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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries; Trump- Russia Probe Intensifies; California on Fire; Trump Doubles Down on Support for Accused Child Molester Roy Moore; North Korea Threats Raise Olympic Security Fears for U.S.; FBI Warned Trump Advisor About E-mails from Russians; Federal Emergency Declared as Wildfire Disaster Widens. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 8, 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 HOST: Record fire danger. The wildfire disaster in Southern California now stretching father north and south of Los Angeles, as new blazes break out. Tonight, more flames and destruction are forecast.
Vote Roy Moore. The president tweets about the Alabama Senate candidate before heading to an event aimed at rallying Moore supporters. How will a new admission by one of Moore's accusers affect the sexual abuse scandal hanging over the race?
And Olympic fears. We are learning more about the potential danger at the Winter Games on the Korean Peninsula. Will Kim Jong-un use his powerful weapons to disrupt or attack? There's reason for Americans to be concerned tonight.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We are following breaking news on the Russia investigation.
Tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting that one of President Trump's closest advisers, Hope Hicks, was warned by the FBI about e- mails sent to her by Russian operatives during the transition, the special counsel team reportedly interviewing Hicks over the last two days.
This as a new court filing reveals prosecutors have collected a huge amount of evidence in the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, including, get this, 400,000 documents and 36 laptops and other electronic devices.
Also breaking, red hot flames are swallowing a rapidly expanding area of Southern California, with new fires erupting and new evacuations ordered. President Trump now declaring the region a federal disaster area, as multiple blazes rage out of control for a fifth day.
And this hour, the president's controversial support for Roy Moore in the spotlight as he prepares to hold a campaign rally near the Alabama border. Mr. Trump also tweeting his endorsement for the U.S. Senate candidate, ignoring multiple allegations of past sexual abuse and assault by Moore involving teenage girls.
Tonight, a Moore accuser who says he assaulted her when she was 16 years old is standing by her account and her claim that he wrote in her yearbook. But Beverly Nelson now admits she added some notes to that year book message that she says was written by Moore decades ago.
We are covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Hakeem Jeffries,a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's get to the breaking news on the special counsel's Russia investigation.
Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us.
Jessica, the special counsel's team now digging for information from one of the president's closest advisers, Hope Hicks.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
We're learning tonight that Hope Hicks, White House communication director, she was interviewed late this week by the special counsel's team over a course of two days. That's according to "The New York Times." Now, Hicks is of prime importance because of her proximity to the president.
She started with the Trump Organization in 2014. She was a key point person when Donald Trump launched his campaign in 2015. The special counsel wants details on the drafting of the initial statement that described Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.
Well, it turns out Hope Hicks was on board Air Force One when it was written. And, secondly, tonight, we now know that Hope Hicks was warned about Russian operatives by FBI officials twice earlier this year. And that's also according "The New York Times."
Those FBI agents, they met with Hope Hicks inside the Situation Room at the White House for what is known as a -- quote -- "defensive briefing." They knew that she had received introductory e-mails from Russian government e-mails addresses in the weeks just after the election and they wanted to warm Hope Hicks those e-mails and those people sending those e-mails weren't who they said they were and may have actually been part of a Russian intelligence operation.
So a lot of warnings from FBI.
BLITZER: And, Jessica, we're also getting an enormous glimpse into the scope of this case against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, the information that has been collected.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, hundreds of thousands of documents, Wolf.
This was all released in the government's court filings today. All of the documents are being handed over to the defendants. And the breakdown by number really showcases the enormous scale of this investigation.
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 -- quote -- "hot documents." That refers to materials that are particularly relevant or important.
Also, 36 laptops, phones, thumb drives, electronics, those were obtained during the raid of Paul Manafort's home in July. Investigators have also secured 15 search warrants. But perhaps the most intriguing disclosure in the prosecutors' filing today is this.
The government has deposition testimony given by the defendants in another matter. Now, prosecutors are not saying exactly what that means, but, of course, depositions are out-of-court sworn testimony that can be used for discovery purposes or potentially at a trial, maybe in another trial here.
Well, the government has released all of this information and the documents to those defendants. And Manafort and Gates are preparing for a court appearance Monday morning. Of course, both men have pleaded not guilty to money laundering and foreign lobbying, among other federal criminal charges.
And, Wolf, we know that this case is moving forward here and it could go to trial as soon as spring 2018.
BLITZER: That's not too far away. All right, thanks very much for that, Jessica Schneider, reporting.
Now to President Trump. He's heading to Florida to hold a rally on Roy Moore's doorstep, the president going to new lengths to endorse the Alabama Senate candidate, despite a sexual abuse scandal.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray.
Sara, what, four days before the election, the election is next Tuesday, President Trump is all in right now for Roy Moore.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, right, Wolf.
And if the president has any reservations about these allegations against Roy Moore, that certainly did not come across today as he took off for Florida, as you said, right across the border there from Alabama. And everyone waits to see what he will have to say when he is up at that podium at that rally about this Alabama Senate hopeful.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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 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.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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 alleged they were pursued by him as teenagers.
The candidate has denied doing anything appropriate, a denial that appears to hold more weight with the president than the mounting evidence against Moore.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And you have to listen to him also.
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's place 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 ROMNEY MCDANIEL, CHAIR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: It's up to the voters of Alabama right now. This is democracy. They're going to see this play. They get to make that decision. It's not up to me. And the president has said we want to keep the 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 are 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 may have plenty of controversy following down South, but he does have one big positive to tout at his rally this evening. That's the state of the U.S. economy.
The economy added 228,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate stayed unchanged at 4.1 percent, but it was the lowest unemployment rate, Wolf, since December of 2000.
BLITZER: Very impressive numbers released today. Thanks so much for that, Sara, Sara Murray reporting.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is joining us. He's a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, "The New York Times" is reporting this past February the FBI actually briefed Hope Hicks, who is now the president's communications director, about efforts by Russians to contact during the presidential transition.
What does that tell you?
JEFFRIES: Well, the entire sordid episode involving Russia and the Trump campaign seems to have bled into Russian involvement in some way, shape or form during the transition and perhaps even Russian attempts to continue to influence the administration once President Donald Trump was sworn in.
I'm pleased, of course, that the FBI took steps to try to defensively prevent the level of infiltration that may have occurred during the Trump campaign. But it's all very troubling and needs to be unraveled, which I expect will be done by the special prosecutor, Bob Mueller.
BLITZER: "The New York Times," Congressman, is also reporting that Hope Hicks was interviewed by the special counsel's team this week, actually today and yesterday. What other in insight do you believe she would be able to provide Mueller's team?
JEFFRIES: Well, she's a very close adviser to Donald Trump. That was the case during the campaign, through the transition, and now into the presidency, particularly as it relates to perhaps the episode where she may have been involved in working with both President Trump and Donald Trump Jr. in crafting a statement about one of the meetings that took place between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and some Russian folks at the behest, it appears, at Vladimir Putin in Trump Tower that was initially spun as all about Russian adoption.
And we subsequently found out it had nothing to do with Russian adoption and seemed to be part of the effort to work closely between the Trump campaign, as well as Russia in influencing the election.
So she could shed some light, perhaps on that, which may be part of an eventual obstruction of justice case that could unfold.
BLITZER: When you hear about the documents, enormous amount of documents, the electronics gathered in the investigations, into Paul Manafort, he was the campaign chairman, Rick Gates, his associate, what does it tell you about Robert Mueller's case right now?
JEFFRIES: Well, he's incredibly thorough, that would be the special prosecutor, Bob Mueller, in terms of his approach. He's one of the talented law enforcement professionals that we have ever seen here in the country, well-respected on both sides of the aisle by anyone who is independent-minded.
And he is obviously building a systematic and comprehensive case for the American people to uncover what exactly happened between Russian spies and the Trump campaign as part of Russia's effort to interfere in our election. He's going to operate on his own timeline. He's going to make sure that the documents are thoroughly reviewed, and eventually build whatever cases need to be built in terms of justice and accountability in the context of last year's presidential election.
BLITZER: The fiancee of George Papadopoulos -- he was the Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI -- she says he was very involved in the Trump campaign foreign policy and that -- quote -- "He didn't take any initiative on his own without campaign approval."
Do you believe her?
JEFFRIES: I absolutely believe her, in part because all of the president's men at the top levels, whether that's Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman, and, of course, Michael Flynn, who turned out to be the first national security adviser, Jeff Sessions, who is the attorney general, Donald Trump Jr., the son-in-law -- son, I should say, Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, they were all engaging in conversations with Russian operatives at the same moment that Russia was interfering in our election, and then, in many instances, either failed to disclose or lied about those contacts until they unfolded.
And so why would anyone reasonably believe that George Papadopoulos was just an errand boy, which is what the Trump campaign and Trump administration now wants to project? I actually would believe Papadopoulos in the context, and we will see what eventually unfolds in terms of his involvement.
BLITZER: President Trump, as you know, he's ramped up his attacks on the FBI.
Were you satisfied with the FBI Director Christopher Wray's defense of the FBI yesterday?
JEFFRIES: I thought it was thorough. He came across a straight shooter. He was obviously prepared to stand up for the FBI and the importance of that organization and the sacrifice that FBI agents make each and every day in order to combat crime and keep the people of this country safe.
And I thought it was a full-throated defense. Nobody expected him to throw President Donald Trump under the bus by mentioning him by name. But it was very clear that the FBI director was responding to the criticism that Donald Trump leveled at the FBI, which was woefully inappropriate for someone who is the commander in chief.
BLITZER: Listen to how at least some on FOX News describe Robert Mueller's investigation right now. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": Robert Mueller's partisan, extremely bias, hyper-partisan attack team.
GREGG JARRETT, FOX NEWS: And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon.
HANNITY: And this entire witch-hunt needs to be shut down and shut down immediately.
JARRETT: It's like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night.
REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think there will be other revelations of bias and prejudice and improper conduct on behalf of the Department of Justice.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: What Mueller did, he hired a pedigreed team of obvious partisans.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt.
INGRAHAM: They should all step aside. They should all go back to the their old law firm, their old buddies there, including Bob Mueller.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: The only logical way to get the answers for the American people is to appoint a second special counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's your reaction when you hear that?
JEFFRIES: Well, the White House and their allies on FOX News are clearly in full spin control.
They want to discredit the investigation, which has already indicted the campaign chairman on charges which include conspiracy against the United States of America. The national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has acknowledged and pled guilty that he broke the law, and is now cooperating with the special prosecutor.
One of the foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, has pled guilty and is cooperating with the special counsel. And this is only the beginning. What we are seeing, unfortunately, is an effort by Donald Trump's allies to undermine the ultimate results of the investigation by trying to shape as if it's sort of a partisan witch- hunt.
That is obviously not the case. Bob Mueller is well-respected in Washington D.C. He's going to follow the facts and the law. And that will ultimately guide whatever conclusion he reaches.
BLITZER: But, Congressman, what would you do, what could you do if the president fired Mueller?
JEFFRIES: Well, there's bipartisan legislation that has been introduced in the Senate to try to prevent that from occurring.
Hopefully, in the House of Representatives, we will see that legislation also move forward. There are some Democratic colleagues of mine who are working on that.
We do need to see, Wolf, my Republican colleagues in the House start to put their country ahead of their party. We are a separate and co- equal branch of government in the House of Representatives. We don't work for Donald Trump. We work for the people of the United States of America.
Many of my colleagues in the House to date don't seem to have gotten that memo, even though it was written by James Madison and the founding fathers.
BLITZER: Congressman Jeffries, stand by. There is more information we need to discuss. But I got to take a short break. We will resume our coverage right after this.
BLITZER: We are back with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
We're monitoring multiple this in the Russia investigation and more.
And there's another story, Congressman, I want to discuss with you.
President Trump, as you know, he will attend the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum tomorrow. Congressman John Lewis, Congressman Bennie, they are boycotting the event. Do you support that boycott? JEFFRIES: Absolutely.
This is not even a close call. On the one hand, you have Congressman Bennie Thompson, a well-respected member of the Congressional Black Caucus who did a lot in his younger days in terms of Mississippi civil rights movement, and, of course, Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, a man who almost lost his life on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during Bloody Sunday fighting to make sure that every single American could have the right to vote.
And on the other hand, you have the birther in chief, someone who has never missed an opportunity to fan the flames of racial hatred whenever he thinks it's to his personal, political or professional advantage.
When you look at Donald Trump's history, whether it was in the 1970s, when the Trump Organization was sued by the Nixon Justice Department for racial discrimination in the housing market and refusing to rent to blacks and Puerto Ricans, whether it was in the 1980s, when Donald Trump led the lynch mob into the Central Park 5, African-American and Latino men who were wrongfully convicted, wrongfully accused, wrongfully imprisoned for a crime that they didn't commit, and then, of course, his five-year crusade perpetrating the racist lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
And, Wolf, that's before Charlottesville and all of the other shenanigans that we've seen as president.
What in Donald Trump's history suggests that him showing up to the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is anything other than a political stunt and photo-op?
BLITZER: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thanks so much for joining us.
JEFFRIES: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a new report says investigators have spoken with another one of President Trump's top aides. Are Russian operatives still trying to make contact with members of the president's inner circle?
And we will have a live update on the California wildfires, the imminent danger, and the record destruction.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the Russia investigation now reaching one of the president's closest advisers, Hope Hicks. She's the communications director at the White House.
"The New York Times" reporting that FBI officials warned Hicks about repeated attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with her during the presidential transition. "The Times" says Hicks was interviewed by the special counsel's team over the last two days. Let's bring in our correspondents and analysts.
And, Gloria, potentially, how big, how important is this? Because she plays a very significant role.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: She is.
She is somebody who is very close to the president. And I think the interesting part of the "New York Times" story is, of course, that the FBI was warning her that, "Look, there are some Russian operatives who are trying to contact you." And it gives you an indication of how worried the FBI was that there was this infiltration that was -- that was being attempted.
[18:30:21] I think we have to say there is nothing here to indicate that Hope Hicks has done anything wrong. But the fact that they've interviewed her now on two occasions shows you that they have a lot of questions they want to ask her, perhaps whether it was about what went on on Air Force One, what went on during the campaign, or what went on in the Oval Office, because she is somebody who is really at the center of things in the White House.
BLITZER: Jeff, you cover the White House for us. What's your take on this development?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In terms of proximity, there's no one who has a better eye to the Oval Office than Hope Hicks. She sits directly right outside the Oval Office, and she knows everything that the president, essentially, is doing: who's coming in to see him, the paperwork.
But you mentioned the Air Force One ride. That, I think, is key here. On July 8, of course, the president was flying from Germany back to Andrews Air Force Base. I was the pool reporter on that flight. We did not know what was happening, of course, on the front of the airplane, but that is the important thing there. She was at the center of the response to that meeting in June of 2016 in Trump Tower.
But I think it just certainly shows that, you know, this is getting closer and closer to the president. So she has a window -- again, no indication she did anything wrong -- but she has a window into what the president was thinking, how much he was briefed on all of these things.
BLITZER: You know, Phil, when you hear about the enormous scope of the documents, the electronics, that Mueller's team has already collected from Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, his associate Rick Gates, what does that tell you?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Breadth and depth of the investigation and why we're deep into year two and still don't have answers.
We, when we discuss this here, looking at this life through a soda straw. For example, we might have a strain of emails going back to a Don Jr. meeting last summer. We're looking solely at that strain. You're looking at 400,000 pages of financial documents, things like
emails. Think about putting together a pattern of life for dozens of people that include not only that Don Jr. conversation with a Russian last June, but what everybody said before, what everybody said after. Whether they called the Russian in the wake of that meeting.
You're seeing how difficult it is to put together the pattern of life in this investigation. Because just for these two people, you're talking about 400,000 documents. And forget about other people and other interviews. They've got to have millions of documents at this point.
BLITZER: Yes, 36 laptops and other electronic devices.
BLITZER: Part of it collected in that predawn raid on Manafort's apartment outside of Washington.
You know, Gloria, the fiancee of George Papadopoulos, he was the campaign foreign policy advisor. He's pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He -- his fiancee was interviewed by CNN. As she says, he didn't take any initiative on his own without campaign approval. Is she a reliable source?
BORGER: Well, look, what she wants to do is defend her fiance, who is not allowed to talk to the media upon advice of lawyers. And so you would presume that she's out there defending him.
Now I have to tell you that she did not come to us. That Pamela Brown actually went to her and took the effort and took the initiative and did some great work there by getting her to talk. So it's not like she just offered herself up and said, "Oh, here we are, you know, I really want to talk to you."
But did she have a motive here? I mean, you're smiling, right? Of course, she has a motive.
MUDD: What's she supposed to say? "My boyfriend is a chump, and I'm going to marry him anyway"? I mean, if I had a girlfriend who was a barista at Starbucks, I'd say she owned the place.
BORGER: She wanted to say...
MUDD: She had no options.
BORGER: ... he's not the coffee boy, speaking of Starbucks.
BLITZER: Rebecca, how do you see it?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's obviously about defending his personal reputation, and it's not just for the present moment either. Let's remember. This is a human person who is, after this is all over, probably going to have to find another job somewhere, have a way to make money. And so she just doesn't want to see, I think, the president and this administration, in trying to distance themselves from Papadopoulos, essentially assassinate his character in the process.
ZELENY: The White House has gone to great lengths to try to distance themselves from him. So I think -- you know, I mean, she is -- is certainly a credible witness here.
BLITZER: Yes. Jeff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Congressman Devon Nunes, he's now been cleared by the Ethics Committee. They were investigating the disclosure of potentially classified information. Could this clear the path for him now to resume his position and take charge of the House Intelligence Committee's Russia probe?
ZELENY: I think it can and it will. But he's also essentially been at the wheel ever since. I mean, he has been signing the subpoenas. He has been largely directing this investigation.
But it absolutely, you know -- essentially, it lefts any skepticism or questions of him.
And he wants to go after the uranium deal, the Obama administration. He wants to sort of misdirect this and change this.
But certainly, I think it clears the way for him. We'll see what effect that has overall. The House investigation, it seems, because of his role and others, it's really not as central as the Mueller investigation and the Senate investigation, as well.
[18:35:11] BLITZER: How do you see it, Phil?
MUDD: The same way. Look, if you're -- if you're an American citizen, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, expecting the House to come out with a judgment that's not partisan, you'd better figure out another way to look at this story. The Senate might be OK. The Mueller guys will be OK. Don't pay attention to the House, because that's been a clown show from day one; and the reports you're going to get is partisan. I don't think his returning is going to do anything to change that.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the big rally, the campaign rally the president is going to be attending later tonight in Pensacola, Florida. Gloria, earlier in the day, he tweeted this about the Republican Senate candidate, Roy Moore. "Last thing the 'Make America Great Again' agenda needs is a liberal Democrat in the Senate, where we have so little margin for victory. Already, the Pelosi-Schumer puppet Jones" -- that's the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones -- "would vote against us 100 percent of the time. He's bad on crime, life, border, vets, guns and military. VOTE ROY MOORE." "Vote Roy Moore" all in caps.
How big of an influence could a tweet like that, plus his performance tonight in nearby Pensacola -- it's only 20, 25 miles from Alabama...
BORGER: It will be carried on television. Sure.
BLITZER: Yes. How much of an impact could that have? BORGER: Well, I think at this point, honestly, it's certainly not
going to hurt him. But I looked at -- there was a FOX poll in November about the president's approval ratings in the state. And his favorable is 49. His unfavorable is 48. I thought his favorable would be more in Alabama.
ZELENY: It's interesting.
BORGER: So that was really interesting to me.
I think what the president didn't mention in the tweet is the problems that Roy Moore has regarding his relationship with underaged women. And I think the president probably believes that the guy has a good chance of winning. And so he's inserting himself very aggressively right now.
BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, the election is Tuesday, not very far away.
BERG: Not very far away. So what this is about, Wolf, is about getting people to the polls. That's the challenge in any election, but especially in a special election like this one. People aren't accustomed to voting at this time of year. And certainly, this is a race that has a high negative feeling associated with it. So maybe people aren't going to be passionate about turning out to the polls. That's why the president is doing this.
What I've heard, though, is that the polling, at least internally for the Democrats, they did see a bump for Trump initially when he endorsed, but since then, they say it's evened out. So we'll see if this does give him a boost.
ZELENY: He can also turn out Democrats, as well, here.
ZELENY: I mean, anyone who is watching this. And that is the key -- Birmingham, some of those Democratic voters there.
But look, I was talking to White House (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a short time ago. They said the president, at least the plan is -- and who knows, in these big rallies can always go off-script -- is to talk about his agenda and to talk about specifics in the agenda. The tax plan, of course. That jobs number, I promise you he will be touting that tonight, no question about that. But I think he'll be talking about his agenda.
But it's been in that exact hall in Pensacola at least three other times. It's a big, boisterous rally here. So those primetime rallies, he often, you know, surprises.
PERINO: They're real dangerous.
BLITZER: Very good economic numbers today, indeed.
All right, guys. Stand by, there's more breaking news we're following. We're about to have a live update on the wildfire emergency in Southern California. When will the firefighters get a break from the strong dry winds?
Plus, new concerns about security at a major sports event that will include U.S. athletes. Will Kim Jong-un try to disrupt the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in South Korea?
[18:43;23] BLITZER: Tonight nearly 200,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes in Southern California as the wildfire disaster grows larger and more destructive.
CNN's Sara Sidner is in Ventura County for us, the site of the most devastating fire. Sara, what's happening where you are?
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I want to give you some idea of the destruction from that fire. And you talked about 200,000 people being evacuated. This is why, because so many homes were just torched. People had to leave with clothes on their back. They were told to evacuate. Some of them in the middle of the night had to run out of the way.
But I want to give you an idea of what that meant to Ventura County: 200,000 people. That's all the fires burning. That's six fires here alone. About half of that is the number of people in Ventura County alone that have had to evacuate, 84,000.
Take a look where this fire went just in Ventura, the city of Ventura. You can see it blew through houses. We have counted 20 houses within eyesight that have literally just their chimneys standing, burned to the ground. And there are plenty of folks who haven't even seen their homes yet, because they have not been allowed back up here. They're trying to deal with the gas lines, for example, right now. That's that noise you're hearing in the background. They are trying to deal with water, shutting that off, as well.
But the blaze is still going, only 10 percent contained. And they have already seen this fire burn an area three times the size of Washington, D.C. It is a terrifyingly fast fire. The only tiny bit of good news is that there have not been very strong winds. Those Santa Ana winds have calmed down some today. And so they haven't seen that.
[18:45:00] SIDNER: But as night fall comes, it seems that every time it starts to get a bit dark, those winds start to kick up again. And they have to use some 3,500 personnel that are trying to fight this fire along with 21 helicopters who are spotting and trying to drop water on the fire. They have been incredibly successful in some parts but unable to save dozens of homes in the area where we are -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers here there some lives pictures of these pictures right now. Ventura County, not far from where you are. It's pretty dramatic, very dramatic continues in fifth day.
SIDNER: It is.
BLITZER: We're going to get back to you, Sara. Thank you very much.
Other news we are following, we're getting new information right now about very serious security concerns at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, games being held on the Korean peninsula right in the backyard of one of America's most dangerous adversaries, Kim Jong-un.
Our Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're learning that America's top security agencies are gearing up for these Olympics, working with the Olympic committees on how to protect the athletes. There is a unique threat surrounding these Olympics given Kim Jong-un aggressive behavior and the fact that the games are being held just 50 miles from his border.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight as tensions with Kim Jong-un's regime intensify, U.S. law enforcement and security agencies are ramming up coordination with their South Korean counterparts, just eight weeks before the Winter Olympics, concerns are mounting that North Korea might engage in a violent provocation to disrupt the games, which are being held just 50 miles south of the DMZ.
JAMES GAGLIANO, FORMER FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: My concern are softer targets, and obviously things that North Korea might do to provoke the South Koreans to attempt to cause the games being shut down or events being moved or potentially war.
TODD: Security experts say soft targets like transportation hubs, schools, and shopping areas cold be targeted by the North Koreans during the Olympics.
Could athletes from America and elsewhere be in danger?
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley hinted at it on Fox when asked if America would send its team to the games.
MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS HOST: Do you feel sending family members if they were athletes on the team.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I think it depends on what's going on at the time in the country. We have to watch this closely and it's changing by the day.
TODD: But tonight, the White House and U.S. Olympic Committee say America is planning to send athletes to the Winter Olympics. Still, there is a unique threat of these games, the location and razor sharp tensions over Kim's missile tests have the region on edge.
North Korea has used tunnels to try to insert commandos and frog men into South Korea for spying and assassinations. And the regime has a history of violence surrounding major South Korean sporting events. A South Korea airliner was blown up by two North Korean agents in 1987 with all 115 people on board killed. One of the agents was captured and said the bombing was ordered by the North's leaders to disrupt the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
And during the 2002 World Cup in South Korea, North Korean patrol boats engaged in skirmish with the South, leaving several servicemen on both sides dead. Analysts say Kim has strong motives for disrupting these Winter Olympics.
PATRICK CRONIN, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: He is facing the prospect of two years of maximum economic strangulation through sanctions and other law enforcement measures to really cripple his economy. He's going to look for ways to fight back. One way to fight back is to hurt the South Korean economy. The South Korean economy right now is 100 percent focused on a successful international Olympic event.
So, imagine cyber sabotage, so you don't kill anybody but you just disrupts the economic flow, the transportation flow, you create a headache for the South Korean government. You make the South Koreans look bad. They lose face.
TODD: Analysts say if the North Koreans do not engage in a violent provocation during the Winter Olympics, they are at least likely to send spies into South Korea during the games. They say the Olympics will offer the North Koreans an opportunity to gain economic intelligence on South Korea to place sleeper agents there and to make contacts with the North Korean agents they already have in South Korea -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Brian, are the U.S. athletes going to have to take extra security precautions while they are in South Korea during the Olympic Games?
TODD: Very likely they will, Wolf. We are told law enforcement agencies are going to work with the Olympic Committee to put word out to athletes about the places they need to avoid going, where they need to go to get their food and water, they may even need to be briefed on steps to take to avoid being kidnapped.
BLITZER: Very disturbing information.
All right. Brian, thanks very much.
Just ahead, we are keeping a very close eye on the wildfires devastating southern California right now. These are live pictures coming into CNN from Ventura, California. Much more on this and all the day's important news right after a quick break.
[18:54:49] BLITZER: The breaking news, massive wildfires are devastating southern California right now, forcing thousands and thousands of people to flee, torching some 250 square miles. You're looking at these pictures coming in in Ventura County, just north of Los Angeles.
[18:55:04] We're going to update you more on this coming up.
Meanwhile, a new CNN special report tonight on a central figure in the Russia investigation, the fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
CNN's Jim Sciutto reports on how Flynn went from being a military leader to a convicted felon cooperating with the special counsel.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inside the intelligence agencies, some grew concerned that Flynn's position sometimes contradicted the facts and the intelligence. Flynn facts, they called them.
(on camera): People talked about Flynn facts. You've heard this expression.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DNI: I was hearing from more than one source in DIA about what became Flynn facts. That concerned me.
SCIUTTO: Can you give me an example?
CLAPPER: I think he was convinced that the Iranians were behind the Benghazi attack, which they weren't. At least we had no evidence of that, but we insisted we find evidence to back up that proposition.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The increasingly infamous Flynn facts became one symptom of broader concerns about Flynn's leadership at DIA.
DOUGLAS WISE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Flynn started to manifest some of the more controversial behaviors that ultimately played out on the national stage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto is joining us right now.
Jim, you had a chance to speak to people who knew about the Russia investigation. What have you learned?
SCIUTTO: Well, I asked a lot of people who knew him from when he was young, served with him, admired him, commanded him or were commanded by him. There was a lot of confusion, disappointment, even anger with the proximity, the closeness that Flynn showed with Russia after he left the service. The famous visit to Moscow, sitting next to the Russian president, accepting money from a Russian propaganda network, a lot of money, then failing to report that money, then denying that it came from Russia.
But on the larger issue, I asked Director Clapper there, the former director of national intelligence who hired Flynn as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, I asked him if he had concerns that Flynn was co-opted by Russia. He said no, during his time at the DIA, but more broadly since then, he didn't have an answer and that to me was a notable omission.
BLITZER: Did anyone you spoke to get to answer the key question, what happened to Flynn that he turned in that specific direction?
SCIUTTO: You know, no one knew for sure, but I spoke to a lot of folks who knew him well. And again, people who admired him, served with him, watched him shed blood on the battlefield, risked his life and risked his life alongside them.
Their best theory is a little a bit of anger, some frustration. He was effectively pushed out of the military because McChrystal, you'll remember, has to resign from his position. He was serving McChrystal. He left Afghanistan before he wanted to.
Then he had to leave the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was fired two years into a three-year term, frustration it seems, frustration that he wasn't being listened to, frustration they say, they theorize that he wasn't getting the credit he deserved for the 33 years he served in the military, the heroism he showed, et cetera. That's their best explanation.
But the truth is, everyone I asked, they couldn't really answer that question. That is one of the mysteries of Michael Flynn.
BLITZER: Because he did have a distinguished military career winding up, you know, as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, served for years in Iraq and Afghanistan, for 35, 36 years in U.S. military.
SCIUTTO: Thirty-thirty years.
BLITZER: And then, all of a sudden, he gets fired and he winds up taking a lot of money from Turkish interests and Russian interests.
SCIUTTO: That's right and these things surprised people. This was, it was very quickly -- listen, a lot of people leave as you know government service and go work in the private sector, but it was the nature of the clients he was taking on. Russia, for instance, an American adversary, worked for Russia. Turkey, not an adversary, a NATO ally, but there was questions about some of the things he offered to do this.
One of the things special counsel looking into and offered to extradite outside of the law it seemed a Turkish dissident living here in the U.S. That kind of behavior is the behavior that really surprised the people who knew him best.
BLITZER: Yes, the allegation was that that they might even kidnap that Turkish cleric and get him over to Turkey.
SCIUTTO: That's right. And work he would have been paid to do.
BLITZER: Very, very disturbing developments, indeed, especially given the enormously respectful career he had at one point.
SCIUTTO: Helped turn the tides of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much for that.
And to our viewers, very important, you can see Jim's special report, "The Mystery of Michael Flynn". It airs later tonight on CNN, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. I think you're going to want to see it. You will learn a lot from this one-hour documentary.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.