Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey; Interview With White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short; Trump Holds Bipartisan Meeting; Democrats Release Trump-Russia Probe Testimony; Steve Bannon Out at Breitbart; North Korea: All Our Nukes, Strategic Weapons Targeting U.S. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 9, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: bill of love. President Trump urges Republicans and Democrats to protect the young immigrants known as dreamers. But he left lawmakers frustrated and uncertain about what he wants in a new bill.

I will ask the White House Director of Legislative Affairs if he can clear up the confusion. Appearing in command. The president's bipartisan talks played out with cameras rolling for nearly an hour. Tonight, the White House says it was trying to show the world that the president is not mentally unfit, as his critics claim.

Dossier revelations. Secret testimony from the Russia investigation released by a top Democrat, in defiance of Republicans. We're going to tell you what we're learning from the transcript about the Trump- Russian dossier and a mysterious source who may have backed up the evidence.

And Bannon out. The president's fired chief strategist is unemployed again, stepping down from leading the right-wing Breitbart News organization. Will Steve Bannon continue to pay a price for criticizing the president and his family?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, a new attempt by the White House to show the president is fully engaged and mentally fit produces a remarkable made-for-TV moment and a bunch of contradictions.

The president presided over bipartisan talks on immigration reform, allowing cameras to roll for nearly an hour inside that room at the White House. A senior administration official is touting it as a success, saying the White House seized the microphone and tamped down speculation about Mr. Trump's state of mind.

But, tonight, even some Republicans are acknowledging that the meeting got confusing with Mr. Trump sending mixed messages about whether he's still demanding his border wall in exchange for protecting young immigrants known as dreamers. Also breaking, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, under

fire for criticizing the president and his family, is now stepping down from Breitbart News. The right-wing Web site announcing his exit just days after the release of a new book in which Bannon called the infamous Trump Tower Russia meeting treasonous.

In the Russia investigation tonight, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee has released secret testimony on the Trump-Russia dossier. Dianne Feinstein acting alone, against the protests of Republicans. The co-founder of that firm that commissioned the dossier asked for his testimony to be made public to counter GOP claims that it was purely a political document.

He told lawmakers that the former British spy who compiled the dossier went to the FBI on his own, fearing that then candidate Trump was being blackmailed by the Russians.

We're covering all of that much more this hour, with our guests, including the White House director of legislative affairs, Marc Short. He's here. And our correspondents and specialists, they are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, we got an extraordinary, truly extraordinary window into the White House is and the struggle to reach a deal on immigration.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was something to watch today, Wolf. President Trump surprised much of Washington today by turning on the cameras for nearly an hour-long discussion on the tricky issue of immigration.

The president tried to look in command during the discussion after days of question about his mental stamina, but the question for the president -- and this is a big one -- is whether he's serious about solving the problem on the table today -- that is the fate of hundreds of thousands of undocumented people -- or whether this is just another addition of the reality show he's brought to the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It was a bipartisan breather in a city that feels perpetually at war, as President Trump sat down with both Republicans and Democrats to try to find a solution to spare young undocumented immigrants known as dreamers from deportation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This should be a bipartisan bill. It should be a bill of love. Truly, it should be a bill of love.

ACOSTA: Last fall, the president made the decision to end the program known as DACA that protects roughly 700,000 dreamers from being kicked out of the U.S., protection that begins to end in March. Now both parties are scrambling to craft a bill that would give some kind of legal status to dreamers.

But the president is insisting that border security be part of any deal.

TRUMP: To me, a clean bill is a bill of DACA, we take care of them, and we also take care of security. That's very important. And I think the Democrats want security, too. I mean, we started off with Steny saying we want security also. Everybody wants security.

And then we can go to comprehensive later on, and maybe that is the longer subject and a bigger subject. And I think we can get that done, too.

If we do this properly, DACA, you're not so far away from comprehensive immigration reform. And if you want to take it that further step, I will take the heat. I don't care. I don't care. I will take all the heat you want to give me.

[18:05:00]

And I will take the heat off Democrats and Republicans. My whole life has been heat. I like heat in a certain way.

ACOSTA: The question is whether the president will demand a wall in exchange for saving the dreamers, the same wall he promised Mexico would pay for during the campaign. Democrats seem to think the president will take some border security now and a wall later.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MINORITY WHIP: I think the president uses wall for border security. I think he thinks they're interchangeable because he mentioned border security on a number of occasions in talking about what was necessary to be in the DACA bill.

ACOSTA: The White House take on that?

(on camera): The wall has to be part of a deal in order for these dreamers to have protection?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Border security does have to be part of this process. Do I want to take care of our border? I absolutely do, because the safety and security of the people of this country are the president's number one responsibility and his number one priority when it comes to anything that he does. So, absolutely.

ACOSTA: But you understand how a wall could be different than border security, Sarah.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, actually, I don't, Jim.

ACOSTA: Border security can mean drones. It can mean agents. It can mean more fencing. It doesn't necessarily mean a physical wall.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: And that's part of the negotiation that we expect Congress to have.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president boasted to Democrats at the meeting that he can build a wall for far less than the current estimates. SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: You have put it out there that you

want $18 billion for a wall or else there will be no DACA. Is that still your position?

TRUMP: Yes, I can build it for less. We do it for less. We can do a great job, we can do a great wall, but you need the wall. And I'm now getting involved. I like to build under budget. OK? I like to go under budget, ahead of schedule.

There's no reason for seven years also. I heard that the other day. Please, don't do that to me. Seven years to build a wall. We can build a wall in one year, and we can build it for much less money than what they're talking about.

ACOSTA: The president's focus on the dreamer issue comes as Democrats are slamming his decisions to end temporary protections for 200,000 migrants from El Salvador and 50,000 people from Haiti.

And the president is still engaging in hostile rhetoric on immigration, falsely comparing a lottery program for some migrants to drawing names out of a bowl.

TRUMP: I just call it lottery, where countries come in and they put names in a hopper. They're not giving you their best names. Common sense means they're not giving you their best names. They're giving you people that they don't want, and then we take them out of the lottery. And when they do it by hand, when they put a hand in the bowl, probably what's in their hand are the worst of the worst.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump said one obstacle to closing a deal is the partisan rancor in Washington, without recognizing any role he's played in that.

TRUMP: The levels of hatred, I'm not talking about Trump. I'm talking you go back throughout the eight years of Obama and you go before that. The animosity and the hatred between Republicans and Democrats.

ACOSTA: Still, one key senator told the president there's a potential for an agreement.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You have created an opportunity here, Mr. President, and you need to close the deal.

ACOSTA: The dramatic discussion on immigration even eclipsed the speculation over whether Mr. Trump will face Oprah Winfrey in 2020. But the president weighed in on that, too.

TRUMP: She had Donald Trump -- this was before politics -- her last week. And she had Donald Trump and my family, and it was very nice. No, I like Oprah. I don't think she's going to run.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, just as the president was sounding more moderate on the issue of immigration, his former chief strategist Steve Bannon was shown the door at Breitbart. We're told that Bannon was essentially shoved out over his comments on the Michael Wolff book "Fire and Fury" and the president himself was putting pressure on this decision.

And one person who did receive forgiveness from the president in the form of a pardon, we should point out, was former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He is announcing he is running for the Senate out in Arizona. No word yet from the White House on whether the president will endorse Arpaio in that race.

The White House insists on the issue of immigration he has not given up on his promise to have Mexico pay for that wall on the border, Wolf, though as we have reported time and again, the administration has never, ever specified how that would happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta over at White House.

Much more on that extraordinary meeting coming up that occurred at the White House.

But let's get to the Russia investigation and the surprise release of secret testimony today about a controversial dossier about the Trump team's alleged ties to Moscow.

Let's bring in our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what are we learning from these 300-plus pages of this testimony?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, big picture here, this testimony provides a stark counternarrative to the GOP narrative, an argument also laid out by President Trump, that the Steele dossier was a purely political document.

According to this testimony, the former British agent behind it was acting out of a concern there was a genuine risk to U.S. national security.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Former British spy Christopher Steele was so concerned then candidate Donald Trump was being blackmailed by Russia that he went personally to the FBI, this according to newly released transcripts of testimony by Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, whose firm paid for the so-called Steele dossier.

[18:10:08]

"He was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information," Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee in closed-door testimony.

"He thought from his perspective there was a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed."

Simpson testified that Steele contacted the FBI in July 2016 and then met with the FBI attache in Rome in September. According to Simpson, Steele told him the FBI -- quote -- "believed Chris' information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing."

And one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump Organization. A person close to Simpson's testimony clarified that Simpson's mention of an internal Trump campaign source actually refers to the Australian ambassador who also contacted the FBI to pass on information he received from then Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.

In his sworn testimony, Simpson also pushed back against GOP arguments that the research and release of the dossier was directed by Democrats in the DNC, saying that the dossier was Steele's work. "Did you have any input or involvement in the drafting of these or input for the research?" he was asked. "No," he answered.

"And did you edit them in any way?" Again, Simpson answered, "No."

Feinstein's Senate office released the transcript of the 10-hour interview at the same time she was sitting across from the president in a meeting today. She issued the release without the support of the committee's Republican chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who had argued the committee needed to temporarily protect certain information while an investigation was ongoing.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I think it's really unfortunate that the majority and minority on the Judiciary Committee have really come to an impasse in terms of being able to progress.

I think in some ways this is the signal, the end of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SCIUTTO: In a statement, California's senior senator said she released the transcript because -- quote -- "The American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves," adding -- quote -- "The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Well, Senator Feinstein's Republican counterpart, the Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley's spokesperson answering with a very different point of view, of course, saying -- quote -- "This undermines the integrity of the committee's oversight work and jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony going forward."

In fact, Grassley's spokesperson mentioned the possibility of interviewing Jared Kushner going forward and how this might it difficult. You have already had partisan splits, Wolf, in the House Intelligence Committee, here in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate Intelligence Committee doing more bipartisan work so far, but really you're seeing splits across this investigation that may hinder it going forward. BLITZER: Yes, very disturbing splits, indeed.

Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Let's gets back to the breaking news on the president's talks on immigration reform.

We're joined now by the White House director of legislative affairs, Marc Short. He was in that room for the meeting as well.

Marc, thanks very much for coming in.

MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: Thanks for having me back, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you know that the whole thing, nearly an hour, was going to be televised, that the cameras would be rolling for nearly the whole meeting?

SHORT: The president indicated that he wanted the American people to see more of the conversation and he thought that would be good for transparency, and it would be good for them to see that we're anxious to try to find a deal.

BLITZER: And one of the purposes was also to show that he was in charge, and to rebut the allegations in this new book that he's mentally not fit, not up to the job?

SHORT: I don't think the American people question that, Wolf. I think there's some people at CNN and perhaps MSNBC that question that. But that was not a concern for the president.

BLITZER: The book questioned that.

SHORT: It didn't factor into his decision. He wanted the American people to see the conversation and know where we are going on DACA and to know that we're anxious to get a solution.

BLITZER: It's pretty extraordinary to have cameras roll for an hour in a meeting like that, a very important meeting. I'm glad they did it, by the way. I like the transparency. As a journalist, we always welcome that.

Let's talk a little bit about what the president has in mind long- term. He says he supports comprehensive immigration reform, which presumably would include a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal, undocumented immigrants here in the United States. Is that a priority for the president legislatively in 2018?

SHORT: The president has spoken about wanting to get more done on this.

We recognize that this deal is going to be smaller. And so therefore it will not accomplish everything we want, meaning that likely what we came out of that meeting discussing today is that we need a solution on DACA, we need a solution on border security, an end to chain migration, and end to the lottery visa program.

BLITZER: And you want those four things in the short-term legislation?

SHORT: Yes. That's right.

BLITZER: Do you want that done by January 19 or by March?

[18:15:00]

SHORT: Wolf, we're anxious to get it done as soon as possible.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because right now, the budget, yes, in order to keep the government going, you have got to pass a bill, a spending bill by January 19.

SHORT: We do have to pass a spending bill.

We still remain confounded as to why they need to be attached together. It's important to fund our troops. It's important to fund our national security interests. Why we're attaching illegal immigration to that debate and denying funding for our troops is something we still have a hard time understanding the Democrats' position there.

We're anxious to get a DACA solution. We don't think they should be tied together.

BLITZER: But you need Democrats. You need 60 votes to get this passed in the Senate. You can't just do it with 51 Republicans.

SHORT: We need 60 votes.

Why they're looking to hold hostage our troops and those serving our country over this issue is hard for us to understand.

BLITZER: But it was the president who created the dilemma over DACA, the dreamers, when he ended the program that Obama signed.

SHORT: No, Wolf, the courts decided that that decision that Obama signed was unconstitutional. The courts decided it was unconstitutional.

The president followed through on that and gave Congress an additional six months to fix it. That's what we have been waiting for. The spending bill should have been completed September 30. That's when the calender year ends for Congress.

BLITZER: So you don't want the dreamer, the DACA legislation to be part of the spending bill, but you do have to get it done by March.

SHORT: We're anxious.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: You have got four requirements short-term.

I want to get back to the long-term comprehensive immigration reform in a moment. But when you say border security, to allow the dreamers, 700,000 or 800,000, to stay, does increased border security definitely require building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border?

SHORT: Absolutely. It's what Customs and Border Patrol professionals, career agents, have told us.

Not politicians. Career agents securing our border have said this is what they need. The plan that has been presented to Congress is not, as the president said, all the way across. There are places that are physically impossible to build that wall.

It's 800 miles. It's a very responsible plan. It's where we see the greatest interdiction of drugs. It's where we see the greatest gang violence happening and it's where we see the greatest violence.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let me play the clip. This is how the president described it, similar to what you just said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: That doesn't mean 2,000 miles of wall, because you just don't need that because of nature, because of mountains and rivers and lots of other things. But we need a certain portion of that border to have a wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You need a certain portion of the border to have a wall.

That's different than what he used to say, that there would be a 2,000-mile wall stretching across the U.S.-Mexico border.

SHORT: Wolf, the president has heard what the professionals at CBP have told him.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, right now, 800 miles is all you need? Would it have to be a real wall or could be fencing too?

SHORT: I was about to say, what they've also talked is in many cases greater security if they can actually see there.

And so, therefore, in some cases, it's fencing that they're asking for. We remind your viewers that 54 Democrats in 2014 voted for over $40 billion in border security, including physical structure.

And then in 2006 Senator Schumer voted for the Secure Fence Act, which would provide even more miles for a fence. The only difference today, Wolf, is not the issue. It's the fact that Donald Trump is president. Politics is getting in the way.

We're anxious for Democrats to continue to have the position they did in the past and help us secure our border.

BLITZER: So they're asking for $18 billion to build this wall. Do you really need $18 billion? The president said you could do it for a lot less. Why are the Republicans asking for $18 billion that U.S. taxpayers would have to pay for building a wall?

SHORT: The $18 billion includes other measures beyond the physical structure. It also includes security cameras. It includes secondary roads. It includes several elements of that border security package.

BLITZER: Walk us through what you want in exchange for allowing the dreamers to stay, whether you get this done January 19 or you get it done by March. That's the deadline to allow the dreamers to stay.

Walk us through how you would put all this package together.

SHORT: Sure. Let's keep in mind that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals for those age between 16 and about 35. The average age in fact is 27.

So, while there's a lot of images of young children, these are 27- year-olds on average.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But they have been growing up here in the United States.

SHORT: Yes, they have been, who have work permits. And that's who we're looking to try to protect and keep in this country.

In exchange, in order to prevent future solutions of immigration problems coming into the United States, there's several things we're asking for. One is the border security. Two is an end to chain migration.

It's important to remember that the two terrorist attacks that happened here inside our country this year, one the gentleman who -- the terrorist who ran over innocent people came here on a visa lottery program and brought other relatives via chain migration.

The one who had the pipe bomb in the subway in New York City came on chain migration. We're anxious to end that program and end the visa lottery program.

BLITZER: Legal immigrants in the United States, they couldn't apply to bring their mom or dad or brother or sister here to the United States? You would oppose that?

SHORT: We believe that that is for negotiations to what exactly family members include.

When you're bringing in 20-some members of your family, including distant cousins... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But what about immediate relatives, like a mother or a father or a grandmother or grandfather or a brother or sister?

(CROSSTALK)

[18:20:03]

SHORT: The president has enormous compassion. We're looking to have that negotiation with Democrats.

BLITZER: So, ending chain migration wouldn't necessarily end immediate relatives?

SHORT: We're willing to give, depending on what Democrats are willing to give us on the things that we need.

BLITZER: The lottery system, you say it's got to be completely gone.

SHORT: Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: You know what the lottery system is, as somebody explained how that works, because how it works is, they put together a whole bunch of people who will be potentially eligible, they have reviewed them security wise, financially wise, but there are a lot more than are eligible to come to the United States.

So they pick out of a lottery who can come. But all of them are qualified, all of them have passed the U.S. Embassy's basic tests.

SHORT: Ultimately, Wolf, we think the immigration system should move more towards a merit-based system, in which we're deciding where does the economy needs workers.

That's what it should be based upon.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So it should be qualified people who speak English, who have money, who have talent, education, is that what you want?

SHORT: Who could contribute to our economy and where the economy needs jobs most.

BLITZER: And you evaluate that through education, financial background, language skills, stuff like that?

SHORT: Several factors. Yes, sir.

BLITZER: That's who you want to come to the United States. And you want all that included in the short-term legislation?

SHORT: We're not looking -- we recognize that that element of merit- based immigration is probably something for a second round, a larger conversation. BLITZER: It's part of comprehensive immigration reform.

SHORT: But we do want to end the lottery visa program.

BLITZER: Is the president in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that would include a pathway to citizenship for the 11 or 12 illegal immigrants, undocumented immigrants who are here in the United States, a long pathway to citizenship?

SHORT: I don't want to get ahead of the president on that one, Wolf. I think that's a conversation for after we are able to complete the structure of this deal.

BLITZER: That's part of the longer-term deal?

SHORT: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: And the president is willing to, as he said, take the heat for that?

SHORT: He's willing to have conversations on that, yes.

BLITZER: Does he personally support a pathway to citizenship, as far as you know?

(CROSSTALK)

SHORT: I will let the president answer that. I'm not going to get ahead of him on that.

BLITZER: Because in the past he's suggested that he probably does, but I get conflicting messages from the president on that very sensitive issue of the pathway to citizenship.

SHORT: I think there's a lot of different elements.

What we don't want to do is to have people jumping in front of people who are waiting in line. And so that's a very particular concern for us, is to make sure that this is done in a fair system.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, a lot of conservative Republicans, they call all of this amnesty, pathway to citizenship or even allowing the dreamers to stay in the United States. They brand that as amnesty, they say it's a terrible precedent, you have got to kick the dreamers out.

You have heard from some of your fellow Republicans.

SHORT: I'm well aware of those arguments.

I think the president again believes that we are willing to give, if there are things that we can make that permanently help reshape the immigration system, so we're not back in the same situation five, 10, 15 years from now dealing with the same issues once again because they were never solved.

BLITZER: Just to be precise. I want to move on to some other issues.

Just to be precise, the president does want a short-term deal to allow the dreamers to stay, work out what border security means, work out what the chain migration might mean as far as a short-term deal, the lottery, maybe kick that down the road to comprehensive immigration reform, but then after immediately start on comprehensive immigration reform, possibly leading to a pathway to citizenship?

SHORT: He is willing to consider the comprehensive immigration reform after this.

But the deal now would include an end to the lottery program, end to chain migration, and the border security elements we're asking for.

BLITZER: As you know, the president has promised to drain the swamp, as you know, that language throughout the campaign.

But all of a sudden today he was saying maybe it's a good idea to bring back the earmarks. Bring back the earmarks, where a member of Congress can get a bridge or a power plant or bridge or school or whatever in his or her district and then go ahead and support controversial legislation.

Explain what the president means when maybe it would be a good idea to bring back earmarks?

SHORT: I think he's sharing a lot of the frustration the American people have that right now it seems that Congress is very acerbic, that we have people in different camps unable to get along.

And I think there's been some who have said back in the day of earmarks that it provided grease to get bills done. But I think there's plenty of sound arguments to say it also did help create a swamp condition here, and that people were incented to vote for the bills for the wrong reason.

I think the president is putting the discussion on the table. He's not really weighing in one way or the other at this point.

BLITZER: Because, on the earmarks, when they were prevalent and they resulted in all sorts of crummy spending for projects, pork, if you will in various districts or states, in order to simply get some bigger piece of legislation, the American public hated that.

(CROSSTALK)

SHORT: Wolf, it's so good to hear you present it that way, because, yes, that has been the concern.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That's why I'm surprised to hear the president say maybe it's time to bring back the earmarks.

SHORT: Well, I think the president is frustrated with Congress' inability to get more done in a bipartisan fashion. That's the root of it.

BLITZER: You guys got a lot of work to you. But thank you for allowing that meeting today to be open to our TV cameras. I think it was very productive, very important. I'm glad that we saw the president and the Republicans and Democrats in action. Keep doing it.

SHORT: Thank you. We will keep doing it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much, Marc Short, joining us from the White House.

SHORT: All right.

[18:25:00]

BLITZER: Just ahead, President Trump tells Republicans and Democrats to work together on an immigration bill. He calls it the bill of love.

But he sends some mixed messages about what he wants to see in the bill. I will ask Democratic Senator Ed Markey -- he's got a different perspective -- if a deal is in fact within reach.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, more reaction to President Trump's bipartisan talks on immigration reform that played out on camera for nearly an hour.

The White House acknowledging it was designed at least in part to dispel concerns about the president's mental fitness. But did the meeting actually lead to any substantial progress toward an immigration deal?

We're joined now by Senator Ed Markey. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. Thanks for joining us.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: All right. So we got an inside look at the immigration and border security negotiations under way. What was your reaction to what you saw over at the White House? Will there be a deal?

MARKEY: Well, I hope there's going to be a deal. And obviously, by having bipartisan negotiations, that's the only way we're going to get a deal. But it's still in the very early stages, OK?

At one point, senator Feinstein said to the president, "would you accept a clean DACA bill," and he said, "Yes, I would."

And then the Republicans chimed in and said, "Well, you don't really mean that, Mr. President. You don't really want a clean DACA bill. You want one with security provisions that are built in, as well." And he said, "Yes, that's what I mean, that's what I mean."

And so in each one of these situations, clarifying with some specificity what it is exactly that the president wants is going to be absolutely imperative. But ultimately, Democrats do want to talk about security, but we want smart, effective security. And that will not mean spending $18 billion on a wall across the border between the United States and Mexico.

BLITZER: But you just -- you just heard Marc Short, the White House legislative director, saying there they're no longer talking about a 2,000-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. They're talking, basically, about 800 miles. Some of that can be fencing. And a lot of the $18 billion would go for drones, surveillance, other high-tech equipment to keep that border safe, not only from illegal immigrants but also from drugs pouring into the United States.

Do you have a problem with a scaled-back version of the wall?

MARKEY: Well, again, what he essentially just said is that drones or cameras or other technologies can be used in substitution for a wall.

I went down to the Mexican border near El Paso, and that's what agents told me when I was down there on the border. So we should just start to move towards that kind of a discussion so that we're not hung up on "the wall that the Mexicans are going to pay for."

In each iteration he walks that back, and now at least, finally, we're talking about smart technologies, you know, ways in which the border can be patrolled that accomplishes the goal without wasting $18 billion.

BLITZER: Let's turn now to national security issues. You're a member the Foreign Relations Committee today. Today North Korea say its weapons, nuclear weapons, conventional weapons, ballistic missiles, they're aimed, they say, the North Koreans, exclusively at the United States, not against South Korea, for example. How concerning is that to you?

MARKEY: Well, obviously, it's good that the North Koreans and South Koreans are talking about athletes from North Korea being able to participate in the Olympics. That's good.

But the North Korean diplomat took the opportunity to make it clear that they are still intensifying their efforts towards developing a miniaturized hydrogen bomb to be put on an ICBM that can reach any city in the United States. That's a threat to us. And that's why the president -- that is President Trump -- still has not imposed the kind of sanctions -- and by that I mean cutting off the crude oil that flows from China into South Korea -- into North Korea, rather, in place. Because that's what fuels their economy. It's what fuels their ICBM and nuclear weapons program.

And unless and until that happens, they're just going to continue on the development of this program. And then we'll be in a much more dangerous place later on this year.

BLITZER: Well, as you know, the president has been trying to squeeze the Chinese in doing what you're suggesting. The Chinese have taken some steps. They certainly have not gone as far as the U.S. would like.

How do you propose that the U.S. force the Chinese to do what you're suggesting?

MARKEY: The president has to say to the Chinese that he demands that they cut off the oil. It's what happened in 2006. It's what happened in 1994. It's what drove the North Koreans to the table in each instance.

Oil is the key. Crude oil is the key. It continues to flow unimpeded from China into North Korea. It is the key issue, oil. And unless and until the president puts it all on the table with China, insisting that that is the issue, then we are not going to see the North Koreans stop their hydrogen bomb and ICBM testing. And we will have our country in a much more perilous position, unfortunately, perhaps by the end of this year.

[18:35:19] BLITZER: I assume you think, though, it's encouraging that North Korea and South Korea, they had, what, ten hours of discussions today and they said there's going to be further military talks, that North Korea is going to participate in the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea next month. I assume you believe those are positive steps. But do you think the president deserves some credit for facilitating that by his tough talk?

MARKEY: I think it is good. It's a very good thing for North Korea and South Korea to have these talks, but it's more important for the United States and North Korea to have talks. But those talks have to be accompanied by much tougher sanctions than those which have been imposed thus far on the North Korean economy.

And so that's the key question for our -- for the Trump administration. Will they be able to get the Chinese to partner with them? Have they used every single avenue at their disposal in order to accomplish that goal?

Because if they haven't, then I don't think there's going to be any kind of a stop, much less a curtailment at all of the ICBM hydrogen bomb program. And for me, that is the key issue. All of the rest of this is nice; it's good. We want to have discussions between the North and the South, but the United States interests are clearly on the hydrogen bomb ICBM program.

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

MARKEY: No, thank you. Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: We've got much more news coming up, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:41:32] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including the release of previously secret testimony about the Trump-Russia dossier.

Let's bring in our analysts and specialists. And Phil Mudd, it was amazing today, pretty significant that the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee released the testimony, 300-plus pages, from the co-founder of Fusion GPS involving the Russian dossier, even though the chairman of the committee opposed it.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think -- I think it is. I would be focusing on just one key moment in those hundreds of pages. And it's not just what the Steele dossier said; it's what we should have known from moment one. It's smoke and mirrors in Washington, D.C.

Here's the point. People have been saying from early on in this investigation, "How could the FBI ever have based an investigation on information collected by a former intelligence officer for the British service, who was himself running intelligence assets in Russia?" We learned from this interview that that was never the case at all, that the FBI had its own independent avenues to collect information.

And anyone who was a professional who looked at the case from day one would have said the FBI is not going to predicate an entire foreign investigation on a presidential candidate based on what Christopher Steele said. The point is, Christopher Steele isn't the core of this. And anyone who wants to claim that the investigation is based on Steele, not the truth.

BLITZER: Because in this testimony from -- from Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, he says that the FBI did have a source from within the Trump camp.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's right. And also, this whole issue of whether the FBI considered Chris Steele's comments and his investigation, the FBI always considers all sorts of things. They start investigations based on newspaper stories. They start based on rumors. There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing inappropriate about that. The FBI, this isn't like a courtroom where you only consider admissible testimony. The -- the Steele dossier was significant information, but of course it wasn't the only thing that the FBI investigated, had as a basis.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and I believe the source inside, you know, the Trump campaign, we now know was -- that Glenn Simpson was referring to was George Papadopoulos, who had in fact, spoken with the Australian ambassador, and then the Australian ambassador went -- you know, went to FBI on this.

But -- but when you look at the sort of sum total here, you use human intelligence, you use other kind of intelligence that you -- that you gather through other sources and methods, and it portrays a picture.

And the fact that -- that Comey eventually went to Donald Trump and told him about it means that there was a sense that the president could be blackmailed. I mean, this is what we -- you know, this is what we surmise, I mean, that this is something that the picture, the mosaic that they put together led them to believe that there was something wrong going on. You know, it wasn't clear, but they were certainly putting together enough of a portrait here to be worried about it. BLITZER: Yes. Christopher Steele, the former British spy, he feared

that Donald Trump was already being blackmailed by the Russians.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And so as his testimony lays out, he wasn't approaching the FBI with this information, Wolf, as any part of any sort of political scheme, as part of a scheme to undermine President Trump. What the testimony lays out is that Christopher Steele approached the FBI with this dossier, because he was worried about our national security, because he was worried that Donald Trump could potentially be compromised while he was a candidate for the presidency of the United States, and essentially, if he were to win the presidency as well.

[18:45:16] So, it really does puncture the White House narrative that we've been hearing about.

BLITZER: You know, interestingly today, you know, Phil, the FBI Director Christopher Wray, he outlined the work of foreign influence task force designed to prevent interference in this year's midterm congressional elections , as well as the 2020 presidential election.

Is that where the focus should be?

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Absolutely. Because it doesn't look like the Senate or Congress are going to do that. That should be the core of their duties, how do we cooperate between the government and private sector that owns companies like Facebook to ensure that we're not abused during the following -- during the next election?

There is a twist here, that's unique for the intelligence business, though, Wolf, and that is number one, if the FBI is going to do that, how do they create a capability to cooperate with companies like Facebook and Twitter to ensure there's sort of a task force going into the next election cycle. And number two, this is really tough, how do you do that real-time? If you see that there's a Russian controlled pumping stuff into Facebook ads in Pennsylvania in 2019, how do you make sure within six, 12, 18 hours that voters in Pennsylvania on Facebook or people who use Twitter see that information? The cooperation between Washington and California has got to be really good here.

BLITZER: And the fear, Jeffrey, is it's only going to get worse despite all the publicity.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and, you know, we are getting more sophisticated in our ability to identify these sort of efforts, but so are the bad guys. And they are also highly motivated to interfere in our elections. They had this enormous success in 2016, you know, turning our political system upside down. And is there any reason to believe that they're going to stop now? I don't think there is.

BLITZER: Gloria, what do you think of this pretty unique window we all had today on this extraordinary meeting at the White House, where the TV cameras were inside for nearly an hour as the president hosted Democrats Republicans, they tried to discuss immigration reform?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think it was extraordinary, Wolf. And, you know, there's always a bit of performance art when you look at a meeting like this, and you see members of Congress and the president who know they're on television.

But honestly, I think a lot of them took it as a moment to speak -- to speak honestly to the president. Lindsey Graham, for example, saying to the president, you know, you have to be clear, you got to close the deal here, Mr. President, and other people laying out their priorities.

And we really got a window into what the president is thinking, which is he wants a win. He doesn't really care what it is. He said I trust all of you in the room, but if you bring something to me, I'm going to be signing it.

BLITZER: I'll sign whatever you --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I'll sign --

BLITZER: And he's getting some grief, Rebecca, from some Republicans out there who hate the notion of what they call amnesty, including amnesty for 700,000 or 800,000 DREAMers who want to stay here obviously in the United States. They've grown up here in the United States, and certainly if there's going to be comprehensive immigration reform, which the president said he wants to work on next that could lead to pathway to citizenship for 11 million or 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

BERG: Right. And so, I just got off the phone actually with Congressman Steve King who said he believes the president is making a big mistake, that he's going in the wrong direction on this issue. And that really, the anti-amnesty is the word he uses, but this anti- DREAMer, anti-DACA sort of policy is really what holds the Trump coalition together. His whole base of support hinges on immigration as a key foundational issue for them.

But still, when you look at the polling on this, Wolf, it tells a really different story. We had a CNN poll last month that showed 83 percent of people with support codifying into law the DREAMer Act, DACA, and letting DREAMers stay in the United States either on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. So, there are some Republicans who are concerned, but the polling really tells a different story.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, how successful was the White House today by allowing cameras in for that nearly one hour meeting in rebutting the narrative we got from this explosive book "Fire and Fury" by Michael Wolff?

TOOBIN: You know, I -- in thinking about that question, I think about a phrase associated with George W. Bush, which is the soft bigotry of low expectations. You know, look, he can hold a meeting. He's not crazy. I mean, is that really -- I mean, I guess that was successful. But I think one meeting on camera which was mostly theater, I think

anyone who has been in any meetings knows that meetings of 25, 30 people never solve anything. I mean, a smaller meeting will solve it, but sure it did show a different picture than Michael Wolff show.

BORGER: You know, it wasn't the kind of dear leader meeting that we've seen with Donald Trump in the cabinet.

TOOBIN: That's right.

[18:50:00] BORGER: And Democrats took the opportunity to kind of state their case, and Republicans also said, Mr. President, you know, you've got -- you've got to be a part of this. So there was a part of it, and we're all cynics here I know, but there was a part -- I was sitting next to Dana Bash at the table, and I turned to her and I said, is this real? And she said to me, yes, I think it's real. I think it's -- and we did, it was real.

Now, whether what kind of a deal they're going to get -- whether the Democrats are willing to shut down the government over DACA, you know, this all needs to be negotiated, but I do think it lifted the curtain a little bit.

TOOBIN: Well --

BLITZER: Let's see. Let's see if they continue to allow cameras into these sensitive kinds of meetings down the road.

TOOBIN: Let's see if there's an actual deal. I mean, everybody is talking.

BLITZER: I don't have a lot of time. They have to work out a deal.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's more news we're following.

North Korea says its entire nuclear arsenal, all of its most dangerous weapons are targeting the United States. So, what can the Trump administration do about that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:41] BLITZER: We're following more breaking news. Look at these live pictures coming in from Montecito, California. That's not far from Santa Barbara, another disaster unfolding in southern California.

At least eight deaths are blamed on devastating flooding and mudslides in the wake of a powerful, powerful winter storm. Some roads and freeways already choked with water and mud. Look at these pictures.

Officials say homes have been wiped away from their foundations. Awful situation near Santa Barbara, right now, these mudslides and the flooding continue. We'll have more on that coming up. But there's other important news we're following including involving

North Korea. North Korea now portraying the United States as enemy number one, declaring that all its nuclear and other state of the art weapons are targeting the United States. The ominous claim was made as North and South Korea agreed to hold talks of easing military tensions. A follow-up to their rare face-to-face discussions held just hours ago.

CNN's Will Ripley is near the site of the talks on those Korean peninsula. We're also joined by our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Will, what more, first of all, can you tell us about these very disturbing comments from the North Korean delegation today?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really was kind of a dose of reality, Wolf, after all of the buzz about the friendship of the Olympics and the possible reunions of divided families.

And then, North Korea's chief negotiator at the end of the final closing meeting said essentially that the United States, as you mentioned, is public enemy number one. That the nuclear weapons that North Korea possesses are not pointed at South Korea or Russia or China but directly at the U.S., the H-bombs as well.

And this just really is a clear sign that North Korea is not willing to budge on the nuclear issue. It raises questions whether these upcoming military talks to ease the tensions are really going to be able to go very far because if North Korea insists they're going to maintain their nuclear arsenal, then how can any progress -- any substantial progress be made?

This is how close we are to North Korea. It's just behind me, right near the demilitarized zone. And, really these two countries, the North and the South, even though there's lots of talk of friendship, they really couldn't be farther apart on this nuclear issue.

BLITZER: Barbara, what are the military options available to the Trump administration, for example, given these latest comments from North Korea?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the policy has been diplomacy backed up by the threat of military action. But whether that threat is credible right now might actually be a question.

Look, you know, if you want to attack North Korea for their nuclear weapons still, if the president makes that decision, the U.S. by all indications does not know where all of his weapons and his production and storage facilities may be located. Many are hidden underground. The missiles are now mobile. He can roll them out on almost no notice and fire them off.

And the special threat to the South, thousands of North Korean artillery tubes pointed directly at South Korea, if the U.S. was to strike, all indications are the North Koreans would move very quickly against South Korea in retaliation. So, as Will has just said so ably, a lot of nice talk and now a very heavy dose of reality.

BLITZER: Will, the North Koreans agreed to send a delegation of athletes to next month's Olympic Games in South Korea. Also agreed to hold military talks with South Korea to ease military tensions.

How significant are these developments?

RIPLEY: In the short term, it's a win for both North and South Korea. Kim Jong-un gets an all expense paid trip for his delegation to the Olympics. He gets to point to the fact that the U.S. and South Korea agreed to delay joint military drills and South Korea is even talking about easing some sanctions to allow this trip to happen.

And the South Korean President Moon Jae-in gets a win also because they can have what they want, which is a peaceful Olympics hopefully without a North Korean missile launch or nuclear test that could spook spectators and disrupt the most important sporting event for this country since the Seoul Summer Games back in 1988.

But again, when you have the North Korean chief negotiator, after talking about the Olympics and friendship saying that he doesn't even want South Korea to bring up denuclearization, that's certainly a problem for the United States.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Will Ripley in South Korea along the DMZ. Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon, we'll stay on top of this story for sure, as we do almost every day.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.