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Interview With Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson; Will Trump Talk to Special Counsel?; Can Republicans Avoid Government Shutdown?; Awaiting House Vote to Avoid Shutdown As Deadline Nears; Interview with Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 18, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Eager or unwilling? The Trump team is sending mixed messages about whether the president will or should speak to the special counsel, this as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee now is openly talking about serious allegations that the Trump Organization may have engaged in money laundering with Russians.
And no love lost. The president disputes his chief of staff's claim that his immigration policy has evolved. Mr. Trump publicly denying he's angry at John Kelly, while sources insist he's fuming. Is Kelly's job in jeopardy?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, we're awaiting a crucial House vote aimed at avoiding a government shutdown with less than 30 hours to go before the deadline.
A key conservative telling me just a little while ago that House Republican leaders still don't have enough votes to pass a short-term spending bill.
Let's go right to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.
He's up on Capitol Hill, where the threat of a government shutdown is urgent, very, very real.
Phil, what is the state of play at this moment?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, to just give you a sense of how fast things are moving, in just the hours since you spoke to House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, where he made clear he did not believe House Republican leaders have the votes, I'm told by senior Republican aides that at this point, they're in good shape.
In fact, that's what House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said coming out of a meeting in Speaker Ryan's office that included Mark Meadows, that House Republicans are on the path to pass their short-term funding bill, that the vote will be tonight, it will likely be in about an hour from now, and any concerns about falling short, given that they're not going to have any Democratic support and a lot of Republicans in the conference don't feel good about this entire process, should be falling by the wayside right now.
In fact, Republican leaders have actually felt confident, Wolf, for the last couple of hours just trying to shore things up with that House Freedom Caucus, trying to address some of their concerns, not necessarily in this bill, but perhaps in a future vote after the next week or two.
I will tell you, though, if House Republicans are able to pass their short-term funding bill in the next hour or two, that doesn't mean that things are in good shape at all. In fact, it's the exact opposite. Right now, as it currently stands, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not have the votes to get a short-term funding bill through the United States Senate.
Obviously, Republicans only control 51 seats in the Senate. Republicans need 60 votes to be able to move anything forward through that chamber. And there are not the nine or more Democratic votes they would need to actually move the short-term funding bill through.
So what actually happens? Well, Wolf, according to one Senate Republican aide, just a few moments ago who texted me -- quote -- "There is no endgame right now." They don't know where Democrats are going end to up. They don't know how this process is actually going to move forward.
There are no policy proposals that are hanging out there right now that Republicans are considering to try and manage what's about to happen. They believe, Republicans, that they are in the right place, and more than anything else right now, they are planning to make Democrats, if they continue to block this, vote repeatedly difficult political votes for some of their members that are up in 2018.
Now, how is this all going to play out? Again, it's an open question, Wolf. But at least at this moment, House Republicans believe they're on track. The big question then would become the Senate.
BLITZER: Yes, even if it gets through the Senate, the question is, 60 votes in the Senate, not easy by any means. All right, Phil, thanks very much.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the president has been involved in some last-minute lobbying, we're told. But he's also been stoking some new confusion.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
The president is back at the White House, after traveling to Pennsylvania earlier today, where he was touting his economic policies and blaming Democrats for a possible shutdown. We understand he has been making calls to lawmakers all day long, but earlier in the day, as you said, Wolf, GOP leaders were trying to decipher the president's tweets in search of some kind of clarity as to what he wants.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Republicans may be in charge of both the White House and Congress, but with a government shutdown looming, don't tell that to President Trump.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really believe the Democrats want a shutdown to get off the subject of the tax cuts, because they have worked so well.
ACOSTA: The president is pointing the finger at Democrats.
TRUMP: Could happen. We will see what happens. It's up to the Democrats.
ACOSTA: But here's the problem. The same Republicans who are trying to craft a short-term spending bill to avoid a shutdown are openly saying they're confused by signals coming from the Oval Office in both the House.
REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: We have seen a number of communications from the White House over the past year or so that are somewhat internally inconsistent with what ends up happening.
ACOSTA: And the Senate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure what the president means.
ACOSTA: As Republicans were working on a plan to prevent a shutdown that would also fund the children's health program known as CHIP, the president blindsided his own party with a tweet: "CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30-day or short-term extension."
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he's clear where the president stands.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I didn't see what he wrote, but I have spoken with the president. He fully supports passing what we're bringing to the floor today.
ACOSTA: But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi complained, the legislative process had gone to the dogs.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: This is like giving you a bowl of doggie doo, put a cherry on top, and call it a chocolate sundae. This is nothing.
ACOSTA: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Republicans to muzzle the president's Twitter account.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The one thing standing in our way is the unrelenting flow of chaos from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. It has reduced the Republicans to shambles. We barely know who to negotiate with. ACOSTA: Another area of confusion, immigration. One day after White
House Chief of Staff John Kelly said the president had evolved on the wall he wants for the border...
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There's other places we think about 800 miles additional wall, to include the 600 that are already in place, the fencing, would suffice. So he has evolved in the way he's looked at things.
ACOSTA: ... the president insisted he hasn't changed his views, tweeting: "The wall is the wall. It has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it."
In Pennsylvania, the president said he's not upset with Kelly and blamed the media for taking the general's comments out of context.
TRUMP: I think he's done a great job. I think General Kelly has done a really great job. He's a very special guy.
ACOSTA: The president is also facing questions of whether he used an official White House event in Pennsylvania for campaign purposes to boost GOP congressional candidate Rick Saccone, who greeted Mr. Trump at the airport.
Earlier in the day, the president tweeted: "Will be going to Pennsylvania today in order to give my total support to Rick Saccone running for Congress in a special election."
Aides to the president later insisted his stop near Pittsburgh was a White House event, but the president still gave a shout-out to Saccone.
TRUMP: A real friend and a spectacular man, Rick Saccone.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ACOSTA: Now, the president told reporters he plans to go back to Pennsylvania to hold a campaign rally for Rick Saccone, promising to fill up a stadium.
And after losing a special election in Alabama to the Democrats, the president's focus on a special election in Pennsylvania is a clear signal that Republicans are wringing their hands over potential for big losses in the midterms.
But, Wolf, there's a much more immediate concern, and that is the possibility of a government shutdown. The White House still has not said at this point whether the president would continue with his plans to travel down to Mar-a-Lago, Florida, tomorrow, for a weekend celebration of his one year in office. Wolf, that will be something to watch, if he does do that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, Saturday marks one year exactly. Jim Acosta over at the White House, thank you very much. Joining us now, Senator Ron Johnson. He's a Republican. He serves on
the Budget and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator Johnson, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Wolf.
BLITZER: If the short-term spending bill in the next hour or two passes the House of Representatives, comes to the Senate, will you vote for it?
JOHNSON: I will definitely vote for it. And I think most Republicans will.
The only question is, will Democrats join us, so we can avoid the government shutdown?
BLITZER: What do you think? Because you need 60 votes in the Senate. You have got 51 Republicans. If Senator McCain, unfortunately, can't make it from Arizona, because of his illness, you have got 50 Republicans. You need 10 Democrats. You got 10 Democrats?
JOHNSON: At least. I don't know. And they're being somewhat coy. Obviously, they're talking a good game right now, but when it comes right down to whether we're going to shut down the government, hopefully, they will have clearer heads and, you know, they will actually vote to have the government continue.
BLITZER: Because even some Republicans in the Senate say they're going to vote. Lindsey Graham says, if it's 30 days -- maybe two or three or four days, he would vote yes. But if it's 30 days, he says he's going to vote no. Rand Paul says he's going to vote no, too.
JOHNSON: There's all kinds of legitimate reasons to be against the short-term continuing resolutions. This is a completely dysfunctional, broken appropriations process.
But now we are facing this reality, and I don't like playing shutdown politics. I don't like playing this gamesmanship.
BLITZER: There's a relatively simple way of guaranteeing not just 60, but maybe 70, 80 votes in the Senate, if you attach what Lindsey Graham, Dick Durbin have put forward, a compromise that would allow hundreds of thousands of dreamers to remain in the United States.
JOHNSON: Well, I'm not sure that plan would pass the Senate. And I doubt it -- I know it wouldn't pass the House.
BLITZER: Democrats would vote for it.
JOHNSON: It wouldn't pass the House. So...
BLITZER: A lot of Democrats would -- in the House of Representatives -- let me just correct you, because a lot of Democrats in the House would vote for it if the dreamer part -- if there was an amendment including allowing the dreamers to stay.
And, of course, a lot of Republicans would vote for it as well. So it would pass the House. It would pass the Senate if you guys decided, let's do what this bipartisan group wants to do and just end the whole dreamer controversy right now and attach that legislation to the bill.
JOHNSON: And I think the vast majority of us want to fix the problem with the dreamers.
BLITZER: You want dreamers to stay?
BLITZER: So what's the big deal? So what's the big deal?
JOHNSON: So, what we also want is, we want to secure our border, which, for decades, multiple administrations, we haven't done that.
BLITZER: Lindsey Graham says it's part of the arrangement.
JOHNSON: But not an adequate part.
BLITZER: It doesn't include everything. He says, down the road, you have to have comprehensive immigration, greater border security, other issues.
JOHNSON: Wolf, not even close.
BLITZER: But right now, short-term, you strengthen border security and you allow the dreamers to stay.
JOHNSON: Barely strengthen it. You could barely ever start building. Again, there's a lot of caveats, a lot of...
BLITZER: But you need a compromise in order to keep the government from shutting down.
JOHNSON: I know. Compromise is always do everything the Democrats want and give Republicans a crumb. And, unfortunately, I think that's what that that bipartisan bill was.
BLITZER: If the government shuts down, you understand what that means for the millions and millions of American people that are not going to get the services of the federal government.
JOHNSON: Well, so the clean bill is, by and large, let's just keep the government operating while we, in good faith, sit down and talk about how we can handle the problem with the dreamers, as well as secure our border, improve, correct our legal immigration system.
I mean, it's a completely broken, dysfunctional system. Wolf, we let about...
BLITZER: But Lindsey Graham says he wants to deal with that. He wants comprehensive immigration reform. But he understands you can't do anything right now.
BLITZER: The president in that earlier meeting last week, he said, bring me a compromise, I will support it. It will be a bill of love. And let me take the heat.
He changed his mind two days later.
JOHNSON: Again, you have to look at that particular deal was just completely inadequate.
The president knew it was inadequate. I think most of us members who have taken a look at that deal, it just doesn't really satisfy the border security, ending diversity lottery, really ending it, limiting the family migration, which has been a big problem. Wolf, we let...
BLITZER: There will be some steps in this legislation that Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin have put forward.
JOHNSON: Very minor. Minimal. Minimal.
BLITZER: But it's not going to do everything.
But isn't it worth it to keep the government from shutting down?
JOHNSON: That shouldn't be part of the equation here. Let's just keep the government opening -- open.
BLITZER: But you can't do it. But you're not going to get 60 votes unless you do it.
JOHNSON: Well, again, the vast majority of Republicans will vote to keep the government open, fund the military.
BLITZER: But that's not enough. You need Democrats.
JOHNSON: Well, hopefully, they will -- cooler heads will prevail.
BLITZER: They say they're not going to do it. Listen to Chuck Schumer. Listen to the other Democrats.
JOHNSON: Well, then we will keep voting over and over again. BLITZER: Aren't you concerned, though, that the American public will
blame the leadership in the Senate, the leadership in the House, the leadership in the White House, all Republicans, for a government shutdown?
JOHNSON: Well, first of all, we do have majority in the Senate, but we don't control it.
These types of bill, we need Democrat support. So the American people have to take a look a it.
BLITZER: You're making the point for compromise.
JOHNSON: Who voted to keep the government open? How many Republicans voted to keep it open? How many Democrats?
And I think it should be a pretty simple evaluation. If very few Democrats vote to keep the government, they vote to shut it down, they ought to be blamed for it. But I don't want to play the blame game. I don't want to play gamesmanship.
Let's keep this simple. Let's keep the government funded and then work in good faith to actually solve this problem. Now, let me ask you a question. Why would Dick Durbin leave that White House meeting behind closed doors and throw a hand grenade in those negotiations if he actually was serious about fixing this problem?
BLITZER: You mean about the vulgar word that the president used?
JOHNSON: Yes, OK.
BLITZER: Describing African immigrants to the United States?
So, if he really wanted to solve this problem -- again, that was a private meeting. I think there would be an expectation that kind of what is said behind closed doors in a passionate discussion should stay behind closed doors.
Why would Dick Durbin leave that meeting and go public with that and basically throw a hand grenade in that? Is it because they would rather have the issue rather than solve the problem?
Remember, President Obama promised to fix the problem of the dreamers in his first year. He had a filibuster-proof Senate, total control. He didn't do it. Do Democrats really want to solve this problem or are they going to keep throwing hand grenades into it and they're going to be completely unreasonable?
It sounds right now they're going to be pretty unreasonable. It's unfortunate.
BLITZER: Just want to be precise, I don't know who originally leaked what the president said, using that vile and vulgar word about Africans, African immigrants coming to the United States, but it was first reported, anonymous sources, multiple anonymous sources, in "The Washington Post."
Then multiple news organizations confirmed it. It was only a day or two later that Dick Durbin confirmed it. He said publicly that that's what the president said. Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator, apparently told, you know, some of his colleagues, that's what the president said. Senator Scott of South Carolina...
JOHNSON: Again, if you really wanted to move forward, you would take that and say, OK, those are passionate things said behind closed doors. Let's keep working on this.
You know, obviously, what they presented to the president was not good enough for the president, was not good enough for most Republicans, I can assure you. And so we need to keep working on this.
BLITZER: But you were outraged by those reports of what the president said in that Oval Office meeting with members of Congress, right?
JOHNSON: Listen, I think when you enter the public realm, I don't care what kind of salty language you use in your private life. In the public realm, you got to clean it up.
BLITZER: You wanted him to apologize?
JOHNSON: I thought that would have been the smart thing to do.
But what I would have preferred, if you would have just kept that conversation behind closed doors and keep working together in good faith. That's what I would have preferred.
BLITZER: Here's the problem. He didn't apologize. In fact, he was boasting to some of his base, some of his supporters that he thought he did the right thing.
JOHNSON: Well, again, what we need to do is, we need to have Democrats be responsible. Fund the government so we can continue to fund our military.
We live in dangerous times, Wolf. I was listening to all the hijinks of the Russian government right now. We need to fund the going to and then we need to work in good faith, fix the problem with the dreamers, but also secure our border and fix a horribly broken legal immigration.
BLITZER: The president of the United States promised he would be a great deal-maker. Since you need 60 votes in the Senate, you have got to compromise.
Is the president helping or hurting the process of keeping the government open right now?
JOHNSON: This is up to us. This has always been up to Congress.
We need to pass the bills. We need to be talking to ourselves. It would be great if the president can weigh in. I think it was very helpful during tax reform. But, again, it's tough passing legislation. It doesn't do a whole lot of good when you have got Democrats throwing hand grenades or just not being very reasonable and say, let's fund the government. Let's do that and move on and work in good faith toward fixing...
BLITZER: Just like last week, he was tweeting about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He didn't seem to know what it included, what it was all about. The White House and he later had to correct it a couple hours later.
This morning, he tweeted this about the Children Health Insurance's Program. "CHIP," as it's called, "should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30-day or short-term extension."
What you have included in this legislation to keep the government operating is not a 30-day extension of CHIP, but a six-year extension that would help nine million kids in the United States.
JOHNSON: By the way, I have asked the same question. Why authorize it for six years for only a four-week funding bill? I mean, I have kind of had that exact same question myself.
BLITZER: But you want CHIP to be extended?
JOHNSON: Yes. Yes. Yes, we do.
But I also want to start funding the government in an appropriate way. Bring up these appropriations bills. Allow Congress to work its will, start prioritizing spending. Not come up to these last-minute games that we play all time, that really...
BLITZER: But if you wanted to, you could pass a clean CHIP bill, you would get overwhelming support in the House, overwhelming support in the Senate.
JOHNSON: Well, but, again, that's -- it's always easy to vote for the good stuff. It's a little bit more difficult to inject some fiscal discipline. That's why...
BLITZER: But you want it as -- you're using CHIP as a bargaining chip, just like the Democrats are using the dreamers as a bargaining chip.
JOHNSON: Well, listen, now we're talking about spending, OK? And so when you're talking about spending, there's going to be good
spending and sometimes you are going to have to restrain spending.
BLITZER: But if you approve CHIP, it's going to save money for the taxpayers.
JOHNSON: Well, that's kind of wacky CBO scoring, isn't it?
BLITZER: That's the Congressional Budget Office. They are going to save billions of billions of dollars, because these -- $6 billion over 10 years, because these kids will have health insurance, they will be treated, they won't have to go to emergency rooms.
It's going to wind up saving the American public a lot of public.
JOHNSON: So, what we ought to do is authorize it for a hundred years and we will save billions. Does anyone really believe that?
Listen, the scoring within this alternate universe is crazy. That's just one example. But we will use it to our advantage. And I want to reauthorize it as well. But I want a long-term spending bill as well.
I want to make sure that we stop hollowing out on our military.
BLITZER: I know you want this government to keep operating. I know you want the dreamers to stay in. And I know you want the Children's Health Insurance Program to get done. You have got to compromise. We're grateful to you. I know you have a lot going on up on the Hill right now.
Thanks so much, Senator...
JOHNSON: Have a good night.
BLITZER: ... for coming in.
JOHNSON: It will be a long one.
BLITZER: This is going to be a tough 30 hours or so before it's resolved. Let's hope it's resolved. I have lived through government shutdowns. It's not pretty. It's not nice. A lot of American people, a lot of Americans suffer.
JOHNSON: So call the Democrats to join us to fund...
BLITZER: Democrats, they have got to compromise. Republicans got to compromise. You guys can do it. I'm confident.
JOHNSON: OK, thanks.
BLITZER: Thanks so much.
Just ahead, more on the breaking news. President Trump's mixed signals complicate the effort to avert a government shutdown. Can he succeed in blaming Democrats? I will ask a key Democratic congressman.
And the House Intelligence Committee now releases testimony from its Russia investigation and the panel's top Democrat, Adam Schiff, says it reveals serious allegations that the Trump Organization may have engaged in money laundering with Russians.
BLITZER: We're standing by for an important House vote, as Republican leaders race to get enough support to prevent an imminent government shutdown.
We're also following breaking news in the Russia investigation. The top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee speaking out just a little while ago about some very, very serious allegations.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.
Jim, Adam Schiff, in this statement that he just put out, said that Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, which authorized, which put in place that Russian dossier, Trump dossier, that Glenn Simpson -- quote -- "revealed serious allegations that the Trump Organization may have engaged in money laundering with Russian nationals."
That based on the transcript which the committee has just released. What's the purpose of releasing this? Is it designed to put pressures on the committees to pursue all of this, this issue of money laundering?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that appears to be Adam Schiff's intention here, because later in a statement, he makes the point that, thus far, committee Republicans have not allowed the Intelligence Committee to go down this path and at least investigate these allegations, which they are.
This is an allegation. It is not proven. In fact, when Glenn Simpson was testifying, he was pressed by committee Republicans, saying, wait a second. Do you have proof of this? Do you have evidence of this? And he admitted he didn't have evidence, but that there were signs, indications, hints, et cetera, something that needed more investigation.
It was effectively his line. And that was effectively Adam Schiff's line here. OK, this is a serious allegation. At least my partners on the other side of the aisle, let's investigate this. That's part of our job in pursuing this Russian investigation.
BLITZER: Glenn Simpson raises allegations of money laundering by the Trump Organization and the Russians.
Steve Bannon, by the way, in that new book...
SCIUTTO: Says the same thing. BLITZER: Michael Wolff, he also raised allegations of money laundering.
BLITZER: And, Phil, he goes one step further, Glenn Simpson. In this statement that Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee put out, he said that Simpson testified, if the Trump Organization did engage in money laundering with the Russians, it would be with the knowledge or approval of the Kremlin and constitute powerful leverage over the president of the United States.
As a former CIA and FBI official, how concerning is that to you?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him, Wolf.
BLITZER: You wouldn't trust who?
MUDD: Fusion has been under a lot of -- I wouldn't trust the Fusion guy.
BLITZER: Glenn Simpson.
MUDD: His organization has been under a lot of pressure.
He's out there to explain how everybody else who was involved in this exercise was engaged in illegal activity and how critical the Fusion operation was, how good their information was. This is why the Mueller investigation is so important.
And this is why the Congress will fall short on this particular aspect, that is, money laundering. You have one individual who's talking about allegations and they're not even fact-based. There are things that he says he supposes. He thinks the Kremlin must have involved. I don't care what he thinks.
I care what documents he saw, who he spoke to, who he e-mailed, who he texted. I'm not interested in his suppositions. The other issues we got here are even more substantial. After one individual speaks, if the Mueller people speak to 50 other individuals, I want to know how their stories correlate with what Fusion says.
And if the Mueller people acquire data, in particular, financial transactions between Russians and the Trump people, I want to see how that correlates to what the Fusion guy says. One guy in public making an allegation that Adam Schiff throws out there, because he wants to try this in the court of public opinion, doesn't mean a lot to me, Wolf. I wouldn't trust him.
BLITZER: Yes, Jim Himes, a congressman who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, told me in the last hour that Glenn Simpson did not have any evidence to back up allegations of money laundering by the Trump Organization and the Russians. But what does all of this say, Jim Sciutto, about the Russia dossier?
SCIUTTO: Well, he also made a point in here. It's not just about money laundering. That's, of course, the most explosive allegation coming out of his testimony, but what -- he drew attention to other aspects of the dossier, right?
Because, if you remember the dossier, this is a collection of memos, right, a collection of intelligence leads, in effect.
BLITZER: Put together by a former British spy.
SCIUTTO: Former British spy with the MI6, their overseas spy services, who had done previous work for the FBI, who worked with credibility, the FBI had judged.
So he was not -- you know, he was not some crackpot out there. But they were just leads. The point Simpson made which -- about the dossier was that, in that dossier, it describes extensive contacts between people close to Trump and Russians during the campaign in overseas cities, communications, et cetera.
The point Simpson makes in his testimony is that what you have seen since then, in some of these revelations, for instance, the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, other communications, other Trump people who have met with Russians, George Papadopoulos, who said that he was told about damaging information that the Russians had, and that was before the Trump Tower meeting, that that matches up, at least, with some of the substance of what was alleged in that dossier, that the dossier talked about this wide-ranging conspiracy.
No one saying you have proven a conspiracy, but at least those consistent contacts between people in Trump world and people known to U.S. intelligence who were Russians, some of that has borne out in the reporting since then.
Again, that's not the same as having a criminal case, right, of conspiracy, but at least the contacts, many of those contacts that were first in the dossier have borne out in later reporting.
BLITZER: If there were money laundering operations going on between the Trump Organization and the Russians, as Glenn Simpson alleges, as Steve Bannon, in that new book, alleges, how difficult would it be, Phil, for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team, his investigators, to confirm that?
MUDD: Well, first of all, what you're looking at on the investigative team -- and I know some of these guys -- are people who are really experienced in looking at difficult financial transactions, acquiring that kind of information, and doing the data analytics, the number crunching to look at where the money went.
So they have people who followed this stuff for years. They have the expertise. I think the answer to your question hinges on whether or not they can acquire the data, that is, whether they can acquire banking information about people involved with both Russia and the Trump campaign, and whether they can acquire the banking information of people who are close to the Trump campaign.
For example, people who are in the White House now, the president's son-in-law, people who ran the campaign, that's Paul Manafort, if you can acquire all of that data and match it up against what people say in interviews, I think they can probably get pretty close to the truth.
One of the key questions, for example, can you get to Russian banks? I don't know. Can you get to Eastern European banks? I don't know.
BLITZER: They're certainly trying to, as they say, follow the money. I'm sure they're working on that.
BLITZER: You know, the president's White House counsel, Ty Cobb, he seems to be giving some conflicting advice, conflicting opinion about the president's being willing to appear before Robert Mueller.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TY COBB, WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL COUNSEL: The president is very eager to sit down and explain whatever is responsive to the questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any fear of a perjury trial?
COBB: No, but I think it would be -- I think it would be foolish to not proceed without considering that possibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you think the president is really very eager to sit down with Robert Mueller?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we won't know until it happens, right? You've heard from the president and from others, a willingness to do it. You had the president's own somewhat confusing answer last week, where in the same paragraph, he seemed to say, "Yes, I'd be willing to do it," and then to express some reservations about it.
I'm sure that he's getting perhaps conflicting advice from his lawyers, because there are risks and perjury being one of them. And we've seen that already with Michael Flynn. That's what he's been charged with. We see that with George Papadopoulos. That's what he's been charged with. And that is -- that is a danger for him and for the president in particular.
But we know, as well, that there are negotiations going, underway right now, that the White House is at least open to it and having discussions about what form this conversation would take, if the president ultimately decides...
BLITZER: What do you think, Phil? PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The president would be a
horrible witness. Horrible.
No. 1, he's loose with facts. We've seen that repeatedly.
No. 2, and finally, if you look at all the people that the Mueller team has interviewed, they're going to compare everything they said with what the president said. Do you want to guarantee me that the president is going to be correct in everything he says and that he's going to match up with what other people have said? I don't buy it.
Ty Cobb is snowing us. He doesn't want the president in front of this.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. There's more breaking news we're following. Will Republicans muster enough support to prevent a federal government shutdown? We're following a last-minute scramble in the House of Representatives. We're standing by for a pivotal vote.
And I'll speak to a House Democrat about the drama unfolding right now as President Trump plans to blame to opposition party if the shutdown happens.
[17:36:39] BLITZER: We're following breaking news up on Capitol Hill with the government shutdown potentially just hours away and the House of Representatives pushing toward a crucial vote in the next hour or two.
Let's check in with our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, what are you learning?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there has been a flurry of last-minute maneuverings up here on Capitol Hill. Just in the last few minutes, a small but important breakthrough coming for House Republican leadership, as they push towards having a vote later tonight.
The House Freedom Caucus, the conservative members over in the House, who had up until an hour ago, really not come around a short-term spending bill, they have now come out and said that, yes, the majority of the House Freedom Caucus will vote for the short-term spending plan. So, clearly, an agreement reached behind the scenes with leadership here.
And Kevin McCarthy saying, "Look, we feel like we're in good shape and we are pushing towards a vote that will happen, likely in the next hour."
But even as they overcome this hurdle in the House, and certainly, that was a big hurdle, the even larger hurdle is ahead on the Senate side. And that's very delicate.
Tonight, we know at this time, Republicans in the Senate, they do not have the votes they need to get this short-term spending plan passed through. They were relying that a few Senate Democrats would be able to join them, but at this time, one Senate leadership aide telling me, "Look, no, we have enough Senate Democrats to block this spending bill going forward." They have been very vocal that they want to see a spending bill that addresses DACA, at least, at this hour, Wolf -- and things again, very fluid -- they don't have those votes. So, again, shutdown 48 hours, less than 48 hours away. And no clear path forward -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Twenty-nine hours to be precise. Sunlen, thank you so much. Sunlen Serfaty, joining us.
Congressman Adriano Espaillat is here with us, as well. He's a Democrat, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT (D), NEW YORK: Thank you.
BLITZER: You're going to vote against, if the House -- let's say the House passes kit tonight, it comes to the Senate. You're going to vote against it, even though -- you're in the House of Representatives -- you're going to vote against it, right?
ESPAILLAT: That's correct. I will vote against the C.R. It doesn't include DACA. It won't include CHIP or it won't include funding for community-based clinics, or even help for our...
BLITZER: But it does include funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program for six years...
ESPAILLAT: Well, it does. It does...
BLITZER: ... affecting 9 million kids. It does include that.
And the argument is, as far as the DREAMers are concerned, the deadline is, what, March 6. You have another month or so to deal with it. Why not keep the government operating, not disrupt the lives of millions of Americans, and then work on the DREAMers over the next month?
ESPAILLAT: Well, their lives have always been disrupted, for many, many...
BLITZER: But I'm talking about permanently disrupted.
ESPAILLAT: Well, I think they want to take the DREAMers to the precipice. And then try to impose an agreement that won't be good for anybody. There are three bipartisan agreements that are on the table. The DREAM Act, the USA Act, and of course, the framework that was sent over by bipartisan senators.
That's something that we can work with. It includes not only matters for DREAMers, but also for security, border security. And I think it's a real-life effort of bipartisanship. Why boycott it? BLITZER: So if there is some tentative agreement included in the
spending bill, involving the DREAMers, not only the Children's Health Insurance program, you'll vote in favor of it?
ESPAILLAT: I'll have to take a look at it, but I'm inclined to vote for either the agreement, the framework that was sent over by the senators or the USA Act, which I think brings some level of solution to the DREAMers.
[18:40:12] BLITZER: Because it looks like the 218 votes you need in the House of Representatives over the next couple of hours, if the Freedom Caucus now says A majority of its members will vote "yes," they're probably going to get very close to that number. They'll pass it in the House. It will go to the Senate. The Senate, you need 60 votes. And they could include something on the DREAMers in the Senate and send it back to the House.
ESPAILLAT: Well, if that occurs and they send it back, and it is part of what they agreed on, I will take a look at it. I think we are inclined to really resolve this situation for the DREAMers, once and for all.
BLITZER: Let's say there's a government shutdown. How worried are you that the American public, or at least big elements of the American public, will blame the Democrats?
ESPAILLAT: It will lay on the lapse of the Republicans. They control Washington. They have a majority in the House of Representatives.
BLITZER: But they -- but they need 60 votes. They only have 51 majority in the Senate. You need 60 to pass something like this, because of the filibuster rule. And right now, they only have 51. So they don't control the Senate.
ESPAILLAT: Well, that may be a maneuver. That's why they may be starting in the House of Representatives, send it back to the Senate, and then blame the Democrats.
But they have the White House. They have the House of Representatives. And they have a majority in the Senate. They run government here. And they should -- they should not blame Democrats for a shutdown.
BLITZER: Because I've lived through earlier government shutdowns. I've covered them during the Bill Clinton administration, during the Obama administration. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California, she's lived through government shutdowns, as well. She said this afternoon, "A shutdown should be a last resort," and she issued this warning. People die, accidents happen when the government shuts down.
ESPAILLAT: And I agree.
BLITZER: Does that give you pause?
ESPAILLAT: Of course. No one wants to shut down. I think that it is a last resort. But we're willing to discuss the issues of -- confronting DREAMers. We're willing to discuss funding for community- based clinics, as you said, CHIP is already in there. We want to also help the men and women in the military.
So this is not a one-issue debate, as it has tried to be framed. And we want to make sure that we don't get to the shutdown, but it's obviously in control of the Republican majority.
BLITZER: You were at that meeting yesterday that John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, had with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. You're a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. When he suggested that the president was uninformed on border issues, immigration issues, the border wall, to the best of your recollection, explain the context of how he said that.
ESPAILLAT: Well, the context was more like, we won't have a wall from sea to shining sea. You govern -- you know, you campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose. That's what the late governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, used to say. And many things are said on the campaign trail, and obviously, the president really made the wall one of his primary issues on the campaign trail.
But when he comes here to Washington, he realizes that you have to build consensus to get things done. And that's what he's facing right now, not only with immigration issues, but with other issues that have become very difficult for him to resolve.
BLITZER: Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
ESPAILLAT: Thank you so much.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
Just ahead, will that House vote on averting a government shutdown happen soon? Could it be delayed or derailed altogether? We're working our sources. Stay with us.
[18:47:58] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, even as House Republicans try to push towards a vote on a stopgap spending bill, there's a very real, very urgent threat of a government shutdown within hours, on this, the first anniversary of the Trump presidency.
Let's bring in our analyst and specialists.
And, Gloria Borger, are we heading for a government shutdown?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we might be. What we think and what it looks like tonight is that this is going to pass the House in some way, shape, or form. And the big question now is what happens in the Senate? I just got off the phone with a Democratic Senate leadership aide, who said to me, look, there's going to be a motion to proceed in the Senate. That will probably pass. After that, who knows what's going to happen? And one suggestion that's been floating around is that, in fact, if
they can't agree on anything, which they won't, then you just work on this for the next few days. Keep the momentum going to try and -- not kick the can down the road for a month, but work on it for the next few days so that, perhaps, Democrats and Republicans can get to yes.
BLITZER: You mean pass a spending bill for three or four days?
BORGER: At some point. At some point.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: You know, the problem here is one of math, Wolf. To Gloria's point, the motion to proceed -- so let's say it passes the House, which I think it will, as Gloria points out. The problem that you have is the motion to proceed in the Senate is a structural, tactical thing. It only needs a simple majority. They'll get a simple majority. They have a simple majority.
Cloture, which is a fancy word for saying, let's figure out a time to end debate and have the final vote on it requires 60 votes. Well, they don't -- they don't have 60 votes. They haven't had anywhere close to that. They've had virtually no support for any measure, Republican measure. They've had zero Democratic support.
And now, you have Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham, Republicans, both saying they're noes on the continuing resolution. So you're talking about a dozen Democrats that would have to go for it. It's very hard to imagine.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, no, I don't see that either. I think that Republicans have sort of baited their hook or thrown out their bread crumbs with this six-year extension of CHIP.
[18:50:00] But will you get 10, 12 Democrats in the Senate to go along with that?
SWERDLICK: I don't think so.
BLITZER: The only way you're going to get that, get a decisive majority, more than 60 or 70, is if they do add, Ron Brownstein, what Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, a bipartisan group of senators have been trying to do, a compromise that would allow the Dreamers to stay, but would also beef up border security.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. No, this is actually a very revealing moment. I mean, on the one hand, you got kind of the chaos induced by never really being sure where the White House is and that kind of throws off everyone's compass legislatively. On the other, the likelihood that it will pass the house is another reflection that the fear of failure has been a unifying force for House Republicans with unified control of the government.
In the end, they did come together on the ACA repeal, on the tax bill and likely will do it on this. The problem is that in this kind of insular inward looking Republican Party they have had trouble talking to anybody not a part of their coalition whether in Congress or country.
And this moment where everybody is pointing out first time on big initiative they need 60 votes they don't have muscled developed how to win over Democrats. I mean, looking at a presidency and a congressional agenda that has been aimed almost entirely at the Republican base, now they need some Democrat votes I don't think they have a good sense what they need to give up to get that.
BORGER: And you have Senate Democrats who are kind of emboldened. You know, they thought that they were -- Republicans thought they were going to be able to get a moderate Democrat like Jon Tester of Montana who just announced, no, you're not -- you know, you're not going to get me. So, the Democrats are not afraid of this as the Republicans thought.
BLITZER: The Republicans thought some of these moderate Democrats who were up for re-election in states that Donald Trump won would come over and be with them.
CILLIZZA: Yes. I think that's a really important -- Ron mentioned it would be revealing -- and that's point by Gloria, which is you -- there are 10, reminder, there are 10 senators, Democratic senators, up in states in 2018, this year, that Donald Trump won in 2016, including five that he won by double digits. Joe Manchin in West Virginia. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota. Joe Donnelly, Jon Tester --
BORGER: Claire McCaskill.
CILLIZZA: Claire McCaskill in Missouri. And yet on this and on health care and on tax --
BROWNSTEIN: Tax bill.
BORGER: They're not running scared.
CILLIZZA: -- these are things that you would think there would be some concern by the Manchins, the Testers, the Heitkamps of the world, oh man, if I don't get -- the tax bill and health care is remarkable that they feel no compunction to throw a little bit over here and say, well, I'm on the on the fence. They just say, well, we're not doing this.
SWERDLICK: Yes. I think it's because there are some risks to them letting CHIP hang in the wind, but there are also risks to them to breaking from their party on an issue like DACA and also ceding control of this debate to Republicans at a time when if you get to March, that's their last chance they have any push back against the president.
CILLIZZA: And they are not afraid of Trump. I mean --
CILLIZZA: -- they are not afraid of what Trump will do. BLITZER: Ron, go ahead.
BROWNSTEIN: To underscore Chris's point, the history, the comparison, 24 Senate Democrats voted for the Reagan tax cuts in '81, 12 for the Bush tax cuts in '01, none for the Trump tax cuts in 2017. Obviously, politics is more polarized.
And the one caveat here, and, Wolf, you mentioned before that you covered both of those earlier government shutdowns as did I, it is not a strong a lever as people who are using it think. I mean, the odds of Democrats forcing big policy concessions out of the Trump administration through a shutdown, there is no evidence from the Obama and Clinton precedents that it really works that way. People are just kind of annoyed that it's happening and the idea that you can force the administration to do something you don't want to do through a shutdown, I think is kind of over optimistic.
So, it really is in everyone's interest to figure out a way forward. But what's missing I think is again any kind of muscle memory among Republicans about how do you build a bipartisan coalition since they have used reconciliation and relied solely on Republican votes to do all of the major things. And even when you look at polling now, are fading enormously among independents and obviously facing overwhelming opposition among Democrats.
BLITZER: So, Gloria, game out, what happens if there is a government shutdown starting midnight on Friday?
BORGER: You know, look, oh, yes, that's easiest enough. One thing that isn't going to happen that Republicans are talking about constantly is that the funding for the military is going to stop. That is not the case. We know that. We know that members of military are paid in two week increments. We know that we're at the beginning of that and they would be paid. Also members of the military are essential.
So the big argument that the Democrats want to hurt the military is not going to happen. What will happen, though, is the question of people getting their Social Security checks eventually, et cetera, et cetera. That's why people realize how important government is to their lives when they lose it.
And this is why members on both sides of the aisle do not want to shut the government down. And, you know, I think the politics get so confusing here, because you have Republicans screaming about the Democrats on the military, you have Democrats screaming about Republicans on DACA, and everything else.
[18:55:12] There will be plenty of blame to go around on both sides.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna. He's a member of the Budget and Armed Services Committees. He's from California, joining us from Capitol Hill, getting ready to vote.
You won't be voting for the short term spending bill I understand. Why not vote for this continuing resolution as it's called now to ensure that the children's health insurance funding continues for six years, allows 9 million poor kids in America to have health insurance and work on the Dreamers the next month or so? Because there's really a March deadline.
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA), BUDGET COMMITTEE: Well, Wolf, we have been talking on working on the Dreamers time and time again. And Judge Alsup just ruled the president's decision was illegal.
What's at stake here is not an issue of immigration. It's about our government's word. We promised a number of DACA kids if they gave their information to the government, if they paid a fee, then we would give them status in this country.
And just because the president switches, doesn't mean the United States doesn't have to live up to its word. So, for many of us, it's a matter of our government's credibility to people who we made a promise and we just had a recent federal court judge affirm that logic.
BLITZER: The federal court -- that judge said that the program could continue although the Trump administration, the Justice Department is now taking it to a higher court as wells immediately to the Supreme Court. We don't know what the bottom line decision is going to be.
But if there is it a government shutdown, the president says the Democrats will take the blame. And president also says the Democrats want a government shutdown, so to distract from the great achievements he says the American people will get from the tax cuts.
KHANNA: Well, that's just not true, because if tomorrow there was a clean vote on the DACA, a clean DREAM Act, I would vote for funding to continue government. So, certainly, we don't want to shut down.
And, Wolf, as you know, because you've covered a lot of these shutdowns, at one point is when one party controls government, the last time we had shutdown was in the days of Jimmy Carter. All the other recent has been split governments. And really one has to ask if this president is such a deal maker, why has he not able to run a confident government that you have to go back 40 years for the last time we've had a shutdown when you had one party control?
BLITZER: You serve on the Armed Services Committee, Congressman. Last month, the Defense Department controller said that he cannot -- and I'm quoting him now -- cannot emphasize too much how destructive a shutdown is. Are you worried about the possible ripple effects on the U.S. military civilian personnel at the Department of Defense, contractors?
KHANNA: Well, I think as Gloria pointed out, the military -- the essential military will still be on duty. But I am very worried and concerned about how we are funding government with continuing resolution after continuing resolution.
When you talk to our military leaders, and anyone on the committee would tell you that Republican or Democrat, they say this is no way to plan for serious conflict. We've got a threat with North Korea. We've got numerous threats in the Middle East.
Our military need us to pass a budget so that they can plan and have resources, and all of us wants that. And it's embarrassing not for us to come to some agreement. It's a bipartisan committee. And we very much want to have -- to be able to give them a budget.
BLITZER: You are right about the U.S. military. Uniform military personnel would receive all their benefits, all their salaries, they are not going anywhere. They are essential.
But civilian personnel, hundreds of thousands of them work at the Department of Defense elsewhere. Many of them wouldn't be working. They wouldn't be getting paid. And that would undermine presumably national security, right?
KHANNA: It would. I mean, there is definitely a risk that a lot of the contractors, a lot of the civilian support would not be getting paid. And as you know, in some of the places like in Afghanistan, we rely heavily on contractors, and a lot of the civilian corps is the one that's helping doing the humanitarian work, building schools, helping people. So, it's certainly hurts the United States. That's why no one in this building wants a shutdown.
But there is a solution, and that is just allow the United States government to keep the word we made to the Dreamers. Let me give you a simple analogy. It would be like a business, if you bought something from a business, and then the CEO changed, that doesn't mean that your warranty with the business would no longer exist.
But we had a change of presidents, but they always the United States has honored the promise that the government has made. We made these kids a promise. We should keep it.
BLITZER: Congressman Ro Khanna of California, thanks so much for joining us.
KHANNA: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.
BLITZER: Thank you.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.