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In Revolt Against Trump, GOP Senators Push Bipartisan Bill to Punish Saudis; Accused Russian Agent May Be Close to Plea Deal; Roger Stone Speaks Out; Interview With California Congressman Eric Swalwell; New Attorney General Candidate Emerges. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 6, 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: After declaring his plans to plead the Fifth, Roger Stone is publicly railing against the Russia probe tonight, even as he says he would testify before the United States Senate with conditions.
Filing Friday. In a matter of hours, we expect new revelations from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, about Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. Will big secrets and lies be exposed?
And punishing the prince. There is growing momentum in the Senate right now to rebuke the Saudis for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Republicans are furious and fed up with President Trump's refusal to acknowledge the evidence and blame the crown prince.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Bush Presidential Library in Texas, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: As George Herbert walker Bush is laid to rest here in Texas, President Trump is taking a cue from Bush 41 to fill a very critical opening his Cabinet.
Sources now tell CNN that Bush's former Attorney General William Barr is emerging as a leading candidate to lead the Justice Department once again, potentially replacing Jeff Sessions and inheriting oversight of the Russia investigation.
The president weighing his options right now at a very sensitive moment in Robert Mueller's probe. The special counsel is poised to reveal new information tomorrow involving two central figures, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, and tonight Mr. Trump and his legal team, they are bracing for impact.
This hour, I will speak with Congressman Eric Swalwell. He is a Democrat who serves on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, after a lot of speculation about a potential White House
shakeup, the president seems to be moving forward in his new search for a new attorney general. What's the latest?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening.
The president could not wait to fire his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but he has taken longer to hire a permanent replacement. But tonight we are learning that one of the leading contenders for the position is someone who indeed has held the position before.
William Barr, who was the attorney general for a couple of years during the first Bush administration, who has been on hand for all of the ceremonies here this week in Washington, is described to us by officials as one of the leading contenders.
Of course, the president could always change his mind. He's still reviewing others as well. But, Wolf, the question is, if he named him, if he was confirmed, what that would mean for the Russia investigation.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump is moving closer tonight to nominating a new attorney general. CNN has learned that William Barr, who led the Justice Department under President George H.W. Bush 25 years ago, is emerging as a leading candidate.
The president has not made a final decision, officials say, but is strongly considering the veteran Washington lawyer. It's been one month since Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department. And it's sort of an incredible thing.
ZELENY: After months of publicly chastising him for his recusal in the Russia investigation.
TRUMP: Even my enemy says that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself and then you wouldn't have put him in.
ZELENY: He named loyalist Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general, technically overseeing the Russia probe that lies at the heart of President Trump's anger.
But, tonight, the president is contending with more fallout in the markets worldwide after the arrest of a top Chinese technology executive heightened concerns about a trade war with China. The CFO of giant telecom giant Huawei was arrested Saturday, just as Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a trade truce over dinner at the G20 summit in Argentina.
National Security Adviser John Bolton today saying he knew about the arrest, but would not say if Trump did.
JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don't know the answer to that. I knew in advance, but that this is something that we get from the Justice Department and the -- these kinds of things happen with some frequency. We certainly don't inform the president on every one of them.
ZELENY: Meanwhile, a month after the president signaled staff changes were coming...
TRUMP: People leave. People leave.
ZELENY: ... so far, the West Wing and Cabinet look just like they did before the midterm elections.
TRUMP: We're looking at different people for different positions. You know, it's very common after the midterms.
ZELENY: After being on the brink of being fired, the president has warmed to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, officials tell CNN. She has been given at least a temporary reprieve, even though he has made little secret of his dissatisfaction over immigration.
TRUMP: I would like her to be much tougher on the border, much tougher, period.
ZELENY: Still, White House officials are bracing for more staff changes, as the president nears the halfway mark of his first term in office.
Chief of Staff John Kelly is among those whose future is up in the air, with the president often giving him a very mixed and public review.
TRUMP: There are certain things that I love what he does and there are certain things that I don't like that he does.
ZELENY: After being unusually silent during the state funeral ceremonies for George H.W. Bush, Trump began voicing discontent today again on Twitter.
"Without the phony Russia witch-hunt and all that we have accomplished in the last two years, my approval rating would be at 75 percent, rather than 50 percent." He added, "It's called presidential harassment."
ZELENY: And, Wolf, a bit of a reality check on the president's approval rating. It's not 50 percent in most polls. About the average in the low 40s or so.
But never mind that. It's clear that the president is beginning to focus back on the matter at hand here, that Russia investigation. He has not said anything publicly at least about the things we have learned this week, most notably the national security adviser he fired more than a year ago, of course, cooperating with the special counsel, interviewing him some 19 times.
The president not yet talking about that publicly, but, Wolf, all that could change tomorrow, as we're expecting so much more news and information coming out of the special counsel's office -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tomorrow could be a really, really big day. All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.
In the Russia investigation tonight, Trump confidant Roger Stone is speaking out after invoking his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid testifying before the U.S. Senate and turning over what he describes as truckloads of documents.
Let's go to our political correspondent, Sara Murray. She is working the story for us.
Sara, President Trump praised Roger Stone's defiance in the Russia probe earlier in the week. And you had a chance to speak with him. What are you learning right now about any coordination between the two?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, remember earlier this week, President Trump praised Roger Stone, said he had guts because Stone had previously said he would never testify against the president.
Now, Stone insisted to me today there has been no communication between the president's lawyers and his lawyers. He says they don't have a joint defense agreement, and in a speech here in D.C., he insisted the president's tweet was nothing more than a tweet, certainly not witness tampering.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I was proud to see a tweet from the president of the United States, who lauded me for my guts.
Now, some in the mainstream media went immediately to a host of all liberal legal analysts who said that the president's tweet could constitute witness tampering. Absurd, on the basis of the fact that I have said the exact same thing on the record on numerous forums for the last two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Now, Wolf, obviously, some read the president's tweet as a nod to Roger Stone, that maybe he would pardon him if he ended up in legal trouble. Roger Stone obviously downplaying the idea that there is any kind of obstruction of justice going on here, Wolf.
BLITZER: As you know, Sara, the Senate wants Stone to testify, but he is refusing to do so by pleading the Fifth. Is he changing his mind? MURRAY: Well, I certainly think he is trying to play a little bit of
a game with the Senate here. He made it very clear that he was not willing to testify behind closed doors, but said maybe I would be willing to reconsider if they made that public.
Here is how he described it in his speech today:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STONE: Have I elected to invoke my Fifth Amendment rights when it comes to the witch-hunt being conducted by the Senate Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committees.
Just for the record, I informed through my attorneys both of those committees that I would not be turning over three tractor-trailer loads of documents for them to root for, and I will not testify unless I am allowed to testify in public, so the American people can hear every word.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Now, it's worth noting that Stone has already testified in private before the House Intelligence Committee. He says things are different now that he knows that he's actively under investigation.
I asked him what he would do if he heard from the special counsel, if he would also invoke his Fifth Amendment privileges when it came to Mueller. And, Wolf, he refused to answer the question, saying it's a hypothetical and he has learned not to answer those.
BLITZER: Joining us now, Congressman Eric Swalwell. He is a Democrat. He serves on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
Let me give your immediate reaction to Roger Stone. What do you think?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Wolf.
Well, I don't think you have a lot of guts if you are refusing to cooperate in an investigation that's trying to secure our elections. And if you admire President Trump so much, then you must also admire his words in September 2016, when he said, who takes the Fifth? Only the mob takes the Fifth.
So, unless you're associating yourself with mob-like tactics, you, I don't think, have much guts, and it looks like Roger Stone has a lot to hide. And I will leave it at that, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman, as you know, William Barr is now emerging as President Trump's possible nominee for attorney general. Barr served in that role under President George H.W. Bush.
If nominated and confirmed, he would oversee the Mueller investigation. Would you support Barr's nomination?
SWALWELL: I'm certainly open to it, and I think, as we have seen over the last few days, you know, how honorable of a man George H.W. Bush was, someone who was kind, who loved his country, who sought to unite us and led with optimism, that this individual served in his administration, I think that must give him some credential.
I would want to know, though, has he ever talked to President Trump or anyone in the family or administration about the Russia investigation, if he has ever expressed thoughts that prejudged the investigation, and whether he would pledge to allow Bob Mueller to continue to follow the evidence and reach its natural conclusion?
But, right now, he sounds a hell of a lot better than Matt Whitaker, who already has prejudged the investigation and, according to Vox.com reporting, has plotted with the president to try and take over the investigation.
BLITZER: Do you think Barr would get confirmed by the Senate?
SWALWELL: Well, if all of that is true, that he has not talked to the president, and that he hasn't prejudged the investigation, that he would allow Bob Mueller to finish his work, I do think he would be confirmed.
Look, we do need an attorney general. I accept that Donald Trump is allowed to make and have people in his Cabinet who he wishes. I just want to make sure that the rule of law is followed. And that's what is at stake right now with Matt Whitaker being there.
So, I think Mr. Barr certainly deserves a fair hearing.
BLITZER: Well, what would be your concerns if Robert Mueller actually finishes his final report before the president is able to confirm a new attorney general?
SWALWELL: Well, my biggest concern would be that Congress would not have access to the report, and that the president would seek to stand on executive privilege and prevent us from seeing it.
However, I think Bob Mueller is going to continue to speak through indictments, and I expect that, in the coming weeks, considering the number of grand jury witnesses who have come forward, that we will see more indictments.
But I think it's imperative that the Congress, particularly the House Judiciary Committee, where I sit, is able to see the Mueller report as soon as it is presented to the attorney general or acting attorney general.
BLITZER: What do you expect, Congressman, from the Mueller findings tomorrow on both Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort?
SWALWELL: Well, I expect that we will see that President Trump, his family and his campaign were eager to do two things during the pendency of the 2016 election. They were eager to work with the Russians and to take any assistance
that the Russians had offered and that they were eager to do business with the Russians. And also we have found that, when confronted about it, people like Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort have all lied.
And so I expect you will see more evidence of a candidate for president of the United States drawing himself very close to our adversaries.
And, Wolf, as you sit there in honor of President George H.W. Bush, you can't help but think, when you listen to all the tributes that were said about him, he was a person who knew who our allies were and who they were not. And I think that distinguishes him with the current occupant of the White House, who was so eager to work with a foreign adversary.
BLITZER: The special counsel's filing on Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser, revealed that there are three ongoing investigations.
So does it sound like things perhaps aren't wrapping up quite yet?
SWALWELL: That's right, Wolf. There are three ongoing investigations.
It looks like at least one of them relates to the Trump-Russia question, as to whether they worked with the Russians. But it also signals that, when they are able to get witnesses to cooperate and tell the truth, and it took 19 interviews to get there with Michael Flynn, they can learn a lot and they can do a lot.
But when witnesses lie, tamper, obstruct, as we have seen with Paul Manafort, it really sets back the investigation. And I say that because Donald Trump, as much as he complains about the length of the investigation, he ultimately drives the length of this investigation, I think, more than almost anyone else who is in it.
So if he were to just cooperate, sit down with the special counsel, stop trying to obstruct via Twitter or dangling pardons, we could reach a conclusion much sooner.
BLITZER: What do you think that filing reveals about others in the Trump transition who potentially might be pretty vulnerable in the Russian investigation?
SWALWELL: Well, this was a transition unlike any we'd seen in any prior administration, Wolf.
We saw that Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon and many others were taking meetings with foreign nationals before the Obama administration had even left. So, knowing that they were doing that and knowing that Jared Kushner has failed to disclose prior foreign contacts, knowing that he was financially vulnerable because of his prior financial dealings, I hope that we answer the question as to whether Jared Kushner has been compromised or as to whether Jared Kushner has been trying to access or cash in on access to the White House.
And I expect that that will be a part of the special counsel's final presentation to Congress.
BLITZER: Congressman, before I let you go, on a very different subject, you tweeted in support of a proposal of a Biden-Swalwell ticket in 2020.
Are you prepared to run in 2020 as either a presidential or a vice presidential candidate?
SWALWELL: Yes, or Swalwell-Biden, Wolf. I'm open to entertaining both variations.
And I was actually -- as a fan of Cher, and my mom, who has been to many of her concerts, my mom was just thrilled. And I think she has sent that to every person in the world that she has ever talked to.
BLITZER: All right, we will see what happens on that front as well.
Congressman Swalwell, thank you so much for joining us.
SWALWELL: Thanks, Wolf. Been a pleasure.
BLITZER: All right, there's more news we're following.
Just ahead, more on President Trump's possible pick for attorney general. And would William Barr move to limit Robert Mueller's Russia investigation or even kill it?
Plus, a reported secret Turkish lobbying effort involving former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Did he discuss kidnapping a Turkish cleric?
BLITZER: Tonight, anticipation is building for Robert Mueller's next big move. He is poised to reveal new details, potentially very significant ones, about the Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen cases in court filings tomorrow, this just days after his highly anticipated memo disclosing the extent of Michael Flynn's cooperation.
The document raised a whole lot of new questions about ongoing investigations shrouded in secrecy.
I'm joined now by CNN national security analyst Mark Mazzetti. He's a Washington investigative correspondent for "The New York Times." And he has some significant new reporting on all of this.
Mark, thanks for joining us.
Your reporting suggests that one of the redacted cases in the Flynn filing may have to do with his work involving Turkey. What makes you suspect that?
MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, what we reported was that sometime in recent months, Mueller has actually referred a case of Turkish lobbying back to the Eastern District of Virginia, where it began.
And, if you recall, this is the case that originally kind of ensnared Michael Flynn. He was caught as not having registered as a foreign agent for Turkey and was part of an effort to get a cleric living in Pennsylvania repatriated to Turkey.
This is an enemy of the Turkish government. This is originally what got the Justice Department -- Flynn on the Justice Department's radar. What we say in the story is that it appears this may have been one of the cases Mueller was referring to on Tuesday because Flynn has direct knowledge of this case, and there's active measures being taken in this case to pursue other elements of it.
BLITZER: Well, give us some more details. Explain the type of work Michael Flynn was doing, and why that raised suspicions.
MAZZETTI: Well, Flynn came out with an op-ed actually on Election Day, of all days, advocating for the repatriation of this cleric, a man name Gulen.
He worked and his company, Flynn Intel Group, worked with several different clients to try to lobby Congress, to try to put out information about Gulen that might influence American policy. They didn't register as foreign agents, and that's ultimately what got them in trouble at the Justice Department.
There were reports, of course, also media reports, that there was even a discussion of some kind of rendition or kidnapping of Gulen to send him back to Turkey. We should say that Flynn's lawyer has denied this vehemently that Flynn had any knowledge of such a plot, if there was even such a plot.
BLITZER: What conflicts potentially does that raise when you look at Flynn's work during the Trump presidential campaign and later during the transition and for about a month as the president's national security adviser?
MAZZETTI: Well, we actually reported last year that the Trump transition knew that Flynn was under investigation for this Turkish lobbying, even as they made him national security adviser.
And it shows that Flynn was very actively participating on one side of a very controversial issue for another government, in other words, coming on the side of Turkey without disclosing it. At the same time, he was working for Trump campaign.
At the same time, we should say, it's a little bit in line with the Trump campaign in terms of seeking business opportunities at the same time they were campaigning. I mean, the president himself said last week that he -- while he was seeking the presidency, he was actively pursuing a deal in Moscow for a Trump Tower. So, this is obviously not the first time you see a campaign official
who was pursuing business opportunities at the same time they were working for the campaign.
BLITZER: What does it tell you, Mark, that Robert Mueller handed off this case?
MAZZETTI: Well, I think it's significant because you have seen Mueller in recent weeks, months hand off other aspects of his investigation.
Trump has tried to create this impression that the Mueller investigation is this giant blob that sort of consumes everything in its path and then gets bigger and bigger and bigger.
In fact, what we're seeing is, in a way, it's getting narrower. He is putting and sending to other districts different satellite parts of the case.
And he really seems to be focusing on the central issues of his investigation, which is any possible conspiracy with Russia and the Trump campaign and obstruction of justice.
So, in a way, the narrowing focus of it is significant, and it's in line with what we have seen over the last few months.
BLITZER: Mark Mazzetti, good reporting, as usual. Thank you very much.
MAZZETTI: Thank you.
BLITZER: And just ahead, as President Trump is ranting once again about a Russia witch-hunt, how worried should he be about Robert Mueller's new court filings tomorrow?
And we will also have more on the breaking news on Roger Stone denying that he shared any information with the president's lawyers in the Russia probe.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following multiple breaking stories right now. Sources now say President Trump is moving closer and closer to choosing a new attorney general and that William Barr is emerging as a top contender. Barr served in the post under President George H.W. Bush.
[18:30:48] Also tonight, Trump ally Roger Stone tells CNN that he's not -- repeat not -- sharing any information with President Trump's lawyers about the Russia investigation. Stone pleading the Fifth this week to avoid testifying before the U.S. Senate. Let's bring in our analysts. And Michael Zeldin, listen to Roger
Stone today defiantly refusing to turn over documents to congressional investigators.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER STONE, TRUMP ASSOCIATED: I have elected to invoke my Fifth Amendment rights when it comes to the witch-hunt being conducted by the Senate Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committees.
Just for the record, I informed, through my attorneys, both of those committees that I would not be turning over three tractor-trailer loads of documents for them to root for [SIC], and I will not testify unless I am allowed to testify in public so the American people can hear every word!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Michael, so what do you make of that defiant tone he's striking?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he's been pretty defiant all along. Of course, his defiance has been that he has done absolutely nothing wrong. So it's not easy to understand as to what he is asserting Fifth Amendment rights as to.
But clearly, he doesn't like the Mueller investigation. He doesn't want to cooperate with it. And he will, you know, stand on his constitutional rights and fight to the extent that he has a right to fight it. And that will be up until the time that Mueller decides whether or not to indict him or not indict him.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, Stone potentially could be indicted by the special counsel in the coming months. Do you believe this is a brazen play for a presidential pardon?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Oh, heck yes. Note what he said in that -- note what he said in that clip you just ran. He didn't talk about Robert Mueller. He talked about the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.
This is not reality yet, Wolf. This is like me in fourth grade on the night before I was going to be bullied on the schoolyard saying, "I'm going to stand up to the bully."
My point is when Mueller -- Mueller potentially throws some hard-core indictments in front of Roger Stone, it's not about the Senate Intelligence or Judiciary Committees; it's about spending time behind bars. If that ever happens, what is Stone going to do?
Right now, of course, as Michael said, he can plead the Fifth. He can say, "I did nothing wrong." He hasn't faced an indictment yet. But he also hasn't faced reality. And when that 18-wheeler hits him in the head, I suspect we might get a different answer.
ZELDIN: May I just -- BLITZER: You know, Gloria, Stone's rhetoric seems to stand in sharp contrast to the apparent cooperation from other Trump associates like Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn, for example. Do you think that's by design?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, look, I agree with Phil. I think he's asking for some kind of pardon. He said he was proud that the president tweeted that he had guts, and, you know, obviously, the president doesn't believe Michael Cohen has any.
What was interesting to me about Flynn after the sentencing memo was we didn't hear anything from the president on that; because the message that was copping out of Mueller's office strong and clear is. "If you cooperate with me and you give us substantial assistance in any way, shape, or form, we're going to be good to you."
And that's not Donald Trump's message. Trump's message is, "If you cooperate with Mueller, you're -- you're not doing yourself any good. But if you cooperate with me, then maybe I won't take a pardon off the table," as he said about Paul Manafort.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, you cover the White House for us. How do you think the president will react to that kind of rhetoric from Roger Stone?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's going to react positively, Wolf. And we've already seen that on the president's Twitter feed where, as Gloria said, he was praising him, saying that he's one of few people left who has guts. That is something that Roger Stone later used to fundraise off of, and his friends, trying to raise money for his legal bills that he's experiencing right now.
But Wolf, back during the campaign, Roger Stone was certainly seen by campaign officials as this pathway to WikiLeaks, sort of, who was someone who was keeping them updated on those kinds of things: what was happening, as you saw the president talking about WikiLeaks on the campaign trail.
But to be clear, campaign officials did not always take Roger Stone seriously. They know how he is. They know how he's fashioned himself, and sometimes they thought he essentially oversold his goods. So it is important to keep in mind that they did not always take him seriously in that manner.
[18:35:12] But right now, because of what Roger Stone is doing and what he's saying publicly about the special counsel, in contrast with what Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort are doing, the president is reacting very positively to Roger Stone, as we've seen play out on his Twitter feed.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, what did you think of those remarks?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think we're all in accord here, Wolf. Manafort did the "I'm not talking." Michael Cohen did the "I'm changing my tune." Jerry Corsi did the sort of "See if you can figure out what I'm even saying to you right now." Carter Page took the approach of the confused businessman.
So all that's left, I guess, for Roger Stone is righteous indignation, because I'm not sure what it gets him to have an open hearing that he seemed to demand in front of Congress, in front of cameras, if he's either going to go in front of cameras -- he hasn't been indicted yet -- and take the Fifth, if there are any charges leveled against him, or if he's simply going to say what he does or doesn't already know, that Mueller probably already has information that -- that we don't know that he knows about Roger Stone.
He's playing to the cameras. He's playing, I think, to President Trump and President Trump's core supporters.
ZELDIN: Wolf, may I add one thing on this, though?
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.
ZELDIN: The one thing that is important to remember is were Stone pardoned, he then would have no Fifth Amendment rights and could be forced to testify before any investigative body. So I'm not sure exactly what the play here is.
If he doesn't want to cooperate, doesn't want to testify, a pardon, if that comes, maybe keeps him out of jail, but certainly does not prevent him from testifying. And if he's got something bad to say about the president, the president is just opening the floodgates for Stone to be required to testify against him.
BLITZER: Michael, let me get your thoughts on the news that President Trump is strongly considering William Barr to serve as the next attorney general. You served under Barr. Are you surprised by this choice?
ZELDIN: Well, yes and no. I mean, Barr is 68 years old. He's already been there and done that, and I'm not sure why he wants to go home again. But he's a good choice, I think. He's an honest broker. I think that he will bring, you know, experience and stability to the Justice Department.
Remember, when I worked for Mueller and Barr was the attorney general, we worked closely with Barr, because money laundering and asset forfeiture work were all the rage at the time. And that's what Bob and I did together. I think that relationship was cooperative. And so I think that, in respect of will Barr come in and try to interfere with the Mueller investigation? I think that's probably off the table now.
So in many respects, I think it's a good choice that will get, probably, a consensus vote on the Hill.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, once again, you cover the White House for us. How serious do you think the president is about Barr as attorney general?
COLLINS: Well, Wolf, it seems that people surrounding the president are pretty serious about Barr. But that's still an open question about what the president thinks about him. Because he's not a typical pick for President Trump as attorney
general, especially following the drama that was the firing of Jeff Sessions and how long that took. And the president was so unhappy with someone who was seen as pretty -- not even establishment. Jeff Sessions was seen as someone who was essentially on the fringes in Washington, and then he still made that decision, which he said he felt was in accordance with the law, to recuse himself. So it would be unseemly if the president did pick someone who was seen as an establishment type that would likely follow in the path that Jeff Sessions took.
Wolf, what it seems to be is the people surrounding the president think Barr is a good idea and would make a good attorney general for him, and that is why they're trying to get this out there, so that it's someone that the president sees as a serious pick.
But Wolf, you've noticed with any hiring story that comes with someone President Trump is considering, it always includes the line that "a source close to the president cautions nothing is final until President Trump either tweets it or announces it." Wolf, that's true. Because oftentimes in this West Wing, things are so up one minute and down the next that they truly do not know if the president is sold on someone; even if he tells them that, the next minute he could be asking about someone else. So just a word of caution with that, as with any other hiring decision made.
BLITZER: That's a very important word of caution, indeed. Phil Mudd, do you have any concerns that Barr would actually carry out instructions from President Trump to limit the Mueller probe?
MUDD: At the moment, I don't. I mean, as Kaitlan said, I think she nailed it. This is an establishment figure.
Let me cut to the chase. I think the debate in this town is going to get confused if he's ever nominated. The confusion will be, is he a conservative nominee who's held conservative positions? Absolutely. That should not be confused with the question about whether he would interfere with the investigation.
Let me throw one fact on the table. You have a Republican former FBI director -- that's Robert Mueller -- who's going to walk in the room with a new attorney general and say, "Here's all the facts of the case, including everything related to Russia and people around the Trump campaign."
Once an attorney general sees those facts, if I know Director Mueller, I suspect any incoming attorney general, even if it's a conservative, is going to look at him and say, "I can't stand in the way of this, because the facts are just too compelling."
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, let me put this graphic up on the screen and show to it you and show to it our viewers. These are individuals who worked for William Barr over at the Justice Department, including the special counsel, Robert Mueller; the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone; John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court; Ken Starr, who was the former independent counsel during the Whitewater and Bill Clinton impeachment process. What does that say to you?
BORGER: Well, look, he's a known quantity. He's probably confirmable. The relationship with Mueller is interesting, because they did work together. They worked together on Pan Am 103, for example. So the fact that they have a relationship is something that I think is probably of interest to Donald Trump.
What's of more interest to him, I think, is that Barr has come out and said, "Well, you know, the firing of Comey is absolutely justified," that an obstruction investigation would be asinine, and, you know, so I think that would be of interest to the president.
And he has also said that maybe Mueller should have chosen some people who didn't give political contributions to Democrats, that he felt that that was inappropriate.
And so, you know, he has been mildly critical, I would say, but not substantively critical of Mueller himself, because he believes he's talented and smart and can, you know, can -- you know, can produce a good investigation. Clearly said at the outset, although he has grown a little bit more critical as the process has continued.
And also at one point he said that the Justice Department was not doing its duty by not investigating Uranium One on Hillary Clinton. And that, of course, is music to Donald Trump's ears.
BLITZER: Good point.
All right. Everybody, stick around. There's more news. Angry Republicans teaming up with Democrats against President Trump as they look to punish the Saudi crown prince for Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Will the Senate do what Mr. Trump won't?
And an accused Russian spy may be close to striking a plea deal tonight. What information could she give up to prosecutors?
[18:47:16] BLITZER: Tonight, key Senate Republicans are ramping up their revolt against President Trump over his refusal to blame the Saudi crown prince for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. They're joining with Democrats to push for legislation to punish the Saudis. The GOP chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee suggesting Mr. Trump's failure to denounce the crown prince is un- American.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty. She is up on Capitol Hill.
Sunlen, senators of both parties held private talks on all of this today. What's the latest?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They did indeed, Wolf. And many of the senators were in that private briefing earlier in the week with CIA Director Gina Haspel. And that briefing really set off not only Democrats but Republicans too, who came out of that briefing saying that the intelligence that they were communicated about was very clear, and that they felt it was undeniable that the Saudi crown prince was indeed behind the murder.
And now, some in Congress moving without the support of the White House are trying to do something about it.
SERFATY (voice-over): With anger boiling over on Capitol Hill --
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You don't chop somebody up in a consulate. That's not too much to ask.
SERFATY: Momentum is growing to go around the White House and take matters into their own hands.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Us denouncing the unbelievable behavior of a crown prince who is out of control is appropriate.
SERFATY: With lawmakers moving to do what President Trump hasn't, punish Saudi Arabia for the brutal murder of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
GRAHAM: There is common ground around stopping sales of arms to Saudi Arabia and limiting support for the Saudi war in Yemen until Mr. Khashoggi's death is reconciled and they reform the way they do business.
SERFATY: Huddling on Capitol Hill today, top senator, include manage of the president's own Republican allies are readying plans for a response with teeth that would withdraw the U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, suspend arm sales with the Saudi kingdom, and rebuke the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
SEN. TODD YOUNG (R), INDIANA: We need to send a message in the wake of the Khashoggi revelations that the United States does not condone, sanction, and cannot turn our face away from this sort of violence.
SERFATY: That message would serve as a sharp rebuke of the Trump administration's response. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis insist there is no smoking gun, and the president still refusing to denounce the murder.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have nothing definitive. And the fact is maybe he did, maybe he didn't.
SERFATY: That stance fuelling the anger of top Republicans on Capitol Hill. Today, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee --
CORKER: To use that as a reason that we're not going to say anything about this is -- it's un-American.
[18:50:03] SERFATY: Meantime, the Saudi ambassador, the crown prince's brother, is now back in Washington for just the second time since Khashoggi's murder. And as he resumes his duties, there are new calls from Senator Dick
Durbin for him to be formally expelled.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: This was an orchestrated decision by some 15 members of the Saudi forces to go into Istanbul to lure Khashoggi into the consulate to kill him, and MBS, the crown prince who now leads Saudi Arabia, must have been part of this.
SERFATY: And in the Senate, there are additional calls for the CIA director to come back up here on Capitol Hill and next time brief the full Senate about all of this. And the House of Representatives, we found out today, will receive a briefing at some point next week, although, Wolf, it's still very unclear who on the part of the administration will come up here to Capitol Hill. The House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says she's hopeful that that person will be Gina Haspel.
BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty, reporting for us from Capitol Hill, thank you very much.
Just ahead, there's more news of a possible plea deal for an accused Russian spy. What information does he have for U.S. prosecutors?
[18:55:53] BLITZER: New signals tonight indicate authorities are near in agreement in the case of a woman accused of acting as an unregistered agent for the Russians. Maria Butina was arrested just days before she intended to leave the United States after coming in contact with top Republicans and officials at the National Rifle Association.
Let's bring in our own Brian Todd.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have learned tonight that a plea deal for Maria Butina could be eminent following conversations today between her lawyers, prosecutors and the judge in the case. A key question now, is this accused Russian spy about to give up her boyfriend and possibly others as part of this deal?
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Maria Butina, the accused Russian spy, could be close to a plea deal. Her lawyers and prosecutors moving to cancel court dates and subpoenas. Her lawyers saying she's languishing in solitary confinement, living in a cell the size of a parking space and may need mental health treatment. Her family says she's run out of money to pay lawyers and she's been given a public defender.
Butina, charged with conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent, is believed by prosecutors to have infiltrated American conservative groups including the NRA, allegedly at the direction of a high level Russian official.
What information could she give up to prosecutors?
JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY PROSECUTOR: What she was tasked with doing, what steps she took to actually conduct those tasks and who, if anyone, was complicit in those activities here in the United States.
TODD: A plea deal from Maria Butina could be a big problem for Paul Erickson, a Republican operative who Butina allegedly had a romantic relationship with.
Erickson has received the so-called target letter from federal investigators, according to "The Daily Beast." A letter saying they're considering charging him with conspiracy and secretly acting as a foreign agent.
MORENO: If you get a target letter, that's serious. That means charges are most definitely eminent. Potentially, he could face the same charges as Butina.
TODD: Prosecutors have said Erickson helped Butina in her efforts to establish back channels between the Kremlin and the Republican Party. A source tells CNN, Erickson sent an e-mail to a Trump campaign adviser in 2016, trying to facilitate a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Those efforts appear to have been rebuffed by the Trump campaign.
But was Paul Erickson used by the beautiful young Russian who's about half his age?
A lawyer for Butina says their relationship was real and cites this video of them recording "Beauty and the Beast" in the studio. And a source close to the situation tells CNN Erickson has been visiting Butina in jail, even recently. But in court papers, prosecutors say, quote, she appears to treat that relationship as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.
(on camera): What would his best defense be?
MORENO: Your best defense if the facts support it is that you were a dupe, right? Is that you were an unknowing participate in certain activities.
TODD (voice-over): And former spies say deploying a young woman like Maria Butina is tried and true Russian spy craft.
ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: She was definitely a honey trap. She was a beautiful woman, she was young, she was alluring, spoke beautiful English, she would be attractive to a lot of lonely men in Washington, D.C. She was the perfect Trojan horse, if you like, get her through the gates of Republican decision making and KGB has a winner.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: The latest developments in this Butina case and her connections to Paul Erickson led analysts to ask a key question tonight. Just how many other Maria Butinas could be out there? Former CIA agent Bob Baer says he believes there are dozens of them, possibly men and women, and just here in Washington sent by the Russians to target well-connected political officials -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Could Butina be part of the so-called spy swap with the Russians?
TODD: It does not appear that's likely at the moment. Wolf, we're told if she changes her plea in this case from not guilty to guilty, she probably is going to return to Russia, but there are no indications right now that the Russian and American governments are about to make a Cold War-style spy deal involving Maria Butina.
BLITZER: Lots of intrigue going on right now. Brian Todd, good reporting. Thank you very much.
And thanks to our viewers for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.