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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With California Congresswoman Jackie Speier; Putin Testing Trump?; Russia's Influence Campaign; Interview with Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii; Hillary Clinton Amps Up Her Public Criticism of Trump. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 21, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:04]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: New reaction this hour to our exclusive reporting on the Kremlin's efforts to meddle in the U.S. presidential election beyond e-mail hacks and propaganda.

Plane provocation. Russian warplanes fly conspicuously close to the United States for the fourth time in four days. Is Vladimir Putin sending President Trump a message?

ISIS plotter killed. U.S. special forces take out a close association of the terror group's leader in a rare boots-on-the-ground combat mission inside Syria. What does it tell us about the Pentagon's battle plan against ISIS?

And up against a wall. The Trump administration puts Congress on notice that its spending bill must include funding for the president's border wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for. Could the wall wind up causing the government shutdown?

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: Breaking news this hour, a CNN exclusive on the federal investigation of Russia's election meddling and its alleged ties to the Trump camp.

U.S. officials now tell CNN that the FBI has gathered information, gathered intelligence raising concern that Russian operatives tried to use Carter Page and other Trump advisers to infiltrate and influence the campaign. Stand by for details and new reaction.

Also tonight, we're following suspicious moves by Russia in the skies near Alaska, Russian warplanes flying close to the U.S. coast for the fourth time in as many days. U.S. defense officials believe Moscow is sending what they describe as a strategic message during this time of rising tensions in Washington.

Right now, the Pentagon is on constant watch for a new nuclear or missile test by North Korea, using spy planes and satellites to monitor Kim Jong-un's regime. South Korea is massing military hardware near the border, warning that a new provocation from the North could come at any time with a key military celebration only days away.

And President Trump is sending mixed messages tonight about the run-up to his 100th day in office. He now says he will have a big announcement on tax reform next week. But White House officials were quick to warn that date could slip.

And Mr. Trump now says it doesn't matter if he gets a vote on health care in next week, even though Republican lawmakers, they have been scrambling to try to finalize new legislation before the 100-day mark one week from tomorrow.

This hour, I will speak with Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She's Democrat on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, with a CNN exclusive, breaking news on the Russia investigation.

Pamela, you're learning that Russia tried to use people who claim to be advising Donald Trump to infiltrate his campaign.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We have learned FBI gathered intelligence last summer suggesting Russian operatives were trying to use Trump advisers, including Carter Page, to infiltrate the Trump campaign. This is according to multiple U.S. officials.

Now, Carter Page's critical speech of U.S. policy against Russia in July of 2016 at a prominent Moscow university is part of what raised concerns in the bureau that he may have been compromised by Russian intelligence. But this new information adds to this emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 U.S. election, not only through e-mail hacks and propaganda sometimes referred to as fake news, but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit.

And this intelligence, we're told, led to an FBI investigation and to the coordination of Trump's campaign associates and the Russians. But these officials we have spoken to made clear they don't know whether Page was aware the Russians may have been using him because of the way Russian spy services operate. Page could have unknowingly talked with Russian agents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela, what is Carter Page saying about all this?

BROWN: Well, we reached out to him today and communicated. He disputes the idea that he has ever collected intelligence for the Russians, saying that at times he actually helped the U.S. intelligence community.

And this is what he said -- quote -- "My assumption throughout the last 26 years I have been going there has always been that any Russian person might share information with the Russian government, as I have similarly done with the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies in the past."

Now, Wolf, U.S. officials say the intelligence suggests Russia tried to infiltrate and influence the Trump campaign by using backdoor channels to communicate with people in the Trump orbit, people like Carter Page.

And it is important to note here that, within the Trump campaign, Carter Page was viewed as someone who had little or no influence. He was one of several Trump advisers who U.S. and European intelligence detected in contact with Russian officials, Wolf.

[18:05:01]

BLITZER: So, Pamela, where do things stand now with this investigation?

BROWN: So, that's the big question.

We have been reaching out to our sources. We are told that intelligence analysts and FBI investigators have been analyzing various strands of intelligence from human sources to electronic and financial records, and have found suggestions of possible collusion between the Trump campaign associates and Russian officials, but there is not enough evidence at this stage, we're told, to show that crimes were actually committed.

But part of the problem for investigators has been that they lost the opportunity to conduct this investigation in secret after several leaks last year revealed the FBI was looking at people close to the Trump campaign, and after those reports, Wolf, we're told that people that the U.S. was monitoring changed their habits, which, of course, made it more difficult for the FBI to monitor them after that.

BLITZER: Good reporting, Pamela Brown, exclusive reporting for CNN. Thank you very much.

Now to the threat from North Korea and urgent new efforts right now by the U.S. and its allies to monitor Kim Jong-un's nuclear and missile programs. South Korea warning that Kim Jong-un could make another provocative move at any time.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, North Korea certainly a top priority for the U.S. military right now.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening.

Absolutely right. Right now, tonight, the big problem, there is no prediction about what North Korea might do next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): As the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson sails closer to the Korean Peninsula, the world heads into a weekend of high alert and tension. U.S. spy satellites and U-2 spy planes keeping constant watch for

signs of a North Korean nuclear test and other regime provocations.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Their word is not proven honest -- and provocative. They have not lived up to any statements they have made in the past, years, decades actually, about stopping their ballistic missile and their nuclear programs.

STARR: The Pentagon is also watching for more North Korean missile launches. These missiles on parade just days ago headed back to their bases, they could be ready for test firings. The U.S. is urgently trying to determine if these huge canisters mean North Korea has a working intercontinental ballistic missile that could be inside.

The parade also showed off new missile variants that haven't been tested yet. Tensions rising even further for Chinese President Xi.

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: He could be messaging his own people. He could be messaging the North Koreans, for that matter. But the real focus is on the actions that China is taking. For example, most recently, it stopped importing coal from North Korea. It has made clear that if there's another nuclear test, it is going to cut off the oil that it provides to North Korea.

STARR: The Chinese president also under unprecedented pressure from President Trump, who tweeted: "China is very much the economic lifeline to North Korea. So, while nothing is easy, if they want to solve the North Korean problem, they will, "and then directly challenging the Chinese leader.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I actually told him, I said, you will make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace.

STARR: The Chinese government wants acknowledgement for its efforts.

LU KANG, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): China believes the international community has definitely seen Chinese peaceful efforts to resolve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And some analysts, Wolf, say that China may now be worried if North Korea has conducted some sort of provocation in the next several days that President Trump may blame Beijing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: On top of all of this, Barbara, the Pentagon also tracking rather provocative moves by Russian military aircraft. Update our viewers.

STARR: Wolf, four flights, sets of flights by Russians in four days off the coast of Alaska between eastern Russia and Alaska.

Now, it isn't even a question of how close they have come to the U.S., in fact, the latest one some 700 miles off. It's the question that they are happening. They haven't happened since 2015. The Russians well know that U.S. aircraft can intercept them and escort them back out. That has happened.

They also know that U.S. long-range radars in Alaska will see them coming. No one thinks there's a Russian attack. No one thinks that the Russians are about to fly directly into U.S. airspace. All of this has been happening in international airspace. But the Russians know the U.S. sees them, so the question is, is this a message from Moscow?

And there are U.S. officials who definitely think that it is, that Vladimir Putin is sending some sort of strategic message that at this time of such tension, he and his forces are out there as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon, thank you.

Let's get back to the breaking news on the Russia investigation, get reaction from Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She's a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, a Democrat from California.

[18:10:05]

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: My pleasure.

BLITZER: So, what's your reaction to the breaking news? You heard it at the top of the hour, that Russian intelligence tried to infiltrate the Trump campaign.

SPEIER: It's very consistent with Russia's spy activities.

They obviously had more than a one-point plan when they tried to interfere with our elections. It wasn't just hacking into the DNC. It was working in conjunction, conceivably -- that's what's being investigated right now -- with the Trump campaign and maybe to some extent co-opting campaign staff or supporters through that relationship that they were building.

I think Carter Page is someone that we know from open source that has had relationships in Russia for a very long time and has been very engaged with Gazprom, which is a very potent and powerful gas company that exists in Russia.

So, I'm not surprised at all that he might have become a target by Russia to use him. The question is, was he used wittingly or unwittingly? And that's certainly something the FBI will look into.

BLITZER: Well, what is your suspicion? Was he witting or unwitting?

SPEIER: Well, I don't know.

And if I did know, I don't know that I could tell you on the air. But, having said that, he has a long-term relationship with Russia. And there's been speculation for some time. He was in Russia in December when Rosneft actually sold off 18 percent of the company, which was a highly unusual action to take. And there was some talk about whether or not he was engaged in that

somehow or was the recipient of some of that financial resource.

BLITZER: But do you believe he was working close enough within the Trump campaign to really have made much of a difference?

SPEIER: I'm not sure that we know that either. Certainly, the president at the time as a candidate to "The New York Times" said when he was asked who his consultants were and advisers were in terms of foreign policy, the first name that came to his mind was Carter Page.

Now, subsequently, he tried to diminish Carter Page's role, but, again, that happened at time when everyone started looking at the relationships that Carter Page had with Russia.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, I think it was with "The Washington Post." He mentioned Walid Phares as a national security adviser. Then he mentioned Carter Page as well.

But do you suspect anyone else in the campaign might have been a target of this kind of Russian infiltration?

SPEIER: We certainly don't know, but I think the fact that so many other countries that's being reported now were on to the fact that there was relationships ongoing with members of the Trump team and Russians that they were actually surveilling, it is of great concern. And that's being reported in the news.

I don't have any firsthand information about that. But that would suggest that other countries were more aware of what was going on than we were during that campaign. And that's very troubling to me.

BLITZER: After the former -- the House Intelligence Committee chairman, he's still the chairman, Devin Nunes, after he canceled hearings, as you well remember, and since then he has recused himself, your committee has now rescheduled private testimony, closed-door testimony from the FBI director, James Comey, the National Security Agency director, Admiral Mike Roger.

But also open hearings, they are now scheduled for May 2 with the former CIA Director John Brennan and the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the former Attorney General Sally Yates.

So, what questions, Congresswoman, from your perspective, need to be answered?

SPEIER: Well, certainly, in closed session, we want to have a more detailed understanding of what the FBI knew and when they knew it. And the extent to which they will share that information with us in closed session is something that we will have to wait and see.

In terms of the other participants, those were all persons that we wanted to have testify in an open hearing. And it is good to know that the committee now has agreed to do it under the leadership of the new acting chair. I think what we want to find out from those individuals is, you know,

to what extent was Michael Flynn engaged in activity that was without portfolio, by that, I mean, was negotiating with the Russian ambassador and trying to talk to him about reducing the sanctions on Russia due to their activities in the Ukraine and Crimea?

I think there will be many more questions that we will be asking. But that will be something that we will be doing in open session, which is a very good thing for the American people.

[18:15:00]

BLITZER: I want to move on to some other issues, Congresswoman, but, very quickly, do you have confidence in the separate ongoing FBI investigation under the leadership of the director, James Comey?

SPEIER: I have no reason to doubt that their investigation is one that is intense and comprehensive.

Again, my question will be why we weren't more aware of what was going on than some of the countries in Europe at the time.

BLITZER: Explain what you mean by that, because we know that the U.S. did get some information for some allies in Europe about contacts between Russian alleged spies and Trump campaign officials. Is that what you're talking about?

SPEIER: Yes. That's what I'm concerned about.

It appears, and we don't know this for a fact, but certainly what is being reported is -- suggests that that information was being offered to the FBI at a point in time when the FBI was not pursuing much of that. Now, whether that's true or not, I don't know at this time.

BLITZER: All right, Congresswoman, stand by. There's much more to discuss, a whole range of other national security issues.

We have got to take a quick break. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:28]

BLITZER: We're back with House Democrat Jackie Speier.

Congresswoman, I need you to stand by for a moment. We're getting some new information from the White House. We heard from President Trump just a little while ago talking about his agenda leading up to his 100th day in office. That would be one week from tomorrow, Mr. Trump saying there will be a big announcement on tax reform on Wednesday.

But, tonight, there is still a lot of confusion about his timetable, on taxes, on health care, whether or not he cares about that 100-day marker that he embraced strongly during the campaign.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Athena Jones.

And, Athena, there is a lot of talk about what will happen and won't happen next week. What do we know right now?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, we know that folks here at the White House are pretty confident that a government shutdown won't happen next week. They are confident Congress can overt that. After all, they could pass a short-term spending bill to keep agencies open while they work on a longer-term deal.

But another thing that is looking unlikely for next week is a vote on the latest effort to replace and repeal Obamacare. That is something House Republicans have been working on. But it's not at all clear that a vote could happen as soon as next week.

The president was asked about some of the legislative goings-on and his plans for next week. Watch what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's going to be great. It will happen.

QUESTION: You're going to do health care and tax reform?

TRUMP: We will see what happens. No particular rush, but we will see what happens. But health care is coming along well. Government is coming along really well. A lot of good things are happening. Thank you, folks.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: It doesn't matter if it's next week. Next week doesn't matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: So, there you heard the president saying next week doesn't matter.

But let me remind you it was just yesterday that, in talking about this latest effort to repeal Obamacare, the president said he would like to be able to say the vote was going to happen next week. So, his perspective is shifting a bit on that, just as his perspective has shifted on the importance of this whole idea of a 100-day report card.

It's something he embraced during the campaign back in October, when he delivered a speech spelling out a long list of things he hoped to accomplish in his first 100 days. This morning, he had a different take on it. Here is what he said on Twitter: "No matter how much I accomplished during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, and it has been a lot, including Supreme Court, media will kill."

So there you have the president not feeling so good about this 100-day report card standard -- Wolf. BLITZER: And, remember, as all this plays out, Athena, there is still

a possibility, a possibility of a government shutdown a week from today. Right now, the president's border wall could be a factor in whether or not that happens.

JONES: Wolf, It is certainly a sticking point. Republicans and the White House want to see funding for the border wall included in this spending bill, this must-have spending bill, next week. We also heard White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spell out a few more things they very much want in that bill.

One of them that's included is money to hire more immigration agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But Senate Democrats have said, this is a nonstarter. Money for the border wall is a nonstarter. We have heard that from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. And they are also opposed to the idea of including this immigration enforcement funding in the bill.

So, there's a lot still to be worked out. The White House saying that they don't think there is going to be a shutdown, but it is still going to be a pretty dramatic week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. All right, Athena, thank you very much, a week from tomorrow, day 100 of the Trump administration.

Let's get back to Congresswoman Jackie Speier.

So, Congresswoman, how likely is it that the White House will be able to push through health care repeal and replace Obamacare legislation next week?

SPEIER: Put your money on it, zero possibility.

The truth is that, even if the Freedom Caucus has shown some proclivity to be supportive, it is only about 20 members. They cannot lose more than 21 members in order to pass whatever it is they put together. They have already heard from the moderates that it's a nonstarter. And many of the Freedom Caucus members are not supportive.

So, it is not cooked. I think what they have been pursuing is really unworkable. And I don't see a repeal of the Affordable Care Act happening at all, and certainly not next week.

[18:25:04]

BLITZER: And I assume you will vote to keep the government operational. But what if the legislation the president wants includes a billion-plus dollars for that new border wall with Mexico? Is that a killer as far as you're concerned?

SPEIER: The only way that the government won't be shut down is if we have a clean C.R. And I think the president will come to that realization in short order.

A clean C.R. will get the votes necessary. A C.R. with a lot of bells and whistles certainly will not.

BLITZER: C.R. being a continuing resolution. But that simply kicks the can down the road, right?

SPEIER: That's correct.

And that's really the only thing that is possible in the near-term. Now, we could also have a continuing resolution for a couple of weeks and then possibly have another vote. But, in the end, I don't think we are going to get anything but a continuing resolution.

BLITZER: All right.

On a different issue, the president told the Associated Press that yesterday's ISIS attack in Paris will probably help the far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in Sunday's election because, in his words, she's strongest on borders and she's the strongest on what's going on in France.

From your perspective, are those comments from the president appropriate?

SPEIER: I don't think they're appropriate, and I also think that he is really feeding in to the Putin playbook once again, because that's precisely what Vladimir Putin wants. He has given Marine Le Pen over $12 million in a loan. She visited him in Moscow very recently.

It will absolutely be the undoing of the European Union if she is elected, and potentially NATO. It creates an opportunity for Vladimir Putin to move forward with imperialistic actions in Europe. And that would put us in a ground war, conceivably.

And it's very alarming that the president would weigh in like that. And I hope he regrets it and keeps his Twitter account shut down when he is dealing with international elections.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, thanks for joining us.

SPEIER: My pleasure. Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the Carter Page connection. Our national security and political analysts, they're getting ready to weigh in on CNN's exclusive reporting on indications that Russia, Russia tried to use Page and other advisers to infiltrate the Trump campaign.

And despite praise from President Trump, how much is China's leader really doing a tamp down the urgent threat from North Korea?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. U.S. officials tell CNN that that FBI has gathered intelligence raising concern that Russian operatives tried to use Carter Page and other Trump advisers to infiltrate and influence the campaign. [18:32:40] We're joined by our national security and political

analysts. And John Kirby, what's your reaction to this exclusive CNN reporting?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It's a good bit of reporting. Doesn't surprise me at all. I mean, aggressive espionage is a Russian game. And they up that game during times of elections like this, so I'm not at all surprised that they would -- that they would try to get information from the Trump campaign themselves.

It also doesn't surprise me that folks like Carter Page may not have even known or realized that it was happening. They should have, but you know, I can understand why he would come across saying he wasn't -- he wasn't deliberately inclusion.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, you used to work at the CIA. What kind of influence or information would the Russians presumably be trying to achieve by infiltrating the campaign, wittingly or unwittingly by some folks who are working there?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, he's a gold mine. Don't think that--

BLITZER: Who's a gold mine?

MUDD: Carter Page. Don't think of him as a human being for the purposes of the next minute. Think of him as a resource, a fountain of information.

Who's a player on the campaign? On certain issues -- what issues are you discussing, and who is the person drafting papers on those issues? Where do they meet? When do they meet? What parties are they going to? When are you going to make certain announcements? Remember, if the Russians are participating and releasing information, they want to know when the president is going to speak about it.

Someone like him doesn't have to be core to the campaign for the Russians to say, "He can give us answers on a range of issues. What they're talking about, who they're talking to, where they, when they're going to do things that are critical for them to understand how to play in the campaign, Wolf.

BLITZER: He also said, in that statement he gave to CNN, over the years he's been providing information to the CIA, the FBI, other U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

MUDD: So what? That's a cover for saying, "I didn't do anything wrong with Russians." The question here is not whether you talk to the agency or the bureau. The question is, did you not only have conversations with the Russians; did you do things to influence an election?" And day by day, including this reporting today, it's getting deeper and deeper.

BLITZER: You're shaking your head. You agree?

KIRBY: Yes, I totally agree. I mean, look, when you're talking to Russians, whether it's here or it's there, you have to realize that everything you say is being recorded, being jotted down and being parsed for nuance. I mean, that is incredibly naive to think otherwise.

BLITZER: So when both of you served in the U.S. government, would speak to Russians, you were sensitive to that?

KIRBY: Absolutely, 100 percent.

MUDD: Yes. When I talked to the KGB, I knew what they were doing. And when I talked to any other Russian affiliated with the embassy, my assumption is they're going to report on what I say and, if I show a vulnerability, if I have an extra drink, if I spend an extra dollar, if I complain about my VISA card bill, they're going to find it and they're going to exploit it.

[18:35:05] BLITZER: So where, Rebecca Berg, do the Senate and House Intelligence Committees go from here with this new information?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, their mission hasn't changed, Wolf. I mean, if anything, this information affirms what they are already doing, which is looking at potential links between Russia and their motives in this election and the Trump campaign.

And if, indeed, Carter Page was either working with the Russians or being used by the Russians, that simply confirms why the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are investigating this in the first place.

But of course, one of their major concerns still has to be, are they stepping on the toes of an FBI, potentially a criminal investigation? And they have to be careful not to interfere with or potentially mess with anything the FBI or even the CIA is tracking (ph).

BLITZER: They're both, as you know, Jackie, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the members, they're very sensitive to what Rebecca is saying. They have to engage in oversight. They have to look at what happened. But they don't want to interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation the FBI has launched.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And they also need to avoid the pitfalls that they've fallen into before, particularly the House Intelligence Committee, and not politicize this. Because it dilutes the seriousness of their work and makes them look unreliable. And so I think we'll see a more laser-like focus after this recess, where there's been a little bit of breathing room, on the task at hand rather than, you know, politicizing it.

BLITZER: I ask you this question, John Kirby, almost every day, because you're a former Pentagon spokesman, State Department spokesman. You're a retired rear admiral. Four times in four days, Russian warplanes have now buzzed the coast of Alaska--

KIRBY: Yes.

BLITZER: -- in international airspace but getting close enough to, at least on a few occasions, the U.S. launching interception warplanes to intercept those Russian planes.

KIRBY: Sure. Look, it's noteworthy. And folks I talked to in the military, they said the same thing. They're paying attention to this. I mean, they haven't done this for two years. Now four in four days? Yes, that got their attention.

But you know what, Wolf? That's exactly what the Russians want. This is about getting attention. It's about flexing muscles. It's about showing, "Hey, we're here." And it might be, in fact, a signal that they're just trying to show their discontent with Syrian strikes and with what's going on, you know, with the Vinson group moving up towards -- towards the Korean Peninsula.

BLITZER: I want to go through some other issues. And Phil Mudd, the U.S. now has succeeded, we're told, U.S. combat troops on the ground, Special Forces, boots on the ground inside Syrian, in killing a close associate to the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. How significant is this?

MUDD: This one is significant -- this is an iceberg story. We're seeing 10 percent of it. The 90 percent of significance is as follows.

It wasn't just an ISIS guy. It was an individual at the top of the chain on external operations. That is on operations in places like North America and western Europe. That's -- that is pure gold for an intelligence organization. Not somebody who's done propaganda; somebody who's killing people in Europe.

They're doing it in Syria, which suggests that the intelligence is not only good enough for a strike; it's good enough to authorize for people to go in.

Final piece of that: I want to know what else they got in a raid. When you don't use a drone and you go in physically, hard drives, phones, documents, they've got intel there that might fuel the next raid.

BLITZER: And with combat troops going in there, they're engaged in killing an ISIS -- and ISIS associate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, you know, this isn't just an advisory role for the U.S. military. This is combat.

KIRBY: No question about it. And when you go on a raid like this, this is -- this is combat. And this was the -- this was the purpose of the mission, was to get this guy.

And I agree with Phil. I mean, look, every time you do this, this kind of mission, you get -- you get smarter. You get more intel, and you never know where that's going to lead. And I have no doubt that, in order to conduct this one was built on months and months of solid intelligence that they were gathering through other, like, similar missions.

BLITZER: Yes, Rebecca, you know, President Trump now downplaying the 100-day mark a week from tomorrow. He tweeted, "No matter how much I accomplished during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days -- and it has been a lot, including Supreme Court -- media will kill."

He used to, in the days leading up to the election, he often promised he had a contract, what he would achieve during the first 100 days.

BERG: Absolutely. So to say that it is the media's fault for promoting the 100-day mark, I think the administration is also complicit in that.

There is some truth in the fact that there's only so much you can do at the federal government level in 100 days, when you consider the way Congress works, when you consider how unwieldy the federal government is, it's not like turning a speed boat. It's like turning a battle ship in many ways.

And so certainly, Donald Trump overpromised. He likes to say with his properties that he is under budget and ahead of schedule. Not the case when it comes to his plans for the federal government.

BLITZER: Jackie, is he going to get repeal and replace of Obamacare next week?

KUCINICH: No. No, it's wishful thinking. We don't -- they don't know yet. They haven't whipped this vote. They haven't checked with their members. All we know is that two members have talked. And from the Freedom Caucus and from the Tuesday Group. And you know, have released these talking points. But the fundamentals of this bill is not any different. And they're still going to lose quite a few people on both sides of their Republican conference.

[18:40:06] BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody, stay with us. Don't go too far away.

An important programming note for all of our viewers. Carter Page will be a guest on CNN's "SMERCONISH" with Michael Smerconish tomorrow morning, 9 a.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Just ahead, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, is defending his controversial remarks about Hawaii and a federal judge who blocked the president's travel ban. Stand by. We're going to hear what Sessions said to CNN. We'll also get reaction from a Hawaii senator who urged Sessions to show some respect.

And Hillary Clinton's post-election silence about President Trump is over, big league. What's motivating her to speak out? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:24] BLITZER: Tonight, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, tells CNN he has no regrets about his controversial remarks about a judge, a federal judge in Hawaii who blocked President Trump's travel ban.

Listen to what Sessions said in a radio interview and his response to critics who say disrespected the judge and the state of Hawaii.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional powers.

You know, I wasn't just criticizing the judge or the island. I think it is a fabulous place. And I had a granddaughter born there. But I got to tell you, it is a point worth making that a single sitting district judge out of 600, 700 district judges can issue an order stopping a presidential executive order that I believe is fully constitutional designed to protect the United States of America from terrorist attack. And I was just raising the point of that issue of a single judge taking an impact it had.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Do you wish you had phrased it differently now?

SESSIONS: Well, I don't know that I said anything I would want it phrase differently, no.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: The Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking to CNN's Kate Bolduan earlier today.

Let's get some reaction, from a top Hawaii Democrat. Senator Brian Schatz is joining us.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ (D), HAWAII: Happy to be here, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: So, what's your reaction to hearing the comments from the attorney general?

SCHAT: Well, I think the first thing we need to remember is the original sin was the Muslim ban itself, which is an affront to American values and it was found to be unconstitutional and unlawful. It's immoral.

And the reason that they are frustrated is that it's not just a judge in Hawaii, it's a judge in California, it's judges in Maryland, and Washington state and elsewhere that have found that this executive order was unconstitutional.

You know, the second part of this is an insult to the people of the state of Hawaii. We are an island chain. Not one island. And the way he seemed to characterize our federal judge and our American taxpayers is that somehow we are less legitimate than the rest of the country. Look, we're very proud of who we are and what we contribute to the country.

So, I won't dwell on that except to say that Jeff Sessions doesn't get it and the island in the Pacific on which I live is one of the best places in the world. But maybe the troubling aspect is this is pattern of this

administration attacking the judiciary. You know, Sessions had no problem when a federal court judge made a decision that he agreed with in granting a federal stay against Barack Obama's DACA order. And so, the difference between Judge Watson's order in Hawaii and the judge in Texas's order is that he doesn't agree with this one.

But the problem when you're the chief law enforcement officer in the country and the head lawyer for the United States of America is you have to respect the rule of law and the rules of the game. And he knows as well as anybody that any federal district court judge can issue a stay and it will reach across the country.

BLITZER: What kind of reaction, Senator, are you hearing from your constituents in Hawaii?

SCHATZ: Well, they are just disgusted. I mean, we're not generally admirers of Jeff Sessions because of his record on civil rights over many, many years.

But you know, there's sort of two aspects to our response. First, we're appalled. We're disgusted. We're not happy.

But on the other hand, we really love our state and we're very proud of our state. So, anybody who disparages who we are or our contribution to the American experience, we tend to briefly get irritated but move on with our lives because we love Hawaii. We're very proud of Hawaii.

So, we're not going to dwell on this. But our island chain in the Pacific is the home, birthplace of Barack Obama, headquarters of the Pacific Command. It is where Pearl Harbor is. It is where Dan Inouye represented.

We've got a proud history as Americans and there is nothing that Jeff Sessions can do to diminish that proud history.

BLITZER: As you heard, the attorney general had the opportunity to apologize, to rephrase his comments in that interview with CNN's Kate Bolduan. Does he need to apologize to the people of Hawaii and to that federal judge?

[18:50:01] SCHATZ: Well, I think he should. I think, first of all, most importantly, he should apologize to the federal judge because that in the long run is bigger issue. You do not want the attorney general of the United States to diminish the importance of any federal judgeship. That is about the rule of law. That is about respecting that there are three co-equal branches of government.

This is part of a pattern of this administration trying to diminish the rule of law and trying to diminish the importance of three separate and co-equal branches of government.

Whether or not he's going to apologize to us, look, we don't need his apology. And I think what is consistent about the people in Trump administration is Donald Trump doesn't like to apologize and he doesn't like for anybody who works for him to apologize. So, I'm not going to sit around waiting for that.

We're a proud state. We're happy state. Everybody is welcome to visit us. We're happy to be the 50th state.

BLITZER: But we do know his press secretary, Sean Spicer, did apologize for comments he made comparing Hitler to the Syrians.

But let's talk a little bit about Jeff Sessions. Do you have confidence -- do you trust him to serve as attorney general of the United States?

SCHATZ: I don't. You know, this is unfortunate. He was a colleague of mine. We also had cordial conversations.

I did not vote for him because, you know, he's got such a strong view about so many issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties and his view of what it means to be American. To me, that is so antithetical to the American experience, to our basic ideals. But now, more importantly, there's a question about whether or not he's willing to discharge his duties in such a way that is dispassionate. That is totally fair.

He is sort of transitioning, hopefully between being an elected politician and serving in a really important role as the attorney general for the United States. And it's not clear that he's actually made that transition.

This is about the rule of law. This is about the respect for the judiciary and, so far, I'm not persuaded he's made that transition successfully.

BLITZER: Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, thanks very much for joining us.

SCHATZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Hillary Clinton is back out there on the trail firing up Democrats with some tough talk about Donald Trump. Is there any chance that she's considering an election rematch?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:54] BLITZER: As President Trump approaches his 100th day in office, that would be a week from tomorrow, Hillary Clinton is amping up her public criticism of him. Her newest jab came during a speech last night, warning the Trump administration is a threat to LGBT rights.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with more on that.

She's not holding back any longer as she did right after the election.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not in the least. Suddenly, it looks like the campaign all over again. Hillary Clinton has emerged from his self-imposed hibernation. She's hitting the trail and firing up Democrats. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We also have to win elections to make it clear where our country stands.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Clinton on elections and employment.

CLINTON: I will never stop speaking out for common sense benefits that will allow moms and dads to stay on the job.

FOREMAN: Clinton on immigration and education.

CLINTON: We don't need to be building walls. We need to be building bridges.

FOREMAN: Clinton on Clinton.

CLINTON: I had a hard time watching the news. What do we do? Walk in the woods.

(LAUGHTER)

FOREMAN: For a while after her stunning loss to Donald Trump, the Democratic nomine disappeared so thoroughly, every sighting by a loyalist, walking in the woods, shopping for books was celebrated on social media. But then she started tweeting, pumping up the women's march. "I truly believe we're always stronger together."

Showing up at a Broadway play to a standing ovation, and now, in a flurry of appearances, speaking up.

CLINTON: I bet just about everyone in this room has had the experience of saying something in a meeting that gets ignored. Ten, 20 minutes later, a man says the same thing and everybody thinks it's genius.

FOREMAN: What's it all about? Perhaps just push back against critics and divisions in her party.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Donald Trump did not win the election. The Democrats lost the election.

FOREMAN: Some of it may be an attempt to bolster her approval rating which dropped to 35 percent last month.

But just maybe her fans wonder, could it be something else?

CLINTON: I think we have to face the fact that we may not ever be able to count on this administration to lead on LGBT issues.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: 2020!

FOREMAN: 2020. Another run would be politically extraordinary. Clinton would be 73 on Election Day. Three years older than Ronald Reagan when he took office as the oldest president and she'd have to rally party which has twice seen her campaign fail. (END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: But she did win the popular vote against Donald Trump. She came closer to winning the presidency than any other woman in either party. And although she's not even hinting that she wants to run again, for someone whose political career was pronounced dead months ago, she's keeping a lively schedule -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is.

All right. Tom Foreman, good report. Thank you.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.