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White House Won't Say if Trump Has Confidence in Sessions; Trump Appears to Take Credit for Allies Ditching Qatar. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 6, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


TAPPER: Thanks for watching.

[17:00:05] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Wishing Comey luck. As the Russia probes gather steam and James Comey gets ready to testify in his interactions with the president, the president says he wishes the fired FBI director luck. Should he be careful what he wishes for?

Losing confidence? The president is said to be increasingly frustrated with the attorney general, Jeff Sessions; and White House press secretary Sean Spicer today repeatedly declined to say if the president still has confidence in Sessions.

Harsh reality. Reality Winner, the young federal contractor accused of leaking classified information about a Russian cyber-attack on the election, had re-tweeted posts about leaking and hacking and once called the president a, quote, "orange fascist" in a tweet of her own.

And stalled agenda. Even as key Republicans complain that the president's tweets are stalling his agenda, the president is stepping up his tweet tirades as the White House reverses course and declares his tweets, quote, "official statements."

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Less than two days before fired FBI director James Comey publicly testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee, President Trump says -- and I'm quoting him now -- "I wish him luck."

A source says Comey will confine himself to facts and leave legal analysis to others.

There are fresh signs of disarray at the same time within the White House. Sources say the president is concerned there's no war room to defend him from the Russia allegations, and he's said to be angry at the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for basically letting a special counsel take over the investigation.

And in a stunning development, press secretary Sean Spicer today refused -- refused -- to say if the president still has confidence in Sessions. As the president fires off tweets about the Middle East, his travel

ban, terror and tweeting, the White House does a 180, now proclaiming that tweets are official statements, even as the Republicans complain that the president's tweets are stalling his agenda.

And new details emerging about the federal contractor accused of leaking classified information about a Russian cyber-attack on the U.S. election. Reality Winner, a 25-year-old with a top-secret clearance, did not hide her disdain for President Trump. In a tweet just before getting her contracting job, she called the president an orange fascist. And she re-tweeted or liked social media posts on hacking and leaking.

I'll talk to Democratic Senator Chris Coons of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the breaking news. President Trump today commenting directly, if briefly, on the upcoming testimony by the fired FBI director, James Comey. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray, for the very latest. What are you learning, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there is certainly no love lost between President Trump and James Comey, and when the president was asked about this today, he gave a very brief answer just two days ahead of Comey's hearing. Only -- the president only saying he wishes Comey luck.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Just days before fired FBI director James Comey is set to testify on Capitol Hill about his conversations with the president, the White House is still grappling with how to respond to a barrage of questions about Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What message do you have to Jim Comey ahead of his testimony?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish him luck.

MURRAY: Trump may be maintaining his calm in public today, but in private conversations, the president is expressing irritation that there isn't a more robust operation to defend him.

Efforts to create a comprehensive war room to push back against the drumbeat of Russia news have stalled, at least for now, but the president's frustrations are still simmering and spilling out onto his Twitter account. And ever since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation...

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.

MURRAY: Trump's anger has continued to build. He's watched with fury as a special counsel was appointed; and the FBI's investigation has touched a number of officials in Trump's inner circle, including his senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

TRUMP: Jared's actually become much more famous than me.

MURRAY: As the president quipped about his son-in-law's fame today, White House press secretary Sean Spicer couldn't say whether Trump still has confidence in Sessions.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have not had a discussion with him about that.

MURRAY: Administration officials admit the investigations have distracted from the president's agenda, even as Trump insists he's laser-focused on pressing issues like health care and tax reform.

[17:05:05] TRUMP: It will be the biggest tax cut in our country's history. At the core of this agenda is repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare.

MURRAY: But part of the challenge for Trump's team has been defending a president who has a habit of contradicting his own staffers. Monday night he took to Twitter to say, "That's right. We need a travel ban for certain dangerous countries, not some politically-correct term that won't help us protect our people."

Just hours after White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: I don't think the president cares what you call it.

MURRAY: Trump's allies have begun sounding the alarm, warning his tweets can sometimes do more harm than good.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think many times he's used it the right way to get his message out there and have people hear directly from him what he thinks. And other times I think what he's done hasn't been, you know, in his best interests.

MURRAY: Today the White House slugged aside concerns about Trump's Twitter-happy tendencies.

SPICER: The same people who are critiquing his use of it now, critiqued it during the election, and it turned out pretty well for him then.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now as the president tries to move forward with his legislative agenda, he'll be having dinner tonight with the members of congress. Those members include senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, senators who will be questioning James Comey on Thursday.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara, thanks very much. As the Russia investigations pick up steam, the fired FBI director, James Comey, is getting ready for this week's Senate testimony.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. There's new information on what Comey and Comey won't say.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Wolf. This information comes from our colleague Jake Tapper, who according to a source close to Comey, makes it clear that when Jim Comey comes to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he will not be making any type of kind of assignment or to blame as to whether or not there's any legal grounds for obstruction of justice. The rationale is he didn't believe he's in a position to do so.

He is there, this person says, as a fact witness. He's going to leave the legal analysis to others. Now, what do those facts entail? Those are already out there; and they will be covered by Comey, according to this person. There's the first and foremost the loyalty pledge requested by President Trump, according to sources familiar with Jim Comey. There's also the request by President Trump for Jim Comey to ease off the investigation of Michael Flynn.

Now, Wolf, both of those issues will be dealt with, will be addressed by Jim Comey in his testimony, according to this person. One thing to keep in mind that will not be addressed: that's the Russia investigation. Sources say behind the scenes, Jim Comey has met with Robert Mueller, the special counsel. They have made clear that Jim Comey is going to stay away from those issues specifically, but when it comes to those meetings with President Trump, those will be addressed, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's not just Comey's testimony on Thursday. There could also be some serious fireworks tomorrow, right?

MATTINGLY: Yes, that's exactly right. Same committee, same issues, just different witnesses. Tomorrow the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wolf, is going to be having a hearing on FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, specifically a portion of that act that needs to be reauthorized. But there's going to be a lot of focus on Russia. Keep in mind who's testifying, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general whose memo was cited by several White House officials for the rationale for firing Jim Comey. This will be his first testimony in a public forum.

Now, it's very likely that he'll do exactly what he's done behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, pretty much defer any questions to Bob Mueller, but also testifying will be Dan Coates, the director of national intelligence, also the director of the NSA, Michael Rogers. Keep in mind, Wolf, these are two individuals who sources say were approached by President Trump and asked to publicly deny any allegations of collusion. They haven't commented publicly about that, but in talking to Senate Democratic aides and Democratic senators throughout the course of the day, they've made clear to me, Wolf, that they plan on trying to pin those witnesses down on those issues, trying to get them on the record.

One other thing to keep a very close eye on. While senators aren't expecting a lot of forthcoming questions when it comes to the Russia investigation, watch as they try and lay the groundwork for Thursday's hearing. They want to make sure that these witnesses know where they want to go on Thursday. They want to kind of set the tone for what people will be facing when Jim Comey comes to testify in front of that committee on Thursday, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly will be historic and very, very lively. Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. Senator, thanks for joining us.

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

BLITZER: It was pretty extraordinary. The White House press secretary Sean Spicer today would not confirm that President Trump has confidence in his attorney general Jeff Sessions. Do you have confidence that Sessions will remain in place at the Justice Department?

COONS: Well, I think this is one of the ways that President Trump signals he's reconsidering his support for senior members of his administration. This must have been a knowing refusal by Sean Spicer to confirm that the attorney general still has the president's confidence.

As for me, I've really had concerns that Attorney General Sessions hasn't respected the scope of his recusal. He was directly involved in the firing of FBI Director Jim Comey, and I have asked along with several other Democrats have asked the inspector general of the Department of Justice to review whether or not the attorney general has complied with his own recusal.

BLITZER: Jeff Sessions, as a U.S. senator from Alabama, was certainly one of the earliest supporters of President Trump's candidacy, the first senator to do so. What does it say to you that President Trump is now openly criticizing the attorney general's Justice Department? He did so in a tweet yesterday, and today the White House not offering full confidence in Sessions.

COONS: Well, Wolf, I would sure hate to be the lawyer who is going to defend President Trump's Muslim travel ban in front of the Supreme Court after that string of tweets he let off, because they significantly undermined his case.

It also suggests, it is directly criticizing the Department of Justice, so the only conclusion I could draw from the president's tweets is that his frustration is mounting with the attorney general and that Attorney General Sessions ought to be considering whether or not his tenure with this administration is going to be strong or long.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen a sitting president of the United States openly criticize a decision by the Justice Department, the revised travel ban, the travel ban 2.0 that the president himself signed off on as part of an executive order? COONS: Well, certainly not in a way that so directly undermines the

president's own case in front of the Supreme Court. As you know, several courts have invalidated the so-called Muslim ban or the travel ban. They have linked it to President Trump's statements as a candidate that suggested what he was really after was a regionally- motivated ban. And by firing off these tweets that suggest he preferred the less politically-correct first Muslim ban, President Trump has weakened and undermined his case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

BLITZER: It's no secret the president believes that Sessions made a major mistake when he recused himself from this investigation setting the stage for a special counsel to emerge. Robert Mueller, the former FBI director.

What do you expect to hear from another former FBI director, James Comey, who was fired by the president on Thursday morning regarding his private conversations with President Trump?

COONS: Well, there's two important things I'm looking for this week out of the testimony of former FBI director Comey. First, it's just a reconfirmation that, in his view, Russia really did interfere in our 2016 election. That's well and widely known here on Capitol Hill, but for a lot of Americans who have been busy going about their lives and who may turn into this hearing this week I think that's helpful toll have it reconfirmed that the intelligence community, including the FBI, all concluded that Russia, at Putin's direction, intentionally interfered in our election.

More important is the potentially explosive testimony by the FBI director that President Trump directly asked him to pledge loyalty to Trump personally, to back off the investigation into his national security adviser, or to slow down or back off the ongoing investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian senior officials. That's a really striking allegation, and to have the former FBI director, a seasoned senior lawyer and law enforcement official testify to those actions would have significant consequences, Wolf.

BLITZER: But are you confident, senator, that Comey's testimony will, when all is said and done, set the record straight on whether there was obstruction of justice? Our Jake Tapper is reporting he will only be what's described as a fact witness and leave the analysis, the conclusion to others.

COONS: That's right, Wolf. I do not expect the former FBI director to say in so many words this constitutes obstruction of justice. As a law enforcement professional, he knows that that conclusion is left to others.

But I do expect he will testify as to whether President Trump did or did not inappropriately lean on him to either pledge loyalty to Trump personally or to back off the investigation.

I'll remind you that allegations have been made that Trump also inappropriately pressured the director of national intelligence and the head of the NSA, both of whom will testify tomorrow, in the same sort of way to back off the investigation or to make public statements that there's no evidence of collusion.

BLITZER: I suspect that those -- those two individuals will be testifying tomorrow will refer to the privacy of their conversations with the president and won't say publicly whether or not it did happen. Don't you expect the same thing?

COONS: I expect the same thing. And the suggestion by the White House that Jim Comey, the former FBI director, is only going to be able to testify on Thursday because they're not asserting executive privilege, frankly doesn't pass the laugh test. The reason there isn't an executive privilege to assert here is, in part, because President Trump himself chose to talk about his private conversations with the former FBI director. If there had been any executive privilege here, it was almost certainly waived by the president's own actions.

BLITZER: Senator Coons, there's much more to discuss. I need to take a quick break. We'll resume all of our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our breaking news: just days before fired FBI director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill, a source says Comey will confine himself to the facts, let others handle local analysis. President Trump today saying -- said, today, and I'm quoting him now, "I wish him luck."

Meantime, President Trump seems to be endorsing the stunning isolation of Qatar by other U.S. Arab allies. We're back with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a member of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees.

Senator, earlier today the president made a statement on Twitter that read -- and let me read it to you -- "So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the king and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism."

[17:20:10] Should President Trump, Senator, be taking credit for this development?

COONS: Well, frankly, it's a very troubling thing for the president to be diving in on Twitter to such a complicated and fast-moving issue as our gulf allies cutting off all relations with Qatar. My understanding is that today the Defense Department has also issued a statement thanking Qatar for their long-standing partnership and the fact that they host one of our largest bases in the region, an air base that has 11,000 U.S. and coalition personnel on it from which sorties are being flown against ISIS in the ongoing military campaign.

I think a more appropriate stance for the president to have taken would be that he urged strong action against organizations like Hamas, which Qatar has long supported, but to not endorse the severing of relations between Saudi Arabia and a number of other other Gulf partners, with Qatar, which is a fairly strong and decisive step that will unsettle relations in the Persian Gulf.

BLITZER: But I assume you agree with the president and with the Saudis, the Bahrainis, the Emiratis that Qatar is still funding terrorist organizations, despite the pledge that was made during the visit of the president to Saudi Arabia.

COONS: Qatar has been engaging for a while in funding organizations, most importantly Hamas, but others associated with al Nusra. And they've been supporting journalism outlets that really gets under the saddle of a lot of their Persian Gulf allies and that arguably has supported some more extreme views within the Gulf. So yes, there are reasons to criticize Qatar. Qatar hasn't taken decisive steps to cut off funding. The Saudis have taken a very strong step here.

But it seems once again to show there's internal divisions within the administration between what's been said by the Department of Defense and Department of State and the president's tweets.

To me, this suggests that we continue to have a challenge. Out of roughly 500 senior positions in the State Department, Defense Department and other important administration agencies, there's more than 450 that are vacant and where there hasn't been a nominee advanced by the administration. We don't have a nominee to be the ambassador to the United Kingdom at a time when they face several terrorist threats. There's no nominee to be the new FBI director. There's no nominee from this president to run the TSA, which helps keep our airways safe.

So frankly, I would hope the president would put the phone down, stop tweeting at all hours of the day and night, and instead move forward with some of these important vacant positions where there isn't yet a nominee from this administration.

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

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on the breaking news we're following. We're also learning new details about the 25-year-old contractor accused of leaking a highly-classified report on Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:27:32] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump during a meeting just a little while ago with the Republican congressional leaders, was asked about former FBI director James Comey's upcoming testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The president replied with a quick "I wish him luck."

However, the president's spokesman declined today to comment on reports that the president is furious with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Let's get some insight from our specialists. And Dana Bash, how

significant is it that the White House press secretary today refused to say if the president has confidence in the attorney of the United States?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, it's significant for lots of reasons. One of which is that the two of them were so incredibly close during the campaign. Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump.

But, you know, I was told yesterday that we should go back to that fateful day, the day that Jeff Sessions recused himself without the president knowing he was going to do that, and that the president has been frankly upset, not just at Sessions but at everything that he believes has snowballed, that has made the White House and the president's job much harder since that decision, the consequences of that decision.

You'll remember it was the next day that Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus were going to go to Palm Beach with him, decided to stay back. He didn't have that supervision, and the president sent out that tweet, saying that President Obama wiretapped him.

Then, of course, the special counsel happened, the president believed, and he's probably right in some respects, because the attorney general recused himself.

So so much of this that has continued to irritate the president -- and that irritation has made things worse, because he's lashed out on Twitter and in other venues -- stems from that day.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm told, Mark Preston, that the president feels it was a real sign of weakness on the part of Jeff Sessions to recuse himself, and it's caused him a lot of problems as a result of that. Why would he want somebody who's so weak to go ahead and be the attorney general of the United States.

If you're the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, you see what's going on. You've got to wonder, "Should I stay in this job?"

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No doubt. And you know, for us here at the panel, we all know Jeff Sessions fairly well, have covered him very well. Phil has probably dealt with him during his time in government service.

That fateful day is March 2. Ninety days that President Trump has been stewing over this, only to pop his top yesterday, which just goes to show you, though, that the loyalty factor that Donald Trump has for people is nonexistent.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No.

PRESTON: Let me tell you what the long-range problem of that is, is that he's going to find it hard when we see that his -- his government turns over, his close advisers turn over, to find qualified people that are willing to go in and work for $150,000 a year, which a lot of people might think is a lot of money but not here in and around Washington, D.C., to give up their life to work for somebody who's not loyal to them.

BORGER: You know, I was told last week by a source who's close to the president who said, "Look, loyalty is a one-way street with this president. He expects it from you, but if he believes that you have done something to hurt him, forget about it, forget about it." And so that's -- that's what loyalty amounts to, and I think that Jeff Sessions may be feeling that sting a little bit.

BLITZER: Gloria, you heard the president say, "I wish him luck" when he was asked...

BORGER: You think he does?

BLITZER: ... about Comey. I'm not sure he does, but that's what he said. But you've been doing a lot of reporting...

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: ... on what we might be hearing from Comey Thursday morning.

BORGER: Well, let me tell you what you're not going to hear. You are not going to hear, according to my sources, you're not going to hear the former FBI director come out and say, "I believe the president obstructed justice, and let me tell you why."

He is going to -- to be really a witness more of fact than anything else. He is going to recount what he wrote in those memos. I cannot figure out whether he's actually going to read from those memos. I doubt it. It's clear he hasn't given Congress those memos yet, but he's going to tell him -- people what exactly occurred.

He believes that it's up to Mueller, to the special counsel to make the legal judgments about obstruction. And there may be, I'm told, by a source familiar with his thinking, there may be a lot of political conclusions that are drawn at the end of this hearing because of what Comey tells people. But he is not going to give them any legal conclusions about what it is the president did.

BLITZER: We've just been told, Phil, that the top two investigators on the House Intelligence Committee -- Representative Mike Conoway, the Republican; Adam Schiff, the Democrat -- there you see the microphones there. We're showing live pictures. They're going to be coming out shortly and making a joint statement answering reporters' questions on new developments that they have learned as part of their House Intelligence Committee investigation. I don't know what they're going to tell us, but potentially it could be significant.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It could be. I mean, if you look at what's happened over the past day, we have an arrest down in the south of the United States, an arrest about the revelation of a top-secret document that talks not only about Russian meddling in the election but Russia meddling in the electoral process that is looking into the voting process. I wonder if this is going to be them trying to get in front of that

story to say, "Hey, we've seen that arrest. We've seen the top-secret document," which the government has confirmed is authentic. If I were them, I'd try to get out in front that story.

BLITZER: They seem to be getting along much better, the -- Adam Schiff, the Democratic vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Mike Conoway, who took over for Devon Nunes, who recused himself, supposedly, from this investigation.

BASH: I mean, if they're going to come out and give a joint statement, that's -- that's pretty rare for the House side, at least in the past couple of months, given the incredible partisanship on this investigation.

And the fact that, if they are going to say they learned something, just that in and of itself is interesting in that, because of the partisan disarray, frankly, in that committee, the focus has been on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the one that has really been genuinely working in a bipartisan way, the committee that's going to have Comey before them on Thursday.

BLITZER: How prepared is the Trump White House to deal with the fallout from this investigation and specifically the Comey testimony?

BORGER: I don't know. I'm ready for Donald Trump live tweeting the Comey testimony.

BASH: I'm not.

BORGER: There was a lot of talk about setting up a war room and making it official and -- and bringing people in to do that. And now our reporters at the White House today are saying that's not the case, that that has kind of fallen through the cracks, and that, in fact, there is no sort of official plan other than to have your surrogates out there, responding to what -- to what the former FBI director says.

I think that, since the president considers himself his own best spokesman, it would not surprise me if the president himself did respond to what Comey says.

BLITZER: What do you think?

PRESTON: I just think the bigger picture is that, if he's not preparing to defend himself with people who are smarter than him when it comes to legal strategy, when it comes to communications strategy, you know, when it comes to pushing back against the Democrats on this issue, what does that say about everything else that he is supposed to be overseeing? I mean, I think it's very troubling, actually.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's much more coming in.

[17:35:03] Once again, we're standing by. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the House Intelligence Committee, the two top members who are investigating the Russian meddling issue. They're about to come out and make a statement. We'll have live coverage of that, much more, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Looking at live pictures coming in from Capitol Hill. We're back with our political and counterterrorism specialists as we stand by for an announcement from the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russia's meddling in the presidential election. We'll have live coverage once the two members show up at those microphones. Stand by for that.

[17:40:08] Let's get back to our specialists right now.

Phil Mudd, the president is taking credit for the Saudi Arabian decision, the Emirati decision, the Bahraini decision, the Egyptian, to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar, the president tweeting at 8:06 a.m., "During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can be no longer -- there no longer can be funding of radical ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar. Look." And then he had more tweets on that, as well.

MUDD: I would say be careful what you wish for here. Typically, as a president of the United States, you're supposed to be a peace-maker. He is dividing as fast as he can.

That is, if you look at one side of this equation, you have people like the Saudis. They hate the Iranians, as does everybody in the White House. In the middle, sort of, you have the Qataris. So they view themselves as a tiny country with a heck of a lot of money; they view themselves as mavericks. And one of the ways they've been mavericks is to deal with the Iranians. What the president is say here is anybody who deals with the Iranians should be isolated by us and by the Saudis.

My point is, if you want to divide people further and make the Iranians even more of an enemy than they are, be careful, because you don't know what the end game is here.

BASH: And it's another example of the president, perhaps unwittingly, undermining his own -- his own ability to get things done in that region. The Pentagon relies -- you know how this, and you were there for how long, in country?

BLITZER: A long time.

BASH: You know much the Pentagon relies on the U.S. base in Qatar for lots of its operations in the region, has for 15 years or more. And the fact that the president trashes Qatar and takes credit for something that was really monumental on Monday, as you said, the other -- some of the other Middle Eastern countries separating themselves from Qatar, it makes you wonder whether he even realizes that this U.S. base is there and how much the United States relies on them.

BLITZER: The U.S. has thousands of troops at Camp As-Sayliyah, the al-Udeid Air Base. A lot of jet fighters fly out of there. They've been there for a long time, almost like a regional headquarter of the U.S. military Central Command. BORGER: Terror fighting...

BASH: Exactly.

BORGER: ... out of there. And you can imagine General Mattis having now to figure out what he does. Does he go to the president and say, "Mr. President, you -- you can't say what you just said" for the very reasons that you just stated, Wolf? You know, he has had to do that in the past. You know, he's told the president how he feels about torture, for example. He has -- he has made his positions very clear. And I think he's going to have to do it again. And we'll have to see -- we'll have to see where that leads, because somebody needs to say to the president at some point, "You cannot do this. This has repercussions."

BLITZER: And later at 9:36, followed by 9:44 a.m., he tweets -- the president tweets, "So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the king and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all references pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism."

That's a pretty ambitious goal, that this is going to be the beginning of the end of terrorism.

PRESTON: Well, right, and he's had a whole lot of ambitious goals, saying that "I'm going to take Jared Kushner, my son-in-law, who's now going to go solve the Middle East crisis." Right?

One, we saw Mattis have to go over and -- and clean up what he said about NATO, so this is new. But to Gloria's point, someone has got to tell him to stop. I don't think there's anyone out there that can actually get him to do it.

BORGER: Well, and that's why he's having trouble getting some lawyers on his legal team, because they are very loathe to represent a client that they can't control and he could cause himself real legal problems during all of this; and if they can't control him, why represent him?

BLITZER: The Pentagon is insisting that the president's tweet is not going to undermine the U.S. relationship, military-to-military relationship with Qatar, but if you know the Qatari leadership, they must be pretty upset.

MUDD: There's a couple things going on here. This is a personalized environment. I've lived in the Middle East. These people build relationships based on having dinner, meeting people, knowing your family. You can't insult somebody and then turn around and say everything is fine.

There's a broader issue. Whether you're dealing with Russia and Europe or whether you're dealing with Iran and the Middle East, you need allies. He'll alienated the British, the French, the Germans, who are potentially our allies with the -- against the Russians, and now the Qataris, who have a huge air base right next to Iran. You can't alienate everybody if you want to have alliances. BLITZER: Everybody stay with us. Once again, we're standing by for

an announcement about the Russian meddling probe from the two leaders of the House Intelligence Committee investigation. We're going to go live to Capitol Hill as soon as that begins.

Also, new details emerging about the 25-year-old contractor accused of leaking a secret study about Russia's meddling in the presidential election. Why did she allegedly do it, and how did she get a top- secret clearance?

[17:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're standing by for an announcement about the Russia election meddling investigation from leaders of the House Intelligence Committee. You're looking at live pictures coming in. As soon as the leaders show up, we'll go there.

We're also learning new details about Reality Leigh Winners. She's the 25-year-old woman accused of leaking a top-secret National Security Agency report on Russia's election meddling.

Brian Todd has been looking into her history. Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Reality Winner's mother tells CNN the alleged leaker is a yoga instructor who loves animals and is not political.

[17:49:59] Tonight, we've learned she did engage in some political activity, tweeted against President Trump multiple times, and followed Edward Snowden on Twitter. But her lawyer says that does not make her a traitor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, this unassuming looking 25-year-old is behind bars in Georgia. The main suspect in a federal leak investigation that the Department of Justice calls a threat to national security.

Reality Leigh Winner, an Air Force veteran who worked as a government contractor, is accused of removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet. The government says, Winner, who had a top-secret security clearance, leaked this secret NSA report about a Russian military cyber attack on a U.S. voting software company days before the election. The document was first published by "The Intercept."

Tonight, as Winner faces charges that could land her in prison for 10 years, those who know her are trying to figure out why she did what she allegedly did. On Twitter, she appears to have followed Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks, and accounts linked to the Group Anonymous.

But she was also a decorated airman in the U.S. Air Force. A commendation shown to CNN by Winner's mother says she provided valuable intelligence information and helped geolocate 120 enemy combatants. Her mother says she was a linguist in the Air Force, speaking Pashto, Farsi, and Dari.

MARK RASCH, FORMER COUNTERESPIONAGE PROSECUTOR, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: You really can't tell what her motivation is. The only thing we know is she wanted this material to be public.

TODD (voice-over): Winner's mother tells CNN her daughter wasn't especially political and had never praised leakers like Snowden. On election night, as it became apparent Donald Trump was going to win, Reality Winner appears to have tweeted, quoted, "Well, people suck. #ElectionNight."

In February, under the name Sarah Winners, she allegedly tweeted that President Trump was, quote, "an orange fascist." That was only about two days before Winner Pluribus International Corporation, a contractor providing analytics and engineering services to U.S. security agencies.

RASCH: These would raise questions but they're just that, just questions. In the interview process, you have to satisfy yourself that the questions have viable answers. It is not like posting political messages exclude you from getting a top-secret clearance. It has to do with the nature and content of the messages.

TODD (voice-over): Investigators say Winner was caught because the document had been creased, indicating it had been printed and taken off the premises. When they traced the document back, investigators say it became evident only six people had printed it, including Winner. And the government says only she had contact with "The Intercept" reporters.

Tonight, experts tell us, the NSA could have used an even more elaborate way of tracking the memo -- dots embedded in print outs.

JOE HALL, CHIEF TECHNOLOGIST, CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND TECHNOLOGY: To the naked eye, the untrained eye, you wouldn't see this. Unless you magnified it or used blue light, and then the dots become a little bit easier to see. But when you invert the colors, if you take the negative of the colors, it becomes much more apparent that you have this little matrix of dots.

And they use matrix of dots actually to encode information. They encode the date and time that the print out was made and the serial number of the printer that made the print out. And can you easily find tools online -- this was by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example -- where you could put that pattern in, and it will do the math for you and show that this print out, this leaked NSA document, was made on a printer with this serial number, 535218, on May 9, 2017 at 6:20 a.m.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, Reality Winner's lawyer tells CNN he has not seen anything that would lead him to believe his client is guilty of these charges. The attorney says his client is, quote, "not a traitor, she is a veteran," and says he believes the government has a political agenda in going after his client. The NSA would not comment on this when we contacted them. Winner's

employer, Pluribus International, did not return our calls and e- mails. Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, there are also some indications, we're told, that the alleged leaker, Reality Winner, didn't do such a great job of covering her tracks. What are you hearing about that?

TODD: Right, Wolf. "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight that "The Intercept" offers specific guidelines for whistleblowers to follow when providing them with documents and other information, specific security procedures that "The Intercept" tells people they need to follow to cover themselves. "The Post" reports that Reality Winner didn't follow many, if any, of those guidelines.

BLITZER: I assume the National Security Agency is doing a full review, Brian, of their procedures, how this woman got these top- secret security clearances, and if all of these allegations are true, how it all unfolded.

TODD: They certainly would be, Wolf. It is important to remember that this woman didn't work directly for the NSA. She worked for a contractor which did work, apparently, at least giving documents or handling NSA documents, so she is a little bit removed from the NSA. But, also, you're right, Wolf, the NSA has had a problem with theft of its material from one of its employees who went on trial recently, so they are certainly doing a review as well.

BLITZER: Sure, they got to do a lessons learned as a result of this. Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Coming up, we're standing by for an announcement about the Russian election meddling probe from the two leaders of the House Intelligence Committee investigation. You're looking at live pictures. We'll have that as soon as they emerge.

[17:55:01] Also, as James Comey gets ready to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on his meetings with the President, we're learning how the fired FBI Director plans to handle his testimony as the President says he wishes Comey luck.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Kremlin meddling? U.S. investigators now believe that Russian hackers helped create one of the worst diplomatic crises to hit the Middle East in years. Stand by for CNN's exclusive new report.

[17:59:57] The Comey show. As James Comey prepares to testify, President Trump sends a four-word message to the FBI Director he fired. This is we're standing by for an announcement of the Russia investigation from the House Intelligence Committee on the status of the Russia investigation.