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Interview With Delaware Senator Chris Coons; Jared Kushner's Security Clearance Downgraded; Trump Aide Refusing to Answer Questions Before Congress; NSA Chief Says Trump Hasn't Told Him to Confront Russian Cyberthreat; Source: Shooter Had 180 Rounds left, Unclear Why He Stopped. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: No power to act. The head of the National Security Agency says President Trump hasn't given the authority to fight Russian election interference. Tonight, escalating fears that the U.S. is failing to prevent the Kremlin from meddling in the U.S. midterm elections.

Stonewalling? White House Communications Director Hope Hicks faces the House Intelligence Committee and refuses to answer some key questions in the Russia investigation. We're standing by for new information about her testimony.

And more ammunition. We're learning that the Florida school gunman had many more rounds in his rifle and may have had a plan to cause even more carnage. Why did he stop firing and walk away?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been stripped of his top-secret security clearance and his access to the most important U.S. intelligence report, the president's daily briefing.

The senior adviser paying a price for still failing to qualify for full security clearances. Kushner's troubles mounting tonight, as "The Washington Post" reports that officials in at least four countries have been privately discussing ways to manipulate Kushner.

I will get reaction from Senator Chris Coons. He's a Democrat on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents and analysts, they are all standing by.

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

Jim, this is a significant loss for Kushner.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is absolutely, Wolf.

The president, we should point out, ignored questions about his son- in-law, Jared Kushner, losing his top-secret security clearance here at the White House earlier today. The questions are coming in response to a change made here at the White House by Chief of Staff John Kelly that will affect White House staffers who are operating on interim top-secret security clearances.

As a result, those employees, including Kushner, will have their access to sensitive materials limited. Earlier this month, we first reported that more than 100 White House staffers were working with interim security clearances.

Last Friday, the president said he would leave it up to the Chief of Staff John Kelly to clean up that security clearance process in the wake of the Rob Porter scandal. Here's what the president had to say last Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Kelly respects Jared a lot, and General Kelly will make that call. I won't make that call. I will let the general, who is right here, make that call. I will let General Kelly make that decision. And he's going to do what's right for the country and I have no doubt he will make the right decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, as for Jared Kushner's security clearance being reduced, sources close to the White House are bluntly telling CNN that Chief of Staff John Kelly's move "directly undercuts" the president's son-in- law in his role as an envoy to the Middle East peace process.

One source telling us, Wolf, this keeps Kushner out of key meetings over here at the White House. And, as you know, Wolf, access equals influence and power, even if you are the president's son-in-law.

We should also point out Kushner's attorney released a statement on the president's son-in-law and his security clearance issue. We can put this up on screen, just a portion of this from Abbe Lowell, who is Kushner's security clearance.

"As to his security clearance, Mr. Kushner has done more than what is expected of him in this process."

Now, we should also point out, Wolf, as for this "Washington Post" report that has come out this evening that says foreign governments, including Israel, were looking at ways to manipulate Kushner by taking advantage of his business dealings, a spokesperson for Kushner's lawyer also put out a statement saying they're not going to respond to that.

But as you can see, Wolf, just an avalanche of negative information coming out about the president's son-in-law and his security clearance issue here at the White House this evening -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, "The Washington Post" citing four countries that

supposedly had ways they thought they could influence Kushner, Israel, United Arab Emirates, China, and Mexico. We are going to stay on top of this and work our sources. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

And now to the Russia investigation. We're waiting to hear from members of the House Intelligence Committee. They have been behind closed doors now for hours trying and sometimes failing to get answers from the White House communications director, Hope Hicks.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, we're told Hicks has refused to answer certain questions. What's going on right now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

She first came to the House Intelligence Committee at 10:00 a.m. And there have been back-and-forth with members of the committee after she initially refused to answer questions about her time during the transition and her time at the White House, under the direction of the White House.

Now, that generated some significant pushback from members of both sides of the aisle, particularly after she had answered questions about the transition period in a separate meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

[18:05:01]

So late in the day today, Wolf, we are told that she started to answer some questions about topics in the transition, but she still is not answering questions about her time at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): Tonight, White House Communication Communications Director Hope Hicks refused to answer question, frustrating Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: I have less hope we will get to all the answers.

RAJU (on camera): Has there been a subpoena issued for her?

QUIGLEY: No.

RAJU: Should there be?

QUIGLEY: Yes.

RAJU: Why is that?

QUIGLEY: With anyone who doesn't answer questions, they ought to be subpoenaed and brought forth.

RAJU (voice-over): But late in the day, a shift, as Hicks began to answer questions about the transition period, as she did during the previous appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

REP. THOMAS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: She's answering questions for the transition, too.

RAJU (on camera): She is starting to answer questions?

ROONEY: Yes.

RAJU (voice-over): Yet Hicks was still unwilling to answer questions about her time at the White House. That follows former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who previously told the committee he was instructed by the White House to invoke executive privilege on behalf of President Trump over matters that occurred after the campaign.

And former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski also wouldn't discuss topics after he left the campaign in June 2016.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: In the case of Bannon, it was an insupportable and overbroad claim. And he needs to be held in contempt and we're still pushing the majority to do they I think were committed to doing that. With Lewandowski, we need to subpoena him and bring him back, because he's now refusing to cooperate further.

RAJU: The House Intelligence Committee has also been fighting over the FBI's surveillance of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, leading to a war of memos over why he was targeted. The memo from the committee's ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, released over the weekend states the FBI was concerned Page was being recruited by the Russians, a claim Page denied in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo.

CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: No one in Russia has ever tried to work me. All the evidence I have seen so far, Chris, indicates that the -- there is much more interference by the U.S. government compared to the Russian government.

RAJU: The president this morning tweeting again, calling the Russian investigation a witch-hunt.

But on Capitol Hill today, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers warned Congress that he has not been granted the authority by President Trump to disrupt Russian election hacking operations where they originate.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: We have not taken on the Russians yet. We're watching them intrude in our elections, spread misinformation, become more sophisticated, try to achieve strategic objectives that you have recognized and we're just essentially sitting back and waiting.

ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: I don't know if I would characterize it as we're sitting back and waiting. It's probably fair to say that we have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors that we are seeing, if I could just keep it like that.

RAJU: The White House is pushing back on Rogers' claim.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nobody is denying him the authority. We're looking at a number of different ways that we can put pressure. Look, this president, as I told you last week, has been much tougher on Russia than his predecessor.

RAJU: Yet a new CNN poll shows about six in 10 Americans say the president is not taking the investigation into Russian efforts to influence the U.S. elections seriously enough.

And they also lack confidence the president is doing enough to prevent foreign interference in future elections.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: So, Wolf, as Hope Hicks is not answering questions about her time in the White House in her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, there are a lot questions about what the committee is going to do to enforce a subpoena over Steve Bannon and his refusal to answer questions about the transition period and during the campaign season and about whether -- his time in his White House -- and whether he will actually be held in contempt.

The Republicans are not yet committing to that. Several Republican members on the committee today saying they don't know yet whether or not Bannon will be held in contempt. Mike Conaway, who is the Republican leading the Russia investigation, says he needs to speak to Speaker Paul Ryan first before making the decision about whether or not to hold Bannon in contempt, as Democrats in particular are pushing.

And questions, too, about Corey Lewandowski. Democrats have demanded a subpoena for him to reappear before the committee and answer those questions he refused to answer before. But he has refused to come back and the Republicans are not yet willing to subpoena him. Uncertain what they will do about Hope Hicks now that she is not answering questions about her time in the White House, even though she's answering some questions about the time during the transition -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Let's turn back to the news on Jared Kushner's security clearance significantly downgraded.

We're joined by Senator Chris Coons. He's a Democrat who serves on the both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees.

Senator Coons, thanks very much for joining us.

So, what's your reaction to this "Washington Post" report that -- and the headline was Kushner's overseas context raise concerns as foreign officials seek leverage.

He had on an interim bases top-secret security clearances, now just secret security clearances, and, as you know, there's a significant difference.

[18:10:03]

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: There is.

Wolf, this is a really striking development and long overdue. I have just returned from a bipartisan trip to the Middle East. One of the issues that was raised in a number of meetings that we attended was expectations, hopes or concerns about the administration's long- awaited peace plan for the Middle East, something that Jared Kushner has had a central role in crafting.

The fact that he's been deprived of his top-secret clearance, he's been downgraded, because of his concerns about his failure to be fully forthcoming about his entanglements in his business side and his previous contacts, suggests that he is really not in a position to continue to carry forward the significant role in this White House that he's been entrusted with.

For him to be the person who is carrying forward an important peace plan in the Middle East at the same time that he lacks a top security clearance, I just don't think that's workable going forward.

BLITZER: It's not just the Middle East. He's dealing with Mexico. He's dealing with China. He's dealing with a whole bunch of countries.

So, what do you want the president to do?

COONS: I think the president should appoint someone else, preferably someone with relevant senior experience in diplomacy and international affairs. And I think he should find another opportunity for Jared Kushner to serve either in the administration or to continue to pursue his private business interests.

BLITZER: The president does have the authority if he wants to on his own to say he does have access to top-secret SCI information.

The president could do that if he wanted to, although the other day he said he was going to leave it up to his White House chief of staff, General Kelly, to decide.

COONS: I think he made the right choice in having his chief of staff having made the right decision and not allowing his own personal relationship with Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, to cloud his judgment about whether or not he should continue to have access to the very top secrets of the American people.

BLITZER: What if the president were to overturn this decision by General Kelly?

COONS: I think that would be a very bad step by the president. I think it would show a continued conflation of personal and family interests with national interests.

BLITZER: So you're deeply worried about this right now?

COONS: I'm concerned that this shows an ongoing pattern of failure to take seriously the protection of national security concerns by the very inner circle in the Trump administration because there are overlapping personal and professional and national concerns.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, another top adviser, aide to the president, very close to the president. Hope Hicks appearing for hours, more than seven, eight hours today behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee, answering questions about the campaign and we're now told answering questions about the transition, but refusing to answer questions what about has gone on in the White House over these past 13 months of the Trump administration.

What's your reaction?

COONS: Well, previously, both Steve Bannon and Corey Lewandowski refused to answer questions, claiming executive privilege. And as was seen in a clip from Adam Schiff just a few minutes ago on this show, that's an executive privilege that's not there to exert.

So, my hunch is that Hope Hicks may also find herself in some trouble with the committee, depending on what the reasons are about why she's been refusing to answer questions about her role in the Trump White House.

BLITZER: If the White House were to announce that they were exerting executive privilege, then she would have -- right now they haven't technically done that, but if they were to do that, then what?

COONS: That might well shield her from questions from Congress about activities within the White House, but it depends.

It depends what exact matter they're going after. I do think you can't shield illegal action behind executive privilege. I think that's an arguable proposition. And I think Robert Mueller's investigation, which is looking into potential obstruction of justice, may also have questions for Ms. Hicks, depending on how this goes in front of the House Intelligence Committee.

BLITZER: Does it bother you at all, as it has some, that Hope Hicks is the White House communications director, but she really doesn't communicate publicly with the American public? She doesn't answer questions publicly. Most people wouldn't even recognize her voice. You're smiling, right?

COONS: It's funny, because earlier today, as I was getting some briefings from my own communications people, they said Hope Hicks has been testifying for hours. And I said, what's her role? And they said she's the communications director.

I was unclear that she was the White House communications director for exactly that reason. She's not frequently seen publicly commenting on behalf of the White House. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen her play the role that is typical for a White House communications director.

BLITZER: So, big picture, what are these late-breaking developments, Hope Hicks refusing to testify, refusing to answer questions even behind closed doors from members of the House Intelligence Committee about her time in the White House -- she's answering questions about the campaign and transition -- and this Jared Kushner development, what does it tell you about accountability or developments at the White House right now?

COONS: What I'm more broadly concerned about is that the president continues to tweet that the investigation by Robert Mueller is a witch-hunt.

We had testimony by Admiral Rogers, who runs the National Security Agency, earlier today in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the president is failing to take seriously enough the threat to the United States from Russian interference, not just in our last election, but likely in our next election.

[18:15:09]

I think there's a broader theme here, Wolf, about a lack of action on behalf of the national interests, our national security interests, our interests in protecting our next elections, and in having people at the very highest levels in the White House who are transparent and accountable.

BLITZER: Senator Coons, thanks for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We have an update on another breaking story we're following right now. It is happening over at a U.S. military base just outside of Washington, D.C.

We're now told 11 people are being treated after falling ill after a suspicious letter came to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia. That's just outside the nation's capital.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's been working her sources for us.

Barbara, what are you hearing now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we are hearing is that 11 people fell ill after some type of letter was opened at an administrative building at this military base.

Of the 11 who felt ill, three were transported to the hospital. And at this hour, the local fire department is saying all three of those people are in stable condition, even as you can see there emergency personnel continue to remain on the scene, trying to determine exactly what happened at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. This is a local military installation here in Washington, D.C.

Basically, it just a short walk, if you will, away from the Pentagon here near Arlington National Cemetery on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.

It is a major location here in the area. There are a number of various kinds of military units and personnel that are based there and serve there again for local reasons here in the area. These are not combat forces in Washington, D.C. They perform local functions here in the area and some type of letter was opened and people began to feel ill.

What we don't know is exactly what transpired here. They are going to have to test it, see what substance may have been involved and what is causing the symptoms. The initial information we had was that three people had symptoms, including burning hands and one bloody nose, so taken to the hospital for medical attention.

Local fire is on the scene. We were told a short time go FBI personnel also monitoring it, because, of course, as they would in any case, but this is happening tonight in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, so obviously a lot of concern. People go in and out of this military base all day long. They going to have to figure out exactly, Wolf, what transpired here.

BLITZER: Normally, Barbara, at a base like this, wouldn't letters arriving go through some sort of security before they're disseminated?

STARR: That's right. We see it at so many companies these days and at military installations and especially here in Washington, D.C.

Mail is screened and treated, if you will, before it is delivered to its final destination on a base or at a facility. We're being told initially this was opened at an administrative type facility on the base, so we really don't know yet whether it was screened.

It probably should have been, and whether the substance, of course, was hazardous, what type of substance it may have been that caused all of this. Would it have been even caught by the kind of screening there is? These are all questions we simply don't know the answers to.

And it's why in every one of these instances you do see law enforcement and hazardous materials specialists move in very quickly to try and test it, see what they are dealing with, how many people touched it, what symptoms they have and what substance it might have been, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will, of course, stay on top of this story, very disturbing story. As you reported, 11 people started feeling ill after the suspicious letter was opened at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Three have been taken to the hospital and you are reporting they're in stable condition.

We will update our viewers when we get more information. Very disturbing development indeed. Barbara, thank you. Meanwhile, serious questioning about whether Jared Kushner can do his

job after losing his top-secret security clearance, and as some foreign officials reportedly are looking for ways to manipulate him.

And what is Hope Hicks telling lawmakers and what is she holding back? We will talk more about the White House communications director's marathon testimony today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:24:12]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the president's son-in-law and senior adviser.

Jared Kushner denied access to top-secret intelligence in a new crackdown on White House officials with temporary or interim security clearances.

And "The Washington Post" now reporting that officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways to manipulate Kushner by taking advantage of his financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.

Let's bring in our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, and our chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

I know you're working your sources, Shimon, on this about the concerns over his foreign contacts. What are you learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

We have known for some time now that the special counsel has been asking questions of people who have appeared before him about Jared Kushner's contacts with China, with the UAE, with other countries out of concern that perhaps maybe in some ways they were looking to exploit Jared Kushner and some of his business concerns, some of his businesses to see ways perhaps they can inject their help, to see if he would bite any of their attempts to help him with his business.

[18:25:22]

And we know the FBI has been spending a great deal of time looking at this. It's now in the hands of the special counsel. Just last week, we did our story about questions concerning Anbang, a Chinese insurance company that offered some help with 666.

That bank, that insurance company, I should say, the Chinese insurance, has been on the FBI's radar for quite some time out of concern for counterintelligence issues. They own the Waldorf Astoria. Former President Obama no longer stayed at that hotel because there was concern the Chinese could be spying on the president.

So, certainly, all those concerns have been with the U.S. government, have been with the FBI. They have been asking questions of other people who have appeared there before Mueller about other countries Jared was having conversations with.

And it's not necessarily, as we now know, that he is under investigation or that he has done anything wrong. It appears now they're also focusing on counterintelligence, how these countries were trying to influence Jared Kushner and were they trying to in a way hold something over him so that in their future, when he is in the White House in future dealings, perhaps just to hold something over him, with their contacts with him, with their offers of help.

BLITZER: That's one reason that individuals don't get security clearances, if a foreign company can manipulate them because of information they had that could undermine that person's ability.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Exactly.

Jared Kushner is the definition of a security risk. His family, his family business owns this building 666 Fifth Avenue. It's in desperate financial trouble. He needs investors. He has gone to apparently the sovereign funds of these countries with whom the United States has complicated financial relationships.

So no one can know whether, when Jared Kushner is negotiating with China or UAE or Qatar, is he trying to cultivate investors or is he trying to advance American policy? For most government officials, that's not even a question because they don't have these kind of investments.

But Kushner does. And what's especially remarkable is that he has apparently not stopping having contact about his financial investments while he was either in the transition or the presidency. That's why -- at least one reason why he doesn't have a security clearance.

PROKUPECZ: It's kind of similar to what happened to Michael Flynn.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to the president.

PROKUPECZ: This was the concern with Sally Yates, the former attorney general, who went in to complain to the White House that she was concerned that Michael Flynn could be compromised.

And this is perhaps a similar situation here, that there are these conferences, there's intelligence indicating that something may have been going on, whether it's the Chinese, whether it's other countries. They were talking amongst each other about conversations with Jared Kushner.

And all of this certainly, certainly has had the FBI concerned, has had intelligence officials concerned for quite some time. And it would really be very hard for Jared Kushner at this point to ever get security clearance.

It's also what's kind of been holding all of this up, because the FBI is still investigating this. Mueller is still investigating all of this. All of the counterintelligence issues that exist with Jared Kushner now live with the Mueller team. And it's -- that investigation is nowhere near complete.

BLITZER: Because the president last week said he was going to leave it up to his White House chief of staff, General Kelly, to decide. But if he changes his mind, and he's known to have changed his mind from time to time, he could intervene and reverse this decision.

TOOBIN: But the law is absolutely clear that the president alone at his own discretion can share classified information, can give security clearances.

But yet again this is an example of why nepotism is a bad idea, because he can't make an arm's-length decision about Jared Kushner, about Ivanka Trump, because that's his daughter and son-in-law. That's why all recent presidents have not had their close relatives in senior adviser positions, because you can't treat them like everyone else.

And even President Trump, who is not terribly sensitive to conflict of interest accusations, has tried to stay out of this one so far and said it's up to General Kelly. But who does General Kelly report to? The idea that somehow President Trump is divorced from this is kind of silly, but he has not at least explicitly made the decision about Jared Kushner's security clearance.

BLITZER: Going from top-secret to secret, that's a big change.

TOOBIN: Especially at that level, because they're the ones who deal the most classified information.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And you can't deal with the countries in the Middle East or China or Mexico without top-secret security clearances, if you're a U.S. official.

Stand by, guys.

There are more developments unfolding, more reaction to the one-two punch against Jared Kushner tonight, his security clearance downgraded, and some foreign officials reportedly seeking ways to manipulate him.

We're also standing by for late word on Hope Hicks' testimony before the House Intelligence Committee after lawmakers say she refused to answer some critical questions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories. Eleven -- yes, 11 -- people are now being treated after falling ill after a suspicious letter came to Joint Base Ft. Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia. That's just outside of Washington, D.C. Three of them were taken to a hospital. They're said to be in stable condition. We'll update you on that disturbing development. [18:35:20] Also breaking, news about the presidential son-in-law and

senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose top-secret security clearance has now been downgraded to secret.

Let's bring in our analysts and our experts. And Phil Mudd, "The Washington Post" reporting that American intelligence officials captured foreign officials discussing ways to manipulate Jared Kushner. This came up in a national security briefing that General McMaster, the national security advisor, had, one of his daily intelligence briefings. What would intelligence like this look like?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: There's only three ways you can capture this stuff. No. 1, listening to people talk, that's intercepts. No. 1, having sources or what we call informants. That's number -- No. 2. No. 3, having people tell you, "Hey, we're talking to Jared, and we think he's vulnerable."

I think the significance of this is not that Mr. Kushner was talking to foreigners. I look at his access and the access of the Trump team, and I say that's an advantage for America. They have experience overseas with people in places like Russia and the Middle East that's almost unique in the American government.

The problem he has is not that he met with these people. It's that he didn't report the meeting. And those in the security business say when you don't report it that gives you a vulnerability to countries, as you see here, saying maybe he's exploitable. That's what we've got here.

BLITZER: You worked for the director of national intelligence. You served in the Marine Corps for 25 years, Shawn. What are the potential risks that the U.S. law enforcement or the U.S. intelligence community sees right now, why they're refusing to grant them these top-secret SCI security clearances?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN ANALYST: Yes, well, there are a number of different risks. I think that, if we assume for a second that Jared Kushner does everything right with regard to his -- his access to classified information, one of the biggest concerns here is that there are things that these other countries will do, simply because Jared Kushner has influence and because he holds a position of authority in the White House.

So there's this question of whether or not his -- for Jared Kushner, someone who has one foot heavily in the business world where he is dealing with these major business projects that will enrich the Trump empire. And on the other hand, he has another foot heavily in the world of foreign policy and national security.

There's just this question of whether or not there are improprieties there that will arise and whether or not people will do things that will, on one hand, you know, appear to show that they are looking for something at some point down the line.

BLITZER: I guess he was primarily concerned, at least if you believe these reports about the Kushner empire, as opposed to the Trump empire. That was his family operation, a lot of real estate, a lot of business deals going on there.

You know, David Swerdlick, we know the president had has -- has had his ups and downs with his national security adviser General McMaster and his White House chief of staff General Kelly. So in the end he could -- he could reverse this decision if he wants.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He could reverse it, even though he did say a few days ago that he was sort of passing the buck to General Kelly to make this decision.

Look, I think General Kelly was in a position where his credibility was on the line with this. As my "Washington Post" colleagues and others are reporting today, General McMaster, one of his concerns about Jared Kushner was that some of these meetings were unreported.

They're also reporting that there are those in national security who are saying, essentially, that this is the kind of thing that, if you weren't the president's son [SIC], might hold up your clearance or prevent you from getting a clearance ever. And so these are the flags being raised.

In terms of what the president will do, I think he's got to, at the same time, you know, go through this process of saying, "Look, the top-secret clearance has been reduced to secret." At the same time, Wolf, let's face it, it's his son-in-law. He's going to have access to the president, even if he doesn't have access to all of the top- secret information.

BLITZER: And they're -- they're obviously investigating. We'll get to this in a moment, whether he didn't report those meetings because he was naive, not experienced in the world, national security, the intelligence community or if there was something else.

But let me play the clip, Rebecca, for you. This is what the president said the other day when he deferred action on the future of his security clearances, Jared Kushner's security clearances, to General Kelly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Kelly respects Jared a lot. And General Kelly will make that call. I won't make that call. I will let the general, who's right here, make that call. I will let General Kelly make that decision, and he's going do what's right for the country. And I have no doubt he'll make the right decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So politically, how do you see this playing out?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What the president said there, Wolf, should be a good sign when you're looking at John Kelly and his position in this White House.

As we know, it's a roller coaster. People are up; people are down. But that the president had this faith to let John Kelly make this decision as regards his son-in-law suggests that John Kelly is in a position of strength.

[18:40:00] But that doesn't mean that he will be into the future in the short term or in the long term. And what we'll need to watch in terms of the John Kelly/Jared Kushner relationship is does Jared start to feel confined by not having full security clearance? Does he complain to the president? Does he complain to Ivanka Trump? And do they start to resent John Kelly and try to isolate him or alienate him?

BLITZER: The difference between top-secret SCI security level...

MUDD: Which I have by the way, still, believe it or not.

BLITZER: Hard to believe, but you still have it. But that's one level. Top-secret is one thing. Secret is another thing, and there's a vast difference. Right?

MUDD: There is. It looks like, from the outside, outside the Washington Beltway, like this is a game for people inside Washington. It's not.

Let me give you some basic areas. Intercepted communications, typically, that's top-secret. He can't see them now. The most sensitive CIA operations, he can't see them now.

Let me make this even more basic. Our allies can see information frequently that he can't see. Those are allies including places in Europe and the Middle East. He can't see the stuff that people in western Europe are seeing that are security allies.

BLITZER: And he can't go to certain meetings that the president might be having at the White House with national security officials.

TURNER: There's a world of difference, the difference between the access of the information that he has now versus having a secret security clearance.

There are no circumstances, Wolf, under which he will be able to do the job and to deal with the issues that are in his portfolio with a secret security clearance. And in a month when the FBI comes back and presents this FBI investigation, if everyone plays by the rules, it's very unlikely that he will be able to get a top-secret security clearance.

BLITZER: At that point he's going to have to make a major, major decision. The president will, as well.

Stand by, guys. There's more breaking news. The White House communications director, Hope Hicks, talks to the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors as part of its Russia investigation. What are the key questions she's still refusing to answer?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:46:40] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The U.S. Cyber Command chief, Admiral Mike Rogers, who's also head of the National Security Agency, says he has not -- repeat not -- been granted authority by President Trump to disrupt Russian election hacking operations. Admiral Rogers told lawmakers today up on Capitol Hill, the Russians, quote, have not paid a price sufficient to change their behavior.

Let's get back to the panel.

And, Phil, let me play an exchanged Admiral Rogers had with Senator Elizabeth Warren.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: What message does it send to Vladimir Putin that the United States is not fully implemented sanctions to counter known Russian cyber attacks?

MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: More broadly -- not just the sanctions but more broadly, my concern is -- I believe that President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion there's little price to play here.

WARREN: Bingo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: First time on THE SITUATION ROOM, I'm speechless.

Let me make this clear. Let's make the Situation Room in the West Wing. I've been there, there's a simple conversation that includes the CIA director, the NSA director, the secretary of defense, it includes the secretary of state.

Here's the conversation to the secret guys, the National Security Agency and the CIA. How are you going to go against the Russians not only to stop them from interfering in the United States but to conduct operations against Russia? You need the White House to participate and you need them to authorize. What he's saying is they haven't done that.

Conversation two, secretary of state, are you prepared for the blowback when we go take a shot at the Russians? All coordinated at the table, all under the national security adviser with the direction of the president of the United States. What he's saying inside the beltway, that is the national -- the head of the National Security Agency is, the president hasn't asked me to do anything. I mean, in this world and my world, that's incredible. It's just incredible.

BLITZER: What does it say to you that he has not received the order to go ahead and prevent the Russians from using cyber warfare or whatever way to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections or the 2020 presidential elections? SHAWN TURNER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR U.S. NATIONAL

INTELLIGENCE: Yes, I think the most obvious message is that the president still does not take what the Russians did serious with regard to interfering in our election.

I think to Phil's point, it's important that we make sure people understand exactly how this process will work and Phil explained it well, but it is absolutely the president's responsibility to receive the intelligence, the finished intelligence, and to make a decision as to whether or not he wants to move forward with some action and then he tells his national security team to go back and to develop some courses of action, develop some options, some proposals in terms of what he should do.

One of the questions I wish the admiral has been asked today is whether or not the White House had asked for any courses of action and then made a decision based on other things that we may not be privy to, made a decision that now is not the right time. But it looks like the president, the White House has not asked for courses of action and that's something we should be concerned about.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wolf, can I just pivot from the nat sec guys to a political point and just simply, that exchange you just played if I'm a Democratic campaign ad maker, you can just cut that and print that and put the word bingo there. You know, Admiral Rogers says, you know, President Putin doesn't think he's -- isn't going to pay a price and then Senator Warren says bingo -- I mean, that is something Democrats are going to seize on.

[18:50:01] BLITZER: You saw the tweet there, Rebecca, that he posted today, just two words -- witch hunt. There it is right there, with an exclamation point, all caps. He thinks this whole investigation is a witch hunt.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. And so, it's not necessarily surprising, Wolf, given the context president wouldn't have ordered some sort of action, some sort of preventative action to try to keep Russia from doing this again. He hasn't really directed any sort of preventive action. And it's because he doesn't think it's real.

BLITZER: Yes, I mean, I guess the question emerging after the White House briefing today is whether he needs Admiral Rogers, head of the Cyber Command, whether he needs a direct order from the president, because the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said today we haven't told them not to do something, so it's up to him, basically. But can he act on his own on a sensitive issue like that?

MUDD: He cannot. Look, he needs authorization by the way the U.S. government operates. But he also needs it from just a strictly diplomatic perspective.

Let me give you an example. Let's say the National Security Agency goes in and disrupts something in the Kremlin, they don't advise the White House, the Vladimir Putin calls President Trump and says I thought we were trying to patch things up. I thought we're trying to work together in Syria, and the president says, what just happened here? What did the National Security agency do?

You cannot conduct operations like this from the CIA and the National Security Agency, that's the technical people dealing with communications and not coordinate with the White House. Sarah Sanders does not know what she's talking about.

BLITZER: He's not going to launch -- the U.S. is not going to launch a counter cyber attacks against the Russians unless he gets specific order from the commander-in-chief.

TURNER: It has to be a specific order from the commander in chief.

BLITZER: Would it be enough to get order from General Mattis over at the Defense Department?

TURNER: Look, if you are going to launch an offensive cyberattack, it has to go all the way to the top. The president has to be made aware. The president has to give disapproval or approval of that because this is -- I mean, look, we are still in the area toying with what exactly it means in terms of acts of war with regard to offensive cyber attacks. So, this is not the kind of thing anyone below the president or vice president is going to take it upon themselves to do.

BLITZER: Yes, a major development today that we're going to continue to monitor. Guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead, chilling new revelations about the Florida school massacre and how much higher the death toll could have been.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:54] BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking stories, including this, very disturbing development, 11 people are being treated right now after falling ill after a suspicious letter came to Joint Base Ft. Myer-Henderson, a whole in Arlington, Virginia, that's just outside of Washington, D.C.

Three of them were taken to a local hospital. They're said to be in stable condition. We'll continue to update you on the late breaking developments.

Also breaking tonight, CNN is learning new information about the Florida school massacre that left 17 people dead. We're now finding out that the death toll could have been much higher.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Parkland, Florida, for us right now.

Kaylee, the handgun had we are told a significant amount of ammunition left when he actually stopped shooting, right?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We are learning tonight the killer had 180 rounds remaining when he chose to stop shooting, this according to law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation. He fired off about 150 rounds on his way to killing 17 people. We are also learning that the magazines he carried with him, they had

swastikas etched on them. Also new tonight, information from investigators that the killer attempted to break a window on the third floor of that freshmen building that he attacked. This leading investigators to believe he wanted to be in a sniper's position.

Well, I've been told by people within Stoneman Douglas that window was overlooked the senior parking lot, as well as open area walkway and common area that students would funnel through to get to the parking lots.

BLITZER: There are now appears, Kaylee, some discrepancies in the number of warning calls that local authorities actually received about this gunman Nikolas Cruz in the years leading up to the shooting. What can you tell us about that?

HARTUNG: Well, the Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has said repeatedly that his department receives no more than 23 calls per service regarding the killer and his family. But our records obtained conflict with that number. Records that CNN had obtained show at least 45 calls per service between 2008 and 2017 to the home that the killer lived in. We have asked the sheriff to clear up this discrepancy but we've gotten no response.

One of the many calls for service came from Joelle Guarino, a woman whose family lived down the street from the killer's, her son grew up with Cruz and his brother, and over the years, she saw his demeanor changed. She saw him grow more disturbed and darker in his habits and actions. So, in February of 2016, she was pushed to call 911 when her son showed her an Instagram post from Cruz.

It was a photo of an AR-15 style rifle with a caption saying that he couldn't wait until he turned 18 to buy one. And then another post where he said he wanted to be a school shooter. And yet, Wolf, when that call went in to 911, investigators chose to do nothing. This one of two calls that are now being investigated for how they were handled.

BLITZER: Yes, they've got to learn lessons from this and make sure it does not happen again.

Kaylee, thank you very much.

That's it for me. To all of our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.