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Trump: Government Shutdown Could Happen Friday; Interview with Rep. Buben Gallego; Axios: Bannon Made 'Slip-up' in Closed-Door Hearing. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 17, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


TAPPER: Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Time is running out. President Trump says a government shutdown could happen Friday, saying Democrats would be blamed for that; and after rejecting a bipartisan immigration proposal, he now says time is running out for a deal. But even Republicans say they don't know what the president wants.

[17:00:28] "They're close." The president says North Korea is moving closer and closer to a missile that can reach the United States. He won't say if the U.S. is considering a preemptive strike, noting -- and I'm quoting the president now -- "We're playing a very, very hard game of poker."

"Agreeing to talk." Sources say former White House strategist Steve Bannon has agreed to talk with the special counsel's team, but a new report says he made a potentially serious slip-up during a congressional hearing. Has Bannon already disclosed compromising information?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Without at least a short- term spending bill, the federal government will shut down on Friday, and things are at loggerheads up on Capitol Hill right now.

Let's go live to our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, update our viewers with the very latest.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's some tepid optimism coming from Republican leaders tonight. They have put a plan on the table. The question next is do they have the votes to get it passed?

Now, this is just a stop-gap measure. That was simply a short-term measure that would keep the government funded only for another 28 days until February 16. It does not address DACA. A big concern for many Democrats up here on Capitol Hill.

It does include a six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program. That attempted to woo Democrats to the table and entice them to potentially get behind this deal.

The first big hurdle, of course, is the House. House Republicans cannot rely on Democratic support over there, so they really have to make sure that they're going to pass this with only Republican support. And that is somewhat problematic tonight.

A lot of conservatives balking at this proposal, one Republican member saying that this is a "crap sandwich," but one that many of them know that they have to eat, because they are facing that midnight deadline on Friday night to get this government spending bill passed.

Behind the scenes, over in the House, Republican leaders are whipping members, gauging their support, potentially pushing towards a vote tomorrow. But if and only if this plan gets through the House, the big hurdle left in the Senate, the big question mark is, will Democrats over here in the Senate really hold the line on their demands on DACA, potentially withhold their vote? And Wolf, that still is a big question mark tonight as they tick towards, potentially, a shutdown.

BLITZER: Good point. What are the other major sticking points as far as we know, Sunlen, right now?

SERFATY: Well, there certainly are a lot, both in the House and Senate. We heard from many House conservative members today, really balking that first and foremost, that this is another short-term measure. The fact that Capitol Hill does not have a budget right now. The fact that they're continuing having to push these continuing resolutions, short-term stop-gap measures to keep the government funded. And the fact that they essentially will have this fight another day, in just another 28 days.

A lot of pushback also from conservatives concerned over the fund go for the military. That we heard from many senators over here. Lindsey Graham saying he's concerned about that.

And of course, the thorniest issue is that this has been really entangled with the fight over immigration, the demands that many Democrats have over immigration. The big question that many Democrats are facing is, will they get blamed if they are going to hold that line on immigration, saying, "I won't vote for any government spending bill, short-term or otherwise, if it does not address the demands over DACA -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen. Thanks very much. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill.

President Trump says time is running out for an immigration bill. Let's go right to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's over at the White House for us.

So what are they saying over there? Is a shutdown now likely on the way?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're not saying a shutdown is likely at this point, Wolf. What they're saying is that they're still trying to work towards a short-term spending deal, but they'll keep the government running at this point.

We should point out on a separate track, they're also trying to solve this immigration issue and that the chief of staff, John Kelly, was up on Capitol Hill earlier today making a rare appearance. We don't typically see the chief of staff milling around with lawmakers. But he met behind closed doors with a group of Democratic lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

And Wolf, we had talked to a source familiar with that conversation, who tells us during that meeting up on Capitol Hill earlier today, the chief of staff, John Kelly, explained to some of those lawmakers that the president is, quote, "uninformed" on some of these issues on immigration and, specifically, that the president is uninformed when it comes to the issue of the wall, specifically, how long it should be, where it should be built.

[17:05:06] And so it was essentially a plea from the chief of staff, John Kelly, to those lawmakers for some patience when it comes to dealing with the president on this issue.

But a pretty eye-opening admission on the part of chief of staff, John Kelly, that the president is, quote, "uninformed" on some of these immigration issues.

Keep in mind, Wolf, and we know this full well, that this was a key centerpiece of the president's campaign for the White House in 2016, that he wanted a wall built on the Mexican border. He wanted Mexico to pay for it. Now some of the sources in the room are saying that John Kelly told them that the president is uninformed on that issue.

Now, getting back to this issue of a government shutdown, the question at the -- at the witching hour here as we're getting close to the witching hour, two days away from the funding deadline, is whether or not Congress will pass what they call a continuing resolution, a short-term spending bill that would keep the government running and not shutting down on Friday night.

Very interesting to note that Lindsey Graham, key Republican senator from South Carolina, said earlier today that he is not inclined to vote for a C.R. at this point. He is sort of echoing what we're hearing from other Democratic lawmakers, that they're sort of sick and tired of passing these C.R.'s, throwing another token in the toll booth to keep the government running.

Now at the same time, in the House, the House is saying that the Republicans are crafting a bill at this point to try to keep the government open. That would be a funding bill that would keep the government running until the 16th of February. Have some funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, a program that is near and dear to the hearts of Democrats while, at the same time, eliminating some Obamacare taxes that conservatives don't want.

But Wolf, very key in all of that, that compromise that is being crafted over in the House right now does not include a DACA fix; does not include a fix for those DREAMers, those undocumented young immigrants who have been in this country through no fault of their own, and they're waiting for a solution to come from the White House and from Capitol Hill. That is not a part of that solution at this point.

Nonetheless, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, earlier today was saying that they are basically going to blame the Democrats if the government shuts down at the end of the week. But it is not going to be an easy sell for this White House to make that point, Wolf. Because as you know, January 20, the day after the government could potentially shut down, is the one-year anniversary of President Trump being sworn into office.

And at this point over in the House and the Senate, GOP leaders are saying, they simply don't know what the president wants in terms of a deal to keep the government running and to fix that DACA situation for those DREAMers. So they're looking for some clarity from the White House. And the White House at this point appears to be not giving it at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fascinating material. Explosive material, I should say, as well. Stand by. I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. He's an Iraq War veteran. He's also a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

You and your colleagues met with the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, to discuss DACA, the DREAMers, immigration today. And you just heard Jim Acosta report that Kelly actually told lawmakers that the president of the United States, his campaign promises about the wall, were uninformed. You were inside that room. Can you confirm that?

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: Well, yes. We heard the chief of staff, Kelly, say that. In addition to, you know, not really, you know, telling us what the president is looking for, in terms of what is a compromise, what is a deal?

We actually spent our time explaining to Chief of Staff Kelly that there are bipartisan deals on the floor, both Senate and House, that we can bring this to an end, and that we are willing to give, you know, as Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in some regards, to make sure that we have protection for these DREAMers.

There was no direction given by the White House. There doesn't seem to be any direction given from the White House, and that's what's actually causing a lot of the chaos here among not just the Congress but basically among all the GOP right now.

BLITZER: So congressman, I just want to be precise, because this is pretty explosive. When the White House chief of staff, General Kelly, tells members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and others during a meeting up on Capitol Hill, that what the president used to say during the campaign about the wall along the Mexican border, that there would be a beautiful, big, huge wall...

GALLEGO: Yes.

BLITZER: ... all along the border, that the Mexicans would pay for that wall, the White House chief of staff, from what you're telling us, and others are telling us, he said the president of the United States was uninformed. Is that right?

GALLEGO: Yes. From what I remember, he discussed how the president was uninformed about the length and where the wall should go. And also said, well -- paraphrasing, "Well, as you know, you sometimes makes -- you sometimes make campaign promises that when you -- when it comes to reality, are very difficult to keep."

So that was part of the conversation. And Secretary Kelly did say that. Sorry, Chief of Staff Kelly did say that.

BLITZER: What else jumped out at you about a deal involving the 700,000 or 800,000 DREAMers?

GALLEGO: Well, what jumped out at me is that there is no plan, that the Trump administration has no plan, has no concept what a bipartisan deal looks like.

You know, we tried to talk to Kelly about specifically some of the compromises we're willing to give and some on the Senate side. But there was no direction no, indication that they are looking for a compromise. All that we really got to say was we needed to fix it. The problem is you have the leadership of the Republican party as well as the Trump administration not giving any direction what a compromise deal looks like.

You know, we tried to talk to Kelly about specifically some of the compromises we're willing to give and also some of them that are coming out on the Senate side, but there was no direction. There was no indication that they are looking for a compromise. All that we really got to say that we needed to fix it. Well, the problem right now is that you have the leadership of the Republican Party, as well as the Trump administration not giving any direction what a compromise looks like, what is willing to be acceptable for them to sign.

And now everyone is kind of running around here. At the end of the day, the Trump administration and the leadership of the Republican caucus, as well as on the Senate side, really need to actually sit down and talk to each other. So that way there is someone we can actually negotiate with. Right now they're steering this country into a shutdown because of irresponsible leadership among the Republicans as well as the Trump administration.

BLITZER: Are you willing, Congressman, to shut down the federal government midnight Friday if there's no deal on DACA? No deal including the DREAMers?

GALLEGO: Absolutely, as well as the fact that, you know, short-term C.R.'s are a problem. You know, we have sequestration that's going to hit. It's going to particularly affect the military for some of our budget priorities. We know that there is a compromise right now on the floor that would basically end this all. You know, bring more border security, more money to the border, hire more Border Patrol.

And all we need is for the president and the Republican leadership to actually start really compromising. Right now, nobody wants to actually take leadership on the Republican side. Instead, they're trying to blame the Democrats when they have control of the House, the Senate and the presidency. What more do they need to actually get things done?

But you know, again, we're trying to play our part. We're willing to compromise. But we don't actually have anybody to deal with on the other side right now.

The Republicans have decided to include what you want and the Democrats want. Millions, billions of dollars to make sure that 9 million -- 9 million young kids who rely on the Children's Health Insurance Program, CHIP, as it is called, is included in a temporary spending measure. It's included for six years. That's very important to you and a lot of other folks. Right?

GALLEGO: Absolutely. But again, the Republicans have actually used CHIP as a -- as a bargaining CHIP, quote unquote. Sorry. Not to make a pun.

You know, this has been a very wildly popular bipartisan bill. They could have done this months ago. The CBO actually scored CHIP and realized that it doesn't actually cost money over time because of the savings accrued from people having better health. So this is a noncontroversial issue that they're throwing in now to use as a bargaining chip.

And I'm not going to allow them to use that as a bargaining chip, considering we have 700,000 families, essentially, that are up for deportation, when we know that there's a bipartisan bill ready to go on the floor that I don't think is perfect but, you know, a lot of us would be willing to vote for it to make sure that, you know, these families stay together and that the government stays open.

BLITZER: You're talking about the Graham-Durbin compromise?

GALLEGO: Yes.

BLITZER: You're reading to support that?

GALLEGO: The Graham-Durbin compromise, as well as we have the Aguilar-Hurd compromise. That's actually through the House. I have to see what the final version of it is.

But again, we're willing to compromise, to specifically, actually, bring in more border security to the border, as well as other measures. Specifically within the DREAM Act. But we have no one to deal with. It's a bipartisan bill. We know we let those votes -- if we let that bill to the floor, it would pass. Right now, we just don't have the leadership in the House with Speaker Paul Ryan or with Leader McConnell to really do that.

BLITZER: Ruben Gallego, the congressman, confirming that the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that, when it comes to the wall along the border with Mexico, Kelly said the president is simply uninformed. GALLEGO: Thank you for your time.

BLITZER: Up next, sources say former White House strategist Steve Bannon has agreed to speak with the special counsel team. But a new report says Bannon potentially made a serious slip-up during a congressional hearing. Has he already given away very damaging details?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:18:40] BLITZER: We have breaking news also coming out of the Russia investigations. First, sources say former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has struck a deal and will speak openly with the special counsel's team.

Let's go live to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. What else are you learning, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a pretty significant development, because he was issued a subpoena last week to appear before this grand jury that is part of this Russia investigation.

But this deal that Bannon cut means that he no longer, at this moment, will have to appear before the grand jury. Instead, appearing before the special counsel as part of this interview. Now, it appears that the subpoena is still pending, but he will not have to go before that grand jury.

Now, we're told that Bannon was given the subpoena, but he was told the -- he told the investigators instead to talk to his attorneys. And one reason, according to one source, that he presumably got the subpoena was comments that he made in Michael Wolff's book, where he discussed that Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 that occurred between Donald Trump Jr. and other members of the Trump campaign and Russians and then later publicly walked that back.

There's a thinking that perhaps this subpoena was issued in order to say that, look, you have to tell the truth when you come before the federal grand jury. Or when you come now, in this case, come before Mueller's team. So expect that interview to happen from one of the most senior people in the Trump campaign at the time and also one of the president's, until recently, most trusted advisors now.

BLITZER: Very significant. What are you hearing, Manu, about what happened behind closed doors yesterday when Steve Bannon was up on Capitol Hill? And what about Corey Lewandowski today?

RAJU: Yes. Both similar in this regard. They would not answer some key questions that angered, in Bannon's case, both Republicans and Democrats. And in Lewandowski's case, apparently just Democrats.

Now, what just happened moments ago, Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, came out, talked to reporters and criticized Lewandowski for not answering questions about what happened after he left the Trump campaign back in 2016. According to Adam Schiff, Lewandowski said he was unprepared to answer

these questions, and he would be willing to go back and answer questions at a later date before the committee.

Now Schiff said that is completely unacceptable. But he said that -- I asked Schiff if he had claimed any sort of privilege, and apparently, he did not claim any privilege, just that he was not prepared.

Now, on the other hand, Bannon yesterday claimed -- essentially said executive privilege was going to be exerted by the White House and would not address questions about the transition. Would not address questions with the campaign. And that got a lot of pushback from Republicans and Democrats, who issued a subpoena to compel him to provide this information.

Now earlier today, Wolf, I had a chance to ask Speaker Paul Ryan about this dispute and about whether or not he has sided with his colleagues, Republican colleagues on the committee who want Bannon to answer questions. He punted. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Yesterday, Steve Bannon angered both Republicans and Democrats alike on the House Intelligence Committee after the White House invoked executive privilege, said that he should not answer questions about during the transition and his time at the White House. Is it appropriate, in your view, for the White House to invoke executive privilege and deny...

REP. RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm not familiar with exactly what happened yesterday. I've been a little busy with some other tasks. But there has always been a tension on executive privilege between the legislative branch and the executive branch. This goes back to every administration. Obama exercised executive privilege. Bush did, Clinton did. That is a typical attention that you're going to have between the two branches of government. I don't the specs on that.

RAJU: Should Bannon answer the -- the committee's questions?

RYAN: I don't know the specifics on it. I really just don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So interesting that he did not side with his Republican colleagues who are very upset at the decision by Bannon not to answer these questions. And one reason why we're now learning, according to an Axios report, is that Bannon discussed some -- the Trump Tower meeting with, he acknowledged having these discussions with people like Reince Priebus during this testimony yesterday.

But he sort of slipped up, it appeared, and was asked follow-up questions about that -- those discussions that we had Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, and others. And he would not go any further, said that those occurred after his time on the campaign. That really angered some members, apparently.

But I can tell you, Wolf, that the Republicans say that this subpoena is still pending. They say that Mike Conaway, who's running the Russia investigation, a Republican, told me that he was surprised at this decision by the White House to say that he did not have to answer these questions, because it happened in the transition and the campaign. So now the question is, will Bannon come back and answer more questions before the committee. We're hearing that he may come back as soon as tomorrow, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu, I want to you stay with us. I also want to bring in CNN contributor Bianna Golodryga.

Bianna, the White House and Bannon, they just went through a very ugly, public -- very public break-up. How dangerous is Steve Bannon to the president right now?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this isn't the first time, Wolf, that Steve Bannon has spoken out, at least when it comes to Russia and his views on how this administration has handled issues with regards to Russia, most specifically the firing of Comey. Earlier last year, he had said that that was the biggest political mistake of modern times. So he's spoken out about his views, in particular his angst with Jared Kushner. All last year and to early last year, he said follow Jared Kushner, follow his ties with Russia. He brought up issues like money laundering.

Now, he didn't necessarily connect that with President Trump. But -- and now President Trump, of course, said that no break-up is permanent in his view. So it does seem like there's a window of opportunity offered for -- to Bannon to make up or reconcile with the president.

At this time, though, it does seem like Bannon is trying to curry favor with the president once again, get in his good side and his -- in favor with the president. So he hasn't spoken out before today and, of course, we're going to hear what he's going to say to the prosecutors.

The White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about the Russia probe today. Listen carefully to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've been dealing with this hoax for the better part of a year. We have to endure the ridiculousness for another month. We can certainly handle it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She calls it a hoax. They have to endure another month. They may have to endure it for another year. This investigation could drag on and on and on.

[17:25:02] RAJU: Yes, no question about it, particularly the special counsel's investigation into him after we learned yesterday that that trial of the president's former campaign manager, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Rick Gates, another senior campaign aide, won't occur until weeks before -- that trial won't occur until weeks before the election. That means that this issue is going to continue until weeks before the election.

And I can tell you, you know the House Intelligence Committee's investigation could conclude in a matter of weeks, in the early part of this year. It's not clear whether the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation or the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation will end any time soon. Members are going to continue to look into this.

And if the Democrats would take the House in the mid-terms, very possible scenario, expect those investigation also would be renewed next year, as well.

So could conclude in a matter of weeks, in the early part of this year. It is not clear whether the investigation or the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation will end any time soon. Members are going to continue to look into this. And if the Democrats retake the House in the midterms, very possible scenario, expect those investigations also to be renewed next year, as well. So this issue not going away for the White House, Wolf.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news. But it's fascinating, that Sarah Sanders calling it a hoax once again. With Congress deadlocked on immigration and looking at a possible government shutdown Friday night, the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, tells lawmakers that some of President Trump's campaign pledges on a border wall with Mexico were simply, quote, "uninformed."

And the president's White House doctor says he's in excellent health. But the White House is pushing back against signs that the president has some sort of heart disease. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta standing by live. We'll discuss. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now, including Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego, just here in THE SITUATION ROOM, confirming what other sources are telling CNN.

[17:31:16] During a meeting with Democratic lawmakers earlier in the day up on Capitol Hill, the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, said some of President Trump's pledges about border issues, including a wall with Mexico, pledges he made when he was a candidate, were uninformed.

Let's bring in our political specialists. And Rebecca Berg, how stunning is that to hear such criticism of the president of the United States from his own chief of staff?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, stunning, Wolf, because it is the chief of staff to the president of the United States. But also stunning, because this is the central promise that Donald Trump ran on. It was a rallying cry at his campaign rallies, where people chanted "Build the wall." And he asked the crowd, "Who will pay for it?" And they would chant back to him, "Mexico." Clearly, that was never going to be a realistic campaign promise to turn into policy.

But now it's John Kelly, the chief of staff, who's left with taking those very sort of vague campaign promises from Trump's campaign speeches, from his campaign, and trying to turn those into real policy. And it's no easy challenge for him. And you can see, he's trying to carve out some sort of middle road where he's not insulting the president and what he said. But also, not insulting the intelligence of the lawmakers that he has to speak to and explain this to.

BLITZER: It's not every day, April -- you've covered the White House for a long time. Not every day that you hear a White House chief of staff say something along these lines about the president.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: "Uninformed" is a very strong word. This president, we knew, he didn't have this political acumen. He was learning on the job, as you will.

This president, when he was campaigner -- campaigning, I'm not going to say campaigner in chief. But when he was campaigning, he was trying to rally this base, the forgotten man. And that "build the wall and Mexico was going to pay for it," take the onus off of government, really resonated in that community, in that Trumpland area.

And the problem is now, as this president is trying to secure this base -- he's not necessarily trying to grow the base but trying to secure the base -- and saying that Mexico is going to pay for it, even if it's through NAFTA, you've got his chief of staff saying he did not know what he was talking about.

BLITZER: I wonder, Nia, how the president is going to react. I'm sure he's already heard about these reports about what his own chief of staff said about him, that he was uninformed during the campaign about border issues, including in the wall. I wonder how he's going to react to that.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and remember, this is a president with a very, very large ego who has reminded us time and time again of the great schools that he has gone to and what a great student he was and that apparently, he's a very stable genius. Right? So that's what -- that's what John Kelly will have to face when he goes back to the White House.

But the other part of this could be that this is a moment that this president needs. This is a -- this is a moment that this president needs with his base particularly. Because at some point his base, as well as the president, was going to have to reckon with this idea that the wall was always a fantasy, right? A wall from sea to shining sea that was, you know, dozens of feet tall, built of concrete. That was never going to happen. Right? Because we saw what happened in 2006 when they tried to extend some of the fencing. There were all sorts of eminent domain laws that prevented a lot of that. So maybe this is the reckoning that finally needs to happen in terms of settling with the base, and settling this idea that the wall is not really going to happen and probably shouldn't be part of any DACA deal.

We see some of what's coming out of the House, particularly on the far right of the House, this idea that yes, the president should get $18 billion for this wall. He's apparently requested $20 billion. It costs, like, $25 billion. So maybe this is a good moment and a sort of inflection point and turning point for what could now be a realistic, you know, conversation about securing the border without a physical barrier that's as big and grand and large as the president told his base that it would be.

[17:35:14] BLITZER: But the president, Bianna, he still insists that, in some form, Mexico are come up with the $18 billion or the $20 or the $25 billion, whatever it takes to build that beautiful, big shiny wall.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Who needs details, right? I mean, this does sort of back up the narrative that something happened within the few hours that when the president first spoke with Dick Durbin and that -- the meeting with Durbin and Graham was supposed to be a one-on-one meeting, and that they were ambushed and had more conservative Republicans in the room, the narrative, of courses, being that General Kelly and Stephen Miller found out about this potential deal that the president was seemingly willing to make, and they intervened.

So if, in fact, General Kelly says the president seems uninformed, this does fit into that time line. You have Lindsey Graham even saying, "I don't know what happened within those few hours. But the people that serve the president are doing him and, by essence, the country no favors." So I think that could be the missing piece of the puzzle that Lindsey Graham was looking for.

BLITZER: A lot of questions out there. Pretty starting news, as well.

There's more news we're following, including new questions emerging right now with the president's check-up. Is he really in excellent health?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:04] BLITZER: The White House doctor says President Trump is in excellent health, but the White House is pushing back against indications that he has heart disease. Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, questioned the White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, about that yesterday. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: He does have heart disease? Is that what you said?

DR. RONNY JACKSON, PRESIDENTIAL PHYSICIAN: He does not have heart disease.

GUPTA: He had a CT scan before that showed calcium in his coronary blood valves.

JACKSON: He does -- he did. He had a -- so I think, so technically, he has nonclinical atherosclerotic coronary -- coronary atherosclerosis. Overall, his coronary calcium score is very reassuring. It goes along with the rest of his cardiac workup. Like I said, you know, he has incredible cardiac fitness at this point in his life.

GUPTA: To be clear, Dr. Jackson, he is taking cholesterol-lowering medication. He has evidence of heart disease, and he's borderline obese. Can you characterize that as excellent health?

JACKSON: I mean, I think based on his current cardiac, you know, study, I mean, his heart is very healthy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dr. Gupta is joining us now. Sanjay, help sort this through for us.

GUPTA: Well, you know, he has these various risk factors. And part of reason you do these tests on the heart is to figure out if someone has heart disease and what their likelihood of developing a heart problem is down the road.

These are tests. Objective data.

I think the point that Dr. Jackson is making, who I think is very diligent and did a very thorough work-up on President Trump, is that he had these functional tests. An echocardiogram of the heart. He had a stress test, where he stressed the heart and see how it performs. And he said those tests were normal, that the heart performed normally.

But he also has all these other problems. He has very high cholesterol and a bad type of cholesterol known as LDL elevated, despite being on these medications. And he also has this coronary calcium score, which is basically looking for plaque in the blood vessels that lead to the heart. That's what leads to narrowing and can lead to problems later on down the road. His score is 133, and anything over 100 is considered moderate heart disease.

So that's -- that's really the issue. His heart right now is functioning well. These tests are done to be predictive and to try and figure out if that heart disease is going to cause a problem down the road.

BLITZER: And the doctor, Dr. Jackson, wants to elevate his statins, his Crestor that he takes because -- because of the high LDL, the high cholesterol that he has. But Crestor was widely criticized, what, about a year ago or so, and other statins potentially could cause memory loss. GUPTA: That's right. I mean, the problem with some of these statins

are that sometimes they can sort of, if you think about a wire and how a wire conducts a signal. It can sort of strip away the lining of the wire so the signal doesn't get conducted, as well.

But, you know, what Dr. Jackson will say and has said, is that President Trump did have this cognitive test, this Montreal cognitive test, which is about a ten-minute exam that does test things like memory, tests things like attention, your ability to recall things. And he said he passed that very well. He got a perfect score on that, 30 out of 30.

So Dr. Jackson didn't believe that President Trump even needed this cognitive test, only had it done because the president requested it. And says that issue with regards to cognition is put to rest as far as he's concerned.

BLITZER: So as you say he's, what, borderline obese. He's early, potential heart disease, moderate of level heart disease because of the calcium that's there.

What's the best advice for someone who's 71 years old, approaching 72. What's the best advice to deal with this?

GUPTA: Well, I think what Dr. Jackson has recommended to the president, if he follows it, is pretty good advice. One is increase go that dose of medication. Based on the president's numbers and his tests, increasing the medication should help bring the numbers down.

But you know, as he -- as the president has talked about, his diet is pretty atrocious. And you now see the impact of that sort of lifestyle on one's heart health, one's numbers overall. His cholesterol went from the 160s to the 220s, despite being on medication, over one year. His LDL went up considerably, despite being on medication.

BLITZER: LDL is the bad cholesterol.

GUPTA: That's the bad cholesterol. You can correct that. And many men who are about that age do have these types of problems and can correct it, but you have to be proactive about it.

BLITZER: What about the stress of being the President of the United States?

GUPTA: Well, I mean, that is a significant issue. It's interesting, you know, Dr. Jackson said that he sort of has Velcro-ed himself to President Trump. He is kind of there all the time.

And he said he is constantly monitoring for things like stress and making recommendations about that as well. But Dr. Jackson said he didn't think the President had very much stress. At least in his sort of medical assessment and being around him so much.

BLITZER: And he is highly respected, Dr. Jackson.

GUPTA: He is.

BLITZER: He was President Obama's physician as well.

GUPTA: That's right.

BLITZER: So he is well, well --

GUPTA: Very diligent, if you will.

BLITZER: Yes.

GUPTA: Yes.

BLITZER: I just want to point that. All right, thanks very much.

GUPTA: Yes.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta giving us some explanations.

Coming up, a fresh denial about allegations that President Trump had an affair with a porn star many years ago and paid for her silence a month before the election.

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[17:51:44] BLITZER: Breaking news on North Korea. President Trump made some noteworthy comments today in an interview with Reuters, saying Russia is not being helpful as far as North Korea and its nuclear program are concerned.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, tell our viewers what the President said and what you're -- the reaction you're learning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what the President is talking about is he believes there is evidence, intelligence, that Russia is supplying oil and other things to North Korea, and that helps them continue with their weapons program.

He believes that Russia is backfilling, essentially, what North Korea is losing out on due to sanctions, including sanctions by China. So he is very strong on Russia right now, but perhaps the deeper question is why we're seeing this very tough language from the President.

Because what's happening right now is you see this rapprochement, if you will, the coming together of North Korea and South Korea, at least for the Olympics. And Mr. Trump and the U.S. are somewhat on the sidelines right now, watching this take place.

So we see this ping-pong back and forth every day. There's conciliatory language by the White House, and then there is this very tough language.

What President Trump is, perhaps, some officials tell us, struggling with is trying to figure out how to still demonstrate that there is a tough line, that there is the possibility of military action backing up diplomatic action.

But there is no indication that Kim is giving up his weapons and no indication that the U.S. is really planning any military action, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still a very, very delicate, sensitive moment right now. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thanks very much.

Coming up, breaking news. With Congress deadlocked on immigration and a government shutdown looming, the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, tells lawmakers that some of President Trump's campaign pledges about the border and the border wall were simply uninformed. Does the President now have a more realistic view?

[17:53:45] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Uninformed. New criticism of President Trump from his own Chief of Staff. John Kelly privately telling Hispanic lawmakers that some of Mr. Trump's campaign promises on immigration were uninformed. I'll get reaction this hour from a top White House official.

[17:59:55] Hard game of poker. That's how the President describes his high stakes approach toward North Korea. He is warning in a new interview about the danger of a nuclear attack on the United States, and he's offering a rare and surprising slap at Russia.