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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Maine Senator Angus King; Trump vs. McCain; Senate Democrats and Republicans Reach Deal on Obamacare; Trump Warns McCain He'll Fight Back: "It Won't Be Pretty"; Hawaii Judge Blocks Trump's Latest Travel Ban. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: short-term fix. Senators reach a bipartisan deal in principle to restore subsidies that help low-income Americans get health insurance under Obamacare. And President Trump , who canceled the payments just days ago, is apparently endorsing the plan, only hours after declaring Obamacare virtually dead.

Trolling for Putin. New information emerging about the Russian oligarch and Kremlin insider whose company was behind troll farms that used social media to spread fake news during the 2016 presidential campaign. It's a CNN exclusive.

Fights and falsehoods. President Trump threatens to fight back after Senator John McCain gives a speech strongly rebuking the president. Mr. Trump isn't backing down from false claims that his predecessors didn't call the families of fallen U.S. troops. Is the president spoiling for a fight?

And freed from ISIS. After months of brutal fighting, the terrorists' self-proclaimed capital in Syria is liberated by coalition-backed forces. And in the ultimate affront to ISIS, a female commander waves a flag to mark the victory.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news.

A deal on a short-term fix restoring critical Obamacare subsidies that help millions of low-income Americans get health insurance. President Trump appears to be backing a bipartisan tentative agreement, even though he was the one who canceled the payments just a few days ago. And only this morning, he called Obamacare virtually dead.

The president is also sending a warning to Senator John McCain, who gave a speech sharply repudiating Mr. Trump and what Mr. McCain, what Senator McCain called half-baked, spurious nationalism. The president said, at some point, he would fight back and added -- quote -- "It won't be pretty." And the president is dragging his chief of staff into his latest slap of President Obama, who Mr. Trump claimed didn't call the families of fallen U.S. troops. In a radio interview, President Trump said reporters should ask General John Kelly whether President Obama called him when Kelly's son was killed in action back in 2010.

We're also following a major development in the war against ISIS. The self-proclaimed terrorist capital of Raqqa in Syria has fallen to U.S.-backed forces, after months of fighting that reduced the city to rubble. Officials say major military operations have ended, although there are still pockets of resistance.

And there's more breaking news. CNN is learning exclusive new information about a Russian troll farm that used social media to interfere in the U.S. presidential election by spreading fake news on social media.

Sources tell CNN it was financed by a company run by a Russian oligarch who's a Kremlin insider and very close to President Vladimir Putin.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Angus King of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

But let's get straight to the breaking news.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us with the very latest.

Jeff, the president is on board, apparently, with this short-term health care fix, even though he says Obamacare is virtually dead.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening.

The president did call this a good short-term solution when he was talking to reporters earlier today in the Rose Garden. We do know that he has urged behind the scenes Republican Senator Lamar Alexander to work with Democratic Senator Patty Murray on some type of short- term fix on this.

There is still, though, so many questions from conservatives about this, Wolf, meaning this is far from a done deal on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump embracing a bipartisan deal today to restore Obamacare subsidies, only days after he made the decision to cut off those payments.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're fairly close to a short-term solution. The solution will be for about a year or two years. And it will get us over this intermediate hump.

ZELENY: Yet, only moments earlier, he argued the subsidies, which actually helped lower-income Americans buy insurance, were simply a boon for insurance companies.

TRUMP: They have made a fortune, the insurance companies. So when I knocked out the hundreds of millions of dollars a month being paid back to the insurance companies by the politicians, I must tell you, that wanted me to continue to pay this, I said, I'm not going to do it.

ZELENY: The president insisted he was still intent on fully repealing Obamacare, an effort that has repeatedly failed in Congress, despite full Republican control.

A new CNN poll today shows the president's approval rating is at 37 percent, with 57 percent of Americans disapproving. Amid a deepening divide between the White House and Capitol Hill, the poll shows far more Republicans side with the president; 63 percent say they trust Mr. Trump more to handle major issues, while 29 percent say they trust congressional Republicans.

[18:05:07]

That didn't stop Senator John McCain from delivering a strong rebuke of the president and his America-first world view, while accepting a Liberty Medal last night in Philadelphia.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last, best hope of Earth, for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism, cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.

ZELENY: In a series of interviews on conservative talk radio programs today, the president held his tongue, but warned that he would fire back at McCain, who has become one of his biggest Republican critics.

TRUMP: People have to be careful, because, at some point, I fight back, you know?

ZELENY: All this as the president returned to remarks he made Monday in the Rose Garden about how President Obama and other presidents treated the families of fallen American soldiers.

TRUMP: If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls.

ZELENY: That comment wasn't true. The president dialed it back, slightly, in another radio interview, before taking the unusual step of raising the death of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's son, a Marine who was killed in action in 2010 in Afghanistan.

TRUMP: I mean, you could ask General Kelly. Did he get a call from Obama? You could ask other people. I don't know what Obama's policy was.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: For his part, General John Kelly did not respond to questions about this at all today, Wolf. He has been very reluctant to speak about his son Robert, who, of course, was killed some seven years ago in duty.

Now, we do know, just a short time ago, we're learning from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders that President Trump has, in fact, called all four members of the family of the American soldiers who were killed in Niger. She said that he offered the respects and grief from a grateful nation here.

So the president has reached out to all four families here, Wolf. That's what started all of this latest controversy about what presidents do and don't do in these horrible times of service deaths -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, very horrible.

All right, but you're also getting some breaking news, Jeff, in Robert Mueller, the special counsel's, Russia investigation. What can you tell us?

ZELENY: We are indeed, Wolf. We're just learning this.

Our Gloria Borger reporting that former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has been interviewed by special prosecutor Bob Mueller. He is the third White House official in the past several weeks who has been interviewed as part of this ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election here.

We are just getting this coming in, but, interestingly, of course, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, was involved in many of those meetings as they were crafting the responses to this investigation. So certainly Sean Spicer has, you know, an inside window into what was going on inside some aspects of those meetings in the West Wing.

And, Wolf, we also know that he was a very diligent note-taker. He was known from his time here in the White House and before that, in fact, of taking a lot of notes, detailed notes from these meetings here. So we do know that Bob Mueller has now interviewed Sean Spicer and this, of course, is one more sign this investigation is just continuing.

BLITZER: Yes, he's interviewed Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff.

The assumption is, Jeff, that Mueller is interested in potential obstruction of justice accusations involving the firing of the FBI director, James Comey. Is that right?

ZELENY: Indeed, Wolf.

This is where it all sort of hinges around. It was those months and months ago when the president made the decision to fire the FBI director. Of course, there were multiple versions to why he was being fired, so Sean Spicer, of course, would have been privy to those meetings at the time.

But this is one of the areas of inquiry that we believe that Bob Mueller and his team of lawyers are looking at, potential obstruction of justice here. So this is one more sign, despite the president, you know, repeatedly calling this a hoax and saying the American public is done with this investigation, Bob Mueller is not done.

He's still interviewing people and people, in fact, who worked inside this White House, Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly is. Thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Let's get some more on the breaking news, the bipartisan deal by two U.S. senators to restore critical Obamacare subsidies.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, does this deal have a serious chance of passing not only the Senate, but the House, then being signed into law by the president?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's optimism. There's even bipartisan support. But it's worth noting that this deal is but one piece of a puzzle that is, A, very complicated, and, B, may never be completed at all.

Let me explain why here. The idea of what each side would get here certainly both sides like. Democrats very supportive the idea of considering -- of continuing those subsidy payment for another two years, also getting a little bit north of $100 million in Obamacare outreach funding for people who are trying to enroll in the exchanges.

[18:10:03]

For Republicans, it's all about regulations. We heard this repeatedly during the repeal and replace process. And what Senator Lamar Alexander has negotiated is significant state flexibility to kind of change the Obamacare regulations to make them more palatable for what the state wants to actually do.

That's something that has been considered onerous by a lot of Republican governors, especially. It's something Republicans have really seized upon. But behind the scenes right now, I'm told there's been extreme pushback to this deal from conservatives, conservative outside groups, but also some conservative lawmakers, most notably, Wolf, in the House.

And I think that's the key here. When you talk to Senator Lamar Alexander, I spoke to him just about an hour ago, and he said the key to this deal and the key to kind of making everything happen was his private conversations and the public comments of President Trump, saying that he was supportive of this deal. He was supportive of any effort to reach a bipartisan deal.

But those same conservatives are now reaching out to the White House, I'm told, saying they are not OK with this deal. They would rather the president not get behind this deal. And we're also hearing from individuals that the White House is not as supportive of this deal as the president has made it out to seem in his public comments over the course of the last couple of days, and even, frankly, the last couple of hours.

So what does that mean going forward? Look, leadership has made very clear that they don't yet guarantee a pathway to the floor. In fact, just listen to what Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, had to say right after this deal was announced.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, as you know, Senator Alexander and Senator Murray just announced they had an agreement. And we haven't had a chance to think about the way forward yet. And you will have to address your questions to them.

It's a hot news item, just announced today, and I would recommend you talk to both of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Not committing one way or the other. Again, the deal had just been reached. But it kind of underscores here a key point, Wolf. Leadership right now is waiting for signs from the White House, but also trying to get a sense of where their members are.

If the conservative pushback continues as it currently stands, that could mean problems for the bill not just in the Senate, but almost certainly in the House, a chamber, I would note, Wolf, when these negotiations were ongoing before the third final repeal and replace effort fell apart, House Republicans made clear, this wasn't something they were willing to put on the House floor.

It doesn't at least sound at this point like it's changed. The big question now is, where does the president come down, Wolf?

BLITZER: He just tweeted this, Phil. Let me put it up on the screen.

Just moments ago: "Any increase in Obamacare premiums is the fault of the Democrats for giving us a 'product' that never had a chance of working."

People are going to be studying that tweet, wondering what his message is. Is he suggesting he will go along with this bipartisan compromise or might back away from it?

MATTINGLY: Look, I think the big question is, if you listen to the president throughout the course of this day, he was asked specifically about this deal and said, to paraphrase here, that it was a good deal, it was a short-term deal. It was kind of serving as a bridge, as Republicans try to take another shot at repeal and replace going forward.

What's going on behind the scenes, as far as what I'm told, I know Dana Bash has been reporting similar things, is that the pushback right now that's really starting to resonate in the White House is that this isn't a deal that should be considered acceptable to a Republican White House.

We will see who wins the day. Clearly, the president in private phone calls to Senator Lamar Alexander and in public statements has been urging this process along. The question becomes, does he change his tune anytime soon? And if he does, does that sink this altogether?

Again, a lot of optimism behind this today, Wolf. And a lot of Republicans and Democrats who believe that when it comes to these subsidy payments, something needs to be done to kind of bridge things over the course of the next couple of years. The real question is, is this deal the answer?

BLITZER: Yes, we will see what happens in the next few days. Very significant moment.

Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

The independent Senator Angus King of Maine is joining us. He's a key member of both the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.

And, Senator, I want to get to health care in a moment.

But you heard the breaking news that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, spent much of the day, yesterday, interviewing the former White House press secretary, Sean Spicer. Earlier, they interviewed the former White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

What does this tell you where this investigation into possible obstruction of justice, possible collusion with the Russians stands?

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, I can't comment on what they're doing in their investigation, but I think what it tells us is this is a serious investigation that's leaving no stone unturned.

And that's exactly what -- Mr. Mueller is doing it quietly, methodically, talking to everyone involved, and the fact that he's talking to people at the White House obviously indicates he's interested in what were the exchanges during the time, for example, of Director Comey's firing.

So I don't know the motivation. I don't know what they were talking about, but I think the important message here is, he's taking this seriously and they're working it through.

BLITZER: Does your committee want to talk to Sean Spicer or Reince Priebus, for that matter?

KING: We -- that the question of obstruction of justice is really not our lane.

BLITZER: The Intelligence Committee?

KING: Correct.

The Intelligence Committee is looking at, what did the Russians do, how do we know what they did, and how do we prevent it next time?

[18:15:03]

Also, we're looking at the question of, what were the Russians doing in the state election system, which is really important and, finally, the question of, was there a relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

That's unresolved at this point, but we're continuing to talk to people. Our staff has interviewed over 100 witnesses at this point. We have been through thousands of pages of documents. We're still at it.

But the real difference is that Mueller's investigation is about, were crimes committed, were laws broken? Our investigation is, what are the facts and how do we prevent from happening again?

BLITZER: So correct me if I'm wrong. Your assumption is, like my assumption, that Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus were called before special counsel Robert Mueller to talk about possible obstruction of justice charges in the firing of James Comey, the FBI director, as opposed to Russian potential collusion with the Trump campaign?

KING: I would say, clearly, it's not involved with potential collusion, because, to my knowledge, Sean Spicer wasn't involved in the Trump campaign.

So it may be. I'm not going to speculate on why they were talking to him. I just know that...

BLITZER: He was still working for the Republican National Committee. And he had close relations with the campaign, especially after the convention.

KING: Well, they may have been pursuing that aspect or they may have been pursuing what he knows about meetings that took place in the White House. That's not what we're looking at.

BLITZER: So you're looking at the collusion part of all of this?

KING: Right.

BLITZER: All right, let's get to the other breaking news.

The president, his decision, apparently, apparently, although it could change, to support this bipartisan compromise, keeping Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, intact, at least for the next two years. I assume you support this compromise?

KING: I do, but I wouldn't state it as keep Obamacare intact, because there are some significant concessions to the Republican critics of the bill.

BLITZER: But the subsidies to help low-income Americans, that stays intact, even though the president threw them out only last Friday.

KING: That's right.

And if they're not there, insurance rates are going to go up 15 to 20 percent. I mean, that's just the reality. And the whole individual market, not just people under the ACA, but the entire individual market could collapse. And this includes a lot of other people.

And I think that's what everyone's concerned about. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray had four public hearings on this subject. They heard from governors, insurance commissioners. The opinion was unanimous. Do this to stabilize the market, hold insurance premiums down, and then let's talk about other fixes to the Affordable Care Act to maintain the protections that allow millions of Americans to for the first time get health care.

BLITZER: If it comes up for a vote in the Senate, you're with them?

KING: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: All right, stand by.

There's much more we need to discuss, Senator.

We will take a quick break. We will resume our coverage. Lots of breaking news unfolding as we speak.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:31]

BLITZER: We're back with Independent Senator Angus King of Maine. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee. And we want to talk to him about all of the developments, including the fall of the self-proclaimed ISIS capital in Syria to coalition forces backed by the U.S.

First, though, let's get the very latest from our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, Raqqa is free tonight, but also in ruins.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is a devastating loss for ISIS, after three years of often bloody fighting, led by Kurdish forces on the ground.

I should warn you that this story includes some disturbing images of ISIS attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, U.S.-backed forces in Syria are celebrating the fall of ISIS in the terror group's self-declared capital of Raqqa.

The liberation represents a devastating loss for ISIS and a key victory for the coalition, as small pockets of resistance remain. COL. RYAN DILLON, OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE SPOKESMAN: ISIS is

losing its grip. After more than four months of operations, Raqqa is more than 90 percent cleared. We are aware of the reports that is has been defeated in Raqqa. However, clearance operations continue and we expect our Syrian Democratic Force partners to hit pockets of resistance as the final parts of the city is cleared.

SCIUTTO: Just three years ago, ISIS rolled down the streets of Raqqa bringing terror. Today's celebrations on those very same streets represent a stark contrast.

A female commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces waving a flag to mark the victory over the terror group that has committed countless atrocities against women.

In the past few days, some 350 ISIS fighters have surrendered, leaving behind an estimated 100 militants in a desolate city now reduced to rubble. U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have helped approximately 3,000 civilians to flee to safety.

Their dangerous mission now, clearing Raqqa of improvised explosive devices left behind.

DILLON: We must clear the remnants of all of the explosives that have been left in Raqqa throughout this battle.

SCIUTTO: U.S. officials believe that senior ISIS leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, fled Raqqa months ago for the Euphrates River Valley.

Today, President Trump took full credit for ISIS' defeat in a radio interview with WMAL's Chris Plante, though the coalition's fight and war plan were launched under President Obama.

[18:25:00]

TRUMP: I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military. I totally changed the attitudes of the military, and they have done a fantastic job. ISIS is now giving up. They're giving up. They're raising their hands. They're walking off. Nobody's ever seen that before.

QUESTION: Why didn't that happen before?

TRUMP: Because you didn't have Trump as your president. I mean, it was -- it was a big difference. I mean, there's a big, big difference, if you look at the military now.

SCIUTTO: While it has lost most of its territory, ISIS retains enormous capability to launch and inspire terror attacks around the world.

Today, the head of Britain's domestic spy agency surrounded the alarm on the terror threat, following multiple attacks claimed by ISIS in the U.K. just this year. ANDREW PARKER, DIRECTOR GENERAL OF MI5: We have seen a dramatic

upshift in threat this year. It's at the highest tempo I have seen in my 34-year career. Today, there is more terrorist activity, it's coming at us more quickly, and it can be harder to detect.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: It has the often been Kurdish forces bearing the heaviest burden on the ground in the fight against ISIS. And, unfortunately, now it is Kurdish forces that are locked in a dangerous battle with Iraqi forces on the Iraqi side of the border, a real dangerous division there developing within the coalition against ISIS -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we don't often hear from the head of MI5 along those lines.

Jim, you also have some exclusive new reporting on a different story. The Russian troll farms that interfered in the U.S. presidential election, who was behind them?

SCIUTTO: CNN has learned that the company of Yevgeny Prigozhin -- he's a Russian oligarch dubbed sometimes chef to President Vladimir Putin by the Russian press -- that he financed a troll factory that used social media to spread fake news during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

This according to multiple officials briefed on the investigation. Prigozhin, who owns several companies, is one of the Kremlin's inner circle. Putin even had him cater birthday parties and visits by President George W. Bush to Russia.

His company is believed to be the main backer of the St. Petersburg- based Internet Research Agency, known as the IRA, a secretive technology firm that created and distributed fake news.

I should note that Prigozhin was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in December of 2016 for providing financial support to Russia's military occupation of Ukraine. And one of his companies, including his catering business, also sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury this year.

BLITZER: How did you establish this connection, Jim?

SCIUTTO: My colleagues Tim Lister, Mary Ilyushina and I, we examined scores of documents leaked from inside Prigozhin's companies.

One contract provided IRA with ways to monitor social media and a system of automized promotion and search engines, as those documents said.

Other documents show that the monthly budget for IRA was $1 million in 2013. That was $1 million a month, and that was split between departments that included Russian language operations and the use -- and this is crucial -- of social media in English.

One part of the factory had a particularly intriguing name. It was called the Department of Provocations, dedicated to sowing fake news and social divisions inside the West. This according to those internal company documents obtained by CNN.

And its mission, as stated in those documents, was -- quote -- "How do we create news items to achieve our goals?"

I should mention that several e-mails and calls from CNN to Concord Consulting -- that is Prigozhin's company -- they went unanswered. And the IRA itself no longer exists since the U.S. election. A declassified assessment by the U.S. intelligence community published in January of this year concluded -- and I'm quoting -- "that the likely financier of the Internet Research Agency of professional trolls located in St. Petersburg is a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence."

Until now, no one named that person and we have now shown the evidence here that it was, in fact, Wolf, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

BLITZER: Very, very important information. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, reporting for us.

Let's get back to Angus King, a member of the Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee.

What was the Russian intent? Was it largely to get involved in the election, or to sow discontent, to aggravate social problems here in the United States, to weaken the United States?

KING: Both of those in the reverse order.

It appears that their original intention was to sow discord, to take differences -- Black Lives Matter, for example, it turns out they created fake Black Lives Matter Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and those kinds of things, in order to irritate people, to aggravate people, to split people, to divide people.

BLITZER: And to weaken the United States.

KING: And to weaken the United States and the West. This is a pattern that they're using around the world.

What appears, Wolf, is that sometime in the spring, late spring, summer of 2016, they shifted from that sole purpose to the purpose of helping Donald Trump win the presidency. And...

[18:30:14] BLITZER: Was it to help Donald Trump win the presidency or to undermine and hurt Hillary Clinton as much as possible, because they assumed she probably would be elected, but they wanted her to be badly damaged and weakened?

KING: Very good point. And it's hard to -- you know, were they hurting Hillary or helping Donald Trump? Either way, the result was the same.

But it's clear that President Putin had some -- didn't like Hillary Clinton. And felt her -- she was responsible for some of the color revolutions back earlier in the teens, and that was part of their intention.

But whatever it was, it was a very serious attack, very sophisticated, and the problem, Wolf, is it's going to happen again. And that's what worries me.

BLITZER: So how do you prevent? And you heard Jim Sciutto, our team's exclusive reporting. How do you prevent this from happening in 2018, in 2020? Because the Russians are not going to stop.

KING: That's right. They aren't going to stop. And I think that's a really important point.

We can do things like sanctioning them when we figure out who was behind it. Which oligarch or which agency. We can do those kinds of things.

But you know what? I believe that the most -- that the strongest defense is for us to understand what they're doing, and so when it happens, we can say, "Oh, that's just the Russians again."

I've been to Eastern Europe, talked to people there in Ukraine, Poland, and they say that the best defense is when the public is a -- is a better consumer of information and doesn't take everything at face value that they see on the Internet.

BLITZER: On a totally, totally different issue, a political issue, the Democratic National Committee, they're having their meetings right now. There's a resolution that they're going to be voting on later this week that regards the two independent senators in the U.S. Senate, you and Bernie Sanders, "Be it resolved that the DNC recognizes the important contributions of the independent senators from Maine and Vermont..."

KING: That's the good part.

BLITZER: "... to causes at the heart of the Democratic Party's mission, and urge them to run as Democrats."

Are you ready to declare your -- you caucus with the Democrats. Are you ready to declare that you're a Democrat and accept this resolution that is coming up for a vote at the DNC?

KING: No, I've been a -- I've been an independent since the early '90s. I was a governor as an independent. That's who I am. I caucus with the Democrats. You have to choose one caucus or the other. It's worked out. I more often vote with the Democrats, but not always. I like to call them as I see them. And that's where I'm going to stay.

BLITZER: We'll see if Bernie Sanders, who's also an independent, decides to accept this resolution from the DNC.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: Angus King of Maine, the independent senator from Maine. Just ahead, more on the hour's breaking news. A source says members

of the special counsel, Robert Mueller's team, have interviewed the former White House press secretary, Sean Spicer. Stand by.

And we'll also have the latest reaction to some senators' tentative deal, Republicans and Democrats, on a short-term fix to Obamacare. Will conservatives talk President Trump out of going along? He seemed to be OK with it just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're fairly close to a short-term solution. The solution will be for about a year or two years. And it will get us over this intermediate hump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:38:06] BLITZER: We have more breaking news tonight. A source familiar with the matter tells CNN that the special counsel, Robert Mueller's investigators, have now interviewed the former White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, as part of the Russia investigation.

Let's dig deeper with our reporters and specialists.

And Mark Preston, this is potentially significant, Reince Priebus the other day, now Sean Spicer. Looks like he's trying to build a case potentially for obstruction of justice.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And we really shouldn't be surprised that Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer have now met and spoke with Robert Mueller, or at least his team.

The fact is, they were the core of Donald Trump's inner sanctum when it came to the West Wing. The question is, is how much involved was Spicer or Priebus in some of the questions that Mueller might have? And ostensibly, he probably would have received that information from these interviews. We shouldn't be surprised, but he could get some information that would help build the case, if there is a case.

BLITZER: I'm interested in what you think, Phil Mudd. You've not only worked at the CIA' you worked at the FBI, as well. What do you think Mueller is up to by calling in these now former White House officials?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, first, I don't think he's building a case. And if you walk into this investigation, you want to ask fact questions. Give me a timeline of what happened. Give me your understanding of everything from what the president did with the former FBI director to whether you ever heard any gossip about engagement among officials with Russians.

The most fascinating piece of this to me, Wolf, is the fact that the interviews are taking place now. That gives us an indicator that the special counsel is making progress in the investigation toward an end line.

The reason is simple. You do not walk into one of these conversations with the central player like Priebus or like Sean Spicer, without knowing some of the answers already. For the simple reason, I'm not suggesting these guys are lying. I'm saying, any subject you want to talk to, you want to check the validity of what they say.

So you collect a ton of information beforehand. Financial, e-mail, phone. You interview secondary witnesses.

[18:40:07] And then later in the investigation, when you have all that data, then you say, "I know enough so that when I talk to Sean Spicer, if he starts sort of shading the truth, I think I'll be able to check it out."

This tells us that they've gathered a lot of information and that they think it's time to start interviewing the core players. They're making progress, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it looks like they -- and they have a world-class team of prosecutors and lawyers, investigators, FBI agents working on this.

Let's turn to the other breaking news, David Swerdlick. The health care deal, tentative deal worked out between a Republican chairman of the Senate health committee, Lamar Alexander, Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat. Is this going anywhere?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, for starters, Wolf, it's strange that last week, the president would sign an executive order getting rid of certain Obamacare funding, and then this week to half-heartedly endorse this idea of a bipartisan compromise.

I don't think it's going anywhere, because you still have the same fundamental problem among Republicans in the House and the Senate. Conservatives want more of a repeal of Obamacare. Moderates don't exactly know what they want. Democrats don't have a lot of motivation to do anything, except sit back and see what happens.

BLITZER: How do you see it, you know, Kaitlan? Because you're there. You're covering the White House on a daily basis.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We're already seeing the White House kind of walk back what the president said today when he said, it was a good, short-term solution. They're already saying that they applaud the bipartisanship. That's what they told Dana Bash, my colleague, but that they're not sure about this bill.

But the president doesn't even seem sure about what he wants.

BLITZER: Not sure about any bill.

COLLINS: He was asked that very simple question today, during that press conference, with the Greek prime minister in the Rose Garden. And he went kind of on this...

BLITZER: Was asked, what is your health care plan? COLLINS: Very simply, "What is your health care plan, Mr. President?"

And he went on this kind of rambling answer, where he attacked these insurance companies, repeated that he thinks Obamacare is a disaster, went after Democrats, saying that they're obstructionists, blocking his nominees, even touted his tax plan. And the only thing he mentioned about his idea for a health care plan was these block grants.

So at the end, the reporter kind of interjected and said, "OK, so the Graham/Cassidy bill, which famously was not supported by multiple Republicans?" And the president said, "Yes."

So it's not even clear that the White House knows what they want in a health care bill.

BLITZER: He wants these block grants to go to the states. Go ahead, Mark.

PRESTON: Yes. You know what's interesting about this, too, is that the progress that we've seen, the bipartisan progress that we've seen over the last 24 to 48 hours, I think conservatives are very concerned about that, because let's assume that this was agreed to and there was a two-year extension.

That's going to take a little bit of gas out of the -- out of the tank right now to go for an absolute repeal and replace. And I think that's why we started to push back from, in part from the likes of the Republican study group, the hard-score conservatives in the House.

BLITZER: Just a few minutes ago, the president tweeted this, David. "Any increase in Obamacare premiums is the fault of the Democrats for giving us a product that never had a chance of working." What do you make of that?

SWERDLICK: It's sort of a prebuttal to anything that happens. Right? The president doesn't want to take responsibility for what -- wherever the chips fall.

President Trump's natural sort of stance is to actually be in favor of more care. He wants to be seen as benevolent. He wrote in his book in the year 2000 that he was a conservative on most issues, but a liberal on this issue. He wants to give more to the people he calls the forgotten people.

The problem is, it's not his party's position. And that's where the fundamental...

BLITZER: And even if it passes the Senate, Kaitlan, there's no guarantee it will even come up for a vote in the House unless a majority of the Republican caucus supports it.

COLLINS: That's exactly right. And we have not heard an overwhelming amount of support so far for this. So it's not likely that anything's going to happen. We'll likely see it continue to be pushed down the road. BLITZER: Stand by. Everyone, stand by. There's a lot more unfolding

right now. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:48:25] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump is reacting to a sharp rebuke from Senator John McCain, with Mr. Trump warning that at some point he'll fight back, and, quote, it won't be pretty.

Phil Mudd, in his speech last night, Senator McCain criticized what he called, and I'm quoting him now, half-baked, spurious nationalism. Today, he warned of the nationalism of the 1930s making a comeback. It seemed to be directed at President Trump and some of his supporters, like Steve Bannon. What was your reaction?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I was looking at this, I had the same reaction you did, Wolf, but I added a couple of elements. Looking -- and, obviously, Senator McCain is a military veteran. Looking at the president's comments over the past couple of days about how he reacted to the return of the remains of American soldiers to the United States and making this a political issue, trying to compare himself favorably with former President Obama, looking at this in the context of what just happened with the national disaster of Puerto Rico, and the president was trying to compare himself favorably with what happened with President Bush and Katrina.

And I think a man with the respect and experience of Senator McCain, who clearly has a disease that's potentially deadly, is trying to set a tone for America that says, this is a serious time.

I think the risk here is the president tangling with somebody who's an American hero and somebody who's going through a difficult stage of life. I know the president doesn't have much empathy, but if I were him, I'd be careful about battling with somebody like Senator McCain, especially at this time of life in Senator McCain, with the problems he's got with his health issues.

BLITZER: Yes, you know, a lot of people are surprised that the president is threatening Senator McCain.

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: If you keep this up, Mark Preston, it's going to get worse for you.

[18:50:01] MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I'm going to tell you, I'm not surprised. I was there in Iowa when he made those ill-fated comments when he said that if you are a prisoner of war, you know, you're not a hero. And he specifically was speaking of Senator John McCain. He was out there for a campaign event.

But I -- just what Phil said, even going further, it actually scares me that there's potentially we won't have the voice of John McCain, you know, a year or two years or three years from now, assuming that the sickness is actually more advanced than we think. He really has been a great moderating factor here in the Senate, something that we haven't had, something who can cross party lines.

And you've got to look to the likes of Angus King here who you just had a short time ago as somebody who can perhaps try to step in. And he will never fill John McCain's shoes but likes of Angus King are going to be needed if John McCain at some point, we no longer have his voice.

BLITZER: Given his health, Senator McCain, are you surprised, David, that the president is speaking as he is, warning if you keep it up, get ready because I'm going to react.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not surprised with the president showing this level of disrespect because he's done it before. I am surprised, if the president in any way thinks that McCain is going to be cowed by this. Senator McCain, whatever else you think of him, survived, you know, prison camp in the Vietnam War. The idea he would now buckle under the tweets of President Trump is just preposterous.

BLITZER: On another issue, Kaitlan, you cover the White House. Another federal judge has now ruled against this third version of the president's travel ban, saying that the ban plainly discriminates based on nationality. How is the White House reacting?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, they're pushing back. They said that this -- the judge said this order had the same problems that its predecessors had, that it's discriminatory, and the White House immediately pushed back, saying that this ruling is dangerously flawed and the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said in a statement that this ruling undercuts the president's attempts to keep American safe. They said that these countries, they want to restrict the travel because of national security and terrorism issues, and they have faith that a higher court will reverse this decision.

But we have seen this be a problem for this administration since almost its first days in office. And though they have tried to finesse this order time and time again, they have not had to, and they're going to be embroiled in this legal battle for a little bit longer.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, how do you see this whole travel ban issue?

MUDD: Boy, this is the swamp fights back, Wolf. If you look at the agenda of the president who says himself he sort of is not responsible for his agenda, just this week he's saying you can't blame me for this stuff. You look at major pieces. You look at immigration reform where the judiciary is saying no. You look at health care reform where the Congress has said you can't get what you want. You look at overturning the Russia investigation, where his own Department of Justice and FBI are saying we're going to continue with the investigation.

The president can deny that he's responsible for his own agenda, but if you look at the key pieces, and now, we're getting into nine, 10 months in, you've got to look at this and say, this is not going well. The things that you were elected to enact, people around the government and the swamp you wanted to drain are saying, try to drain us, but we're going to win.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. We're going to have much more on the breaking news right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:46] BLITZER: More breaking news tonight. A federal judge in Hawaii has blocked President Donald Trump's revised travel ban version one day before it was set to take effect.

Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is working the story for us.

Jessica, this is the third version of the president's travel ban that's now in trouble.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Every time the White House has issued one of those travel bans, it's been blocked by a federal judge. Hawaii Federal Court Judge Derrick Watson, he has ruled against it again. He did the same thing for the second version. The judge calling this third executive order detrimental and discriminatory.

Judge Watson wrote this in the ruling, saying: EO-3 suffers from precisely the same malady as its predecessor. It lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.

Of course, the White House viewing this quite differently, releasing this statement, pushing back, saying: Today's dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the president's efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States.

And the administration also stresses it did an extensive review to come up with this latest list of eight countries, but this all looks headed to the Supreme Court since the last travel ban is largely moot and the Justice Department has promised, Wolf, a very quick appeal of this latest Hawaii federal court decision.

BLITZER: So, when you say it's headed towards the Supreme Court, fast tracked heading towards the Supreme Court? When are we going to expect a decision from the Supreme Court, whether they'll hear it?

SCHNEIDER: A fast track is possible. It could be an emergency motion that the Supreme Court might rule on procedural issues, not exactly the legality of this travel ban, but the Supreme Court has signaled they want these lower courts to rule first. So, it's likely that this will go through that very arduous and long appeals process, maybe at the Ninth Circuit first and then eventually make its way to the Supreme Court, but it could be long road ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, in the meantime, there's no travel ban.

SCHNEIDER: There's no travel ban at this point. Parts of the old travel ban are actually still in effect up until the end of October. But this latest one, it will not take effect because of this ruling.

BLITZER: All right. Jessica Schneider reporting for us, thank you very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.