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THE SITUATION ROOM
North Korea Threatens United States; President Obama Makes Public Remarks; Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Trump Approval at Historic Low as 100th Day Nears; Lawmakers Irked at Slow Pace of Senate Russia Investigation. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 24, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: five days away. President Trump is scrambling to put the best face on his first 100 days in office and to avoid a crippling government shutdown as the deadline nears. Will it all fall apart because of his promised border wall?
Diplomatic dance. As North Korea threatens to attack an American warship and test nuclear weapons, the Trump administration is warning Kim Jong-un, don't give us a reason to fight you. Tonight, President Trump is making a new appeal to the United Nations for action.
Putin's meddling? Disturbing new indications tonight that Russia now is now targeting France in a possible attempt to interfere with a pivotal election. We will tell you what we are learning this hour.
And probe frustrations. Democrats are balking at the pace of the Senate's Russia investigation. How did the Intelligence Committee that was supposed to have its act together get off track?
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, new signs that Russia may be at it again, interfering with a landmark presidential election.
Cyber-security experts sharing new information with CNN suggesting hackers linked to the Kremlin may be targeting a top candidate in the French election, possibly the same cyber-criminals who invaded the Democratic National Committee's computer system. Stand by for details.
Also tonight, President Trump is warning that North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its escalating threats to the world are unacceptable. Mr. Trump is now urging the United Nations to impose tougher sanctions against the regime, while leaving the option of U.S. military action open.
Kim Jong-un, still defiant, appears, poised to conduct a new nuclear test at any moment, even as he threatens to sink a U.S. warship and has detained another American citizen. We're also following the looming threat of a government shutdown this
week just as the president is marking his 100th day in office. Right now, Mr. Trump is standing firm in his demand for a border wall funding, a demand that is threatening to derail negotiations on a new spending bill and possibly lead to a shutdown.
This hour, I will speak with Republican Congressman and Foreign Affairs Committee member Adam Kinzinger.
And our correspondents and analysts, they're also standing by, as we bring you full coverage of today's top stories.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, this is a milestone week for the president. That government shutdown is looming and now we're getting new details about his tax cut plan.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
The White House is floating something of a trial balloon tonight on what we can expect to hear from the president on Wednesday on his tax reform plan. A White House official says the administration is eying a massive reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35 to 15 percent. But the White House is not being very specific on how that lost revenue will be offset in the budget to avoid a dramatic increase in the deficit.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters today that economic growth will help pay for those tax cuts the president is proposing. But that is not going on over well up on Capitol Hill. A key Republican source tells me that congressional leaders will be insisting on a tax reform plan that's revenue neutral.
It is unclear tonight even after the trial balloon was just floated hours ago how far that proposal will ultimately go. Meanwhile, the White House and members of Congress still have to avoid a government shutdown that is looming at the end of the week. One of the main sticking points, of course, we have been talking about this, is the White House demand that wall funding be part of any bill to keep the government running.
But as we all remember from the campaign, Wolf, the president promised Mexico would pay for the wall, a point I raised with Sean Spicer earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: On the wall, why has there even discussion about shutting down the government over paying for the wall? Isn't Mexico supposed to pay for the wall?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think, Jim, the president has very made clear that initially we needed to get the funding going and there's going to be several mechanisms to make sure that that happens. That funding piece will happen in due time. ACOSTA: That is a promise...
SPICER: I understand that.
ACOSTA: ... the president made during the campaign.
ACOSTA: And now we are having a discussion that the government might shut down over the wall. Who is going to pay for that?
SPICER: Right. So, a couple of things. One, I as pointed out to Jonathan, we feel very confident government is not going to shut down.
Number two is I think the president has been very clear in the past about the fact that -- and this is not a new thing -- he talked about this. That in order to get the ball rolling on border security and the wall, that he was going to have to use the current appropriations process. But he would make sure that that promise would be kept as far as the payment of it.
ACOSTA: And just a real quick follow-up.
If border crossings are down -- and that's a talking point that the White House uses time and again -- is the wall even necessary?
SPICER: Absolutely. The -- the wall is -- it does several things.
ACOSTA: Then how can the border crossings be down, the president's saying, "Well, we're going to have all these drugs flowing in if we don't have a wall"?
SPICER: Because you can't -- just because you have a couple good months in a year, I think you want to make sure you take prudent long- term steps.
I mean -- so the president is going to fulfill -- and frankly, it's a promise that he made to the American people. I think if you're coming in from our southern border, he has taken a lot of steps so far that has deterred border crossings.
But this is a permanent step that will extend beyond his presidency. Eight years from now, the next president will have that wall in place to make sure that -- that it doesn't continue so that...
ACOSTA: Mexico is going to pay for it?
SPICER: That's right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: You heard there at the end, Wolf, Mexico is going to pay for the wall, according to Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary. But, Wolf, if you look back at the president's promises for his first
100 days in office, he vowed to introduce a bill by this point that would force Mexico to ultimately pay for that wall and the president has yet to put that forward, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.
Let's get an update right now on the tensions between the Trump administration and North Korea. They could be coming to a head very soon.
Our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is joining us from the State Department.
Michelle, President Trump is telling United Nations Security Council members the North Korean situation is unacceptable.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Yes, the threat, the provocations, rhetoric from North Korea are a constant. They are a threat to the world. We know the members of the U.N. Security Council were at the White House discussing this today. The entire U.S. Senate has been invited there on Wednesday to discuss it.
And tonight U.S. officials tell us that, yes, North Korea has been advancing its weapons and conducting nuclear tests over time, but the level and pace of the provocations has reached a point that this is an urgent problem. And they say that strategic patience isn't working.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): North Korea, poised to conduct another nuclear test at any moment, according to U.S. officials. The rogue nation has now detained an American professor and is threatening to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier "with a single strike, a gross and monstrous animal which the whole world has been afraid of," claiming too to have weapons ready that can hit the continental United States.
President Trump today with members of the U.N. Security Council says the status quo is unacceptable.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The council must be prepared to impose and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs. This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not. North Korea is a big world problem. It's a problem we have to finally solve.
KOSINSKI: U.S. experts don't believe North Korea currently has the capability to strike the mainland's U.S. with a nuclear weapon, but is getting closer.
MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Given the level of provocations, the pace of provocations that North Korea continues to carry out, there is an urgency here. JOHN KELLY, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The minute North Korea
gets a missile that could reach the United States and put a weapon on that missile, a nuclear weapon, the instant that happens, this country is at grave risk.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How far away do you think that is?
KELLY: I think Mr. Trump will be dealing with this in real terms before he starts his second term.
KOSINSKI: But where the U.S.' own tough talks in the last few weeks included open discussion of military intervention, the U.S. going it alone, latest statements from the administration focus on diplomacy and partnerships.
The Pentagon calling on North Korea to change course and return to serious talks. The State Department saying the U.S. will hold Kim Jong-un accountable for his recklessness through diplomatic, security and economic measures.
The Chinese president called for restraint in a phone call with President Trump. The U.S. expressing still hope that China will more aggressively freeze out North Korea economically to try to change its behavior.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're encouraged by the steps that China has taken thus far. That being said, we also wanted to make it clear that all options are on the table.
KOSINSKI: As the American aircraft carrier Carl Vinson begins military exercises with Japan in the Western Pacific, the Trump administration says the Chinese suggestion to end such military collaborations with South Korea in return for the North stopping its nuclear tests just won't work.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: North Korea has done nothing but give every reason why we need to have military exercises in South Korea. And what we are saying is, look, we're not backing down from South Korea and North Korea just needs to get in line.
KOSINSKI: You heard the president today talking about the possibility of additional sanctions.
But for now the State Department is focused on trying to get other countries, especially China, to better enforce the sanctions that do exist. In fact, the secretary of state is heading to the U.N. this week to talk to his counterparts about that.
Although, today, State Department officials wouldn't name any other countries that they feel aren't doing enough to pressure North Korea, and, of course, we know that so far at least all the sanctions that do exist have not changed North Korea's behavior -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point. Michelle, thank you very much, Michelle Kosinski at the State Department.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, also a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You bet. Thanks.
BLITZER: How much capability does North Korea really have to carry out the threats we're hearing from them?
KINZINGER: I think North Korea does not, at least not that I know of, have the capability to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier with a single strike, as they say, or I guess what did he say last week, a super mighty preemptive strike, which is kind of a funny close of words, but a very serious concern.
But they do have the capability to frankly unleash hell on South Korea. And we have 20,000 American troops there. You take into account North Korea's nuclear ability, some estimate 10 to 25 nuclear weapons that they have currently, plus then their conventional artillery, more forward located, this stuff is actually built into mountains that can pop out and shoot and pop back.
So any increase in hostility, any actual formal war going forward would lead to a very massive casualty situation and a very, very bad situation for everybody involved.
BLITZER: Yes, we have 28,000 U.S. military personnel along the demilitarized zone, I think another 50,000 or so in Japan.
You heard President Trump, Congressman, say this is a problem we have to finally solve. But it is not for lack of trying on the part of his predecessors. So what options are there really?
KINZINGER: Options are declining.
Look, the military threat -- and it is a credible military threat that we have put out against North Korea is I think used to utilized to force an economic instrument of power to be utilized and a diplomatic instrument of power.
Diplomacy against an adversary can be only effective when it is backed up with a credible threat of force. What you saw was a very real positioning by this administration to say, look, there are options to take out your nuclear capability, but we hope to be able to do it diplomatically, which is what they pivoted to this week.
This all actually works in conjunction with each other to try to get this done without any kind of a strike. But, look, this is a very bad situation. I think this is important for Americans to understand when we talk about investing in missile defense, this is why, when we talk about investing in the ability to destroy these missiles in their launch phase and their early phases, because once an intercontinental ballistic missile goes up basically into space, there is not any options we have.
So the early stage interception is very important, strengthening our allies, but hoping to God frankly that diplomacy works in this case.
BLITZER: Let's get to some other issues involving North Korea, Congressman.
As you know, the president got personally involved to help secure the release of Aya Hijazi, a human rights worker who had been jailed in Egypt for three years. He worked with the Egyptian president to do that. Do you expect him to try to do something similar to get these three American citizens who are now detained in North Korea out? It is a very different situation, clearly.
KINZINGER: Yes. I think it probably not going to happen from this administration. In the past, when folks have been released, it's been outside folks going and negotiating that release.
That may be the case. My guess is Kim Jong-un is actually gathering people to use as a bargaining chip for whatever he wants going forward. President Trump has a pretty good relationship with Egyptian President Sisi and so my guess is in their talk, he said, look, this is very important to our relationship, and the president agreed to release the prisoner.
North Korea is a very different situation. We have no diplomat contact with them. Our best diplomatic contact frankly is through the Chinese. And while the Chinese appear to be coming on board, they still appear to have in their idea that a North Korea is better than, as crazy as they are, than engaging in them.
And that's unfortunately a scary thing. We have got to raise the price on China.
BLITZER: Do you think it is time, Congressman, for the U.S. to directly engage with the North Koreans?
KINZINGER: I don't.
Look, all it does is legitimize Kim Jong-un. It puts him in a much stronger position to do that. He is a very bad leader. And I don't think frankly us engaging him directly at this point would lead to him denuclearizing.
I think he is using nuclear as frankly his final goal. Some people think he is doing this to try to get economic relief. I think he is doing this because he wants to desperately be a nuclear-armed country. And so I think direct engagement, it is not the time right now. There may be a point down the road that that is decided, but it's definitely not right now.
BLITZER: Let's turn to some other important issues this week, the efforts, for example, to reach a spending bill.
The president wants a funding for the border wall with Mexico. Is there support for that within your own party?
KINZINGER: Yes, I think there is. It's a promise he made to the American people. It was one of his biggest cheer lines when he was speaking at a rally.
Look, I'm personally a believer in border security. I don't know if it needs to be a wall, but fencing in some areas, walls in some areas, technology in other areas. I have worked actually as an Air National Guard pilot. And there needs to be more significant border enforcement.
But it's a big promise he made. But there's a lot of talk now about a government shutdown. It happens every time we come up against a funding deadline. I would actually be very surprised if in fact we were right up to that deadline and saw the government shut down.
I think we work our way through this. There is discussions happening with Democrats now. And while it will be dramatic, I'm sure, I think ultimately we find our way through this.
BLITZER: As you know, the president has been relying on executive orders to deliver on some of the promises before this 100-day arrives on Saturday. he Signed more executive orders in this time frame than any other president in the last 70 years.
Do you agree with that approach?
KINZINGER: You know, I think the president has a lot of leverage, a lot of leverage to do executive orders. Executive orders can deal with how a bureaucracy works.
And in that case, yes, that's actually his responsibility as the executive branch. I would like to see a lot more come through Congress, but unfortunately we had difficulties when it came to the Obamacare replacement bill. The House Freedom Caucus sank that. And now we are back into negotiations.
And so I think despite the president making an attempt in many cases to follow through on his promises, and I think he will follow through on a vast majority of them, if not all of them, it's our party frankly that has to get together and really realize sometimes you can't vote for a perfect bill. It's a good bill. We need to work together.
And that's a learning process I think for Republicans in the House right now.
BLITZER: Congressman, we are getting new information on the Russians and Putin's effort potentially to interfere in yet another presidential election.
We're going to have that and more right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're back with House Foreign Relations Committee member Adam Kinzinger.
Congressman, I want you to stand by. We have some breaking news we're following on the widening concerns about Russia's election meddling.
CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we have new information that Vladimir Putin's hackers may well be trying to breach the campaign of France's centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.
We've been in touch with a cyber-security firm who says hackers with the same fingerprints as those who hacked into the Democratic Party last year have targeted Macron's campaign. Analysts say with less than two weeks left until France's final vote, Putin is likely trying to tilt the election in favor of far-right French candidate Marine Le Pen.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, new indications that Vladimir Putin may be trying to influence another election, possibly targeting France's centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron with his hackers.
The cyber-security firm Trend Micro tells CNN four domains were created with names very similar to the Macron campaigns, presumably to try to trick campaign staff into entering their credentials.
Trend Micro says the effort by a hacking group called Pawn Storm had the same fingerprints as the hackers nicknamed Fancy Bear who targeted the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, hackers who U.S. officials linked to Russian intelligence.
JASON HEALEY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I would say the French are very open to such things. Already you are seeing all sorts of scandals among the French political class, sex scandals, corruption scandals. And so I would think there would be a rich vein of information that the Russians could try and get their hands on.
TODD: It is not clear if Russian hackers actually attempted or were successful in breaching the Macron campaign, but a French official tells CNN the French government is taking steps to counter such attempts. Its intelligence services warning the campaigns to guard against them.
Analysts say Putin is likely maneuvering against Macron to tilt the election toward the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
WILLIAM POMERANZ, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Le Pen has been very open about her desire to have better relations with Russia. She is an outspoken opponent of sanctions. She's very interested in taking France outside of NATO. She has a very populist right-wing message that plays to Putin's narrative.
TODD: Putin denies trying to tilt the French elections, but he has also been very aggressive with his military in recent weeks. Russian planes recently buzzed an American destroyer in the Black Sea.
A Russian spy ship has been spotted near the Connecticut coast. And four times in four days last week, Russian military aircraft flew right off the coast of Alaska and were intercepted by American and Canadian fighter jets.
DEREK CHOLLET, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: He's probing. He's trying to see areas of vulnerabilities, test our systems. Each time they do one of these close air encounters, they learn a little bit about our defenses. Also trying to keep United States and our NATO partners off balance. Even if unintended, we could get ourselves in a shooting war with the Russians.
TODD: Russian officials deny their aircraft have made any unsafe moves and a Russian official told me today that while many are talking about the Russian aerial maneuvers off Alaska, he says NATO planes always fly close to Russia's borders near Kaliningrad on the Black Sea -- excuse me -- Kaliningrad in the Baltic Sea and in the Black Sea region.
A NATO official counters by saying it is not a problem if NATO and Russian planes fly so close to each other because the airspace in that region is so crowded -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thanks very much.
We're back with Adam Kinzinger, the Republican congressman.
Congressman, Many Americans were unaware of the extent of the Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election until afterwards.
What lessons should we be looking for as we see this French election play out over the next two weeks?
KINZINGER: Well, this comes as absolutely no surprise to me or anybody that watches.
This is Russia's M.O. They are trying to create consternation within a country. They're trying to put their candidates in place. They interfered in the U.S. election. And we have an investigation under way on that.
We knew this was going to happen in France. We knew this was going to happen in other elections in Europe. This is Vladimir Putin, a generally pretty weak country. It's not the old Soviet Union, but it's his way of trying to change the board.
And if you look at French election, for instance, Macron, pretty good guy, I was in France last week, but Le Pen, this is part of party that has expressed a lot of anti-Semitic views that has said she wants to consider pulling France out of NATO and all these other things.
And, by the way, the French have been the most forward-leaning partners in NATO on the war on terror. This is no surprise to anybody that watches this stuff. But, hopefully, the French citizens are aware that the Russians are doing their best to pick their presidential candidate and pick their president, and they can push back.
BLITZER: With the knowledge, Congressman, that Russia is apparently trying to tip the scale toward Marine Le Pen, was it appropriate for President Trump the other day to start making predictions about how last week's ISIS attack on the Champs Elysees in Paris could help her candidacy?
KINZINGER: No, I don't think so.
I'm always uncomfortable when a U.S. president gets involved in other people's elections. It's really not something that has been done much in the past, if it all, just like I would be uncomfortable if a foreign leader endorsed had it been Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in our election.
I think you allow a domestic election to be chosen by the folks in that country. And, by the way, that is a message to Russia too. Let the French pick their president. Quit trying to do your fake news stuff. Quit trying to steal information and embarrass people.
But the French citizens need to know -- and probably many are watching -- what is happening and what's going on and be able to push back against Russian interference in your domestic politics.
BLITZER: Do you believe, Congressman, that the Trump administration will hold firm on sanctions against Russia until Russia returns control of Crimea to Ukraine, as Secretary Tillerson said?
KINZINGER: I certainly hope so. I think this is very important.
When you look at, for instance, Latvia, we never recognized the Russian occupation of Latvia throughout the whole Cold War. I think we are going to see that here.
Despite some of what President Trump had said earlier, the administration and his current words have actually been very hawkish on Russia. So, whatever is changing that calculus, I think the Russians and Vladimir Putin need to know that the sanctions, at least as far as we are concerned, they are going to be in place until he turns Crimea back to its rightful owner, which is Ukraine.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, thanks very much for joining us.
KINZINGER: You bet. Any time.
BLITZER: Just ahead, pressure on President Trump top deliver on promises before the 100-day mark. Are poor poll numbers, though, hampering his ability to carry out his agenda?
Plus, what is behind the slow pace of the Senate probe into Moscow's meddling in the U.S. presidential election?
BLITZER: We're following the run-up to the president's 100th day in office. That would be this coming Saturday. The milestone coming along with looming threat of a government shut down.
[18:33:00] And new polls showing his approval rating at an historic low. We're joined by our political and national security analysts.
And David Chalian, look at these numbers. I'll put it up on the screen. Job approval for presidents in 100 days going back to President Kennedy. He was at 78 percent. Johnson, 77 percent. You see the numbers there.
Trump right now only at 42 percent job approval number. How does that influence his ability to carry out his agenda?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it makes it tougher. There's no doubt about that. If he were in the 60s now, he might be having an easier time getting his agenda through Congress than he seems to be having.
But Wolf, what we see in these polls overall is that Donald Trump's base is still very much with him. The folks who voted for him, they are not peeling away. At all, really.
And the other thing that we're seeing, then, why is he at 42 percent, then? Because he hasn't added at all. So this is a president who entered office on inauguration day at historic lows and had no honeymoon therefore, couldn't get anything done big, legislatively. His big travel ban promise is huddled up in the courts. And so now he comes to his 100-day mark also at historic lows, when compared to his predecessors at this point in their presidencies.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, is the president so committed to U.S. taxpayers at least starting to fund the border wall with Mexico that he would risk a government shutdown by the end of the week?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I see signs that maybe they don't want to risk that shutdown, Wolf. Over the weekend on the Sunday shows, I heard White House budget director Mick Mulvaney say more than once that they were committed to border security. Didn't say the words "border wall" as much. That suggests to me, not for sure but that they may want to leave themselves some flexibility.
At the end of this week, the end of their 100 days, I think they want to show that they've been firm on the issue but not round things out with a government shutdown. BLITZER: Seems to me a dramatic reduction, Phil Mudd, of the number
of people illegally trying to cross into the United States from Mexico. But the president is clearly determined to go ahead with the wall. When all is said and done, he says Mexico eventually will pay for it. U.S. taxpayers, though, will pay for it for the time being.
[18:35:10] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, we'll be dead when that happens. But in the interim, let's talk about the significance of the wall.
You're right, there's a huge air gap in this country between the emotion of a campaign -- "Let's keep immigrants out," which a lot of people voted for -- and the facts on the ground.
You cited them right: radical reduction in immigration and the other facts you look at, talking to experts in things like the narcotics world and the general immigration world, drugs and gang members don't come through the desert. They come through Juarez. They come through San Diego. They come through aircraft bringing drugs into the country. So you can put a wall up. But if you think that's the answer to gangs and drugs in this country, the facts don't back it up.
BLITZER: And you know, on this issue, the president seems determined to stick by the wall, even though many members of his own party, Republicans, are saying, "You know what? Maybe money could be spent better elsewhere."
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's where he might run into problems with his own party. They're trying -- the administration is really trying to cast this as them against the Democratic -- Democrats in Congress. In reality, there are a number of their -- of their members that aren't thrilled with this either. And that will, you know, cause a lot of -- a lot more complications in an already very complicated issue to keep the government funded.
BLITZER: As you know, on another critically important issue, taxes -- and everybody knows that's very important. David Chalian, the president says on Wednesday he's going to release the broad picture of his tax reform proposals. And already there are reports out there that corporate tax rates will go down from 35 percent right now to only 15 percent. That's going to be a tough sell.
CHALIAN: It is going to be a complicated sell. This is exactly what he promised on the campaign trail. So he is following through on his promise to get that corporate rate down to 15 percent.
But he's going to run into a problem here with Paul Ryan, with other members of his own party, because as you know, Wolf, they're not looking to pay for this. He's -- but President Trump is sort of OK with deficits. And we've had years of Republicans on the Hill really just deficit hawks, saying you've got to have your paid-fors. You can't keep racking up deficits.
I know the White House says that this is going to just make the economy boom, and they're counting on that to help pay for it at end. But that's not how you balance the books in Congress. BLITZER: The Treasury Secretary, David Swerdlick, says -- Treasury
Secretary Mnuchin says the Trump administration's tax reduction plan will be paid for, because the economy will grow, what, at least 3 percent a year. So more money revenue will be coming in to pay for those tax cuts.
SWERDLICK: Right, and Wolf, I think that's a little bit of an over promise. You know, we saw with some of the tax cuts that President Obama did in his first term, they had a mild stimulative effect. I don't think a lot of economists think that you're just automatically going to get the revenue gap made up by economic growth.
They're really banking on selling that, as opposed to, as David was saying, trying to convince Republicans and Democrats in Congress that they may need to have some cuts to offset those.
BLITZER: What has a better chance of getting passed in the short term? These tax cuts he's going to be proposing, maybe as early as Wednesday, or the repeal and replace of Obamacare?
KUCINICH: This week?
BLITZER: Not this week.
BLITZER: Either. We're talking about in the next several weeks or months.
KUCINICH: You know, it depends on the details, frankly. The health care bill that they are talking about is not as different, is not very different at all from what failed to pass just a couple weeks ago. So that -- they will need to start from scratch on that or -- or make bigger changes than they are to get passed. Because nothing -- no one has really moved at this point on health care. So maybe it's tax reform.
BLITZER: Tax reform has got a better chance.
KUCINICH: I would say. But that one's complicated, too. Neither of these are easy.
BLITZER: And then there's a promise of infrastructure, a trillion- dollar infrastructure bill. Is that happening?
SWERDLICK: Like Jackie said, I think we've got to find out. They've got to get through this week first and get some basic blocking and tackling done.
BLITZER: Let's make sure there's no government shut down this week.
SWERDLICK: Right, exactly.
BLITZER: That would be better.
All right. There's more to discuss. Just ahead, growing frustration among key lawmakers over the slow pace of the Senate's Russia election interference probe. So what's behind long delays in collecting crucial documents and lining up key witnesses?
[18:43:57] BLITZER: Tonight we're learning about growing frustrations among some Senate investigators looking into Russia's meddling and alleged ties to the Trump camp.
Let's bring in our senior congressional reporter Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, the Senate probe was supposed to be the one that was running smoothly, especially compared to the early dysfunction in House intelligence investigation, what's the latest?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. That's right. Tonight, actually growing tension on party lines about the pace of the Senate's investigation, with Democrats saying it needs to move much faster. And Republicans pushing back, saying this needs to be a thorough investigation, a deep dive into what happened in last year's election.
But just moments ago, Wolf, the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, weighing in with reporters saying this: "I think the Senate Committee should move more quickly. It's going very slowly."
RAJU (voice-over): Tonight, new signs of tension in the Senate's bipartisan inquiry into Russian meddling in the election, with some Democrats now concerned that the committee is moving far too slowly to uncover allegations that Trump associates colluded with the Russians last year.
[18:45:04] SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It is not moving fast enough today. It is not moving transparently enough today. I have said that repeatedly. To the chair and the vice chair and once again, I want to make it clear that I have serious questions about the pace of this investigation.
RAJU: It took nearly two months of negotiations for the intelligence commune it to provide reams of top secret information to the Senate panel. And now, the committee is interviewing analysts to learn what information the intelligence community left out of a January assessment that said Russian President Putin ordered a cyber campaign to sabotage the U.S. elections and help elect Donald Trump.
So far, the panel has yet to interview any of the top Trump associates suspected of keeping in contact with the Russians. And a source with knowledge of private discussions tell CNN that the committee's top Democrat, Mark Warner, is, quote, "very frustrated" at the pace of the committee's investigation. Some privately laying blame on the Republican Chairman Richard Burr for not expressing a sense of urgency.
Tonight, Republicans are pushing back, with committee member James Lankford tweeting don't confuse silence for a lack of progress.
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We go through a lot of documents. We got through interviews. We're going through all the process. But we are doing it in quiet.
RAJU: Senator Susan Collins telling CNN that, today, she urged the CIA's general counsel nominee to keep open lines of communications with the committee and saying --
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Obviously, I wish there were a way that it would go even more quickly. But I think it's important that we be thorough.
RAJU: All this amid a new CNN report that FBI has gathered intelligence suggesting that Russian operatives enlisted some advisers to infiltrate the Trump campaign. Among those advisers, Carter Page, who has denied any wrongdoing and has offered to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
Warner and Burr have suggested that the committee will talk to Page, along with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. Once the initial rounds of interviews are finally complete.
SEN. MARK WARNER(D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIRMAN: What we want to do unlike maybe other institutions that might be looking into this, we think we need do this in an orderly fashion, go through the intelligence, talk to the analysts and put together a report so we then bring in some of these bigger names. We'll know what questions to ask.
RAJU: Now, Wolf, responding to those concerns, Senate Intelligence Committee now plans to hire two new investigators as part of its staff going through these documents and intelligence that they have received from the intelligence community.
Warner telling our colleague Tom LoBianco just moments ago that committee has spoken to at least 27 witnesses so far, but they still have not scheduled a time to bring in those Trump associates to come in and testify under oath. It still remains to be seen, Wolf, whether or not any of those will be public. But one public hearing will take place next week for the House Intelligence Committee next week, Wolf, where several former Obama officials will testify, including former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates who, of course, privately warned that Michael Flynn, that Trump's ex national security adviser, could have been susceptible to Russian blackmail -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, and that session will be open to reporters and to the public.
Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill, good reporting -- thanks very much.
Our experts are standing by. We're going to break all of this down right after this.
[18:52:56] BLITZER: We're back with analysts.
New concerns that the Senate investigation of Russia's election meddling isn't moving along as quickly as some members would like.
David Chalian, it was the House that was supposed to be in trouble with their investigation. Now, it looks like the Senate has got some serious complications.
CHALIAN: Yes. I know you may be shocked, Wolf, that when Congress is investigating something related to the president, that politics may thwart a smooth process here.
But to your point that it was the first the House, now the Senate, I think that's why, Wolf, we are seeing in a brand new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll today, 73 percent of Americans want to see this investigation taken out of Congress and put with an independent outside commission to look into this.
I can't tell you the last time I remember 73 percent of Americans agreeing on anything. That is a very high number.
BLITZER: Do you think that's doable? Do you think, Phil Mudd, that there should be some outside 9/11 type commission investigating as opposed to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees or in addition to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees?
MUDD: I think there should be for two reasons. Number one, what David talked about, the politics of this. But there's another issue that we're not discussing. They are focused in the Senate and the House on the wrong question to start with.
The question is, how do we move forward for a next election? There is a timestamp on this. They've got to move and ensure that candidates are protected and that there's a conversation with the American people about fake news.
The witness should be somebody from Facebook, not Carter Page. The FBI can do the people part of this. And I think one reason is bogged down is that there will be too many darts thrown at politicians and political figures and back in the campaign, and not the basic question of how do you secure the next campaign?
BLITZER: Quickly, let me get your thoughts. You heard Brian Todd report that there's now some indications that the Russians are meddling in the French presidential election, as well to try to get their favorite candidate elected. Do you buy that?
MUDD: Yes, sure. I mean, look at the former president, President Obama, levied sanctions four months ago, last days of December. The Russians had a choice to make with our NATO allies, that is proceed with this kind intervention which they appear to have done, or respond to the sanctions. It goes further to the point to saying, if you think squeezing the Russians by our actions to today is going to lead them to back away in the next American elections, they're not going to do it -- we got to find another avenue.
[18:55:09] BLITZER: This is a -- this is a serious -- they've got to learn lessons from this to make sure it doesn't happen again. But apparently, those lessons are not being learned that quickly.
SWERDLICK: No, definitely not that quickly. In terms of the investigation, that's why people say elections have consequences, right? If Democrats controlled one house of Congress, this might proceeding at a more rapid pace. In terms of the French elections, right, if you're Russia, it worked for them to at least to a degree in the U.S. election. So, why not try to upend things in the French election, too, to serve their own ends?
BLITZER: Let me get to another issue with you, Jackie, because the Anti-Defamation League reporting that anti-Semitic incidents here in the United States jumped 83 percent over the first quarter of 2017, and are up by an overall one-third with the election playing a role in this increase.
You've been looking into this. What do you see?
KUCINICH: I mean, yes, the ADL put this firmly with the election and social media to an extent. But they saw a dramatic increase because of the election and they really said that this centered around Trump supporters.
Now, the administration has been slow in the past to call out incidents of anti-Semitism. They've gotten better and you saw -- and you saw this even a few weeks ago when Sean Spicer made some really unfortunate comments and he was very quick to come out and apologize. So, bit by bit, they're getting a hold of this. But they have some work to do.
BLITZER: Yes, what do you think, David?
SWERDLICK: Look, I think you have these anti-Semitic and racist and other xenophobic sentiments that were always there. I think the way our dialogue has gone from the 2016 election and from social media and from other things has brought some of this stuff up to the surface. There's no question.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a serious problem.
You know, David Chalian, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, he says he worries about the American democracy. He says if conservative outlets like Breitbart, he said, are viewed with the same credibility as "The New York Times," as you know, even as we speak, I think right about now, the president is hosting a reception for conservative media outlets like Breitbart, Daily Caller. What do you make of that?
CHALIAN: Well, you know, the White House said, Sean Spicer said these folks didn't get much of an audience with the last administration and that would make sense. They're conservative media. And they wanted to reach out and have a conversation with them. You know, our politics, our media sort of followed where our politics
was going here. We live in this world now, Wolf, as you know, where depending what team you want to root for, that helps you decide which media organizations you're going to follow and get your news from.
I don't think it has left us with a really productive governing coalition in Washington. I think it's part of why you see a lot of stasis and not getting things done because we are all so split off into our own echo chambers.
BLITZER: Do you have a problem? I don't have a problem with the president reaching out to conservative media outlets. I don't have a problem with another president reaching out to liberal media outlets.
MUDD: I don't care. This issue, though, is far more profound than that. And that is, when we have a conversation about a wall, about immigration reform, the beginning of the conversation should be what the facts are. What we're seeing with these media outlets is they're putting together fact and fiction in ways that confuse Americans. We don't have a basis to have a national conversation on this stuff and that's partly the fault of the media.
BLITZER: He is reaching out, the president, to a lot of people. He's having dinner with John McCain and Lindsey Graham tonight at the White House. That should be interesting.
KUCINICH: Oh, to be a fly on the wall during that meeting. And they have definitely been some of the president's biggest detractors. So, it will be interesting to see what comes out of this because it has been across the board. You can count on Lindsey Graham and John McCain to cause friction.
BLITZER: It looks increasingly like a lot of national security issues that more hard lined views of Lindsey Graham and John McCain, the president is accepting some of them.
SWERDLICK: He certainly accepted -- I wouldn't have described them as hard lined, but I would describe them as more mainstream or traditional Republican. President Trump is seeing that some of the things he espoused during the campaign, he's not -- when he gets into office and has to govern, he's not as far from McCain and Graham as he may have thought he was.
BLITZER: Very quickly, David, it's a good idea, though, for the president to be meeting with these senators.
CHALIAN: Sure. I mean, I think the president should meet with as many folks on Capitol Hill as he possibly can. I think that's a great idea, and yes, especially because this president hasn't been having this kind of experience before in his life. So, just learning the vocabulary, learning the history all through conversation like that could be very helpful and informative to him in his own decision- making process.
BLITZER: Totally agree. All right, guys. That's a really good conversation. An important note to our viewers, don't forget to join CNN's Jake
Tapper later tonight. A special primetime edition of "THE LEAD". Jake will be on at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, in fact, every night this week, Monday through Friday. Join Jake at 9:00.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.