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Trump Scoffs at GOP Attacks, Claims 'Love Fest'; Firm Used by Trump Campaign Asked WikiLeaks for Access to Clinton E-mails; Trump Administration Misses Deadline to Imposes Russia Sanctions. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Own best messenger. President Trump shrugs off blistering criticism from Republican senators, saying his party is united in a love fest. Acting as his own messenger, the president says the news media make him appear more uncivil than he is. So why is he delivering a new round of insults?

Dossier dollars. Amid revelations that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for research that led to an anti- Trump dossier, the president gloated, calling that a disgrace. But sources now say the head of the data analytics company hired by the Trump campaign contacted the WikiLeaks founder, asking for access to Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

No hesitation. President Trump says he was extremely nice to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger and, contrary to her account, says he didn't flub her husband's name, insisting he said it with no hesitation. So why is the president still bringing this up?

And take it literally. Saying Kim Jong-un's regime has always turned its words into action, a top North Korean official now warns the world should take literally his country's threat of an above-ground nuclear test. Is North Korea right now ready for a hydrogen bomb test?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump is now in Texas for a Republican fund-raiser after a remarkable show of bravado in the wake of stinging Texas from Republicans.

The president actually appeared to be in a celebratory mood when he talked to reporters as he left the White House. He shrugged off the stunning criticism by senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, insisting there's a, quote, "love fest" within the GOP. The president blamed the media for making him appear, quote, "more uncivil" than he really is. And to that point, the president says he was really nice to the widow of a soldier who was killed in the Niger ambush, insisting that he never flubbed her husband's name. The president again accused Democrats of making up what he calls the

Russia hoax. He suggested the tables have now been turned, given disclosures that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for research that led to the compiling of the Trump dossier. The president concedes the opposition research effort started with Republicans, saying he has a good idea who was originally behind it.

And we're also learning from multiple sources that the head of the data analytics company hired by the Trump campaign contacted WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, asking for access to thousands of Hillary Clinton's e-mails kept on a private server while she was secretary of state. Assange says he rejected that approach.

I'll speak with Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they are all standing by for full coverage.

Let's begin with President Trump's show of bravado in the face of some blistering attacks by fellow Republicans. Let's go to to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president seemed to relish the criticism.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He sure did, Wolf. President Trump is insisting all is well inside the Republican Party in response to the stinging criticism he's receiving this week from two prominent GOP senators: Bob Corker and Jeff Flake.

As for knocks on his behavior as president, no surprise, Mr. Trump blamed the media and not himself.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Don't tell President Trump there are divisions in the Republican Party.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have actually great unity in the Republican Party.

ACOSTA: As for GOP Senator Jeff Flake's speech sounding the alarm on the president's harsh rhetoric...

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength, because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness.

ACOSTA: ... Mr. Trump hurled more insults.

TRUMP: Well, look, look, he was against me from before he ever knew me. He wrote a book about me before I ever met him, before I ever heard his name. His poll numbers in Arizona are so low that he couldn't win.

I remembered the first time I saw him on television, I had not really been -- nobody knew me in terms of politics, but the first time I saw him on television, I said, "I assume he's a Democrat. Is he a Democrat?"

ACOSTA: Talking to reporters before heading to a fund-raiser in Dallas, the president blamed the media for the mounting criticism that he simply lacks the civility to sit in the White House.

TRUMP: I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am. You know, people don't understand, I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I'm a very intelligent person. You know, the fact is, I think -- I really believe -- I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real -- the real person.

[17:05:15] ACOSTA: But when pressed on why he insists on mocking another GOP critic, Senator Bob Corker as "little," there was a big dodge.

TRUMP: You know what? I -- I hope Bob -- and I really believe that Bob Corker is going to do the right thing also.

ACOSTA: The president said he was also perfectly polite to the Gold Star widow of La David Johnson, one of the four soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger this month, insisting he remembered the sergeant's name with a little help from his aides.

TRUMP: I was really nice to her. I respect her. I respect her family. I certainly respect La David. Who, by the way, I called La David right from the beginning. Just so you understand, they put a chart in front, La David. It says La David Johnson. So I called right from the beginning. There's no hesitation. One of the great memories of all time. There was no hesitation.

ACOSTA: The president was jubilant over reports that Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee had paid for the opposition research that led to the now infamous dossier and allegations about Mr. Trump and Russia.

TRUMP: Well, I think it's very sad what they've done with this fake dossier. It was made up. And I understand they paid a tremendous amount of money. And Hillary Clinton always denied it. The Democrats always denied it, and now only because it's going to come out in a court case they said, yes, they did it. They admitted it. And they're embarrassed by it. But I think it's a disgrace.

ACOSTA: And the president seemed to concede some of that opposition research was initiated by his Republican rivals during last year's primaries.

TRUMP: It might have started with the Republicans early on in the primaries. I think I would know, but let's find out who it is. I'm sure that will come out. I think I would have -- if I were to guess, I have one name in mind who I'd rather not say, but you'll be surprised.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Sounds like the president is setting up another cliff-hanger.

Now as for the president's claim that the dossier is fake, we should point out portions of that opposition research have been corroborated.

And during his back and forth with reporters, the president did take on some policy questions, saying he may be open to discussions about changes to Americans' 401(k) plans, and he's still confident his party will deliver on tax reform. Wolf, the president seems to think his party will rally behind his agenda, even though there are signs more GOP defections are on the way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's going to be a difficult process for him, I'm sure. Jim Acosta over at the White House, thank you.

Also breaking, sources now telling CNN a firm used by the Trump campaign contacted the WikiLeaks organization and its founder, Julian Assange, hoping to obtain access to e-mails from Hillary Clinton.

Let's go to our justice correspondent Pamela Brown. Pamela, what are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, sources tell CNN that the head of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm working for the Trump campaign, reached out to WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange during the campaign, asking about Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails.

Julian Assange acknowledged this today on Twitter, that that did happen. He says he rejected the request.

So the head of the firm, Alexander Nick said in an e-mail that several people, including top Republican donor Rebecca Mercer, relaying that he had reached out to Assange.

But sources tell us and my colleague, Dana Bash, that no one from the actual Trump campaign was on the e-mail chain.

For context, Wolf, WikiLeaks was responsible for releasing hacked e- mails from the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's e- mails last year, but not Hillary Clinton's e-mails. We don't even know if those missing e-mails were ever hacked, ever obtained.

And WikiLeaks has been called out by the U.S. intelligence community as a propaganda arm of the Russians.

So this new revelation, Wolf, establishes the closest known link between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, and it happened while Trump was on the campaign trail, increasingly criticizing Hillary Clinton for deleting thousands of e-mails from her private server.

We should mention "The Daily Beast" was first to report the e-mail outreach to WikiLeaks.

Just a short time ago, the Trump campaign head, Michael Glassner, sent out a statement seemingly obfuscating the core issue here. This is what he says: "We as a campaign made the choice to rely on the voter data of the Republican National Committee to help elect president Donald J. Trump. Any claims of voter data from any other source played a key role in the victory are false."

So as you see, Wolf, the statement doesn't have anything to do with the main issue here of a data firm hired by the Trump campaign reaching out to WikiLeaks about Clinton's stolen e-mails -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. The reaction from the Trump campaign very interesting. Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

Joining us now, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You bet. Good to be with you, Wolf. [17:10:00] BLITZER: So how significant is it that the head of this

data firm working for the Trump campaign directly reached out to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, about obtaining e-mails from Hillary Clinton's personal e-mail server?

SCHIFF: Well, Wolf, I can't comment on what we may know from our investigation on this subject, but Mr. Assange did confirm having been contacted by the head of Cambridge Analytica, seeking access to e- mails, stolen Hillary Clinton e-mails.

If that's true -- and you have to take everything Julian Assange says with a certain grain of salt -- but if that's true, now this is a third effort to -- by those associated with the Trump campaign to reach out and interact with those who either stole or acquired stolen e-mails, because you had Roger Stone in direct contact with the Russian GRU posing as Guccifer 2, as well as Roger Stone in contact, directly or indirectly, with Assange and WikiLeaks.

You also had the opposition researcher Peter Smith, who was in contact, apparently, with people in the Trump campaign, as well as those on the dark web who were believed to be Russians that were in possession of these stolen e-mails.

And now this, the data arm affiliated with the campaign also reaching out to Julian Assange, someone that our current CIA director has basically said is in league with Russian intel.

So that's the context of this. And with all of those connections going back and forth between the campaign and WikiLeaks and Guccifer, obviously areas of intense investigation by our committee.

BLITZER: As you point out, congressman, Julian Assange personally confirmed the report. He says he rejected the offer, though, from Cambridge Analytica. What does that tell you?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, again, Assange is not someone that you can trust, so, you know, it may or may not be significant. He confirms the contact. We may or may not be able to believe what else he has to say on this score. But it certainly does show a willingness now of a -- at least a third

party to reach out to those that are in possession of thee stolen e- mails, those that are directly affiliated with Russian intelligence or working indirectly with Russian intelligence. And that shows, certainly, a willingness by multiple parties in the campaign, similar to the Trump Tower meeting where they expressed a willingness in receiving dirt about Hillary Clinton. So on the Trump campaign side, lots of overtures to the Russians and Russian intermediaries, as well as WikiLeaks.

And the question for our committee is what did they get in response and was there a level of coordination?

BLITZER: Are there potentially criminal actions that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, should look into?

SCHIFF: Well, certainly, you know, surrounding this whole area, yes. And part of his charge is to look into this issue of collusion. And that is, was there collusion in terms of the hacking of the e-mails or the dumping of the e-mails? What was the nature of the interaction between the Trump campaign and any of the actors that are working in concert with Russian intelligence?

So, yes, this has got to be part and parcel of what the special counsel is looking at.

BLITZER: President Trump, as you know, he's reacting to the reports that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for some of the research that led to that dossier on the Trump team's ties to Russia, including potentially compromising information that the Russians may have on the president.

The president says the Clinton connection proves that the dossier is fake. What do you think?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, you can certainly understand why the president would make this argument, but I don't think it's any surprise to people, because it's been reported by CNN back as far as January that this began as a Republican candidate op research; was then a Democratic candidate op research. The number of Democratic candidates at that point very limited. So not very surprising here. And certainly, curiosity about who the Republican candidate is.

None of that, though, sheds light on whether the allegations of the dossier are true. And in fact, we have been able to confirm certain of the allegations made in that dossier.

What we need to investigate is how many of the rest can we prove or disprove? And who ultimately paid for the early part of the op research or later really doesn't bear that much light on this.

But the president wants to make this out to be, you know, a hoax, as he likes to call it. It's unclear whether he thinks the whole thing is a hoax and still believes that China might have been responsible for the hacking and dumping of e-mails for the social media campaign. If he does believe that, he's probably the only one in the country who believes that.

But this is a political argument that the president is making, and I have to say, as Bob Corker made so apparent yesterday, you simply cannot rely on what this president says.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Congressman. There's a lot more we need to discuss.

[17:15:00] I know your committee has been meeting behind closed doors with witnesses, including Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. We'll get to that and a lot more right after a quick break.


BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He's the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, your committee yesterday interviewed President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, behind closed doors. During the campaign, as you know, Cohen reached out to Vladimir Putin's personal spokesman, hoping he could help the Trump Organization build a Trump Tower in Moscow. What did the committee hope to learn from Mr. Cohen?

[17:20:14] SCHIFF: Well, you know, again, I can't go into the contents, but we certainly wanted to learn about the overtures that were made to pursue a Trump Tower in Moscow. Whatever kind of economic interests they were pursuing with Russia.

We also wanted to know his role in the campaign, his role in the organization, what he might be able to tell us about different meetings that were of particular interest to us, as well as issues that had been raised about potential travel. So those were the topics.

I can't go into any of the contents of our discussion.

You know what I can say, he answered all the questions that we posed. I think it was a productive session, but that's really all I'm able to say.

BLITZER: So he was cooperative; he didn't dodge any questions? He cooperated with the committee fully?

SCHIFF: He was cooperative. And, you know, as I say, I thought all the questions that we posed he answered. So it wasn't -- I know it's been reported as being confrontational. And there are always disagreements in terms of some of the questions, not with a witness necessarily but with others.

But I found that he was very cooperative and did what we asked, which was answer our questions.

BLITZER: Are you going to call him back?

SCHIFF: You know, we are still going through the documents. So this has been a continuing challenge for us, because a lot of the document production, not necessarily by the witness we're interviewing, but by other witnesses and the holders of other documents, we get the production on the eve of the hearing. Sometimes we get the production after the hearing, and it is necessary to bring witnesses back.

We are still continuing to go through documents, some of which may be very pertinent to ask Mr. Cohen about. And in that case, we will need to have him come back before the committee.

BLITZER: The Intelligence Committee also interviewed President Obama's former deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, today. Some Republicans have called on investigators to probe whether or not the Obama administration top officials inappropriately unmasked members of the Trump team.

Is that a serious question that you're pursuing now or is it, as some have suggested, a political sideshow?

SCHIFF: It really is a sideshow. There are always questions you can ask about any of the procedures that are used by the intelligence community, but we've seen no evidence of any malicious unmasking.

You know, this -- the origin of this, Wolf, was like most problems these days, a presidential tweet in which the president said he was illegally wiretapped by Barack Obama.

Now, when the agency said that's nonsense, they moved to the fall back, "OK, maybe he wasn't wiretapped at Trump Tower. Maybe what happened is we were eavesdropping on foreigners and we incidentally collected, and there was something malicious about that." There was no evidence of any malice, no backdoor surveillance.

So then they moved on to yet another theory and that is, "Well, names were improperly or politically unmasked." There's been no evidence of any politics involved in unmasking.

So, you know, it has unfortunately consumed a lot of time without much purpose except, I think, to distract from our focus. And we, for our part, are determined not to lose focus. We're going to continue investigating the Russian interference in our affairs.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks so much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, a deadline has come and gone. Why hasn't the president implemented Russia's sanctions passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. Congress? I'll ask Senator Chris Coons.

And a CNN exclusive. We'll take you live to North Korea, which is now warning the world to take seriously its threat of an above-ground nuclear test.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:28:30] BLITZER: On a day when the president accused the Democrats of making up what he calls the whole Russia hoax, he's now three weeks late in implementing the latest sanctions on Russia.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us. And it's perplexing, at least to me and a lot of others, the president still hasn't enforced the most recent round of sanctions against Russia. The deadline to enforce the sanctions was October 1. It's now the end of October.

The sanctions passed overwhelmingly in the House. The vote was 419-3. In the Senate, the vote was 98-2.

What is the Congress going to to do to ensure that the president enforces the law?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, I think we're going to need to take some tough steps, Wolf, to make sure that the president is carrying out the law. He's missed this deadline, as you mentioned, by more than three weeks; and I think we'll work together on the Foreign Relations Committee and other committees of the Senate to make sure that we are getting a response from the administration.

This is part of a broader effort here in the Senate. We've given the president powers to use sanctions against North Korea, against Iran, against Russia, and while there has been some progress on these other fronts, on using the tool of sanctions to advance our national security, it's really concerning and puzzling to me why the administration has missed this first crucial deadline to convey to the Congress what they man to do to make Russia pay a price for meddling in our last elections.

BLITZER: Well, as you know, the president didn't like this legislation to begin with. He didn't even want Congress to take it up. He saw it as an infringement on the executive branch of the U.S. government.

Senator McCain now says further action may be needed if the...


COONS: ... last elections.

BLITZER: Well, as you know, the president didn't like this legislation to begin with. He didn't even want Congress to take it up. He saw it as an infringement on the executive branch of the U.S. government.

[17:30:10] Senator McCain now says further action may be needed if the president continues to fail to enforce these sanction sanctions against Russia which are now, of course, the law of the land.

How far do you believe your Republican colleagues -- forget about the Democrats for a moment -- the Republican colleagues are willing to go? Because the vote, as I pointed out in the Senate was, what, 98-2.

COONS: Well, Wolf, the president doesn't get to choose which laws he's going to follow and which laws he's going to enforce. And if the Senate is going to mean anything, it has to mean that we are able to come together in a bipartisan way, particularly on an issue that has had such strong bipartisan support and action as stepping up to face down Russia over their interference in our last election.

So given some recent speeches given by colleagues of mine on the Foreign Relations Committees, given some of the public pronouncements by members of the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees who are Republicans, it is my hope that we'll find a consensus around taking some strong steps and then, soon thereafter, that the Trump administration will follow the law.

BLITZER: Well, what are those strong steps if the Trump administration continues to delay, delay, delay?

COONS: Well, as you know, the Senate has the power of the purse and the power of confirmation. So we can have consequences for the administration, both in the budget and appropriations process and in our willingness to take up and confirm folks who they want for senior positions in the administration.

BLITZER: As you know, one of the president's most frequent critics, Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, announced yesterday he wouldn't be seeking re-election. Some of the president's allies are celebrating the departure of Senator Flake. They believe it signals a big change in the direction of the Republican Party.

You wrote an op-ed for "The New York Times" today, and let me read a sentence or two. "I may disagree with Mr. Flake on policy, but I consider him an honorable man, a loyal friend and a valued colleague. His retirement is deeply troubling to me because he represents a principled and patriotic Republican Party, one that has long championed strong American leadership around the world and one I fear that is now falling apart. That should scare all Americans. It sure scares me."

Tell us why you believe it should scare all Americans.

COONS: Because part of our strength globally, part of why we are secure and prosperous here at home, is in the seven decades after the end of the Second World War, the United States had been a global leader in advancing freedom, in fighting for democracy, for free press, for human rights. This was something championed by presidents as disparate in their politics and their views as Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. We have always made the advancement of democracy, human rights and freedom a key part of our bipartisan foreign policy over the last 70 years.

And so for us to be in an environment where that's actively being questioned, where President Trump and leaders in his administration have at times challenged or questioned or pushed back on our vital alliances and on the centrality of these values to our leadership in the world; and to now see critical voices like the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator McCain; the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker; and now my friend and colleague on the Foreign Relations Committee, Jeff Flake, potentially all passing from the scene here as leading voices in the Senate in the next couple of years, that's very concerning to me, because I think they have been central to leadership in my time, at least in the Senate, on this important bipartisan issue of our leadership role in the world.

BLITZER: Do you believe, Senator, that more Republicans are prepared to publicly speak out against the president the way senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have?

SCHIFF: We'll have to see. It is my hope and expectation that many Republicans will, as time unfolds here, act on their concerns about President Trump's sometimes erratic and frankly unconventional behavior.

He said as a candidate that he would be unpredictable and unconventional in foreign affairs, and he has certainly delivered on that. But in terms of the response we've gotten from our allies who are deeply concerned and our adversaries who are I think emboldened by this behavior, I think it's important that the president tweet less and spend more time relying upon his seasoned and talented foreign policy and national security team; and that he make it clearer that he actually supports the network of alliances and international agreements and organizations that have contributed so much to our strength and our prosperity here at home.

BLITZER: Senator Coons, thanks for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll have more from the president's eye-opening news conference today on the South Lawn of the White House. Among other things, he complained. He complained about the press coverage he receives. He says, "It makes me more uncivil than I am."


[17:35:08] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People don't understand, I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I'm a very intelligent person.

You know, the fact is I think -- I really believe -- I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real -- the real person.



[17:40:03] BLITZER: At this hour, President Trump is on a fundraising trip in Dallas, but before leaving the White House, he took questions from reporters. He insisted the Republican Party is unified, defending his condolence calls to the families of U.S. troops killed in action, and he argued that the news media, quote, "makes me more uncivil than I am." Closed quote. We have a lot to discuss with our correspondents and specialists. And

Gloria, let's begin with the civil war that seems to be developing in with the GOP despite what the president says. Over the past couple days, Senator Flake, Senator Corker, they've essentially asked their colleagues, their Republican colleagues, to pick sides. Whose side are they picking?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there aren't a lot of profiles in courage at this point.

This is Donald Trump's Republican Party, period. And if you look at our polling, you know, when you ask Republicans do you have more confidence in President Trump or Republicans in Congress to deal with the issues that confront us today? By two to one margin, Republicans trust Donald Trump more.

So these people who are facing re-election, who want to get something done, who believe that they need to pass tax reform if they're going to get reelected -- they have to get something done -- are choosing, for now, to be members of the president's party. If they get walloped in 2018, if tax reform is a failure, I think we could see some people with some more loose tongues about Donald Trump.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can I just give you an example and an anecdote to back up exactly what Gloria just said?

I was on Capitol Hill today, and I bumped into a Republican member in the House over on the Senate side and asked this member, you know, what they thought about Flake and Corker. And this person said, "That's exactly why I'm here. I'm going to find them to thank them for speaking out."

And then I said, "Oh, well does that mean you're going to speak out more"? And the answer was no.

BORGER: Right.

BASH: And it's because this person is running for re-election in a red district, like many of them are. And I think that, to me, is sort of a crystallizing anecdote of what is really going on here.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And they've privately sort of have been saying what Corker said publicly, what Flake has said publicly. Privately wincing about the course of Donald Trump's presidency; some of, you know, his erratic behavior, his tweeting; any number of things.

So Corker and Flake have stepped out, but they're also sort of out of style at this point. It's clear that Trump won this battle. That Bannon one this battle.

You saw Coons talk about these people should worry that these folks are out of the party. It's in some ways odd that he's saying that. Jeff Flake isn't exactly a moderate. He's very much a Tea Party guy.

But there is, I think, concern about what it means if people stand up to Trump. Essentially, they're being driven away from the Republican Party.

BORGER: You know, if you gave them a little bit of truth serum and complete anonymity, we'd hear a lot.


BORGER: But we're not now, because they understand that this is not where most of their constituents are. Now that could turn. Obviously, that can turn, because nothing succeeds like success.

If Donald Trump turns out to be -- excuse me for using the word -- a loser on tax reform and they have nothing to show, whether it's on health care or tax reform, to take home to the voters, I think then you're going to see some difference.

BASH: And the problem is it won't just be Donald Trump that will be a loser on tax reform.

HENDERSON: They will be.

BASH: They're the ones on the ballot, the whole House and a third of the Senate, in 2018. And again, just talking to people up on the Hill, you cannot overestimate how desperate they are for this win, for this deliverable for the people who put them in control of Congress. And of course, the White House, as well. And that is taxes.

BLITZER: You know, Nia, the president also once again defended the condolence call he delivered to the widow, the Gold Star widow of the soldier, La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger. Listen to this.


TRUMP: I respect her. I respect her family. I certainly respect La David. He -- who, I, by the way, called La David just from the very beginning. Just so you understand, they put a chart in front. La David. It says La David Johnson. So I called right from the beginning. There is no hesitation. One of the great memories of all time.


BLITZER: He points to his head. "One of the great memories of all time."

HENDERSON: He does, yes.

BLITZER: Go ahead. Your reaction?

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, he's still essentially arguing with a woman who just lost her husband, just buried him over this weekend.

She had a very different account of the phone call. Felt like she wasn't being respected, felt like he wasn't remembering her husband in the proper way. But there again he feels like he wants to argue with her. Maybe this will be it. Hopefully, these questions don't come up

again. It doesn't look like the White House will necessarily reach out to this family in any way and make good. Yes, this is the president. He talks about this idea of counterpunching and always wanting to engage.

BLITZER: But it would be a very human reaction to call her up again...


BLITZER: ... and say, "I'm sorry if you misunderstood."

BORGER: As I've been saying, I can't understand why he wouldn't just say, I'm sorry if you misunderstood.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: As I have been saying, I can't understand why he wouldn't just say I'm so sorry we had a miscommunication. All I wanted to do was to console you, and I'm sorry if you felt that way.

But, you know, we know this president has a very difficult time saying I'm sorry.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He went as far, I think, as we've seen this president go in that vein by saying he has a lot of respect for her, has a lot of respect, of course, for her husband who was killed.

The whole "I have a great memory and yet I had to read from a chart thing" doesn't really --


BASH: It's a bit of a contradiction.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's more news coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're about to go live to North Korea's capital of Pyongyang, where a senior North Korean official -- a senior official of the Kim Jong-un regime is warning not to dismiss his country's threat of exploding a nuclear weapon over the Pacific Ocean.


[17:50:39] BLITZER: Tonight, we have a stark new warning that North Korea is serious about defying international treaties and setting off a nuclear blast in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

CNN's Will Ripley, making his 16th visit to North Korean capital of Pyongyang, is joining us now live.

Will, you have spoken to a top North Korean official in Pyongyang. Tell our viewers what you were told.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a threat that was first made after the United Nations General Assembly when President Trump made that fiery speech, threatening to totally destroy North Korea.

And the sense I have been getting, speaking with North Korean officials ever since, is that it is increasingly likely this is going to happen. As diplomatic talks with the U.S. have broken down, it seems North Korea wants to prove their ability with action.


RIPLEY (voice over): Flying into the North Korean capital, life on the surface seems normal. Beneath the surface, it's anything but.

Overseas North Korean workers are being sent home in droves, their jobs eliminated by U.N. sanctions. The U.S. calls it punishment for an illegal, dangerous, nuclear program. North Korea calls it evil, an economic blockade.

On my 16th trip to Pyongyang, I still see signs of growth, plenty of traffic, construction, a steady flow of electricity keeping the growing skyline bright. But the prospects of a peaceful resolution to the nuclear standoff with the U.S. seem to be growing darker by the day.

At North Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we ask to meet with a senior diplomat. Ri Yong Pil agrees to talk, but the mood is tense. His anger at the U.S. palpable.

RI YONG PIL, SENIOR DIPLOMAT, NORTH KOREA MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS (through translator): Donald Trump said he would totally destroy North Korea, a sovereign state.

RIPLEY (voice over): He is referring to the U.S. President's fiery speech at the U.N. last month when he personally insulted a fellow head of state.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

RIPLEY (voice over): North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fired back, calling President Trump's behavior, mentally deranged. North Korea's Foreign Minister made a threat that alarmed even long-time Korea watchers.

RI YONG HO, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, NORTH KOREA (through translator): This could probably mean the strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean.

RIPLEY (voice over): Some analysts have accused North Korea of bluster, saying they haven't yet achieved full nuclear capability, and if they go to war, they risk total destruction. But the North Koreans warn the U.S. not to underestimate their resolve and their growing arsenal. RIPLEY (on camera): Should the world prepare for North Korea to

detonate a nuclear device above ground?

RI YONG PIL (through translator): The Foreign Minister is very well aware of the intentions of our Supreme Leader, so I think you should take his words literally.

RIPLEY (voice over): U.S. and North Korea officials tell CNN diplomacy has broken down, pushing two nuclear powers dangerously close to military conflict.

RI YONG PIL (through translator): The U.S. is talking about a military option, and even practicing military moves. They're pressuring us on all fronts with sanctions. If you think this will lead to diplomacy, you are deeply mistaken.

RIPLEY (on camera): So then I ask, what needs to happen for diplomacy to resume?

RI YONG PIL (through translator): The U.S. needs to understand our new strategic power and fundamentally eliminate its hostile policy toward the DPRK.

RIPLEY (voice over): He says North Korea's leader is following through on a pledge, to reach a nuclear balance of power with the U.S., which, they say, will lead to peace and stability. Even as many around the world worry the end result could be the exact opposite.


RIPLEY: If North Korea were to actually go through with this, it would be the first above ground nuclear test in nearly 40 years since China did it back in 1980.

Aside from the environmental consequences, the potential for people being injured if the blast went off in the wrong place, there is serious concern, certainly in Washington with officials I have been speaking with just in the last couple of days, Wolf, that, in fact, if this were to happen, that the response from the President Trump administration, really unknown. And it could lead this region down a very dangerous path.

[17:55:00] BLITZER: Yes, it's a very, very, extremely tense situation right now. Will Ripley in Pyongyang for us. We'll stay in very close touch with you. Thanks, once again, for that report.

Coming up, shrugging off blistering criticism from Republicans, President Trump is gloating over revelations that Democrats paid for research that led to a dossier on him.