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Trump Declines to Say If He's Willing to Be Interviewed by Mueller. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 10, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. "Seems unlikely". President Trump won't say if he'll sit down for an interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, but adds, "It seems unlikely," insisting many times that there was no collusion with Russia. The president is calling on Republicans to, quote, "take control of the Russia probe."

[17:00:26] "We need the wall." Just a day after telling a bipartisan group of lawmakers that he'll sign any immigration deal they come up with, the president backs off, saying he won't sign a bill without funding for a border wall.

Performance art. The president invites the news media into his first cabinet meeting of the year where he praises his own performance in the on-camera immigration meeting a day earlier.

And "clearly ignored." A Senate report warns that Russian hackers are still targeting U.S. elections and that the U.S. needs to boost its defenses. A key lawmaker says a U.S. president has never so clearly ignored such a grave threat to national security.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump refuses to say if he's willing to be interviewed by the special counsel, Robert Mueller's team but says it seems unlikely that Mueller would request the meeting, claiming over and over again that there was no collusion with Russia.

While taking questions over at the White House, the president called the Russia probe a phony cloud hanging over his administration. Earlier, he called it the single greatest witch-hunt in U.S. history and urged Republicans to take control.

There's a new warning tonight that Russia's hackers are still targeting American elections, and a key lawmaker cautions that, unless the United States takes immediate action, it won't be ready to defend against any meddling in the 2018 or 2020 elections.

And only a day after he told a bipartisan group of lawmakers that he'd sign any immigration deal they come up with, President Trump today said flatly that he will not sign an immigration bill unless it contains funding for a border wall with Mexico. That came during his first cabinet meeting of the year, where the president praised himself for that earlier on-camera immigration session.

But the president's handling of that session failed to bring any clarity to Congressional negotiations on the fate of some 700,000 DREAMers, immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

And after a judge temporarily blocked efforts to end protections for DREAMers, the president complained that the court system here in the United States is, quote, "broken and unfair."

I'll speak with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they are standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with the breaking news.

President Trump digging in his heels on the Russia probe and on immigration. Let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president's back in attack mode today.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly was, Wolf. And President Trump did not answer a key question today, as you said, as to whether he would agree to speak with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The president did try to clear up some of the confusion over his plan to protect young undocumented immigrants known as the DREAMers from deportation. He says he wants a wall for that.

The president also took another shot at his critics today, vowing to crack down on the nation's libel laws in an attempt to tamp down on negative reporting on his presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump dodged the question of whether he would sit down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team to talk about the Russia investigation, insisting repeatedly, as he has in the past, that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll see what happens. I mean, certainly, I'll see what happens, but when they have no collusion and nobody's found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview.

ACOSTA: At a news conference, the president took another whack at clarifying his position on immigration, insisting that a wall on the border with Mexico be part of any deal to protect the roughly 800,000 undocumented DREAMers from deportation.

TRUMP: I really believe they're going to come up with a solution to the DACA problem, which has been going on for a long time. And maybe beyond that, immigration as a whole, but any solution has to include the wall, because without the wall, it all doesn't work. ACOSTA: That was an attempt to clean up his previous comment that

signaled some flexibility on the wall.

TRUMP: This group comes back hopefully with an agreement, this group and others from the Senate, from the House, comes back with an agreement, I'm signing it. I mean, I will be signing it.

ACOSTA: Before the news conference...

TRUMP: Welcome back to the studio.

ACOSTA: ... the president basked in the praise he says he received from the news media after his televised meeting with lawmakers on the DREAMer issue.

TRUMP: It was reported as incredibly good and my performance, you know, some of them called it a performance. I consider it work. But it got great reviews by everybody, other than two networks, who were phenomenal for about two hours. Then after they they were called by their bosses and said, "Oh, wait a minute." And unfortunately, a lot of those anchors sent us letters saying that was one of the greatest meetings they've ever witnessed.

[17:05:17] ACOSTA: to back up the president's claim that he received letters from news anchors cheering his performance, the White House sent along a list not of letters but video clips and tweet from journalists, some from CNN, applauding the openness of the meeting.

Still, the president went on to complain that the coverage he's received is just not good enough. So he once again threaten to seek changes to the nation's libel laws, another threat to the First Amendment rights of the American free press.

TRUMP: We are going to take a strong look at our country's libel laws. So that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts. If somebody says something that's totally false and knowingly false, that the person that has been abused, defamed, libeled, will have meaningful recourse. Can't say things that are false, knowingly false, and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account.

ACOSTA: The president also took time to criticize the nation's judicial system one day after a federal court in California temporarily halted his administration's plans to end deportation protections for the DREAMers.

Mr. Trump tweeted, "It just shows everyone how broken and unfair our court system in when the opposing side in a case such as DACA always runs to the 9th Circuit and almost always wins before being reversed by higher courts."

The president also attacked Senator Dianne Feinstein, calling her sneaky after the California Democrat released the hearing transcript from one of the founders of Fusion GPS, which developed a dossier that alleged widespread collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump tweeted, "The single greatest witch-hunt in American history

continues. There was no collusion. Everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion, and yet on and on it goes. Russia and the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing. Republicans should finally take control."

The president's tirades mask an apparent need from approval from the news media, something he touched on while looking back at that meeting on the DREAMers.

TRUMP: I'm sure their ratings were fantastic. They always are. Which is why I think the media will ultimately support Trump in the end. Because they're going to say, we -- if Trump doesn't win in three years, they're all out of business. You guys will be out of business. But the boom holders are still going to be there, so that's good. Those are the people I like.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, near the end of his press conference, the president said, quote, "It has been determined there is no collusion." He actually said a variation of "no collusion" eight times during this news conference.

But, of course, that has not been determined as of yet, as the special counsel's office has yet to conclude its investigation. I tried to ask the president about that at the end of the press conference, but he did not respond.

And last year, it should be noted, Wolf, that the president said he was 100 percent willing to testify in the Russia probe. Doesn't sound like it anymore, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sounds a bit different right now. All right. Jim Acosta over at the White House. Thanks very much.

Let's get some more from our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, what are you hearing from your sources about a potential meeting between the president and the special counsel?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening.

Even though the president said "no collusion," as Jim said, that was in a span of a minute and 35 seconds. The president said "no collusion" or a variation of it eight times during that period.

But the reality is somewhat different inside the West Wing among conversations with the lawyers and advisers. They know that the reality of what is coming with this Mueller investigation does not necessarily jive with the fantasy of the fact that there is certainty no collusion.

The reality is here advisers and lawyers inside the West Wing realize that there is still an ongoing investigation to see if there was collusion. We do not know the answer, they do not know the answer, if there was or wasn't, that's the point of this investigation. Wolf, the reality here is that the president is most likely going to half to testify. That is at least the thinking of many advisers we are talking to.

The question is how. Will there be a narrow set of questions? Will it be under a s et of preconditions? That is likely going to be the situation here if he ultimately has to testify here.

But Wolf, no matter how often the president says no collusion at a press conference or on social media, they know at some point this investigation most likely is going to reach him and it will determine if there is or if there isn't, but that right now is an answer that is not yet known yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: And last summer, I think it was last June, he said 100 percent he'd be willing to appear to testify before the Mueller investigation. What's changed since then?

ZELENY: He did, Wolf. I was thinking about back to that Rose Garden news conference last June on June 9, exactly seven months ago. And he said, "A hundred percent I would be willing to testify."

Now, that was about specifically the firing of James Comey. This is about the broader investigation here, but still the same topic here.

[17:10:06] So what has changed, of course, is the investigation is still moving forward. The president was led to believe by his own lawyers this would end at Thanksgiving, at the end of the year. It is still ongoing.

So as we head into this midterm election year with this open investigation still broadening here, this is one of the things that has changed the president's thinking in terms of whether he's going to be willing to testify or not here because the fact this is still going, it means it's certainly still serious, and it's more underway and it certainly is more real, Wolf.

If he is willing to testify, under what conditions.

Indeed.

Was his lawyers recommend they impose. Jeff Zeleny over -- he's actually here in the studio. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He's a member of the Senate foreign relations committee. Senator Murphy, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Great to be with you.

BLITZER: What's your reaction? The president seems to think it's unlikely the special counsel, Robert Mueller, will even interview him, ask to interview him, because as you heard within a minute and a half or two minutes he said eight times, no collusion, no collusion, no collusion. What do you think?

MURPHY: Well, I think the president has to testify. He's got to tell his story. I'm just not sure that it's going to be believable. The White House told us that there was no contact between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and now we discover that there was what seems to be an endless myriad of contacts between Trump family members, Trump campaign members and the Russian government.

This story seems to have new layers that get unpeeled every single week, and I think at some point, Trump is going to have to go under oath and tell his side of the story. It's important.

BLITZER: So you think there is evidence of collusion?

MURPHY: No, I don't -- I don't know. What I know is the story that the Trump administration told us is not true. They told us that they did not talk to the Russians during the campaign. They did, in fact, members of the Trump family talked to agents of the Russian government. And given the fact that they have lied about the extent of their contact with the Russian government, it stands to reason that we might not yet know the whole story about potential collusion.

BLITZER: Let me read the tweet that he posted earlier this morning once again. Listen to this. "The single greatest witch-hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion. Everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion. And yet on and on it goes. Russia and the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing. Republicans should finally take control."

When he says "take control," what does he mean, in your opinion? What does he mean by Republicans should finally take control?

MURPHY: Well, I mean, Republicans can't take control of an FBI investigation. I assume he says that Republicans should allow him to fire Robert Mueller, that they shouldn't stand in the way of that. We have legislation pending, for instance, that would greatly constrict the president's ability to fire Mueller on his own.

But I don't think Republicans are listening to that tweet. My conversations with Republicans suggest that they are still very serious about making sure that Mueller has the resources and the flexibility to get to the truth. I don't think that Republicans in the Senate are going to be part of a political effort to try to shut down this investigation.

BLITZER: But the Republicans do control the White House. They're the majority in the Senate, the majority in the House. The Justice Department has an attorney general. He's recused himself, but others in the Justice Department appointed by the president, the new FBI director appointed by the president. Aren't they in control?

MURPHY: Well, they are in control of government, but, remember, there has historically been great reticence for the legislative branch to step in and get in the way of an investigation emanating out of the Justice Department or the FBI. And I think that reticence still holds today. There are plenty of Republicans who want to get to the truth. BLITZER: You're a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The top Democrat on your committee, Senator Ben Cardin, he released a very dire report today detailing what he said was the continued Russian threat of meddling in U.S. elections. Upcoming elections in 2018, this year. 2020.

He places the spotlight in his report directly on President Trump, saying, quote, "Never before has a U.S. president so clearly ignored such a grave threat and a growing threat to U.S. national security."

Do you believe the president has ignored this Russian threat?

MURPHY: Well, I don't think the president understands how serious the Russians are about manipulating democracies and Democratic elections. For instance, we passed legislation setting up a new office at the State Department called the Global Engagement Center. This would be a center that would spend money trying to counteract Russian propaganda, not necessarily in the United States but in places like Europe where they're trying to undermine our allies' democracies.

The president for months refused to fund that organization. He now is holding a hiring freeze at the State Department, which doesn't allow for that group to staff up.

So I just don't think the president is serious about this. I don't think he's using the tools that Congress has given him to try to push back on the ways in which Russia tries to interfere with the United States, our democracy and our allies' democracies.

BLITZER: This latest report from Senator Cardin comes just as Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, released 300-plus pages of testimony from one of the co-founders of the firm that got that Russia -- Trump-Russia dossier off the ground. This over the objections of the committee chairman, Chuck Grassley. Are Democrats essentially -- and you're a Democrat -- going rogue right now?

MURPHY: Well, it troubles me that comity has broken down on the Judiciary Committee, but I don't think it's shocking. I think that, for a long time, many of us have been skeptical that either the Judiciary Committee or the Intelligence Committee, with all the politics that play out in those forums, was going to be able to get to the truth about what happened between Russia and the Trump campaign.

I think Mueller is the place where we are going to get these facts. I think it was maybe not inevitable but not unlikely that there was going to be some partisanship creep into these conversational investigations.

BLITZER: Stand by, Senator. We have more to discuss, including the president today clarifying his position on any deal involving the so- called DREAMers. He says any such deal must be part of DACA approval if, if there is funding for a border wall with Mexico.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:02] BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump is digging in his heels on the Russia investigation. Also on building a border wall with Mexico. The tough talk came during a question and answer session just a little while ago over at the White House.

We're back with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The president says any deal that would allow the 700,000 or so DREAMers to remain in the United States, in his words, must include a border wall with Mexico. It's not going to happen unless there's the wall. What say you?

MURPHY: Well, listen, these are human beings. These are kids, right? They came here when they were 3 or 4 years old. They're Americans in every sense of the word.

The idea that the president is so enthusiastic about holding these kids hostage to a border wall that only the he wants is hard for a lot of Americans to swallow.

The fact of the matter is, who knows what the president wants? Some days he says he wants a concrete barrier from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific ocean. Other days he seems as if he wants border fencing and technology. At some point he said he was fine with a DREAMer bill going itself and dealing with border security later.

So every day, we get a different set of demands from the White House, which makes it really hard for Congress to write a bill. That's really difficult for Republicans and Democrats.

He gave different impressions, you're right, during that nearly one- hour meeting with legislators at the White House yesterday. According to his aides, it seems that the 2,000-mile wall may not be necessary from his perspective, maybe 700 or 800 miles and then you can use sensors and you can use drones. You can use increased personnel to go ahead. Is that a good compromise?

MURPHY: Well, he should listen to the residents on the border. He should listen to the people of California and Arizona and Texas who don't want the wall that he envisions. Is there room for increased border security? Absolutely. Democrats voted for major new border security funding as part of the 2013 immigration compromise and will do so again.

But the border wall that he seems to continue to have in his head is nothing that those states want, nothing that border security experts recommend, and is not supported by our party or his party.

BLITZER: So -- so if he's clearly not going to agree to what's called a clean DACA bill that only allows the DREAMers to stay. He says any such DACA bill -- and he tweeted this last night after the meeting -- "As I made very clear today, the country needs the security on the wall with the southern border, which must be part of any DACA approval." So if it has to be there in order to protect the DREAMers, let them

continue to live here in the United States, not force them to go back to countries they don't even know, that they've never lived in for all practical purposes, would you be willing to give him that?

MURPHY: To give a border wall that makes our country less safe?

BLITZER: Some sort of wall. Not necessarily 2,000 miles; 700 or 800 miles and more security measures.

MURPHY: There's certainly -- there's certainly a negotiation to be had. But this deadline, this arbitrary moment that we're working towards in March in which the president is prepared to deport these kids, is imaginary. He can decide to take that sword that's hanging over these kids' heads away, and I would recommend that he do it. If we want to have a broader conversation about border security and permanent protection for these kids, then let's do it, but let's not do it under the threat of all of these children being deported in about 60 days.

BLITZER: Yes. March 5 is the deadline that's right now on the table. But he says, you know what? If you, you know, you've got to do it with the wall. Otherwise, it's not going to happen. That's what he says right now.

MURPHY: Listen, he's still free to get Mexico to pay for that wall. So he told the American people that they weren't going to have to pay for it, that Mexico was going to have to pay for it. So maybe he should go back to his original plan.

BLITZER: That's not happening, at least not now. He says maybe down the road in some form the Mexicans will pay for it. But they're not paying for it right now.

Senator Murphy, thanks for coming in.

MURPHY: Thanks.

BLITZER: Coming up, our breaking news. President Trump ducks the key question right now, when asked if he'll agree to be interviewed by the Russia probe special counsel, Robert Mueller. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When they have no collusion, and nobody's found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:29:35] BLITZER: Following multiple breaking stories right now, including President Trump's not saying whether he will take questions from the special counsel, Robert Mueller. When asked earlier this afternoon over at the White House, the president repeatedly insisted there was no collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Let's bring in our political specialists. Gloria, he said, what, eight times within a span of two minutes, no collusion, no collusion, no collusion.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I heard that.

BLITZER: And he wouldn't commit. He would dodge the question whether or not he would agree to an interview with Mueller.

BORGER: Look, I think he's been talking to his lawyers, you know, to be honest about it. I think this is a president last June said 100 percent he wanted to testify before Mueller about his conversation with the former FBI director, James Comey, whom he fired.

And today, he was a little bit more circumspect about it. Saying that, you know, he wasn't sure. And I think he's reflecting the kind of negotiations, perhaps, that are going on between his attorneys and Mueller's camp about whether and how they would have him testify.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And possibly also listening to some of his friends and political advisers.

BORGER: Exactly.

BASH: Who I don't -- you've been doing reporting on this, as have I, many of whom who are saying, "Mr. President, the worst thing you could do would be to sit down with Robert Mueller's team and have kind of an open-ended discussion." That almost never happens with the president of the United States, but there is a lot of concern, and I'm told some of that is being communicated to the president himself, about the notion of him opening himself up to questions.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: But there's also a clear P.R. strategy in place here now for him, it seems. Because if you look at "The New York Times" interview that he did at the golf course in Florida, I think it was 16 times he said "no collusion" or something like that. Right? And here he repeats it.

This is what we've seen Donald Trump do before on other issues, which is creating his own reality in some way, just trying -- saying it over and over again enough so that he believes it's true, his supporters believe it's true, and that right now for him is any question on Russia, the answer is "There's no collusion," and, of course, we don't know that at all. I mean, it just defies the facts and where the investigation is.

BORGER: And -- but what we do know is that collusion is not the only issue here.

CHALIAN: Exactly.

BORGER: There is a question of obstruction. There are other issues that perhaps we don't even know about.

BLITZER: Money laundering. BORGER: Whatever. And so, you know, Trump can say -- the president

can say, you know, "There is no collusion. There is no need for me to testify, because there is no collusion." But he may be getting out ahead of himself, because we really have no idea what the special counsel wants to talk to the president about. We don't -- we don't know and at this point, I'm not sure his lawyers do either.

BLITZER: Because some legal experts have pointed out, Dana, collusion may not even necessarily be a crime.

BASH: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: It may be politically a bad thing to do, but it may not necessarily be a crime, as opposed to obstruction of justice...

BASH: Which also may not be a crime.

BLITZER: ... or conspiracy to obstruct justice or money laundering. And there are reports out there that there's investigations going on into money laundering. Potentially, those are crimes.

BASH: Absolutely. Look, this is all -- we don't know what we don't know, and that is that Robert Mueller has a very aggressive team and that, yes, of course, he started out looking at the notion of collusion, but he had a very wide net that he was allowed to cast. And he -- whether he's casting it, whether it's getting any fish, we don't know. We don't know the answer to that.

But at the end of the day, the president saying over and over again there's no collusion and, by the way, it's a hoax, which is the other thing that he said today, which is kind of a word that the president likes to go to. He might have -- it might hurt him in the end, not what he says publicly, but the idea that that is in his head and the idea that his actions might be dictated to that to make -- to make that clear might have led him to do things that have allowed Robert Mueller to look at the question of obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: He says not only a hoax, he says -- tweeted it earlier today, "The single greatest witch-hunt in American history continues."

He's also -- continues to be obsessed with what he calls his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in this news conference, this joint news conference with the Norwegian prime minister today. He kept referring to "my opponent, Hillary Clinton," and he said if there was any collusion it was between the Democrats and the Russians, not between his campaign and the Russians.

CHALIAN: Right. I quickly looked up and checked my calendar and just made sure I wasn't in some sort of time warp or vessel, that we were in the middle of a campaign, which we're not.

But Donald Trump performs better when he has an opponent and an enemy. And so even though he doesn't have one right now, if he can bring Hillary Clinton back from her political ghost, it serves him well as a foil, because that's part of Donald Trump's problem right now. He doesn't have that political foil day in and day out, and he thinks that he can sort of, you know, again, this is like muddying the water. This is all distraction.

He -- he has no evidence about Hillary Clinton colluding. And as far as I understand, there's no investigation into Hillary Clinton colluding anything. So this is pure distraction. It's like from his greatest hits, and he feels on much sturdier ground when he can take Hillary Clinton down.

BORGER: But I'll tell you one thing Donald Trump does have. He has a little bit of leverage here as president of the United States. There's a lot of precedent about under what circumstances you can question a president. What kind of information -- you know, can it be that you can only get this information from this president? Can you go elsewhere to get this information?

[17:35:13] There's all kinds of stuff that, if you're a lawyer, you're looking at now to make sure -- and I'm sure Mueller knows all of this, believe me -- but if you're the president's attorneys, you're not going to put your client out there unless it's an absolute necessity required by law and that they can justify it. Because the president occupies a special place.

BLITZER: Although last June the president said flatly 100 percent he's more than happy to go ahead...

BORGER: But it is -- but it is a high bar.

BLITZER: ... and do an interview with the special counsel.

Everyone, stand by. We're going to get some reaction to the president himself giving very high marks to himself on his on-camera negotiating session on immigration with Democrats and Republicans yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a tremendous meeting. Actually, it was reported as incredibly good, and my performance, you know -- some of them called it a performance, I consider it work -- got great reviews by everybody. I'm sure their ratings were fantastic.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:47] BLITZER: We're back with our political specialists. Gloria, the battle that's going on to allow 700,000 or 800,000 DREAMers to remain in the United States, a March 5 deadline right now. Looks like it's up in the air right now, because the president says it can only be done if the Democrats agree to a wall with Mexico.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: So what's going to happen?

BORGER: Well, that's today's iteration. I mean, that's not what he said yesterday. He tried to make it clear last night in a tweet and again today, and so I think they're kind of back to the drawing boards here. I think the question is what is a wall? We're now down to the...

BASH: That's the question.

BORGER: ... semantics of -- we're now talking about border security. Well, what is border security? Does it mean a wall, does it mean fixing a fence? Does it mean an entire wall? I mean, we just don't know. And how can they fudge the semantics on this, which I think is probably where they're going independent up.

Exactly. The wall is likely going to become a Rorschach test, and the -- if they get this deal done in a way that the president and the Republicans who want the wall will be able to say, "Look, we have this amount of miles and brick and mortar. We're going to build this many more. And then we're going to have personnel here." And at the end of the day it's going to be a virtual wall/a real wall; and the Democrats are going to be able to say, "Look, we didn't give him his wall." Because if there's not a wall from sea to shining sea, and, by the way, Mexico is not paying for it.

So that, if you talk to people who are involved in the negotiations, that's the reality of where we're going to end up, that everybody is going to be able to claim victory. That's the only way you can get that.

BLITZER: The White House is already backing away from a 2,000-mile wall.

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: They say maybe 700 miles or 800 miles.

CHALIAN: Dana will remember this better than anyone. Remember, you went to the border with him in, like, July of 2015. And he was actually talking about not all wall at that point.

BASH: Exactly.

CHALIAN: Talked about little openings, sometimes you just need fencing.

BORGER: With a door. With a door.

BLITZER: He says there are mountains; there are rivers. You don't need 2,000 miles.

CHALIAN: He's kind of going back to where he's starting before it just became...

BASH: Before it became...

CHALIAN: ... the rhetoric on the campaign trail that helped him win the primary of, you know, the rallying cry for the base.

BASH: Exactly right. CHALIAN: What we're all saying here is what is going to happen here

is there's going to be a wall fig leaf. Something that they will be able to call wall, if there's going to be a compromise deal here. But it's going to be a bit of a fig leaf for the president, not -- not likely to be the real wall that he portrayed for supporters.

But you can already see some of the blowback building on the right. And, you know, you were just talking to Senator Murphy. I -- I think you've got to watch the Democrats here, too, Wolf. This is not...

BORGER: Yes.

CHALIAN: ... a party that is going to be willing -- the base of the Democratic Party, to just be willing to let their leaders kick the can down the road on this or try to fix it. I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on the Democratic leaders to perhaps shut down the government over this.

BORGER: And also, if they don't shut down the government, what will this lead to? You know, we heard the president yesterday say, "Well, this could lead to comprehensive immigration reform like the next day." And so if the Democrats could get some kind of a deal on that, and they're talking pathway to citizenship, which -- which Donald Trump didn't seem to pooh-pooh yesterday. That may change. But, you know, it depends on what the Democrats can extract.

BLITZER: But he's got problems, the president, from his right. They're not happy with what they call amnesty...

BORGER: No.

BLITZER: ... including amnesty for the DREAMers. And they certainly weren't happy when Dianne Feinstein, the senator, yesterday said, "You know, let's just have a clean DACA bill, a clean DREAMer bill, and then we'll have comprehensive immigration reform down the road. Would you be agreeable to that?" she asked the president. The president said, "Yeah, I would like -- I would like to do is that." Interestingly, the initial White House transcript initially deleted that "Yeah, I would like -- I would like to do that." They later, when it was pointed the out that that's what the president said, there's videotape of it, they put it back in.

But when a lot of his conservative pals hard that, they said why would he do that? Why would he be willing to agree to a clean DACA bill?

BASH: Because the answer is he was just wanting to sound agreeable. It wasn't that he was saying, "OK, great, let's do a clean DACA bill." I mean, that's just not feasible.

But it does speak to what David was talking about, which is yes, the conservative base is going apoplectic about the notion of what they do call amnesty, even though we're just talking, at least now, about this limited number of young people who came here.

But it's not just the conservative base anymore. It is the very emboldened Democratic base, who are saying to people like Chris Murphy and the Democratic leader, "You know what? We have the leverage now. And why would you give into the president and allow for all of this border security on the backs of these people who deserve to be able to stay?

And there is so much pressure on them, it's the Democratic leadership that's going to have to be able to take the heat from their base, just as much as the Republicans and their base.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let me quickly show the viewers the official White House transcript, the transcript that was originally released without that key line: yes, I would like -- I would like to do that. Go ahead.

This is as far as a clean DACA bill.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: And then they corrected that version.

BASH: I mean, that's just silly. It was on the television.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know how that --

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: -- from the transcript.

BLITZER: I wonder if it was a mistake somebody made --

BORGER: But it was kind of the clearest statement the President made.

BLITZER: Yes!

BORGER: It was a yes or no answer.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: And he gave --

BORGER: And he said yes.

BLITZER: He gave a very specific answer --

BORGER: He did.

BLITZER: -- to Senator Diane Feinstein.

BORGER: He did.

BLITZER: And then Kevin McCarthy, the Republican majority leader --

CHALIAN: Came right out.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: -- came right out and said -- BORGER: Oh, clean up.

BLITZER: -- oh, Mr. President, not so fast.

BORGER: Clean up.

BLITZER: You've got to talk about security.

BASH: Clean up on Aisle 9.

BLITZER: We'll continue this. Everybody stand by. There is other news we're following.

Despite the President's repeated insistence this afternoon that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians, we have details of a new report accusing the President of negligence when it comes to preventing Russia from meddling in this year's midterm elections or the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:03] BLITZER: Our breaking news, President Trump, this afternoon over at the White House, dodging a question about whether he will meet with the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. He repeatedly said there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians. However, a new report criticizes the President for not doing enough to prevent Russian meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election.

Let's get some more from CNN's Brian Todd. What else, Brian, does the report say?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this new report from one of the President's toughest critics, Senator Ben Cardin, says Vladimir Putin's hackers are fine-tuning their tactics, that they have their sights set on disrupting the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election, and that the U.S. is not as good as its European allies in countering the threat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A jarring new warning tonight that Vladimir Putin's hackers are still targeting America's elections and will only get more aggressive.

A report out today from Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of the Foreign Relations Committee, who has led the push for sanctions on the Kremlin, says the U.S. won't be prepared to defend against possible Russian meddling in the 2018 midterm elections or in the next presidential cycle in 2020 unless it takes action immediately.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Putin directs these attacks with an asymmetric arsenal -- cyber attacks, disinformation, support for fringe political groups, the weaponization of energy resources.

TODD (voice-over): Cardin and his investigators say the U.S. and its allies have to coordinate their cyber defense against Russia, have to target Putin and his cronies and freeze their money. And they have only a few months to do it before the midterms.

Cyber investigators are warning that Putin and his hackers are ready to strike this fall.

TONI GIDWANI, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH OPERATIONS, THREATCONNECT: What we would expect to see are similar efforts to leak compromising information that would embarrass candidates and efforts to use the open nature of our political system and our media environment against us to sow fake news stories or themes that undermine Americans' confidence in our elected leadership.

TODD (voice-over): Cardin's team spent months talking to European officials about how Putin tried to disrupt their elections.

In France, they determined the Kremlin used multiple, quote, warfare tools to discredit then-candidate Emmanuel Macron, including social media infiltration and hacking the campaign's e-mails.

Putin has always denied meddling in the elections of America and its allies, but experts say the Russian President is trying to sow chaos in any democracy where there's vulnerability.

MATTHEW ROJANSKY, DIRECTOR OF THE KENNAN INSTITUTE, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: He sees weaknesses in the domestic politics of Europe, the United States, but also parts of the developing world.

If you look at Latin America, if you look at Southeast Asia, if you look at the Middle East, opportunities where Russia can move in, and they can advance influence for the Kremlin at the expense of what, in the past, has been influence for Washington. That's the sense in which it is a contest between Washington and Moscow.

TODD (voice-over): Senator Cardin, always a vociferous critic of President Trump, blisters the President and his team in this new report for, as he puts it, turning a blind eye to the Russian threat.

CARDIN: Never before has a U.S. president so clearly ignored such a grave threat and a growing threat to U.S. national security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, tonight, a White House official pushing back at Cardin, telling us that this threat is far from being ignored. They're doing a lot to counter the threat.

A Department of Homeland Security official told us that department has been working closely with local election officials across the United States and with the U.S. intelligence community to assess the threats and vulnerabilities in the election system and to develop cyber tools for combatting Russian hackers during this 2018 election cycle.

Wolf, a lot of pressure on U.S. officials to counter what the Russians are going to do this fall.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Coming up, the breaking news. President Trump won't say if he'll agree to an interview with the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, insisting over and over again that there was no collusion with Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[17:55:01] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can only say this. There was absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. Every committee -- I've been in office now for 11 months. For 11 months, they've had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Dodging the question. President Trump won't say if he'd agree to give testimony in the Special Counsel's Russia investigation. This amid new questions about whether he's encouraging Republicans to shut the probe down.

Welcome to the studio. Mr. Trump is eager to praise his own performance during on-camera negotiations with lawmakers. So why is he still trying to clear up confusion about what he said and what he meant?