Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Senate Intel Members: We'll "Start Following The Money"; Polls Close Soon In Pivotal Georgia House Race; Trump: American Should Have Been Brought Home Long Ago; Interview with Sen. Ben Cardin; Feds: No Records Of Any White House Recording Devices; Spy Satellites Detect Activity At North Korean Nuclear Site; Trump Weighs Options against North Korea. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Follow the money. Senate investigators say they'll start using banking records from the treasury's financial crimes unit to hunt for links between the Trump campaign and Russian financier.

No records. The Office of Finance and Budget says it has no records of recording equipment in the White House. When will President Trump come clean about his hint that he may have made taped his talks with fired FBI Director Jim Comey.

Litmus test. Final votes are being cast in the special election for Georgia's sixth congressional district. It's the most expensive house race ever, as Democrats help to snag the seat traditionally held by Republicans. Is it a test to the Trump presidency?

And pressuring North Korea. President Trump voices outrage over the death of an American prison released by North Korea, but he says, efforts to have China put pressure on Kim Jong-un regime have not worked out. Does the president have a plan B? I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."

Breaking news, Senate investigators say they'll now start following the money looking for ties between the Trump campaign and Russian financiers. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee say they've been promised access to banking records from the treasury department's financial crimes unit that tracks illegal money transfers. That comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee may start looking into possible obstruction of justice from the white house.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is once again at the center of things. Democrats say he may be cooperating with administrators. The White House still can't say exactly when President Trump who announced whether he recorded his conversations with the fired FBI Director James Comey. But the administration's Office of Management and Budget now says it has no records relating to the installation or production of any recording devices in the White House. That comes in response to a Freedom of Information request by CNN.

And polls will be closing two hours from now in Georgia's sixth congressional district. Historically, the Republican seat the Democrats are hoping to grab in a special election. Both sides have poured in millions and millions of dollars. It's a very tight race by all accounts, and Democrats are hoping a win could be the start of a turnaround for them in the 2018 midterm elections. The White House says there is no reason to think vote will foretell future results.

I'll talk to the ranking remember of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin. And our correspondents, specialists, and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of today's top stories. There's breaking news right now into the probe of Russia's election meddling and the size (ph) to Trump associates. Lawmakers will now dig into possible financial ties and may examine whether the White House has done any meddling of its own with the investigation. Let's begin with our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, what's the latest?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight Senate Intelligence Committee investigators are set to receive treasury department data, as you put it, to follow the money, to look for financial links that might exist between the president, his campaign and Russia. And this is at the same time as another Senate committee, as it plans on its own to look into potential obstruction of justice at the highest level.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Tonight, CNN has learned that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have been promised access to banking records. The treasury department's financial crimes unit.

DONAL TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unbelievable!

KOSINSKI: The goal, to look for possible big money links between the Trump campaign or Trump himself and Russian financiers.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I have long felt that the follow the money questions are right at the heart of our work in terms of telling the American people what has happened with our democratic institution.

KOSINSKI: As the investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn links to Russia and others expands. Now two top House Democrats want to know whether Flynn misled officials on his security clearance paperwork about trips to the Middle East in 2015. Allegedly working on a plan for a $100 billion deal involving nuclear arms plants, arms sales Saudi Arabia and Russia. The congressman have written to Flynn's lawyer asking for more information, and saying that hotel Flynn's claim he stayed at doesn't exist, nor just any record if someone travelling with him, but there seems to be a discrepancy between what he told lawmakers back in 2015 --

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I just came back from trip, fairly extensive trip to the Middle East.

KOSINSKI: And his official statement that he didn't start working for the consulting company, he wouldn't taken that trip for until months later.

[17:05:03] Flynn did lie to the vice president about his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which is why he was forced to resign and there are questions about what he told the FBI too. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse tells CNN he thinks Flynn is now likely cooperating with the investigation.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: All the signals are suggesting that he is already cooperating with the FBI and may for been for some time.

First of all, they have dead to rights on a felony false statement for the statement that they took from him in the White House about his Kislyak conversations. Second, Comey reported that one of the things the FBI does with cooperaters is get them go back and clean up areas of non-compliance. And Flynn, who was never hired by a foreign government again, went back and clean him his foreign agent registration act filings.

FLYNN: As a determined American --

KOSINSKI: So far law enforcement sources haven't confirmed that. And senators on the Judiciary Committee working on their investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election have indicated they are willing to also look into the possibility of obstruction of justice by the president. They'll be meeting with special counsel Robert Mueller to discuss the scope of their probe as both the House and Senate intelligence committees move forward with open hearings tomorrow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: OK. So there's a lot going on, but one thing we haven't heard this week, at least not yet. What about the tapes? The White House has not said whether or not there are indeed recordings that exist of conversations between the president and fired FBI Director James Comey as the president has alluded to. So CNN has asked several government agencies now through the Freedom of Information Act for documents related to recording, the recordings themselves, and tonight one more agency, the Office of Management and Budget says they don't have anything. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. Good report. Thanks very much Michelle Kosinski reporting for us over at the White House. A message when it comes to Russian meddling. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, a lots of clear answers on this today? I suspect not?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, certainly more questions and then answers on this topic now. I just first televise briefing in eight days, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was eager to talk about tax reform and the health care bill. When it came to the matter of Russian meddling in the election, which virtually everyone in Washington agrees happened, Spicer said he wasn't sure if the president agreed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZELENY (voice-over): The White House was hoping to change the subject today from the lingering cloud of the Russia investigation.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon.

ZELENY: But during his first televise briefing in eight days, Press Secretary Sean Spicer say didn't know whether the president believed Russia meddled in the 216 election. Something Republicans, Democrats and the entire U.S. intelligence community all agree on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just very plainly, a yes or no answer, does the President Trump believe that the Russians government interfered in the 2016 elections?

SPICER: I think -- I haven't sat down and talk to him about that specific thing. Obviously, we've been dealing with a lot of other issues today. I'd be glad to touch-base on.

ZELENY: Asked again, Spicer gave the same answer.

SPICER: I have not sat down and asked him about specific reactions to him so I'd be glad to touch-base and get back to you.

ZELENY: The president's reluctant to acknowledge Russian interference in the election has confounded his allies and arm his critics. It's also help fuel the investigation on Capitol Hill and by a special counsel. Meeting the president of Ukraine in the Oval Office today, Mr. Trump has strong words from North Korea about the death of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who died Monday. He'd been in a coma after 17 months in North Korean captivity.

TRUMP: It's a total disgrace what happened to Otto. That should never, ever be allowed to happen.

ZELENY: Mr. Trump implied President Obama was to blame since Warmbier had been detained since January 2016.

TRUMP: Frankly, if brought home sooner, I think the result would have been a lot different. We should have been brought home that same day. The result would have been a lot different. But what happened to Otto is a disgrace. And I spoke with his family. His family is incredible what they've gone through. But he should have been brought home a long time ago.

ZELENY: A former national security agent, President Obama said at least 10 Americans were released from North Korean custody during the last administration. It's painful that Mr. Warmbier was not among them, but our effort on his behalf never ceased, even the waning days of the administration, spokesman Ned Price said.

As the White House tries to jump start its agenda, a new CBS news poll find the president's approval rating has fallen five points from two months ago to 36 percent, a record low. 57 percent now disapproved of his presidency. The president gets his lowest marks on his handling of the Russia investigation, just 28 percent approve, while 63 percent say they do not. The biggest Republican priority repealing and replacing Obamacare is still under wraps in the Senate.

After once championing the House version of the bill, the president lately has been describing it as heartless and mean.

SPICER: The president clearly wants to build that has heart in it.

ZELENY: Senate Democrats are seizing on the president's criticism.

[17:10:06] SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D) MINORITY LEADER: I Think President Trump summed up his health care bill best with one word, mean. For once, on the topic of health care, my colleagues and I find ourselves agreeing with the president. This bill is mean. Very mean.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, even as the president begin to step up his engagement on the health care bill, there is still one question that remains here at the White House. Is the president, was he recording those conversations with the fired FBI director. Sean Spicer said today he expects an announcement on that this week. Wolf, we've heard that before. It was supposed to come last week. We'll see if there's an announcement on that this week or not. Many people here believe those tapes do not exist. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Joining us now the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. Senator, thanks for being with us.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS: Wolf, it's good to be with you. Thanks.

BLITZER: So we reported - you heard us report the Senate Intelligence Committee is now getting documents from the treasury department's financial crimes unit as they look for possible ties between Trump campaign officials and the Russians. How telling could that data be?

CARDIN: I think this could be very, very important. We know there's been a lot of contact between Trump associates and Moscow, to the extent that there is financial dealings, that will, I think, help on understand what these contacts were about, how Russia used the contacts, what Americans did. This is your - you're following a money. I mean money many times will lead you to what you need to know about the relationship. So I think this is extremely important.

BLITZER: Yesterday here in "The Situation Room", your colleague Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told us he believes General Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser may have flipped in not cooperating with the FBI. What's your assess? Would you agree with him?

CARDIN: Well, I think General Flynn has an awful lot at stake during this investigation. He clearly violated laws. I don't know the status of his cooperation with the FBI. But I certainly we'll not be surprise if he was trying to give them as much information as possible recognizing that he's at risk as far as criminal charges or concern.

BLITZER: Let's get some other national security issues, the other ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The U.S. now facing increased tensions with Russia over the battlefield in Syria. The U.S. now has shot down a Syrian jet fighter and two drones from the Syrian military with Russia threatening to target American planes and actually coming within only five feet of an American plane, an unsafe buzzing incident over the Baltic Sea. How concerned are you over this escalation?

CARDIN: Wolf, this is extremely dangerous. The United States is being pulled in to another conflict, this time between the United States and the Assad regime which is supported by Russia. There is no authorization for the use of military force by Congress in the president use of force against the Assad regime in Syria.

What he's doing right now is bringing us into a potential arm conflict without the authorization of Congress. So I think it's extremely dangerous situation. Couple of that with the back and his turnover his responsibilities as commander-in-chief to the general. He said don't make the decisions as to whether to interjects troops or the level of troops. That is certainly not in keeping with our conversational protections about being drawn into a war.

BLITIZER: Now you recently said that you are worried that a miscalculation by President Trump in your words could lead to a shooting war. Are these types of incidents, the incidents that concern you most?

CARDIN: Well, yes, if we have our planes within five feet of a Russian plane that could have brought us into a conflict and we could have start shooting back and forth. I'm very concerned that the way that this with the way this is proceeding, that we could - a misjudgement by Mr. Trump could allow us to be drawn into a major conflict. Once you're there, it's so difficult to get out, and we know that the U.S. military presence in Syria is not going to end the civil war, only negotiations will do that. There is no military solution. And yet it looks like we're being drawn into a military conflict.

BLITZER: Today it was pretty amazing when you listened to the briefing at the White House. The Press Secretary Sean Spicer on two occasions declined to say whether President Trump actually believes Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. What's your reaction to that?

CARDIN: That's just hard to believe. We know that they meddled in our elections. That is been absolutely shown without any doubt whatsoever. I don't know if there's a single member of Congress who would doubt. The fact we've seen the information. We've seen the same information that the president has seen, clearly Russia was involved in the attack on our country. The president clearly knows that. He clearly knows whether his conversations would tape or not with Mr. Comey, and yet he's taking weeks to either deny or accept that the tapes exist. This is just absurdly. [17:15:13] BLITZER: Senator, standby. We're going to continue this interview right after a quick break. There are a lot more happening as we speak.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More breaking news. President Trump speaking out on the death of the young American student after his release from North Korea custody. His weighing his options for possible retaliation in some fort and seems to be pointing fingers at the Obama Administration. At the same time, we're back with Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee..

[17:20:11] Senator, do you agree with your colleagues, Senator John McCain, Senator Marco Rubio, among others that Otto Warmbier was murdered by the Kim Jong-in regime?

CARDIN: I clearly believe the regime is responsible for his death. The manner in which he was handled in North Korea, here's a healthy person who ends up with significant brain damage while he's in custody. It clearly indicates that he was mistreated by the regime which led to his death. It's a tragic, tragic circumstance, and it just points out one more reason why the United States needs to be firm in our relationship with North Korea.

BLITZER: So what would be the appropriate U.S. response?

CARDIN: Well, you know, we have multiple issues. We not only have the death of this American, we have the threat of a nuclear confrontation with violating -- North Korea violating their nuclear agreements, we have ballistic missile violations that North Korea has done. There are numerous violations.

What we need to do is isolate the regime, and that means China needs to be more cooperative with the international community in providing a blockade of economic assistance to North Korea until they change their behavior. We have not seen that from the Chinese government. So I think we have to be firmer with China in order to get North Korea their equation.

There's limits as to what we can do directly against North Korea. We know that they have missiles pointed at South Korea. We know that's only a few miles away from Seoul. We know that there are literally millions of people that are at risk of being -- of casualties if we start a war there. So, we have a limited option and we have to be careful that we use the opportunities that we have to bring about a change in North Korea.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of China, the president tweeted this today. I'll put it up on the screen. "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of president Xi and China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried." So what is the next step, because that regime is about as isolated as possible?

CARDIN: I don't know where the president has gotten his information that China has tried. I'm not aware of any change in policy of China as it relates to North Korea. We know that North Korea is dependent on China off their energy, we know that North Korea is dependent on China for imports. We know that, and we have seen a little cooperation from China in cutting off those vital economic ties in order to force North Korea to bargain. So, I think the president in this case is making up a justification for China. China has not done what it needs to do.

BLITZER: Senator Cardin, thanks for joining us.

CARDIN: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Coming up, more breaking news. Senate investigators say they'll start digging for links between the Trump campaign and Russian financiers using banking records from the Treasury department's financial crimes unit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:26:35] BLIZTER: Breaking news. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee say they're prepared to follow the money as they pursue potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Let's discuss with our experts and specialists Phil Mudd. Senate Intelligence Committee were not told they've been promised access to data from treasury department financial crimes unit. So walk us through how this works. Using that kind of data how do they follow the money and potentially see connections between Trump associates during the campaign and Russian financiers?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, if you want an explanation about why the FBI should be involved in the technical aspect in the investigation and the Senate should be doing broader issues like how to protect the next American elections, this is it. Let me walk through this. Think about this in three or four dimensions.

I'm looking at the travel of Trump associates over the past year or two, three simple preposition, right Then I'm going to overlay in the 21st century communications, text, e-mail, phone calls, going back over the course of, let's say, the last 24 to 36 months. Then I'm going to do interviews of dozens of people and determine how those interviews correspond to reality over time, in other words, who is speaking the truth and who is lying over time.

Now we have another added feature, the fourth feature over this. I'm going to look not only the get the financial transactions between of U.S. citizens, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn. I'm going to look at dirty Russians who they might have been associated with. This technical stuff, it involves layers of false front operations overseas. It's not clear to me that the Senate will have the technical capability to do this. This is why I look to people like the special counsel Robert Mueller to undertake this investigation, because there is a lot of expertise you need on this.

BLITZER: So the FBI has the expertise --

MUDD: They do, yes. BLITZER: -- the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the staffers don't necessarily --

MUDD: That's right. Not only do they not, but you wonder why there duplication of effort. Once you defer to the FBI if you're on the Senate doing the stuff? I would.

BLITZER: Let's see what they can find out. Sean Spicer, Rebecca, over at the White House today, he said that the president will finally clarify whether or not there are recordings of his conversations with the fired FBI Director James Comey, maybe by this week. Why is it taking so long to get a simple answer? In early May the president tweeted about, quote, tapes, and we still don't know if there are tapes.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's a great question. Maybe they're just giving us fodder for daily panel discussions. I feel like we've had this question multiple times now. Everybody loves a good cliffhanger, Wolf.

[17:30:00] But I think we're really going to get an answer this week because they're looking at a firm deadline. The House Intelligence Committee told the White House - asked the White House to produce tapes if they have them or a response if they do not by June 23rd. That's this week. And so the White House doesn't really have a lot of time to mess around with this any longer. It's not clear why they have dragged it out to this point. It's really only built up interest in this issue, and so whether they do or don't have tapes, people keep talking about it. This is not the issue that the White House wants to be talking about right now, but we're going to know sooner rather than later what the truth is here and whether the President critically was telling the truth in the first place.

BLITZER: We are now told by our colleagues up on Capitol Hill, Bob Mueller, the Special Counsel has arrived up on Capitol. He's been having a series of closed-door meetings with members of the House and Senate involved in these investigations, not an open session or anything like that, but to make sure there is no overlap, no problems between his investigation, criminal investigation, and the oversight investigations going on in the Senate and the House. But I want to get to something really intriguing at the white house briefing today, as you saw on two occasions, Sean Spicer said he didn't know what the President believes whether or not the Russians interfered, meddled in the U.S. Presidential election. He said he hasn't had that conversation with the President. Even though we heard from the heads of all the U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI that there's no doubt the Russians did interfere. Why is the President - why isn't the White House ready to say they President to say the President believes that?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it was a bizarre answer but you can forgive Sean Spicer for being confused because the President has kind of all over the place on this issue. He said it's fake news. He said it could be a 400-pound man in his basement, he said it could be China. He said it could be a lot of different things. I believe at one point he said it might be the Russians but he wasn't sure. So he hasn't really - not knowing what he thinks today on it, it is maybe a valid answer given how many answers he's given on this particular question. That has been settled by every major intelligence agency in this country.

BLITZER: If you have the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, all the agencies on this exact same page, why wouldn't the President believe that?

MUDD: Because he wants to set a different direction for Russia. I tell you, the people in the intelligence committee are grinding their teeth at this. The President of the United States has the right to determine how we deal with Vladimir Putin. Below that, there are technical issues, issues that require the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, to look at data that shows who accessed, for example, DNC democratic computers during the election and how we attribute that access to the Russian, a very technical question. If you're on the intelligence committee and you're sitting there now saying, the President of the United States has decided, he's got more capability to analyze who accessed democratic computers during the election than the National Security Agency does. He could do whatever he wants with Vladimir Putin. As an Intel guy, that is really frustrating.

BLITZER: You wanted to say something?

BERG: Well, right, I think the President's silence on this issue speaks volumes. The fact that the Press Secretary does not off-hand know what the President thinks about this issue is astounding. An issue so big, so vital for our national security, we're having multiple investigations regarding this issue. In any other Presidency, I think it's safe to say you would know immediately as Press Secretary what the President thinks about this issue.

KUCINICH: In all seriousness though, the President - he sees this as a reflection on him. He sees this investigation as a reflection on his election. And that's where this stops. And so the fact that he doesn't want to - this to be a conversation about his legitimacy, which he ties to this, he's done that since the very beginning since they started becoming an issue that we discussed. So you're absolutely right, it's a huge issue but I think, you know, that's probably one of the reasons he doesn't want to answer this question.

BLITZER: He keep saying that all these investigations are a witch hunt -

KUCINICH: Yes.

BLITZER: - and he uses other phrases as well. Stand by, much more coming up. The President sounding off on the death of an American college student who returned from North Korea in a coma, is he pointing fingers at the Obama administration?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

17:35:00] BLITZER: We're back with our specialists and our experts as we continue to watch Robert Mueller, he's up on Capitol Hill. The Special Counsel right now briefing members of Congress to make sure there's no overlap, no problems in his investigation and their investigation. Let's get back to another major story we're following right now. Rebecca Berg, the President reacting to the death of Otto Warmbier, the young American college student who died yesterday. Listen to what the President said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: That was a total disgrace what happened to Otto. That should never, ever be allowed to happen. And frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the result would have been a lot different. He should have been brought home that same day. The result would have been a lot different. But what happened to Otto is a disgrace. And I spoke with his family; his family is incredible, what they've gone through. But he should have been brought home a long time ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It sounds like he's at least in part blaming the Obama administration for failed opportunities to get this young man home. He spent 17 months in North Korea.

BERG: Well, it's not entirely clear to me from that statement, Wolf, whether Trump is trying to send a message to North Korea or blaming the Obama administration or both. And one question for the administration and Trump, in particular, moving forward is what would they do differently? Because there's still American being held by North Korea, what will they do differently to try to guarantee their release? And is there anything they can point to in terms of how the Obama administration handled this that they can say, well, they clearly missed an opportunity? Because as John - Admiral John Kirby has said on this program, they were working this tirelessly. John Kerry would mention this every time he was speaking with his Chinese counterparts. They were - they were aware of this issue when they were trying to solve it. But the problem with a state like North Korea is they don't always respond to rational incentives, they don't act like a rational actor, and so it's not clear how you handle a situation like this.

[17:40:53] BLITZER: Yes. And the President this week, and we know he's been in office now for what, five months. So the past five months, he couldn't get him out either, eventually, he did. But as we all know, what happened -- let me read the tweet that the President put out today. He put out this, "while I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi and China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried." Do you believe China tried?

MUDD: I suspect they spoke to the North Koreans, but we're five months into the administration. The Chinese are critical in this. You cannot throw them out the window five months in. We've got four potentially eight years of a Trump administration. And issues that are far bigger than the tragedy of one American citizen whose dying, issues obviously that include not only nuclear developments in North Korea but ballistic missiles that are eventually going to be able to reach the west coast and the rest of America. So I think if I were the President, I would hold back from saying that Chinese didn't perform here. The answer is, the Chinese have to deal this, on issues beyond American hostages, going to missiles and nuclear capability. Be careful about saying too quickly they didn't perform.

BLITZER: Let's not forget there's still three other U.S. citizens being held in North Korea, at least two U.S. citizens being held in Iran as well.

Standby, just ahead, the Special Counsel Rob Mueller, as they said, he's up on Capitol Hill right now. There you see some video coming in. He's set to meet with leaders of the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. We're standing by though for some potential comments.

Plus, breaking news. Satellites detect new activity in a key North Korean nuclear site. We're gathering details; we'll share them with you right after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:46:53] BLITZER: Breaking news. The Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, is set to meet with leaders up on Capitol Hill. Right now, we're standing by to see if lawmakers will make public comments after that closed-door meeting. We'll have live coverage of that if it happens.

But, first, all political eyes are on Georgia right now where polls will be closing in a very, very high stakes special House election that some see as a referendum on President Trump. Our Senior Washington Correspondent Brianna Keilar is on the scene for us.

Brianna, Republicans have held this seat for decades.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They certainly have, Wolf. The fact that this an election that is close is rather astounding, but there is a lot of enthusiasm with Democrats for their candidate, Jon Ossoff. There are just, though, so many more Republican voters in the sixth district.

But talking to multiple people associated with both campaigns tonight, they are all nervous.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Here in Georgia's sixth congressional district, Republicans have held this seat since 1979, but a 30-year-old Democrat could change that.

JON OSSOFF, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE FOR GEORGIA: How are you all doing? You feeling good?

KEILAR (voice-over): Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker and former congressional staffer, is running neck and neck with Georgia's former Secretary of State, Republican Karen Handel, to fill the seat Tom Price vacated to serve as President Trump's Health and Human Services Secretary. Ossoff's tone is moderate, promising fiscal responsibility and

bipartisanship.

KEILAR (on camera): Because it seems like Democrats in no way even feel like they can work with President Trump. Their constituents don't want them to do that. Is that something you're open to if you're elected?

OSSOFF: I will work with anyone to improve quality of life here, to grow a local economy, and I will stand up to anyone who doesn't have this community's best interests at heart, regardless of party, regardless of personality.

KEILAR (voice-over): While Price won re-election handily in 2016 by 23 points, Trump only bested Hillary Clinton by a point and change. Even the President's Agriculture Secretary, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, acknowledged the liability while campaigning for Handel this weekend.

SONNY PERDUE, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE: Some Republicans may even be turned off by our President, and I don't think you are. I'm not because, let me tell you, the President keeps his promises.

KEILAR (voice-over): Trump took to Twitter this morning to urge Georgia voters to support Handel. And he has fund-raised for her, too.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, she's running against someone who is going to raise your taxes to the sky, destroy your health care, and he's for open borders -- lots of crime. And he's not even able to vote in the district that he's running in.

KEILAR (voice-over): It's one of Handel's strongest attack lines against Ossoff. While he grew up in the district, he now lives outside of it, within a few miles.

KAREN HANDEL, REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE FOR GEORGIA: It is not about the national implications. It's about who is best suited to represent them in Washington, to be their next Congressman, and it's me, someone who has the experience and the relationships in this community.

My husband and I have lived here for almost 25 years. That's longer than my opponent pretty much has been alive. And he still doesn't live in the district.

[17:50:01] KEILAR (voice-over): More than $50 million has been spent by the two campaigns and outside groups, a sign of the serious interests from both parties in the outcome of this hotly contested race, much of that money being poured into television ads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Karen Handel cut off funding for Planned Parenthood cancer screenings when she was an executive at Susan G. Komen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Karen is one of the strongest advocates for women's health I know.

KEILAR (voice-over): But it's an ad from a conservative group seizing on the shooting at a Republican baseball practice last week that has drawn attention in recent days, leading both campaigns to denounce the spot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now the unhinged left is endorsing and applauding shooting Republicans. When will it stop? It won't if Jon Ossoff wins on Tuesday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Now, polls, Wolf, are going to be closing here at 7:00 p.m. We should be getting an early data point, but an important one not too long after that when we see where the early votes lie.

Both campaigns expect that Jon Ossoff will outperform Karen Handel in the early vote and that she will outperform him in the day of voting. But, you know, we'll get a sense of how much ground she will have to make up here not too long.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll watch the results come in all night. Brianna, thank you very much. Brianna Keilar reporting from Atlanta.

Let's turn to another breaking story. The American spy satellites now have detected new activity at an underground nuclear testing site in North Korea. These latest developments come as President Trump weighs his options following the death of a young American student soon after he was returned from a North Korean detention center in a coma.

Brian Todd is gathering details for us. Brian, what's the latest? What can you tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight President Trump and a security team are under significant pressure to retaliate against Kim Jong-un's regime for the death of Otto Warmbier, who, as Wolf mentioned, was returned to the U.S. last week in a vegetative state and who died yesterday.

Now, while the White House weighs its options, experts say some of the more damaging forms of retaliation could be so secretive we may never find out about them. And that adds to the President's dilemma.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): President Trump expressing personal anger tonight over the death of American college student, Otto Warmbier.

TRUMP: It's a total disgrace, what happened to Otto. That should never, ever be allowed to happen.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the pressure is ramping up on the Trump administration to retaliate against North Korea for Warmbier's death.

TODD (on camera): Was this now a red line incident with North Korea? PATRICK CRONIN, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF THE ASIA-PACIFIC SECURITY PROGRAM,

CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Any time there's a death involving North Korean actions, it does cross a red line.

TODD (voice-over): A military strike against Kim Jong-un's regime, analysts say, is too dangerous an option. Kim might retaliate by firing his missiles at Seoul, at Japan, or he could attack the 28,000 American troops in South Korea. But a cyberattack on Kim's growing missile program could be an option.

CRONIN: There may be attacks, yes, we can take on missile launches. There may be attacks we can take on the command and control center to send a signal to North Korea. You will not see the result of that, but Kim Jong-un will.

TODD (voice-over): Experts a hacking the regime's internal calls and e-mails and putting them out in public is a possible retaliatory move.

The U.S. and the U.N. have economic sanctions already in place against North Korea, targeting luxury goods and imports and exports which help Kim's military. Those could be expanded.

But what could hurt North Korea more, analysts believe, is if the U.S. applies so-called secondary sanctions against Kim's chief ally, China.

MARCUS NOLAND, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: It's pretty well known that there are an extensive set of Chinese entities that help North Korea evade those arms sanctions by the United Nations. We've had a limited number of cases where we've gone after Chinese firms for those reasons. We could greatly expand that number.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump signaling he believes China's efforts with Kim Jong-un have fallen short, tweeting, quote, "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi and China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried."

The administration says it's looking at a possible ban on American tourists traveling to North Korea to ensure no other Americans meet Warmbier's fate.

Experts say the administration has to be careful in its response, so it doesn't put the three Americans currently being held by North Korea in any more danger. But the President, they say, likely has to show he's doing something.

CRONIN: If he fails to send a clear visible signal after the death of a young American in the hands of this North Korean regime, he will be seen as lacking credibility. He'll be seen as weak around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Experts say one broad stroke move that could hurt this man financially is if the U.S. pressures countries in the Middle East and elsewhere to expel North Korean laborers. Analysts say there are tens of thousands of North Koreans working

construction and similar jobs all over the world, and they bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Most of it, they say, goes right into the pockets of Kim and his inner circle -- Wolf.

[17:55:04] BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thanks, Brian, very much.

Coming up, breaking news. The Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, is up on Capitol Hill right now, set to meet with top lawmakers in the House Intelligence Committee. We're standing by for more information.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Treasury trove. The Fed's Financial Crimes Unit is giving senators new information that potentially could reveal any secret ties between the Trump team and Russia. What will they find when they follow the money?

[17:59:59] Referendum on Trump. We're standing by for the first results in the special election that's widely seen as a test of the President's popularity. Can Democrats flip a House seat in Georgia that's been held by Republicans for decades?