Return to Transcripts main page


FBI Warned Hope Hicks about E-mails from Russia; Mueller Has 400K Documents for Manafort & Gates Case; Papadopoulos' Fiancee: He was More Than a 'Coffee Boy'; Trump on Way to Rally after Tweeting 'Vote Roy Moore'; 190,000 Flee As Wildfires Spread. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 8, 2017 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Mountains of evidence. Robert Mueller's investigators tip their hands, revealing the stunning amount of evidence they've gathered against Paul Manafort. Four hundred thousand documents seized by using 15 search warrants to collect dozens of electronic devices, including laptops, cell phones and thumb drives. Are more charges on the way for President Trump's former campaign chairman?

Speaking for the witness. The fiancee of the man who's pleaded guilty to -- in the Russia probe opens up about the Trump campaign's one-time foreign policy adviser. She says George Papadopoulos was anything but a coffee boy and never acted without campaign officials' permission. What is she revealing about members of the Trump team?

California fires spreading. New wildfires devour homes between Los Angeles and San Diego as fires already burning cause more damage. How long will it be before weary firefighters and nearly 200,000 evacuees get a break from the weather?

And strong job market. The president cheers some of the rosiest economic numbers in years. So is the big tax cut in Congress really needed to help the economy?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now, including new information on the astonishing breadth of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort's associate Rick Gates.

According to court documents, investigators have used 15 search warrants to collect information from 36 electronic devices, including laptop computers. In all, they've assembled some 400,000 documents, including financial records, corporate records and e-mails. Manafort and Gates, they're due back in court once again next Monday.

Also tonight, new information about George Papadopoulos. He's the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, Russia probe. And now in an interview with CNN, Papadopoulos -- Papadopoulos' fiancee says he was, quote, "everything but a coffee boy," which is how the president's allies have described him. She said Papadopoulos worked with senior members of the Trump campaign and didn't act without campaign approval.

And we're also following the growing wildfire disaster in California. Six large fires have burned roughly 250 square miles. Almost 200,000 people have been forced to flee. The dry, strong winds pushing the flames down canyons and into neighborhoods. Our forecasts through Sunday.

And Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee, he's standing by to take our questions. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the latest information on the stunning scope of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates.

Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, has the latest on court filings in the case and, Jessica, you're also getting some breaking news about another Trump campaign aide, now the White House communications director, Hope Hicks. Tell our viewers what you're learning.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, two new pieces of information about Hope Hicks, the current White House communications director.

Right now, according to "The New York Times," we understand that Hope Hicks has finally been interviewed by the special counsel Robert Mueller's team. We know that that interview happened either Thursday or today.

Of course, Hope Hicks has been of extreme interest to the special counsel. Of course, she's been at President Trump's side for all of the campaign. She's been with the Trump Organization before that. And, of course, now most recently, perhaps the most; she's been the communications director.

We know the special counsel has interest in her, because she was on board Air Force One when those were that statement was drafted explaining what that meeting -- about the meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and the Russians.

So, again, the special counsel interviewing Hope Hicks late this week, either Thursday or today.

And secondly, "The New York Times" also reporting that FBI officials talked to Hope Hicks earlier this year in what's being described as a defensive briefing. They met with her twice in the situation room at the White House to warn Hope Hicks about some of the e-mails she was receiving as just the past few months, the beginning of 2017, after President Trump took office. They warned her that these e-mails that appeared to come from Russian officials might not have exactly been who they said that they were. They warned about this. This was part of an overall briefing. They said that Hope Hicks did nothing wrong, but they wanted to get

the word out there.

Of course, it was in January that the Intelligence Committee issued that report, saying that the Russians had meddled in the election. And then possibly in the weeks and months following, Hope Hicks continued to receive e-mails that were purportedly from Russians, Russian officials.

But, again, Wolf, the news coming out tonight from the "The New York Times" that FBI officials met with Hope Hicks inside the White House on at least two occasions in the situation room to warn her about these e-mails and to warn her that the e-mails may not be what they appear -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, there's also new information tonight about Paul Manafort. Update our viewers on that.

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's right. So the government releasing some information today, saying they so far have amassed hundreds of thousands of documents in its case against Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates. So those are all being handed over to the defendants. And really the breakdown by number here. It showcases the enormous scale of this investigation.

So here it is for you. Prosecutors so far have collected 400,000 documents, including financial and bank account records, corporate records and e-mails, and of those documents, 2,000 of them are labelled by prosecutors as hot documents. That refers to materials that are particularly relevant or important.

There were also 36 laptops, phones, thumb drives and devices that were obtained during the raid at Paul Manafort's home in July. Investigators have also secured in this investigation 15 search warrants. But what we've learned today, perhaps the most intriguing disclosure in the prosecutor's filing is this, that the government has, quote, "deposition testimony" given by the defendants in another matter.

Now prosecutors, they are not saying exactly what that means, but depositions, of course, they're out of court sworn testimony that can be used for discovery purposes or potentially at trial. So we know that Paul Manafort, Rick Gates giving those depositions.

Now, the government, we know, has also handed over certain Brady material, that's exculpatory evidence that could be beneficial to Manafort's or Gates' defense. The government has also released all of this information, all the documents to both defendants as Manafort and Gates, they prepare for a court appearance Monday morning.

Both of them, of course, pleaded not guilty to money laundering and foreign lobbying among other federal criminal charges. And, Wolf, we know that this case is moving forward steadily, and it's likely that this case will go to trial in the spring of 2018 -- Wolf.

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

Also tonight, new revelations about George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of the special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. The president's allies maintain he was a low-level coffee boy who rarely interacted with the Trump team. Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown has now spoken with Papadopoulos' fiancee.

Pamela, tell our viewers what she's saying.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the first time we're hearing George Papadopoulos's side of the story through his fiancee. And she wanted to share things that Papadopoulos himself has not been able to discuss, because on the advice of his lawyers, he is not speaking publicly as he awaits sentencing.

But his fiancee, an Italian national who says she, too, was interviewed by the FBI in relation to the Russia investigation, strongly refutes claims by the White House and campaign officials that Papadopoulos was nothing more than a coffee boy.


BROWN: What have you seen, what have you read that doesn't square with the George Papadopoulos that you know?

SIMONA MANGIANTE, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS'S FIANCEE: George Papadopoulos is everything but a coffee boy.

BROWN (voice-over): Simona Mangiante says despite what the White House says about her fiance, George Papadopoulos...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was the coffee boy.

BROWN: ... he was not a low-level volunteer in the Trump campaign or a rogue agent who acted without approval.

MANGIANTE: He was a foreign policy adviser for the campaign. He helped those editing Trump's speech on foreign policy. He attended many events and entertained contacts with high-level officials of different countries.

He was actively giving his input and insights on -- in terms of strategies and, of course, he was in contact with the high-level officials and got approved for any initiative.

BROWN: In March of 2016, President Trump named him as a top foreign policy adviser.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: George Papadopoulos, he's an oil and energy consultant. Excellent guy.

BROWN: Later, Papadopoulos met with the president and now-attorney general Jeff Sessions, where Papadopoulos allegedly proposed setting up a meeting between Trump and Putin. Sessions claims he nixed the idea, but when news broke about his cooperation with the special counsel, President Trump slammed Papadopoulos in a tweet.

(on camera): "A young, low-level volunteer who has already proven to be a liar." What was your reaction when you saw that tweet?

[17:10:03] MANGIANTE: It's the same person who called him excellent guy. So I agree with that. BROWN (voice-over): Mangiante says her fiance interacted with

campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort, and other top campaign officials, including Michael Glassner, Sam Clovis and Rick Dearborn. And she says during the transition former national security adviser Michael Flynn. They have all denied, downplayed or say they don't remember their interactions with him.

(on camera): You say that he was consistently in touch with these high-level campaign officials.


BROWN: What was his interaction with Michael Flynn?

MANGIANTE: He was in contact with Michael Flynn, and he worked with Michael Flynn during the transition. And he was actively contributing to develop the foreign policy strategies for the campaign.

And he didn't take any initiative on his own without campaign approval.

BROWN (voice-over): Court documents show Papadopoulos e-mailed campaign officials in March 2016 about setting up a meeting in Moscow "between us, the Trump campaign and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S./Russia ties under President Trump."

A campaign supervisor now identified as Sam Clovis responded, quote, "Great work," and later wrote, "I would encourage you to make the trip if it is feasible."

In a separate e-mail, a campaign official now identified as Paul Manafort wrote, "It should be someone low-level in the campaign as to not send any signal."

Mangiante tells CNN that Papadopoulos even did an interview in the fall of 2016 with Russian news agency Interfax, and she says the campaign's deputy communications director, Brian Lanza, who is now a CNN contributor, signed off on it. Lanza declined to comment.

(on camera): So the campaign approved him doing the only interview as far as you know with Russian media, Interfax?


BROWN: Signed off by the campaign.

MANGIANTE: Yes. BROWN: Was Russia a big focus for him, too? Like, did he have a lot

of contacts there?

MANGIANTE: My understanding of his contribution to the campaign, Russian was really secondary. And he did big work with the Egyptians, Israel.

BROWN (voice-over): She points to his role as a foreign policy panelist at the Republican National Convention. At a meeting with Israeli settlers around inauguration day, seen here in video obtained by "The Jerusalem Post."

And while she says Papadopoulos communicated with Bannon, Dearborn and Flynn later in the campaign, he never discussed Russia with them.

(on camera): Why do you think the White House was so quick to come out and call him a coffee boy or a low-level volunteer?

MANGIANTE: I think they wanted to disassociate from the first person who decided to actively cooperate with the government. I suppose this can be quite threatening for some people.

BROWN (voice-over): Mangiante says she was interviewed by the FBI in October and that a key focus was on London-based Professor Joseph Mifsud, suspected of being a link between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

JOSEPH MIFSUD, PROFESSOR: A lot of discussion...

BROWN: Mifsud allegedly told Papadopoulos during the campaign that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Thousands of e-mails.

Mangiante says she met Papadopoulos in September 2016 through LinkedIn, because she was working at the London Center of International Law Practice where he had worked earlier in the year. When they met, Mifsud was running the center.

MANGIANTE: I suppose that the FBI was interested in knowing my connection with Mifsud. Which makes perfect sense. It's quite a strange coincidence that we both worked for the same person.

BROWN: She says despite that coincidence, she told the FBI she's not a Russian spy.

MANGIANTE: They asked me if I speak Russian, if I know Russian people. I think people got wild on Twitter about me being a spy, thinking I was the Russian, Putin's -- you know, that was like a bit of fantasies and everything.

BROWN: Mangiante says despite everything they've been through, she continues to stand by her fiance and his willingness to work with investigators.

MANGIANTE: I'm very proud of it, of this choice to cooperate with the right side of history.


BROWN: And Mangiante says she hopes President Trump will pardon Papadopoulos and she says she believes he will, because she says he has been loyal to him. The White House did not provide a comment for this story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela, good reporting. Thank you very, very much.

With us now, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee and previously served at Connecticut's attorney general. Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: All right. We've got a lot to go through. Let's start with this "New York Times" report that this past February, the FBI briefed Hope Hicks about efforts by Russians to contact her during the presidential transition. What does that tell you?

BLUMENTHAL: What it tells me is that the FBI knew about contacts between the transition team and the Russian government, as have been documented previously. They obviously were concerned about possible leaks of information from the Trump transition team to the Russians and contacts by Flynn, which are now part of the charging documents. And official files with the court show that, in fact, high-level members of the Trump transition were knowledgeable about Flynn's contacts.

[17:15:27] And the question really now is, what did they know and when did they know it? Not only Flynn but also Jared Kushner and even the vice president, because he played a critical part in that campaign. And Hope Hicks may be a source of information about it.

BLITZER: Well, "The New York Times" is also reporting, Senator, that Hope Hicks -- and she's the White House communications director right now -- was interviewed by the special counsel's team this week. Actually, today and yesterday. What other insight do you believe Hope Hicks could have provided Robert Mueller's team?

BLUMENTHAL: She has as much knowledge as anyone on the planet about the way that Donald Trump works, about his relationship with his son, Donald Trump Jr., as well as son-in-law, Jared Kushner, what the communications were between them that may involve not only collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian meddling, but also possible obstruction of justice.

There is a credible case of obstruction of justice against Donald Trump. And to take one specific instance, the drafting of the explanation that was offered by Donald Trump Jr. about that June 9 meeting involving Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner and Russian agents, where they were promised dirt on Hillary Clinton and where the president of the United States reportedly dictated a statement that was deliberately misleading, saying that the only purpose of that meeting was, in, in fact, Russian adoption.

Those kinds of evidence are very, very important. Hope Hicks could shed a lot of light on it.

BLITZER: Yes, that was that Trump Tower meeting that is very controversial.

Senator, let's discuss the documents, the electronics obtained by Robert Mueller's team in their investigations of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. What does that tell you about Mueller's case, because the extent of the documents collected is enormous?

BLUMENTHAL: The extent is enormous. The scope and scale reflect a methodical and meticulous investigation and they are clearly leaving no stone unturned. They're using every investigative tool available, as they should. And it is a thoroughly deliberate and professional investigation that, obviously, has produced a lot of evidence that has not been publicly disclosed.

We know a lot of evidence that already is highly incriminating to Paul Manafort and others in the Trump team, but this kind of disclosure is also a signal and a message to Paul Manafort about the extent and scope in evidence on him, but also to other potential witnesses and defendants that they face this accumulating mound of evidence that are pieces in a mosaic that will be put together and most likely involve them -- they're going to be witnesses; they're going to be defendants. Better to cooperate now. Better to be on the train before it leaves.

BLITZER: President Trump, as you know, Senator, has ramped up his attacks on the FBI leadership. Were you satisfied with FBI Director Christopher Wray's defense of the agency yesterday?

BLUMENTHAL: I think he could have been more vigorous and aggressive in his defense. The FBI is an institution of unexcelled professionalism and dedication. They don't deserve this kind of absolutely reprehensible criticism from Donald Trump.

As president of the United States, he has a responsibility to have their back, not to be attacking them or calling their reputation in tatters. And I would have been far more outraged and angry than the FBI director was in his testimony about that kind of completely unjustified irresponsible criticism.

BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, President Trump touting some of the best economic numbers in years. He heads south for some campaigning tonight. Will his rally next door to Alabama boost Republican Roy Moore's chances of going to the U.S. Senate?


BLITZER: At this hour, President Trump is heading to a campaign-style rally in Pensacola, Florida, and today's brand-new job numbers give him plenty to cheer about. The U.S. economy added 228,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate remains at 4.1 percent, its lowest level since December of 2000. Wages are up, as well. Let's check in with our White House correspondent Sara Murray. Sara,

the president not only has the economy on his mind, but he also has the U.S. Senate race in Alabama on his mind.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And while I expect you will hear the president touting those jobs numbers tonight -- it's certainly an issue he feels he hasn't gotten enough credit for -- all eyes are going to be what he says this evening in Alabama, if anything, about his controversial decision to wrap his arms around Alabama Senate hopeful Roy Moore.


[17:25:07] MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump putting politics first today, using the bully pulpit to back a GOP Senate candidate accused of molesting a teenage girl. "Vote Roy Moore," Trump tweeted today, reiterating his support for the Alabama Senate hopeful just hours before taking off for a campaign-style rally in Pensacola, Florida, just across the border from Alabama.

The White House still insists Trump is concerned about the allegations against Moore.

SANDERS: We think that the allegations are troubling.

MURRAY: But if Trump has any qualms, he isn't showing them. Moore has been accused of sexual abuse or assault by four women, while four other women allege they were pursued by him as teenagers.

The candidate has denied doing anything inappropriate, a denial that appears to hold more weight with the president than the mounting evidence against Moore.

TRUMP: He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also.

ROY MOORE (D), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I know a lot about guns.

MURRAY: While the Republican National Committee initially said it would stop pouring resources into Moore's campaign, it has since reversed course. As the president places Moore's political value ahead of any concerns about his morality.

TRUMP: We don't want to have a liberal Democrat in Alabama, believe me. We want strong borders. We want stopping crime. We want to have the things that we represent. And we certainly don't want to have a liberal Democrat that's controlled by Nancy Pelosi and controlled by Chuck Schumer. We don't want to have that for Alabama.

Thank you all very much. Thank you.

MURRAY: The RNC is following Trump's lead.

RONNA MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIRWOMAN: It's up to the voters of Alabama right now. This is a democracy. They're going to see this play out. They get to make that decision. It's not up to me. And the president has said we want to keep this seat Republican. The

RNC is the political arm of the White House, and we want to support the president's agenda.

MURRAY: Yet another controversy awaits the president on his southern swing. After Trump scheduled a stop on Saturday to attend the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, two black Congressmen now say they will not attend the event.

Democratic Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, and Bennie Thompson say they're skipping the event, because "President Trump's attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this Civil Rights Museum."

In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, "The president hopes others will join him in recognizing that the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds."


MURRAY: Now, the president didn't seem particularly eager to discuss Roy Moore or the sexual harassment allegations that have been rocking Congress. He left the White House this evening without stopping by to talk to reporters, but we'll see what happens when he takes the stage in Florida -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We certainly will. We'll have coverage of that, of course, later tonight. Sara, thank you very much.

Coming up, a growing concern and more evacuations as California's fire disaster now stretches from north of Los Angeles all the way down to San Diego County. When will the hot, windy weather give fire break -- firefighters a break?


[17:32:48] BLITZER: The breaking news. The New York Times is reporting that soon after President Trump's inauguration, the FBI warned a top White House staffer about Russian efforts to contact her. Our political and legal experts are here to discuss. And, Pamela, The New York Times' saying that Hope Hicks, who's now the Communications Director at the White House, was warned by the FBI about these contacts with Russians. Hicks was also interviewed, as you know, today and yesterday by the Robert Mueller special counsel team. What kind of role does she play? How big of a role does she play? And potentially, what might she be able to reveal?

BROWN: Well, look, she plays a critical role as a witness in this investigation, because she has been by Donald Trump's side since the very beginning of the campaign up until now as head of communications for the White House. So, she has been there and has been a witness to a lot of aspects of this investigation, including the crafting of the Don Jr. Trump Tower meeting statement aboard Air Force One, among other things. So, we've been expecting this interview with Mueller's team was going to happen. The fact that it happened over the course of two days, clearly shows there was a lot of ground to cover here.

Now in terms of what The New York Times is reporting, regarding the FBI warning her about these Russian attempts to reach out to her, we do know that the FBI did meet with White House officials earlier in the year to warn them about the possibility of this happening. But the Times is reporting that, in fact, it did happen, which is certainly very interesting that even after all of this news about the Russia probe has been out there, they're still making attempts to make inroads with Trump associates.

BLITZER: Very important, indeed. Very interesting. Susan, we're also learning about the massive amount of information, documents that Mueller's team has already collected from Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates -- 400,000 documents, 36 laptops, and other electronic devices all collected through 15 search warrants. What does that tell you?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So, it seems like, sort of, a surprising amount, but it's actually not all that unusual for a really complex white-collar investigation to have sort of this amount of evidence being seized. You know, the particular focus, sort of, on financial information, I think, has caused some people to say, hey, you know, is Mueller now getting into that red line territory, you know, that Trump had said, you know, you're allowed to look at the collusion issue but not anything else?

You know, I think the thing is important to keep in mind here is that the people who determine the appropriate jurisdiction is going to be Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. There's a process at DOJ for requesting additional jurisdiction when needed. There's even a process for whenever Rosenstein disagrees with Mueller, notifying Congress about any kind of disagreement. So, whatever the president says here about whether or not Mueller has gotten, sort of, beyond his own jurisdiction, that really is just talk and there's no evidence that there's any kind of conflict at the DOJ level about what Mueller's looking into.

[17:35:32] BLITZER: And as far as George Papadopoulos is concerned, Pamela, he's the Foreign Policy Adviser who worked for the Trump campaign. He's pled guilty to lying to the FBI. What are you hearing about potentially what he might be able to reveal?

BROWN: Well, you know, up until now we've only really heard the White House version of events, calling him a low-level volunteer, a coffee boy. His fiance sat down with us to paint a different picture. His finance, Simona Mangiante, says -- basically refuted the White House claims and said that he was anything but a low-level volunteer and coffee boy. She says that he was consistently in touch with high- level campaign officials throughout the campaign as well as during the transition, that she had many meetings with officials from foreign governments. And so, what she really wanted to do was just defend her fiance in this case and provide his side of the story for the first time. And as we know, he is a cooperating witness in the FBI's Russia probe. He was the first one that we know of to be charged and the first one to plead guilty. So, clearly, the FBI views him as an important person in this probe. BLITZER: If he had such an important role, Mark, a central role in

this campaign as his fiance alleges, where does that leave the Trump team's suggestion that he was merely a coffee boy?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we have to go back and look at what his role was, and what the campaign, and how the campaign was structured at that time. I think it just goes to show, and we knew this at the time, that the folks who were in a position of power were wholly unqualified for the positions of power they were in. Whether that's Papadopoulos who's being, you know, overseas trying to broker deals with Russia, you know, in order to set up a meeting between Donald Trump and Putin. Whether you have Sam Clovis, who was his immediate supervisor, who was the chief policy adviser for the campaign where he is in absolutely in no position to be that person. So, I do think there is truth in the middle of it. I do think that he was in touch with top campaign advisers. I don't know if they necessarily listened to him all the time, but that doesn't matter. The fact that Clovis green-lighted him to do certain things that we now look at, and say, wow, that is terrible. That is a problem.

BROWN: And also, what was new in the interview with her, was that she said the campaign approved him doing an interview and sitting down with Russian news media agency, Interfax. She believed it was the only interview he did with Interfax. And so, her point was why would you let a low-level coffee boy represent the campaign with Russian media?

BLITZER: Jackie, would anyone in the Trump team go out and insult someone who's cooperating with Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel, isn't that asking for potential trouble?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN COMMENTATOR: You know, this is all about creating distance between whoever that individual is and the campaign for the public consumption. They did it with Manafort. They did it to a lesser extent with Flynn. Flynn is a harder one to do since he actually was in the White House and was a very senior adviser to the president. But this is someone that we didn't know about until this information came out. So, the further -- the more distance they can put between themselves and this person, at least in the public eye, the better.

BLITZER: Everyone, standby. There's more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll take a quick break. Resume our coverage right after this.


[17:43:14] BLITZER: We're back with our panel. And Mark Preston, President Trump clearly stepping up his support for Roy Moore to become the next U.S. senator from Alabama. He tweeted this earlier this morning: "Last thing the make America great again agenda need is a Liberal Democrat in the Senate where we have so little margin for victory already. The Pelosi-Schumer puppet, Jones," referring to the opponent, "would vote against us 100 percent of the time. He's bad on crime, life, border, vets, guns, and military. VOTE ROY MOORE." All in caps. Vote Roy Moore. The White House still insists the president is concerned about the allegation against Roy Moore. How do you square all of that?

PRESTON: Well, the president's having his cake and he's eating it too, right? I mean, what they're doing is that they're giving him enough wiggle room that is something were to come out some bombshell. They could say, listen, no blood on our hands, we said if something came out that he should have to step down. But the fact of the matter is, he is going to down to Florida, which is basically Alabama, because it's only about 20 miles away and he campaigning on as we've seen from that tweet right there, and we've from his comments, he is all in -- including the Republican National Committee pouring money into that race. So, however they try to square it, the fact is he's all-in on Roy Moore for bad or good. And for my tastes of it, it's for bad.

BLITZER: You know, he's going to be in Pensacola, Jackie. As you know, only about 20 or 25 miles from Alabama. He's going to be giving a campaign rally event there tonight, and presumably, he's going to be mentioning how important it is for the folks in Alabama to support Roy Moore.

KUCINICH: And Moore's campaign is hoping that Trump gives -- helps increase the momentum right before this very critical election day. That said, it didn't work for Luther Strange. So, we'll have to see. This is an off-year election. There are some powerful forces working on the other side. I understand that Cory Booker and some other prominent Democrats are going down to there to try to get more African-American voters out. So, they're really hoping that President Trump can deliver for this campaign in the 11th hour.

[17:45:14] BLITZER: Is it really a toss-up right now, Doug Jones/Roy Moore, the Senate race, which is next Tuesday?

PRESTON: I think that's the best way we can describe it. Polling in Alabama is very difficult. We don't often poll in Alabama. And, of course, most people are not going to put a whole lot of credence into the polls. For this race, though, it's who is going to be the most energized. I know we talk about that a lot, but you're talking about Roy Moore's supporters who are definitely going to go to the polls. The Democratic supporters, Doug Jones supporters, we're not so sure if they're going to go to the polls. So, that's where the rub is for them.

BLITZER: If he's all-in for Roy Moore, the president, why not simply go to Alabama and campaign for him between now and Tuesday?

KUCINICH: An excellent question. Why not? I mean, but apparently, they've said logistics, they've said other things. Pensacola, I guess, is going to be --

PRESTON: But and to that point, Wolf, by the way, when he was in for Luther Strange, he went down there and did a big event. And then, when Strange lost, he said, hey, it wasn't my fault, but I really did help him. By not going into Alabama, he's giving himself some distance to say it's not my fault that Roy Moore lost.

KUCINICH: A very, very good point. BLITZER: All right. Guys, we'll watch the campaign rally later tonight to see what he says.

Coming up, evacuations are now underway as new wildfires torch homes and businesses between San Diego and Los Angeles. We're going live to California for an update on this unfolding disaster.


[17:51:22] BLITZER: Breaking news, strong winds are fueling massive wildfires in Southern California, scorching some 250 square miles and forcing thousands of people to flee. Our Senior International Correspondent, Kyung Lah, is tracking the fire in Fallbrook, California, that's between San Diego and Los Angeles. What's the latest, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the latest fire here in Southern California. And this gives you an idea, Wolf, of the power of these wildfires, why they are so life-threatening. This is a neighborhood. A retirement community. You can see what's left. It's just steel and melted. Everything's almost completely destroyed here on this one block. This started as a small half-acre fire. It quickly exploded into 500 acres in just 20 minutes. The people who lived on this block, some 65 homes, were completely destroyed. They have lost everything. They have been aided, firefighters say, by some calmer winds. What they've been doing today, Wolf, they've been pounding it from the air with waterdrops, some helicopters, a thousand firefighters on the ground trying to dig a line around this. Still, a dangerous wildfire. 4100 acres, zero percent containment. Wolf.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah on the scene for us. Thank you, Kyung. Let's get the latest on the fire blazing in Ventura, California -- that's more than 150 miles north of Fallbrook. Sara Sidner is standing by with details. Sara, how are conditions there?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, conditions are better. But, this blaze is now at 130,000 acres. That means, it is three times the size of where you are in Washington D.C. Take a look around you, this is just one neighborhood. And what you are seeing now are houses that burnt to the left of me, to the right of me, behind me. One little stretch of a road here in this community of Ventura, but then, take a look below. If you start looking at just the absolute breadth of this, you can't imagine the amount of heartache and money that this fire has created. I mean, it is unbelievable.

Also, we should mention that of all the fires that have burned in California, they've been taking these records for decades and decades, this is the worst fire ever to hit the state in the month of December. That is how bad this fire is. It is partly because of the Santa Ana winds that were blowing through here. And it is so dry, you are seeing all of these bits and pieces of very brittle, brittle stuff that has just ignited. It is a very dangerous situation. And while the fire is not burning here because there's no more fuel, it is burned through, this whole community, it is barreling through the hills, and there is always a concern for people' safety. And it has already killed horses but so far no one has died in this fire, not a single person has died in this fire. It is incredible, the work that the firefighters are doing, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do they have all the resources, the firefighters, they need, Sara?

SIDNER: They've been bringing in resources from other states. Some of them have been staying for example in the Getty Museum, which is in a very good position to try and help out some of the blazes. And we need to remember, this is just one of six fires that are burning. And we should also mention that every few hours it seems another small blaze is popping up, and firefighters are having to race to that. So, they are stretched thin, which is why there is a state of emergency as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Sidner on the scene for us as well. Thank you, Sara.

[17:49:54] Coming up, we'll have more on the breaking news in the Russia probe. A new report says, the investigators have now interviewed another one of President Trump close advisers, Hope Hicks.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, interviews and evidence. New information tonight about the Russia investigation. The FBI reportedly issuing a warning to one of the president's closest advisers, Hope Hicks. This as the special counsel collects an avalanche of evidence in the case against Paul Manafort.

Record fire danger. The wildfire disaster in Southern California is now stretching farther north and south of the Los Angeles as new blazes break out tonight. More flames and destruction are forecast.