allies are practicing tracking North Korean subs. It's the kind of show of force that makes Kim Jong-un furious. President Trump is well aware of the growing threat, telling the "Financial Times," quote, "If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will." The White House offering no new details on what actions the U.S. would take on its own. So far, waiting for China to pressure North Korea and to curbing its nuclear program hasn't worked.

DR. MICHAEL GREEN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR ASIA AND JAPAN CHAIR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The North Koreans have gotten pretty good at acting like the crazy, drunk neighbor with a submachine gun at the end of the block, and the Chinese don't want any trouble. And when the Chinese push them a bit, they start throwing bottles out the window and shooting guns into the air, and usually, Beijing backs off.

TODD (voice-over): What are the President's options for going at it alone? One is to speak directly with Kim Jong-un.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Who knows? There's a 10 percent or a 20 percent chance that I can talk them out of those damn nukes.

TODD (voice-over): President Trump floated the idea at least three times on the campaign trail.

GREEN: I just don't see how it happens. And the bottom line is that North Korea will not give up its nuclear programs and its missile programs. What Kim Jong-un wants is for the President to at least implicitly acknowledge that North Korea is a nuclear weapons state, a fellow nuclear weapons state.

TODD (voice-over): Another option, put more financial pressure on North Korea by aggressively going after Chinese banks and companies that help prop up Kim's regime.

BRUCE BENNETT, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL/DEFENSE RESEARCHER, RAND CORPORATION: The President is going to be reluctant to do that for fear of retaliation, but he could still choose to do that. The Chinese companies more than likely would cut off their business with North Korea, but the retaliation could really hurt the United States as well.

TODD (voice-over): That leaves the most daunting option, a preemptive military strike. General Walter Sharp, who commanded U.S. and allied forces in South Korea, says that should be an option if the threat is imminent. But with more than 28,000 U.S. troops near the DMZ and the South Korean capital only about 30 miles from the border, the blowback could be devastating.

GEN. WALTER SHARP (RET.), UNITED STATES ARMY: They could inflict a lot of damage on Seoul because of all the artillery that is within the range of Seoul, the number of missiles that they have that they could launch into South Korea. They could cause a lot of damage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, for that reason, General Sharp says the United States has to make sure Kim Jong-un understands that any U.S. retaliation for an attack on South Korea will be much worse than anything Kim Jong-un fires southward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Brian, the nuclear threat from Pyongyang, it goes beyond the North Koreans just building up their own arsenal, right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. During negotiations several years ago, one analyst pointed out, the North Koreans threatened to sell their nuclear know-how to the highest bidder. Well, they ended up doing just that, helping Syria build a nuclear reactor that would have been used for military purposes but the Israelis destroyed that facility in 2007.

[17:55:02] BLITZER: Yes, I remember that very vividly. All right, Brian, thank you very much. Coming up, our breaking news on the Russia meddling investigation.

I'll speak with the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Vice Chairman, Mark Warner.

Also breaking, Democrats now have enough votes to keep President Trump's nominee off the U.S. Supreme Court, unless Republicans unleash what's called the nuclear option and change Senate rules to lower the number of votes needed for confirmation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:59:56] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Senate standoff. Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination is now heading to a final vote with Democrats poised to filibuster and the Republicans ready to take historic actions to stop them. What kind of fallout might there be when the nuclear option is triggered?