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Russia Investigation Looms as Trump Prepares to Give State of the Union; GOP Defends Planned Release of Memo Criticizing FBI. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 30, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. State of frustration. President Trump heads into his first State of the Union address angry and deeply frustrated by the Russia investigation that's hanging over his head.

[17:00:17] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Ready for release? Sources say the president is eager to release the controversial GOP memo about alleged FBI abuses as quickly as possible but only after his State of the Union speech.

BLITZER: And looming battles. The president's speech comes just ahead of major battles over immigration and the threat of yet another government shutdown. With major foreign policy challenges, including North Korea looming ominously.

COOPER: I want to welcome our viewers, watching in the United States and around the world. It's our special coverage of the State of the Union. I'm Anderson Cooper.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following breaking news tonight as President Trump makes final preparations for his first State of the Union address.

COOPER: The president is going to take the spotlight as a cloud of controversy hangs over Capitol Hill, stirred up by a partisan Republican memo alleging FBI abuses in the Russia investigation. As we count down the hours to tonight's speech, we may also be counting down to the release of that controversial memo. Sources say the president wants it out as soon as possible.

BLITZER: Will all of that distract from the president's plans to discuss infrastructure and immigration and his appeal for unity? I'll talk to Mick Mulvaney. He's the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

But let's begin with CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, what's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf and Anderson, while the president is not expected to address the Russia investigation in tonight's State of the Union address, it is on his mind. CNN has learned Mr. Trump has grown increasingly impatient with the special counsel's office. A source close to the White House who is familiar with the president's speech said it is still possible the president could fire Robert Mueller.

The source told CNN -- and we can put this quote up onscreen if we have it -- "Anybody who knows Trump best knows it is a possibility. This guy is a street fighter, and he thinks "This Mueller investigation is B.S." That is according to a source close to the president, close to the White House who is familiar with the speech.

Now, as for the memo from House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, you just mentioned alleging abuses in the Russia probe, our White House team has learned that aides to the president are reviewing the memo, and Mr. Trump favors releasing it, though it appears that will happen after the State of the Union speech.

We should note, though, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders put out a statement earlier this afternoon, saying, "At the moment there are no current plans to release that memo."

Now as for the speech, CNN has learned the president will have some tough talk for North Korea. A source familiar with the speech said that portion of the address will likely be the one that generates the headlines tomorrow, telling us, quote -- we can also put this up onscreen if we have it -- "It will be eye-opening." In the words of the source, in terms what the president will say about North Korea.

Now, we should note in recent days, CIA Director Mike Pompeo has made some dire predictions about North Korea's nuclear program, saying the regime could have nuclear weapon that could strike U.S. within a handful of months.

Now as for other portions of the speech, the president is expected to make his pitch for a $1.7 billion infrastructure claim. You just mentioned that. As well as the proposal to grant citizenship to more than 1 million undocumented immigrants, including the so-called DREAMers, some of whom will be in the audience at the State of the Union tonight.

The president has been telling supporters about his immigration proposal and how he views it at this point, which calls for a wall and other major changes to the immigration system in exchange for protecting those DREAMers. He is calling that proposal behind closed doors to aides and allies, quote, "generous. So the president is hoping Democrats will take him up on it.

And Wolf, as you hear earlier today over here at the White House, the president wants this to be a unifying speech. But this is a state of the disunion tonight. There's not a lot of unity here in Washington or across the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Thanks very much. Jim Acosta up on Capitol Hill.

The battle lines are drawn over the Russia investigation. And on the Democratic side, they're mounting -- there's mounting fury over the looming release of that Republican memo.

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

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. House Republicans tonight, Wolf, are defending the release of that memo and saying that they did so because this is what was the process they followed under the rules in their decision to not release the Democratic memo.

At the same time it's caused a lot of backlash from Democrats on Capitol Hill who say that the Republicans are trying to move forward with this memo to provide a distorted narrative of exactly what the Justice Department did during the election.

Now, what Paul Ryan, the House speaker, said earlier today was that this memo raised legitimate questions about whether or not individual American civil rights were violated, as well as that he suggested there could be, quote, "malfeasance" within the FBI, and it was up to the American public to review this for themselves when and if this comes out publicly.

Now, when I had a chance to ask Paul Ryan about the decision not to release a Democratic memo at the same time, he said they were following the rules.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This memo that we just got popped on us yesterday, is now going through that process. And I would just tell you, unlike the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, who voted to deny access to this memo to the broader members, Republicans supported doing so. And so now -- yes, Devin actually made the motion. So now it will go through that 11-G process just like the other memo did.

[17:05:16] RAJU: Why not hold back? Why not hold it back and release at the same time?

RYAN: Yes. As Kevin was mentioning, the chairman went to the FBI to go through the memo. To make sure that we were protecting any sources and methods and we are confident that we are. None of that work has been done on this new memo that no one has yet read.

But the Republicans voted to allow the rest of the members to read it so that it can go through that process.

RAJU: But why not hold back?

RYAN: You've had -- you've asked enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's been some reporting that the president wants to fire Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein. Do you think that would be a wise decision?

RYAN: I think Rod Rosenstein's doing a fine job. I have no reason to see why he would do that. Rod Rosenstein was -- was hired after this last election. I think the people at the FBI, at the DOJ, need to clean their own House if there are problems around the house. And I think that's really important. And just -- he came in after this last election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So an interesting remark in that last part about Rod Rosenstein. Because we know from our own reporting that in this Republican memo, it does single out Rod Rosenstein, and we expect him to come under a lot of pressure from conservative critics in particular for him to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. And Republicans that I talked on earlier today, Wolf, were saying that Rosenstein should step aside, presumably even resign. Expect those calls to get louder with the House speaker taking slight different tack.

But tonight, also, Democrats saying that there were no common rules or procedures that were followed in order to release this memo. In fact, this was a rule they have invoked for the first time in the roughly 40 years of the House Intelligence Committee's existence, to vote to declassify this memo and give president five dies decide on its release. And we expect it to come out any day now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, pretty extraordinary indeed. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Anderson, over to you.

COOPER: Yes, let's get some insights from our reporters and our analysts. Over at this side of the table, David Chalian, April Ryan, Mark Preston Kaitlan Collins.

David Chalian, there seems to be this disconnect, at least in terms of the rhetoric. They got a chance to look at the memo that we want released. The Department of Justice is saying it's extremely reckless to release this without the Department of Justice and the FBI really getting a deep look at it. And Democrats saying, Chris Wray looking at it doesn't mean that the FBI has really done a deep dive on it.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Exactly. And that is Donald Trump's Justice Department that is recommending against having this released.

I think what you're seeing here, Anderson, is that the Republican leadership, where you heard from Speaker Ryan there, he tried to decouple the politics of this from the process of it. But they're actually inextricably linked. Because the entire document is to serve the political purpose that Nunes is trying to serve to try to muddy the waters and call into question the Mueller investigation.

Paul Ryan trying to stay sort of above that play and decouple that, but it just seems to me they're inextricably linked.

COOPER: Well, although the Republicans are saying, "Well, look, we have oversight. It's out job to protect the citizens, protect the rights, the constitutional rights of our citizens, and if there's been malfeasance, it's our job to provide oversight."

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The bottom line is the trust factor has gone awry. And who do you trust right now in the midst of all of this? Because again, it's political. It's to undermine the FBI, save the president, who the base feels that, as we talked about last night, are doing the things that they want. Saving issues of family, abortion, not abortion. You know, and taxes and things of that nature.

But here's the issue. You can't untie it, because all of it is all together. Any of this information comes together and is balled up into this investigation. And any attempts to untie it would just be causing more of a mess. This is a mosh pit of a mess. It's political. It's all meant to undermine the FBI, who's really trying to do its job.

COOPER: Mark Preston, I mean, the Democrats are saying, "Look, this idea of there being this process that you have to stick to that's going to take, you know, days or a week for the Democrats' memo to get out there, that's just bunk."

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In many ways, they're right. You know, so when Devin Nunes was crafting this memo, why was the Democrat not giving the opportunity, much like you see in the Supreme Court. We have a dissenting opinion, you know, when a ruling is made. Democrats are right on this one. They absolutely are.

This is a political memo by Devin Nunes to try, as David said, kind of muck the waters right now around this investigation. And I do think we have to go beyond today and tomorrow and look what's going to happen two weeks, two months down the road.

I think that, as April said, trust is now out the window in Washington, D.C. You know, we always talk about how partisanship is at an all-time high, and we kind of overstate that. I think right now partisanship is at an all-time high, and that is just going to slow down any kind of progress on anything we see over the next year.

COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, reporting from the White House is the president wants this memo released but not before the State of the Union, because he doesn't want to overshadow it.

[17:10:07] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. They don't want it to trample the message he has tonight, this message of bipartisanship and unity.

But there's no doubt that the president wants this released as quickly as possible. He's already made that very clear to his chief of staff, who made it very clear to the Justice Department. And we know this because, even as last week when the president was flying on Air Force One, he erupted at his aides when he found out that there were Justice Department efforts to get this memo to not be released, to block its release.

So we know there's no doubt that the president wants it released even though the White House was insistent today after a report that there are no current plans to release it. They're reviewing it with the White House -- with the legal counsel and whatnot. But there is no doubt that he wants it released. It was a very specific statement, saying there are no current plans for it to be released.

COOPER: The other question tonight, what is the president going to say about Russia, if anything, and about the Russia investigation? It does seem to be the disconnect, that Mike Pompeo, the head of the CIA, gave this interview where he said he has every expectation that Russia will try to meddle again in the midterm elections. The question is, is the president going to bring that up?

And you know, we've shown this earlier today. But I've got to say, looking at President Nixon during one of his State of the Unions, where he's talking about the Watergate investigation, I just want to play that. Because it's sort of an interesting look back in history, how he handled it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would like to add a personal word with regard to an issue that has been of great concern to all Americans over the past year. I refer, of course, to the investigations of the so-called Watergate affair.

As you know, I have provided to the special prosecutor voluntarily a great deal of material. I believe that I have provided all of the material that he needs to conclude his investigations and to proceed to prosecute the guilty and to clear the innocent. I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And interesting to hear the response there from, obviously, Republicans there.

CHALIAN: Yes. We should note, it was six and a half months later that he left office and resigned after he gave those remarks.

It is a moment of history. All indications are Donald Trump is not looking to recreate that moment. He doesn't want that piece of videotape out there played back. He doesn't want to discuss the Russia investigation at all.

You're right to note Pompeo's comments, Anderson. They -- I don't think the president has ever been as clear as the CIA director was about what Russia's intent are with our 2018 elections and beyond and what the United States is doing to protect against it. Pompeo clearly takes that seriously. but the president doesn't seem to express that kind of concern at all.

COOPER: Yes.

A. RYAN: Yes, the question -- I find this all interesting as we talk about the past. We talk about the history. We look at Watergate. But this president just also moved the goalpost, as well. Things have forever changed in how a president deals with another portion of his administration, one that is supposed to be separate. And also, when you talk about 2018, look at the midterms. Look at the fact that he just concluded the Voter Fraud Commission. So what happens? What happens if there is a concern again about some type of tampering? What happens under this president?

PRESTON: Can I make just a quick prediction?

COOPER: Yes.

PRESTON: He might not say it in the speech tonight, but I guarantee you within 12 hours, he will tweet about it.

COOPER: All right. Coming up next, the president's State of the Union comes amid bitter partisan divisions on the Russia investigation, immigration, even keeping the government open. How will the president address those issues?

Wolf Blitzer is going to speak live with White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:18:08] BLITZER: Our breaking news, President Trump is getting ready to deliver his first State of the Union address in just a few hours. He plans to appeal for unity, but that may be marred by a bitter fight over the Russia investigation and the ongoing battle over immigration.

Joining us now, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney. Mick, thanks so much for joining us.

MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Wolf, how are you? I'm freezing to death.

BLITZER: I know. It's cold out there. I was there earlier in the day. It's a little chilly. I'm not going to keep you all that long.

MULVANEY: That's all right.

BLITZER: Let's get through a couple of newsy questions. I want to get to the State of the Union address in a moment.

MULVANEY: Yes.

BLITZER: But have you ever personally heard the president complain about Robert Mueller's investigation or threaten to fire him?

MULVANEY: Yes, you and I have talked about this before. I don't think the president has ever raised Russia to me a single time. I'm the budget director. I'm also the CFP director, acting director. It's all business in there. He's never mentioned it to me a single instance.

BLITZER: You're a former member of Congress. Right now, as you know, there's a bipartisan group of senators sponsoring legislation to protect Robert Mueller's job.

Should Congress take steps, do you believe, to make sure Robert Mueller is able to finish his investigation without interference?

MULVANEY: I mean, that's a great question to ask from the legislature. They have the right to do that. They make the laws. We enforce them. But again, this is not something that I get involved with on a day-to-day basis. I'm happy to talk about the speech tonight if you'd like to.

BLITZER: I want to get to the speech. One more question, though. Why is the Trump administration so reluctant to implement new sanctions on Russia because of its interference in the U.S. presidential election? As you know, the measures were overwhelmingly passed by Congress last year, 419-3 in the House, 98-2 in the Senate. But the administration, the deadline was yesterday. Still reluctant to impose fresh sanctions on the Russians.

MULVANEY: Yes, I'll push back a little bit on the premise, and the premise is that we're reluctant, and we're not. I've talked to the secretary at the treasury today, and I'm absolutely confident that they are going through the steps necessary to implement the law.

Let's be perfectly clear: We will implement the law fully. Just because the Treasury Department wants to take a couple days to do it right doesn't mean that we're not implementing the law.

[17:20:07] BLITZER: But you've had all these months to do it, and the deadline was yesterday. The only thing you've done is issue a list of the wealthiest oligarchs, business types in Russia so far, but no new sanctions have been opposed.

MULVANEY: We do look forward to getting the details from treasury. Treasury obviously is heavily involved in the sanctions because of the financial nature of the sanctions. So we look forward to getting those from Treasury shortly.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the president's important speech tonight. According to a source, the president plans to propose $1.7 trillion in new infrastructure spending during his State of the Union address to rebuild roads, highways, airports.

How much of that is private spending and how much of it will be funded by taxpayers?

MULVANEY: I don't know if the president his going to go into those details today. I think we're on schedule to start unveiling the specific details about the infrastructure to the Hill over the next couple days.

I will tell you this. You're going to see some of the most innovative financing ideas that have ever been brought to the federal government, a way to leverage both the private sector and state and local governments.

Keep in mind, state and local funding accounts for almost 80 percent of the infrastructure that we have now. The federal government only pays for 20 percent, but we regulate 100 percent of it. And regardless of how much money we decide to throw at this issue, if you don't fix the amount of time it takes to build a road, we're not going to solve the problem. So you'll hear us talk tonight about fixing the regulatory regime in which infrastructure gets built or doesn't get built in this country.

BLITZER: Where is the money going to come from? The hundreds of billions of dollars for this infrastructure plan? Will there be new taxes? Will there be cuts in spending? How are you going to pay for it?

MULVANEY: Just as in the FY-18 budget that I unveiled from the OMB last spring, we're right now working at putting the finishing touches on the the FY-19 budget. The money that is allocated towards infrastructure spending, federal money, that is, will be counted for in the budget. There will be no new revenues raised as a part of our proposal.

BLITZER: So the money is going to come from cuts in existing spending? Is that what you're saying?

MULVANEY: Well, I mean, again, last year we increased spending in certain areas, decreased it in others. I'll be doing that again this year. Also negotiating with the Hill right now on what the spending levels will look like. So I think it's too early to say exactly what the budget will look like. But the bottom line to your original question, I don't think we'll be proposing any new taxes.

BLITZER: So it's still a work in progress.

You won your first race, and I remember back in 2010 when you were running for the House of Representatives, by hammering your Democratic opponent for support of the Obama administration's stimulus spending, which also included massive investments in infrastructure. You remember that. So why is this different right now?

MULVANEY: A couple of different things. First of all, very little of that money actually got to infrastructure. And secondly, and most importantly, it didn't actually solve the infrastructure problem.

Keep in mind, if it takes ten years to build a road, if we throw a bunch of money at roads tomorrow, those roads won't be on the ground for ten years at least.

You can look to the example of other countries, countries that -- I want to stress this -- that have more stringent environmental laws than we have. Canada and Australia come to mind. They are able to enforce those environmental laws. Yet it only takes them about two years to build a major piece of infrastructure, such as a road or a bridge.

These are models that we can put into place. And if you're not serious about changing the regulatory requirement, then you're not serious about solving infrastructure. I don't think President Obama was.

BLITZER: The government shutdown, as you know, ended just about a week or so again. Are we any closer to a deal on the budget? Because you know, the new deadline is a week from Thursday.

MULVANEY: I think that the Senate Democrats telegraphing last week that they're willing to separate out DACA from the funding bill moved us a long way down the -- down the road towards keeping the government open again.

I don't think you're going to see a shutdown again. AS you and I discussed, I believe, during the shutdown, the only reason we had the shutdown was the Senate Democrats, in my opinion, wanted it. I don't think they want it anymore. Whether or not we have a comprehensive spending agreement by February 8, I think that remains to be seen. But I don't think you'd be looking at another government shutdown.

BLITZER: Senator Marco Rubio tweeted this morning that negotiators just aren't considering a back-up option on immigration. Rubio should talked about considering a back-up operation. He tweeted, "Great if Senate could pass bill that deals with DACA, border, nuclear family, reunification, a lottery. But we need a Plan B bill, a DACA plus border."

Here's the question: Would the president be interested in a narrow deal like the one proposed by Senator Rubio?

MULVANEY: And I think we've been asked that question a couple of times today, and the answer is, our deal is on the table. So the short answer is, no, we're interested in something along the lines of what we sent down to the Hill. We thought it was a fair deal, a deal, by the way, that I understand has sort of drawn attacks from the far left and the far right. To me that means the president has sort of threaded that needle. A very difficult needle. Keep in mind, the Obama administration was not able to fix immigration, despite having 60 votes in the Senate and the House. This is a tough thing to get done, but we think that the offer that we put on the table earlier this week might be that sweet spot that finally brings this deal to fruition.

BLITZER: You're the budget director. One final question on the budget. Twenty-five billion dollars for the border wall with Mexico. How much is actually going to go for the wall? How much will go for new personnel, ICE agents, Border Police? How much is going to go for other technology to deal with illegal immigration?

[17:25:11] MULVANEY: It remains to be seen. Obviously, there's a lot of assumptions that go into where you want to put a wall, how much wall you've got. But the ball park figure has been that the actual wall itself is probably somewhere in the nature of $18 billion. We look at the wall like this. Border security is PTI. It's people, technology and infrastructure. That's what that $25 billion would go to.

BLITZER: Eighteen billion for the wall. All right, thanks so much for joining us.

MULVANEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up as we count down to the State of the Union address, President Trump says he'll make an appeal for unity. But what can he say about to bridge a very, very, very bitter partisan divide? Anderson Cooper standing by with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Our breaking news tonight, President Trump heading to Capitol Hill in a few hours to deliver a State of the Union speech emphasizing unity, we're told. But he'll be speaking to a Congress, obviously, bitterly divided along bipartisan lines because of fights over immigration and the Russia investigation.

[17:30:44] Want to bring back our political reporters, analysts and our commentators. Ana Navarro, what are you expecting tonight?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not expecting a speech that makes any difference on the unity front. I mean, look, last year...

COOPER: A lot of Democrats even boycotting this.

NAVARRO: A lot of Democrats are boycotting it. I can tell you that there's Republicans fighting about it three hours before the speech.

Right now, there's a Republican congressman from Arizona who has called the U.S. Capitol police and told them to please check everybody's immigration status that's going to the address. And the Republican senator from Arizona came out on Twitter to slam him. And the Republican congresswoman from my district came out on Twitter to slam their own Republican. So we are seeing disunity in the Republican Party.

And last year we heard Donald Trump say the time for trivial fights is over. And since then we had him fighting with the NFL, fighting with Meryl Streep, fighting with Nordstrom's. I mean, you know, I could sit here all night and name trivial fights that he engaged in all year.

So I just think a lot of people are going to shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, this is Donald Trump giving a speech off a teleprompter. But the guy who's going to be tweeting tomorrow is the real Donald Trump."

COOPER: Paul Begala, if the president is calling for infrastructure, which is something Democrats have said they like, and calling for bipartisanship, does it -- is it a good look for Democrats to be walking out or to be boycotting this?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I wish they weren't. He's my president; he's our president. I think everyone should be there at that moment. It's an important moment for our country.

I understand. I mean, the president has done nothing but divide since he took the oath of office and declared that we were a country beset with American carnage. So I understand that, and I respect it. A lot of people in my party are appalled by him. But I think that everyone ought to show -- everyone ought to attend. Everyone ought to respect the office, if not the man.

But the burden is especially on the president to unite, not on the audience to simply attend and applaud the dear leader. And this is a huge missed opportunity for this guy.

Had he begun his presidency with a bipartisan infrastructure package to put working people back to work, to raise wages for the middle class and for poor folks, to fix our roads and bridges and water, he could have brought at least half the Democrats in with him. But that's the whole story of the Trump administration. He is a divider, not a uniter. This is -- the real Donald Trump is a man who wants to turn Americans against each other. On race, on religion, on generation, on geography. That's him.

And he'll get through; they'll put the words on the screen. He'll read them mostly in the right order, and we'll all pretend that that's somehow impressive. But his fundamental job is to unite the country, and he has been an abysmal failure at that.

COOPER: Jason.

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I always love hearing from my well-spoken and eloquent friends on the left but couldn't disagree with you any stronger. Look, anyone who has actually spoken with the president recently knows that he's in a great mood. He's in great spirits. He's going to come into tonight's speech and really talk about how this has been the most successful, or if not one of the most successful, first years of any presidency that we've ever had.

Obviously, he'll lay out some of the vision of what he wants to do in 2018. But some of those will be issues but also in tone. I think it's important how he's going to go communicate this down to how this is impacting people in their lives.

And the key part of that, this is, I think, a remarkably self-aware point that I've heard the president make. Is that, yes, tonight is huge. Other than debates or election night, State of the Union speeches are some of the most important. But he knows that the most important night this week is actually on February 1, when millions -- tens of millions of Americans all around the country are getting paycheck increases. He knows that his policies are having a real-deal impact on people's lives. And I think he's going to build a lot of tonight's speech around that.

NAVARRO: The guy from Boston over there thinks the most important night this week is on Sunday. Super Bowl.

JACK KINGSTON (R), CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me say this. I've been through 22 State of the Union speeches for Democrats and Republicans.

NAVARRO: There's therapy for that.

KINGSTON: I just came from the House a few hours ago. I can tell you that members are all excited about it. I talked to two members who actually aren't going to be there tonight, two Democrats. But I also talked to Bill Schuster, chairman of the Transportation

Committee. Extremely fired up about this infrastructure vision. I talked to other members, talked to Kevin Brady earlier, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Think about this: 3.1 million Americans have received bonuses because of the tax cut. Americans who have 401(k)s and ones who don't have them have prospered by the 7 trillion new dollars that are in the market because of the growth of this economy.

[17:35:05] He's going to be able to say, "You know what? We're going to have our differences. But as Americans, don't we want to get behind a unity of the opportunity?"

COOPER: Paul, has this been the most successful first year?

BEGALA: Not quite the most. I think I'd...

KINGSTON: What would you say is more successful?

BEGALA: Two hundred fifty-fourth in the 254 years of America. No, it's been a debacle. An utter debacle. The first, most important thing was to try to repeal and replace Obamacare. He failed.

This week is an example of this White House. Not just the president, but their incompetence. OK. This is my favorite week of the year. Right? This is...

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: Incompetence...

BEGALA: Let me demonstrate, let me demonstrate. Here is my hometown paper, "The Washington Post," where I live now. I still receive news on dead trees. But all over America people are picking up their papers, and this is the main story. This is the lead story here.

If the White House were competent, this story would be about infrastructure or it would be about their plan to take on the opioid issue.

COOPER: That headline is "Committee Votes to Release Memo."

BEGALA: "Committee Votes to Release Memo Alleging FBI Bias." They are wound around the axel of Russia.

KINGSTON: "The Washington Times" has it.

BEGALA: Just what they need to be doing. Excuse me. I'm not -- saying this as a professional. What these dopes need to be doing is do things that people want and roll it out professionally. Talk about opioids, talk about veterans, talk about...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Jack, what about... COOPER: Let him finish. Let him finish.

BEGALA: Finish my point. I'm saying this as a professional communicator, not as a Democrat. As a Democrat, I guess I want him to stay at 40 or 35. Right? As an American, I want my president to succeed.

He, somewhere in his government, has people working hard -- I believe, I hope -- on opioids, on veterans, on infrastructure, on agriculture. He's not talking about them. We're not talking about them, because he's wound around the axel of -- it's like if, Super Bowl week, if Bill Belichick is spending the week attacking the referees, trying to fire the -- the commissioner and criticizing Justin Timberlake for singing at halftime.

COOPER: Jason.

MILLER: I've got to just respectfully borrow your prop. This is why Hillary lost, because Democrats care more about the cover of "The Washington Post" than what's actually in people's paychecks.

BEGALA: This is you're saying by 2.9 million, right?

MILLER: You talk about veterans. Talk about the Veterans Accountability Act. All the great things that President Trump has been doing for our veterans community.

BEGALA: Why aren't you rolling -- not you. If you were there, they'd be doing it, because you're able and competent. Why aren't these morons rolling it out in a professional way?

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: What is it, Jason?

MILLER: There's an important point tonight. State of the Union speeches, it's really kind of the one opportunity here you have to give folks a seven-course meal and say, actually, you get to -- you're going to sit through the entire thing.

So not only does the president talk about the things that we hear about every day, with the tax cuts, reducing regulations, things like that. He also gets the opportunity to do kind of the round robin with talking about all the agencies, what they're doing at EPA and Veterans, and I think they're going to hear some real success stories, not just for what they've done last year but also for what's coming next year.

COOPER: All right. We've got to take a quick break. We're going to continue this discussion with the panel when we're right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:18] BLITZER: Back now with our reporters, our analysts on this side of the table. Does tonight really matter? I know Washington loves it. You know, it's like prom night for news geeks. But I mean, does anyone really remember State of the Unions from past years?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's a good question. More than Washington does. Millions of Americans do get to see their president set out an agenda and a vision.

But I take your point. I do think it probably holds a little less value in this presidency than others because of the way this president communicates. So somebody referenced that's he can tweet the next day and drive a whole news cycle.

So whereas, in previous presidencies, Paul was talking about sort of a roll up and a roll out. Putting certain policy initiatives, then go barnstorming the country to sell them. Presidents would build a whole strategy around this moment to make it resonate, even if the speech itself wasn't something that people remember. That doesn't seem to be the case with this White House at all. They will be on to another topic entirely tomorrow.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me say this. This is one of those moments every year that the world looks the see how presidential the commander in chief is in the well of the House; to see how he works the crowd, how he resonates with the American community, how he unifies. And there is that one piece that we all wait to find out, no matter what situation this nation is in. I think this is both Democrat and Republican. We want to know the state of our union.

And right now, I mean, you know, yesterday, I asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I said, you know, when the presidents go to the well of the House, they go with optimism. And with all of this that's hanging over his head, what is the state of our union? And she said, "It's incredible." So if the president use that's word, or if he uses something else, I want to hear, as a reporter and as an American, how does he tell us it's incredible? How does he give a way forward when he wants to keep the economy going well? And the infrastructure piece is a big piece to that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I do think it is a very Washington thing, how the president reads his speech tonight. People will say it was a very presidential speech if he stays on topic and doesn't riff or respond to someone in the crowd saying something to him.

But if the president does project this message of bipartisanship and unity tonight, does that really reflect what's happening in Washington? Because the government shut down last week. We're going to run out of money a week from Thursday. No one can agree on what to do about immigration. So does it really reflect a unified Washington?

NAVARRO: I actually think there are -- last year, people said, you know, he read the script last year, and people thought -- I remember Van Jones, our colleague here on CNN, saying he became presidential in this moment.

The problem is that, since that moment, he had 365 days when he wasn't presidential. So I think you're going to hear Republicans like Jack and Jason say he was presidential. I think the rest of us are going to say, OK, you know, he actually pronounced the syllables right and had the right timing. And OK, yes he read...

RYAN: He's been rehearsing.

NAVARRO: You only get one chance --

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Mark.

NAVARRO: -- to make a first impression.

RYAN: And he's been rehearsing.

NAVARRO: He got one year.

RYAN: He's been rehearsing this.

COOPER: Mark.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple of things. One is I take umbrage with the fact that you called me a geek. I think I'm a goof. And I might be a little bit overweight, but I'm definitely not --

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: I was calling myself a geek.

PRESTON: I might be surrounded by geeks, but I'm not a geek.

COOPER: There's nothing wrong with being a geek. The geeks are running the world.

RYAN: I'm not a nerd, but I'm going to embrace it.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESTON: No, but I do think we have to acknowledge this. The President is walking into a chamber where half the chamber is stacked against him, OK?

RYAN: Sure.

PRESTON: As much as he will be presidential tonight, we don't expect him to really go off the rails except -- and I think we really have to watch this, is that if the Democrats are consistently booing him tonight. Then I think that's where you could see him lose his train of thought and revert back to the Donald Trump we all know.

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER FOR THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN: But I don't see him doing that. I was there -- and Paul and I were talking about it earlier -- when Bill Clinton was in a very difficult time during the Whitewater situation. And everybody was kind of on the edge of their seats, saying, how can he go through with this?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes.

KINGSTON: And he went on and he hit a home run. And Donald Trump is going to be bypassing Congress, just like every other president does.

Congress is sitting there -- and I've been part of it. We are props. We stand up at the right places for the right party, then we sit down and we cheer.

But what's going to happen is he's going to go directly to the American people. And he's going to talk about the economy and he's going to talk about the jobs. And it's an incredible story.

COOPER: Was that the night that they put the wrong speech in for President Clinton?

KINGSTON: No, that was a different time. But Clinton did a --

COOPER: Did somebody get fired for that, Paul?

BEGALA: No.

COOPER: Because it's an incredible story.

BEGALA: I probably should have.

COOPER: Guys, they put the wrong speech in.

BEGALA: It's a long story, but I probably should have been, among others. And a certain unnamed morning anchor now at ABC News, George Stephanopoulos, was a part of that too.

COOPER: So did he just adlib the whole thing?

BEGALA: For over nine minutes. He ad-libbed the beginning of the speech.

COOPER: Wow.

BEGALA: It was on healthcare, not on -- it's a technical topic and --

NAVARRO: And God help us if that happened to Donald Trump.

BEGALA. And I knew and a few people knew. Vice President Gore knew. But most people couldn't even tell.

He was that able and he was that deep into the policy weeds. It's a blessing to have a guy like that, fortunately, who could carry the burden of having an idiot staffer like me mess it up.

COOPER: I think you're --

KINGSTON: You could tell, though, sitting there, that there was something going on because we had seen President Clinton -- he was a great speaker, and he is a great speaker. But you could tell he was a little bit off.

And I remember, one of the congressmen next to me said, do you think he's got some kind of -- you know, like a medicated drug issue or something? It was that -- but most people did not know. BEGALA: He had a print copy in front of him.

KINGSTON: He did. And he did a great job.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It was in small print.

JASON MILLER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR THE TRUMP TRANSITION TEAM: But -- and as we talk about President --

KINGSTON: Again, I say, he's --

MILLER: Sorry.

COOPER: All right.

(LAUGHTER)

MILLER: But as we talk about President Trump, I think there is -- he very much understands the big moment. Whether it was back on the campaign when we had the big debates or the big speeches, or as we saw last year with the speech to the joint session.

He understands the big moment. He understands the visual dynamic of when people are standing for you. And I think he's also going to see the opportunities we're going to see tonight where he talks about the need to -- on immigration reform, to fix our broken immigration system.

That visual, I mean, Democrats have to stand for that. They can't sit there and say we're going to go and shut it down.

BEGALA: Yes.

RYAN: They're not going to.

MILLER: There can be --

NAVARRO: I'm not sure that when he's on immigration --

RYAN: They're not going to.

MILLER: -- a number of these opportunities --

NAVARRO: -- he won't get --

MILLER: If given a chance --

NAVARRO: I'm not sure that when it comes to immigration, he won't get boos from both sides.

MILLER: He understands the delivery of it.

NAVARRO: I think he's --

COOPER: We only have like eight more hours to talk about this, so I'll toss it back --

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: I'll toss it to Wolf. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I remember that speech by Bill Clinton very, very vividly.

Still ahead, more on this hour's breaking news. A source close to President Trump telling CNN the President is growing impatient with the Russia probe. And firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still -- still -- a possibility. We'll be right back.

[17:48:29] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking stories as we await President Trump's State of the Union address, including new details emerging about the false alarm missile alert that was sent out in Hawaii earlier this month.

Let's bring in Rene Marsh. Rene, what are you learning?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, that sparked 38 minutes of sheer panic for people in Hawaii and even beyond.

And tonight, we are learning that the employee who sent the alert thought it was the real thing, an incoming ballistic missile, and didn't know that this was only a drill. That is all according to the Federal Communications Commission.

They just concluded their preliminary investigation, and it shows that a supervisor called the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency center. Play the recording, it included the words, "exercise, exercise, exercise," but for some reason, other parts of the protocol for a drill were not followed. And so it sounded like, to this employee, that it was the real thing.

That's what caused all this confusion. However, other employees did recognize that this was only a drill. Just the person who pressed that button did not. Take a listen to what state investigators had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. BRUCE OLIVEIRA, COMMANDER OF THE LAND COMPONENT COMMAND, HAWAII NATIONAL GUARD: When it became apparent that the real world alert was issued, Employee One seemed confused. He froze. Another employee had to take over his responsibilities. Employee One also had a history of confusing drill and real world events.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARSH: All right. Well, that employee has since been fired. Of course, Wolf, this raises a lot of major issues. The FCC says that they are still investigating. But the two things that they have already determined is, number one, they didn't have the safeguards in place to prevent a false alarm from happening in the first place. And they also didn't have the procedures in place to figure out how to respond once this all happen.

[17:55:05] And why is this all so critical? I mean, if you have a false alarm warning about something as serious as a ballistic missile, you want to make sure that the people who are hearing it trust the system and trust that it works so that when it is the real life thing, they will respond appropriately. And that's why it is so critical.

BLITZER: We got to learn lessons from what happened here to make sure it doesn't happen again in Hawaii or any place else. Rene, thank you very much.

Rene Marsh reporting for us.

Coming up, President Trump heads into his first State of the Union address angry and deeply frustrated by the Russia investigation that's hanging over him. And a source says firing the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, is still a possibility.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:00:11] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. State of disunion.