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THE SITUATION ROOM

California Mudslides; Interview With Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; Interview With New York Congressman Lee Zeldin; President Trump Urges Republicans to Take Control of Trump-Russia Probe; DACA Confusion; At Least 24 Missing in Deadly California Mudslide; GOP Representative Issa to Retire, Boosting Dems Hopes of Gains in California. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 10, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: So, why is he still trying to clear up confusion about what he said and what he meant?

Broken and unfair. A judge blocks the administration's plan to end protections for young undocumented immigrants, prompting the president to claim the entire U.S. court system is biased. Could this have an impact on efforts to avoid a government shutdown?

And rivers of mud. Rescuers race to find survivors after catastrophic mudslides and flooding in California. At least 15 people are dead. How many more are still missing tonight?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight in the Russia investigation.

President Trump is refusing to say if he'd submit to an interview by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, or his team. Mr. Trump telling reporters it's unlikely he'd even have to give testimony, because he says there's no collusion, a familiar, but unproven claim he's made over and over again.

This after Mr. Trump made a potentially troubling request, tweeting that Republicans should -- quote -- "finally take control of the Russia investigation." He didn't explain what he meant by that. But, tonight, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee tells CNN he hopes the president does not try to tell him how to run his Russia investigation.

Also breaking, the president says any deal on immigration reform must include funding for his border wall with Mexico. It was a new attempt to clear up confusion after he repeatedly contradicted himself during bipartisan talks with lawmakers. Mr. Trump declaring the unusual on- camera negotiations were, in his words, one of the greatest meetings ever witnessed.

There's added uncertainty surrounding any immigration deal tonight, after a federal judge temporarily blocked the administration's efforts to end protections for young undocumented immigrants known as dreamers.

We're also following an urgent search-and-rescue operation under way right now in Southern California, where mudslides swallowed dozens of homes and killed at least 15 people.

This hour, I will talk with Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin. And our correspondents and specialists, they are also standing by.

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

Jim, we heard from the president a short while ago on immigration and the Russia investigation.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, but it was a big dodge from the president. He did not settle a key question on the Russia investigation, and that is whether he would agree to speak with the special counsel in that case, Robert Mueller.

The president did try to clear up some confusion over his plan to protect young undocumented immigrants, saying he wants a wall in exchange for protecting the dreamers. The president also took another shot at his critics today, vowing to crack down on the nation's libel laws, despite the fact that he has spread numerous falsehoods of his own.

(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, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will see what happens. I mean, certainly, I will see what happens, but when they have no collusion and nobody has found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you would even have an interview.

ACOSTA: That's not what the president said last year.

QUESTION: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?

TRUMP: One hundred percent.

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 a 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, it 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: You know, some of them called it a performance. I consider it work, but got great reviews by everybody, other than two networks, who were phenomenal for about two hours.

Then, after that, 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 have ever witnessed.

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 of video clips and tweets from journalists, some from CNN, applauding the openness of the meeting.

[18:05:03]

Still, the president went on to complain that the coverage he received is not just good enough, so he once again threatened 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. You 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 is when the opposing side in a case, such as DACA, always runs to the Ninth 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 for approval from the 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, 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 that there is no collusion in the Russia investigation."

He said that there was no collusion or a variation of that eight times. That's right, eight times, 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 that news conference, Wolf, but he did not respond.

One other thing we want to point out in the last several minutes, this just wrapped up inside the Oval Office. The president signed a piece of legislation. We can show you some of this video. It is a bill called the Interdict Act. It is now law. And it will give some flexibility to Customs and Border Patrol agents to intercept opioids coming into the country illegally.

Of course, opioid abuse has been a big priority for the president and this administration and they made some progress on that today. And we were talking about bipartisan efforts here yesterday. Once again, not often you see this over at the White House. That was a group of lawmakers from both parties here at the White House for that bill signing.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta, over at the White House.

Let's talk a little bit more about the president's dodging of that crucial question in the Russia investigation. Will he sit down and give testimony to the special counsel's team?

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who's looking at part of this story.

He didn't give a flat answer, yes or no, only saying repeatedly, there was no collusion.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

On a number of points here, we really want to get to the facts of the matter. First of all, no one, Republican or Democrat, questions Russian meddling in the election, which is the primary focus of the many investigations.

But it remains something the president will not address. He didn't today, even as intelligence agencies warned that Russia is likely to be interfering again right now as the U.S. gets ready for the midterm elections.

As for the president and his advisers, the fact is that the legal question is conspiracy, not collusion, because that's not a legal term or expression, also the possibility of other potential crimes that may have arisen out of the ongoing investigations. This includes obstruction of justice. It includes lying.

And on these issues, there is no final conclusion from the several investigating committees on the Hill and, most crucially, from the special counsel. In fact, we know that the special counsel is now investigating both that Trump Tower meeting with those Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, and the false explanation for that meeting that the president himself helped drafted on Air Force One soon after that meeting was revealed to the public.

As for himself being interviewed by the special counsel, the president may, in fact, not have a choice. President Clinton, you may remember, was subpoenaed in the Lewinsky inquiry, and the president could be subpoenaed here.

One final point, to date, regarding an interview with the special counsel, the president made this charge:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And when you talk about interviews, Hillary Clinton had an interview where she wasn't sworn in. She wasn't given the oath.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: The fact is, the FBI does not conduct interviews under oath, because lying to the FBI is a crime regardless.

And Wolf, remember that both George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, and Michael Flynn, they have both been charged with lying to the FBI already in similar circumstances there.

[18:10:10]

So, a number of points the president made today don't stand up to the facts of this investigation.

BLITZER: And they both pled guilty in response to those, that indictment as well.

So the investigation presumably is continuing, not just on collusion, but obstruction of justice potentially, and there have been reports money laundering is also potentially being investigated. SCIUTTO: Well, interesting, that's something that Steve Bannon made

comments in the now famous "Fast and Fury" (sic) book about money laundering being a focus there.

We know that financial records have been turned over to special counsel, some them relating to Trump, not going back for many years of his businesses, but at least for the last couple of years. So that very well could be an investigation inquiry as well, line of inquiry as well.

BLITZER: Yes, it continues. All right, thanks very much, Jim Sciutto reporting for us.

Let's get some reaction to all of this.

We're joined by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He's a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: The president wouldn't say if he would agree to an interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, but he said, since there's no collusion, in his words, it seems unlikely that you will even have an interview. Those are his words. Does that concern you?

WHITEHOUSE: No, not really, because I think, ultimately, it's not very much his choice.

I think if the special prosecutor is able to obtain a grand jury subpoena demanding the testimony of the president of the United States, he's subject to the law, like everyone else. There are terms and conditions of the interview and the testimony that would obviously need to be worked out, given his responsibilities as president.

But the idea that he can just blow off a subpoena from the special counsel, I don't think, is consistent with the rule of law and I don't think would stand up, politically or legally.

BLITZER: Yes, as Jim Sciutto pointed out, just ask Trump former President Bill Clinton about that. He spent four hours testifying via video link from the White House before a grand jury here in Washington during the Monica Lewinsky matter.

The president tweeted this today, and I will put it up on the screen. "The single greatest witch-hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion. Everybody, including the Dems, knows there was no collusion, yet on and on it goes. Russia and the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing. Republicans should finally take control."

Senator, what do you think the president means when he says Republicans should finally take control? WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think he is making a call for, frankly, political

support to shut down the Mueller investigation, whether the Republican he means is somebody at the Department of Justice.

I think, at this point, Sessions is recused. It would be hard to walk that back, and I don't think Rod Rosenstein is going to take that kind of direction, so that's a little bit tough. But I think he's asking basically his party to rally around him and give him political cover to begin to put an end to this investigation.

Yet again, he is taking steps that, depending on the context, look an awful lot like evidence of obstruction of this investigation. Obviously, there needs to be some testimony to connect what he said with the necessary intent to interfere or impede this investigation.

But over and over again, these tweets, whether it's to deprecate the testimony of Jim Comey or to suggest that this is a witch-hunt and degrade potentially grand jury confidence in Mueller and his team, over and over again, these things have the potential to themselves be evidence of an effort to impede or interfere with the investigation.

BLITZER: Your colleague Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and you're a member, told CNN today she wants to apologize to the committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, for not telling him ahead of time that she was going to release the transcript from that Fusion GPS testimony.

Was it a mistake for Senator Feinstein to unilaterally release those 300-plus pages?

WHITEHOUSE: I don't think so. She's a very, very thoughtful, careful, and polite individual.

And so, I think she wants to maintain a good relationship with Chairman Grassley. And I think she is apologizing in order to rebuild that relationship, and I do believe that she regrets that there wasn't more time.

I do think that she probably intended to give him more notice than actually worked out in all the pressures of getting the transcript out and so forth. So I don't fault her the least bit for the apology. But, equally, I think she was well within her rights to release the transcript without providing any notice.

I think it's a sign of the problems that emerge, that emerged when Chairman Grassley broke the committee into its Republican and Democratic sides and said each of us are going to go forward separately.

[18:15:00]

It's hard, once you have done that, to then say to the Democrats, you can't do anything unilateral, only we can. And, of course, it was unilateral, without any notice to Dianne or anybody else, when Chairman Grassley sent that criminal referral about Christopher Steele, based on Department of Justice information, based on the work of the Judiciary Committee, back to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.

So, was she well within her rights? Absolutely. Is it fine that she apologizes? Yes, I think that that's part of Dianne's good nature.

BLITZER: Another fellow member of your Judiciary Committee, senator Chris Coons, says Senator Feinstein's decision means that bipartisanship is effectively over in the panel. What does that mean for your committee's investigation?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think bipartisanship effectively ended when Chairman Grassley made the decision that we should have separate investigations, a Republican committee investigation and a Democrat committee investigation.

I don't know of that ever happening in any committee in the United States Senate ever before. So we're in uncharted territory as to how you manage having two partisan investigations going different ways on related subjects in the same committee. And trying to work through that is not easy.

What I do hope is that this is an opportunity for Chairman Grassley to reconsider his decision, now that we're starting to see the problems emerging of parallel separate partisan committee investigations in the same committee, and commit himself to doing the things that we absolutely need to do here, which is protect the Department of Justice and the Mueller investigation from obstruction, and protect the American elections in 2018 from further Russian interference, two things which the Trump administration does not contest.

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

WHITEHOUSE: My pleasure. Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just ahead, we're going to get Republican reaction to the president's claim that it's unlikely he will have to be interviewed by the special counsel. Congressman Lee Zeldin, there you see him. He's up on Capitol Hill. He's standing by live.

We will also go live to the disaster zone in California and the search for survivors in the mudslides.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:51]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, President Trump refusing to clearly answer an important question about whether he'd agree to be interviewed by the special counsel's team in the Russia investigation.

The president reverting to one of his pat lines, saying there's no collusion, or a variation of that, eight times in one 95-second answer alone.

Let's get some Republican reaction to all of this. We're joined by Congressman Lee Zeldin. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: Hi, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: So the president is unequivocal in insisting there was collusion between his campaign and Russia. The president said, as I said, no collusion eight times. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, again, John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians, or Trump and Russians, no collusion. Bottom line, they all say there's no collusion. And there is no collusion. I can only say this.

There was absolutely no collusion, but it has been determined that there is no collusion. When they have no collusion, and nobody has found any collusion at any level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: If that's the case, Congressman, why wouldn't he sit down with the special counsel for an interview and tell him that?

ZELDIN: I don't think Robert Mueller is going to be requesting an interview with President Trump unless Robert Mueller believes that he needs to question President Trump.

Now, if President Trump knows that there's no collusion and that there's no evidence of collusion between him and the Russians, then he would very confident that Robert Mueller isn't going to decide at a later point that he needs to interview President Trump.

So, you know, I will let the president speak for himself as far as what he means, but what I get out of that is that the president believes that there's no collusion that took place with the Russians, and that Robert Mueller won't even believe that he needs to interview the president.

BLITZER: Do you think the president should agree to an interview with Mueller to help this investigation simply come to a conclusion?

ZELDIN: Well, I think that I think it's good if the investigation comes to a conclusion. I don't -- if Robert Mueller doesn't believe that he needs to speak to the president, I think that there doesn't need to be an interview if they don't have anything that Robert Mueller believes they need to talk about.

BLITZER: Why do you say Robert Mueller doesn't think he needs to speak to the president?

ZELDIN: He hasn't indicated that, as far as I know. There aren't any requests that I am aware of, of Mr. Mueller deciding that he needs to speak to the president, making a request that was rebuffed.

If that did take place, then that would be news, I guess, to all of us.

BLITZER: Well, the news that we reported the other day was at the end of December, the president's private attorneys did meet with Mueller. They emerged anticipating there could be a serious request for a sit- down interview.

And, clearly, we don't know what Mueller is doing. They have been very, very tight-lipped on all of this.

Let me get your reaction to this tweet from the president earlier in the day and I will put it up on the screen.

"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."

[18:25:10]

Congressman, you're a Republican. When the president says, Republicans should finally take control, what does he mean?

ZELDIN: Wolf, for one, you have leaks that have been coming out of these committees.

I'm thinking of Donald Trump Jr. being inside for several hours a committee hearing where there are no cell phones being allowed, yet, while he is in there and agreeing to do this interview, where there was going to be a transcript afterwards that gets approved, during the interview, you have a member leaving the room and providing updates to the press, you know, and reports on your network, tweets that are going out.

And how is that possible that there would be those leaks going on while Don Jr. is inside of that hearing that's supposed to be private? So, you know, for one, I think that the leaks need to stop. I'm all for transparency, and I think that it would be very helpful if maybe, even on a bipartisan basis, if possible, it would be great for conclusions to come out of these committees to, for example, something I would be really interested in knowing is how did the feds initiate their -- what started this investigation into Trump and Russia?

How did that investigation even get launched? But the leaks need to stop. There's a process that the Intel Committee follows. There are rules that they follow. And information should come forward in a way that is more formal and appropriate than while Don Jr. is sitting inside of a hearing for one member to be outside leaking over the course of the hearing. That's just not right.

BLITZER: As you know, Congressman, Republicans, they are in control of the House and Senate investigations. They're the majority. President Trump appointed the new FBI director, Christopher Wray, who has exclusively, over his years, donated to Republicans.

The president hand-picked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other fellow Republicans. So what does the president mean when he says the Republicans need to take control of this investigation?

ZELDIN: You know, I can only speculate, but I would believe that the information that is coming out, as opposed to it, you know, being leaked out, where people are forming conclusions without all of the information, you know, there are Republicans on these committees and Democrats on these committees.

Yet what we're witnessing is that Republicans, they turn in their cell phones before they go in. They come out of the hearing and they don't choose what the most advantageous components of the hearing are to leak to the media, yet you have Democratic members of these committees who sometimes during the hearings are coming out of these committee hearings and then providing bits and pieces to try to make the president look as bad for the American public to form conclusions that are as negative about the president as possible.

So I think getting control over that aspect of the process would be great for our country.

BLITZER: I got to tell you, as a recipient of some of those leaks and me and my colleagues, I can assure you, the leaks aren't just coming from Democrats. They're coming from Republicans as well. That's the nature of this situation here in Washington. It's been like that for a long time, as you know.

Let me turn to the other important issue that we're following, the debate over immigration and border security. Yesterday, President Trump told Republicans and Democrats he would sign whatever bill they could agree on.

Today, however, he said the deal must include a border wall with Mexico. Do you know what the president really wants out of this bill?

ZELDIN: Well, as it relates to a border wall, I'm not aware of -- I was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, a several-thousand-mile-high mountain, the Huachuca Mountains.

I'm not aware of anyone proposing a wall over the Huachuca Mountains. There's a river that borders our southern border and parts of Mexico. I'm not aware of anyone proposing a wall for the middle of that waterway.

Parts of our border already have a physical wall. There are other parts of our border that, as far as I know, Republicans and Democrats are in agreement that we can be strengthening that infrastructure. But this whole thing has been boiled down to sound bites on both sides.

Do we build a wall or not build a wall? And I think that it would be very helpful for our country if we just cut through all of that, had a discussion of what the best policy is. And I think that when we all realize we're not talking about a 30-foot wall on top of a several- thousand-foot mountain or in the middle of a riverway or where there already is a wall that's working -- by the way, in other parts of the border, I think using infrastructure, we have great Border Patrol agents. And this isn't just about people. This is also about illegal

narcotics, very importantly. I personally have been to too many wakes of young men and women, result of the heroin, opioid abuse epidemic all across our country.

So, if we can really have that good-faith discussion, both parties, liberal, conservative, it doesn't matter, I think that there is actually really good policy as far as border security and interior enforcement. Hopefully we'd all agree upon it now. And it would include improving the border where there is a vulnerability that we all do recognize.

[18:30:21] BLITZER: So will you vote, because the Republicans, as you know, in the budget, they want $18 billion for a border wall. Will you support that? Will you vote for that?

ZELDIN: I do support that and I think that it's very important, you know, as the president indicated over the course of the last couple of days and he has in the past, that it's done as efficiently as possible and comes in at a lower cost.

But I'm aware of physical vulnerabilities that do exist that we should be dealing with, and money should be used to ensure that our Border Patrol is able to focus on their own job. That where we have a backlog of cases ever, and you have maybe judges in other courtrooms, in other parts of the country capable of being able to help reduce a backlog, whenever that exists. That is helpful.

Technology. I mean, I saw it -- when I was stationed at Huachuca -- this was over a decade ago -- which is right on the border with Mexico, that's also the home of the United States Army Intelligence Center and a Border Patrol post. And even the technology then, it's really amazing the capability that we have to monitor our borders for both people and illegal substances.

So, there is a lot that we can do with this money efficiently and effectively. Again, not just about people who are crossing who shouldn't be, but maybe even more importantly, all the illegal narcotics that are killing our young children.

BLITZER: Congressman, before I let you go, just last month, as you know, Steve Bannon headlined a fund-raiser for you. Do you regret that decision since a lot has happened over the past month?

ZELDIN: No, I'm not -- I haven't been in the middle of this, you know, battle that has been going on. I mean, obviously, Mr. Bannon has, you know, certainly paid dearly over the course of the last few days. I have not spoken to him at all through this particular process, but, you know, he certainly has been suffering a lot of consequences professionally.

I'm glad he did put out a statement. Maybe it would have been better if the statement came out a little bit earlier. It could have covered some additional topics.

But, you know, again, he wasn't -- I'm not an adviser of his, where he was looking for my insight. Maybe the statement, if it came out a little bit better, would have been a little more effective for his purpose.

And then also, as I see "Fire and Fury" debuting at No. 1 on "The New York Times" bestseller list, I don't know if it should be in the non- fiction category. There have been a lot of people pushing back on different parts of what's in the book. And I think it's helpful, where people -- by the way, that includes media. Even some media that aren't necessarily in favor of this president, it's helpful where people are weighing in, to try to help us sort through what's real and what's not real, what's fact and what's fiction.

BLITZER: Congressman Lee Zeldin, thanks so much for joining us.

ZELDIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, homes and people swallowed by a wall of mud. We're going to take you live to the search-and-rescue operation underway right now California.

Are the president's endless claims of no collusion overkill? Our analysts standing by. They will weigh in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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)

[18:38:04] BLITZER: Breaking this hour, new reaction to the president's refusal to say if he'd be willing to be interviewed by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Sources say his legal team is preparing for that possibility, but the president suggests it's unlikely he'd need to testify in the Russian investigation. Let's bring in our correspondents and specialists.

And Jim Sciutto, the president made it clear he should not necessarily have to be questioned by Mueller, because of this. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, again, John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians. No collusion. Bottom line, they all say there's no collusion. And there is no collusion. I can only say this, there was absolutely no collusion.

But it has been determined that there is no collusion. When they have no collusion and nobody's found any collusion, at any level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But did we get -- he said "no collusion" eight times in two minutes in response to that one question. But did we get a flat answer from the president about whether, if called, he would testify?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: First thing on the collusion point. Collusion's not a legal term. So no one's going to be prosecuted for collusion. If anything, it would be conspiracy to conspire with Russians in their election meddling. And the fact is, that has not been eliminated by the special counsel. The special counsel is still looking at instances that could lead them down that path, the primary one being that famous Trump Tower meeting in 2016, when Donald Trump Jr. and others met with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But to be -- so to be clear on that point, you know, that -- there is no conclusion on the collusion issue.

And the other point is that there are other potential crimes that could arise out of this investigation. One being obstruction of justice. Again, going back to the Trump Tower meeting, that false explanation that the president helped pen on Air Force One last year, with a false explanation for what that Trump Tower meeting was about. It was not about adoptions, as that first statement said. It was, in fact, they went into that room, expecting to be given dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Then, of course, there's the prospect of lying to the FBI, which we've already seen two guilty pleas for, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos. So on that point, just to be clear.

[18:40:08] On the larger issue of meeting with the special counsel, the president last year said he would do it in a second. Today, he was equivocal, one might say, on that point. But the fact is, it may not be his choice. He may be subpoenaed. President Clinton was subpoenaed in the Lewinsky investigation. It's possible that Mueller could subpoenaed him here.

BLITZER: Because last June, Kaitlan, as you remember, he said, 100 percent, he'd be willing to testify. Based on everything you're hearing -- you covered the White House for us -- is he preparing for the possibility of having to sit down with Mueller?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly didn't seem like that from his answer that we heard today. And the White House has repeatedly said that they believe this investigation is coming to an end, even though they have provided no basis for why they believe that.

But we know that Trump's lawyers are preparing for this chance, that they will be asked or it will be requested that the president does sit down with the special counsel. And they're preparing for that.

And another source said that they do not believe that this investigation will come to an end until the president and Mueller have spoken, but you can see what a source of frustration this is becoming for the president. Not that it already wasn't, but just how much it has increased, especially his body language in that video. As he was answering that question, he crossed his arms near the end as he continued to dodge it, and did not answer the question in the end, even though it was asked in a very clear manner, a very clear format, wanting a yes or no answer from the president.

BLITZER: Rebecca Berg, the president started the day with this tweet. I'll read it. "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."

But Republicans are in control of the House and the Senate, in control of the White House, the FBI, a new FBI director, Christopher Wray. Mueller, the special prosecutor, he's a Republican, as well. So what is the president driving at?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president might be referring to some of these investigations that we're seeing on Capitol Hill, Wolf. And of course, Republicans in control of Congress have allowed those investigations to continue, especially the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, which is viewed by most people as the most bipartisan of these committees, the most serious of these investigations that's going on.

But you also have the Senate Judiciary Committee, with its own investigation, the House Intelligence Committee. And Republicans in the House and Senate, chairmen of those committees and also the leadership of McConnell and Ryan, have allowed those investigations to continue. And as long as those are continuing, you're having more information come out about the president and his campaign and their potential ties to Russia. More interviews being conducted. The transcripts, one of those was released this week by Senator Dianne Feinstein.

And the president, understandably, is frustrated. He doesn't want to see Republicans allowing those investigations to continue. But they believe it's a very serious matter that deserves the investigations.

COLLINS: And we should note that Robert Mueller is a Republican, who is technically in charge of the...

SCIUTTO: Welcomed by Republicans when he was assigned as the special counsel.

COLLINS: Just a small factor.

BLITZER: Hired by a Republican president, as we all know, as well. Spent 12 years as the FBI director. Was re-nominated by President Obama, but originally -- and he's always been a Republican, a lifelong Republican.

Phil Mudd, let's talk a little bit about the president of the United States. He said if there was any collusion, there was collusion between the Democrats, Hillary Clinton, and the Russians.

He also said that the FBI really messed things up in the Hillary Clinton investigation by not swearing her in when she was in -- Hillary Clinton had an interview. She wasn't sworn in, she wasn't given the oath. They didn't take notes. They didn't record, and it was done on the Fourth of July weekend.

Fact check, you worked at the FBI as well as the CIA. Fact that -- fact check that for us.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, let me give you a fact check. I'm doubling down on happy hour tonight. That's the first fact check here. Let me explain to you why.

First of all, it is not general practice -- let me be clear -- it is not general practice for the FBI to put somebody under oath when they interview them.

Secondly, not only is it not general practice, it is not policy for the FBI to put somebody under oath when they interview them.

Let me give you another fact check. If you lie to the FBI during an interview, if Hillary Clinton had been interviewed and lied, it doesn't matter if she's under oath or not. Lying to the FBI, whether you're under oath or not, is a federal legal violation.

Finally, where the president is wrong, it is not a good idea to put people under oath all the time. Let me give you two scenarios. I walk in and say, "Wolf Blitzer, you might have involved in a criminal act. I want to interview you."

Scenario two, "Wolf Blitzer, I want to put you under oath in an interview, and I want you to sign a statement after that interview."

Where do you think you're going to be more nervous, Wolf? Where do you think you're going to be more forthcoming? The president doesn't know what he's talking about. He ought to pick up the phone to the FBI and say, "How do you conduct an interview?"

And finally, as someone who has been interviewed multiple times and in multiple cases by the FBI, I've never been put under oath. That's a fact, Wolf.

BLITZER: But if you lied, you would have been guilty, potentially, of a crime right now.

MUDD: Yes, I would have.

BLITZER: You know, Kaitlan, it sounds like the president, in his reaction, it sounds like he still thinks he's in a campaign with Hillary Clinton, given -- calls her "my opponent." The election has been resolved a long time ago.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We are nearly one year into the Trump presidency, just ten days away. And the president immediately invoked Hillary Clinton's name when he was asked that question.

But I think that was more of this tactic of the president dodging the question. He brings up Hillary Clinton anytime something like this comes up, saying there's no collusion between his campaign, but there is collusion between Hillary Clinton and the FBI, the DNC, so on, and so forth. Something the president -- it's a defense strategy of his. It's something he uses multiple times.

BLITZER: You know, Jim, the president keeps calling this whole Russia investigation a hoax, a witch hunt, did it repeatedly today. But there are new alarm bells being raised by serious investigators. The Russians have not stopped doing this, and they're getting ready for the 2018, this year's midterm elections and the 2020 presidential elections.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. I've been hearing these warnings from Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the Hill who have been briefed on this. And there's no question that Russia has, in a minimum, been probing election systems in the run-up to these primaries. Keep in mind, primaries are a few weeks, right, and then you have voting day in November. So, that's a real concern.

And I've been told by folks, and again, Democrats and Republicans, that to have a truly effective response to defend the U.S. against attacks like this from Russia after the success of the 2016 election, you need a whole of government response. And that that whole of government response is not possible without the president's leadership. You're not seeing that leadership.

BLITZER: And remind our viewers, Phil, why the intelligence community, the law enforcement community here, the FBI here in the United States, believes that Russia thinks that this is in their interest to do this kind of election meddling, not only here in the United States, but in Europe and elsewhere, as well.

MUDD: Pretty simple reason. If you look at the history of U.S. relations with Europe, especially post-World War II, the bottom line is the U.S. has been aligned with Europe in saying we need to oppose, not only Russian expansion into Europe, but also Russian expansion elsewhere, going back, for example, to the 1980s, into Africa and into Afghanistan. What the Russians are doing is pretty straightforward.

It's not only intervening in American election, it's trying to get America to debate within itself, which is what we're doing tonight on the Wolf Blitzer show about the significance of Russian intervention, so that we fight amongst ourselves and give the Russians latitude in Europe to do things like move into Crimea and annex it, without repercussions from Europe and the United States. They want to divide us so they can conquer us. That's what's going on, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's what they put in their official intelligence community report, that they wanted to sow dissent here in the United States. They thought that would help them.

Let's get to DACA and the DREAMers, Rebecca. Yesterday, the president told Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate, who came to the White House, you guys come up with a deal, I'll sign whatever you want.

Today, he tweeted -- and last night, after the meeting, when there was a lot of uproar, because the president sounded extremely reasonable on this issue. He tweeted, as I made very clear today, our country needs the security of the wall on the southern border, which must be part of any DACA approval.

So, what is it?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, a wall is probably a likely part of any solution that we reach. Any deal that Democrats and Republicans are going to reach. But as the president said in his meeting, it might not be a full-scale wall. It might be a wall in some places, security in others. And Republicans are pretty much going to demand border security funding, as any part of an immigration deal.

But the big question, I think, that still needs to be answered that we're going to be looking for in the coming days is how comprehensive is any deal coming out of Congress going to be? Are they going to be able to do much more than codifying DACA and adding border security? Or are they really just going to leave it at the simplest solutions, because they can't reach a broader agreement.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, it all comes down to the definition of the word "wall."

COLLINS: Well, and what a cliff-hanger from that meeting, yesterday. The president was relishing in the praise he got from allowing the cameras to come in for 55 minutes and watch those negotiations go on, back and forth.

But at the end, if you think, what did they achieve there, you really don't know what it's going to look like or a this deal is going to look like, because at one point during that exchange between the president and these lawmakers, it sounded like he was agreeing to a clean DACA deal, which would include just the protection for the DREAMers, which is what Democrats want. And then you saw McCarthy had to step in and say, Mr. President, I don't think that's what she's saying there.

And then at the end, we saw other senators being like, what is it, exactly, that you want? So, I think we walked away from that still not knowing what this is going to turn out to look like.

BERG: But that's because the reality is whatever Congress sends to the president, he will sign.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens.

Everybody, stand by. There's more news we're following, include missing in the mudslide.

[18:50:00] We're going to go live to the scene of urgent rescue efforts underway right now in southern California.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Breaking tonight: search and rescue crews are actively on a hunt right now for at least two dozen people missing in devastating mudslides.

Let's go live to southern California. CNN's Paul Vercammen is on the scene for us.

Paul, what's the latest?

[18:55:01] PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you look behind me, you alluded to the search and rescue crews. They look in that pile of rubble and debris. You see in there the remnants of a house.

There are 15 confirmed dead, but 24 people are still missing so that's what the crews were looking for.

And they were also in through this area. This is where a house came completely off its foundation, Wolf, as this torrent of mud, rock, pieces of house, branches, logs, trees, and, of course, all that muck came cascading down from the Thomas Fire burn zone. That was just up above.

And if we look all the way over here, they've got a monumental task of repairing all this, Wolf. Off in the distance, you can see that there's a cherry picker now coming down trying to restore power poles. They have no power or water in much of Montecito, and a little more on search and rescue effort. Of course, they're crossing their fingers hoping to find people alive, but as the days progress, it becomes more of a search effort.

Way off in the distance, you'll see that white house. Look where the mud flowed up to. That orange pink lettering means they've searched the house thoroughly. The search and rescue crews marking it.

Just a little in front of that, you'll see that there's a mangled car. Same thing. They marked it after looking. Widespread devastation because of this mudslide.

Why was it so bad? The hills are extremely steep going from 3,000 feet to sea level. Just several miles and, of course, they had been stripped of all vegetation that could have helped stop the slide because of the Thomas Fire.

In all, they say that there has been 100 homes destroyed and another 300 damaged and as you pointed out, Wolf, they are still searching and hoping they can find some other people alive in all this.

Reporting from Montecito, I'm Paul Vercammen. Back to you.

BLITZER: All right. What an awful, awful situation. Paul, thanks for that report.

We're also following a significant shift in California politics. One of the most endangered Republicans in the state, Congressman Darrell Issa, says he's going to retire from Congress. He's the second GOP representative from California to call it quits this week alone.

Let's go to our national correspondent, Miguel Marquez. He's in California for us.

Miguel, Democrats see the state as fertile ground right now to make some major gains in the upcoming midterm elections.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, these midterms are going to be a battle royale. The Democrats need 24 seats or so to take back control of the House. CNN calculates that 39 Republicans are in competitive districts across the country. Only nine Democrats in a similar situation.

California is key for as blue for the Golden State is, it could get bluer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The protests like clockwork, every week for a year now at the offices of four Orange County Republican members of Congress. Protests and anger over the Trump administration already hitting their target.

MAGGIE WILLIAMS, DEMOCRATIC PROTESTER: This is to come out to protest and I'm doing it because I'm so upset.

MARQUEZ: Democrats in this once deeply conservative county angry at President Trump going after members of Congress in the midterm elections. Less than 10 months away.

AARON MCCALL, INDIVISIBLE ORANGE COUNTY: I believe that the tide is changing. The demographics are changing. I think things are a lot different. You know, people like me didn't live in Orange County 50 years ago. So, yes, I think we got enough.

MARQUEZ: Democrats must flip 24 seats to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Nationwide, 23 Republicans are in districts won by Hillary Clinton. Seven of those districts are in California and four, right here in Orange County.

(on camera): Do they really have a shot at those four seats?

FRED WHITAKER, CHAIRMAN, ORANGE COUNTY GOP: Oh, absolutely not. But I love that they think that they do.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Republicans here say all the protest on the left will only drive turnout on the right, but who will they vote for? Two Orange County Republicans, Darrell Issa and Ed Royce, now join some 30 other GOP House members not seeking re-election.

Democrats here pressing their advantage. Two dozen groups on the left working in unison to flip all four Orange County seats from red to blue.

(on camera): Are you finding in Trump areas support?

QUIN RUVACAVA, DEMOCRATIC ACTIVIST: Yes. It's funny because there are a lot of Democrats in there. They just typically don't show up to the polls.

MARQUEZ: And what is the level of engagement now? Are you finding people who are -- RUVACAVA: They are on fire.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Democrats say they need to turn out 15 percent more of their voters next November to off set the advantage of GOP incumbents. Republicans say, good luck.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, the DCCC that's running the elections for the Democrats say that they are so confident they can win seats, maybe all the seats in the O.C. They have permanent staff there and by Election Day, they say, they will have at least a dozen full time staffers all focused on the O.C. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Miguel Marquez, reporting for us, thanks very much.

That's it for me.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.