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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Administration Failing to Implement Russia Sanctions; Republican Civil War; Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; Trump says "Great Unity" In GOP Despite Senators' Attacks; Biden Leavers Door Open to Run for White House; Haley Escorted from Refugee Camp Amid Protest. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 25, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: no responsibility.
President Trump makes impromptu and wide-ranging remarks, deflecting blistering criticism from two Republican senators, dodging questions about his own insults, and proclaiming great unity inside the GOP.
He also says he did not authorize the mission in Niger that left four U.S. troops dead, and he insists he was -- quote -- "very nice" to one soldier's widow in a controversial condolence call.
Fake and made up. President Trump seizes on news that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party helping to pay for opposition research that led to the infamous dossier of allegations about him and Russia. And now CNN has learned the Trump campaign reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asking for Hillary Clinton's private server e-mails.
Unsanctioned. Sanctions against Russia for its election meddling have yet to be implemented months after they were passed overwhelmingly by Congress. And now there's finger-pointing inside the Trump administration, as it is asked to explain the delay. Is the White House deliberately dragging its heels?
And of all time. President Trump says he has one of the greatest memories of all time. He declares himself a nice student and an intelligent person, blaming the news media for making him -- quote -- "more uncivil than I am."
Why does the leader of the free world seem to be so insecure?
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: Breaking news tonight, President Trump painting a picture of Republican Party unity amid his open war of words with two retired Republican senators. Leaving for a fund-raiser in Texas, the president stopped to talk to reporters at the White House and he launched new attacks on Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who have both blasted the president's behavior and his performance. And he blamed the news media for portraying him inaccurately.
Also, sources are now telling CNN the head of a data analytics company hired by the Trump campaign contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange seeking access to thousands of Hillary Clinton's e-mails from the controversial private server she used as secretary of state. A Trump campaign official just put out a statement saying most of its data came from the Republican National Committee and claims that data from any other source plays a -- denies any other source played a key role, saying all of those allegations are false.
And there's more breaking news. The president is blasting revelations that the infamous dossier of allegations about his campaign and Russia was partially paid for by the law firm for Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic Party. Mr. Trump called the dossier fake and made up and a disgrace to the Democrats.
And the Trump administration is now facing serious questions about why sanctions against Russia approved months ago overwhelmingly by Congress have still not been implemented, the White House now blaming the State Department for the delay.
The administration has already missed one deadline to declare which Russian citizens and businesses will be sanctioned.
We are covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
But let's begin with the president's claim of GOP unity, despite his open war with two Republican senators.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has the latest.
Jim, the president insists all is well.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
President Trump is insisting everything is A-OK in the GOP in response to the stinging criticism he's receiving this week from the 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, 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: Look, he was against me before he ever knew me. He wrote a book before I ever met him, before I ever heard his name. His poll numbers in Arizona are so low that he could not 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 person.
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 hope Bob -- and I really believe that Bob Corker is going to do the right thing also.
ACOSTA: The president also 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, 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 of 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 are embarrassed by it. But I think it's a disgrace.
ACOSTA: And the president seemed to concede some of the 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 am sure that will come out. I think I would -- if I were to guess, I have one name in mind, who I would rather not say, but you will be surprised.
ACOSTA: And he would not give us that name.
Now, as for the president's claim that the dossier is fake, we should point out that portions of that opposition research have been corroborated.
And during his back and forth with the reporters, the president did take on policy questions, saying he may be open to discussions about changes to Americans' 401(k) retirement plans.
And he's still confident his party will deliver on tax reform. The president seems to think his party will rally behind his agenda, even as there are signs that many GOP defections are on the way, Wolf. Those defections are not fake. They may be very real, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.
Also breaking tonight, new details of Trump campaign efforts to obtain thousands of Hillary Clinton's e-mails from the controversial private server she used while she was secretary of state.
Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is working the story for us.
Pamela, you are getting new information.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
Sources tell CNN the head of Cambridge Analytica, this data firm working for the Trump campaign,actually reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the campaign asking about Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails.
Now, Julian Assange acknowledged today on Twitter that did happen and he said he rejected the request, so the head of this firm, Alexander Nix, sent an e-mail to several people, including top Republican donor Rebekah Mercer, relaying that he had e-mailed Assange, but sources say nobody from the actual campaign was on that e-mail chain.
For context, 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. And we don't know that they actually ever obtained those e-mails, if those e-mails had ever been hacked at all.
And WikiLeaks has been called out by the U.S. intelligence community as a non-hostile intelligent service working with the Russians, so this new revelation establishes the closest known link between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, and it happened while Trump on the campaign trail was increasingly criticizing Hillary Clinton for deleting thousands of e-mails from her private server.
We should mention The Daily Beast was first report to the e-mail outreach to WikiLeaks. Wolf, the Trump campaign has responded by sort of distancing itself from Cambridge Analytica.
It said in a statement just released shortly, not long ago: "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 that voter data from any other source played a key role in the victory are false."
You can see here in the statement the campaign avoiding the core issue here that a firm it hired had reached out to WikiLeaks during the campaign -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Pamela, thanks very much.
Pamela Brown is our justice correspondent.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is joining us. He's a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.
Senator, thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
So, from this last report, from Pamela Brown's last report, what conclusions do you draw from this?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Very significant report, because it shows, again, as part of a pattern, that the Trump campaign, in effect, was reaching out for derogatory information on Hillary Clinton.
And the pattern includes that June 9 meeting with Russian foreign agents attended by Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and the then head of the Trump campaign Paul Manafort, in response to an offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton.
So, it's part of a pattern. Cambridge Analytica may not have been a direct part of the Trump campaign, but it certainly was hired by it, and there were also other Trump associates who were reaching out as well.
BLITZER: Is this something that your committee, the Judiciary Committee, is looking into right now? Were you aware of this?
BLUMENTHAL: We were -- at least I was unaware of it, but it should be a topic that is of interest to our committee, because the Russian investigation and obstruction of justice, which is at the core of our investigation, should include all available relevant information.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise, because Julian Assange denies that Russia was the source of hacked Democratic e-mails that WikiLeaks eventually posted.
How does this connection between the Trump data analytics firm and Julian Assange fit into the bigger picture of Russia meddling and possible, repeat, possible collusion?
BLUMENTHAL: The question is where WikiLeaks eventually got that information that it published, the 33,000 e-mails or other e-mails. And if that was from the Russian government, then it would be a very substantial...
BLITZER: But they deny it was from the Russians. What do you say?
BLUMENTHAL: I only know what they have said and what we know in the public record. But it should be a topic of investigation.
BLITZER: And so you see possible collusion there, is that what you are saying?
BLUMENTHAL: I think it's part of a pattern of the Trump campaign seeking derogatory information, in effect, dirt on Hillary Clinton.
And they certainly sought it from WikiLeaks, apparently, and now that kind of outreach corroborates the other efforts that we know were ongoing at the time, including that June 9 meeting.
BLITZER: Julian Assange has issued a statement, tweeting this.
He said: "I can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica prior to November last year and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks."
So, what is your reaction to that? Why did they reject that request?
BLUMENTHAL: Julian Assange is the most reliable source about why they rejected that outreach from the Trump campaign.
But, in my view, they were well-advised not to embroil themselves in a partisan effort to gain dirt on an opposition leader, and that may have been the reason.
BLITZER: The president, even today, once again said this whole Russia probe that you, other committees in the Senate, the House, special counsel Robert Mueller engaged in, he says all of that is a hoax. He says that the real Russia story is what happened back in 2010, the
uranium deal approved by the Obama administration to sell a huge chunk of U.S. uranium to the Russians. He called it today Watergate modern age, and he says it's a huge, huge scandal. What is your response to that?
BLUMENTHAL: The president has done everything he can, calling the investigation a hoax, bringing distracting issues to deflect attention from the potential obstruction of justice by his administration and possibly by himself into the investigation of Russian meddling and Trump alleged collusion with that meddling.
That's the central focus of the Judiciary Committee and presumably also of Robert Mueller.
BLITZER: But you know the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, he recused from other parts of the Russia investigate.
He says he and his colleagues are opening up a full investigation now of that uranium deal with the Russians. He wants to know, for example, whether or not the FBI or the Justice Department, if there was an investigation going on back then into possible bribery that allowed this deal to go through.
Do you think this investigation is worth doing?
BLUMENTHAL: I have no idea what additional facts he may have that justified this investigative effort.
I think our focus must be on obstruction of justice, because we have oversight responsibility over the FBI and the Department of Justice. And clearly in the June 9 meeting, in the president's Air Force One statement, in his firing of James Comey, in other actions, as well as words by him, there's much to investigate in possible obstruction of justice and much to legislate.
We should be proposing reforms and legislation that may prevent this kind of political interference in the future.
BLITZER: Senator, there's more we need to discuss, including the Trump administration's decision to delay implementing the law calling for new Russian sanctions. We have lots to discuss. We will take a quick break.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committee. We want to talk to him about the Trump administration's delay in implementing sanctions against Russia that were overwhelmingly approved by the House and Senate.
First, let's get the latest from CNN's Brian Todd.
Brian, there's some finger-pointing going on inside the Trump administration, right?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.
Tonight, the White House is blaming the State Department for the delay in implementing sanctions, but there are serious questions about whether the Trump team is actually trying to slow-walk these new sanctions because of a possible meeting next month between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Two prominent senators, one Republican, one Democrat, say that is sending the wrong message to the Russian president.
TRUMP: This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, there are serious concerns among top members of Congress that President Trump is not willing to punish Vladimir Putin for meddling in the 2016 election.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: It's a pretty high level of frustration. We know that the issues concerning Russia having not gotten better.
TODD: Senator Ben Cardin, top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican John McCain are at their wits' end, as they prod the Trump White House to move faster to implement sanctions on Russia.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it's overdo and I hope that they will act according to the law.
TODD: After Congress overwhelmingly passed new sanctions, President Trump signed them into law reluctantly on August 2. There were no cameras present. The administration has until early February to put the sanctions in place, but the Trump team has missed an October 1 deadline to declare which Russian citizens and businesses will be sanctioned.
Ten days ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to explain the delay.
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We're being very careful to develop the guidance that companies need, because there are business entities that need guidance.
TODD: But, tonight, a senior White House official blames the State Department for the delay in naming the Russians to be sanctioned, saying the State Department's review of that should have been done by now. A State Department spokeswoman tried to explain this week.
HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: From our people who are working on it, they tell me that it's pretty complicated, that it can take some time.
TODD: But is that just a deflection? Does the Trump White House have a reason to slow-walk the sanctions on Russia?
A person close to the administration tells CNN Trump's aides are working to arrange a meeting between the president and Putin at a summit in Asia next.
That concerns Senator Cardin even more.
CARDIN: And I would think the president would want the very strongest possible hands when he talks and meets with Mr. Putin.
They are engaged in attacking our country and Europe, our democratic institutions. So, it's urgent that Russia understands that we are going to move forward aggressively to protect ourselves. And if we don't do that, it's a green light to Russia to do more of these activities that against our interests.
TODD: What can Congress do to get the Trump administration to move faster on Russia sanctions? The options are limited.
But Senator Cardin and a senior Senate aide tell us they could do things like use their leverage some of President Trump's legislative agenda that he wants passed or possibly hold up some of his nominations just to prod this administration along -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, Senator Chris Coons told me they have the power of the purse. They could use that as well.
Brian Todd reporting for us, thanks very much.
Let's back to Senator Blumenthal.
So, do you buy this line from the White House that it's the State Department that is holding it up? And just a little bit more background. It was passed over the summer by the House of Representatives 419-3, passed by the Senate, a vote of 98-2.
It was supposed to be implemented, according to law, starting on October 1. It's the end of October now. They have not started implementing the law.
BLUMENTHAL: I agree completely with my colleagues Senator Cardin and Senator McCain, and many, many others on both sides of the aisle that this delay is absolutely inexcusable.
There's no reason, none, that the administration has legitimately for failing to meet that deadline. And that failure sends a message to the Russians that is really unconscionable that we will not enforce our own laws when their interests are at stake.
There's really an investigation to be done here. And there's also a need for potential measures by Congress, whether it's holding up nominations or resources.
I hesitate to hold up nominations, because the State Department needs those diplomatic posts filled, but some action should be taken.
BLITZER: Because there's a lot of speculation.
You heard Brian Todd's report that the president is going to be meeting presumably with Putin at the Asian-Pacific economic conference that is coming up next month. And he didn't want this legislation to be passed to begin with. He saw it was a congressional infringement on his power, as the president of the United States.
He reluctantly signed it into law. So, it your suspicion he is dragging his feet now because of the meeting with Putin?
BLUMENTHAL: Knowing what happened for this legislation to be passed, because I was one of the leaders of it, I know they not only dragged their feet, but they actually opposed it implicitly.
And now for him to delay implementation and in effect defy the law I think is unconscionable. And we will take whatever action we can, hopefully, on a bipartisan basis, to pressure and put all of the onus on the administration for this failure to enforce it.
BLITZER: Another important issue, Niger, what happened, the ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers.
You are going to have a classified briefing, I take it, tomorrow, the Senate Armed Services Committee. What questions are the most pressing ones that you want answered?
BLUMENTHAL: The administration owes a better explanation to the families and loved ones of these brave and able young men who sacrificed their lives. It owes affective action to all of our men and women serving in harm's way in Africa.
There's about 6,000 of them. Very few Americans realize the scope and size of our commitment there, and probably about 600 in Niger.
And what I want to know is, what is being done to provide the support that they need? Testimony before our committee, Armed Services, just last March indicated from General Waldhauser, the head of AFRICOM, that they have only 20 to 30 percent of the support they need in intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance, exactly the kind of support they needed on this mission.
I want to know who made these mistakes, because they clearly were mistakes made, when they were and how the mission was changed and whether we should be doing more to provide them support. And also we clearly need an authorization for the use of military force updated from 2001, when it was last passed, so the American people can hold accountable these missions.
BLITZER: I know you and colleagues on the committee, including the chairman, John McCain, are pretty upset about this. They want answers and they want a full investigation to make sure lessons are learned, so it doesn't happen again.
Senator Blumenthal, thanks very much for coming in.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: We will speak to you after you get this briefing.
Just ahead, caught up in harsh new controversies, President Trump says the news media is making him seem -- quote -- "more uncivil than he is."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: 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 person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Sources telling CNN that the head of a data analytics company used by the Trump campaign contacted the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, asking for thousands of Hillary Clinton's private server e-mails.
[18:33:18] Let's dig deeper with our reporters and our specialists. Phil Mudd, what does it say to you that this firm, Cambridge Analytic, the data firm used by the Trump campaign during the campaign actually reached out to WikiLeaks to try and coordinate the release of Hillary Clinton e-mails?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is red meat for an intelligence guy. Let me take you inside this game. It's a spider web that we've seen sort of appear over the past year. This piece of the spider web is critical.
There's been questions over the past weeks about why it takes so long for interviews to happen, for example, in the Mueller investigation. Why don't they interview people at the White House earlier? And this is a reason why.
When I walk in as an investigator and I talk to somebody, I want data on what happened with the data analytics company. That is, I want to see if there's any e-mails or phone calls from the Trump people. Then later in the investigation, this fall maybe going into next spring, I'll go talk to the Trump people with all that data already analyzed and say, "Do you ever have any contacts with data analytics? Did you know that they discussed the Hillary Clinton e-mails with WikiLeaks?" And I'm going to know some of the answers already. I want to box that interview to insure that whoever I'm speaking with -- Jared Kushner, whoever -- is speaking when I already have some of the answers. The answer today is somebody probably spoke with data analytics from the campaign, I suspect, about their cooperation or contact with WikiLeaks.
BLITZER: This happened, David Chalian, in the summer of 2016, around the same time that there was that meeting at Trump Tower between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, whatever you want to call them. So how does this new information we're now learning fit into the big picture?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. That meeting that Donald Trump Jr. took in Trump Tower, you're talking about, with the knowledge that it was to offer dirt on Hillary Clinton, and...
BLITZER: That's what the e-mail said.
CHALIAN: Inviting e-mail said. That they were clearly in the business as a campaign of doing that, which by the way, lots of campaigns, all campaigns are in the business of trying to find dirt on your opponents.
[18:35:10] But you are right to note the timing, because it is also the same timeframe, Wolf, when you recall that President Trump -- then-candidate Trump -- invited Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton's e-mails and start producing them in some way.
So these -- this interaction between Trump campaign associates and Cambridge and WikiLeaks, as Phil said, is going to be part of a picture. This in and of itself, we have to remind people, those Hillary Clinton e-mails, the 3,000 e-mails, they've never materialized as far as we know. And on this e-mail that was produced here, it wasn't somebody at the Trump campaign officially, but it was Rebecca Mercer, who you know is a big donor.
BLITZER: You know, it's very interesting. This is Rebecca Berg, over here, a different Rebecca. I want to read a portion of the Trump campaign, the reelection campaign statement that was just released. "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 that voter data from any other source played a key role in the victory are false."
But remember, after the election, Rebecca, the Trump campaign, including Jared Kushner, they made a point of speaking of Cambridge Analytical -- Analytica's role in all of this. The statement today mentioned -- no mention at all of Cambridge Analytica. So why are they now trying to distance themselves what they were earlier bragging about?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, clearly, Wolf, because there is now this controversy and this potential link between Cambridge Analytica and WikiLeaks. I mean, that's as close to collusion as you can get, potentially, if this all turns out to have been true. And so of course the campaign is trying now to erase Cambridge
Analytica from their history. But the fact of the matter is, Cambridge Analytica was a huge part of this campaign. The Trump campaign paid them almost $6 million for their work from July of 2016 through the election. If that's not a major part of this campaign, I don't know what is.
And after the election, they were indeed bragging about their role in the campaign, the "Forbes" interview with Jared Kushner after the campaign, when he was on the cover, mentioned Cambridge Analytica. And actually, Joshua Green and Sasha Eisenberg, two reporters embedded with the Trump campaign prior to election day, a few weeks before election day, and were looking at what Cambridge Analytica was doing for them. So...
BLITZER: By the way, they make no mention in the statement that was just released.
David Swerdlick, the president did weigh in on this other controversy, the other news. We're now learning that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, they helped fund that Russia dossier, the research there. The president now says that dossier was made up, that it's a sad commentary on politics in this country.
He does acknowledge, the president, that the initial funding for that dossier came from a Republican, presumably some Republican presidential candidate who was challenging him.
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right, neither side is above opposition research in the campaign, as most political campaigns aren't.
The issue, Wolf, I think with the information in the dossier is whether or not it's true and whether or not the president continues to deny that any of it bears any resemblance to what has actually happened, not who funded it. Because who funded it is just a matter of opposition research, and both sides had a hand in this.
BLITZER: Opposition research. All candidates -- all candidates, all campaigns engage in opposition research.
CHALIAN: Not always with intelligence sources or with a foreign government, though.
BLITZER: With a foreign government, that's a little bit more problematic, because David, it enters into possible violations of law.
CHALIAN: Right. I mean, foreign entities shouldn't be influencing and interfering with the American elections. So that is not the norm for opposition research, as much as all campaigns do partake in them.
MUDD: This does highlight what I think the critical point is here, and something we miss in this corrupt city of Washington, D.C. The debate among Republicans and Democrats will be from Democrats "How do I muddy the White House," including named individuals like Jared Kushner? And Republicans, obviously, many of them will be defending the White House.
There's a simple question here I'd like asked as an American. Is it appropriate for any candidate to receive information from a foreign player, whether they're British or Russian, with the intent to influence an American election? I think that would be a debate the committees investigating this could have, and I think there might be a law as an American that might say you can't take research from a foreigner who wants to influence an American election. I don't care where it comes from.
BLITZER: Does it matter, Phil, to special counsel Robert Mueller who funded the dossier?
MUDD: I think it goes to the question of the relationship with Steele, whether that relationship...
BLITZER: Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent.
MUDD: That's right. I think they're going to want to understand that relationship and what the intent of the relationship was.
But the bottom line is, and I think the question Steele has already been in front of Robert Mueller, we've heard. The questions will not be about who paid for it. The questions will be about corroboration. Where did you get it, and how can we validate it? I think the primary question, as David said, is, is it true or not?
[18:40:02] BLITZER: But isn't there a difference between working with a British intelligence officer to gather opposition research? The British are allies of the United States? As opposed to working with the Russians to gather opposition research?
MUDD: I mean, I think on the surface, that makes a big difference. But if I'm an American voting in an election, I'd like to have a certification that says, "I don't care who the foreign power." I mean, the British weren't just allies for us when I was at the CIA. These are best friends. That's not the point.
The point is if you're going to a voting poll, do you want to be affirmed that nobody overseas tried to influence an election via an American political party? And I think the answer for me would be yes. I don't like this stuff.
BLITZER: Christopher Steele was a former British intelligence officer.
MUDD: That's right. That's right.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. There's a lot more happening right now. We'll resume our coverage right after this.
[18:45:27] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump is claiming that the Republican Party is united despite some blistering denunciations of him by two retiring Republican senators. And, you know, David Chalian, the president sys there's great unity in
the Republican Party. Why does the president see, for example, the statement that was made by Senator Flake yesterday, his decision not to seek re-election as a win?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you know, to the great unity line, Wolf, he is sitting at 82 percent approval in the Republican Party, so 80/20 is good unity I would say on anybody's scale. It's not unanimous, but it is good unity. You can see where he's coming from.
And this is why he sees it as a win, because in our most recent poll, Wolf, you know, by a two to one margin, 69 percent of Republicans said they trust President Trump over Republicans in Congress to handle the major issues facing the country today, only 29 percent said that or 63 percent said, I'm sorry. And 29 percent said that about the Republicans in Congress. The voters of the Republican Party are on the president's side in these battles right now. He has reshaped the Republican Party in his image.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Rebecca, the former Vice President Joe Biden in an interview with "Vanity Fair" that came out today, said he's decided, he's not, quote, not going to decide not to run. Intriguing words for Joe Biden.
He said this of Hillary Clinton, quote: I never got the sense there was any joy in her campaign, maybe it's me, but I find joy in doing this. And then he even drew a contrast with President Obama saying, quote: Barack would rather speak to a million people than speak to 30. But I think I can do both. I really, really enjoy what I do.
It sounds to me like he is signaling a potential readiness to run.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Just by virtue of doing that interview and opening himself up to the questions, Wolf, I'd say he's open to it.
And look at Joe Biden's history, he has run for president before. We know he thought about running in 2016 and due to the tragic circumstances with his son decided it wasn't the right time. Joe Biden is someone who thinks he can and should be president, that hasn't changed.
So, the question for him is going to be: is it the right time this time? He seems to think there's going to be a chance.
BLITZER: Yes, he sounds pretty enthusiastic. We'll see when that happens.
Dr. Ben Carson, you now, David, the secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs, you know, he was very I guess intriguing in reacting today to the controversy that erupted over the president's condolence call with the family of the Gold Star widow of Sergeant La David Johnson.
Listen to this.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. BEN CARSON, SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN AFFAIRS: I think there were people who just are looking for something to complain about. I mean, if he had said, you know, I'm sorry, you know, this is sure a dark day for you, and they would have said, he's a racist, he said it's a dark day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes, what do you think?
SWERDLICK: I don't know why we're listening to Secretary Carson on racial issues at all at this point. A couple of years ago, he was the one who said that Obamacare was the worst thing since slavery. Last year, he said that President Obama, the first African-American president, it was a stretch that he could relate to the black experience just because his mother was white.
Look, he lacks credibility when he makes comments like this. And, frankly, that example with Sergeant Johnson, he's bringing up a hypothetical that had nothing to do with what actually happened. The controversy is over whether or not President Trump would extend himself to patch things up with a Gold Star widow and he did not.
BLITZER: Listen to the president, Phil. This is the president today at this little impromptu news conference on the South Lawn of the White House defending himself in the midst of a lot of criticism. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am. People don't understand, I went to an Ivy League college, and I was a nice student and 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 person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Your reaction?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The president -- does this guy not think we speak English? I mean, if you look at the unfiltered language of this man over the past year, it's everything from attacking federal institutions, claiming the FBI illegally wiretapped his office in Trump Tower, to attacking a war widow, to attacking women, to attacking a Hispanic judge, to equating people who want black rights to those who are of neo-Nazis. Those are the words of the president of the United States.
The guy's got the personality of a rattlesnake.
[18:50:01] He's got the ethics of a sewer rat. And he's telling us who speak native English that if the press filtering it, it's what the man says himself.
I mean, this is not that complicated. Read his words. We got this thing called your personal Google machine. Google what the guy says. You don't have to take what we say literally. Google what he says, he's a bridge troll. I mean, we know what he is.
BLITZER: He's always talking about you know, the Ivy League education and how smart he is. What does that say to you?
CHALIAN: Have you ever seen someone who likes the tout his credentials as much as President Trump does? Whether it is Trump Steaks or his Ivy League credentials, the guy is constantly selling himself, his brand, which clearly he feels is maligned. But to Phil's point, everyone should just read his words.
BERG: And I don't see much connection between an Ivy League School and being civil. I went to a public university and I'm so civil.
BLITZER: You're civil, indeed.
And when he was defending the condolence call he had with the -- with the widow of La David Johnson, he, at one point, said my memory is -- you know, whatever -- the impression was he's got a great memory.
SWERDLICK: Yes, he's made that claim before, and yet forgets the fine details of any number of issues, but most importantly, Wolf, again, the problem in that case is that Sergeant Johnson's widow, he should have -- he's the president of the United States. He's the commander. Find a way to patch it up. Don't put it on anybody else.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There's more news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
The United States ambassador to the United Nation, Nikki Haley, is forced to leave a refugee camp amid intense protest. We'll have details of her terror warning, that's coming up next.
[18:56:16] BLITZER: Just weeks after a deadly ISIS ambush on U.S. forces in Niger, President Trump's United Nations ambassador is trying to prevent terror from spreading to other vulnerable African countries.
CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is traveling with Ambassador Nikki Haley right now.
Elise, there were some pretty intense moments during her visit to a refugee camp in South Sudan.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, Nikki Haley had to cut her visit short to that camp for displaced persons when hundreds of rowdy protesters, South Sudanese were protesting their President Salva Kiir. And Nikki Haley had a similar message for President Kiir, that not only is his violence against his people creating humanitarian disaster, it also could create a vacuum that extremists could exploit.
LABOTT (voice-over): U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, getting a firsthand look on the ground in South Sudan, trying to prevent Africa's next safe haven for terrorists weeks after the ISIS ambush in Niger that killed four Americans.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: The government that's ignoring its people leads to conflict and we're seeing that situation deteriorate. What happens is when that conflicts hit, it also becomes a breeding ground for extremist groups. And that's what we don't want.
LABOTT: A sentiment echoed by the top U.S. commander in Africa, Thomas Waldhauser, who in Africa this week with Haley said, quote: With all the challenges, with the youth bulge, the poverty, the lack of governance, the wide open spaces, these are areas where extremists like ISIS or al-Qaeda thrive.
Haley warned President Salva Kiir his actions in the brutal civil war were seeing his own country descend into chaos.
HALEY: The United States has invested a lot into South Sudan and they've invested a lot in him. Over $11 billion was invested into a country and this isn't what we asked for in return. We didn't ask for rapes, we didn't ask for people to be fearful of their government, we didn't ask for the hunger, we didn't ask for all of the violence that's happening.
And so, it was a tough message of we need this to be fixed.
LABOTT: With 4 million people displaced from their homes, South Sudan's refugee crisis is being compared to that of the Rwandan genocide. Devastation Haley witnessed at a refugee camp in neighboring Ethiopia, where hundreds of thousands have fled the violence.
Peacekeepers guard this protection camp in South Sudan's capital, Juba, where the cries of "down with Kiir" and "Kiir is a killer" are mixed with "welcome Donald Trump" and pleas for U.S. help.
Haley was forced to leave the camp when the protests grew intense. But ISIS ambush of U.S. forces in Niger has put in sharp focus how a region riddled with political chaos, violence and famine draws extremists that can threaten the U.S.
The terror threat the U.S. is facing in Africa is immense. In Somalia, the U.S. military is helping local forces defeat al Shabaab, which is responsible for many terror attacks.
General Waldhauser saying, quote: In places like the Sahel, in places like Somalia, ISIS continues to look for locations, looks for places to establish itself. (END VIDEOTAPE)
LABOTT: And Nikki Haley told a few reporters traveling with her that unless something is done soon, the children affected by the conflict are going to grow into adults with no future and no job and resentful of the U.S. for not doing more. That's exactly the kind of people ISIS is looking to recruit, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's not forget, the U.S. has about 6,000 troops in these various parts of Africa where the situation is potentially very, very dangerous.
Elise, traveling with the U.N. ambassador, thanks very much.
That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.