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White House Downplays New Trump Attacks on GOP Leaders; GOP Leaders Say No to Government Shutdown; Interview with Valerie Plame; Interview with Representative Andre Carson; Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 24, 2017 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:00] TAPPER: "ELIAN" airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

That's it for "THE LEAD," I'm Jake Tapper, turning it over to Wolf Blitzer. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, border standoff. The White House won't say if the president will make good on his threat to shut down the government over funding for his proposed border wall. Mexico says it won't pay for it. Is he determined to stick U.S. taxpayers with the bill?

Attacking his own. In a Twitter tirade, the president unleashes new attacks on Republican congressional leaders, the very people he needs to carry out his agenda. Is he sabotaging his own presidency?

Approaching storm. Hurricane Harvey is getting stronger and may slam into the Texas coast as a powerful category three storm. Residents are filling sandbags and emptying store shelves. We have the brand new forecast.

And war games. With the Russians and NATO who both about to hold massive military exercises, the U.S. Defense secretary visits Ukraine and says the U.S. is considering sending weapons amid accusations that thousands of Russian troops are deployed in a separatist area there. Is another flare-up in the making?

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: The breaking news, the latest forecast is just out and Hurricane Harvey is gaining strength in the Caribbean, expected to hit the Texas coast as soon as tomorrow with winds of at least 111 miles an hour and devastated flooding.

President Trump has been briefed and is warning the public to plan ahead, but he may soon face the first weather disaster on his watch without a Homeland Security secretary in place.

The White House has just insisted that President Trump's relationship with the Republican leaders is fine. Even though the president today unleashed a new Twitter attack on top of -- on top congressional leaders. Republicans slamming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell for failing to get a health care bill passed and blaming McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan for what he calls the debt ceiling mess.

The president has threatened to shut down the government if -- if Congress doesn't put the bill for his southern border wall. Mexico refused to pay for it, now the president wants U.S. taxpayers to step up. The White House won't say if the president will refuse to sign a budget bill that doesn't fund the wall.

In another tweet today, the president shared an image which shows him eclipsing President Obama. The image was posted by a man who earlier had shared an anti-Semitic tweet. And in a separate tweet, the president attacked former director of National Intelligence James Clapper who has questioned his fitness for the job.

I'll talk with former CIA Officer Valerie Plame who's launched a campaign to kick -- to buy Twitter and kick the president off of Twitter.

Then our correspondents, specialists and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of today's top stories.

President Trump is fanning the flames in his feud with GOP leaders including the one man he needs most if he's to get anything done in Washington.

Let's begin our coverage with our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, another Twitter barrage.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. President Trump is once again undercutting his own team, continuing to air his complaints on Twitter about congressional leaders from his own party just as the White House is trying to ease tensions. Tensions that may shift into overdrive with the White House openly considering the idea of a government shutdown to force Congress to pay for a wall on the border. The same wall the president promised Mexico would fund.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is once again trolling one of his favorite Twitter targets, his own party, tweeting, "The only problem I have with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is that after hearing repeal and replace for seven years, he failed. That should never have happened." No big deal says the White House.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I think the relationships are fine. Certainly there are going to be some policy differences, but there are also a lot of shared goals.

ACOSTA: Despite that talk of shared goals, the president is threatening to shut down the government if Congress refuses to fund a wall on the border with Mexico. A threat the White House isn't knocking down.

HUCKABEE: We know that the wall and other security measures at the border work. We've seen that take place over the last decade and we're committed to making sure the American people are protected. And we're going to continue to push forward and make sure that the wall gets built.

ACOSTA: Still outraged over his defeat on health care, the president is also playing the blame game on the need to raise the nation's debt ceiling. A battle set for next month that could rattle financial markets.

Mr. Trump claims he tried to attach a debt ceiling measure to a bill to help veterans. Tweeting that, "McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan didn't do it. So now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up as usual on debt ceiling approval. Could have been so easy, now a mess." Ryan's response, don't worry.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The path for the debt ceiling is we will pass legislation to make sure that we pay our debts and we will not hit the debt ceiling.

[17:05:04] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does it get tiring us asking you about the president every time we see you?

ACOSTA: McConnell is also trying to lower the temperature, refusing to take questions about his relationship with the president while explaining what he's up against in the Senate.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MAJORITY: I'm often asked what is being the majority leader of the Senate like? The best answer I've been able to think of is it's a little bit like being a groundskeeper at a cemetery. Everybody's under you, but nobody's listening. That's what you get with 52 to 48.


ACOSTA: But top GOP aides on Capitol Hill have had it with one source telling CNN, "The president is attacking leaders while we're selling his agenda."

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And for our friends in the Senate, oh boy.

ACOSTA: A frequent target of the president's ire, Senator Lindsey Graham, said he sees a strategy in the president's outbursts.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He running against Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and others that Congress is very unpopular, particularly with the Republican base, so there's nothing unhinged about it. It's a political strategy that I'm not so sure is smart, but it's a very thought-out strategy. There's nothing crazy about it. It's a political strategy.

ACOSTA: The White House did address the growing chorus of criticism of the president's handling of Charlottesville. Asked about GOP Senator Bob Corker's stinging assessment of the president?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.

ACOSTA: Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lashed out.

SANDERS: I think that's a ridiculous and outrageous claim and doesn't dignify a response from this podium.


ACOSTA: Now for the moment the president's attacks on his own party have yet to backfire inside the GOP. Poll after poll shows that while some support is slipping, conservatives are sticking with the president proving once again the GOP is hardly the party of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. It's the party of Trump -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting from the White House, thank you.

President Trump meanwhile is stepping up his attacks on Republican congressional leaders even as he warns of a government shutdown, tying into funding for his border wall with Mexico.

Let's turn to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju.

Manu, how do Republican leaders plan to get anything of substance done when this feud with the president seems to be escalating?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems to me based on talking to Republicans on Capitol Hill that the way that they're going to go about it is to work in spite of the Republican -- in spite of the Republican president. Trying to get things done even despite these attacks. Particularly the things that they have to get done.

They have to raise the national debt limit, otherwise, it could be a really drastic debt default. They have to pass a spending legislation by September 30th otherwise the government will shut down.

You heard Paul Ryan earlier today say that what they're probably going to do on the spending bill is pass a short-term extension, and on that short-term extension, there's not going to be funding for the wall. So President Trump may not be very happy about that, but that's what they're going to do.

And this confidence both from Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan that they're going to raise the national debt limit despite President Trump calling it a mess today. And an important signal from Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the podium today, she said that she would accept a clean debt ceiling increase, meaning no strings attached, no cuts that particularly conservatives have demanded, and essentially giving Democrats what they've wanted all along. So we'll see if that's what plays out.

If we see they go down that route, eventually the Republican leaders may be able to get the basic essence of housekeeping and governance or they may not be able to get that big tickets times like tax reform that they want to get done.

BLITZER: It's a pretty awkward tense time right now with the back and forth that's been going on.

RAJU: It absolutely is. I think that's what is really mind boggling to so many Republican senators. These attacks after attacks against their own leadership. There are a number of Democratic senators who are up for reelection in states that Trump won overwhelmingly last year. And they're not the subject of his relentless attacks, it's his own party, and as Republicans are telling me, this is just not the way you want to get Republicans on board.

And nonetheless, he's blaming McConnell for not passing this debt ceiling bill -- sorry, the repeal and replace of Obamacare, but there is a lot of blame to be placed on the president himself, Republicans say, that he hurt his own chances by going after individual senators like Lisa Murkowski.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right. Thanks very much, Manu Raju, reporting.

Joining us now, the former CIA covert operations officer, Valerie Plame, who became America's most famous spy, shall we say, when her cover was blown by the Bush administration -- by Bush administration officials, I should say.

Valerie, thanks so much for joining us.

Valerie Plame, Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, President Trump, he sent a rather contentious relationship with the professional intelligence community. I hear in the United States routinely doubting the expertise. At one point you remember even comparing the intelligence community to Nazi Germany, remember that tweet, in January.

[17:10:05] He tweeted, "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to leak," in quotes, "into the public. One last shot at me. Are we lived in Nazi, Germany?" That was his tweet that caused a lot of pain, a lot of anger.

You pent your career over at CIA. How would you have felt if your president, at that time he was president-elect, levied that kind of attack against you and your colleagues?

VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA COVERT OPERATIONS OFFICER: I was appalled when I heard it and I know many of my former colleagues felt the same way. It is never good when there is daylight between the intelligence community and the president. It is not good for national security.

BLITZER: Can the president do his job effectively, Valerie, if he doesn't really trust his own intelligence agencies?

PLAME: No. I think it makes it that much harder. And as you know what I've started is a gofundme account because I find that his tweets have become increasingly dangerous. It's one thing you had the story before on how he has tweeted against his own party's leadership, but what I find really concerning are -- is the fiery rhetoric around the whole nuclear issue particularly pertaining with North Korea. And so what I'd like to do is raise a billion dollars, I know that's

ambitious, but -- to get a controlling share of Twitter and force them to actually follow their own rules because their rules say they expressly prohibit hate speech or any incitement to violence, and I would say nuclear war is violent.

BLITZER: I'm going to get to that. I want to talk to you about your effort to take control of Twitter in just a few moments, but let's get through some other issues. The president, whenever he's got these feuds going on with the intelligence community, he cites some of the blunders, some of the mistakes, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which weren't there.

He seems to use that as an excuse, don't believe what these guys of the intelligence community tell you. What's your reaction to that?

PLAME: I think that he has bought into this whole notion that there is this vast, deep state that is working against him. It's true that there have been many, many resignations throughout the administration in the intelligence world as well. They felt that they simply could not support whatever his chaotic policies are at the moment.

Again, it's undermines our national security. This is not good. Our friends and enemies alike know that we are in complete chaos, there is no strategy. And this is not good. If he cannot feel that there is -- if there is not a fundamental trust between the intelligence community and the White House then that's bad news.

BLITZER: Following President Trump's speech this week in Phoenix, Arizona, the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, expressed his doubts about the president's fitness for the job. Do you share those concerns?

PLAME: I do. Clapper was pretty direct in his word -- words. He talked about Trump really not having the temperament, the stability, the wherewithal to be commander-in-chief, especially one that has, as they say, one finger on Twitter and one finger on the nuclear codes. It's deadly serious.

BLITZER: The former CIA director, John Brennan, he wrote to me after the president's initial response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. He said, the president's words and actions put American national security at risk. As you know both Brennan and Clapper, lifelong public servants, career intelligence officials. They both worked under Democratic and Republican presidents. These men are trained to read people and identify risk.

Here's the question, as a former intelligence operative yourself, how concerning is it to you to hear them voice these deep, deep concerns?

PLAME: I think you don't have to be an intelligence officer to go, huh, there's something there. Really his temperament, we never know what we're going to get. Whether -- however you feel about him, I think most people would agree that he is impulsive and he's reckless and particularly with regard to the whole nuclear issue, he knows very little about it and I'm very concerned about his casual use of Twitter and just his statements on something that could be truly so catastrophic.

BLITZER: But what do you think of the individuals he's placed in those key intelligence community positions like Mike Pompeo, the new CIA director, Dan Coates, the director of National Intelligence, Secretary Mattis over at the Defense Department, General McMaster, his National Security adviser, John Kelly, his White House chief of staff.

[17:15:07] Do you have confidence in them?

PLAME: I would say this. I know that my former colleagues are not particularly happy with Pompeo. And just as a citizen, I'm disturbed to see so many men within the administration that are in the military.

We have a wonderful tradition in this country that the military is always supposed to be subservient to civilian command and we see a lot of stars and bars at all those Cabinet meetings.

BLITZER: The president really relies on those retired generals.

You've been back in the news as you pointed out this week, launching an effort to actually buy Twitter, the president's favorite social media platform. You set up the gofundme page which says among other things, "Let's #buyTwitter and delete Trump's account before he starts a nuclear war with it."

Tell us more why you started this campaign and is it really realistic?

PLAME: Well, I think the best way to put it that Trump has weaponized Twitter. I think just last week John Oliver said who would imagine when Twitter was invented that we'd be on the brink of nuclear Armageddon? And everyone kind of laughs at that, but people who really follow this and as you know, this is what I used to do in my old job at the CIA, we know that this is deadly serious.

Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, is very impulsive. The last thing we want to do is heat up this rhetoric until we move into something that is sort of moves inexorably toward nuclear war. We don't to want stumble into nuclear war.

BLITZER: So far, Valerie, you've only raised, what, maybe close to $50,000 toward your goal of $1 billion. Here's the question. Are you just trying to send a message? Is this really a serious effort? Because it's -- it's -- I'm just curious.

PLAME: Yes. Well, a billion dollars is really ambitious, and I've just learned today that's only going to buy like an eighth of the controlling share of Twitter. So it's highly valued company. The point is, I want to shine a spotlight on showing how dangerous Trump and his Twitter button can be.

And also, I hope, gives people the sense that they don't just have to stand by when through his ever escalating tweets, undermines our national security. So -- and I have to make a very valid point here that I will not keep, I do not financially benefit from any of this money. Any of the money -- to the last penny will go to Global Zero, an organization I've been involved with for a long time. They are leading the resistance against nuclear war and ultimately the elimination of nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: So if you don't get enough money to buy Twitter, the money will go to that cause.

Let me get your thoughts, Valerie, on the Trump Tower meeting last year, last June, between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer. When you heard about that meeting, and you're a former CIA clandestine officer, what was your reaction?

PLAME: What I think across the board is it was really strange that candidate Trump, even before he had the nomination, that so many within his organization, his lieutenants, his compatriots, were reaching out Russians rather than really focusing on trying to make sure they had the nomination and what the campaign would look like.

It is more than a coincidence. There are so many instances of contacts, outreach to Russians. And like many Americans, I'm relying upon Robert Mueller and his cracker jack team to really get to the bottom of this and see what is there. I -- it's head scratching and concerning.

BLITZER: So what do you suspect as far as these meetings are concerned?

PLAME: We don't know. The public does not know yet if this is collaboration, cooperation. It sounds to me like there was definitely a Russian campaign to try to find what we would call agents of influence. And I don't think the Russians -- they couldn't look into a crystal ball and see that Trump was going to win, but they figured, why not?

Everything that we've read of how they approached and how they cultivated different contacts, this is classic KGB-FSB playbook.

BLITZER: Valerie Plame, thanks so much for joining us.

PLAME: Thank you.

[17:20:01] BLITZER: Let's continue the conversation with Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: As you know the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, a man you know, has expressed concern about the president's access to nuclear codes, questioned his fitness for the job. Do you share those concerns?

CARSON: Well, I think that Director Clapper is a very wise man, a very insightful person. He has dealt with profiling world leaders for decades now. He has a strong background in intelligence and human psychology, dare I say. I think that President Trump's -- his antics, his theater, his

entertaining personality, his erratic behavior should be of concern to anyone who has dedicated themselves to the preservation of our democracy and our national security.

BLITZER: The president's anger toward the U.S. intelligence community is at least, at least partly due to the ongoing Russia investigation and according to some exclusive new reporting from CNN, congressional investigators have unearthed an e-mail from a top Trump aide that referenced an effort to arrange a meeting last year between Trump campaign officials and the Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Can you tell us anything else about this e-mail or any other efforts to arrange meetings with Putin?

CARSON: At this time, I'm not at liberty to discuss those matters regarding the information you're speaking about.

BLITZER: What can you tell us about that without violating confidence or security concerns?

CARSON: Well, thank you. I'll say right now, stay tuned, Wolf, and as information unfolds, the committee will dig more deeply into these matters, but at this time, I can't talk about them.

BLITZER: Let's move on to another subject you can talk about. You remember the House of Representatives talking about the looming possibility of a federal government shutdown. The president appears to be very serious about shutting down the government if Congress doesn't approve funding, billions of dollars, for a new wall on the southern border with Mexico.

Are you worried that Congress won't be able to pass a bill and put a bill on the president's desk that satisfies his terms and there will be a government shutdown?

CARSON: Well, Wolf, as you remember the last time the Republican shut down the government, it cost tax payers $24 billion. I think that this is -- that approach is poor leadership and we shouldn't be focused on building a wall, we should be talking about preserving health care for tens of millions of Americans. We should be talking about job creation.

You would think with President Trump's background as a developer he would be talking about investments and infrastructure, perhaps a robust public works program, but to talk about building a wall I think it exacerbates the flames of intolerance.

BLITZER: Congress, as you know, also needs to raise the nation's debt ceiling by the end of next month, by the end of September. If not the credit worthiness of the U.S. government will be put at risk with potentially devastating economic consequences for the American public.

Will you vote for what's called a clean debt ceiling increase or will Democrats use this to try to find an opportunity to extract concessions from the president? CARSON: Well, I think there will always be a push and pull as it

relates to raising our debt ceiling. I think leaders on both sides of the aisle understand the importance of raising our debt ceiling. It's like going out for dinner and not paying your bill. At some point, you're going to have to pay your bill or there will be grave consequences and if we don't raise our debt, it is going to affect our lending capabilities, our bond rating, and, you know, we talk about systemic risk earlier, it has an impact on our economy.

So we're going to have to raise it outside of the rhetoric you'll hear from my Republican colleagues. It's critically important, and they know the importance of raising the debt ceiling. They'll make empty promises of holding members until we get this resolved, but they too know as every other economist knows how important it is.

BLITZER: But you would vote for what's called a clean debt ceiling piece of legislation.

CARSON: At this point, absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Andre Carson, thanks so much as usual for joining us.

CARSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, the White House is dodging questions right now about President Trump's threat to shut down the government if, if his border wall with Mexico isn't funded. So how real is the threat?

And we're tracking Hurricane Harvey right now. Forecast to hit the Texas coast as a major storm with devastating flooding.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:29:26] BLITZER: All right. We have some breaking news. Evacuations we're told already are starting ahead of Hurricane Harvey now forecast to be a major hurricane when it hits the Texas coast.

Looking at pictures it should hit some time tomorrow. We're going to update you on the latest forecast. Stand by for that.

In the meantime, other important news we're following. The White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly today dodged questions about whether President Trump is really serious about shutting down the federal government if Congress doesn't pass funding for his wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Let's get some insight from our political specialists.

And David Chalian, let me start with you. You know, he sounded very serious the other day. Either fund the wall or the government will shut down. But he didn't say something that he often said during the campaign. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to build a great border wall. We will build a great, great wall. We're going to build a wall, don't worry about it. Oh, we're building it. We will build the wall 100 percent. I promise, we will build the wall. And who's going to pay for the wall?

CROWD: Mexico.

TRUMP: Who's going to pay for the wall?

CROWD: Mexico.


CROWD: Mexico.

TRUMP: It'll be a great wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall. Mexico will pay for the wall. And Mexico's going to pay for the wall, and they understand that. Mexico is going to pay for the wall, believe me, 100 percent.


BLITZER: That was then, this is now. Now, he's saying, the American Congress -- the American people are going to have to shell out billions and billions of dollars to pay for that wall because Mexico says, it's not paying.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, he's -- it sounds like he's willing to shut down the United States government for not delivering on his campaign promise that Mexico will pay for the wall. That's quite a price to pay, that the country would have to pay for a failed campaign promise. As you heard on that fantastic mash-up that you just played there, Wolf, I attended several Trump rallies throughout the campaign, there was no line in the rally that energized the crowd more than that. That crowd participation call in response who's going to pay for it, you hear -- you hear the crowd there.

I mean, this was a concept, and Donald Trump admittedly -- as we now know his conversations with Pena Nieto, admittedly understood what a bond he made with his voters over this issue and that he needs to save face on it, and now it's disappeared. I couldn't believe the other night when we were listening to him in Arizona that the line just disappeared. That it did -- there was no mention of it at all. Never mind the threat to shut down the government on it. Again, I said this to you yesterday, they are not willing to say how serious the White House is not willing to say just how serious this threat is. It is unclear to me at this point if this is an Art of the Deal negotiating position, going to the extreme that he's going to come back from, or if indeed, Donald Trump is ready and willing to shut down the government over this.

BLITZER: And, you know -- and it's a good point that David makes, Mark, because the President clearly tipped his hand in that first phone conversation he had with the Mexican President, a transcript of that, as all of us know, was leaked. And the President had this to say to President Pena Nieto, "You cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall. I am just going to say that we are working it out. Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically, this might be the most important talk about." what we're talking about. What does that tell you about the President's intention?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I hate to stay it, but I mean, clearly, he was lying to his supporters by saying that Mexico was going to pay for the wall and he was so ardent about it. I would point out that conversations between world leaders often are a lot different than what we hear what they say publicly. But this took it a step further, saying, hey, I need you to get my back because I basically sold you down the river and put you in political jeopardy, but I'm not going to go in political jeopardy, so I need you to be on my side. And, of course, we know the Mexican President is not so much on Donald Trump's side.

The fact is, though, conservatives as much as they want this to happen in Congress, conservatives are not going to dole out that amount of money to build a wall that everyone says strategically is a mistake.

BLITZER: This could, you know, be, what, 10 billion, 15 billion, 20 billion, the estimates are enormous. That's a huge sum of money. And Chris, you have a new article on headlined, "A government shutdown would be a disaster for Republicans. And they might not be able to stop it."

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Right. Well, this goes to David's point which is, we know -- we don't know how serious this threat is by Donald Trump. Sometimes it's very serious, sometimes it's a negotiating position. I would -- I was going through his past tweets before that piece, and had forgotten, but was reminded that the last time they averted the government shutdown, which there was some talk of the White House saying right about this time saying, we need money for the border wall and their (INAUDIBLE) money for the border wall in there. He tweeted out, we need a good, old-fashioned shutdown next time this comes up in September. I don't think -- he might have said old fashioned, but he definitely said a good, old shutdown.

So, there's some consistency there, but again, it's not clear if anyone has gone to him or will go to him that he will listen to who will say, this is a terrible, political thing to do. Republicans can control the White House, the House, and the Senate. You and the party will be blamed for this, and usually, if we look back in history, there are significant consequences there.

[17:35:00] Now, he may not care because it's going to redound much more on the 2018 Republicans than it's going to currently on Donald Trump in 2020. But there is no political logic here that would suggest that this is a good thing for Republicans. It's why you see Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan saying, oh, no shut down, no shut down. There's not going to be a shutdown here, because they know how disastrous it would be.

BLITZER: Right. And we've got a chart. I'm going to put it up on the screen of some government shutdowns, we've had those government shutdowns. A lot of us remember covering those government shutdowns, November 1995, five days in December 1995, January '96, 22 days, October 2013, 16 days. Kaitlan, what's going on here? You've covered the President from the start.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think what the President is realizing is that he promised this wall time and time again throughout the campaign, and now he has no one to pay for it. Not Mexico and not Congress. And he realizes that if he doesn't produce a wall which he promised his supporters, they chanted about it, that the blame falls on him. So, instead of having the blame fall on him for not being able to build this wall, he's blaming it on Republican lawmakers. And as for the shutdown, this speaks to a larger context, that's why he's going after House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Twitter because he's pre-blaming them for all of these headaches that are about to hit in September as far as the government goes. But Chris is right, we're seeing House Speaker Paul Ryan distance himself from this threat saying, no, we're not going to have a shutdown. We can have border security and still have the government functioning.

CILLIZZA: And by the way, this goes back to a point Mark made as well, breaking news, Republicans in Congress were never going to authorize $10 billion for a border wall. Donald --

CHALIAN: I think this initial request is not the full 10 billion, right? It's 1.6 --

CILLIZZA: It's not, but let's -- they're not going to -- they're not going -- this is a party, still, primarily a fiscal -- fiscal and deficit hawks. These are not -- these are people who under Obama were very careful to say, if we're going to do disaster relief funding, we need something on the other end to pay for it, to offset the cost. Suddenly, we're going to build this wall. And he -- I guess, he's building it as a down payment. That's what he said but well, we'll start it, and then Mexico will pay for it.

This -- Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, these people have been around the block. There was never a point during that campaign when, as David pointed out, he said it all the time to each of us, there was never a point in which anyone in Congress thought, Yes, we're definitely going to -- let's say a billion dollars --


BLITZER: And a government shutdown, a lot of us remember, winds up costing the American public billions and billions of dollars.

PRESTON: Right. And let's talk about the consequences of what would happen. If the government shuts down, right, our market goes down, right? You're going to see Wall Street take a major hit; you're going to see all across the globe, markets around the globe, are going to take a hit. There is going to be -- you can have financial investors looking at the solvency of the United States and wondering, are we a good bet? So, there's that. And to your point, too, Wolf, we all know when a government shuts down. Let's dispel the myth that they're actually saving money because people aren't going to work. All those government employees get back paid, anyway. They're just not allowed to go to the office for the days that it doesn't --


BLITZER: Like a paid vacation for them, because when they go back to work, they get paid. Yes, go ahead.

CHALIAN: Yes. Well, I just to want go back to what Kaitlan was saying before about pre-blaming the Republicans because, to me, what we're seeing from Donald Trump is this continued effort of distancing himself from his party. He wants no part of the Republicans of Congress or the Democrats in Congress. He wants to be on a political island. And he has no interest in linking arms, even for his own agenda items. I mean, Sarah Huckabee Sanders today -- and this was a startling thing to see from the White House podium, to hear a Republican President's Press Secretary say we don't agree on all policy points of view with the Republican-led Congress. Well, why not? Well, because Donald Trump's a different animal. And he has no interest in associating himself with Congress through these fights ahead.

BLITZER: The other issue that's coming up, Kaitlan, is the debt -- raising the nation's debt ceiling. He tweeted this morning, the President, tweeted this, "I requested that Mitch M (Mitch McConnell) and Paul R (Paul Ryan) tied the debt ceiling legislation into the popular V.A., Veteran's Affairs bill, Veteran's administration which just passed for easy approval. I didn't do it, so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up as usual on debt ceiling approval. Could have been so easy. Now a mess."

COLLINS: I think a lot of lawmakers laughed when they read that it could have been so easy because the debt ceiling is never an easy process. And that really goes back to this whole feud between Trump and Mitch McConnell. One of the things that Trump was stewing about was when Mitch McConnell said that he had excessive expectations. That was in relation to health care, but it really speaks to government as a whole, it even goes back to the wall. Trump doesn't understand how that works and that Mexico's not going to pay for it and then Congress is not going to pay for it. So, it just speaks -- it's not that he's lying necessarily when he made these campaign promises, it was just that he didn't necessarily understand how it all worked.

PRESTON: Right. But he should have.

[17:40:00] COLLINS: And we're seeing it come to fruition.

PRESTON: And the fact that he emphasized it so much to go out there, and think that when -- I really think that when Donald Trump got elected in November, he thought everybody worked for him, he thought everybody was joining Trump Inc. and that they all worked for him. It doesn't work that way. (CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: -- excuse at all, you should know.

CILLIZZA: I still think he -- I mean, I think that's a really important point in terms of how Donald Trump views Congress. He believes that these people work for him. And therefore, how could Jeff Flake not do -- John McCain voting in, it's my legislation, I'm the President. Why is Mitch not getting this done? I told him to get it done. Why? Because his former experience as a CEO. So, if all the people in Trump do work for him, if somebody doesn't do a good job, you say, you're out.

PRESTON: You're out.

CILLIZZA: That's now how it worked, but he lacks the -- I don't know if it's the interest or he just doesn't care --

CHALIAN: I think he doesn't care.

CILLIZZA: -- to learn these things, but the (INAUDIBLE)


BLITZER: Everybody knows that there are three co-equal branches of the U.S. federal government.

PRESTON: Recognizing are different words, though.

CILLIZZA: The debt ceiling thing, though, does speaks to his lack of any kind of legislative savvy, frankly, because the idea that, well, we'll take the popular thing then we'll frame it with this thing that's hugely, politically unpopular among everyone, but it'll still be fine. I mean, then you would just -- there's no way that would have worked, ever.

CHALIAN: And in that calculus, though, Chris, it is his most core supporters, let's say the House Freedom Caucus, the folks that send the conservative members of Congress to Congress are Trump voters, right, through and through. They're the ones that are actually going to be the biggest political problem (INAUDIBLE) they're the ones that always demand spending cuts or other reforms to offset raising the debt limit. I don't know why Donald Trump thinks his closest supporters in the Congress were just obviously going to make this easy for him.

BLITZER: But his top financial advisers, his economic advisers, the Secretary of the Treasury, for example, Gary Cohn, his chief economic adviser, they want a clean bill to raise the nation's debt ceiling so there's no doubt about America's credit worthiness.

CHALIAN: There's no doubt. And Sarah Huckabee Sanders made that clear today at the press briefing that the White House supports that also which is very odd since it comes a day -- on the same day that the President said he was going to attach it to the V.A. bill the white House was advocating for -- (CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: Well, I think if you're looking for what's really going to happen in the White House, look at Trump's Twitter, not what his spokesman say --

CILLIZZA: That's exactly right.

COLLINS: Because he is his own best spokesman. What he really wants is what he says on Twitter.

CILLIZZA: That's exactly right.

PRESTON: If that ceiling doesn't get raised, you know, and I said that if we shut the government down, look what investors -- how they view the United States. Wait until they don't pass the debt ceiling, and we are defaulting to our creditors then we're really --

BLITZER: Wait until the stock market reacts to that as well. All right. Everybody, stand by, there's more. We're following the breaking news on a very dangerous storm now heading for the Texas coast. The latest forecast says it's growing right now even more powerful. And just as Russia's military gears up for a show of force, there are now new details emerging about Vladimir Putin's efforts to destabilize Eastern Europe.


[17:47:34] BLITZER: Breaking news, an already dangerous storm is growing even more powerful as it heads for the Texas Coast. Emergency workers are now warning millions of Americans to prepare for prolonged disruptions, those are the words. Our meteorologist Tom Sater is joining us now with the very latest forecast on Hurricane Harvey. It's likely to be a major hurricane when it comes ashore, right?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST AND WEATHER ANCHOR: Absolutely, Wolf. Believe it or not, it has been 12 years since anywhere in the U.S. we've had a major hurricane land fall. That's category three, four, or five, and how ironic to talk about this today where today is the 25th anniversary where Hurricane Andrew plowed into Homestead, Florida. That was a category five. One of only three in U.S. history, but we know for sure, that Harvey is going to strengthen to at least category three. It's possible even further strengthening, but at that point, category three or four, you're splitting hairs.

Already, we're starting to see the outer bands of rain begin. Not a good thing because that's one of the edges of the sword here. Let's break this down. And when we talk about it, sustained winds, 85 miles per hour, gusts 105. It looks like land fall is going to be in the shade area of red. There's about 16 million in the colors here. This is hurricane warning, ground zero, near Corpus Christi. Tropical storm warnings extend from Houston all the way over to Austin and San Antonio. This is a broad, broad area. But when we talk about the category three status or stronger, with that comes the damaging winds, the power outages, the storm surge, the coastal flooding. But after that, it's the other edge of the sword which may even be a little sharper. Let me explain.

This is what we like to see, Wolf, in the computer models, spaghetti plots. Everyone agreeing where it makes landfall but watch what happens. This has been our fear the last several days. We lose all major steering currents. Watch what the computer models do. They meander and spread around, create this bird's nest. Some of these models, many of them, bring it back offshore to restrengthen, and then make a secondary landfall. Any way you look at it, it's going to hang around and meander, and drop unbelievable amounts of rainfall.

So, again, when we look at the storm surge, and of course, that's going to be a problem, when we look at coastal evacuations in this area, that's only one concern. I think we may see emergency services stretched here when we find inundation of heavy rainfall well inland. Sure, we may have six, 10, 12-foot storm surges, that's why the evacuations are going to take place, but the watches that are in effect now will become warnings. The computer models differ a little bit on how much rain, but no doubt about it, we're looking easily, I think, 10, 15, 20 inches.

[17:50:12] And that can go all the way out to San Antonio into Austin, so that broad area of flooding is going to create great concerns. First, with power outages, I even fear images of Katrina, where you've got scores of people on their roofs that need to be evacuated, chest- high water through several communities along the coast line and inland. I mean, it's amazing to see some of the models even drop this amount of rainfall up into Austin. We may be talking about this, Wolf, through Wednesday.

BLITZER: Yes, Hurricane Katrina, exactly 12 years ago this week. And we all remember Hurricane Katrina. I think when it finally hit, it was a category three as well. Tom, thank you very much. We'll stay in close touch with you.

Meanwhile, we're also following an ominous military buildup in Eastern Europe right now. The United States and NATO are preparing a show of force to counter Vladimir Putin's plans to flex his own military muscle. All these comes amid news of very real fighting involving thousands of Russian troops. CNN'S Brian Todd is following this late- breaking developments for us. Brian, tell us more.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, the Ukraine President is accusing the Russians of engaging in "dangerous behavior in Ukraine" by deploying thousands of troops there. This comes as U.S. and Russian forces prepare for another tense round of military exercises to test each other's resolve.


TODD: On Ukraine's Independence Day, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis inspects top units of Ukrainian soldiers on parade, and Ukraine's President hints he may need them to counter a threat from his most bitter enemy who he says is on his soil.

PETRO POROSHENKO, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: Minimum number of Russian troops now, regular troops, now being on the occupied territory is about 3,000. This is extremely dangerous.

TODD: Since Vladimir Putin's forces invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian Forces have battled pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. More than 10,000 people have been killed. The Kremlin has steadfastly denied it has any troops inside Ukraine, an absurd claim according to analysts.

BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, "FRAGILE EMPIRE": It's been abundantly clear that Russia has been undertaking a major military intervention in Eastern Ukraine for some time. Vladimir Putin's objectives in Ukraine are to paralyze, undermine, and ultimately, destroy a Ukrainian government that wants to move towards integration with the European Union and with the West.

TODD: Tonight, the U.S. and its NATO allies are preparing to send their own signal to Putin. American B-1 bombers and a B-52 Stratofortress which can carry up to 70,000 pounds of bombs are about to be deployed with NATO forces in exercises in the Czech Republic. Analysts say it's a show of force aimed at Russia which is about to conduct massive military exercises of its own.

In an operation called Zapad, Russian troops estimated to number in the tens of thousands and their partners from Belarus will display their fire power and tactics in territory they control near Europe's borders.

MICHAEL KOFMAN, ANALYST ON RUSSIAN MILITARY, CNA: Zapad is really Russia training for a high-end fight with the West, with NATO and the United States.

TODD: Analysts say in Zapad, Putin will pull out all the stops, deploying his commandos, paratroopers, air forces, and armored units fine tuning for battle.

KOFMAN: I would expect quite a few live fire exercises, I would expect logistics drills, shifting forces, I would expect Russian air power practicing at ranges, I'll expect missile range regiments firing missiles at various, you know, practice ranges.

TODD: Experts say this is part of an ambitious military buildup by Putin who made of visiting one of his sprawling bases in the Antarctic earlier this year.

JUDAH: Over the last 10 years, Russia has been rebuilding its capacity to engage in military intervention in the territory of former Soviet Union and in the Middle East. And broadly, it's achieved that objective. And the exercises that we will be seeing a part of that long process.


TODD: Now, as menacing as those Russian exercises are to the U.S. and its NATO allies, analysts say they're also an opportunity. They say, by monitoring those exercises through reconnaissance and other intelligence, the U.S. military can learn a lot about Vladimir Putin's weapons upgrades and his ability to deploy combat forces at Europe's doorstep. Wolf?

BLITZER: In Ukraine, Brian, did the U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis commit to giving the Ukrainians lethal weapons to defend themselves against the Russians?

TODD: He did not do that, Wolf. Mattis did say today that the U.S. have recently approved a shipment of other military equipment to Ukraine worth almost $200 million. But on the subject of actual lethal weapons, he says the Trump administration is still reviewing that. The Ukrainians have been pushing for lethal weapons, especially anti-tank missiles, but the Obama administration had opposed that.

[17:55:09] BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you. Coming up, the breaking news, Hurricane Harvey is now closing in on the Texas Coast. It is expected to bring devastating flooding. Residents are boarding up, they're stocking up. Emergencies already have been declared. We'll have the latest forecast.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, shutdown possible. Tonight, the White House isn't ruling out a paralyzing government shutdown, threatened by the President if Congress doesn't fund the border wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for.