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FBI Investigating Attempted Smear Campaign Against Mueller; Russia Warns It Will Conduct Missile Tests Near Site of NATO; Trump Smacks Down Paul Ryan; Interview With California Congresswoman Jackie Speier. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 31, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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 news tonight: President Trump hammering home on immigration, trying to gin up GOP enthusiasm less than a week before the midterm election.
Right now, he's on his way to a rally in Florida, the first of 11 rallies he will be holding between now and Election Day. Leaving the White House just a little while ago, the president denied fear- mongering with immigration, but also said he may deploy as many as 15,000 U.S. troops to the southern border, more troops than the U.S. has in Afghanistan.
And he repeated his threat to override U.S. constitutional provisions on citizenship.
I will talk about that and more with Congresswoman Jackie Speier of the Intelligence Committee and with the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.
And our correspondents, analysts, and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's in Fort Myers, Florida, where the president is getting ready to kick off his marathon campaign swing.
Jim, there's deep concern out there among some Republicans that the president is doing more harm than good.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump will be here in Fort Myers in just a short while from now to try to boost his party's chances in the upcoming midterm elections just less than a week from now.
The president is getting some pushback from members of his own party. As one top GOP aide said to me earlier today, the president is screwing up the party's message.
But, Wolf, the president earlier this afternoon, this was not a surprise. He once again seized on the subject of immigration, telling reporters once again that he wants to change the Fourth Amendment right to birthright citizenship in this country, something almost every constitutional scholar says he can't do.
DONALD TRUMP, 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 is 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: 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, I'm not fear-mongering at all. Immigration is a very important subject.
ACOSTA: Top officials like Kellyanne Conway insists the birthright issue is an open question.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: There are constitutional scholars who say the 14th Amendment has been misinterpreted and actually the Supreme Court has never gave 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 more would be unconstitutional and would be certainly 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 5,008. We will do up to anywhere between 10,000 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 in Pittsburgh. We were treated so warmly. The 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 is time for the president to stop demonizing his adversaries.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to recognize that words matter. You have to understand that our opponents are not our enemies. They are our opponents. The press is not the enemy of the American people.
ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's call to send up to 15,000 troops to the border, contrast that with the 14,000 troops that are in Afghanistan right now fighting a real war against a real enemy.
Of course, not all of those troops sent to the border will be anything like that kind of combat role that you are seeing in Afghanistan right now, Wolf. As for the president's comments on Pittsburgh, it is worth noting a tweet he put out earlier this afternoon where he praised one GOP congressman, Keith Rothfus. that saying he was impressed with that congressman, more so than any other local political figure.
That, of course, Wolf, is a jab at some of those local Pittsburgh politicians who did not want to be seen with the president yesterday as that city is in mourning.
And, Wolf, other thing we should point about the 14th Amendment, the right to birthright citizenship in this country, it is almost a guarantee, Wolf, the president will bring it up again tonight, at all of the rallies in the final stretch of the midterm election cycle. He has been seizing on the subject of immigration.
Make no mistake, he probably will once again go after that 14th Amendment right to birthright citizenship. And when he says he can do it by executive order, the viewers at home should know he can't -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he wants to rile up that Republican base, though. He thinks it is a winning political issue.
Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
Now a CNN exclusive. Tonight, sources close to the former White House counsel Don McGahn are telling CNN in his last day on the job, President Trump blamed McGahn for Robert Mueller's appointment as the special counsel for the Russia investigation.
Our political correspondent, Sara Murray, is here with the very latest.
Why is the president blaming McGahn for the Robert Mueller investigation?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some might say the president's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey is really what set off a special counsel being named.
But, look, we know that the president and Don McGahn have had a pretty rocky relationship. On his way out the door, the president expressed his sort of blame that the special counsel is there at all, that the Russia cloud is still looming over this White House.
You know, Don McGahn has cooperated extensively with Robert Mueller in his probe, but I think this is just another indication of the friction between these two men. Remember, it was a very awkward departure for McGahn.
Trump sort of announced on Twitter that he was leaving. He announced in an Associated Press interview who was going to be replacing him. We know that Don McGahn threatened to quit a number of times when he was at the White House. We are also told, however, the president did compliment him on some of his stronger suits while he was there, like stocking the courts with conservative judges.
BLITZER: And we are also learning this Mueller and his team actually are referring to the FBI a rather bizarre claim from some, you know, right-wing elements out there. They want the FBI to investigate this.
MURRAY: Bizarre is the right way to put it. I mean, it is hard to say if it was just supposed to be a smear campaign against Robert Mueller, if this was maybe also some kind of plan to try to discredit the media.
But follow me for a second down this rabbit hole. It starts a couple of weeks ago. Journalists start getting e-mails from this person who claimed they have heard from a Republican lobbyist whose name is Jack Burkman offering money in exchange for making false allegations against Robert Mueller.
Well, the special counsel's office gets wind that there's, you know, this person out there who might be offering money for false allegations and they say in a statement, which is rare from the special counsel: "When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the special counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation."
So around this same time, this 20-year-old far right Internet personality, Jacob Wohl, takes to Twitter and says a scandalous story is coming about Robert Mueller, and Jack Burkman, this Republican lobbyist, says that he's going to hold a press conference and he's going to bring forward this woman who has a sexual assault allegation against Mueller. After this, another woman comes forward, this time a Vermont law
professor, Jennifer Taub. She says, I also got one of these weird e- mails, but this one was from Surefire Intelligence. She shares the e- mail with CNN and it shows that Surefire Intelligence wants to offer her money for anything she knows about the special counsel.
Now, we know Wohl is tied to Surefire Intelligence because of a lot of Internet sleuthing, but perhaps the funniest or more damning detail is when you call the company's number, it redirect's to Wohl's mother's voice-mail. There's a link between Wohl and Surefire Intelligence.
And Wohl admits to The Daily Beast that there's a link between Surefire Intelligence and Jack Burkman.
This is what is going on behind the scenes. Burkman has denied he offered to pay women any money. Wohl has said this all sounds like an Internet conspiracy and Jack Burkman says he is still going forward with this press conference with this woman.
Wolf, I will tell you, this has not gone well in the past when he has tried to do it with other conspiracy theories, but we will see what happens.
BLITZER: Very bizarre, indeed.
MURRAY: Very bizarre.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California is joining us. She is a member of the Intelligence and the Armed Services Committees.
Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.
Let me get your immediate reaction to this apparent effort to try to smear the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, Surefire is a misfire, and I think they are going to have to regroup.
It underscores, though, how desperate many people are in the circle around the president to try and bring down the Mueller investigation. And that's what this is. It is pretty patently obvious.
So I think that they have been found out in a way that they weren't planning on being found out. And then there's a mother involved in it on top of it, which is -- it is a little laughable, actually.
BLITZER: It is a very, as I said, bizarre situation.
All right, so Roger Stone, who has been a close associate of the president for many years, he appeared before your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, last year. Do you think he knew ahead of the time, ahead of time that WikiLeaks would release those hacked e-mails during the presidential campaign?
Do you think he was coordinating with WikiLeaks or the Trump campaign, because, clearly, that's what Mueller is now investigating?
SPEIER: I think he wanted to coordinate with WikiLeaks and he certainly, I think, was made aware of what WikiLeaks was doing.
Whether or not there was coordination really is reliant on seeking the subpoena power that we had in the committee that wasn't used to get the direct messages of Roger Stone, because that's how he was communicating with Julian Assange.
BLITZER: If the Democrats, your party, win control of the House of Representatives next Tuesday, what do you think is on the agenda for the House Intelligence Committee once it is chaired by a Democrat?
SPEIER: I think we're going to do the job we were first required to do, and that is subpoena those that we were unable to pursue under the Nunes committee.
And we will do a comprehensive review, just like the Senate bipartisan committee is doing. But, again, ours became so much a pawn of the president, that we weren't doing our job.
BLITZER: And you will have subpoena power, so you're going to go after a lot of documents, I assume, is that right?
SPEIER: Yes. We need to go after a lot of documents that Roger Stone has, that Donald Trump Jr. has, and that others that we had attempted to get, but were unsuccessful.
BLITZER: Let's turn to the president's closing arguments in these days just before the midterm elections.
You serve on the Armed Services Committee. Do you see any reason to send between 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops to the border with Mexico right now?
SPEIER: Absolutely not.
We're sending 10,000 to 15,000 troops, which means we are going to spend between $100 million and $150 million, so that he can have his -- I guess his surprise, his October surprise, but they can't do anything. They can't arrest anyone. I hope to God they can't shoot anyone.
So they become a public display of power and a human wall, but for what purpose? To somehow keep breast-feeding mothers and shoeless children from being able to come here and seek asylum? And we're talking about a number that will almost exceed the number of Border Patrol agents we have.
We have about 19,000 Border Patrol agents. We will have between 10,000 and 15,000 troops on the border. It is an expenditure of money that the taxpayers should not have to put up, so that the president can try and, you know, get a vote that he is seeking from his base.
The American people are seeing through this, and I think you are going to see a real November surprise come November 6.
BLITZER: The president, however, he describes the people in those caravans, in his words, as thugs and gang members. He seems to think calling some of them Middle Easterners will make people fearful.
What is the president's goal in using that type of language? And you are a member of the Intelligence Committee. Have you seen any evidence at all that there are -- quote -- "Middle Easterners" moving in those caravans -- they're still about 1,000 miles from the United States -- through Mexico?
SPEIER: There is absolutely no evidence.
And what we have seen from the president is that he will throw out whatever red meat he can, hoping that it will be devoured. And when he doesn't see it being accepted, then he moves on to something else -- 5,000 troops wasn't enough, so he then said it was going to be 10,000 troops.
Meanwhile, how many troops did we send to Puerto Rico to help after the hurricane? I mean, when have we been responding to the American people in a way that he's willing to respond on the border to people that are seeking refugee status?
BLITZER: Yes, when the president says Middle Easterners, a lot of people think he's trying to suggest that there are terrorists moving through those caravans towards the United States.
The president is also arguing right now that he can, with a signature, stroke of a pen, change the 14th Amendment to the Constitution with an executive order, as it is called.
You're a lawyer. Would that executive order if he were to sign it ending birthright citizenship, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, would that be constitutional?
SPEIER: The ink on his felt tip pen would not be dry before a constitutional challenge would be filed. It would never go into effect.
Once again, it is his effort to throw anything he can up against the wall to see if it sticks in an effort to try to drive up the numbers of his base.
I don't even think it is the Republican base anymore, but he is -- he is truly just grasping at straws in an effort to try and save his majority in the House, which I think he's going to lose.
BLITZER: Even the House speaker, Paul Ryan, said the president simply can't do it. The president really went after him today for suggesting that, at one point suggesting Paul Ryan doesn't know what he is talking about.
He says: "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."
Bottom line, Congresswoman, what do you think the impact of all of this rhetoric will be on the results next Tuesday?
SPEIER: Well, I hope the American people will recognize that the president will lash out at anybody, even members of his own party.
He will eat his young if necessary in an effort to stay as powerful as he possibly can be. And I think the American people will recognize that we need a check against the executive. That's why there are three equal branches of government. And it is time for the Congress to be that check against the president's efforts to try and operate outside of the Constitution.
BLITZER: You going to be the majority, you think?
SPEIER: Well, we're not going to take anything for granted. We're going to continue to make our case to the American people that the Affordable Care Act is something that we're going to protect, preexisting conditions is something that is going to be maintained, and we're not going to turn it into, you can have preexisting condition coverage, but it is going to cost you a lot of money.
It should be part of the mandated benefits, which is part of the Affordable Care Act. We want infrastructure building. We want more jobs, and we want to deal with the corruption that has plagued this administration.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thanks so much for joining us.
SPEIER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right.
Just ahead, we're going to have more on the attempted smear campaign against the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and why it unraveled.
Plus, I will speak about that and the breaking news with our senior legal analyst, the former U.S. attorney -- there is he -- Preet Bharara.
BLITZER: Tonight, the FBI is investigating an attempted right-wing effort to smear the special counsel, Robert Mueller, with a sexual assault allegation.
Let's talk about that and much more with the former U.S. attorney, our CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara. Preet, a spokesperson for the special counsel's office released a rare
public statement. I will read it to you and our viewers.
"When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the special counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation."
What do you think is behind this rather bizarre effort?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think what is behind it is cynicism, fear, panic perhaps, desperation.
You know, Peter Carr, whose name you had up on the screen a second ago, was a spokesperson for the Justice Department for a period of time, or a subdivision of the Justice Department, when I was U.S. attorney, and he had a lot more to do in that position.
During the time he's been the spokesperson for the special counsel's office, no offense to him, but it is one of the easiest jobs you can have in public relations, because he doesn't speak. He is a spokesperson that doesn't speak because the Mueller team doesn't say anything, and they're as tight-lipped as any prosecutorial agency that you will ever see.
And so, as you point out, the fact he made a statement about these supposed allegations tells you something about how seriously they take them.
I find it odd that this kind of effort would be undertaken just a week before the election, but maybe not so odd. Maybe that is understandable. I'm curious to know what all of the facts are. You know, when things like this come forward, you want to make you take a step back, and not that I think anything untoward happened on the part of Bob Mueller.
That would be astonishing to me, but it is odd that certain women were contacted, one woman in particular that I have seen or heard on television or heard on television who is a professor at a university, claims that she never met Bob Mueller, doesn't know Bob Mueller.
I don't understand why exactly she was pursued, why people thought if it is true that she would be prepared to say for a relatively modest amount of money, ruin someone's reputation and put herself in the spotlight. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me, so I would like to see more facts come out.
BLITZER: Yes, it is a very, very bizarre situation.
Let's talk about some of the other issues that are going on right now.
The president just a little while ago on the White House lawn, as he was leaving the White House to head down to Florida, he said that he hasn't been subpoenaed by Robert Mueller and his team. But do you expect a report from the special counsel in the coming months without an in-person, not a written, but an in-person interview with the president? BHARARA: I do.
I think the prospect -- we have been talking for some months, Wolf, after, you know, weeks -- after weeks and weeks and weeks, that the president keeps maneuvering through his lawyers a way not to have an in-person interview. It is his right.
Some people suggested he could even take the Fifth and it wouldn't harm him so much politically, but we have seen this wrangling back and forth about written questions, about an in-person interview.
It seems to me, based on the commentary and based on the risk to the president himself, that the likelihood of that happening is very low. And I also think the likelihood of a report by Mueller is obviously very high, and it becoming public is very high.
And when you say, can we expect it in the coming months, it depends on -- I think months, yes, but not years. But I don't know if that is a month or two months or eight, nine, 10 months. It is impossible to tell.
BLITZER: On a very different subject, I want you to watch and listen to what the president said once again, just a little while ago, about the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which grants American citizenship to anyone born here in the United States. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Birthright citizenship is a very, very important subject. In my opinion, it's much less complex than people think. I think it says it very loud and clear in the Constitution that you don't have to go through the process of whatever they're talking about.
And, by the way, this is not a constitutional amendment. You don't need a constitutional amendment for birthright citizenship. I believe that you can have a simple vote in Congress, or it's even possible, in my opinion -- this is after meeting with some very talented legal scholars -- that you can do it through an executive order.
Now, I would rather do it through Congress, because that's permanent. But we can certainly do it through -- I really believe we can do it through executive order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Your reaction, Preet?
BHARARA: I think that is wrong in basically every respect.
Once again, you have an issue that is raised a week before the election because it is a hot-button topic that I think Donald Trump feels resonates with his base. It is consistent with what he has been saying about this caravan that he thinks everyone should be scared of. It is consistent with what he says about certain kinds of countries where people come from, in his discussion about building a wall.
I think it is intended to divide people. I think it is intended to make people annoyed at immigrants, legal and illegal immigration. I think that, whether or not you believe that it is a good idea that the 14th Amendment provides for this right of birthright citizenship, I don't know any scholar, even ones who otherwise believe that it is not a good policy and it could be interpreted a particular way, I don't know anyone who reasonably believes you could undo the language of any provision of the Constitution through an executive order.
You wonder what is next, an executive order that tries to undo the two-term limit that presidents have had for a number of decades. It is not done that way. It can't be done that way. I imagine, like with so many things, what the president is not after, you know, a legal victory in this regard.
I think he is focused more on having this fight and having this battle, because it is something that I think, you know, causes people who support him to be animated and maybe gets them out to vote. I don't know he will ever issue such an executive order.
He has made statements about issuing pardons to other people before and all sorts of other things. That clip you just showed suggested that I may do this, I may do that.
And what that does is, it heightens the rhetoric and it heightens the divisiveness. And I think, as one of your prior guests said, the congresswoman, the moment he tried to issue such an executive order, which in some ways I would welcome, which may sound odd, because it would immediately be a huge constitutional fight.
And I think Donald Trump would be handed a resounding defeat by any judge, Democrat- or Republican-appointed.
BLITZER: All right.
Preet, thanks very much. Let's see what the president does. Clearly, he thinks this is a good political issue six days before the midterm elections.
Appreciate it very much. Thank you, Preet.
BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf. Happy Halloween.
BLITZER: All right, thank you. You, too.
President Trump's marathon campaign swing, 11 rallies between now and Election Day, how divisive will that be?
Plus, a CNN exclusive. We're learning how the president blamed his own former White House counsel Don McGahn for the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: More now on the breaking news. President Trump denying fearmongering but making some stunning new immigration claims tonight as he tries to build Republican momentum for Tuesday's midterm election.
[18:33:37] Jeffrey Toobin, the president also saying he could send up to 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops to the border with Mexico. He says he can simply sign an executive order ending -- denying citizenship to the children born here in the United States of undocumented immigrants. What do you make of all of this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's a neat trick to demean both the United States military and the United States Constitution in the same day.
I mean, to use our brave troops as a stunt, you know, spend millions of taxpayer dollars to move them to the border, completely unnecessary, just to motivate the base. God forbid if something were to happen to one of those troops down there. It would be just a totally pointless, horrible loss.
And then to invent the authority to end birthright citizenship, which you can't do by legislation and you certainly can't do by executive order, again, just to motivate the base, this is how Donald Trump has chosen to be president.
BLITZER: You've to do with it a constitutional -- with an amendment to the Constitution. That needs two-thirds majorities of the House and Senate or among the states.
David Swerdlick, the president got very upset when that was pointed out to him by House speaker, Paul Ryan, to which the president responded with this tweet. I will read it once again: "Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the majority rather than giving his opinions on birthright citizenship, something he knows nothing about!" exclamation point. "Our new Republican majority will work on this, closing the immigration loopholes and securing our border."
[18:35:16] Is this what Republicans want six days before the midterm elections, the president slapping the speaker, Paul Ryan?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Two takeaways from this, Wolf.
One, I think it's a little late in the game for Speaker Ryan to grow a backbone. He has had opportunities over the course of the last two years to sort of set the president straight on any number of policy issues, hasn't done it. Now that he's almost out the door, this is when he does it. I guess my response to that is whatever.
My second comment on Trump specifically in this case is that I do think he wants to talk about this. He would rather talk about anything immigration related, because he and his advisers think that this animates the Republican base in a way that other issues don't. So even though it looks like a rift among Republicans, he can spin it around and say, "I'm against the establishment. Speaker Ryan is the establishment."
BLITZER: Let me let Ron Brownstein to weigh in on this. Go ahead, Ron.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, it's interesting. I look at what he is doing as an implicit form of triage. You know, people are talking about whether this election is a wave. I think that's the wrong lens through which to view it. If you look at this unusually big battlefield, what we have is the potential for realignment.
You are seeing enormous risk and movement away from Republicans in white-collar suburbs in virtually every major metropolitan area across the country: from Philadelphia and New Jersey, to Minneapolis, and Chicago and Denver, Los Angeles, Orange County, even potentially Georgia in Atlanta and Houston and Texas.
On the other hand, you are seeing much less movement away from the Republicans, much less risk for them in the blue-collar ex-urban areas where Trump is still strong. And by emphasizing these polarizing cultural issues which have the potential of helping Republicans in those rural areas but deepen the problems that they're facing among these white-collar suburbanites who are recoiling from Trump, I think the White House is implicitly acknowledging that the House is essentially gone. And what they are trying to do is limit the extent of the losses and also protect themselves and maximize their opportunities in the Senate, where they're -- where they're competing largely in these rural, you know, heavily white, more Midwestern states, heartland states.
So in a way, the fact that they are emphasizing -- he is emphasizing these cultural issues at the end of the campaign, to me is as much a sign of weakness as any strength.
BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, the president always likes to shape the news as much as he possibly can, but there were two stories this week, awful stories, the serial bomber, the mass murder at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. And apparently, you know, being consoler in chief not necessarily one of his strengths.
In a tweet today, he sort of insulted those Pittsburgh leaders who were busy at funerals, dealing with those who have suffered. He wrote this. He said, "Yesterday in Pittsburgh I was really impressed with Congressman Keith Rothfus, far more so than any other local political figure. His sincere level of compassion, grief and sorrow for the events that took place what, in its own way, very inspiring. Vote for Keith!"
What do you think about that?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, on the endorsement, first of all, Wolf, you really have to work hard to make an endorsement by the president into a net negative, and that's what President Trump was able to do by mentioning this horrible tragedy in Pittsburgh in the context of the upcoming midterm elections. And if I were Congressman Rothfus, I think he is probably feeling some grief and sorrow after that tweet in addition to what he was feeling already from this terrible tragedy. But, look, the president is out of his comfort zone. He doesn't like,
as you mentioned, having to be a moral leader, the comforter in chief. He views the world through the prism of wins and losses. He views everything through the prism of politics. And if he can't be having the discussion on those terms, on that turf, the political turf, he feels very uncomfortable, and you get tweets like that.
BLITZER: There were other tweets, as well. Jeffrey, go ahead.
TOOBIN: I mean, it's just unbelievable. I mean, you know, it just shows how, you know, inured we've become to this. I mean, the fact that he's criticizing these politicians for going to funerals for a mass murder that took place in their community instead of waiting by his airplane, I mean, it's like -- you know, the politicization of this tragedy, it's not even effective, but the attempt alone is just grotesque.
BLITZER: You know, Ron, this was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack --
BLITZER: -- in American history. Eleven wonderful people were at Shabbat services Saturday morning. They were praying, and a gunman walks in with an AR-15, three pistols, Glock pistols, and starts killing people.
BROWNSTEIN: And a gunman repeating arguments that are being broadcast into living rooms every day on FOX and being echoed to -- by the president, you know, essentially, "This is an invasion," using that language, "that is threatening the country."
[18:40:06] It really does, I think, reinforce -- you know, if you look at why are Republicans struggling so much in this election in these white-collar suburban places that are thriving in the economy?
And it is -- and it is, you know, largely concern about Trump's behavior as president, its impact on the cohesion of the country, on the fabric of the country. These kinds of attacks raise those concerns, make them more immediate.
And I would just point out, the fact that he is ending the campaign emphasizing these divisive social issues, particularly on immigration, just reinforces, inflames all of those doubts. I think all of the suburban Republicans in close races are looking at this, I think, in the same way, as essentially, he is throwing them overboard in an attempt to both limit the damage and to maximize their chances in the Senate.
But I cannot imagine there is a suburban Republican in a close race who is happy after these horrific -- this horrific violence to spend the last few days of the campaign arguing about whether to end birthright citizenship.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a fair point, you know. The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, David, was on Stephen Colbert's show, and she made a prediction about what's going to happen next Tuesday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Let me say this. Up until today, I would have said if the election were held today, we would win.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": What happened today that changed that?
PELOSI: What now I'm saying is we will win. We will win. We will win. We will win.
COLBERT: Please don't say that. Please don't say that. Do you want to say that on Hillary's fireworks barge she cancelled?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think?
SWERDLICK: So she wants to project confidence. And look, Speaker Pelosi -- or former speaker Pelosi has been doing this a long time. She knows what she is doing.
That being said, we're talking about a generic congressional ballot of seven or eight points. President Trump still has a 44 percent approval rating, right where he was on inauguration day. For any Democrat, including speaker -- Leader Pelosi to get cocky in this situation I think is a mistake.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, let's see what happens. Everybody stick around. Don't go too far away. We've got a lot more right after this.
[18:46:52] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A spokesman for Robert Mueller says the special counsel's office has now asked the FBI to look into an alleged and rather bizarre plot to pay women to make sexual assault allegations against Mueller.
Jeffrey Toobin, what's your reaction to that?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is pretty bizarre and it is nothing I have ever heard of involving a prosecutor. I think it is indicative of how hard people are trying, at least some people are trying to discredit -- to discredit Mueller. This is obviously false, a fiasco, you know, not based on reality.
But I think it is just a message to Mueller of what he's in for if and when he becomes public in his accusations about the campaign, the 2016 campaign. Once he files a report, you know, the silence will end and he will re-emerge as a public figure, and I think he can look forward to these kind of assaults against him, and this one may be actually a crime.
BLITZER: Because the FBI is now investigating. He referred it to the FBI. TOOBIN: Potentially, potentially attempted blackmail, mail fraud.
You know, there are a variety of crimes it might be depending on what actually happened. But I think it is a trailer for the kind of attacks, most of them constitutionally protected, that Mueller will face if and when he issues a report.
BLITZER: What do you think, Ron?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think it is obviously a very bizarre plot, but I think it is also strangely files in or fits in to the kind of underlying theme of this election, which is whether or not there's going to be any kind of check on the president. You know, Congress, the Republican Congress obviously made the decision early on not to provide anything like a check, and yet, you know, we see voters -- although the issue is not directly engaged in that many places, kind of gravitating that way.
I was struck -- CNN put out polls today, as you know, Wolf, in Arizona and Nevada, and in each case, over 90 percent of the people who disapproved of Trump said they were going to vote for the Democratic candidates for Senate. Even by kind of modern quasi parliamentary standards of American elections, that is very high. I think the issue of whether there will be any kind of restraint is something that is going to matter a great deal next week. Helping Republicans in the place where Trump is popular and it will be a real weight for Republicans to carry up the hill in the places where there are doubts.
BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, we now know the Russia investigation -- we have known it for a while -- clearly weighing heavily on the president's mind. CNN is now reporting in the final meeting the president had in the Oval Office with Don McGahn, his White House counsel, he actually blamed McGahn for creating the special counsel, Robert Mueller's investigation.
What do you make of that?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it's ridiculous, of course, Wolf. This isn't Don McGahn's fault. Lawmakers have supported this investigation. This investigation is about Donald Trump and Donald Trump's campaign and that's the beginning and the end of it.
And Donald Trump knows that, but he is someone who just cannot accept any blame ever about anything. He takes the credit very quickly, but he never accepts blame.
[18:50:03] And so he sees this investigation over which he has no control. It's frustrating for him personally and professionally. We've seen that frustration from him time and again on Twitter and in public.
And so he needs someone to blame. And Don McGahn was there in the room at that time. I'm sure he blames other people as well. He blames Jeff Sessions, as we all know. But he himself cannot accept that blame.
BLITZER: Does the president, David --
TOOBIN: Keep in mind -- just keep in mind, you know, we're listening to Nancy Pelosi as if it's a done deal that the Democrats are going to retake the House. If the Democrats don't and if the Republicans keep the Senate, Mueller is skating on very thin ice. I mean, the president is dying to fire this guy. If he gets a vindication, an affirmation from the voters next week, I think Mueller's days are numbered.
BLITZER: What do you think, David?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think Jeffrey is right. What is really going to change, if anything, after the midterms is whether or not Democrats have subpoena power, the chairmanships they need to look into questions that they have been up able to get answers to because the Republicans control the committees in both houses.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, does the president not understand the role of a White House counsel as opposed to a personal attorney that he might hire?
TOOBIN: No, he doesn't, because he thinks the entire federal government works for him.
TOOBIN: I mean, he thinks Jeff Sessions is his private lawyer. He thinks Don McGahn was his private lawyer. He doesn't like his private lawyers, he keeps getting rid of them.
This is someone who thinks that a bad result is the fault of the people around him, not the underlying conduct. He's the one who fired James Comey. He's the one who told Lester Holt he fired him because of the Russia investigation. This is all on him, but he lashes out at the people he holds responsible.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. Hold on, there's a lot more we're following.
There's other important news as well, including this. Russia announcing plans to test missiles near a major NATO military exercise.
Plus, the growing concern over Russia's submarine fleet and very aggressive efforts to modernize it.
[18:56:52] BLITZER: Russia has notified NATO that it will conduct missile tests in the very same region with a major NATO military exercise is taking place. Russia has already flown some bombers in the area as well.
Our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is joining us live from Moscow right now.
Fred, on top of this, there's growing concern about Russia's very aggressive moves to modernize its submarine fleet.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Wolf.
And the U.S. says that the Russians are spending a lot of money not just building new submarines, but making the submarines that they have more lethal and using them more aggressively than they have almost at any time since the end of the Cold War. We got access to the U.S. unit trying to counter Russia's underwater moves. Here's what we saw.
PLEITGEN: The Yuri Dolgoruky nuclear submarine, one of Russia's newest, on the prowl, test firing intercontinental ballistic missiles from under the sea, putting America and its allies on notice.
ADMIRAL JAMES FOGGO III, COMMANDER, U.S. NAVAL FORCES EUROPE-AFRICA, ALLIED JOINT FORCE COMMAND: They're letting us know that they're out there. They're operating in much greater numbers and places that they have not operated before.
PLEITGEN: As tensions before the U.S. and Russia rise, America says it's not overly concerned about Vladimir Putin's fleet of war ships, but that the stealthy and powerful subs pose a serious threat to American and allied navies, supply lines and even ports.
America is reacting, sending its most advanced P-8 anti-submarine planes to the northern Atlantic region and spending $34 million upgrading its base in Iceland, where CNN was given exclusive access.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ocean is big. It's a chess match between the sub commander and all the ASW assets that are trying to find them.
PLEITGEN: Submarines are now one of the centerpieces of Russia's navy, the U.S. says, like the massive Oscar class, nicknamed the "carrier killer" because its mission is destroying U.S. aircraft carriers.
And the modernized kilo class, now capable of carrying cruise missiles.
CNN was on hand when kilos launched several off the coast of Syria hitting ISIS targets hundreds of miles away.
A threat America has to respect and react to, the U.S. top commander for Europe and Africa tells CNN.
FOGGO: We can no longer take for granted that we can sail with impunity all of the oceans, whether it be the North Atlantic, the Baltic, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean or the Arctic Ocean.
PLEITGEN: The U.S. says it won't be intimidated by Russia's resurgent submarine fleet but it is rallying allies to get serious about countering Moscow's underwater moves.
PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, the U.S. also says the Arctic is more and more becoming a contested area and the Russians using those submarines to project power in that area. Once again, a big concern for America and its allies, Wolf.
BLITZER: Major concern indeed, reminding me of the bad old days of the Cold War.
All right. Fred, thank you very much. Fred Pleitgen reporting live from Moscow.
And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.