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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Faces New Reality As Dems Take Over House And Nancy Pelosi Reclaims Role As House Speaker; House Dems To Launch Investigations Of Trump Administration; Russian News Site Quotes Intel Sources As Saying Whelan Was Arrested With Flash Drive Containing Classified Info; Top North Korean Diplomat In Italy Goes Missing; House Dems Plan to Serve as Check, Balance for Trump; Dems to Pass Bills to Reopen Government; New Congress Becomes Most Diverse in History; Trump Makes New Pitch for Border Wall; Russians Charge American Man with Spying. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired January 3, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
[17:00:15] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Breaking news. Pelosi takes control. There's a new reality here in Washington, and for President Trump, as Democrats take charge of the House and Nancy Pelosi returns as speaker, Democrats are already flexing their muscles. How far will they go in investigating the president and his administration?
Owning the shutdown. After claiming that he'd own the government shutdowns, the president now blames Democrats for the nearly two-week closure. Funding for his border wall is at the heart of the dispute. Will either side budge?
Charged with spying. An American arrested in Moscow has now been charged with espionage. His lawyer says the charges are unfounded, but a Russian news site claims he was in possession of classified material.
And North Korean defection? A top North Korean diplomat and his wife have reportedly disappeared from the streets of Rome. Could they have been kidnapped by Kim Jong-un's regime and brought back home? Or did they defect and seek asylum in the West?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump's world just changed dramatically. The new Congress has been sworn in, and Democrats are now in charge of the House. Nancy Pelosi is the new speaker, the first in more than half a century to reclaim the gavel after losing power.
House Democrats are prepared to use their new power to launch investigations of the president and his administration, while Pelosi now says it's an open discussion whether a sitting president can be indicted.
On one front the battle lines are drawn as Democrats are already pushing legislation to reopen parts of the government that have been shut down for nearly two weeks. The package contains no new funding for the president's border wall.
I'll speak with Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts have full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's get right to the breaking news. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is up on Capitol Hill. Kaitlan Collins is over at the White House, and let's again with CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly.
Phil, what will Democrats do with this new power, and how concerned shouldn't the president be?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. For all the history and barriers broken, for all the pomp and circumstance -- you can see the members and their families lined up behind me, heading into Statuary Hall for a recaption -- there is a new reality, and that's with Democratic power comes a new level of oversight, a new level of subpoena power that the Trump administration simply has not had to deal with for their first two years in office. And with that, Democrats pledge a lot of work in the days and weeks and months ahead, something new Speaker Nancy Pelosi alluded to on the floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Our nation is at an historic moment. Two months ago, the American people spoke and demanded a new dawn. They called upon the beauty of our Constitution, our system of checks and balances that protects our democracy, remembering that the legislative branch is Article I, the first branch of government, co-equal to the presidency and to the judiciary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Wolf, Democrats plan to deploy those checks and balances and the subpoena power that comes with them in spades, targeting cabinet officials, targeting the White House and targeting president's own business interests in the weeks and months ahead.
Obviously, hanging over all of this is the continued conversation inside the new Democratic caucus about how far they wanted to go. It's an issue Democratic leaders have largely batted away over the course of the last couple of months. This is how now-Speaker Pelosi addressed the impeachment issue earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: We have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report. We shouldn't be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn't avoid impeachment for a political reason. So we'll just have to see how it comes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And the key I'm hearing repeatedly from Democratic members and senior staffers, Wolf, is that they want to wait until Robert Mueller, the special counsel, puts out his report before they decide or pledge to do anything. But the reality is, it is certainly on the table if it's merited. We'll have to see if it's merited in Democrats' minds in the months ahead.
BLITZER: Phil, the government shutdown now approaching the two-week mark. Do Democrats have a plan?
MATTINGLY: They do, and they're actually going to vote on that plan, a plan of two bills, in just a few hours. House Democrats will vote on and pass a package of funding bills to reopen a large majority of the government through the fiscal year until the end of September.
The most contentious bill that's still out there to reopen the Department of Homeland Security. Democrats will vote to reopen that for a month. They say to continue negotiations over the issue that has divided Democrats and the White House over the course of the last couple of weeks, the border wall.
[17:05:08] Now we've talked about this. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- Republicans still control the chamber -- he has said they're not willing to take up anything on the Senate floor unless the president says he'll support it.
More Democrats I talked to say, look, even if McConnell says no right now, they believe this will put pressure on his members to sign off, particularly as the bite of this shutdown starts to grow, as paychecks start to become missed.
So with a meeting scheduled at the White House with congressional leaders tomorrow, the House plan that they will pass tonight is expected to be the Democratic position for at least the next couple of days to come, Wolf.
BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill. Phil, thanks very much.
The 116th Congress is the most diverse in history, with a record number of women and minorities. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty.
Sunlen, you've been talking with the new members entering the House. Tell us what you're hearing, what you're learning.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it certainly is a new day here in Washington, and the weight of this moment not lost on these new members, many of whom now carry with them this title of historic first. Like the first two Native Americans to serve in Congress, Congresswoman Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids. They had a moment earlier today on the floor of the U.S. House, moments before they were sworn in. You see them there, such a touching moment, just embracing, wiping away tears. Haaland went on to tell me that she still hasn't fully grasped everything that's happened to her. And another first. Ilhan Omar, she is the first Somali-American in
Congress and among the first two Muslim-American women in Congress. Now she talked about how she had a moment with her father arriving here in Washington. She said the last time that they were together at this airport in Washington, D.C., is when they came here as refugees 23 years ago. Here's what she told me earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ILHAN OMAR (D), MINNESOTA: As we exited our planes, we realized that him and I had not returned on that same airport since the day we first landed here as refugees.
And so, you know, it is -- it's a -- it's a very -- really overwhelming and emotional time for us. And I don't think -- you know, as my dad said, he had high hopes for us, the opportunities we would have when we came to this country. But I don't think he imagined that someday, his baby would be going to Congress, just 20 years after he arrived here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: And that was her father there in the background, and he choking up. And I asked him what he thought of her journey from refugee to congresswoman in a little over 20 years, and he just called it amazing.
Now, she is just one of the many new faces as part of this new Congress, this new record-breaking make-up, the fact that now this is the most racially-diverse Congress in history, with a record-breaking number of women.
And I want to show you just the changes in the House of Representatives alone, but notably, you can see here the breakdown. A big divide between the parties here. The number of women, African- Americans, Hispanic, LGBTQ members all going up for the Democrats but not so for the Republicans.
But certainly, Wolf, again, a new day. A lot of new members up here from a range of backgrounds, perspectives, certainly bringing in their -- that experience up here to Washington -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point. Sunlen, thank you very much.
While the balance of power in Washington now has tilted, a certain amount, both sides are still dug in on the government shutdown and funding for the president's border wall.
Let's go to our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, we just saw President Trump show up in the White House briefing room for the first time to make a pitch for the wall. What was that all about?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he showed up in the with press briefing room but neither the president nor the press secretary took any questions from the reporters who had gathered in that room pretty abruptly when the White House announced overhead that there would be a press briefing in five minutes.
Instead, the president came out. He made brief remarks about his argument for why he believes it's worth shutting the government down other funding his much-promised border wall.
And then he invited members of the National Border Patrol Council to come up and also make some brief remarks after what the president said was a meeting in the Oval Office.
But then the president, the press secretary and the White House communications director all turned on their heels and left the room without taking any of the questions from the reporters in the room there about the government shutdown.
And, Wolf, that comes as the White House and Democrats very much remain in a deadlock in these negotiations. And today, no progress has been made, and we are no closer to seeing the government reopen.
COLLINS (voice-over): The blame game for who owns the government shutdown continues to shift tonight, with President Trump now faulting the politics of the upcoming 2020 presidential election, claiming Democrats are going all out on the desperately-needed wall and border security so they can win.
That despite White House officials telling reporters last night Nancy Pelosi wanted to keep the government shut down so she could win enough votes to become House speaker, even though she ran unchallenged.
The president's aides now trying to place the blame squarely on Democrats.
[17:10:08] KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: He doesn't own the shutdown any longer.
COLLINS: Despite Trump saying this in front of the cameras in the Oval Office last month.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it.
COLLINS: Sources telling CNN Trump doesn't want to lose face with his base by caving on his signature campaign promise to build a wall. Though what that wall will look like is now an open question.
CONWAY: If you listened to him yesterday, he clarified that. He said that you can call it whatever you want. In other words, we need border security. It may include a wall; it may include steel slats.
COLLINS: Democrats, still enjoying their newfound power, are vowing not to give up any ground.
PELOSI: This is the Trump shutdown through and through.
COLLINS: But before even being officially elected today, Pelosi throwing a punch, suggesting in an interview with NBC News that a sitting president can be indicted.
PELOSI: It's not the law. Everything indicates that a president can be indicted after he's no longer president of the United States.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": What about a sitting president?
PELOSI: Well a sitting president when he's no longer president of the United States.
GUTHRIE: A president who is in office. Could Robert Mueller come back and say, "I am seeking an indictment"?
PELOSI: I think that is an open discussion. I think that is an open discussion in terms of the law.
COLLINS: That wasn't her only jab. Pelosi also not denying telling members of her caucus that the wall is a, quote, "manhood issue" for Trump.
PELOSI: I wish that my members had not repeated that had outside the room, but there's no justification for this wall. It is not the way to protect our border.
COLLINS: CNN is told the White House has formally invited congressional leaders back for further talks Friday, but expectations for a quick fix remain low after talks went nowhere this week.
CONWAY: Nancy Pelosi can ignore -- yesterday they just ignored and interrupted and was, frankly -- were just, frankly, very rude and dismissive of our secretary of homeland security.
COLLINS: White House officials telling CNN they're strapping in for a lengthy shutdown, with one aide adding, "We could be here a while."
COLLINS: Now, Wolf, just to give you a sense of how unpromising the negotiations between the White House and Democrats have truly been this week, we are now being told by two sources who were in the room for the president's meeting with those congressional leaders yesterday that, as soon as it commenced, the president started complaining about the state of his administration's nominees to Senate Majority Leader Chuck -- to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. They were talking about that.
And then the president reached into his jacket, pulled out that letter from the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, tossed it to Chuck Schumer and said, "Here, read this."
Chuck Schumer started reading the letter, which we're told is about one-page long. And while he was reading it, the president signaled to the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, to go ahead and start with her briefing on the border.
She started on that briefing, but she hadn't gotten long into it when Chuck Schumer interrupted and then instructed Nancy Pelosi to go ahead with the Democrats' proposal to reopen the government, something that the White House and Republicans have roundly rejected.
Now, Wolf, those leaders are supposed to come back here to the White House tomorrow, but outlook -- the outlook is not good, and it doesn't seem any more promising than it was when the president randomly handed that letter from Kim Jong-un to Chuck Schumer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: In the meantime, this partial government shutdown continues, and the ramifications are clearly there. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California. He's a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Now that you're officially back in the majority in the House of Representatives, your party is going to face some very tough choices. Some Democrats want to immediately move ahead with aggressive investigations of the president and his administration. Potential impeachment proceedings. Others want to focus on passing legislation. What would you like to see the Democratic majority in the House prioritize?
RED. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for that question. We can do both. The Constitution charges the legislature, Article I of the Constitution, with both oversight as well as passing legislation.
So we're going to pass legislation on healthcare, on infrastructure, on getting rid of corruption and, at the same time, we'll conduct oversight responsibilities of the Trump administration and make sure that we hold the Trump administration accountable.
BLITZER: You heard Speaker Pelosi. She's taking a rather cautious approach to impeachment, but some Democrats, as you know, they want to pursue a very aggressive strategy on impeachment. Do you worry that impeachment could become a contentious divide within your own Democratic Party?
LIEU: I do not. My view of impeachment is that, like the power to declare war, it is one of the gravest responsibilities of Congress. It should never be our first option. We should wait until Special Counsel Mueller completes his investigation. And I think all Democrats are in line with waiting for the investigation to complete before we make a decision.
BLITZER: The top Democrat on your House Judiciary Committee, Gerry Nadler, just introduced a bill to protect the Mueller investigation. Is there any chance, though, that that bill will garner enough support to override a presidential veto?
[17:15:09] LIEU: That I do not know. It will definitely pass the House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate, on a bipartisan basis, has also introduced legislation to protect Special Counsel Mueller. I think we can put a bill on the president's desk, and if Donald Trump wants to clear his name, he would sign that legislation.
BLITZER: As you know, the government shutdown is still out there. President Trump has formally invited congressional leaders back to the White House for another meeting tomorrow. Should Democrats come prepared with a compromise?
LIEU: Wolf, elections have consequences. Last year, Republicans ran on building the wall. Democrats ran on healthcare and infrastructure, and Republicans lost the popular vote in the midterm by the greatest margin in U.S. history. So Democrats are not going to cave in on this wall demand, because the American people do not support the wall.
However, Democrats, we will support border security. We can compromise and work on funding border security. I think that's what we should do.
BLITZER: Here's one proposal that's out there, as you know. Should Democrats offer funding for the president's border wall in exchange for protection of the so-called DREAMers here in the United States, people who were brought here as little kids into the country illegally, brought here as children, have grown up here in the United States, would like to remain, of course, in the United States and have a pathway to citizenship. Would you bean to providing some funding for a border wall in order to protect these DREAMers?
LIEU: That's a great question, Wolf. I would be open to a comprehensive package that deals with different elements of immigration. However, we can't do that in the context of a government shutdown.
Democrats will never cave to Donald Trump's demands in a government shutdown because if we do, it's just going to incentivize him to do this again any time he doesn't get his way. So we cannot talk about wall funding in the context of a government shutdown.
Once we figure out the government shutdown and fix it, then we can talk about the discussions that the president wants. That's what we need to do.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see how that works out. Congressman Lieu, thanks for joining us.
LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Up next, we have more breaking news. An American held by Russia has now been charged with spying. His lawyer says the charges are unfounded. Will the Russians offer any evidence?
[17:21:45] BLITZER: Russia has now formally charged American Paul Whelan with espionage. His family rejects the accusation, and his Russian lawyer has now filed an appeal. But a Russian news site reports Whelan was found with classified information. Let's go live to Moscow. Our senior international correspondent
Matthew Chance is all over this story for us.
Matthew, what's the latest; what are you learning?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, within the past hour or so, we've actually spoken by telephone with that Russian lawyer who's been assigned to defend Paul Whelan here in Moscow. And he's confirmed to us that the charges of espionage have been formally applied to Paul Whelan.
He's also given us the first public account that we've had about the condition of Mr. Whelan, where he is languishing behind bars in a former KGB prison in a suburb of Moscow. He said that he looks cheerful. He's got no depression. And he said there are, you know, he's holding up pretty well, despite everything that he's going through. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR ZHEREBENKOV, PAUL WHELAN'S LAWYER (through translator): The only thing is there's a problem with hygiene items such as a razor, shaving foam, toothpaste, toothpaste, underwear. Paul asked for these items, and investigators will ask the prison administration to supply them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHANCE: Well, the other big question hanging over this case are the circumstances around the detention, what Mr. Whelan is actually accused from.
All we've got from the FSB, the main counter-espionage agency in Russia, so far is that Mr. Whelan was caught spying. Now, there's been no further announcement officially on what that actually involved.
But a Russian news agency has filed a report which has been picked up broadly in this country, and I'm quoting an intelligence source, saying that what actually happened was quite interesting. At a five- star hotel in downtown Moscow, the Metropol Hotel, in his room there, he accepted a flash drive and was arrested shortly after that. That flash drive contained a list of employees working at a classified Russian security agency.
The report, which we haven't been able to verify, also makes reference to Whelan's social media accounts in Russian, which as we know he's been engaged in for several years.
The source quoted in this report said that Whelan sought out Russian Internet users, tracked and selected in advance by American intelligence special services.
And so that's the kind of narrative that is being built, perhaps with some ulterior motive, by this security source. The point is whether it's true or not, if Whelan is convicted of this serious crime in Russia, he could face up to 20 years behind bars.
BLITZER: Going to get more on the story later. Matthew, I know you're working your sources. Thank you very much. Matthew Chance reporting from Moscow.
We want to get more on all the breaking news with our correspondents and our analysts. We want all of you, by the way, to stand by. We've got a lot of news unfolding on this important, historic day here in Washington. Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[17:29:34] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour. The House of Representatives now officially under Democratic control, with Nancy Pelosi as speaker. And tonight President Trump is facing a very new reality here in Washington.
Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts, and Jeff Zeleny, this new Democratic majority in the House, pretty diverse, pretty ideologically different. How are they going to come together and deal with this new reality?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's an open question here. I mean, we certainly see, you know, a variety of perspectives inside with House Democrats.
ZELENY: But I was struck today, watching Nancy Pelosi take that gavel, I was taken back to 12 years ago when she did it in 2007. And boy, was that a different moment. The Democrats at that point were riven by the Iraq War. So, foreign policy is not dividing this Democratic Party as it was then. It is largely domestic issues. But look, all of them, all of these new faces of the Democratic Party who are going to meet them over the coming months, came here for a reason, largely healthcare -- a domestic agenda.
But what they are going to be faced with initially is the government shutdown, so there are many differences inside and among the Democrats, you know, the word impeachment, of course, was thrown out today by Brad Sherman, a California Democrat. He is talking about this, said he wants to make it part of a conversation. Leaders do not want to go there, but this is going to be a central challenge for Speaker Pelosi. Will she be able to control her House Democrats, at the same time, dealing with President Trump? So, an entirely different situation for her, as she assumed that mantle today.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes, the impeachment process begins in the House of Representatives. If impeachment is passed, it then goes to the Senate where there could be -- there was a full-scale trial and potentially conviction. You know, Jeffrey, we've covered impeachments and we remember what happened during the Clinton administration. Nancy Pelosi did give us some clues in this interview she granted to NBC News about impeachment. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We
have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report. We shouldn't be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn't avoid impeachment for a political reason. So, we just have to see how it comes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe the special counsel should honor and observe the Department of Justice guidance that states a sitting President cannot be indicted?
PELOSI: I do not think that that is conclusive. No, I do not.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A President who is in office --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could Robert Mueller come back and say I am seeking an indictment?
PELOSI: I think that that is an open discussion. I think that that is an open discussion in terms of the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you make of her approach?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I -- I've interviewed Nancy Pelosi and Jerry Nadler, the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, they are not impeaching Donald Trump unless they are very confident they can get 67 votes in the Senate to have him removed. That is not on the horizon at the moment. I mean, we'll see what happens when Mueller gives his report. Very unlikely that that will change.
As for the comment about whether a President can be indicted, Nancy Pelosi is right, it's not the law that a President cannot be indicted, but it is Justice Department policy. One person who has absolutely no say over whether a President can or should be indicted is Nancy Pelosi. I mean, this is completely outside her jurisdiction, but I think it's a way of stirring the pot and needling the President, but to no real effect because she will have no -- nothing to do with that decision.
BLITZER: April, how is the new speaker going to deal with all these conflicting pressures she's under from within her own party?
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I hate to ask -- for that question to even be asked in 2019 for a woman. She's been in this position before. We're in different times. The stakes are higher. We have so much on the table, things that are real and then some things that are made up, and things that are, you know, that shiny ball to distract attention, but she's got people like Elijah Cummings in oversight and government reform, who has an agenda. She has people in different segments of the House that are going to help her work through this. She is capable, she can walk and chew gum at the same time, but she is someone who cuts through all of that fluff, cuts through all of the icing, and gets to the cake, gets to the meat to go in and do what she has to do. There's so much on the table beyond the C.R., beyond this wall issue. There are issues that really impact America, and she's ready for that.
BLITZER: You think she's going to be able to come up with some sort of specific plan to deal with this, because a whole bunch of Democrats want to go forward quickly on impeachment?
REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. I mean, there's -- and it's not just impeachment. I mean, name your issue.
BUCK: There is always, in any majority, when you add to your ranks, you have a wider spectrum of beliefs within the Republican Party, within the Democratic Party. This is something that Speaker Ryan had to grapple with, Speaker Boehner before him. He often said that getting his members in line was like herding cats, and so this is what Nancy Pelosi is going to be faced with as speaker now in her Democratic Party, you have these very progressive, very liberal members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, coming in wanting to shake things up, almost like the Freedom Caucus of the Democratic Party, and then you have people like Max Rose, the freshman from Staten Island who won in a very heavily Trump district, a swing district who's going to have to try to toe the line and compromise on some things. And so, balancing those demands and listening to the concerns of all of your members, it's when make being speaker so challenging.
[17:35:04] BLITZER: And Jeff Zeleny -- go ahead Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Well, you know, one way to have a really unified caucus is to have a very small caucus. She has a big one
BUCK: Exactly. Exactly.
TOOBIN: It's -- you know what, that's a great problem to have, having to manage your majority. Compare that to the problem she had as minority leader, she'll take these problems as Paul Ryan would take these problems any day compared to the old problems.
BUCK: Because, Jeff Zeleny, as you know, the -- forget about impeachment for a moment, the oversight that the Democratic majority in the House is going to be doing, dealing with the President and his campaign, and maybe his family, his business, his tax returns, all of that, you know, that -- does the President -- you cover the White House for us -- fully appreciate what's in store for him?
ZELENY: It doesn't seem like he does. And you're right, that is the much more pressing issue, the more concerning issue for the White House. One, the White House counsel's office is not fully staffed. It hasn't been for a long time. They are about to get -- if the paperwork is not already going from Capitol Hill to the White House, it is going to be soon, with subpoenas and other matters. So, the oversight function of the House of Representatives is much, much more dangerous and important than any talk of impeachment, and a lot of wise Democrats in this town and elsewhere, are urging House Democrats to not talk about impeachment, just to go through the oversight process.
But the President has never given up his tax returns as we know. Look for House Democrats to go after them. Adam Schiff, of course, as Jeffrey wrote about in his excellent profile in The New Yorker, talking about phone records that Adam Schiff is going to go over. Of course, he's the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. So, there are a lot of things that investigative in nature that we're going to find out, that the White House does not -- is not going to be comfortable with, and they can do nothing about it in most cases. That is why the second half of this -- of the Trump presidency, the first term, will be entirely different, a new rule book. I don't know he knows what's coming.
RYAN: Dems are definitely going to follow the money trail, you're absolutely right. That is something that's been -- that's connected to -- the tentacles are there, and they want to find out what's what, and that's going to happen in this -- in this new Congress.
BLITZER: Let me let Jeffrey weigh in.
TOOBIN: Well, I just -- I hear a lot more talk about impeachment from us in the news media than I do from members of Congress.
ZELENY: And Trump loves it. He loves to talk of impeachment.
TOOBIN: That's right. I mean, they don't -- they really recognize that they don't want to make the mistake that Republicans made in 1998 by pushing impeachment when it was going nowhere. We're talking about it a lot more than they are, but they are talking about -- as Jeff pointed out, getting the bank records of Deutsche Bank and seeing where the Trump money was coming and going. That's a lot more productive for them than talking about impeachment.
BLITZER: Yes. But there are Democratic members of the House who are talking about impeachment, Brad Sherman, Adam Smith (ph), and a whole bunch of others. It's not just us talking about it. We'll continue to talk about it, obviously. We'll see what happens.
TOOBIN: I will.
BLITZER: Much more on the breaking news right after this.
[17:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We have more breaking news this hour. A Russian news site is reporting that a Michigan man charged with spying in Moscow was found with classified information. Jeffrey Toobin, I want your analysis of this. Paul Whelan, the American, he's been detained, charged with espionage now. Do you believe, as I suspected from the beginning, the Russians were looking to arrest someone, possibly as an exchange for Maria Butina, the Russian woman arrested here in Washington? TOOBIN: Well, that's certainly been the pattern going back to the Cold War that these espionage arrests usually end in trades rather than in long prison terms, but it's a very scary business, and it is certainly not resolved at this point, but that sort of trade would be the rule, not the exception.
BLITZER: What do you make, April, of the fact that the President, he's not said a word, hasn't tweeted a word, nothing about this American detained in Moscow?
RYAN: You know why, anything Russia is a death knell for him. Russia is an albatross around his neck, and he does not want to talk about it unless he has a victory behind his statement.
BLITZER: We did get a statement from the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and obviously, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Jon Huntsman, he actually went and visited with Whelan.
BUCK: That's right. And so, they are acting in the ways that you would expect the American government to act in this situation, saying it's unacceptable that Russia has detained this American, that they are working on this, saying that it's getting the attention of the highest levels of government and, of course, a very symbolic gesture by Huntsman visiting Whelan himself. But, again, nothing from the top man, the President, the Commander-in-Chief.
BLITZER: Because normally, a lower level consular official or embassy official would pay a visit like this, but the fact that the U.S. ambassador himself went to this prison outside of Moscow and made this visit, that's significant.
ZELENY: It is significant, and it's a sign that Trump administration writ large is focused on this with the Secretary of State and with the ambassador. But the President's silence on this is a bit of a mystery to me.
RYAN: It's deafening.
ZELENY: But it definitely continues a pattern in which he's conducted virtually anything related with Vladimir Putin here, but we'll see if he says anything in the coming days. He has every channel in which to speak, on Twitter, he can make a statement --
RYAN: In the briefing room.
ZELENY: -- he has not said a thing.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting that Maria Butina was charged with not filing as a foreign agent, stuff like that. The Russians went a big step forward, Jeffrey Toobin, and charged Whelan with espionage, which carries this enormous prison sentence.
[17:44:59] TOOBIN: Yes, I mean, it's just -- it's extremely worrisome for him, of course, and for his family. They don't play games over there, and it's also that you don't go to a country club prison in Russia either. I mean, this is a very dangerous situation, and that's why there is so much high level attention, the ambassador going to see him, but these matters are usually resolved diplomatically, that is with exchanges rather than the criminal justice system. At least that's certainly what all his relatives will be hoping for.
BLITZER: Are you surprised, Jeffrey, that the President has been mum, silent on this?
TOOBIN: You know, the President only likes to announce victories. I mean, he -- and there's no victory here, and he doesn't like to have to say nasty things about Vladimir Putin. So, both of those seem to argue for silence. He'd rather talk about his wall. He talks about it a lot.
BLITZER: Yes, he certainly does. All right, guys, everybody stick around. There's more news we're following. A top North Korean diplomat goes missing. Did he defect, or was he kidnapped by Kim Jong-un?
[17:50:47] BLITZER: A top North Korean diplomat is now missing, sparking speculation about whether he's defected or possibly been kidnapped by the Kim regime. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, this was Kim Jong-un's top representative in Italy.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was, Wolf. And in that particular position in Rome, he was one of North Korea's top diplomats anywhere. Tonight, we have new information on this case and on the repercussions for Kim's regime.
TODD: It's an Italian mystery with international implications. A top diplomat from North Korea vanishes from the streets of Rome into thin air without clues and seemingly without a search for months to find him. CNN has learned Jo Song-gil, the most powerful official at North Korea's embassy in Italy disappeared in early November along with his wife. Tonight, a prominent South Korean newspaper citing an unnamed source, reports Jo has sought asylum in the west, and that the Italian government is protecting him. Italian officials tells CNN they're not aware of any asylum request.
GREG SCARLATOIU, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: I would say that the probability that this was indeed a defection is quite significant.
TODD: The U.S. State Department is not commenting. If Jo did defect, experts say, he would have been taking an enormous risk, and not just with his own security.
BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER KOREA ANALYST, CIA: To try to prevent North Korean diplomats from defecting, they will have to leave behind what's called an "anchor child," at least one or more of their children have to be left behind in North Korea as a hostage.
TODD: What do they do to those anchor children if a diplomat defects? SCARLATOIU: We have sure had very far reports that family members left behind were punished harshly. They were sent to political prison camps, some of them were executed.
TODD: Tonight, the whereabouts of Jo Song-gil's children are unclear. Experts say as Kim Jong-un's top diplomat in Italy, Jo would have shouldered huge responsibilities and pressures. He would have been North Korean's liaison to the World Food Program in Rome, which supplies food to millions of starving North Koreans. Kim could well have counted on Jo to deliver personal items to him and his cronies, sidestepping sanctions.
SCARLATOIU: Rome is a great place to be if you want to purchase Italian suits; if you want to purchase luxury Italian cars, Italian wine.
TODD: Thae Yong-ho, a top North Korean diplomat in London who defected three years ago told CNN, Kim also depends on his embassies abroad to engage in black market trafficking of drugs, ivory, and other goods.
THAE YONG-HO, FORMER DEPUTY AMBASSADOR, NORTH KOREA'S U.K. EMBASSY: They are engaged in that kind of illicit activities with the pretext of -- under the pretext of diplomatic privileges and immunities, and they are involved in those activities to raise funds for Kim Jong-un regime.
TODD: Analysts say for the young dictator now obsessed with portraying himself as a world statesmen, this would be an inconvenient defection.
KLINGNER: He would likely downplay the significance of it. But the discuss would never come up with other world leaders. But, you know, it would seem to be an embarrassment for the regime.
TODD: Now, analysts say it is possible that Jo could have been kidnapped by Kim's regime and brought back to North Korea, but that does seem unlikely. If he did defect, a key question tonight is how is Kim Jong-un's regime going to respond? Analysts say it's likely that Kim will deploy his agents to track this man down, try to kidnap him or kill him. They point out that even a city like Washington might not be the safest place for him to defect to, saying, there could be North Korean sleeper agents around the city, among the Korean population here, people who might try to track this man down. Wolf?
BLITZER: Very scary stuff. There are some growing indications, I take it, Brian, that even Seoul, South Korea might not necessarily be a safe place for him as a defector.
TODD: Right, Wolf, we are told that Seoul is not as welcoming to North Korean defectors as it once was, even recently because South Korean President Moon Jae-in is very eager to keep that diplomatic outreach to Kim Jong-un going, and taking in more North Korean defectors is going to anger Kim Jong-un, which President Moon Jae-in does not want to do right now.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, good report, thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this story.
[17:54:56] Coming up, the breaking news, a new reality for President Trump as Democrats now take control of the House and Nancy Pelosi returns as Speaker. How far will Democrats go in investigating the President and his administration?
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, Democrats in the House. As Nancy Pelosi takes back the gavel, her party isn't wasting any time taking on President Trump. Tonight, a new era of divided government and aggressive presidential investigations is underway.
No way out, the government shutdown is about to enter its third week without any progress toward a compromise. The President is asking for another meeting with Congressional leaders even as he's trying a new way to shirk responsibility for the stalemate.
Open discussion, Speaker Pelosi isn't ruling out the possibility that President Trump could be indicted while in office.