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Court in Russian-Controlled Crimea Orders Two Month Pre-Trial Detention for 24 Ukrainian Sailors Seized After Naval Clash; CNN Special Report: The State of Hate; Interview With Senator Richard Blumenthal; No CIA Briefing to Senate on Journalist's Murder; President Trump Not Ruling Out Pardon For Paul Manafort. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 28, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And accusing Mueller of tricking people and forcing them to lie.

No special protection? A bill to protect the Mueller investigation from interference by the president and the acting attorney general is blocked on the Senate floor for a second time.

And anger and evidence. The secretaries of state and defense brief senators on the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, defending President Trump's refusal to hold the Saudi crown prince accountable, saying there's no smoking gun. Why was the head of the CIA missing from the briefing?

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: The breaking news tonight, President Trump holding out the possibility of a presidential pardon for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The president's startling remarks to "The New York Post" come as Manafort's plea deal with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is unraveling. And in a new series of tweets, Mr. Trump rails against the Russia investigation, accusing the Mueller team of -- quote -- "viciously telling witnesses to lie" in exchange for leniency and comparing the probe to the McCarthy era.

I will talk about the breaking news with Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, just yesterday, the White House said there haven't been any conversations about a pardon for Paul Manafort. But that has clearly changed.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Despite what the White House said, that has clearly been on the president's mind. In this new interview, today, he said that pardoning Paul Manafort is not out of the question and he took his criticism of the Mueller probe a step further, now comparing it to McCarthyism.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump saying in a stunning new interview his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort could receive a presidential pardon, the president late today telling "The New York Post" that pardon for Manafort is -- quote -- "not off the table," saying -- quote -- "It was never discussed, but I wouldn't take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?"

It's a shift from just 24 hours earlier, when his press secretary was asked about a pardon for Manafort.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not aware of any conversations for anyone's pardon involved in this process at all.

BROWN: In the interview, Trump railed against special counsel Robert Mueller, saying that Mueller was trying to get three people to lie, Manafort, Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone, and Stone's associate Jerome Corsi, telling "The Post" -- quote -- "You know this flipping stuff is terrible. And I'm telling you, this is McCarthyism. We're in the McCarthy era."

Trump characterized the three as -- quote -- "very brave" and alluded to them earlier today in a tweet when he called them -- quote -- "three major players."

The president also retweeting this image today showing, among others, two former presidents, former Justice Department officials, Mueller, even the president's own Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein behind bars, asking when the trials for treason begin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And the president also said during this interview that he would declassify certain documents that he says would be -- quote -- "devastating" to his opponents if the Democrats go after him in the next term.

Now, he was going to declassify these documents this past September. He had talked about it, but he says in this interview that his attorney, White House attorney Emmet Flood told him to hold off because it would be politically bad to do so then -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown at the White House, thank you.

Let's get some more on all the breaking news.

Joining us now, CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz and CNN reporter Kara Scannell.

Shimon, the president's suggestion that a pardon for Paul Manafort is not necessarily off the table, it seems to suggest he is so deeply worried right now about what Mueller is coming up with.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly deeply worried. This seems to be consuming the president.

You look at his tweets, you look at everything that's going on around the president right now, almost every morning, throughout the day, we're seeing tweets and things that are coming out of -- from him.

Look, I think the bottom line is he may feel that he's in a different position now regarding Paul Manafort because now it seems that the Mueller team is done with it, they're done with Paul Manafort. The cooperation is basically dead, they have torn up that agreement.

He's now facing a substantial amount of jail time, perhaps the rest of his life in jail. So maybe the president now feels, OK, maybe I could start talking about possibly pardoning him, because while he's cooperating, certainly, his lawyers have not wanted him to talk about pardoning Paul Manafort.

But certainly by every year stretch of the imagination, this is definitely consuming the president.

BLITZER: And look at this, Shimon. He says -- and this is an another tweet. This is a statement from the president of the United States.

[18:05:02]

"While the disgusting fake news is doing everything within their power not to report it that way, at least three major players are intimating that the angry Mueller gang of Dems" -- Democrats -- "is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts, and they will get relief. This is our Joseph McCarthy era!"

PROKUPECZ: Right.

And he's attacking investigators. He continues to attack FBI agents, U.S. attorneys, in some ways here the Department of Justice, because they are the ones that are really overseeing this entire investigation.

He is concerned. He's not naming the people there that he's quoting there in that tweet, but it's clear who's he's referring to, right? We have heard Paul Manafort now complaining that perhaps maybe they were trying to make him say things, through his lawyers denying that he lied.

Certainly, Jerome Corsi has been out there the last week or so saying, they're trying to make me say things, they're trying to make me lie, to cover up lies. I'm not going to lie. I'm not agreeing to any kind of a plea agreement. We have heard others who have gone in there say they want to get us in perjury traps.

So this is the president here now continuing to attack this investigation.

BLITZER: By suggesting that the Manafort -- excuse me -- that Mueller is trying to get Manafort and these others to lie, he seems to be -- this is the president -- he seems to be trying to discredit the entire Russia probe, so fearful of what the conclusion might be.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that's right.

I mean, every focus that of these recent tweets is about liars, coercion, people being pressured to lie in order to fit into Mueller's narrative. And that is only coming from the president. And we have seen a number of people plead guilty and admit to crimes.

And, of course, now we have some others that are saying that they're not willing to sign a plea agreement. That's part of the process. That's part of the democracy and the Justice Department and how these investigations play out.

But, as we have seen, there's been like this P.R. spin in general coming from the White House and his attorneys to try to discredit the investigation, and sometimes you see that it's working. You see it in polls. You see people think that it's gone on too far, maybe it is a witch-hunt, if you have people coming out saying they're being coerced.

BLITZER: And all this is unfolding as CNN has learned exclusively some of the written responses the president provided to Mueller in those written questions.

SCANNELL: Yes, I mean, the sources tell Dana Bash that the president has answered two real key issues in the Mueller investigation.

One of the things the president has told Mueller in those written answers is that Roger Stone never told him about WikiLeaks. And the other issue is, he said he didn't know about the Trump Tower meeting in July 2016 involving his son, several members of the campaign and the Russian lawyer in advance of that meeting.

And this is the real -- the first indication of the responses the president has made under oath and that really cut to the heart of this issue of, was there collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign?

BLITZER: And interesting, Shimon, you have been learning some intriguing information about the delay in those written responses to Mueller from the White House.

PROKUPECZ: Right.

And we were wondering what was going on for a while because they were do before Thanksgiving, the week before Thanksgiving. And the president's attorneys were holding on to them. They weren't really telling them why they were doing that.

Well, we have now learned one of the reasons -- there were two reasons, perhaps even more, but one of the reasons was that they had learned that in Jerome Corsi's plea agreement, there was going to be a mention of the president in that agreement in the filing that was going to eventually be made public.

And they were concerned over it, because it almost gave the impression that he was a kind of like an unindicted co-conspirator, when no one else was named in the court documents but the president. So they had concerns over that. They addressed those concerns with the special counsel.

And then the other thing that caught them off-guard was the notion that Julian Assange had been charged with a crime. And how that came about was through an accident in a court filing that should not have happened.

So those things, among other things, I should say, concerned them, and so they wanted to delay handing in the questions, because they didn't want to be surprised by any kind of an indictment the day after they submitted the questions.

BLITZER: Very interesting. All right, guys, thank you very, very much, Shimon Prokupecz and Kara Scannell reporting for us.

Now to Capitol Hill and CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.

Manu, what are you picking up there?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are not satisfied with the president's written responses, what they're hearing about his written responses to Robert Mueller.

According to Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told me that those responses are not adequate. And he said that he wants to learn more about that Trump Tower meeting and whether the president himself knew about it at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: There really needs to be a live interview with the president, because you need to be able to ask follow-up questions in real time.

In terms of whether he was aware of the meeting in Trump Tower, there is important relevant information that we were not allowed to get. And one of the key documents, for example, that we are going to pursue are the phone records that would show who was on that phone call that Don Jr. had, sandwiched in between his calls to set up the meeting at Trump Tower? Were they Emin Agalarov?

[18:10:12]

So there's steps that we can take to try to determine the facts. And that's what we will be pursuing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So, I asked him if he's prepared to use his subpoena power when he becomes chairman of the committee to get those phone records that may show who Donald Trump Jr. spoke to during that Donald Trump Tower meeting.

He said that they're going to pursue all courses of action going forward. And I also asked him, Wolf, whether or not he would be prepared to bring forward Jerome Corsi, of course, the individual who could shed some more light about Roger Stone, that close Trump associate, about his contacts with WikiLeaks?

He said that they do want to pursue that. And he said they want to determine whether or not Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee during his testimony before the committee last year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu, a bipartisan bill in the Senate to protect Mueller's investigation was blocked today. Tell us about that.

RAJU: Yes, this is a bill that's been pushed by Jeff Flake of Arizona, the Republican, Chris Coons, the Delaware of Democrat.

They have been trying to get a vote on this measure for months. Essentially, that bill would make it much harder to dismiss special counsels like Robert Mueller, try to protect them from political interference.

But Republican leaders have resisted that. They prevented a vote from actually happening on the floor of the Senate today. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, made it very clear that he does not believe that there's any reason to doing this because he believes Robert Mueller is safe. He's had some conversations with the White House, believing that's the case.

He does not want to eat up any more floor time. But, Wolf, this had some significant ramifications because Jeff Flake is trying to withhold his vote on any judicial nominations going forward until that special counsel bill comes for a vote. And he voted against the controversial district court judge nominee today that barely advanced in the Senate.

And the Senate Judiciary Committee had to scrap a meeting for tomorrow to consider a whole host of other judicial nominees because of Jeff Flake's position, so they may ultimately have to placate him, give him a vote on the floor, if they do want to get a number of these nominees confirmed.

But, Wolf, that still has very little chance of passing the Senate, much less getting signed into law by this president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot is happening during this lame-duck session of Congress.

Manu, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all the breaking news.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you.

BLITZER: So, what do you make of this the statement by the president, this "New York Post" interview? He is not ruling out, he's keeping it on the table of possible pardon for Paul Manafort.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, he seems to be dangling that idea of a pardon, and Manafort seems to be angling for it.

And we have here sharing of information by Manafort, apparently, with the president's lawyers. We have the president talking openly about a pad and, as you have said very accurately, the president himself seeking to discredit and lay the groundwork for suffocating or strangling the special prosecutor's resources and authority, which makes all the more necessary the bill that unfortunately was stopped on the floor today, which I have supported, for months have worked to pass.

And we need a vote on it.

BLITZER: You see this as possible obstruction of justice?

BLUMENTHAL: A pardon could well be obstruction of justice, if done with criminal motive, for the criminal ends of ending or stopping an investigation, stymying or suffocating it.

And very likely there would be consideration of this move of a pardon, given the circumstances, as an obstruction.

BLITZER: But if the president were to pardon this former Trump campaign chairman, would that in effect be an admission of guilt?

BLUMENTHAL: It depends on when and how it's done. But certainly it would be of very serious interest, and it should be, to the special counsel.

And I hope that before we reach that point, Wolf, we will have the kind of bipartisan demand for accountability that we saw today on the floor of the United States.

Nineteen of my colleagues switched their votes on the Yemen resolution to end U.S. involvement in those hostilities; 19 of my colleagues switched on that issue, in a bipartisan demand for accountability. I hope we will see the same kind of bipartisanship on this issue.

BLITZER: In that "New York Post" interview, the president says that Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi were all asked to lie by the special counsel. He says, this is a new form of McCarthyism.

What does that tell you?

BLUMENTHAL: It tells me that the president is rattled. To compare what the special counsel is doing to McCarthyism is more than a scratch. It's deliberate distortion of history. [18:15:03]

And Robert Mueller is a seasoned and honest prosecutor who is playing by the book, working methodically and systematically to determine what the facts and the evidence are.

BLITZER: In this "New York Post" interview, the president also issues a direct threat to Democrats in the House of Representatives, who will be the majority after January 3.

He says he's prepared, in his words, to declassify documents that will be devastating to his opponents, the Democrats, if the Democrats go after him with investigations in the new Congress.

I will read a quote. He says: "If they want to play tough, I will do it. They will see how devastating those pages are."

What's your reaction to that?

BLUMENTHAL: My reaction is that the threat to use classified information for political ends is a deep disservice to our national interest.

And it indicates further a kind of contempt for the intelligence community that was demonstrated again today by failing to have Gina Haspel come to the Senate briefing that we had today. The president has tried to use intelligence for his own political ends.

Using these classified documents, even the threat to do so, is really improper.

BLITZER: You have seen our exclusive reporting today on some of the written answers to Mueller's questions that the president submitted the other day.

He says Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks. He says he was not told about that June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between some of his top campaign advisers, including Paul Manafort, his son-in-law and his son, with Russians.

How significant is it that Mueller now has the president's answers in writing?

BLUMENTHAL: The special counsel has the facts and the evidence that can be used either to corroborate or dispute that contention by the president, assuming that reporting by CNN -- excellent reporting -- is true.

But the report that he had no knowledge of it is a contention by him that may or may not be supported by the facts, and that's what Robert Mueller wants. He wants to know the facts.

BLITZER: Apparently, in his written response, he used the words his best recollection.

You're a former attorney general in your home state of Connecticut. What does that say to you?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, that's a caveat, a qualification that is typically used, best recollection, as best I can recall.

It provides a sort of safety valve, in the event that the special counsel has some statement by that individual himself that would contradict it. And he can always deny his recollection. But the fact is, something like this would be remembered by the president of the United States.

And the more facts are developed, the more we see the ties and connection between Stone, Corsi, Manafort and WikiLeaks and the bombshell disclosures of those memos that the Russians obtained and then made known through WikiLeaks.

BLITZER: I suspect that Mueller is getting closer and closer to wrapping this thing up. We will see fairly soon.

Thanks so much, Senator, for coming.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news ahead.

Is the series of major developments of the Russia investigation a sign that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is getting closer and closer to proving collusion?

Plus, we will have more on the exclusive new details CNN has learned about President Trump's written answers to Mueller's questions. Was the president being truthful?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:05]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news.

President Trump telling "The New York Post" that a pardon for the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is -- quote -- "not off the table."

Gloria Borger, why is the president sending this message today?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You got me.

I mean, I don't think it's a very smart thing to do. I think it annoys his attorneys, who have been telling him constantly don't talk about pardons now, this is not the right time.

It clearly publicly sends a signal to Paul Manafort that the president likes him more now than he ever did -- than he ever did before. And I think it's very dangerous for him to be talking about this now, because it may look like he's dangling this pardon in front of Paul Manafort in exchange for whatever Manafort did or did not tell or would not tell the special counsel. And I think Jerry Nadler, who's going to take over the Judiciary Committee in the House, has said that, if that were the case, they would have to investigate it as potential obstruction.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Gloria, isn't the reason it looks like he's dangling a pardon because...

BORGER: Because he is?

TOOBIN: Because he is dangling a pardon?

BORGER: Right. Yes, well...

TOOBIN: Because, I mean, like, I mean, it's like, you say it's bad for him.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: He's doing it because this is what he wants to do. He wants Manafort to shut up. And he's giving him the chance for a pardon in return.

BORGER: Right.

I think two things are going on. He's dangling a pardon, and Manafort is angling for a pardon. Both of those things are going on at the same time, which is why the president's lawyers want him to keep his mouth shut about it, because they know about the consequences of doing it, to use a pardon for his own political gain.

They know that that could be obstruction, of course.

TOOBIN: But their client is obstructing.

BORGER: Well...

TOOBIN: I mean, that's the thing.

I mean, it's like -- it's not because it looks bad. It's because it is bad.

BORGER: Right. Right. Yes.

[18:25:01]

BLITZER: Because that's...

BORGER: I'm not disagreeing.

BLITZER: Let me go back to you, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: I know you're not disagreeing. BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: But it's just so surreal.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But what about the timing, Jeffrey? Why now? He could have done this a week ago, a month ago, six months ago.

TOOBIN: Because everything's falling apart for Manafort.

I mean, Manafort's deal is falling apart. He's looking like he's going to prison for a long time. He's got -- his life has got to be in a shambles. And the president is saying, hang in there, pal, the cavalry's comment.

I mean, it's just so surreal. It's like his lawyers are upset because he's committing crimes in public. That's why they're upset. And I don't blame them. But the problem is not how it looks. The problem is what he's doing.

BLITZER: What do you think, Sabrina?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, I think that you see the president expressing frustration in his comments, in addition to signaling that he wouldn't rule out pardoning Paul Manafort, but expressing frustration with this notion of flipping.

And I think that was very telling, because some of these comments very much go together. If you look at the way in which the president sought to cast doubt on those who have, in fact, cooperated with the special counsel and his team, discussing how this is a return to the McCarthy era and really is suggesting without evidence that not only are prosecutors compelling witnesses to flip, but also coercing them into lies, when there simply is no evidence of that.

And so all of that is to say that the president is trying to send a message to some of those, perhaps people like Roger Stone, perhaps Jerome Corsi.

BORGER: He's called them heroes, right?

SIDDIQUI: Calling them heroes, praising them as being brave, to say, hang in there. If you if you stay on my side, if you continue to prove that you are an ally of mine, then perhaps there could be a pardon down the road.

BLITZER: Those are good points, Rebecca, because the president did tell "The New York Post" in this interview that Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi are very brave for refusing to flip and lie.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, so sending a pretty clear message Wolf.

One interesting component of this, though, is what is the risk that the president is taking here from a P.R. perspective, from the public perception component of this?

The public actually opposes the president pardoning Manafort, pardoning these people who are affiliated with him. A "Washington Post"/ABC poll found that two-thirds of Americans over the summer opposed this.

And so the president's actually taking a pretty huge and clear political risk by sending these signals. And if he were to actually go through with this and pardon one or more of these men, there could be a huge political backlash here as well.

So clearly there's a cost-benefit going -- analysis going on for him right now. He's weighing what is -- what could I gain from these men protecting me vs. the backlash. But the backlash would be big and it would be pronounced.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Really? Really?

BLITZER: Hold on a moment, Jeffrey.

Would the Republicans, Gloria, stick with the president?

BORGER: Well, they have stuck with the president so far. So I don't see a lot of reason why they wouldn't.

But there is something that's coming out. And that's going to be sort of the sentencing memo from -- from the special counsel.

BLITZER: For Paul Manafort.

BORGER: For Paul Manafort.

And if I had to guess -- and Jeffrey will tell me if I'm wrong, I'm sure.

But if I had to guess, this will be detailed. And I think it's one way for Manafort to -- for Mueller to put everything out there, not have to go through Matt Whitaker, put everything out there, let people know what he has.

And then it could be so politically embarrassing, to Rebecca's point, if what he -- if he says, this is what Manafort is lying about on X, Y, and Z, and it is devastating, then the president may have some problems.

Manafort's allies are saying that the special counsel is trying to push him into a narrative, and he refuses to go there. He wants to give him the facts, but he refuses to agree with his narrative. We will have to see what the special counsel's narrative is.

BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey, go ahead.

TOOBIN: Well, I think Gloria is clearly right. This is going to be a detailed statement about why Paul Manafort wasn't telling the truth. It's still unclear to me whether Mueller will file that under seal or not. I mean, we may not see that, at least -- at least immediately.

But, as for the political backlash, I mean, respectfully, haven't we learned that, no matter what Donald Trump does, 40 percent of the public supports it?

BORGER: Sure.

TOOBIN: Does anyone think that Sean Hannity is going to go on TV, having read this, and say, hmm, this is really incriminating?

BERG: And look what happened -- and look what happened to Republicans in the midterms.

There is an impact when the president is unpopular, historically unpopular. And he was able to pull it out in 2016, in spite of his unpopularity, because it was a choice between him and another historically unpopular candidate.

But given the choice between generic Republicans in 2018 and potentially another Democrat in 2020, you could see a different result.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: -- Paul Manafort.

[18:30:11] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Rebecca, you know --

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": The president also knows that he's been able to push his boundaries when it comes to Republicans on Capitol Hill who have been reluctant to really confront the president even with the bombshells that have come out of the investigation so far.

You know, obviously, you'll have Democrats in the majority of the House when the new Congress takes form in January. But they've been very reluctant to talk about impeachment, because they know it's sort of a fool's errand. They wouldn't have the votes in the Senate to remove the president from office anyway.

So I think the president is happy for this battle to play out in the court of public opinion. Because he thinks that it does at least help harden support within his base. To Rebecca's point, his base alone is not enough.

BORGER: He's also threatening Democrats. "Well, you want to play this way. I'm going to punch back, and I'm going to use the Justice Department or whatever it is, the government" --

BLITZER: Classified information.

BORGER: Right. To release classified information on Democrats, which is, of course, another abuse of power.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey. TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think you know, Rebecca makes a very good

point about, you know, the midterms showed that, you know, that the president had problems.

But it is also true that look at the Republican Party. They are lined up behind him. There are no dissenters who stay in office. Corker was a dissenter. He's out. Flake was a dissenter. He's out. The only people who got elected are people who are even more favorable towards Trump. So I just don't think the president is worried that there is going to be any kind of meaningful backlash against him.

BERG: No, I don't think he's worried, but I think he should be worried.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. We're going to have much more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:36:28] BLITZER: We're following breaking exclusive new details of President Trump's written answers to the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, written questions.

Gloria, what do you make of this CNN exclusive reporting that the president says he was not told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York with some of his closest aides, including relatives, meeting with Russian officials, was not told about WikiLeaks, all of that in writing?

BORGER: Right. Look, these are two key questions: what did the president know about these interactions, alleged interactions with Russians? And he said he knew nothing, to the best of his recollection, which is, of course, very lawyerly.

It's not surprising to me that this is what the president is saying saying.

We do know from our reporting that the president's attorneys were very careful when they came up with these answers along with the president, but they combed through all of the -- all of the testimony they had. They combed through the president's public utterances on this. He has always denied it.

What we don't know here is what -- is what Bob Mueller knows about the president and what he knew and what other people have told them. And they seem pretty secure in their -- in their answers here, saying you know, this is the absolute truth but again, we're all waiting -- we're all waiting to hear from Bob Mueller.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, listen to how the president used to speak about WikiLeaks, speaking of WikiLeaks, and his secretary of state, former CIA director Mike Pompeo more recently has been speaking about WikiLeaks. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.

This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart. You've got to read it.

They want to distract us from WikiLeaks. It's been amazing what's coming out on WikiLeaks.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE/FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a nonstate hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey, go ahead.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, you know, that was then and this is now. You know, he was encouraging the illegal activity of WikiLeaks, stealing, hacking the Democrats' e-mails during the 2016 campaign. This was illegal. It was done at the instigation, apparently, of the Russian government and people associated with it. It helped Donald Trump during the campaign. He was for it.

But as then-CIA director Pompeo points out, this was the actions of a hostile state actor. Both are true. The president was supporting the actions of a hostile state actor. That's why this investigation is under -- is underway now, because we don't want hostile state actors to be determining who's president of the United States.

BORGER: Can I just add one thing? Just like the president now is signaling to Manafort things will be OK? The president publicly was telling WikiLeaks, "If you got those e-mails, show them out. I love you guys. You're great. You're on my side."

So it's not as if the president is doing any of this privately. He did it publicly, as he continues.

BLITZER: Because the suspicion that Mueller has, and I'm sure he's working on it, Russian military intelligence hacks the Democrats' e- mail. They give it to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks works with associates of the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign is informed about it. That turns out to be collusion.

BERG: That's right. And so did Donald Trump know of this potential cooperation between his associates and WikiLeaks and their network? I mean, that's the key question here. Was the president just spit balling in those public remarks that we just heard, or did he have some proprietary information about what WikiLeaks had and what they were going to do with it that could influence the campaign? There is a huge difference there.

[18:40:17] BORGER: Absolutely.

SIDDIQUI: And we already know that WikiLeaks was the forum for publishing these hacked e-mails from both the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign. So what this really boils down to, and if you also look at Mueller's interest in Jerome Corsi, in Roger Stone, people who had apparent contacts with WikiLeaks, is whether there was anyone who was directly affiliated with the Trump campaign or who may have informed -- informed the Trump campaign in advance that WikiLeaks was going to public these e-mails.

BORGER: And we have seen a change in how the White House describes all of this. Because we saw Sarah Sanders yesterday -- was it yesterday? -- you know, say that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the president. It used to be that they'd talk about, you know, no wrongdoing on the part of the president and anybody who worked for the Trump campaign. And that message has now been narrowed.

BLITZER: A modest shift in tone. Maybe not so modest.

Everybody stick around. Will President Trump meet with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, this week at the G-20 summit in Argentina?

Plus, new developments unfolding in Moscow's seizure of Ukrainian ships and sailors. We're going live to Russia and the scene of that disturbing clash at sea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:06] WOLF BLIZER, CNN HOST: A court in a Russian-controlled Crimea is ordering a two-month detention for 24 Ukrainian sailors pending trial. They were seized by Russia along with three Ukrainian ships after a naval clash off the coast of Crimea which Russia annexed back in 2014.

Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is at the foot of the bridge that Russia built across the Kerch Strait to Crimea.

Fred, those seized Ukrainian boats, they are nearby. What's the latest?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, they absolutely are nearby. They are at the other end of this bridge, you see here in the port of the town of Kerch. The Russians are saying those boat are going to stay there. In fact, the Russians are saying they are not willing to give an inch in this new standoff.

Russian President Vladimir Putin came out earlier today and he said he believe this incident was a planned provocation by the Ukrainians and by the President Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainians obviously are saying that the Russians are at fault and they say the Russians are in breach of international law. Now, Wolf, the U.S. representative, special representative to Ukraine, is saying that the Russians need to give those ships back immediately. And Secretary of Defense Mattis, he came out earlier today and blasted the Russians saying they have shown once again their word cannot be trusted.

However, the Russians not feeling not much blowback from the White House. In fact, earlier today, we asked the press secretary for Vladimir Putin, Dmitri Peskov, whether the Russians believed that the Russian at the G20 between President Trump and Putin was still on. The Russians say they believe absolutely that meeting is very much still on. They are preparing for it. President Putin came out today and once again praised President Trump

and said he believes the U.S. president still very much positively inclined, as he put it, to improving relations between the United States and Russia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Looks pretty cold where you are. Approaching 3:00 a.m. over there. How cold is it?

I don't know if he could hear me. It's that cold.

All right. Never mind. We'll talk about it another time, Fred Pleitgen on the scene for us near Crimea over there.

Just ahead, "The State of Hate". A CNN special report on the disturbing rise of hate crimes right here in the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:52:58] BLITZER: A judge in Charlottesville, Virginia, says someone has programmed robocalls related to the case of James Fields. He's the man accused of running down and killing Heather Heyer, a counterprotester at last year's white supremacist rally.

Tonight, we continue our series of special reports, looking at the increase in hate crimes as CNN investigates the state of hate.

Our national correspondent Sara Sidner is joining us one more time.

Sara, you've been taking a very close look at all of this. What do you see?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really distressing, Wolf. I mean, hatred is being exposed almost unlike we've ever seen it before because of social media and cell phones. But, of course, those devices don't actually create hate. They just capture it.

Now, what you're about to see, you're going to hear some racial slurs. We did that only to show you what real Americans are experiencing in this country in a rising state of hate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to kill all of you.

SIDNER (voice-over): Across America, racism and anger once hidden in the shadows now pouring out into the light.

In Santa Monica, a racist tirade over a parking space, a message for Muslims in a car in North Dakota.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to kill every one of you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Muslims.

SIDNER: A black army veteran targeting and killing white police officers in Dallas. A landscaper abused in Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you hate us? Because we're Mexicans?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your Sharia law don't mean (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to me.

SIDNER: Words of hate which seem to be banished now brandished more and more often. The FBI says in 2017, hate crimes shot up 17 percent. The motivation for nearly 60 percent of those? The government says it was race, ethnicity, or ancestry.

KEVIN DUNN, AUNT KILLED BY GUNMAN: She didn't see it coming.

SIDNER: Kevin Dunn's favorite aunt Vicky Jones had beaten cancer, but she could not survive hate.

Seventy-seven-year-old Jones and 69-year-old Maurice Stellar (ph) shot dead while grocery shopping, targeted because of their skin color, police say. They were black, the alleged shooter, white. A white witness armed with a gun told his son what the shooter said while fleeing.

[18:55:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said, please don't shoot or I won't shoot you. He said that whites don't kill whites.

SIDNER (on camera): What do you think about what was said?

DUNN: It hurts. It's sad. It's terrible. People have the right to just exist.

SIDNER (voice-over): The suspect, police say, could have caused far more carnage. Pastor Kevin Nelson says a parishioner saw him earlier at their church door.

PASTOR KEVIN NELSON, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF JEFFERSONTOWN: He bangs on it and then backs up with his hand on the gun so whoever would have opened it would have possibly gotten shot and killed.

SIDNER: His church began locking its doors after white supremacist Dylann Roof entered this predominantly black church, massacring nine people as they prayed.

Ken Parker knows something about the hate that motivated Dylann Roof, a navy veteran, Parker says he was out of work and without direction. He joined the Ku Klux Klan and later a neo-Nazi group. Their biggest selling point? Making him feel he was important, part of a bigger cause.

KEN PARKER, FORMER NEO-NAZI: They were looking at it as like, we're going to have a race war one day and the more people on our side, the better.

SIDNER: At the time, Barack Obama was president. Some white supremacists touted the first black president as the number one threat to white people. PARKER: And we would even joke amongst ourselves, like, hey, we're

going to send President Obama an honorary membership to the Klan because he's our biggest recruiting tool.

SIDNER: Then came the election of President Donald J. Trump. White nationalist cheered his anti-immigration rhetoric.

Racists who feared what they called the browning of America began believing President Trump was the answer to their prayers.

PARKER: They want to have an all-white ethno state where white people just live by themselves.

SIDNER: Seven months after Trump's inauguration, Parker virtually broke paid $30 to help fill a bus of racists headed to Charlottesville, Virginia, for a protest about a Confederate monument. They dubbed it the hate bus, reminiscent of a bus from the 1960s created by another neo-Nazi.

PARKER: On paper, we were just going there to stand up for the white race, but honestly, I think everybody was just going to, you know, fight.

SIDNER (on camera): Violence does happen, and a woman is killed. What did you think at that point?

PARKER: Well, when I found out that she died, I was happy, at the time.

SIDNER (voice-over): He and his cohorts giddy when an alleged neo- Nazi sympathizer killed Heather Heyer. In their minds, the race war they wanted was beginning to materialize but when the president condemned the attacks, he added --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

SIDNER (voice-over): How did that play in the group, the good people on both sides?

PARKER: Now, honestly, some of them were real happy about it, and then Trump backpedalled on it a little bit, and then others in the movement, they got angry at Trump. Trump wasn't anti-Jewish enough, he wasn't doing enough for white nationalism.

SIDNER (voice-over): Michael German spent 16 years trying to counter domestic terrorism as an FBI special agent.

(on camera): There's always the counterargument from this administration that the leftists are violent, that Antifa is violent and there's some evidence of that.

MICHAEL GERMAN, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: How many people has anyone associated within Antifa movement killed? None. How many has this side of white supremacists killed? Many. SIDNER (voice-over): According to the Government Accountability

Office, since 9/11, while radical Islamists were responsible for 27 percent of extremist motivated deaths, the far right wing accounted for 73 percent of the deadly incidents, far more than any other group.

In Parker's case, it wasn't law enforcement but love that thawed his hate.

(on camera): So you decided that animosity wasn't the way and shunning wasn't the way, but the opposite.

PASTOR WILL MCKINNON, ALL SAINTS HOLINESSS CHURCH-HOGSIC: Absolutely. I fight for peace and what better way to start than your own community.

SIDNER (voice-over): His neighbor Pastor Will McKinnon not only opened his arms, he opened his small, predominantly black church to Parker. His outreach washed away the hate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now, Parker isn't just talking to talk. He is also in the process of physically removing hatred from his body. He has spent hours getting those tattoos like that one there lasered off his skin, trying to remove all signs of hate from his life -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Such a disturbing, disturbing development we've been seeing over these past few years.

Sara Sidner, thanks so much for your excellent reporting. We've been watching all of this unfold throughout the week.

I just want to alert our viewers, tomorrow, we will continue our special series on the rise of hate here in the United States and around the world. Stick around. You'll want to see tomorrow's report as well.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.