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White House Changes Story after FBI Director Contradicts Security Clearance Time Line; Intel Chiefs: Trump Has Not Directed Them to Confront Russian Meddling. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: We appreciate your service. That's it for "THE LEAD." I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, conflicting time line. The FBI director, in sworn testimony, completely contradicts the White House story on when it was send information on time line on former Trump aide Rob Porter. The White House pushing back, blaming a new group of people for delaying the decisions on Porter's security clearance. When will the White House get its story straight?

Russian meddling. The chiefs of the U.N. intelligence agencies unanimously reiterate that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election and warn there is no doubt the Russians now are targeting this year's midterms. Why hasn't President Trump issued orders to stop them?

Trying to compromise. As senators debate immigration reform, President Trump accuses Democrats of not really wanting an agreement, then says he was only kidding. With nearly 2 million young immigrants' futures at stake, is this any way to make a deal?

And family affair. North Korea's brutal dictator welcomes his sister back from the Olympics. Despite the smiles, U.S. intelligence chiefs say North Korea's charm offensive may not have worked. Can anything convince the young dictator to negotiate?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We begin with the conflicting stories, one from the White House press secretary, the other under oath from the head of the FBI, about when the bureau passed along information about the security clearance investigation for Rob Porter.

He's the former Trump -- Trump aide. He resigned after his ex-wives' allegations of domestic abuse and assault were published a week ago. I'll speak with Congressman Ted Deutch on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and specialists, they're all standing by with details on the breaking news.

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

Jim, the White House story, it keeps on changing.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSES CORRESPONDENT: It really does, Wolf. The White House is at odds with the FBI once again, this time over the time line and the scandal involving former staff secretary Rob Porter. Directly contradicting White House officials, the director of the FBI testified today that the agency had completed its investigation into Porter's background months ago. That led the White House secretary to come out into the briefing room once again and engage in shifting explanations.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump once again steered clear of questions about former White House staff secretary Rob Porter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe Rob Porter's ex-wives, Mr. President?

ACOSTA: And his resignation amid allegations of domestic abuse has raised critical questions about the security clearance process for West Wing staffers.

At a congressional hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray disclosed what he knew about Porter's background check and made jaws drop across Washington when he said his agents completed their investigation last summer.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March and then a completed background investigation in late July. That soon thereafter, we received requests for follow-up inquiry; and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January.

ACOSTA: That appeared to contradict what top White House officials have said for days, that the background check investigation was not finished.

RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His background investigation was ongoing. He was operating on an interim security clearance. His clearance was never denied, and he resigned.

ACOSTA: Today, aides to the president tried a new explanation, stating that while the FBI had completed its investigation, the White House personnel security office had not.

SANDERS: They had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House, because the process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned. The White House personnel security office plays run by career officials and we hadn't received a recommendation from that office.

ACOSTA: That's despite the fact that press secretary Sarah Sanders just said Monday the FBI handled the background check process.

SANDERS: Look, this is a process that isn't -- doesn't operate within the White House. It's handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community, and we support that process.

ACOSTA: Sanders continued to maintain chief of staff John Kelly only became aware of the details of Porter's past last week. But even she appeared frustrated with the shifting explanations.

SANDERS: I can only give you the best information that I have, and that's my understanding.

ACOSTA: Joining Wray at the same hearing, the director of national intelligence said the government security clearance process is due for an overhaul.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The process is broken. It needs to be reformed. We have 700,000 back-ups. So we have situations where we need people in places, but they don't yet have that.

[17:05:00] ACOSTA: Even fellow Republicans aren't happy. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said the president hasn't done enough to stand up for victims of domestic abuse.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: I think he needs to send a stronger message. A stronger message. We need to allow women and men that have been abused to come out and make sure their stories are heard and believed.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House said once again today that the president continues to have confidence in chief of staff John Kelly, who presided over all of this. It was Kelly who told the "Wall Street Journal" earlier today that everything was done right in the Porter matter. But that's after a White House spokesman said last week that things could have been handled better over the last week of this fallout of the Porter matter.

Another inconsistency, Wolf, from a White House that just can't seem to get its story straight. Lots of finger-pointing behind the scenes, not a lot of clear answers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. The vice president, Mike Pence, also said the other day that the White House could have handled it better, as well. All right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

The revelation about Rob Porter's security clearance probe is just one of the major headlines coming out of today's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide global threats. The heads of the U.S. intelligence agencies also confirmed that Russia did, in fact, meddle in the 2016 presidential election and warned that the Russians now are targeting this year's midterms.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, the warnings were unanimous?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about that. And all six Intelligence Committee leaders made very clear that the Russia meddling is actually already occurring, something that is replicating the tactics that Russia used back in 2016.

Now, one thing that members of both parties raised concerns about after today's hearing was that there didn't appear to be a clear strategy in how to combat that ahead of this year's midterms. Now, a number of these Intelligence Committee leaders said this is an issue that they're confronting right now and something that Russia continues to do after the 2016 elections.


COATS: With respect to Russian influence efforts, let me be clear. The Russians utilized this tool because it's relatively cheap. It's low-risk. It offers what they perceive as plausible deniability and proven to be effective at sowing division. There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts have been successful and views the 2016 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence on operations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Director Pompeo, have you seen Russian activity in the lead-up to the 2018 election cycle?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I paused. I'm trying to make sure I stay on the unclassified side. Yes. We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here.


RAJU: Now, later in the hearing, Wolf, Jack Reed, who's the Democrat from Rhode Island, asked the intelligence community leaders, whether or not Trump has directly ordered any of them to take steps to prevent Russia meddling in the 2018 midterms, and they didn't -- they said essentially no.

The -- Christopher Wray, the FBI director, said there have been no specific requests from the president. Mike Pompeo similarly said there have been no specific requests, although he said there have been larger asks by the president to make sure that the CIA does everything it can to protect against foreign adversaries, including Russia.

But emerging from this hearing, Wolf, a question for a lot of these lawmakers about what exactly the administration is doing. And the Senate Intelligence Committee says it's going to come out with its own report as early as next month, the beginning of the primary season, to protect against potential Russian interference by the time of this election season.

But clearly, Wolf, a sense that the -- that there's -- Russian interference is taking place right now and no clear strategy to combat it at the moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu, what's the latest on the Democratic response memo to that Republican memo about the Russia investigation? RAJU: Well, that memo, the Adam Schiff memo to rebut what the

Republicans said about the Russia investigation and the misconduct that allegedly took place by the FBI in obtaining a surveillance warrant on a Trump advisor, Carter Page, that -- those redactions now are currently being reviewed by Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee.

And we had just a chance to talk with Mike Conaway, who's the Republican who's running the Russia investigation. Now he said he has not seen this -- these redactions yet. He also would not commit for having the House to override the -- the White House's objections to this memo and allowing for its release by having the House vote to override this White House objection. He said we were not going to discuss that at this point.

But he did express some concerns about the fact that this appears to become a major distraction for this committee. He says he wants to focus on the Russia investigation going forward. Here's what he said.


RAJU: Has this whole memo issue been a distraction for this committee?

REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R), TEXAS: Well, I mean, it takes time to talk to you guys about it. But no, not in the big scheme of things. We're still doing committee business. We've got hot spots a little bit here on an issue that's really topical. But you know, we're moving forward with the Russia investigation and...

[17:10:14] RAJU: But it's devolved into this partisan fight between the two sides. It's been -- consumed a lot of time.

CONWAY: Well, I'd rather not had it devolved into a partisan fight, but it has, to some extent. Once this all gets done, we'll need to mend those fences and get back to the committee business that really isn't partisan and function more the way we used to before this all arose.


RAJU: So a clear sign that both sides want to get done with this fight over this memo. That's one thing that Schiff himself has said, that he wants to move back to the Russia investigation.

Now, it's really unclear, Wolf, what else this House Intelligence Committee plans to do in terms of investigating potential collusion between Russian officials and Trump associates. But we don't really have a good sense of whether or not there are a lot more witnesses coming forward.

The one witness who may still come forward is Steve Bannon. He's still under subpoena, and Mike Conaway made very clear he wants Bannon to return to answer more questions. But as we've seen time and again, Bannon has refused to comply with this committee's requests, saying he would not answer a range of questions after his time in the campaign season. So it's unclear whether or not he will return to the committee this week and what committee will do, whether to hold him in contempt. That's something that Conaway would not answer, as well.

But the big question right now is whether to do about the Schiff memo and whether or not the Democrats agree to these redactions. And if they don't agree, will the House override the White House. A lot of unanswered questions for this committee, which is meeting right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu. Thank you very much. We'll get back to you.

Let's talk about all of this and more with Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida. He's a member of both the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: It's my pleasure, Wolf. Thanks very much.

BLITZER: We'll get to the Russian investigation in a moment, about -- I want your immediate reaction to this White House. All the confusion over there over Rob Porter's security clearance. Yesterday the White House blamed the FBI. Today they're pointing fingers at the White House personnel security office. Do you agree with the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, that this process is broken?

DEUTCH: Well, the process -- I don't know that the process is broken, but there's clearly something broken at the White House. Wolf, that photo, it took the release of a photo of a woman whose face had been beaten for the White House to finally do what it should have done seven months ago when the FBI delivered its final report. We don't even know still whether -- whether Porter resigned or was fired.

The way that the White House has reacted to this, the president looked at this photo and then wished him well on the way out the door, seemingly not even believing these claims? Yes, you bet that there's something wrong.

There is something wrong at a White House that allows someone like this to serve at the highest level, to deliver classified information directly to the president of the United States. There need to be some minimal standards for White House employees and certainly someone who is -- has been accused of beating his wife, the multiple accusations against -- against him, against the speech writer, the accusations of women being dragged by cars, cigarettes being put out on their hands, that's an enormous problem.

The questions that it raises about how the White House does things are very troubling, and it's just part of the problem of all of these people leaving the White House. It's a mess when it comes to how they make the personnel decisions and, moving forward, how they need to.

BLITZER: The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, also said that people with what are called interim security clearances should have access to information on a limited basis.

Have you gotten any assurances at all that the White House is doing that, that they're restricting these individuals who don't have full security clearances, to only limited information?

DEUTCH: Well, we know in this case, that this is not a junior staffer. This was not someone who only had passing access to information. This is person who was responsible for personally delivering some of the most classified information directly to the president of the United States. So I'm not sure what kinds of limitations there were.

The real question is how it is that the White House chief of staff continues to maintain that they did everything right when we now know that the FBI completed its review seven months before. This is an administration and a president that has been besmirching the good work of the FBI, and now they're even questioning what the FBI had provided. It's very, very concerning.

BLITZER: The heads of all the intelligence agencies who testified today, they all expressed unanimous concern about the Russian election interference in the November elections. But the FBI director, Christopher Wray, says President Trump has not specifically directed any of them, any response to the Russians. And they're warning the Russians are getting ready to do it again in the midterms.

[17:15:17] How effective can they all be in combatting that kind of Russian meddling without the direct support of the president?

DEUTCH: Right. They -- they can't. And the president, the commander in chief needs to be focused on protecting our democracy.

But if you look at where we are at this point, this is a president that has refused to enforce sanctions that Congress passed in a bipartisan way, sanctions against the Russians for what they did in the last election. It is little wonder that the Russians look at the administration. They see the attorney general saying he's not focused on it. Today, the heads of the intelligence agencies said they've not been given instructions to focus on it. And we have to ask the question, why is that?

Why won't the president enforce sanctions? Why won't he instruct everyone to take as seriously as they need to, this very threat to our democracy? And why is it that he continues to attack the investigation into getting the facts of what happened in 2016?

There is too much at stake for us to simply sit back and allow the president to pass on the opportunity to take seriously this Russian threat.

BLITZER: Very quickly, why do you think the president has refused to do what his intelligence chiefs have all -- have all done?

DEUTCH: Well, I certainly can't get into the president's head. But one would certainly conclude, if you look at the response from this president to the Mueller investigation, the ongoing efforts to call into question the investigation itself, to get in the way of the investigation going forward. The only conclusion is that the president is concerned about where this is all headed.

This can't be about the president, Wolf. This has to be about protecting our democracy. That has to come first. The Mueller investigation needs to go forward, finding the facts wherever they take him. And the intelligence community needs to be tasked with going forward to protect our elections.

BLITZER: Congressman Ted Deutch, thanks so much for joining us.

DEUTCH: Thanks, Wolf. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more on the White House's changing story and blame shifting about former top official Rob Porter's security clearance.

And later, North Korea's brutal dictator welcomes his sister home from the Olympics as intelligence agencies try to assess if North Korea's attempts to manipulate world public opinion actually paid off.


[17:22:27] BLITZER: We're following breaking stories including the aftershocks from FBI Director Christopher Wray's bombshell revelations directly contradicting the White House time line about when the bureau forwarded information about former aide Rob Porter's security clearance investigation.

With us now, former FBI supervisory special agent Josh Campbell. Josh, thanks very much for joining us. You're now a CNN law enforcement analyst.

Yesterday the White House was blaming the FBI for all of this. Today they took a different stance. They're blaming what's called the White House personnel security office. Does this add up?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So it's a good question. Let me just say at the outset, Wolf, that you know, my job here isn't to defend the FBI. It's to explain the FBI. The good, the bad and the ugly. And I told my former colleagues, you know, if they mess up, I'll be the first ones in line saying this is something that needs to be corrected.

I don't think the FBI was at fault, and it's hard to say that the White House security office was at fault here, because we simply don't know. As you mentioned yesterday, you know, the bureau was being blamed. Today it's another entity. I think what we need is for a little transparency on behalf of, you know, those who were in charge to say, "This is the process. This is what we knew. This is how we're going to, you know, act moving forward." It's just very confusing.

BLITZER: I want you to listen, our viewers, as well. This is the FBI director, Christopher Wray. He gave a specific time line. This was a major portion of this hearing today. A specific time line about what the FBI knew about the security clearance issue for Rob Porter and when they notified the White House. Listen to this.


WRAY: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March. And then a completed background investigation in late July. That -- soon thereafter we received a request for follow- up inquiry. And we did the follow-up and provided that information in November, and then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month, we received some additional information, and we passed that on, as well.


BLITZER: All right. So he was very -- this completely contradicted the White House explanation yesterday. It put the White House in an awkward situation. You heard them stumbling today. You left the FBI partly because of all the political attacks on the FBI.

Do you think those attacks, though, played a role in Christopher Wray's decision today? His strong defense of how the FBI handled it in the face of the criticism from the White House yesterday?

CAMPBELL: I think that could have played a part. If you think about the FBI rank and file, they were watching today's hearing just like the rest of us were. So that message may have been for them as much as it was for the American people.

If you looked at the White House briefing yesterday, where you had the press secretary indicating that, you know, the White House did not understand the full extent of the situation, her words, "extent," until yesterday, that coupled with the kind of puzzling position that it was the FBI and intelligence community that made that recommendation, it caused a lot of confusion. So I think what Director Wray's statement today not only assured the rank and file that the FBI director would come out and set the record straight. I think it also helped the public clear up a little bit of the confusion.

BLITZER: Yes, let's not forget: the White House personnel security office is on the White House grounds over at the White House. It's not at some remote location. They're all right next to each other.

Thanks very much, Josh, for that analysis.

Coming up, the FBI director once again contradicts completely the White House time line on Rob Porter's security clearance, causing the press secretary at the White House, Sarah Sanders, to change her story once again.

And later, as Kim Jong-un welcomes his sister back from the Olympics, do the big smiles tell the story? Or did North Korea's charm offensive fall flat?


BLITZER: The breaking news: the White House is under fire once again over its handling of the Rob Porter abuse scandal. During a very tense and rather awkward exchange with reporters, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, repeatedly distanced herself from the White House chief of staff John Kelly and deflected questions about Porter's security clearance.

[17:30:54] Let's get some more analysis from our experts. Juana Summers, listen to this portion of this extraordinary White House press briefing today with Sarah Sanders. Let's play it.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Every day we come here, we do the very best that we can, and every day we can do better than the day before.

I wouldn't have access to that information. I wouldn't know the answer to that.

I can only give you the best information that I have, and that's my understanding.

We're simply stating that we're giving you the best information that we're going to have. We relay the best and most accurate information that we have and we get those from those individuals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This scandal has been going on for a week now, and we still don't have answers to the basic questions of sort of who knew what when. Whether General John Kelly...

SANDERS: I've done the best I can to walk you through that process, as has Raj. We've done that pretty extensively, and I'd refer you back to all of the statements we've given.


BLITZER: It's pretty awkward. Pretty embarrassing, I should also say, to see the White House press secretary refusing to go out there and assertively defend her superiors.

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: Awkward and embarrassing is a great way to put it, Wolf. I think what I also heard there as I was listening to those comments is it made me wonder, does White House press secretary Sarah Sanders actually have the full picture of who knew what went with regard to Rob Porter's security clearance? How he was allowed to remain in the employ of the White House, despite the fact that two of his ex-wives came forward with allegations of spousal abuse?

We have been in this story for more than seven days now, and the White House still hasn't provided a full telling of the facts. And per Sarah Sanders' comments herself today, she's giving reporters, she says, all the information she has at her disposal.

BLITZER: Yesterday she was blaming the FBI. Today Christopher Wray explained exactly what the FBI did, when they passed along this information to the White House, and now she's laying the blame at the feet of what she calls career officials in the White House personnel security office.

SUMMERS: Absolutely. And Wolf, here's the problem with that. Even that statement alone, based on CNN's reporting, contradicts what we've heard from other White House officials. You heard the legislative affairs director, Marc Short, last week. You heard Raj Shah, deputy principle press secretary, offer different information about that investigation.

So yet again, we don't have clear answers here. The White House press secretary said she's telling us -- this is the best she possibly can but they're giving multiple versions of a story and outright not -- frankly, just not telling the truth here.

BLITZER: What happens in every administration, Sabrina, is that if an official is named for a position, a political appointee, and they're having trouble security clearances, or the FBI concludes they're not going to get security clearances, that person simply quietly walks away and moves on, does something else. But there seems to have been a different standard for Rob Porter.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Certainly, there's a different standard for Rob Porter, and it's precedent-setting. Also because there's a different standard for Rob Porter than there is for most federal employees, where if you do not pass the background check, if you do not get the security clearance, then you don't get the job.

Someone in the White House clearly made the decision that Rob Porter should stay on and to continue to have access, potentially, to classified information.

I think that the White House, honestly, doesn't want to get into details of some of these issues, because there have been concerned raised over the security clearance of Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, particularly after some of his ties to Russia or meetings with the Russians came to light.

So there is obviously a priority being placed not on the norms or procedures, but on personal relationships and this question of loyalty and, really, continuing with someone until the dam breaks and the story becomes a P.R. disaster and they simply cannot go any further.

BLITZER: Yes. He wasn't just allowed to stay on. We're now reporting before the scandal broke, just before the scandal broke, he was being considered for a promotion. Maybe even becoming John Kelly's deputy, the deputy White House chief of staff.

SIDDIQUI: And certainly, that also goes back to the point that John Kelly initially defended Rob Porter amid these allegations. The president continued to defend Rob Porter even after the photograph was published, showing one of his wives with a black eye.

So you have had this consistent theme. Not just related to this particular incident. But also when the president backed Roy Moore, for example, in the Alabama Senate campaign, where very troubling allegations had been brought to light. And the president and the White House staff have chosen often to defend the accused as opposed to the accusers.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, I want to play the clip once again for you and for our viewers. This is Christopher Wray, the FBI director, laying out publicly today in an extraordinary hearing exactly what the FBI knew, when they knew it, and they passed it along to the White House. Listen to this.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March. And then a completed background investigation in July that soon thereafter, we received requests for follow-up inquiry. And we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month, we received some additional information, and we passed that had on, as well.


BLITZER: OK, Phil, your reaction.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You know, you think you only see stiletto knives in gangster movies. If you want a stiletto knife in the bureaucracy of Washington, D.C., you just saw one.

He didn't openly contradict or attack the White House and he didn't openly say anything about what the FBI found, but he told us the answers to both during that conversation he had with the committee.

First, obviously, when he went through the time line, as soon as you look at it for 12 seconds, you say, "Well, that's not what Sarah Sanders said." Who's lying here? I don't think it's the FBI.

The second and more subtle thing was the comment he made, subtly again, about Mr. Porter. When you close the file in July on a high- profile investigation that I presume is being expedited, and that thing is still being adjudicated six, seven months later in February, what does that tell you? I can tell you, it tells me it wasn't being adjudicated for smoking dope in high school or for getting a speeding ticket. There was a serious problem with that file.

Whether or not White House officials knew what was in the personal details of what was in the file isn't the question that needs to be asked. They knew that this guy couldn't get a clearance after more than a half a year of adjudication. That's all I need, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And Bianna, I want to play -- I want to read to you a tweet from Dan Pfeiffer. He was a senior adviser to former President Obama. He had some advice for President Trump: "How Trump could end the Porter scandal. One, fire Kelly and/or McGahn" -- Don McGahn, the legal counsel -- "Two, put out a correct and definitive time line. Three, institute new guidelines for interim clearances. Four, hold a press conference to answer questions and apologize to the victims."

What do you think, Bianna? Any chance of that happening? BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it hasn't happened

yet, Wolf. And if the president doesn't want to take advice from a Democrat who was the White House communications director, a Republican, I'm sure, Nicole Wallace, who was the communications director for George W. Bush, would probably not disagree with what Dan Pfeiffer said. Interesting that we haven't heard from the current White House communications director, Hope Hicks.

In fact, she, as we know, helped draft the defense and support of Rob Porter and we haven't heard from her since the scandal broke. We rarely hear from her, if ever.

We also haven't heard from the first lady. We haven't heard from Ivanka Trump. Crucially important given how sensitive this is. It is baffling that we haven't heard from any women in this administration speak out. I mean, obviously, you have Kellyanne Conway and you have Ms. Sanders, but that is her job. Not to hear from the White House -- from the first lady and not to hear from Ivanka Trump is baffling.

And it's crazy to think just within a matter of a few days, how someone like Don McGahn -- remember, about a week and a half ago the report came out that he threatened to quit when the president said he wanted to fire Mueller. He was praised. Now a lot of questions about what he knew and when. And if his job really is in jeopardy now because of this.

BLITZER: The president today twice was asked to comment on domestic abuse by reporters, and twice he ignored those reporters' questions and moved on.

Much more. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:43:41] BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news that we're following. And Bianna, it was an intriguing moment, indeed. All of the president's intelligence chiefs, they were testifying. Every single one of them confirmed the Russians meddled in the 2016 presidential election. They all confirmed they're about to try to do it again in the midterms coming up. They all say what Obama administration intelligence chiefs say.

But the president, he continues to refuse to say so, and they all said the president has never ordered them to deal with this.

GOLODRYGA: It is incredible, Wolf. And juxtapose that with the president just last week saying that he's going to delay, if ever, imposing sanctions on Russia for meddling in the U.S. elections.

In any real democracy, Vladimir Putin would be in trouble. Of course, now he's the real winner out of those hearings today. You've got a quagmire in Syria where just today, as many as 100 Russian soldiers have reportedly been killed. He's suppressing that information in Russia.

He's got a stagnant economy. The doping scandal with the Olympics and suppressing any legitimate opponents.

And yet, from the U.S. perspective, that's all anyone is talking about now, is Russia and Vladimir Putin and him continuing to meddle in elections. Not just ours: Mexico, around the world, as well. He's expected to win next month's election, and this was a big coup for him, as well.

So there has been hardly any punishment whatsoever. You had the CIA director say, "Well, you have to look at the collective. There are other ways that we're imposing sanctions," but obviously a real message would be sent if the president did implement those sanctions that were passed unanimously in a bipartisan way by Congress.

BLITZER: And Phil, last November, the President said he believes Vladimir Putin is sincere in his denials.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes. Look, we got a couple of issues here. The federal government can do a few things without the President. For example, the FBI can talk to Facebook, Department of Homeland Security can talk to election officials.

There are three things the President can do that he won't. Number one, how do you authorize the CIA to attack the Russians in the same way they attack us or to use other means to attack and to retaliate? You need presidential authorization to do that.

Number two, how do you look at the election coming up and look Vladimir Putin in the eye and say you can't do it again?

And the most important and final, who in the heck in the White House, Wolf, is going to look at the American people and say let me educate you on how to be careful about how you review information on the internet in the next election?

That ought to be the President and clearly, he ain't going to do it.

BLITZER: Right. It doesn't look like he's going to do it anytime soon, right?

MUDD: Yes.

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: No, it doesn't. I think there's absolutely been -- this president is someone who has rejected the information coming from all of the intelligence chiefs saying that Russians did indeed meddle, and I think there can be some scare costs to that.

You heard Angus King of Maine put this, I think, very well during this hearing. He said, you know, there's a concern that the threat of Russian can't be confronted if the leader of the U.S. government won't even acknowledge that they exist.

I think that really underscores the concern among the intelligence community and many on Capitol Hill familiar with those issues who are worried that the President's rejection of this body of evidence could, in fact, be damaging to the United States. BLITZER: He is rejecting Dan Coats, Mike Pompeo. Not just John

Brennan and James Clapper but his guys that he named.

Everybody, standby. There's much more news coming in including the sister of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un returns home after an attempted charm offensive in South Korea. Did the brutal regime score any propaganda points at the Winter Olympic Games?


[17:51:38] BLITZER: New tonight, we're getting fresh analysis. Look at this. This is Kim Jong-un. Watch this for a second.




BLITZER: That's a nice reception over there in Pyeongyang. We're getting fresh analysis from intelligence experts on Kim Jong-un's attempted charm offensive over at the Winter Olympic Games. Brian Todd has been following the story for us.

Brian, did the North Korean propaganda campaign have any serious impact?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It did have an impact, Wolf, but officials are telling us, don't be fooled by a lot of this propaganda.

Tonight, we're told U.S. intelligence analysts are assessing North Korea's mission to the Olympics, what the North Koreans went there to do, whether they accomplished their goals.

Part of that intelligence assessment involves pouring over the images now being released by Kim's regime showing how he interacted with his sister and other delegates when they returned.


TODD (voice-over): With a military officer hailing their return and bands playing, Kim Jong-un's sister and her delegation return from their charm offensive at the Olympics.

After briefing Kim on their trip, his sister, Kim Yo-jong, is photographed holding her brother's arm. The other top North Korean delegate to the games, Kim Yong-nam, is holding the leader's hand.

MICHAEL MADDEN, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, NORTH KOREA LEADERSHIP WATCH: This is sort of to express that they are very confident in their trip. Whatever news they are delivering from South Korea directly to Kim Jong-un, they had a very high degree of confidence in that, that this was good news.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, as intelligence agencies assess North Korea's mission to the Olympics, a key question: what was Kim's endgame there?

MADDEN: I think what he wanted to get out of it was the delivery of a message of this invitation to have President Moon maybe visit the DPRK. He wanted to get things back on track in terms of interacting with the South Koreans and the South Korean government.

TODD (voice-over): Kim seems to have accomplished that goal, analysts say, but they believe he has also manipulated the South Koreans to an extent and tried to manipulate world attention away from the vicious realities inside North Korea.

JOSEPH DETRANI, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY FOR SIX PARTY TALKS WITH NORTH KOREA: I think the conversation now has been on Kim Jong-un's presence and the cheerleaders and the athletes. Not about the gulags that are still in North Korea. Not about the 25 missiles that were launched in 2017.

TODD (voice-over): Meanwhile, a sobering assessment today from one of America's top spymasters who told senators the dictator could be getting shielded from information he desperately needs by his inner circle.

MIKE POMPEO, DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Our analysts remain concerned that Kim Jong-un is not hearing the full story. That is, that those around him aren't providing nuance, aren't suggesting to him the tenuous nature of his position, both internationally and domestically.

TODD (voice-over): How tenuous is Kim's position domestically? An expert on the regime says Kim's hold on power is strong but that until recently, his aides were not telling him how badly corrupt some North Korean officials were.

MADDEN: There are enough very sophisticated, close aides that were working under Kim Jong-un. They have been dismissed from office. They were massaging reports. They were, to a certain degree, misleading Kim Jong-un about the true nature of what might have been going.


[17:55:08] TODD: And according to U.S. officials, Kim could still be getting mislead by his aides about how bad his relationship with his top ally, China, is.

A U.S. intelligence official telling CNN tonight, North Korea's ties to China are, right now, at the lowest they've been in recent history. And that even though he is mindful of how dependent North Korea is on China, Kim does not appear to see a need to show deference to the Chinese.

His relationship, Wolf, with the Chinese, according to U.S. intelligence tonight, absolutely horrible.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks very much. Coming up, the breaking news. New push back after the FBI Director,

in sworn testimony, contradicts the White House timeline on when officials received information about former Trump aide Rob Porter.