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Trump Doubles Down on Changing Constitution by Himself, Claims He May Send Up to 15,000 Troops to Border; Source: Trump Blamed Don McGahn for Special Counsel Appointment; Effort to Smear Mueller Collapses as Right-Wing Website Removes Claim Linked to Con Man. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 31, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Looking for a message. Even as a top Republican aide accuses the president of screwing up his campaign message with explosive rhetoric on immigration, moments ago, the president doubles down, claiming he could send up to 15,000 troops to the U.S./Mexican border.

Mad at McGahn. A CNN exclusive. The former White House counsel ended his job with one last Oval Office encounter in which the president blamed him for the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller. After talking to Mueller for 30 hours, will McGahn have the last laugh?

Madcap Mueller plot. An apparent conspiracy to smear the special counsel collapses as a right-wing website removes a wild claim traced to an alleged con man. Has the plot already backfired?

And transparent or not? After previously making a show of destroying a nuclear site without any real proof, Kim Jong-un may be taking fresh steps to show the world he's serious about getting rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons, or maybe not.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight. Setting off a marathon campaign swing, President Trump drops another diversionary bombshell, claiming up to 15,000 U.S. troops may deploy on the southern border to stop what he's already calling a migrant invasion. As the president hits the road for rallies in eight states, Republicans in two key states have told him to stay away. GOP officials fear he's running off the road with his abusive rhetoric on race and immigration and his latest attack on the House speaker, Paul Ryan.

I'll speak with Congressman David Cicilline of the judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are all standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's in Florida right now. He's on the scene of the president's first rally of these final few days of his -- of his campaign effort.

Jim, Republicans are worried about the president's language, and many of them are worried about his behavior.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. That's right, Wolf. President Trump is on his way to Ft. Myers for a rally later on this evening to try to boost his party's chances in the upcoming midterm elections.

But he's already getting pushback by members of his own party as one top GOP aide said to me earlier today, the president is, quote, "screwing things up."

But the president is seizing on the subject of immigration, telling reporters a few moments ago, he still wants to end the birthright citizenship right that is baked into the Constitution's 14th Amendment, something he can't do.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You don't need a Constitutional amendment for birthright citizenship. I may very well do it by executive order.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Less than one week before the midterm elections, President Trump has picked a new fight, this time with a top leader in his own party, House Speaker Paul Ryan. The battle: over the president's pledge to end birthright citizenship in the U.S. with an executive order, something Ryan says Mr. Trump can't do, because it's in the Constitution.

The president tweeted, "Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the majority rather than giving his opinions on birthright citizenship, something he knows nothing about."

That was in response to the speaker saying, hold on.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE (via phone): Well, you obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order.

ACOSTA: A senior GOP aide jumped to Ryan's defense telling CNN, "This is a great way to screw up the message a week before the election, first the birthright comment itself and now attacking the top Republican in Congress, who is trying to save our majority."

TRUMP: No. Not fearmongering at all. Immigration is a very important subject.

ACOSTA: Top White House officials like Kellyanne Conway insist the birthright issue is an open question.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: There are constitutional scholars who say the 14th Amendment has been misinterpreted and actually the Supreme Court has never given a solid opinion on this. ACOSTA: But Conway's husband, George Conway, a prominent D.C. lawyer,

disagrees, writing in a "Washington Post" op-ed what countless legal scholars have already stated: "Such a move would be unconstitutional and would certainly be challenged. And the challengers would undoubtedly win."

The White House fixation on immigration is the October no surprise, with the president touting his move to send U.S. troops to the border to halt the caravan of migrants who are still weeks away.

TRUMP: As far as the caravan is concerned, our military is out. We have about 5,000, 8, will go up to anywhere between 10 and 15,000 military personnel on top of Border Patrol, ICE, and everybody else at the border.

ACOSTA: The president is lobbing more insults one day after his trip to Pittsburgh, where he visited the scene of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, accusing the media of hyping the demonstrations against his trip, tweeting, "Melania and I were treated very nicely yesterday in Pittsburgh. We were treated so warmly. Small protest was not seen by us, staged far away. The fake news stories were just the opposite. Disgraceful."

Campaigning with Democrats, former vice president Joe Biden says it's time for the president to stop demonizing his adversaries.

JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to recognize that words matter.

We have to understand that our opponents are not our enemies. They are our opponents. The press is not the enemy of the American.


ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's call to send up to 15,000 troops to the border, contrast that with the estimated 14,000 troops that are in Afghanistan right now in an actual war with an actual enemy. Although we should point out, the troops that would head to the border with Mexico would likely, of course, not be on a combat mission.

But Wolf, one thing we should also point out. As for his comments, the president's comments on Pittsburgh, he did take time this afternoon to put out a tweet praising one GOP congressman, Keith Rothfus, who he said he was impressed with more so, quote, "than any other local political figure," taking a jab at the mayor of Pittsburgh and others who did not want to be seen with the president yesterday. He was making that visit to that synagogue there in Pittsburgh.

Wolf, it's just another example of how this president just can't seem to let any grudge go, even one that has to deal with the tragedy that we saw in Pittsburgh, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta in Florida for us, getting ready for that rally. Appreciate it very much.

Out of his element in yesterday's very solemn condolence call in Pittsburgh, President Trump if now trying to regain control of his message and as we've just heard, he's back on the campaign trail, back to playing the race and immigration cards.

Let's bring in CNN's political director, David Chalian. Overall, David, in the final six days, what impact can President Trump have on this critically important campaign?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you said he's trying to regain control of his message. And I think that's key of what we're seeing President Trump do here right now, Wolf.

We rarely see President Trump seem uncertain or on uncertain footing. This is somebody who craves controlling the narrative, and is very successful at that.

But I think with the pipe bombs and then the slaying of Jews in the synagogue in Pittsburgh, these were news stories that dominated the American landscape in these closing days. And not ones that Donald Trump was able to control.

And so what you see as our colleague, Gloria Borger, wrote in her column, tossing things against the wall to see what sticks at the end here.

You note the immigration thing. Or now picking a fight inside his own party with Paul Ryan? These -- these seem like somebody who's a bit off his game.

Now, we know Donald Trump has political game, and he can get that back, even in these closing days. But it seems he's searching, to me, to get on firmer footing.

And take a look at where he's going to go and sell these closing messages. If you look -- look at these states that he's rallying in. These eight states. This is deep, red Trump country. In most of them -- let's see, Montana, Missouri, West Virginia, Indiana, Tennessee -- those are states Donald Trump won by double digits two years ago. He's not going to persuade independents. He's not going to campaign for House candidates. That is not a welcome development -- he's not welcome in those races by Republicans. He's going to deep-red Trump country to try and save the Senate here. That is what he's doing with these rallies.

BLITZER: And you have some new polling numbers that drills down specifically on that.

CHALIAN: Yes. We have two brand-new polls coming out, both in Arizona and Nevada. Our colleague, Jeff Zeleny, reported earlier today that Donald Trump not welcome in Arizona or Nevada in these final days. He was there a little over a week ago on a western swing, but not in the closing days.

Take a look here at our brand-new poll. In Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, Democratic congresswoman, 51 percent among likely voters; Martha McSally, 47 percent. That's a four-point lead. That's within the margin of error, and that is a tighter lead than what Sinema had a month -- or two months ago in September when it was a seven-point lead.

Take a look now in Nevada, and you'll see a similar story. You see Jackie Rosen there, 48 percent, Dean Heller, the Republican incumbent, at 45 percent. That's been about where that race has been for two months.

Here's what's key. Even though Donald Trump's numbers are improving from what they were in September, in both Arizona and Nevada, Wolf, he is not welcome there, because they are two of the biggest Democratic pickup opportunities, meaning Dean Heller and Martha McSally do not want Donald Trump to take this hardline message into a state where they need to woo independent voters in the closing days here. That is not -- they are not about a base strategy at the end here. They're trying to woo, in these purple states, some independent voters. So instead Donald Trump relegated to the deepest red parts of the country.

BLITZER: So you say he's throwing a lot of stuff out there. Has he found a message that might work over the next six days?

CHALIAN: Well, it doesn't seem to me yet that he's found it. Again, I think the immigration message might work in, you know, places like West Virginia for him a little bit, although Joe Manchin is ahead there. Or Tennessee, it may help Marsha Blackburn. She's embracing that hardline immigration message.

But it's not going to help the Republican battle to control the House of Representatives. It's not going to help in some of these key swing states like Nevada and Arizona.

BLITZER: David Chalian, thanks for that good analysis, as usual.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He's a member of the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: So as you've been hearing, the president clearly trying to turn the focus toward the southern border right now, this whole issue of birthright citizenship, what does that tell you about where things stand less than a week before the midterm elections?

CICILLINE: Well, Wolf, I think it shows that the Democratic candidates who are traveling in the country and, you know, running in congressional races across America, talking about our agenda for the people of America -- to drive down health care costs, to protect coverage for preexisting conditions, to drive down the cost of prescription drugs, to raise family incomes by rebuilding America, and to take on the pervasive corruption in Washington and get money out of our political system -- that those items are -- are the concerns of the American people. Democrats are talking about the issues that are important to families all across this country. And this is a Republican president and a Republican Party that's

desperate to change the subject. You know, if you're in the majority, both houses -- the House, Senate and the White House -- you should be bragging about things you've gotten done for the American people. But of course, they haven't gotten anything done for the American people.

And so what he's doing instead is trying to change the subject to talk about birthright citizenship and this cockamamy idea that he can amend the Constitution through executive order, which, of course, he can't. And talking about this caravan to stoke fear in his base.

But this is a Republican Party that has accomplished nothing for the American people, and are desperate to try to make up some argument to persuade their voters to come out and vote anyway. And I think it's not working, because Democrats are talking about the things that matter to people and matter in their lives.

BLITZER: But the economy is strong right now. Job numbers are very good right now. Isn't it, as they used to say during the Clinton administration, the economy, stupid?

CICILLINE: Well, look. I think there is no question, the unemployment rate is very low and we should all be celebrating that. But the reality is, if you dig below those numbers a bit, it's still the case that people are working two and three jobs just to get by. That wages haven't really increased, and that people understand that the Republicans just gave away a huge tax cut to the richest people in this country. Eighty-three percent of that tax cut went to the top 1 percent. And now the Republicans are proposing that we cut Social Security and Medicare to pay for that tax cut.

So I think, you know, the economy is improving broadly. But it's still the case that family incomes have not gone up. Everything else in people's lives has. And that's why we've been very focused on raising family incomes, driving down the cost of health care, and getting money out of our political system once and for all.

BLITZER: On the president's plans, Congressman, to take on the birthright citizenship issue, the president did get some pushback from members of his own party, including the House speaker, Paul Ryan, to which the president responded with this tweet today: "Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the majority rather than giving his opinions on birthright citizenship, something he knows nothing about. Our new Republican majority will work on this, closing the immigration loopholes and securing our borders."

What's your reaction to that?

CICILLINE: Well, first of all, you know, we have attempted to work with our Republican colleagues to not only secure the border, but pass comprehensive immigration reform. But they continue to want to use this issue for their political advantage.

The president knows you cannot amend the Constitution by executive order. Our Founding Fathers put in the Constitution a process to amend it. The president knows that. You don't have to be a legal scholar. You just have to be able to read, and you'll see that it's in the Constitution, birthright citizenship. And there's a process. If you want to amend it, you have to go through this process.

So the notion that the president is suggesting he can amend the Constitution by executive order, this president or any other president, is ridiculous. And he knows it.

But he's doing it in an effort to just change the subject. So that he won't have to answer to the Republican failure to pass an infrastructure bill, to really cut taxes for middle-class families, to raise family incomes, to protect health care. And instead, he's trying to change the subject with this very silly idea.

The speaker pointed out that the president can't do it by executive order. I applaud him for doing that. I wish he would do that more often. But I applaud him for finally doing it.

BLITZER: The House speak -- House minority leader, I should say, Nancy Pelosi, predicted last night with absolute certainty that Democrats would win the majority in the House of Representatives next Tuesday. What do you think?

CICILLINE: Well, I think we can't take anything for granted. I've been traveling around helping candidates around the country. We have the best candidates we have ever had running for Congress that are speaking about the issues that matter in their districts, that are committed to driving down healthcare costs and raising family incomes and taking on the serious corruption in Washington.

[17:15:09] They are -- they are incredibly close races. I expect that we're going to win. We're going to take the House back. But we're going to not let our foot off the gas. We have one more week, and everyone is going to do everything they can to make sure our vote gets out.

This is the most consequential election in my lifetime. If you have been upset about what has happened in this country in the last two years, imagine what it will be like if, after the midterms, the president can argue, "Look, the American people had their chance. They didn't give Democrats the House. They have affirmed me." It will be full speed ahead, and we won't recognize this country in two years. So we're not taking anything for granted, but I'm optimistic.

BLITZER: The election six days from today, but remember: early voting has started. Millions of Americans have already voted, and a lot more will be voting in the coming days.

Congressman Cicilline, thanks so much for joining us.

CICILLINE: Thank you. My pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, the CNN exclusive. We're learning how the president blamed his own former White House counsel for the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

And an apparent plot to smear the special counsel falls apart as a right-wing blog takes down a claim traced to an alleged con man.


BLITZER: Now to a CNN exclusive. The former White House counsel, Don McGahn, ended his role with one last Oval Office encounter in which President Trump blamed him for the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

CNN's Kara Scannell is here. She's getting new information. What are you learning, Kara?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's right. In this final encounter, we understand it was a face-to-face meeting in the Oval Office, according to people close to McGahn. And during this meeting, Donald Trump had blamed him, essentially, for the Mueller investigation and the cloud that it has cast over the presidency.

Mueller -- McGahn had nothing to do with the appointment of Mueller. But he oversaw the White House's Office of Legal Counsel during that time. And it just sort of shows us the frustration that the president still has, an obsession in some ways, with the Mueller investigation.

We understand this meeting wasn't entirely about that. He did have a lot of positive things to say about McGahn's tenure. McGahn, of course, got two justices appointed to the Supreme Court. But he seemed fixated on this, according to our sources, really ruminating over special counsel investigation, saying that it was a cloud over his presidency.

BLITZER: And we're also hearing that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has referred to the FBI this rather bizarre smear campaign that was unfolding against him.

SCANNELL: Oh, that's right, Wolf. This is a really bizarre story. And it -- and it was both sophisticated in its beginnings but then also unraveled incredibly quickly.

It all began with an e-mail that someone purporting to be a woman had sent to numerous reporters about two weeks ago. And in this e-mail, this person said that she was offered $20,000 to make false accusations against the special counsel, alleging he sexually harassed her when they worked at the same law firm in the 1970s. Now, it's not clear this woman actually exists in the law firm where she apparently worked, so they have no record of her.

But this whole instance and reporters questioning it prompted the special counsel's office to make an incredibly rare statement. They usually don't say anything. And in that statement, they had said, "When we learned last week of allegations women were offered money to make false claims about the special counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation."

Now, in this e-mail, this woman said she was approached by someone working -- reportedly working for a Republican lobbyist, Jack Burkman. Burkman, you know, is behind sort of the Seth Rich conspiracy story, the death of the DNC staffer. And he has his own radio show, where he's been purporting to be investigating Mueller for two weeks also.

And then so enter this other character, Jacob Wohl. He's a 20-year- old right-wing Internet personality. He starts prompting on Twitter, saying that there are big negative stories coming on Mueller.

When the first story hits about the special comments statement, this is -- almost as soon as it happens, it begins to unravel. Because then you see Jennifer Tom, she's a Vermont law professor. She says she was actually approached. She shared her e-mail with CNN, and in this e-mail, this person who's supposedly working for a special investigative firm, they say, you know, let's talk about a beginning rape where they are offering to pay her for all encounters you've had with Special Counsel Mueller. And, of course, she says she has never met Mueller, has never had any encounters with him.

So these two things are out there now. It's all beginning to unravel. Other reporters are putting together the evidence that they have found in reporting that actually start to make links. They link Jacob Wohl, the 20-year-old, to this investigative firm, which apparently might just be him. There are fake LinkedIn profiles. That it all begins to start to discredit this.

And Wohl, when we've approached him and questioned this connection, these associations, he told CNN, this sounds like a kooky Russiagate conspiracy theory, and he is still on Twitter now, promoting this theory and, you know, encouraging people to tune in for this press conference tomorrow. Burkman told us that he hasn't offered to pay any women but is threatening to have a conference tomorrow. The last time he did this, relating to Seth Rich, it basically fell apart and didn't amount to anything.

BLITZER: Has anybody taken this at all seriously?

SCANNELL: Our understanding is no. I mean, I don't think that -- our sources have told us that the FBI doesn't really see a lot of credence to this. I think it very quickly unravels when you start to look at the -- sort of the Internet bread crumbs. You start to see the associations between these people.

You know, it remains to be seen if Burkman does have anyone that comes forward with any sort of allegations. But at this point, there doesn't seem to be a lot of credence to it at all.

BLITZER: All right. Kara Scannell reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Coming up, the breaking news. Struggling to find a message for the midterm elections, President Trump claims he could send 15,000 U.S. troops to the border with Mexico and insists he could basically change the U.S. Constitution by himself.

But Republicans are deeply worried by the president's deeply worried by the president's language. One Republican aide says the president is managing to screw up his campaign by an attack on the speaker, Paul Ryan.

[17:25:07] Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump is on his way to Florida right now, trying to switch the national focus away from this past week's violence by talking about birthright citizenship and stoking fear of what he calls dangerous immigrants.

But leaving the White House a while ago, the president denied he's fearmongering.

Let's discuss the president's tactics with our experts. And Gloria, you wrote a column and I want to read a couple sentences from the column that you wrote for "Trump needs his enemies. It's his oxygen. He had it all planned: attacking Democrats while putting out proposal after proposal to please his base that he knew would go nowhere. But the world intervened and stopped his precious momentum, confusing the president. He wants the punch, but the ropes surround him everywhere."

He's struggling right now to develop a narrative.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And usually, this president is terrific at developing and controlling a narrative. We know that from 2016. We know that from this election cycle.

And I think -- and he said it himself, that he's lost his momentum. He tweeted that, Wolf, after the pipe bombs, recalling that. And then, you know, now he went to Pittsburgh, and that was a somber moment. And now he's trying to get back on the campaign trail.

So what is he doing? He's throwing out all this stuff, a lot of it which is going absolutely nowhere. We know that the tax cuts for the middle class, for example, is going nowhere. The executive order to override the 14th Amendment, unconstitutional. The caravan, he's upped it from 5,200 troops to, just an hour or so ago, to 15,000.

But he's not being truthful or disclosing the nature of that deployment, which would really be more in support. As our colleague John Kirby said to me, these are not trigger-pullers. These are people who would be handling logistics and that kind of stuff.

So he's still talking about the caravan. But he's getting a lot less traction with it, because people are worried about what's going on in the country, and it seems to be kind of spiraling; and he's not controlling it. That's his problem.

BLITZER: Yes. People are definitely worried. April Ryan, you wrote an important book, entitled "Under Fire," about the president attacking the news media.


BLITZER: But tonight -- today he has been lashing out at others, including the House speaker, Paul Ryan, who criticized his statement yesterday he could simply sign an executive order ending the birthright provision and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The president tweeted this: "Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the majority, rather than giving his opinions on birthright citizenship, something he knows nothing about. Our new Republican majority will work on this, closing the immigration loopholes and securing our border."

Why is he, only six days before the election, stoking this kind of division within the Republican Party?

RYAN: And it's pretty bad, because, you know, for all intents and purposes, the Republican Party is trying to rally around and coalesce -- come together with the president.

But what's happening is, Paul Ryan spoke truth. Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows for the changing of an amendment, but you have to have Congress and/or a convention of states to do this. So the president is speaking ill-informed.

And this is interesting, Wolf. And Paul Ryan is so right. But he didn't get into the minutia of this. This president is someone who does not read his own intelligence briefings. He needs bullet points. So I guess it's on-the-job training over the last two years, I guess, where he now understands the Constitution, as he takes bullet points for other things.

But Paul Ryan is exactly right. You cannot rewrite history and what our Founding Fathers put in place. And this president is trying to do that.

BLITZER: You know, the president also received a sharp rebuke, Phil, from the former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell. Albright said the president's rhetoric on immigration is un- American. Powell said the president, quote, "needs to reread the 14th Amendment." Your reaction?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I wouldn't care a bit if I were him. You go into office saying, "I'm going to attack everybody. I'm going to attack the citizenship of the current sitting president. I'm going to attack every institution of the Republican Party. I'm going to go after 'Little Marco Rubio.' I'm going to go after Ted Cruz. I'm going to go after 'Crooked Hillary.'"

Every time he turned, he said, "I'm going to attack not only people not on the outside but people in my party." And as he said repeatedly, "I'm the president, you're not."

So even as you look at those attacks, if I were him, I'm looking at rising popularity numbers and saying, "Why the heck would I change the game plan now? Why would I pay attention to Colin Powell? Nobody outside the Beltway cares. My approach was victorious. I'm the president, you're not. Why change?"

BLITZER: He's clearly going to go on. What do you think, Susan?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Look, I think the notion of what makes an American an American, the notion that the Constitution and not the president dictates the terms of citizenship, that shouldn't be a partisan issue.

And I do think this is a pretty good example of how far Donald Trump has been able to move the Republican Party. Whenever Trump floated this idea of removing birthright citizenship during the campaign, it was widely condemned as unconstitutional in the Republican Party, condemned as sort of a retrograde idea with its roots in the infamous Dred Scott decision that perpetuated slavery.

[17:35:02] Some of those very same people now are receiving this as though it's an ordinary and completely reasonable, rational policy proposal. They're going even further to act as though this absurd idea he can do it via executive order is somehow reasonable.

So I do think this is another example that it's not the Republican Party any more. This is Donald Trump's party. This is a particularly ugly manifestation of that reality.

BLITZER: But the president thinks it will work with his base.

Everybody, stick around. Don't go too far away. There's a lot more unfolding. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're back with our experts. And you know, we have some exclusive new reporting, Gloria, and you've been hearing it, that the president's final meeting with his then-White House counsel, Don McGahn, did not go that great. The president basically blaming McGahn for the creation of the Robert Mueller special investigation. What's your analysis?

BORGER: Let's just say, I don't find it really surprising. They haven't been BFFs for quite some time, barely talk to each other, I've been told by one source.

And don't forget their history here. Remember, Trump wanted McGahn to go to sessions, to urge him to un-recuse himself from the Russia investigation. And that didn't go so well.

And then he wanted -- he wanted to -- Mueller fired. And he went into McGahn and said, "You know, I want Mueller fired, figure out how to do it."

And McGahn said, "I'm not going to do that" and apparently threatened to quit over it.

So -- and don't also forget that he's testified at great length before the special counsel. Donald Trump really doesn't know what he said before the special counsel.

And so they've had this precarious relationship, because he is a key witness in the Mueller investigation. And he works in the White House. So I'm not sure there was a lot of thank you for two Supreme Court --

successful Supreme Court appointments. But there was a lot of, you know, angst about Russia, because that's what the president angsts about.

BLITZER: I think April, McGahn spent about 20 hours answering questions from the special counsel -- is it -- special counsel's team. Is it wise for the president to sort of pick a fight with McGahn on his way out right now, knowing -- McGahn knowing -- he knows a lot, obviously?

RYAN: Right. And he's not -- it's not a good idea at all. But the president will pick a fight with you whether you like it or not, or whether it's good for him or not.

And those 20 or 30 hours that we heard, they were done while he was working at the White House. And once McGahn is gone, he is a threat to the president, because actually, he can talk even more so now, more freely.

So this president is very upset with McGahn. But McGahn can do what he wants at this point. And the president really, if he could try to unite with McGahn, that would be the best thing to do, just for his case alone with Mueller.

BLITZER: You know, Susan, what do you think of this other rather bizarre story, Mueller's team apparently now asking the FBI to investigate some sort of right-wing plot to try to discredit him, women coming forward. It's been discredited. What do you think about that?

HENNESSEY: I mean, honestly, this plot was sort of ham-fisted and frankly dumb. It really is difficult to even understand what occurred or what their intention was here. It's clear that there is no credible, substantive allegation against Robert Mueller. You know, it almost -- it's so bad, it almost is sort of comic relief at this point.

Except for the fact that it actually does show something pretty scary, and that's that we're not just fighting a disinformation war against the Russians. We actually have one within our own borders, within the United States. Because these sort of malicious and bizarre conspiracy theories are being spread, including by individuals that the president is promoting, that he is giving a platform to.

So whenever we think about that sort of in concert with the president, who calls the media fake news, who consistently attempts to sort of discredit mainstream sources, you know, that really does put us in a potentially really dangerous and scary situation.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, because we rarely get any statement from Mueller's office. They did put out this official statement, Phil: "When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false statements about the special counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation."

The suggestion being there may have been a crime there.

MUDD: Let's do this nonserious, and then let me give you a snapshot on the serious.

Let me get this straight. A decorated Marine veteran from Vietnam, who saves his counterparts; a man who's the most noted prosecutor of our generation and maybe a couple of generations; a man who I remember when we got a cancelled flight going overseas, came back to the airport in D.C., first thing he does - I was in the cabin -- calls his wife, "What are we doing today?"

And the F-troop shows up and says, "We're going to try to frame him for something that happened in the 1970s about women." That dog don't hunt.

I'll tell you the serious part is not what happened and not why they've referred this for the crime that happened. It's about deterrence. He's going into the most sensitive part of the investigation, where presumably they're going to drop charges, I'm going to guess, against people who are close to the White House. This is a message for anybody who wants to say, "This is a fraud, I don't like Robert Mueller." If you want to attack the special counsel, you had better have some grounds.

This was a comedy. I mean, the deterrence is important, but this was a comedy.

BORGER: Well, but he referred it to the FBI immediately. And you don't do something like that if you think there's -- you've got a problem. So it seems to me -- maybe, as you were pointing out during the break, maybe he gave it more oxygen than it needed. But --

HENNESSEY: Right. One sort of question is whether or not by -- ordinarily we see, you know, the special counsel's office decline to comment. In this case, they actually gave a statement. And whether or not that gave sort of this bizarre theory, you know, a little bit more oxygen.

MUDD: He can't decline to refer to the FBI for one simple reason. If someone picks up on this in a week from now and says, what -- you know, if this was so substantial, why didn't you refer it? What do you say?


MUDD: Because we were afraid to refer it? We didn't want to? They have to refer it to the FBI.

BORGER: Boom, right away.

MUDD: Because, otherwise, people are going to say it's the truth.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let me get April's response. Go ahead, April.

APRIL RYAN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: I agree. It's his civic duty. It's his duty to this country. You cannot just walk away from something like that. I'm in total agreement.

But this whole thing is, once again, a mishmash that just -- is just unfolding in our eyes. This is reality that's real life, and reality T.V. in real life, White House brand.

BLITZER: And it's going to continue for the foreseeable future. Guys, everybody, stick around.

There are other news we're following, including there are new reports emerging right now that say that Kim Jong-un is willing to let international inspectors see a nuclear weapons site he blew up this year. But why now? And is the North Korean dictator really serious about keeping his promise to dismantle his nuclear program?


[17:50:41] BLITZER: Tonight, Kim Jong-un appears to be taking new steps to convince the world he's serious about getting rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, what are you hearing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're hearing tonight that Kim is preparing to allow international inspectors to examine his key nuclear bomb testing facility, but there are real questions tonight about whether this is a sincere, transparent offer or an elaborate dodge.


TODD (voice-over): Kim Jong-un could be on the verge of giving Donald Trump the diplomatic cover he may need to justify another summit. Tonight, South Korea's intelligence service says Kim's regime is preparing to allow foreign inspectors to visit its vaunted nuclear test site, Punggye-ri.

JOSHUA POLLACK, SENIOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT MONTEREY: It's a goodwill gesture, but I don't think that anything necessarily can be learned. It really depends on who is going, what equipment they have, what access they have.

TODD (voice-over): What the inspectors see or don't see there will be crucial. Punggye-ri is where Kim's regime conducted at least six nuclear bomb tests, including its most powerful blast ever last year, a test of a hydrogen bomb many times stronger than the one the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima.

In May of this year, the North Koreans put on a show for reporters at the site, appearing to destroy at least three tunnels at Punggye-ri. Days later, U.S. intelligence officials told CNN this seemed to be nothing more than a show.

Intelligence and arms control officials said those blasts may have been too small to really collapse any tunnels. No inspectors were allowed there at the time, and experts say the North Koreans could have built back the capability at Punggye-ri since that display.

POLLACK: They could reopen the tunnels, certainly. They could also replace them with tunnels elsewhere or with shafts dug straight down in some other location, even a less mountainous location.

TODD (voice-over): Still, Defense Secretary James Mattis expressed optimism today regarding the overall threat from Kim.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Clearly, the threat from North Korea, at least as expressed by Chairman Kim, had been significantly reduced.

TODD (voice-over): But in recent weeks, South Korean officials gave a jarring assessment of Kim's nuclear arsenal, saying they believe he's got between 20 and 60 nuclear warheads. We asked a prominent former U.N. weapons inspector about that.

What is your own estimate based on the plants you think they have?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER WEAPONS INSPECTOR, UNITED NATIONS' INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY: Yes, our conservative estimate, based on that they may or may not have a second enrichment plant in addition to Yongbyon, is they have -- North Korea has about 15 to 35 nuclear weapons.

TODD (voice-over): And other experts doubt that Kim has a really sincere commitment to get rid of all his nuclear weapons in the future.

POLLACK: I think they are interested in getting to zero at the same time that the rest of the world gets to zero.


TODD: One nuclear weapons inspection expert says that, while all this dialogue is going on between the Trump administration and Kim Jong- un's regime, that Kim and his nuclear team at their current pace can still produce three to five nuclear bombs a year in secret -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's interesting, Brian, because some of that production could be actually increased if the existence of one secret facility can be confirmed, right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Now, experts who monitor North Korea's nuclear production with satellite images and other intelligence, they tell us they believe North Korea is operating at least one top-secret uranium enrichment plant.

Kim's regime has never acknowledged that that plant exists, but former weapons inspector David Albright says, if it does, his group believes North Korea could have close to 50 nuclear bombs in its stockpile.

BLITZER: Very disturbing information indeed. All right, Brian, thank you very much. Brian Todd reporting. Coming up, breaking news. Even as a top GOP aide says the President

has managed to screw up his campaign message with explosive rhetoric on immigration, the President is doubling down, claiming he could send up to 15,000 troops to the border with Mexico and insisting he could change the U.S. Constitution by himself.

Plus, a CNN exclusive. We're learning how the President blamed his own former White House Counsel for the appointment of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Seeing what sticks. Remarkable new claims about immigration by President Trump trying everything to motivate Republican voters ahead of the midterm elections. What led him to publicly smack down the House Speaker Paul Ryan?

Blaming his counsel. President Trump chiding former White House Counsel Don McGahn on his last day in the West Wing, blaming him for the appointment of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.

Unraveling caper. A right-wing effort to smear Mueller with a sexual assault allegation falls apart. Were women offered money to make false accusations against the Special Counsel?

And hunt for red October. Russia moving aggressively to modernize its submarine fleet and now warning it's going to conduct missile tests near the site of NATO military exercises.

[18:00:03] We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.