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THE SITUATION ROOM

CNN Poll: 56% Distrust Trump's Handling of Russia Probe; House Republicans Grill Deputy FBI Director; House Votes to Keep Government Open, Sends Bill to Senate; U.N.Votes 128-9 To Condemn Trump's Jerusalem Decision; North Korean Soldiers Defects To South Korea In Daring Escape. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Shutdown averted? Their big win on taxes has already in the rearview mirror. GOP congressional leaders scrambled to keep the government open past tomorrow night. The House just voted on a short-term spending plan to avert the shutdown. The Senate is expected to follow.

[17:00:23] Not trusting Trump. Even as the president gets a tough warning not to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, a new CNN poll shows more than half of Americans don't trust the president's handling of the Russia investigation, saying his comments have been mostly or completely false.

Secret Republican probe. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee confirms he's investigating the Justice Department, and other House Republicans grill a top FBI official as conservatives claim bias in the Russia investigation.

And running from North Korea. Just weeks after a North Korean soldier is almost killed in a desperate dash across the South Korean border, shots are again fired as another army defector runs to freedom. What are the escapes reveal about Kim Jong-un's regime?

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Just a day after their big win on taxes, Republicans have been scrambling to pass a short-term spending bill that would keep the government running for a few more weeks.

The House has just voted to approve a stopgap measure which will now go to the Senate. Senate approval would then avert a partial government shutdown.

Also breaking, just a day after the top Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat warned President Trump not to move against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a new CNN poll shows most Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the Russia investigation. Fifty-six percent saying his public comments on the matter have been false. More than 60 percent say Russia's election meddling is a serious matter that should be fully investigated. And that comes amid a wave of attacks on the Russia investigation by

conservatives who claim it's biased. House Republicans today grilled the top FBI official and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Republican Devon Nunes, admits he's conducting his own investigation of the U.S. Justice Department.

I'll speak with Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents, specialists and guests are also standing by with full coverage.

Let's get to the breaking news. While there's a partisan divide over the Russia probe, one thing is very clear this hour: our new CNN poll shows more than half of Americans say President Trump's comments on the investigation have been false.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, what's the latest?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is indeed widespread mistrust. It is 56 percent of Americans say what they hear from the president on the Russia investigation simply isn't believable or true.

Now the president would not answer any questions about the investigation or the rebuke by the U.N. today or even talk about his legislative victory. But he is taking a victory lap. He returned here moments ago from visiting Walter Reed. All this is coming as the vice president makes a surprise visit to Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I bring greetings from your commander in chief.

ZELENY (voice-over): Vice President Pence secretly touching down in Afghanistan tonight, rallying soldiers fighting in America's longest war. Meanwhile, President Trump, who is yet to visit a war zone as commander in chief, visiting wounded warriors at Walter Reed Medical Center.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're just going to wish them a merry Christmas, a happy new year, and we love those people.

ZELENY: While savoring the big Republican win on taxes. He did not answer questions about his legislative achievement or the challenges facing the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think about the U.N. resolution, Mr. President?

ZELENY: But the victory lap on taxes has not resolved other matters. Namely the Russia investigation. Tonight a new CNN poll shows that 61 percent of Americans believe the Russia probe is a serious matter, while 34 percent say it's an effort to discredit Trump's presidency.

While Mr. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the investigation...

TRUMP: Let's put it this way: there is absolutely no collusion.

ZELENY: The poll finds 56 percent of Americans disapprove of how he's handling it, while 32 percent approve.

As some Republicans ramp up their criticism of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the poll shows a majority of Americans don't agree. Forty- seven percent say they approve of Mueller's handling of the investigation, while 34 percent disapprove.

As Congress scrambles to finish its yearend spending bill to keep the government open...

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Well wait a minute, wait a minute -- news break, the Republicans control the Congress.

ZELENY: At the United Nations, the president receiving a stinging rebuke today. An overwhelming majority of the world's nations condemning the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, on a vote of 128-9, with 35 countries abstaining. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley denouncing the vote.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We will remember when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.

[17:05:11] ZELENY: The action came one day after the president threatened to cut off American aid to any country that supported the resolution.

TRUMP: They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care.

ZELENY: all this as the president basks in the glow of passing the $1.5 trillion tax plan, making good on a campaign promise. His first major legislative victory of the year set off a stream of praise. From the vice president...

PENCE: I would say to the American people, President Trump has been making history since the first day of this administration.

ZELENY: ... to Republican leaders.

RYAN: Exquisite presidential leadership, Mr. President. Thank you for getting us over the finish line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to make this the greatest presidency that we've seen, not only in generations, but maybe ever.

ZELENY: The flattery was so effusive, Mike Allen of Axios asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whether it was over the top?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: You know I'm not going to answer a question like that. ZELENY: Meanwhile, the president's daughter and senior advisor,

Ivanka Trump, also joining the victory lap over taxes. But incorrectly suggesting Americans will see the sweeping changes on their April tax returns.

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: Really looking forward to doing a lot of traveling in April when people realize the effect that this has, both on the process of filling out their taxes. The vast majority will be doing so on a single postcard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: And Wolf, we are getting new video in here just a few moments ago as the president returns here to the White House from his visit to Walter Reed. You can see the president there meeting with a wounded soldier and presumably a family member.

This is the second visit he has made to Walter Reed since president. He visited back in August, I believe, as well.

But Wolf, certainly a different contrast in images there: the president visiting the soldiers here and the vice president making the first visit of the administration to Afghanistan today. President Trump, the commander in chief, has not yet visited either Iraq or Afghanistan, a war zone here. But the president there giving holiday messages and greetings to our troops at nearby Walter Reed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, reporting for us at the White House, thank you.

Amid all the harsh criticism of the Russia probe, some congressional Republicans may be targeting issues within the Justice Department beyond the special counsel investigations. Some see that as an effort to try to hurt the Department of Justice's credibility before the special counsel's investigation concludes.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, so what happened today behind closed doors?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, for roughly six hours, Wolf, the deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe, has been behind closed doors answering questions from two congressional committees, the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee as part of a Republican-led investigation into the FBI's decision-making during the 2016 campaign.

Now we are told from multiple members who are in the room that, in large part, that this inquiry was not about Russia. It was about the Clinton e-mail investigation. And concerns that Republicans had that then-FBI Director James Comey did not handle the FBI investigation properly. A lot of questions about exactly the decisions that were made that led to the exoneration of Hillary Clinton.

Now, Democrats have been concerned. Say that this is not the direction that this committee should go, and investigate and they should look at things like Russian interference instead of what they decided to do in last year's elections. Democrats pushed back. Listen to this, Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: A big nothing burger is what happened in there. We're spending hours and hours of our time investigating Hillary Clinton's e-mails and dragging witnesses from the FBI to come talk about Hillary Clinton's e-mails when they should instead be investigating the real crime, which is Russian interference in our democracy.

RAJU: Do you think -- how did -- what was the atmosphere like in the room?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Tense.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: These attacks on our democracy with regard to voting rights, with regard to criticizing constantly the CIA, the FBI, the Office of Government Ethics, I could go on and on, those are the pillars of our democracy.

We have to be careful, because there are going to be certain guardians of our democracy. There are going to be certain people that come along, like Sally Yates, Mueller, and others, that we need in government. So that we can preserve this democracy. And I think when people come under attack like McCabe is coming under attack, it causes those people to either leave government and some never even go into government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And of course, some Republicans do want McCabe to leave government, including the top Republican in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, who wants McCabe to leave.

[17:10:05] Now Wolf, there's another investigation also ongoing, looking into the DOJ decision-making and including its work with that British agent Christopher Steele who put together that dossier of allegations connecting Trump to Russia. That's been led by House Intelligence Chairman Devon Nunes. Told us earlier today, it's no secret that he's looking into the DOJ and FBI and he said he wants to learn about some of its own decision-making.

So multiple investigations taking shape that are not related to Russia here in the House, Wolf.

BLITZER: How else are Republicans responding to all these charges coming in right now from the Democrats, Manu?

RAJU: Well, they're pushing back. And Republicans say this is absolutely not an effort to discredit Robert Mueller, and certainly not an effort to discredit the FBI. They say they are clearly just trying to get to the facts, learn what happened last year, and said that, "Look, we just to want get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

And McCabe coming today will be the first witness as part of this new investigation by these two committees. Here's what Mark Meadows told me earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: There's not a concern in terms of trying to discredit the special prosecutor that has been not only established, but continues to investigate, and so, Robert Mueller is not a subject of our investigation.

RAJU: How would you react if the president took steps to get rid of Robert Mueller?

MEADOWS: He's not. I talked to the president, he's not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And now when I asked the House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte earlier about the Democratic criticisms that are focusing on the Mueller, the Clinton e-mail issue, he said, "Look, this is something we announced a couple of months ago. This is the investigation that we're going to do looking into the FBI interference, possible FBI bias, and that's why we're looking into this right now." He said it's the first of several witnesses they want to interview, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much. Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a member of Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Of course Wolf, thanks for having me back.

BLITZER: You just heard your committee chairman and the House Intelligence Committee chairman Devon Nunes. He tells CNN, it's not a secret -- his words -- that we have an investigation into the Justice Department.

You serve on that committee. So who is participating in this Nunes effort?

SWALWELL: We don't know, Wolf. But what we do know is it seems that there is no end to my Republican colleagues' efforts, and it makes you wonder how many floors of the FBI building are they willing to burn down to protect the president, because we're now encroaching on the rule of law in this country that they continue to attack and undermine to protect and insulate this president from what is a quite lawful Russia investigation.

It's disheartening from a democratic principles standpoint, and it's certainly affecting I'm sure the -- just the high morale that has always been at the FBI that's now under attack.

BLITZER: So is Nunes simply working with other Republicans on your committee? No Democrats are involved in this investigation that he's obviously focusing in on? SWALWELL: Well, he's recused from the Russia investigation. So this

must be some ad hoc side investigation, certainly does not involve any Democrats. But, you know, Wolf, if we step back here, the intelligence community assessed about a year ago that the Russians attacked our election and that they intend to do it again.

And if they do intend to do it again, boy, are we quite exposed if the leaders of our country are focused on, you know, trying to go after our own intelligence community, rather than putting up the defenses that we're going to need for the next election.

BLITZER: What do you think his goal is right now?

SWALWELL: I think it's to undermine the investigations into the president. And I don't believe that he wants to make us less safe to another attack, but by trying to protect the president, he is actually making us less safe for another attack.

BLITZER: Politico first reported that Chairman Nunes is looking into corruption and conspiracy at the FBI and the Department of Justice, particularly on the handling of what's called that Russia dossier.

Senator Rand Paul, he went even further, tweeting today -- and let me read it to you -- "Time to investigate high-ranking Obama government officials who might have colluded to prevent the election of Donald Trump. This could be WORSE" -- all caps, worse -- "than Watergate."

With your insight as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, have you seen any evidence that this needs to be investigated?

SWALWELL: No. What I have seen evidence of is that Russia interfered in our elections, that there's serious questions about contacts they had with the Trump campaign and the willingness and eagerness that the Trump team had to work with them. There's been no evidence that there's corruption or a conspiracy at the FBI.

And Wolf, I'll just say, as the brother of two police officers and the son of a police officer, I'm offended that the -- these attacks on our law enforcement community. It's devastating for the men and women who toil away for our public safety, without any evidence, to be attacked in this fashion. And again, it just shows that they are willing to just scorch the FBI and law enforcement to protect the president. And that's, that's quite disappointing.

BLITZER: What -- they're pointing to is one text, several texts, in fact, sent by FBI agent Peter Strzok. He wrote this, and I'll put it up on the screen.

"I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy's office" -- an apparent reference to Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe -- "that there's no way he gets elected" -- referring to Trump -- "but I'm afraid we can't take that risk. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you're 40."

As you know, Strzok, the FBI agent, he worked on the Clinton e-mail investigation and later on the Russia investigation until Mueller discovered his texts and removed him from the probe. Was the insurance policy that he was referring to the Russia dossier?

SWALWELL: I don't know what he's referring to. I know that he was removed. That was the right thing to do. I was disgusted when I saw those text messages. But he was one of many, many agents working on the Russia investigation, and there has been plenty of evidence, including guilty pleas that people have lied about their contacts with Russia.

So I'm not concerned at all about the integrity of the investigation. But I do believe that Bob Mueller's judgment was tested there, and when he had someone who had a perceived bias, he removed that person immediately. Exactly what you'd want a supervisor to do.

BLITZER: The FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, he appeared before the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, by the way, today, and you're a member of the Judiciary Committee.

A member of the Oversight Committee told CNN that the beginning of the hearing focused almost exclusively on the Clinton e-mail investigation. Is that true? And if it is, what does it tell you?

SWALWELL: I can't go into, you know, a behind-closed-door meeting with the deputy director. But Wolf, what I can tell you is that the constant -- you would believe if you sat on a Judiciary Committee hearing with Rod Rosenstein or Christopher Wray of the FBI, that Hillary Clinton was the president today and that we are conducting impeachment proceedings. Because most of the questions that we see are directed at going back and relitigating the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

Again, we're supposed to be hunting a bear right now. And they're chasing rabbits. And that doesn't make us any safer for what the Russians and other countries would like to do in our elections.

BLITZER: Congressman, there's more we need to discuss, but I've got take a quick break. We'll resume our interview right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:48] BLITZER: The House just voted to approve a short-term spending measure that will keep the government running for a few more weeks. The Senate is now expected to endorse the measure, which would avert a partial government shutdown.

We're talking with Congressman Eric Swalwell. Stand by for a moment, Congressman. I quickly want to go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, to bring us up to date. So what's the latest, Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Congress, Wolf, is one step closer to avoiding a government shutdown. The House, just in the last few moments, passed a stopgap measure that will fund the government until the middle of January. That post -- that passed in the House by a vote of 231 to 188.

Now leading up to this, there had been considerable competing priorities among House Republicans, a lot of battling back and forth on what would be included, what wouldn't be included.

In the end, this is a very scaled-down version. This would keep the government funded only until January 19, and it includes a short-term reauthorization of the FISA program, the government surveillance program that is set to expire at the end of the year and a short-term extension through March of funding for CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program that had already expired in October.

On the table, there still are a lot of other priorities that did not get addressed in this bill. DACA, also the disaster relief bill. That had to actually be taken up by the House in a separate stand- alone measure. They passed that through tonight, uncertain, that bill's future and the Senate.

But back on the short-term government funding bill, the Senate now will take that up. The Senate majority leader tonight, Wolf, said he intends to move quickly on this. They could vote as early as tonight on this, securing that a government shutdown will not happen. Certainly a big week for Republicans passing tax reform through. The last thing they wanted to do was have a stalemate shift into a shutdown. Certainly, they are one step closer to avoiding that tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

Let's get back to Congressman Eric Swalwell. I think I know, but how did you vote on this resolution, on this language, this legislation to keep the government operating?

SWALWELL: Well, Wolf, I want to make sure we keep the government operating, But I think it was inadequate as far as aid that was needed for Puerto Rico. I don't think it was sufficient for the Children's Health Insurance Program, and certainly the DREAMers in our country, the nearly 1 million DREAMers, deserved a pathway to citizenship that was denied. So I voted against it.

BLITZER: When Congress gets back in January, will Democrats be able to work with Republicans on any major items going forward? Specifically in the budget?

SWALWELL: We have to, Wolf, and I believe there's a lot of opportunities to put Americans to work through infrastructure. You know, our bridges and roads and greening our electricity grids, these are jobs that could put men and women to work across the country, and the president has promised to do that. And I hope he, you know, extends an arm to do so. So you know, we're ready, but you know, the only bipartisan tone that you've seen here in Washington was a bipartisan rejection of their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a bipartisan rejection of their tax cuts. There were Republicans, Democrats who voted against those tax cuts, no Democrats who voted for them. So you know, I think it's time for them to start working with us, because there's a lot we can do.

BLITZER: Congressman Swalwell, thanks so much for joining us.

[17:25:02] SWALWELL: Of course, my pleasure, Wolf. BLITZER: And Merry Christmas to you and a happy new year, as well.

Coming up, just weeks after a North Korean soldier is almost killed in a desperate dash to freedom, shots are again fired as another army defector crosses over to South Korea. What do the escapes reveal about the Kim Jong-un regime? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:30:01] BLITZER: We have breaking news, an exclusive new CNN poll finds the American public distrusts, well, President Trump's treatment of the Russia investigation, and generally supportive of the work being done by the special counsel Robert Mueller. Let's discuss with our experts. And Gloria, the new poll shows this specifically of the question, the things Donald Trump says about the Russia investigation are, 35 percent, say true, 56 percent say false. How is Mueller handling the Russia investigation, 47 percent approve, 34 percent disapprove, 19 percent unsure. What stands out to you?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the political battle is on for those unsure voters. I can tell you that. But a couple of things struck me, one is, first of all, where you stand on this depends on where you sit. There's real partisan splits on how you regard this investigation, if you're a Republican and you support Trump, you're much more likely to think that it's not going well, and you believe Trump more.

But -- and the things that Donald Trump says about the Russia investigation, whether they're true or false, only eight percent believe that they are completely true, that's it. So, when you have a President of the United States, and only 8 percent of the people believe he's telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I think you have a bit of a problem there. And only 31 percent of Republicans approve of how Mueller is handling the investigation, which shows you that there is this real partisan split here.

BLITZER: You've gone through the numbers very closely as well, David.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. And I agree with Gloria. The partisanship here is really interesting, because it just tells you that this now has become one of those polarized issues that serves as red meat for each party's base in many ways. And it's becoming more so. So, I think one of the most interesting findings is that when we ask, Wolf, is this a serious matter or is this investigation really aimed to discrediting President Trump?

More than six in 10. I mean, a great majority of the -- of Americans think it's a serious matter worthy of investigation. But when you look at Republicans only on that, the numbers are on the decline. So, just since last month, among Republicans who think it's a serious matter and they are on the increase among Republicans who think it is all about discrediting Trump. The effort to undermine the Mueller investigation in the Republican echo chamber is having an impact.

BLITZER: You know, Phil, the -- you know, Robert Mueller mostly staying out of the public eye, he's got a special counsel investigation, but his public support for what he's doing, still so important to maintain the credibility of his investigation?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think in the short-term, it's not in the long-term it is in the short-term. Look, he's going to walk across the street, Pennsylvania Avenue, eventually to the Department of Justice and say, will we or will we not based on the investigation or will you, the Department of Justice bring charges against people? I know Robert Mueller, the public opinion about his investigation will not affect his conversations with the Department of Justice about whether they bring charges.

In a broader sense though, Wolf, this is incredible. This is the head of the U.S. government, not just the President, but the head of the executive branch, President of the United States, President Trump saying, don't trust the executive branch. It's like a football coach walking out on the field saying, I have a terrible team, I think I have a terrible team and I have no responsibility for how that team performs on the field.

The President of the United States, whether it's the Pentagon and the military performing overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether it's the CIA collecting information about Russia, whether it's the FBI and Robert Mueller investigating wrongdoing in the United States, the President of the United States is head of the executive branch. If he thinks it doesn't work properly, how does he go out in front of the American people and say you shouldn't trust the government? What he should be saying is this is how I'm going to fix it. I don't get this, Wolf, I just don't get it.

BORGER: You know, here's the problem for Robert Mueller and all of this. I was talking recently to Robert Wray who took over the investigation from Ken Starr, investigating Bill Clinton's indiscretions. And he made an interesting point to me, which is that special counsels, even though they operate or they try to operate in this legal world, need public opinion behind them because whatever they decide to do, they don't want it to be challenged on political grounds, they want people to see them as just sort of arbiters of the law. And if public opinion turns against you, it is more and more difficult for you to make your case to the American public or even to the Congress.

And so, you know, Mueller is nonpartisan and apolitical and everything else, but he may have a real brewing problem on his hands because Republicans, as David points out, are gaining a lot of traction in discrediting not necessarily Bob Mueller himself, but discrediting the people who work for Bob Mueller.

[17:34:55] BLITZER: Let me back up a point you were just making, David Chalian, in our new CNN poll, we asked about the Russia investigation, is it a serious matter? But look at how the parties, you know, divide, 93 percent of Democrats say it's a serious matter, only 16 percent of Republicans think the investigation is serious. Is it an effort to discredit the Trump presidency, 4 percent of Democrats believe that. 78 percent of Republicans believe that. Look at how -- look at that gap. CHALIAN: Yes, I mean, this is the definition about polarizing issue in a polarized America. I mean, that 16 percent among Republicans who do think it's a serious matter, is a little bit of a chunk of his own party who considers it serious, but the vast majority believes that this is without merit. Remember, he's at about 85 percent support, overall approval among Republicans. So, that 16 percent is the piece of the Republican Party who's not really with Donald Trump probably on most things. What Gloria was just saying about needing public support of the special counsels. Kind of like -- it sounds to me how the Supreme Court Justices always worry about when they try, when they try -- when you try to avoid getting mired into political battles because they want their decisions to sort of ride above that. It gets very tricky when you deal with these nonpolitical, truly nonpolitical attempts. If the American people can't believe that there's anything behind it by politics, it really undercuts the findings.

BORGER: It does.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by, there's more news that's developing even as we speak. We'll resume or special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:06] BLITZER: Let's get back to our panel. And Phil Mudd, let me start with you, the big -- major vote today, the U.N. General Assembly on President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's Capital, move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It passed overwhelmingly, 128 in favor, nine voted to -- against the resolution. There were, what, 35 abstentions. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley says the U.S. will remember these votes next time countries want USA.

The President said something very similar, a similar warning yesterday to which John Brennan, a man you know, the former CIA Director, tweeted this, he just has gone on Twitter, he tweeted, "Trump administration threat to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right in U.N. to oppose U.S. position on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous. Shows Donald Trump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone, qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful, autocrats." Your reaction.

MUDD: Settle down, John. John, he was a great CIA Director. I served beside him at the CIA. Settle down. Let me explain why. I mean, there's a rare humorous moment here on THE SITUATION ROOM. On the U.S. side, as we walk into this battlefield about where the embassy should be, we have the power houses of Vanuatu and the federated states of Micronesia. On the other side, we have 128 countries led by people like the minor states of Great Britain and France. We're going to walk out when 128 countries including the leading countries around the world say you, the Americans, are a bunch of morons and threatened them.

You know what everyone else is saying, Wolf, you've got to be kidding me. How are we going to isolate 128 countries, including major aid recipients where we have a responsibility like Afghanistan and Iraq. 128 countries said we're a bunch of idiots and Vanuatu and Micronesia are with us. This is a joke, Wolf. I don't think we need to get excited. I think the rest of the world is laughing at us.

BLITZER: Most of the countries, the top 10 --

MUDD: Sorry.

BLITZER: -- U.S. foreign aid recipients voted against President Trump, Afghanistan which gets almost $5 billion a year in U.S. aid, voted in favor of the resolution, Egypt, which gets 1.5 billion a year voted in favor of the resolution, Jordan, a billion dollar -- these are countries where the U.S. has close relations with these countries. Yesterday, the President clearly threatened you vote against me, you're going to pay a price, which is good the President said because we could use the money.

CHALIAN: And the United States has long believed that those investments are part of a national security strategy for the United States. Here's the thing, we'll find out if it's an idle threat or not. We don't know, right? I don't want to predict what Donald Trump will do because that's a --

BORGER: You can't.

CHALIAN: -- more business to be in. We'll find out if it's an idle threat. What we do know is Donald Trump is using this vote and this moment to give his interpretation of what America First means, and so he is trying to tough talk tough right now to put his vision of America First front and center with the U.N.

BLITZER: But if the President of the United States or the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Gloria, makes a threat like that, and they don't back it up, where is U.S. credibility?

GLORIA: Down the drain if they don't. And the question is what, if anything, are they going to do? I mean, as you point out, this wasn't a vote that was even or where we won, where the Bush -- the Trump administration won overwhelmingly, I mean, this was lopsided. What are they going to do? I mean, yes, Israel was on our side in this, but you can't bludgeon other countries or threaten other countries to change their foreign policy because of you and because of your threats about funding. I mean, maybe Egypt is going to get a little less money. I mean, that -- you know, that may happen, and Trump may want to do that anyway. I mean, he's always talked about funding for the United Nations and how we pay too much for this and for NATO, et cetera. So, maybe he'll end up, he'll end up reducing the amount of money we in the United States give to the U.N., but I don't see how they follow through on it state for state.

[17:45:13] BLITZER: I could see, Phil, the U.S. under the Trump administration, significantly cutting back funding for U.N. agencies, various United Nations agencies, but do you really think that the President who's got a good relationship with el-Sisi in Egypt, King Abdullah in Jordan, is really going to start cutting aid to those countries? MUDD: No way, not a chance. Remember, this isn't just about aid, if you look, for example, about the U.S. relationship with Egypt, one of the reasons that the President has developed a relationship with President Sisi of Egypt is that he is so aggressive against the version of ISIS that is operating in Egypt. Do you think the President's going to get on the phone and say because of one vote that's non-binding in the U.N., we're going to back down on our partnership with you as you kill ISIS partners in Egypt? That is not going to happen.

Let me be blunt here, Wolf, this is diplomatic prostitution. We're telling people unless you vote with us, we're not going to give you money, and if your heart doesn't agree with American policies, we're not going to support you in terms of U.S. aid. It's not going to happen. The Americans aren't going to do it., and the President is not going to back it up.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's more news coming up including another dangerous defection across the heavily-armed border separating North and South Korea. Could a North Korean soldier's dramatic escape to the South inspire even more soldiers to defect?

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[17:51:28] BLITZER: New tonight, another daring defection on the Korean Peninsula. We're now learning more about a harrowing border crossing by a North Korean soldier and what he may have endured to reach safety. Brian Todd is standing by with new information. What can you tell us, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a young man in his teens or early 20s who saw a chance today to get across the border in a very thick fog, and he took it. This is the second dramatic defection of a North Korean soldier in five weeks, the fourth one this year. And it's raising serious questions tonight about the conditions inside Kim Jong-un's massive army.

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TODD: Unlike last month's dramatic escape, which was captured by surveillance cameras, today's run for freedom was shrouded by fog, along a remote part of the heavily-guarded border between North and South Korea. The North Korean soldier in his teens or early 20s took off on foot, looking to cross the demilitarized zone and defect to the south. He was tracked by fellow North Korean troops who were fended off by about 20 warning shots from South Korean units. A short time later, shots were heard from the North Korean side.

GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They probably heard or saw movement, they thought it was the soldier -- their soldier, and those were shots to kill. Those were shots to wound. These were not warning shots on the part of the North. They -- the North doesn't do warning shots.

TODD: The defector who experts say may have somehow evaded landmines, barbed wire or electric fencing is in South Korean custody tonight being interrogated. Today's escape comes just five weeks after that other young North Korean soldier made his dramatic dash across the border. He was shot several times by his comrades and almost killed. This year alone, four North Korean soldiers have risked their lives to dessert.

Why the rash of them so recently? What does it say about conditions inside the North Korean military?

MARKS: Limited opportunities for food and nourishment, the fact that they can't be with their families, all of this cumulative effect, and the only thing that ties them together is this love and devotion and the fact that Kim Jong-un, the Kim regime, is viewed as a deity.

TODD: Members of North Korea's Million-Man Army have always been treated better than the civilian population but analysts say in recent years, soldiers have been forced to hunt or grow their own food, even pulling their plows by hand or to steal food from local villagers. Kang Ri-hyuk defected from the North Korean Army four years ago.

KANG RI-HYUK, FORMER NORTH KOREAN ARMY OFFICER (through translator): Conditions were harsh. Everyone was hungry, even the soldiers. The U.N. is sending rice and fertilizer, and it all goes to the ranking officials. There are many soldiers who also die from disease because they're not given medical treatment.

TODD: The soldier who defected last month was found to be severely malnourished. Tonight, human rights monitors are concerned that even though the soldier who defected today is now safe, his family may be in danger.

SUZANNE SCHOTTE, U.S. COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: They will most certainly be persecuted. First of all, they will be under extreme surveillance, they will be dragged in for questioning. If there's any indication that they knew that their family member was going to escape, they could be executed, sent to political prison camp but they will definitely suffer for this.

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TODD: And experts say heads will probably roll within the military units these soldiers came from. Their superiors will likely be removed from command, tortured, they could be executed. Still, analysts say these recent defections could provoke a rash of more North Korean troops to risk everything and try to dash across that border. Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, Brian, the South Koreans have also actively tried to entice North Korean troops to come across. Could that have inspired this latest soldier to defect?

[17:55:02] TODD: Absolutely could have, Wolf. The South Korean Yonhap News Agency reports that after that soldier defected last month, the South Koreans began broadcasting the news of his defection over loudspeakers to other North Korean soldiers just across the border. There's no doubt they heard it. It could have inspired this guy today. BLITZER: Very interesting. Brian Todd reporting, thank you. Coming

up, there's breaking news, the House approves a stop-gap spending measure to keep the government running a few more weeks and the Senate is expected to follow suit, but even if a shutdown is averted, what happens to critical programs running very low on funds right now?

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