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Russia Supports Trump Claims on Nunes Memo; Interview With Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; Dow Dives; Germany: North Korea Using Berlin Embassy to Get Nuclear Tech. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 5, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:05]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: nosedive. The Dow plunges more than 1,100 points at the closing bell, a historic one-day loss, even as the president was out touting the strong economy. Is this a short-term correction or possibly the start of a massive longer term sell-off?

Treasonous, that's the stunning term the president is using to attack Democrats tonight. He's picking new fights over his opponents' reaction to his State of the Union address, as well as the Russia investigation.

Pushing back. The House Intelligence Committee is deciding right now whether to release the Democrats' rebuttal to a GOP memo alleging FBI misconduct in the Russia probe. Even if lawmakers vote yes, will the president agree to make the Democrats' document public?

And state TV support. The Russians side with President Trump in the memo controversy, claiming there's now proof of a U.S. government conspiracy against him. Is this another example of Moscow's meddling?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the most gut-wrenching day for the U.S. stock market in years.

The Dow Jones industrials going into freefall and setting disturbing records along the way, the index ending the day down more than 1,100 points.

This hour, I will talk to Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our business correspondent, Richard Quest.

Richard, so, what's going on here?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's very simple, Wolf. Having seen such sharp rises in the market, it's not a surprise that a correction has now come along. Some would say it's been overdue for many months. Now, the fact that

it's not a surprise it's taken place, it's certainly shocking, the level of volatility that we have seen and the extremity of it. This market pushed on by computer trading with algorithms saw vast swings today, down 1,500 points at one stage, sometimes down 2.5 percent and then down 5.5 percent.

Whether it's over, now, that really is the big unknown. But look at that graph that you're showing. The sharp rise over many months could not continue forever. What happened today is it all came to an end. But, Wolf, the core question, bull markets do not just end on a random Monday in February.

So we cannot know whether this is just froth off the top or something more serious and more long-lasting.

BLITZER: And, Richard, on Friday the Dow dropped 666 points, another 1,100 points today. That's 1,800 points in two trading days. That's significant.

QUEST: It is, but we know the reason why. We do understand what's behind this. It's worries about higher interest rates, bond yields, wage inflation, and related to that, Wolf, how the Fed will raise interest rates.

The market's been used to cheap, if not almost free money. That's coming to an end. That's what spooked the horses, if you like. Now, on the other side of this, of course, it would be strange, bordering on perverse, to say that the economy is in such a bad shape that a market calamity is around the corner. That's simply not the case.

The economic fundamentals do not justify a full-scale market crash.

BLITZER: We will see what happens tomorrow. Thanks very much, Richard Quest reporting for us.

There's other breaking news this hour. We're standing by for the result of a significant House Intelligence Committee vote. The panel deciding right now whether to approve the release of a Democratic memo disputing Republican allegations of bias in the Russia investigation.

Tonight, it's not clear if President Trump will agree to declassify the Democrats' document, even if the panel gives the OK.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

So, Jessica, what is the very latest?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House not yet committing to release this memo if it is voted out of the House committee tonight.

If they do vote to make the memo public, the Democratic memo, the clock does begin on that five-day window for the president if he wants to block the release. The president of course said the Republican memo vindicated him. So, the question is, how will the president react if this 10-page memo pushing back point by point is voted out of the House committee?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, Democratic lawmakers are working to release their own memo that they claim rebuts the allegations of FBI abuse contained in the initial Republican memo from House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes.

[18:05:00]

The final decision to declassify would once again be up to the president, who signed off on the Republicans' memo Friday.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I would think that the White House would be very hard-pressed after saying they wanted the Republican memo to come out in the interest of full transparency to then censor the Democratic memo. That seems to be unsupportable.

SCHNEIDER: The president tweeting over the weekend: "This memo totally vindicates Trump in probe, but the Russian witch-hunt goes on and on."

On FOX, Donald Trump Jr. celebrated the memo's release.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: There is a little bit of sweet revenge in it for me and certainly probably the family in the sense that if they wouldn't have done this, this stuff would be going on.

SCHNEIDER: But Trey Gowdy, the only Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee to review the materials behind the memo, rejected the president's promise of vindication.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I actually don't think it has any impact on the Russia probe, for this reason.

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS: The memo has no impact on the Russia probe?

GOWDY: Not to me, it doesn't. And I was pretty intricately involved in the drafting of it. There is a Russia investigation without a dossier.

SCHNEIDER: The FBI had an open investigation into Russian election meddling when a federal judge approved the warrant on Carter Page in October of 2016. And Democrats point out the final Page of the memo notes that former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos triggered the FBI's investigation in July 2016.

Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians and is now a cooperating witness.

SCHIFF: On the issue of collusion, what the memo indicates is that the investigation didn't begin with Carter Page. It actually began with George Papadopoulos, someone who was a foreign policy adviser for candidate Trump and someone who was meeting secretly with the Russians and talking about the stolen Clinton e-mails. SCHNEIDER: Nunes today sought to push back on Papadopoulos'

importance.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: If Papadopoulos was such a major figure, why didn't you get a warrant on him? If Papadopoulos was such a major figure, you had nothing on him. The guy lied. As far as we can tell, Papadopoulos never even knew who Trump was or never even had met with the president.

SCHNEIDER: But that's clearly not true. Papadopoulos did meet with Trump at least once, pictured here in this campaign photo from a national security meeting in March 2016.

As for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, "TIME" magazine obtained a 2013 letter where Page bragged that he was an informal adviser to the staff of the Kremlin, raising new questions about the extent of his contacts with the Russian government.

Democrats warn that any moves to dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would be catastrophic.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: This could precipitate a constitutional crisis. If the House Republicans believe they have set the stage for this president to end this investigation, they are basically saying that, in America, one man is above the law. And that's not a fact.

SCHNEIDER: The president's former chief of staff appeared to dismiss reports that Trump ever considered firing Mueller.

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Of all the things we went through in the West Wing, I never felt that the president was going to fire the special counsel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: So now all eyes are on the House Intelligence Committee as it meets behind closed doors about that possible release of the Democrats' memo. Several Republicans have also supported releasing it.

Now, if the vote is to release and the president objects, the House Intelligence Committee could send the matter to the full House to debate and vote whether to make it public anyway -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much, Jessica Schneider reporting.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now and get live pictures outside the House Intelligence Committee. We're anticipating members will emerge momentarily and brief us on the conclusion of this very important meeting.

Meantime, let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, update our viewers. I take it that Adam Schiff, the ranking

member, the ranking Democrat, will emerge and tell us what happened?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, any moment now we're waiting for Adam Schiff to come out and brief reporters about exactly what happened.

We're starting to see some Republican members trickle out, including the Republican chairman of the committee, Devin Nunes. And I tried to ask him if he voted to release the Democratic memo. He said, we don't talk about committee business. We tried to remind him he did actually talk about committee business when speaking to FOX News today and on Friday.

He did not want to comment as he left this meeting. But we do expect that the Republicans will have voted to send this memo to the president's desk, releasing the Democratic memo, giving the president five days to decide whether or not to object to its release or allow its release, because several of the Republicans going in told us they were going to vote in support of releasing the Democratic memo, despite last week voting to block the Democratic memo.

They said at that time they had just seen it. They wanted some time for the full House to review it through a classified process. They did not agree to hold back the Nunes memo release, to release it at the same time as the Democratic memo to offer the public two points of view, as the Democrats were pushing for, instead allowed that Nunes memo to move forward.

But we do expect today that the Republicans will have agreed to send the Nunes memo to the president's desk. Several of the Republicans going in also made it clear they hope that the president ultimately agrees to declassify the memo, as he did with the Nunes memo.

[18:10:08]

Uncertain, though, Wolf, about whether or not the president is going to go that far. The White House has been noncommittal about what the president will do when he gets a chance to read the Schiff memo.

We understand from our reporting that the Schiff memo is essentially a point-by-point rebuttal of the Nunes memo. The president of course has heralded the Nunes memo as something that has cleared him and vindicated him from the Russia probe.

We will see what the president decides to do when the Adam Schiff memo argues the complete opposite and if he agrees to move that publicly. But if he blocks that from being released, Wolf, then the House will have a chance to decide whether or not to override the president, setting up a pretty dramatic clash between the House and the White House.

We will see if we get to that point. But the White House today not saying what it will do, even as the House Intelligence Committee appears poised to send this to the president's desk as soon as tonight, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Manu, stand by. We are going to get back to you

as soon as we see the ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, emerge. He's going to go to the microphone. Devin Nunes, the chairman, refused to talk to reporters. The only time he talks is when he does an interview. At least he did an interview this morning with FOX. Let's see if he returns at some point.

We will of course be anxious to hear from him as well.

But as we await for Adam Schiff and the Democrats to emerge, let's go to the White House right now.

The president and his -- get his take on all the dueling memos as we stand by for the results of the House Intelligence Committee vote.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us.

Jim, I may have to interrupt you, but what is the latest? What are you hearing from the president?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president sounded supremely confident in Ohio earlier today. He was giving a speech on the economy. He was celebrating the memo released by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes as if it were all the proof he needs to clear him in the Russia investigation.

The president appeared to be saying that federal investigators have been caught red-handed by the Nunes memo, when there is a serious debate inside the Republican Party over whether this controversial document really proves anything.

Here's what the president had to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Did we catch them in the act or what? You know what I'm talking -- oh, did we catch them in the act. They are very embarrassed. They never thought they would get caught. We caught them. We caught them. It's so much fun. We're like the great sleuth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, that comment comes as aides to the president say they will examine whether to release a rival memo that Jessica Schneider was mentioning on the Russia probe from the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.

The president referred to the California congressman as little Adam Schiff earlier today, but, Wolf, that is mild compared to how the president referred to Democrats at the State of the Union speech in Ohio earlier today.

The president sounded almost like a strongman at times during this speech when he slammed Democrats as treasonous for not applauding him enough. Here's what he had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They would rather see Trump do badly, OK, than our country do well. That's what it means. It's very selfish. And it got to a point where I really didn't even want to look too much during the speech over to that side because honestly it was bad energy.

No, it was bad energy. You're up there, you have got half the room going totally crazy wild, they loved everything, they want to do something great for our country. And you have the other side, even on positive news, really positive news, like that, they were like death and un-American, un-American. Somebody said treasonous. I mean, yes, I guess. Why not?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Can we call that treason? Why not. I mean, they certainly didn't seem to love our country very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Democratic ranking member.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SCHIFF: ... the majority's memo, the Nunes memo.

We think this will help inform the public of the many distortions and inaccuracies in the majority memo. We have also asked, as a part of our transmittal to the White House, that the -- unlike the process that was used with the majority memo, that the Department of Justice and FBI be consulted, that they have the opportunity to vet any information that they may be concerned about in our memo in terms of sources and methods.

We want to make sure that those that are in the best position to vet that have the opportunity to do so. The Department of Justice and FBI have already had our memo for several days. We also want to make sure that any redactions that are made are fully explained to our committee by the FBI or Department of Justice, and likewise by the White House.

We want to make sure that the White House does not redact our memo for political purposes, and obviously that's a deep concern.

[18:15:00]

The majority found themselves in an insupportable position when they released a misleading memo and refused to release the Democratic response, so I think they were compelled to take the action they did today. And we think this will be very useful information for the American people to see.

I also want to say that my colleague Mr. Quigley again and repeatedly asked the chairman whether he or any of his staff had consulted with, coordinated, conceptualized this memo in combination with the White House. We know, after all, that the chairman embarked on a similar effort to coordinate a campaign early on in the investigation.

And, once again, Mr. Nunes refused to answer the questions. At the very end of the hearing, he gave a very lawyerly written response, or read a written response saying that the White House had not been involved in the actual drafting of the memo.

But in terms of whether it was coordinated with the White House or they were consulted or strategized the whole concept, he refused to answer those questions. And, obviously, that's a very important question for our committee.

The reality is that as this investigation has progressed, our own, or perhaps more significantly the investigation by Bob Mueller, as more and more individuals have either been indicted or pled guilty in connection with this investigation and the evidence has mounted, both in terms of the issue of collusion, as well as the issue of obstruction, there is a rising sense of panic clearly within the White House and as well on the Hill.

And as a result, we see a tactic we have often seen in criminal cases where, when the facts are incriminating of the defendant, there's an effort to put the government on trial. And so that brings us to where we are today, where our committee, Republicans have endeavored to put the FBI on trial, put the Department of Justice on trial, impeach and impugn the hard work of these dedicated public servants at the FBI and the Department of Justice.

We think this very ill serves the public and we hope that they will stop. But, nonetheless, the chairman has announced his intention to continue with other phases of this so-called investigation into the FBI and the Department of Justice and maybe other agencies.

He has publicly described this memo as phase one. In fact, it's phase two. Phase one began with the midnight run and the presentation at the White House of information he had gotten from the White House. So this is phase two.

We hope these phases of distraction will come to an end and once again the committee will focus on what the Russians did to interfere in our election, what we know about the Trump campaign's contacts and communication or collusion with the Russians and what we can do to prevent this from happening in the future.

So that's where we hope our investigation will get back on track.

And with that, I'm happy to answer any questions.

QUESTION: Congressman Schiff (OFF-MIKE)

SCHIFF: The vote was unanimous to release this. I think the Republican members understood that after calling for full transparency, they were getting hammered over the course of the week for trying to hide the minority response.

What will we do if the White House essentially either redacts to protect itself or refuses to release? I think it is going to be very hard for the White House, like it was for Republicans on this committee, to block release of this. I am concerned that they make political redactions, not redactions to protect sources and methods.

And that's why we're going to insist that the Department of Justice and the FBI report to us on what redactions they think are necessary, so that we can segregate any political interference from the White House.

QUESTION: Have you already given them a copy? The DOJ and FBI, have they seen the memo already?

SCHIFF: Yes, the Department of Justice and the FBI have had our memo for days. Unlike the process the majority used, we want their feedback, we want their input. So they have had it for days.

It is our understanding and expectation that our memo will be going to the White House tonight, so as of tonight that five-day clock is ticking.

QUESTION: Have they -- have the Justice Department or the FBI, have they weighed in on specific redactions that they want in the memo yet at this point?

SCHIFF: At this point, they have not weighed in. I'm sure they have been awaiting this process and the vote of the committee.

But we fully would expect in any rational process that the agencies that are most heavily implicated, and here it's the FBI and the Department of Justice because they're conducting the investigation, would have the paramount say in terms of what might be revealed as to sources, as to methods, and also as to the ongoing investigation.

[18:20:03]

QUESTION: Do you have any evidence also that Nunes has coordinated with the White House in any way? Do you have any evidence of that or is it just him not acknowledging whether this happened or not?

SCHIFF: Well, for those of us on the committee, this just looks too much like a rerun of that charade at the beginning of the investigation.

And that took place the day after James Comey testified in our open session that he had since last July had an ongoing counterintelligence investigation. So this looks too much like a rerun of that.

And, of course, we're all the more concerned when the chairman refuses to answer questions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

Is the committee going to return to investigating Russian collusion? And what does that portend for future relations between Democrats and Republicans on this panel, which has traditionally been a bipartisan one? SCHIFF: Well, I would hope that we can get back in earnest to doing

the investigation that we were given the charge to do, and that is the Russian interference in our election and the issue of collusion with the Trump campaign.

Obviously, there are a whole host of very concerning meetings which initially the administration and the president denied took place and then, when it was revealed that they took place, generated false statements to cover up the true intent of those meetings was.

You had the national security adviser lie about his contacts with the Russians and plead guilty to doing so. You had one of the foreign policy advisers for the campaign also plead guilty to lying to the FBI.

That -- those indictments and those convictions took place in record speed, in a matter of months of this investigation. And for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle or in the White House to say they see no evidence of collusion, you really have to be trying to look away, trying to ignore what is obvious to make a suggestion like that.

You know, I often do the mental exercise of saying, what would be the response if it were suddenly disclosed that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice had had secret conversations with the Russians to undermine the bipartisan policy of the United States and would plead guilty to a federal offense about that?

What would be the reaction? Would people say, that's not evidence of any collusion with the Russians? Of course they wouldn't say that.

And there are serious allegations that need investigation. It's not enough just to bring people in for them to deny the facts. That's not how an investigation is conducted. One of the things that will become clear when the transcript of tonight's hearing is revealed, which we expect will be published in the next day or two, is, we made repeated requests to the majority to subpoena documents, to test what witnesses are telling us.

That's how an investigation is conducted. Only to have those requests stonewalled. So, for an administration and a majority on our committee to say they want the investigation to go on expeditiously, they're moving very slowly when it comes to getting necessary information and evidence.

Witnesses that have refused to answer questions are given a pass. We still want Don Jr. to come back before our committee and answer questions about his conversations with his father that produced that very false and misleading statement.

We want Steve Bannon to come back to this committee. We want Corey Lewandowski to come back before this committee. Corey Lewandowski didn't even claim privilege. He just says, I'm not really prepared to answer those questions.

Has he been subpoenaed by the majority? The answer is no. That's inexcusable. And there are countless other examples. We know that Don Jr. was direct-messaging WikiLeaks. We would like to subpoena Twitter to get those direct messages, but the majority has so far refused.

It's time for this majority to make the decision to be serious investigators, to get the information we need that can either prove or disprove these allegations. And we hope that that's what they will return to do. Thank you.

BLITZER: The ranking member, the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, saying the full committee, the Democrats and the Republicans, they have now voted unanimously to release this Democratic rebuttal of the Nunes memo and send it to the White House.

They want the Justice Department and the FBI to vet it to make sure there's nothing there that would compromise U.S. national security, releasing information about sensitive sources and methods, for example, and they're hoping the president will release it.

The president as of tonight has five days to make his decision.

Let's get some reaction from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He's a Democrat who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

[18:25:01]

Senator, give us your reaction, first of all, to what we just heard from Congressman Adam Schiff.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, I think it's good news.

I have been a prosecutor. I have obtained wiretaps. I have reviewed the underlying materials. I'm one of the senators that's been given access. And I concur with Representative Schiff's view that the Nunes memo was sorely misleading.

So, to get out the full story, I think, will be very helpful. I understand that Chairman Grassley on our side is going to release some unredacted materials tomorrow that should help also shed some additional light, so I hope that that continues to go forward and the White House approves the release.

None of that, however, puts the horse back in the barn of a political party on a purely partisan basis, against the advice of national security officials, being willing to selectively release declassified information.

Allies around the world are going to look at that and say, whoops, this is a new risk within the United States that the Congress will get its hands on classified information and they will release it for partisan political purposes, and it will put our sources and methods at risk.

And that is not cured by getting all the information out. That was the original mistake of the Nunes memo.

BLITZER: Well, can you tell us what the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Grassley, is going to release tomorrow? Can you describe that information?

WHITEHOUSE: I understand that he's planning to release the full document that he sent to the Department of Justice containing a criminal referral for Mr. Steele.

And when you look at the materials behind that, I think you see that -- until he releases that, I'm not at liberty to say much more, but stand by for that.

The other thing I think that Representative Schiff said that is important is, we still don't have straight answers about whether or to what extent there was cooperation or collusion between the White House or the Trump legal team and Nunes and his team in preparing the Nunes memo.

If this was something -- I can't say this is true, but if this is something that was cooked up at the White House or with the Trump legal team, and Nunes was then following orders and releasing a manifestly misleading document to help the Trump team and to dissuade the investigators, that is a very serious matter.

And the fact that they can't give us a straight answer should set off alarm bells.

BLITZER: So what can you tell us, though, specifically about Chairman Grassley, Lindsey Graham, their referral? What kind of evidence do they have in that referral to the FBI and the Justice Department?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I don't think sufficient evidence. They have alleged that the Department of Justice should look at whether Mr. Steele made a false statement.

I don't think what was said, the gravamen of their charge, meets any reasonable prosecutor's test of materiality. Without knowing more, you can't even know that they refer to was false at the time that it was made. Moreover, it's not even clear that it was made in the kind of conversation that gives rise to false statement liability.

So, for a whole bunch of reasons, it doesn't seem to be -- there's no there, there, it seems to me anyway. But it would be very helpful to get as much of that information out as we could now that they have raised that charge.

It still raises the problem that we should not be releasing so much of this stuff to score political points. We require the confidence of other intelligence services around the world. And once we have gone down the road of selectively declassifying this kind of information to score political points, it's hard to get that horse back in that barn and rebuild that trust.

BLITZER: There's no guarantee, as you know, Senator, that the president will choose to release, to declassify the Democratic minority memo.

He has five days to do so. Is there anything the Democrats can do if the president refuses to make that memo public?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, that would put immense pressure on the House of Representatives to take a vote as a full body with respect to the release of the information.

Since the vote was unanimous in the House Intelligence Committee, you would think that at least those members would be pretty much sure guaranteed yes votes, and a lot of other Republicans would want to step out of the way of this mess and also vote yes as well.

So the best-case scenario if the White House refuses to release it is that the House stands up, does its job and releases this report on its own once the FBI and DOJ have had their vetting.

BLITZER: I want to quickly turn, before I let you go, Senator, to the president's truly stunning comments in Ohio today, calling Democrats un-American and treasonous for not applauding enough during his State of the Union address.

What did you think of that comment from the president of the United States?

WHITEHOUSE: Maybe he's been watching too much North Korean television, where everybody in the North Korean Assembly all stands up, and they all clap together automatically whenever the Dear Leader says something. That's not the way America works.

I think that the most un-American thing was what the president said, that there oughtn't to be dispute or disagreement with him among senators and members of the House of Representatives. I think that it's a sign that the noose is perhaps getting a little tight around the White House. And they're starting to get a little bit panicky, because using words like that is very irresponsible and I think a sign of nerves starting to crack over there.

BLITZER: Senator Whitehouse, thanks for joining us.

WHITEHOUSE: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have more on the decision to release the Democrats' memo defending the FBI against GOP allegations of an anti- Trump bias. Will the White House allow it, though, to be released?

Plus, Russia weighs in on the controversy. Does the Kremlin believe President Trump is the target of a conspiracy? We'll go live to Moscow. There's new information.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:40] BLITZER: We're back with breaking news. The House Intelligence Committee just voted to send President Trump a Democratic memo that rebuts Republican allegations of misconduct in the Russia investigation. And now it's up to the president to decide whether to make it public. It's not clear whether he will do that.

As the memo controversy unfolds here in the United States, Russian state television is now weighing in and siding very clearly with President Trump.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen. He's joining us live from Moscow.

Fred, what are the Russians saying?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Wolf, this is quite remarkable to see this on Russian state TV and on pretty much the most popular Sunday show on Russian state TV.

Now, this is led by a commentator who's very anti-American, loves bashing the U.S. and is also very close to the Kremlin. His name is Dmitry Kiselyov, and he seems to have gotten some of his talking points, when speaking about the Nunes memo, from FOX News Channel, because he said that this absolutely proves that there was and is a conspiracy against President Trump. Let's listen in to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DMITRY KISELYOV, RUSSIAN STATE TV COMMENTATOR (through translator): Big scandal in the United States. Turns out that by the fall of 2016, a conspiracy formed against then-candidate Donald Trump within the U.S. special services, and the efforts undermining Trump continued even after his victory. Unthinkable. Special services against the president of the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: Now, when he's talking about the special services, he's obviously referring to the FBI and saying that this was something that is sort of almost a deep state theory, if you will, that's being presented there on Russian state television.

However, Wolf, we do have to point out that this is something that's actually very much in line with the Kremlin's position. One of the things that we've seen from Vladimir Putin over the past couple of weeks at press conferences and other events, as well, is that he'll criticize the U.S., but he'll always try to take President Trump out of that criticism. And at one of his main press conferences, Vladimir Putin even said that he believes that Trump is doing a great job in light of the fact that so many in Washington are working against him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, pretty shocking developments over there, as well. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much.

Just ahead, much more on the breaking news in the memo wars. Will President Trump agree to release a Democratic document that goes against Republican views of the Russia investigation?

And now there's new evidence of North Korea's rather brazen nuclear defiance in the backyard of a crucial U.S. ally.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:42:54] BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. The House Intelligence Committee just voted unanimously to greenlight the release of a Democratic memo disputing Republican allegations of abuses by the FBI. The final decision on declassifying the memo and making it public is now up to President Trump. He has five days.

Let's bring in our analysts and experts. And Jeffrey Toobin, what do you think? Is -- the president can clearly go either way. We don't know what he's going to do.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: We certainly don't know what he's going to do. I mean, certainly, if you believe in basic fairness, if you believe in just the most rudimentary ideas, that people should be exposed to competing views of the facts, this memo would be disclosed.

But we are in a new universe now. I mean, we heard the president talking about his opponents as treasonous today, so I mean, I -- I can't predict what will happen. I certainly think, given the unanimous vote, the president will acquiesce to that, but you never know.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, the fact that it was a unanimous vote, doesn't that put some pressure on the president to say, "OK, I'll release it"?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly does. And also, the White House's reasoning for releasing that Republican memo last week also puts a lot of pressure on them, because they said it wasn't for political purposes, that it was for -- in the name of transparency to let the American public have the information and then go from there and judge.

And it's interesting, because the White House was asked about this today, "If they do vote to release this memo, what are you guys going to do?" And they said they would follow the same mechanisms, the same procedures to review this memo and decide about its release like they did last week. Which is interesting, because we know that the president had decided last week to go ahead and release that Republican memo before he had even read it. So it was sight unseen.

So it will be interesting to see if he takes that same path here and what the backlash will be if the president does not decide to release it and what their reasons will be.

And one more note, the White House also did not initiate any redactions on that Republican memo last week, so that is certainly something to be looking for on this one, if they decide to try to redact anything here.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, he said he's really afraid of what he called political redactions by the White House. In other words, to take out information that might not necessarily be sensitive information, but politically advantageous to the Democrats and politically not advantageous to the president.

You know, David, the president also said that Nunes memo that was released the other day vindicated that his whole Russia investigation is a hoax, but several top Republicans aren't buying it. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I actually don't think it has any impact on the Russia probe for this reason.

HOST: The memo has no impact on the Russia probe?

GOWDY: Not to me it doesn't. I was pretty integrally involved in the drafting of it. There is a Russia investigation without a dossier.

So, to the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to do with an e-mail sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos' meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn't have anything to do with obstruction of justice.

So there's going to be a Russia probe even without a dossier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's clearly -- and other Republicans not on the same page as the president.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Congressman Gowdy laid it out pretty clearly, Wolf. And I think it's clear that some Republicans want to create a little bit of distance between themselves and the president because they know that the memo did not, quote unquote, vindicate the president. It also doesn't undermine the Mueller probe.

I will just say, though, that I think it's important for all the reasons Kaitlan stated also to see the Democratic version of events, because in the last couple of days, I don't think we've gotten a satisfactory answer to one point in the Nunes memo, which is this idea that the FISA warrant application did not include information specifically saying that the Fusion GPS memo was from a Democratically funded source. Democrats have sort of yadda yadda'ed that point and it would be nice to see exactly what they have to say.

BLITZER: It's going to be fascinating, Sabrina, to see what the president does right now, assuming the Justice Department and FBI -- they clear the memo and saying there's nothing classified in there. It's going to be fascinating to see what the president does, especially if there's information in there that undermines his position.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, yes. You already see the president trying in some ways to discredit the Democratic version through this is attacks on Adam Schiff. He is suggesting that Adam Schiff is driven purely by political motives while holding up Devin Nunes as some sort of hero. And so, the president is actually politicizing the release of both of these memos already and seeking to discredit whatever the contents of the Democratic counter memo might be.

At the same time, I think what you have is -- the challenge is something like Trey Gowdy said, is that he's saying on the one hand that the release of these memos does not affect the investigation of the special counsel, but it's also worth noting that the president is using the Nunes memo for that express purpose and so are his supporters as part of this broader campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the entire Russia probe.

BLITZER: And, Jeffrey, the president's language as far as his political opponents are concerned is really escalating. He called in a tweet this morning: little Adam Schiff, one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington right now. Adam leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped.

And then later in the day in an economic speech in Ohio, he says this about Democrats who didn't give him enough robust applause during his State of the Union Address.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even on positive news, really positive news, like that, they were like death. And un- American. Un-American. Somebody said treasonous. I mean -- yes, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As you know, the Constitution has a very specific definition of treason. What was your reaction when you heard the president say this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Treason is also a crime that is punishable by the death penalty in the United States, just to elaborate a point. You know, my reaction is I wonder how much we have become inured to this. You know, will we even remember he said this a week from now? How many of us remember that he called for the Boy Scouts to boo Hillary Clinton?

I mean, you know, he has done -- he has violated so many norms of behavior in terms of how we expect public officials, not just presidents of the United States, how to behave. It is so grotesque. It is so appalling.

But, you know, I think we've all developed antibodies that we say, oh, you know, that's just him. And I just wonder what the cost is in terms of the future of our civic discourse.

BLITZER: Yes, the Constitution defines treason as giving aid and comfort to the enemy during warfare. Jeffrey is right, punishable by death.

SWERDLICK: Yes, I agree with everything Jeffrey said. I will just add, though, that African-Americans will remember that. The president was referring to members of the Congressional Black Caucus. It's a willful misunderstanding, Wolf, of why members of the Congressional Black Caucus sat silently when the president tried to use black unemployment numbers as a prop to sort of shield himself from a series of racist comments that he's made through his campaign and throughout his presidency.

[18:50:09] TOOBIN: And, by the way, as someone who has covered occasionally the State of the Union address, the opposition party almost always sits there silently. I certainly remember watching Bill Clinton State of the Union during impeachment in 1998 and the Republicans who didn't walk out all together were absolutely silent throughout.

That's part of politics. It certainly was the right of the Republicans to be silent and it was the right of Nancy Pelosi and company to be silent. And to turn that into some kind of complaint like the dear leader in North Korea complaining about the failure to applaud, it really is deeply un-American.

(CROSSTALK)

SWERDLICK: He's doing it because he feels comfortable playing on this culture war terrain more than he does in some of these --

BLITZER: Sabrina?

SIDDIQUI: I was going to say we've almost already forgotten when one of the presidential debates Trump suggested that he would imprison Hillary Clinton and that kicked off a lot of controversy over the potential that he was campaigning on jailing his political opponent. So, there are many ways he's throw his rhetoric not just steps further than we have seen other previous presidents go, but also potentially erode faith institutions, to see himself as representing --

BLITZER: We remember the lock her up chants. Go ahead.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, and just to get ahead of the White House's response to what this is going to be their defense, we've reached out for a comment but they haven't gotten back to us on whether the president was joking, what he meant when he said this. And when he says things like this, they often say, oh, he's just joking. That's the way the president speaks. And it gives them a way to defend themselves, defend the president, give him some credibility while also distancing themselves from some of these saner remarks that the president makes, like things like this.

But Toobin is right. This is a comment you would hear from someone in North Korea criticizing his political opponent for not applauding him during a State of the Union Address. You don't hear that here in America.

BLITZER: Very American, not un-American, to have these robust political debates.

Everybody, stand by. There's more breaking news. An alarming revelation that North Korea has had a secret front for its secret defiance right under the nose of the top U.S. ally. We're going to tell you what's been going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:54] BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning more about North Korea's methods and funding for its nuclear defiance including a secret front for weapons technology right in the capital of a very close U.S. ally.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has got more.

Barbara, there's now some new evidence of North Korea's blatant skirting of sanctions even as the regime gets ready to participate in the Winter Olympics Games.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.

The dossier on what North Korea and its secretive leader, Kim Jong-un, may really be up to is growing. And the Trump administration still determined to try and stop it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Four days until the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in South Korea, but political gamesmanship is already in full swing.

Vice President Mike Pence set to play it tough at the games. He will remind the world of Kim Jong-un's murderous regime, White House officials say. Growing concern across the administration that North Korea is brazenly evading sanctions, giving it the cash to continue its weapons program.

Germany's intelligence chief says North Korea got some nuclear weapons technology secretly by using its Berlin embassy as a front.

HANS-GEORG MAASSEN, GERMAN SECURITY AGENCY (through translator): We determined that from there, weapons procurement took place in our view with an eye toward the missile program and in part also the nuclear program.

STARR: A United Nations report projects North Korea earned more than $200 million in revenue last year, exporting coal and other commodities restricted by sanctions.

In Mozambique, in Southern Africa, CNN's David McKenzie found evidence of North Korea weapons dealing for cash.

HUGH GRIFFITHS, U.N. PANEL OF EXPERTS: Surface to air missiles, manned portable surface to air missiles, military radar and defense systems, the refurbishment of tanks. It's a long list.

STARR: The CIA director offering this extraordinary disclosure.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: We have officers all around the world working diligently to make sure that we do everything we can to support the U.S. pressure campaign and to tighten the sanctions.

STARR: North and South Korean hockey players are already training together but many say don't let sports disguise reality.

PATRICK CRONIN, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: A lot of caution is in order. North Korea is a mafia state, a criminal syndicate and it uses its embassies for requiring technology, intelligence and conducting influence operations.

STARR: North Korea promises another massive military practice raid showing off its latest missiles. But news coverage will be restricted by the regime as it tries to keep secret what it's weapons inventory really may include.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And that parade is going to put the U.S. intelligence community into overdrive. Looking at every image of every missile, every weapon to see what it can learn about what Kim Jong-un may really be up to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to watch the Vice President Mike Pence's moves in South Korea. A lot of questions about if there will be any, any contact at all with North Koreans while he's there.

Barbara, thank you very, very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.