Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Campaign Fundraising Off Space Force Announcement, Selling Branded Merchandise; California Wildfires Threatening 17,000 Homes & Buildings; The Devin Nunes Tape; Interview With Florida Congressman Ted Yoho; Mueller and Trump. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 9, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: These ominous words: "Stay tuned."

We will talk about that and much more with Congressman Ted Yoho of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's near the president's New Jersey golf club, where Mr. Trump is spending the week.

Jim, the president and his lawyer seem to be all over the place when it comes to a possible Mueller interview.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And one place that the president was in earlier today was a very quiet place. He was asked about the Mueller investigation by reporters earlier this afternoon as he was holding a roundtable with some of the nation's governors and attorneys general about the issue of prison reform.

But the president once again declined to take questions from reporters on that subject. And so we now have what is essentially the latest reality TV cliffhanger for President Trump. This time, he's keeping this country in suspense over a critical question, and that is, will he or won't he's sit down with the special counsel, Robert Mueller?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's the question of the President Trump doesn't.

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you going to sit down with Robert Mueller?

ACOSTA: But the president isn't signaling to reporters which way he's leaning, whether to tell what he knows about the Russia probe to special counsel Robert Mueller. Instead, he's letting the suspense build, tweeting: "This is an illegally brought rigged witch-hunt run by people who are totally corrupt and/or conflicted. Stay tuned."

REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I think the tweets are ad nauseum at this point. We know what he thinks. I don't understand what he means by stay tuned. He obviously likes to suck all the oxygen out of the room.

ACOSTA: The president's outside lawyer Rudy Giuliani says an answer to the Mueller question is coming soon. But he's dropping hints that Mr. Trump's legal team is worried a trap is being set.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: He knows the answers to every question that he wants to ask. He's going to ask him, did you tell call me to go easy on Flynn? The president will say, no, I didn't. Hey, Bob, you know it. Why do you want to get him under oath? You think we're fools?

They want to get him under oath because they want to trap him into perjury. Well, we're not going to let you do that.

ACOSTA: Giuliani told FOX Mueller shouldn't even bother asking a question about whether the president has obstructed justice in the case, despite Mr. Trump's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey and his repeated bullying of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

GIULIANI: But the reality is -- The reality is, he doesn't need to ask a single question on obstruction. He has all the answers. They're not going to change. The president's not going to change his testimony, so stop the nonsense. You are trying to trap him into perjury, because you don't have a case.

QUESTION: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to it, actually.

ACOSTA: The president has been all over the place on whether to talk to Mueller, sounding eager at times about sitting down with the special counsel.

QUESTION: Mr. President, would you still like to testify to special counsel Robert Mueller, sir?

TRUMP: I would like to.

ACOSTA: But he's also indicated he sees some peril in cooperating.

TRUMP: Wait, wait. I have to find that we're going to be treated fairly, because ever everybody sees it now. And it's a pure witch- hunt. Right now, it's a pure witch-hunt.

ACOSTA: Top GOP leaders have their concerns as well. Trump loyalist and House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes suggested to a private fund-raiser the GOP majority in Congress is needed to protect the president.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: So it's like your classic catch-22 situation, where we were at a -- this puts us in such a tough spot.

If Sessions won't un-recuse and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones, which is really the danger. That's why I keep -- and thank you for saying it, by the way -- I mean, we have to keep all these seats.

We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, CNN has learned the president is expected to have dinner with his outside lawyer Rudy Giuliani at his golf course here in New Jersey later on this evening, another sign that the Trump team is closing in on this very crucial decision whether to give Mueller that all-important and I guess crucial interview in the Russia investigation.

But, Wolf, it seems that the president and his legal team, they're trying to have it both ways. While at one point and at many points during the course of all of this, complaining that this investigation has dragged on too long, while at the same time they're now withholding from Robert Mueller and his team the one thing that they need to wrap up this investigation, and that, of course, is that interview with the president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Indeed.

Jim, we're also getting some new information about Melania Trump's parents, who officially became United States citizens today. What are you learning?

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf.

We're learning that her parents, the first lady's parents were sworn in as citizens earlier today, United States citizens, earlier today. But, Wolf, what's interesting in all of this that the first lady served, from what we understand, as a sponsor of her parents in their application process to become United States citizens.

Wolf, people have referred to that and the president has referred to that as chain migration. It's also called family-based migration, but he has referred to this as chain migration.

[18:05:07]

It's also called family based migration. But he has referred to this as chain migration. And, Wolf, as you know, over the last couple of years, the president has bashed the practice of chain migration, people coming into this country and then sponsoring their relatives to come in as citizens themselves.

And, Wolf, just this year, at the president's State of the Union speech in January of this year, the president laid out a proposal to reform the immigration system in this country, where you would no longer have chain migration, it would be limited essentially to people bringing in their spouses and their minor children.

If the president had had his way earlier this year, Melania Trump's parents would not have been eligible for this type of immigration in the United States.

So it once again shows that the president and his team and the first lady, I suppose, are willing to bring in relatives into this country in a way that they're essentially saying to the rest of the immigrants coming into this country that they can't have it that way.

So a very interesting developments of the first lady earlier today. But also you do want to congratulate her and her family for her parents becoming United States citizens, Wolf.

BLITZER: New U.S. citizens, and we congratulate her parents, to be sure.

Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Giuliani, meanwhile, is sending mixed messages about the Mueller investigation, telling CNN's Dana Bash that Republicans could benefit from dragging the process into the midterm elections.

But he's also -- but he's also said it needs to wrap up soon. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: Well, I think if it isn't over by September, then we have a very, very serious violation of the Justice Department rules. You shouldn't be conducting one of these investigations in the 60-day period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. She is with us right now.

What is he getting at?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK, well, there isn't a regulation. It's more of a custom inside the Justice Department.

And it doesn't say that can't be an investigation 60 days out from an election. What it says is the norm, I should say, is that there isn't an overt move in an investigation dealing with an elected official or somebody on the ballot 60 days before the election.

So, for example, a subpoena, an indictment, or maybe pushing to get an interview during that window. That's true. But at the same time -- you alluded to this, Wolf -- Giuliani is conceding that if there is no resolution between now and Labor Day, which is effectively the September deadline he's talking about, that it might not be the worst thing in the world politically, not legally, but politically, to give the Republicans a rallying point to kind of protect the president, not unlike what you heard Devin Nunes say on that tape, to protect the president from Democrats who may want to impeach him.

Now, that's obviously a stretch, but it doesn't take away from the fact that it's a talking point for Republicans.

BLITZER: Because some legal scholars have pointed out that that -- sort of that tradition of not going after people on the ballot involves members of the House, members of the Senate who are up for reelection.

But the president himself, he's not up for reelection until 2020.

BASH: That's true. He's not on the ballot technically. But when you're dealing with the president of the United States, he's always on the ballot in a metaphoric way.

And, I mean, and in this particular election year, probably more than most that we have seen recently, that there is going to be a referendum on this president. And he's out campaigning for people. So, yes, it is a very unique situation that you're dealing with a president under investigation.

So I think it's probably something that will be concluded by all sides that it should apply in his case.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, because we're going to be getting back to you soon. Dana is with us.

I want to get some more on all of this.

Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: You bet you, Wolf. Great to see you, hear you.

BLITZER: All right, thank you.

So, is it appropriate, Congressman, for the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to be treating this investigation as a political football by dragging out the interview negotiations with Robert Mueller and suggesting, you know what, if there's no interview, that might be good in generating support among the president's base going into the midterm elections?

YOHO: I think Rudy Giuliani doing what he thinks is best for the president to move forward.

This investigation really needs to go away. It was set up on Russian collusion and Russian meddling in our election. We know they meddled. There is no evidence of collusion. And the FISA warrants were issued on those pretenses.

(CROSSTALK)

YOHO: So, it needs to go away.

BLITZER: We don't know what Mueller has. He's been very, very silent. His team has been very silent.

We don't know if he has evidence of collusion or conspiracy or cooperation or any of those areas. We know the investigation is continuing.

But you know how this investigation can be wrapped up right away? If the president agrees to sit down with the special counsel and his team and answer questions. Why not simply do that?

[18:10:08]

YOHO: I don't see a need for that.

And I would defer to Rudy Giuliani again, but this investigation should go away. Again, it was set up on a false pretense. We have read the memos. There is no collusion. And they're going to drag this out. And this thing just needs to go away, so that when get on with the nation's business. We talk about our debt, we talk about these other threats.

This is something that is a distraction. Think how much more we could get done in Congress as a nation if we got rid of this -- it's a witch-hunt.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I just want to just correct you.

You keep saying it's a false pretense. Do you agree the Russians did meddle in the U.S. presidential elections in 2016?

YOHO: There's no doubt about that.

BLITZER: As all of the members of the U.S. intelligence community agree, including the president's own director of national intelligence and CIA director and everyone else?

YOHO: Sure.

BLITZER: So isn't that part of the investigation that Robert Mueller and his team are engaged in?

YOHO: All right, we know that happened.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: To learn all of the lessons and to see if there was any cooperation, whether with George Papadopoulos or any of the other Trump advisers working in that area? YOHO: I think, after a year, year-and-a-half and millions of dollars, I believe they would have found it by now.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: How do you know they haven't found it, if we don't know the results of Mueller's investigation?

YOHO: Well, he should have come out with it by now, a year-and-a-half into this.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He's waiting to speak to the president, though.

(CROSSTALK)

YOHO: I think they're dragging this out into the election.

BLITZER: He's waiting to speak to the president.

YOHO: The president hasn't been charged with anything, and he hasn't shown any wrongdoing.

So I don't know if I would sit down with Robert Mueller, if it was me. I don't believe I would.

BLITZER: Because they usually wait for the principal, in this particular case the president of the United States, to be the final element in an investigation.

YOHO: But that's only to give the prosecutor -- that gives the prosecutor a leg up to sit down with him.

And if I were President Trump, I don't believe I would. I would listen to Rudy Giuliani.

BLITZER: The whole point, though, is -- and it's a simple, simple notion that all of us grew up with, and our parents always told us, if you have nothing to hide, go ahead and speak. Speak the truth, and you won't be in trouble.

What is the president and his lawyers afraid of in sitting down and answering questions, if the president didn't do anything wrong?

YOHO: I agree.

And I think we'd like to hear what was said on the plane with Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch. And let's hear what that brings out. And, again, they have had a year-and-a-half to find something. Obviously, they don't have anything. They're dragging this out.

And I just -- I disagree with that.

BLITZER: All that stuff with Bill Clinton, Loretta Lynch and all that other stuff with Hillary Clinton has been thoroughly investigated. You saw the inspector general's report in the Department of Justice. They came out with a lengthy, what, 600-page report. They reviewed it in detail.

This is a separate matter right now.

But let's get into another issue, Congressman, because you're always kind to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

YOHO: Appreciate it.

BLITZER: The recently uncovered recording of your colleague, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, telling Republican donors that Republicans need to keep the majority in the House of Representatives, and then he suggested in order to protect President Trump from the special counsel's investigation.

Do you think it's your job to protect the president of the United States from this kind of investigation?

YOHO: Before I answer that, I listened to that state -- that recording seven times, and I never heard the word protect.

What I heard Devin Nunes says at the end of that is, if we don't keep the majority, all this goes away. The tax cuts go away. The reforms we made with regulations, they go away. So you can read that protect in there.

I did not hear the word protect. So I don't know if that's conjecture. If it's in there, I didn't hear that portion of it. And I have listened to your show for the last hour listening for that, and I played it back over and over again.

So if that word is in there, I would like to hear it.

BLITZER: But if that's his goal, to protect the president, as you know, the legislative branch of the U.S. government is a co-equal branch with the executive branch of the U.S. government.

YOHO: Right.

BLITZER: Your mission is to do what's necessary to protect the American people, not necessarily the president of the United States.

YOHO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: So, if he's making that suggestion, you got to have a Republican majority in order to make sure the president doesn't have to deal with Robert Mueller, that's not necessarily appropriate, is it?

YOHO: Well, again, I didn't hear the word protect. So you're putting that word in there. I heard that all this goes away.

And, again, I think Devin Nunes was talking about all the gains we have had, the historic low unemployment, the minimum wage going up across the country, over four million people getting tax -- or bonuses, and the millions of people that have gotten increased pay because of the tax cut that we passed.

And so that's what I think Devin Nunes was talking about when I heard that tape. He's talking about all that goes away. And I hear people saying, well, he meant protect.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You're right, Congressman. The word protect specifically is not included in this statement, but, clearly, it's implied.

[18:15:04]

(CROSSTALK)

YOHO: All right, so, let's leave that out of this discussion.

BLITZER: I could play that clip for you one more time.

But, certainly, if you hear what he's saying about Robert Mueller and his investigation, the need for a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, the implication is, the implied statement suggests that you got to keep a Republican majority to make sure that the president is protected.

YOHO: Well, we want to keep a Republican majority because we like the crumbs that are coming in, and the American people do too.

They sent us up there to do what we have done. And we want to make sure the agenda of the Republican Party and this president stays intact with the gains we have made.

And I agree with Devin Nunes. If we lose that majority, all those gains go away. And you will have Nancy Pelosi on the House floor rallying for eight hours to protect the people that are here illegally. And they will have open borders and they will get rid of the tax cuts and God knows what else they will do.

So I stand with Devin Nunes on that comment. And I did not hear the word protect. And I hope that the media gets that right and puts that word that the word protect was not in that statement that you guys keep saying the word protect is in there.

So I think that's a little false advertising. No offense.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We certainly get your -- we get your point. But the -- but it was certainly implied, if not specifically used, that one word, protect.

And you know what? We can leave it on that, and let the viewers and the folks, the American public, make up their mind to see what he was driving at.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts -- you're a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- on these latest sanctions against Russia in retaliation for the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy on British soil, including his daughter as well.

YOHO: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: These sanctions are required by U.S. law, but the administration didn't implement them until your colleague Congressman Ed Royce, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to the White House in late July, saying, you know what, you guys got to do this because it's the law of the land going back to 1991.

You're a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Do you want the administration to be more proactive about combating Russian misbehavior?

YOHO: Yes, absolutely.

And Chairman Royce, I have the utmost respect for him. And if Ed is leading this, I'm 100 percent behind it.

These are tools that we have come up over decades, over hundreds of years of arrows in a quiver that an administration can use. And if we don't use the tools, whether it's Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran, we're weakening our hand.

So I agree with Chairman Royce, and I'm glad to see we're moving down this. When you have a nefarious actor like Russia that we know is meddling in our elections, and there's evidence that they're doing it again, we need to act on that. And that's why we put in our bill the Cyber Security Response and Deterrence Act, that'll go after these and gives the legislative branch more tools to give an executive branch to hold bad actors accountable.

And it's time we start using them.

BLITZER: You got a pretty strong endorsement today on Twitter from the president of the United States. I'm sure you're pretty happy about that. I see that broad smile coming from your face.

YOHO: Yes, I did.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Congressman Ted Yoho, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for joining us.

YOHO: Wolf, I appreciate it. Thank you for the opportunity. Take care.

BLITZER: All right, thank you.

Just ahead, the judge in the Paul Manafort trial clashes repeatedly with prosecutors. What does it mean for the Mueller investigation? Plus, we will have much more on Rudy Giuliani's fear that Mueller is

simply setting what he calls a perjury trap for the president. Is Giuliani worried his client won't tell the truth?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:04]

BLITZER: A new mystery tonight in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers had a discussion with the judge about a star witness, namely, Rick Gates, a discussion the special counsel

Robert Mueller's team wants to keep secrets.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is over at the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

Jim, Mueller's office says the discussion would reveal details of the ongoing investigation.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

So, really the newsiest, one of the most interesting developments today took place on paper, not in the courtroom. It was a filing by the prosecutors relating to a conversation in the courtroom on Tuesday, in which the defense attorney asked Rick Gates about his more than 20 interviews he's had now with the special counsel.

The prosecutors said that those discussions up by the bench, they'd like to keep them secret because it relates, as you said, to an ongoing investigation, an ongoing criminal investigation. What are the two things that the Robert Mueller -- that the special counsel is looking into? It's Paul Manafort's financial dealings.

That's what we're dealing with here. The other one is that key issue of Russian interference in the election and the possibility, if it exists, of the Trump campaign cooperating with the Russians into the interference in that election.

And what that filing makes clear is that the special counsel is talking to Rick Gates, someone who is very high in the Trump campaign, deputy campaign chairman, in fact, for those months during the election when the Russians were interfering in the election, that they're still talking to them, they're asking them questions, and it's that question, at least as described by the prosecutors in the filing, is an ongoing criminal investigation.

So they're still relying on him and his testimony is still relevant to that open question, Wolf.

BLITZER: An important, indeed.

All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

Let's dig deeper into all of this.

Our chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is joining us.

So, Jeffrey, how unusual is it for a federal judge to admonish a prosecutor like this, and how unusual is it for that same judge to then apologize in front of the jury?

[18:25:07]

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, Judge Ellis is a bully and a disgrace. His behavior in the courtroom is appalling.

There are many ways that judges can keep a disciplined courtroom that can move cases along quickly without berating and embarrassing the lawyers, especially when the judge was wrong.

When -- the issue that came up was, he yelled at the prosecutors because they allowed an expert witness to remain in the courtroom and listen to other testimony. But he had previously allowed expert witnesses, explicitly said it was OK for them to be in the courtroom.

And, grudgingly, this morning, he said, well, probably I was wrong.

Not probably. Definitely, he was wrong. It is unusual, because most judges are better and less arrogant than this judge is. And I don't think it will affect the outcome of the trial. But I think it's a poor model in a high-profile case.

BLITZER: Let's turn to Rudy Giuliani's latest remarks to our own Dana Bash.

He says he might not mind dragging out the Russia investigation because it could help fire up the Republican base ahead of the midterm elections. What did you make of that comment from the president's attorney?

TOOBIN: I think he may be right.

I mean, if you look at what -- how Rudy Giuliani has conducted his defense in public, it has been basically an attempt to rally the base, to convince Trump's -- the president's supporters that Robert Mueller is a thug, that Robert Mueller is on a witch-hunt.

And it's been pretty successful, according to the polls.

Robert Mueller is powerless to defend himself. He does not comment in the media. He only has people who are on the outside who are commenting on his behalf. And we can argue about whether it's a good thing or a bad thing that Rudy Giuliani is talking this way, but is he right about how the politics play out?

I think, at the margins, he may well be right, that this keeps -- that the fight with Mueller keeps his base motivated.

BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey, thank you very much. Jeffrey Toobin is our legal analyst.

Just ahead, we will have more on the newly leaked recording of the House Intelligence Committee chairman talking about protecting President Trump from the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

We're going to play the clip for our viewers.

And breaking news. The death toll claims in California's fire disaster -- plus, new details of the man suspected of starting one of the blazes and how he taunted a firefighter by text.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:32:20] WOLF BLITZER, THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: More now on the newly leaked recording of the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes saying Republicans have to keep their majority so they can protect President Trump in the Russia investigation. Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and analysts. Gloria Borger, let's listen one more time. We played it earlier Congressman Nunes in his own words.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's your classic Catch-22 situation where -- this puts us in such a tough spot. If Sessions won't recuse and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones. Which is really the danger. That's why -- and thank you for saying it, by the way, I mean we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so what's your analysis?

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a protection racket. I mean, he wants to protect the president. If you want to say, look, we need to keep the Republican majority because we need to do more on tax reform or we, you know, we want to do more on trade, we want to get rid of NAFTA, whatever it is, fine, fine. Those are issues.

What he's talking about is protecting the president from Bob Mueller, the special counsel. You know, he's also saying if we did this now, if we tried to impeach Rod Rosenstein, which is also a ridiculous idea, if we impeach Rod Rosenstein, we're going to hold up the confirmation of Cavanaugh for the Supreme Court, which people would argue is probably a little bit more important.

So let's hold off on impeaching the deputy attorney general until after the election. So let's make sure we can keep this majority. And by the way, use this as an issue in the election, which is what they're going to do.

BLITZER: You know, Rebecca Berg, Congressman said Yahoo's right, you didn't hear the word protect, but the whole upshot of this is that if there's no Republican majority in the House of Representatives, Mueller and Sessions doesn't un-recuse himself and Mueller won't clear the president, the Republican majority is the only one that can prevent this real danger to the president of the United States from unfolding. So the protection is clearly implied there, even if that word protect is not used.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Absolutely. It's clear what Devin Nunes here is saying and it's not necessarily surprising that he would think this, that he would believe this. But to hear a House committee chairman, much less the intelligence committee chairman, give voice to these feelings is rather stunning.

[18:35:08] Especially because, well, two things, first, because of what it says about his investigation, about the work that he has done on the intelligence committee. It casts doubt on everything he has done. It raises further questions about his impartiality and the impartiality of Republicans on the committee. But then it's also playing right into the hand of Democrats politically. They have been arguing and their candidates have been arguing that they need to come to Washington to be a check on the president, because Republicans won't do it. And that's exactly what Devin Nunes here is saying.

BLITZER: Congress is supposed to be a coequal branch of government with oversight responsibilities, responsibilities to the American public, not necessarily to the executive branch, including the president.

DAVID SWERDICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. A coequal Article I branch of government that's supposed to be loyal to the constitution, not to the president of their own party. Wolf, I like Rebecca is saying, I think Republicans in the House have at times played this fairly partisan even in comparison to Republicans in the Senate. What makes Congressman Nunes stand out is that if you look at some of his statements, that statement, his actions going to the skiff at the White House last spring to try and look at documents to backstop the president's claim about the Obama Administration spying on him.

The difference between him and some of his colleagues is he doesn't seem to mind that we all perceive him that way. He is riding for Trump and that is what makes him stand out.

BLTIZER: Phil Mudd, what do you make of Congressman Devin Nunes's remarks?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I mean are you kidding me? If this were a serious process, we're going to get either indictments or I suspect we're going to get a written report at the end of this process by Special Counsel Mueller that the Congress I'm guessing will eventually see that will include the facts of the investigation.

A real committee -- look at the Senate Intel Committee, by the way take this partisan statement, the Senate Intel Committee led by Republican Senator Richard Bur very honorably looking at the Russia process and saying why don't we consider a fact. What Devin Nunes is saying, I don't care what Mueller find, we're supposed to be a block on the Mueller process. If you gave Nunes the F and the A, he couldn't spell fact. All he says is before I see one, we got to block what they do. This is pretty simple. The Senate's got this right. The House never has.

SWERDICK: Wolf, you know, the funny thing about Congressman Nunes that surprises me sometimes is that President Trump is loyal to no one that's not named Trump, right? So, it's a wonder why he thinks that if at any point it becomes useful to the president to say Congressman Nunes, who? Never heard of the guy. He used to get coffee for us. He probably will do that based on his track record. So why is he sticking to closely to him? It's hard to say.

BLITZER: Let's switch gears, Gloria, I got your reaction from new statistics coming out from Puerto Rico to the hurricanes, the death toll from last year's hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Irma and Maria. Now 1,427 people, that's the death toll were killed from this hurricane, as opposed to about 60 originally mentioned in the early statistics. It's approaching hurricane Katrina. Katrina had 1,833 people killed. These are American citizens in Puerto Rico. What are your thoughts on this very sad and disturbing new information were getting from the government of Puerto Rico?

BORGER: Look, I think the United States government needs to do an accounting, a public accounting of what occurred here and what went wrong. The president was saying things were going great, the electric grid was up, you know, the 40-odd deaths were unfortunate but things were going well.

I mean, now you're talking about a huge number of people who have perished. And where is the president? And where are the departments here of government talking about what went wrong after action, what they can do better, why it didn't work, where were the resources? And we're not hearing that. We're not hearing that.

Look, there's so much else going on, you know, we're talking about children being separated from their parents at the border, we're talking about the Russia investigation, we're talking about Russia. We're talking about NATO. There is so much incoming right now that it's hard to kind of focus on what occurred months and months ago. But these are people, Americans, Americans who died who were not given the assistance that they need. At some point, the buck stops with the president of the United States.

BLITZER: Rebecca, let's play what the president said in the immediate aftermath of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We saved a lot of lives.

[18:40:00] If you look at the -- every death is a horror, but if you at a real catastrophe like Katrina and look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering. Nobody is even seen anything like this. What is your death count as of this moment, 17?

UNIDENTIFIED MAL: Sixteen sir.

TRUMP: Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We now know, according to the government of Puerto Rico, Rebecca, 1,427 people were killed in those hurricanes.

BERG: Right. And so it really puts the president's comments in a whole new light, Wolf. And maybe the president shouldn't have been celebrating that moment in the first place. I mean, it's one thing to praise the government workers, the first responders who in light of a natural disaster of that magnitude are responding and trying to save lives. Certainly the president should thank them and praise their work.

But to try to take credit in that moment, to talk about those at the time 16 lives -- now we know it to be thousands of lives lost -- as if they were points on a scoreboard rather than people who are now dead whose families will never see them again, the president doesn't only have an obligation as an executive but also as a moral leader, as an emotional leader in moments of crisis and disaster. And you really didn't see that from President Trump in this case.

BLITZER: Yes. You've got to blame the governor too in Puerto Rico. For coming up with that number very early --

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- clearly a false number. Indeed as we know.

All right, everybody standby. Just ahead, the Trump reelection campaign already fund-raising off the president's space force just hours after it was launched.

Plus, breaking news, 17,000 homes and other buildings threatened right now by California's wildfires. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:49] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump's reelection campaign is trying to raise money off of today's announcement launching the president's Space Force by selling branded merchandise and asking supporters to vote on a logo.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us right now.

Barbara, the Vice President Mike Pence, he was over there today laying out a very ambitious plan for this new military branch. What's the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, once you get past the idea of political fund-raising off of the U.S. military, the question on the table is this. There is a threat, but has the Trump administration even have the right solution?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(AUDIENCE CHANTING)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Space force. Space force!

So we have the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard. Now, we're going to have the Space Force because it's a whole --

(CHEERS)

We need it.

STARR (voice-over): At the Pentagon, Vice President Mike Pence unveiling the White House plan.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The time has come to establish the United States' space force.

STARR: Pence making the case the U.S. is under threat.

PENCE: Russia, and China, to North Korea and Iran have pursued weapons to jam, blind and disable our navigation and communication satellites.

STARR: In 2007, China used a missile to destroy one of its own out of date satellites. What if it had been targeting U.S. satellites?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What that means is that it put every single thing that we have in space at risk. That includes GPS communications. It includes all of the communication satellites that we have, all of the things that we depend on nowadays for our daily life, was all of a sudden put at risk by that one action by the Chinese in 2007.

STARR: The Kremlin working on a similar threat.

PENCE: Russia's been designing an airborne laser to disrupt our space-based system and it claims to be developing missiles that can be launched from aircraft mid-flight to destroy American satellites.

STARR: Defense Secretary James Mattis was initially unenthusiastic about adding more bureaucracy to the Pentagon, telling Congress in 2017, I do not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations.

Mattis now says he's on board with the plan. Congress would have to approve a new branch of the military. And there are questions if more military offices are the right solution for a 21st century threat.

LEIGHTON: I think this is maybe the wrong bureaucracy for

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So, if there was a successful attack against a satellite, one analyst says it could be catastrophic and push American life back into the 1940s or '50s because of that loss of satellite capability -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Important story, indeed. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

There's breaking news next. We're going to get an update on the multiple wildfires burning out of control right now across California. You're looking at live pictures. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:54:40] BLITZER: The wildfires raging across California tonight are threatening 17,000 homes and other buildings and another firefighter has died, battling one of the largest blazes, bringing the death toll now to eight.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is joining us live now from what's been dubbed the Holy Fire in southern California.

Stephanie, 20,000 people, I understand, have been evacuated.

[18:55:02] STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And they've actually increased the evacuations and this is part of the reason why. Because you see that flame there, right there by that tower, right here behind these homes.

And you can probably also see that the wind is picking up here. These are all the concerns in the afternoon when they're fighting fires. And this is what they're dealing with across the state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM (voice-over): Tonight, responders are scrambling to save lives and contain the damage, as fires blaze across California. These images from the Holy Fire in Orange County show what looks like a fire tornado. The smoke billowing as flames swirl along the hillside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm caught on fire. I'm burned.

ELAM: Authorities believe the Holy Fire was man-made, allegedly started by this man, 51-year-old Forrest Gordon Clark, now behind bars and facing several felony arson charges. And if convicted, could face the rest of his life in prison.

REPORTER: You know how this fire started?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no idea. I was asleep. I had two ear plugs in. I just woke up, dude. I got burned. I woke up and my stuff was all on fire.

TODD SPITZER, ORANGE COUNTY SUPERVISOR: This is a monster. Who would go out with low -- humidity and high wind and the highest heat temperatures this time of the year and intentionally set the forest on fire?

MIKE MILLIGAN, HOLY JIM VOLUNTEER FIRE CHIEF: He needs to be in jail for the rest of his life. Truly does.

ELAM: Holy Jim volunteer fire chief Mike Milligan has known Clark for decades and showed us a text he says Clark sent him just weeks ago. It's also going to burn, just like you planned, it read. Alleged behavior Milligan said he warned officials of in the past.

MILLIGAN: I said, you have to take care of this or he's going to burn something or kill somebody. And that was three years ago.

ELAM: California's warm and dry conditions, including July, registering as the hottest month on error -- record here have created the perfect storm for wildfires. Nearly 17,000 structures are threatened by three fires alone, as thousands of people have evacuated their homes.

More than 13,000 firefighters are battling 19 major fires across the entire state, including what has already become the largest in California's history, the Mendocino Complex Fire.

On the front lines, a firsthand glimpse at how they're trying to fight it. Controlled burns help get rid of any potential fuel that could help spread the wildfire.

(on camera): This fire is huge, but why has it been able to grow so big?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our first priority is protecting the communities and the homes. Secondly, in building our control lines, we have to use a nationally occurring geographic features to help us control the fire.

ELAM (voice-over): Back in southern California, residents here are grappling with the possibility that this destruction may be intentional. Already the second wildfire authorities here are calling arson.

MELODI SCHUMATE, ARSON SUSPECT'S NEIGHBOR: I have to say, I'm not surprised, however, I feel -- I just feel terrible that this has all gone down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: And if you take a look right now, it looks like that fire is getting closer to that structure there. This is the concern, this is what they're trying to stop.

But take a look also, Wolf, at the thickness, the darkness of the smoke here. That tells you that it is finding new fire, new brush to burn through, and if you look to the right, you can see how clear it is, to show you that this darkness you're seeing here is strictly from the fire and the smoke here. The lake is over there, that is where they're going to pull up water from helicopters, from plains, to fight this fire.

But, obviously, when you come this close to civilization, this is where the concern is and this is where they're battling right now.

BLITZER: All right. Stephanie Elam, be careful over there. Stephanie Elam on the scene for us.

Let's bring in Chief Mike Mohler. He's the deputy director of communications for Cal Fire. He's joining us now on the phone right now.

Chief, give us the latest on the progress you're making. Is there any end in sight?

MILE MOHLER, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, CAL FIRE (via telephone): Right now, Wolf, again, thank you for having us.

What we're seeing right now across the state is explosive fire growth. Like you mentioned, we have other 13,000 firefighters engaged. Unfortunately, what we're going to see is red flag warnings throughout northern California, increased high temperatures in southern California, so it's really a statewide emergency.

BLITZER: What's the toughest challenge for your firefighters out there on the front lines?

MOHLER: I think right now, you know, one of the fires -- the Mendocino Complex being the largest in the state history, again, we're recovering, still not, from a drought of six years of dead and dying fuels, explosive fire growth, very difficult country, and then as you can see on the Holy Fire, what we call the wild land urban interface makes it very difficult for firefighters to get in there and protect property.

BLITZER: Do you expect the weather to shift in your favor anytime soon?

MOHLER: We don't. For the next, unfortunately, seven days, the weather outlook really statewide is not in our favor. We still have a lot of open fire line that has not been wind-tested, so that could pose a threat and a challenge to firefighters.

BLITZER: Cal Fire deputy chief, Mike Mohler, good luck to you. Good luck to all the firefighters. Thanks very much for joining us.

MOHLER: Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.