Return to Transcripts main page


Trump: Shutdown Could Go on For Months, Even Years; Interview with Sen. Ben Cardin; Federal Judge Extends Mueller's Grand Jury; U.S. Scouting For Second Trump-Kim Summit. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 4, 2019 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. We actually read them. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Have a great weekend.

[17:00:15] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Months or years? As hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay, President Trump tells congressional leaders he's prepared to keep the government shut down for months or even years if he doesn't get the funding for his border wall.

Emergency powers. The president threatens to declare a national emergency so -- so that he can use the military to build a wall without going through Congress. Is either side prepared to budge?

Hiring boom. A blockbuster jobs report shows U.S. companies have been hiring a lot of new workers, and the Fed chairman suggests he'll ease up on the interest rate throttle. The result? Stock markets come roaring back.

And cat and mouse. Sources say the Trump administration is scouting out sites for a second summit with Kim Jong-un. But as the president boasts about their relationship, is the North Korean dictator playing a cat-and-mouse game with the president?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Two weeks into the government shutdown, President Trump warns it could go on for months or even years without money for his border wall.

After delivering that threat to congressional leaders, the president launched into a rambling statement and news conference, saying his border barrier could be a see-through wall made out of steel and that he could use national emergency powers to order the building of the wall.

While Democrats call the White House meeting contentious, the president calls it productive. And while some newly-empowered House Democrats are openly calling for impeachment, the president says, quote, "You can't impeach someone who's doing a great job."

I'll speak with Democratic Senator Ben Cardin. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by with full coverage.

But let's get right to the breaking news. Our CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is standing by.

Kaitlan, the president is talking tough. He's threatening, potentially, to go it alone on the wall.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the president emerged from that meeting to say that it was productive, but he also threatened that the government could be shut down for not just weeks, not just months, but years, and he also threatened to use emergency powers to get his border wall built if it came down to that.

Now, while there are still questions about both of those, what's clear is that two-hour meeting with those congressional leaders in the situation room did not result in any kind of break in this deadlock, and right now we're no closer to ending the government shutdown.



COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump amping up his threats over funding for his border wall tonight, declaring he's considering using emergency powers to build it.

TRUMP: I may do it. But we can call a national emergency and build it very quickly.

COLLINS: After a two-hour meeting with congressional leaders that Democrats described as contentious, Trump threatened to leave the government shut down for years if it comes down to it.

TRUMP: Absolutely, I said that. If we have to stay out for a very long period of time, we're going to do that.

COLLINS: Asked if he still owns the government shutdown, the president said he's no longer calling it one.

TRUMP: I'm very proud of doing what I'm doing. I don't call it a shutdown.

COLLINS: On the campaign trail, Trump promised his supporters a concrete wall paid for by Mexico. Now with the government shut down over a demand from his administration that the American taxpayer fund it, he says it could be made of steel.

(on camera): So how can you say you're not failing on that promise to your supporters?

TRUMP: We just made it a trade deal. And we will take in billions and billions of dollars. Far more than the cost of the wall. The wall is peanuts compared to what the value of this trade deal is to the United States. As far as concrete, I said I was going to build a wall. I never said,

"I'm going to build a concrete" -- I said, "I'm going to build a wall."

COLLINS (voice-over): Even though he did.

TRUMP: No windows, no nothing. Precast concrete going very high. Let's see about a little higher than that.

COLLINS: But the president continued.

TRUMP: Steel is stronger than concrete. If I build this wall or fence or anything the Democrats need to call it, because I'm not into names. I'm into production.

COLLINS: Trump claiming the recently renegotiated trade deal with Canada and Mexico will pay for the wall, even though it hasn't passed Congress yet; and he didn't explain why the government is shut down if USMCA is paying for it.

A redo in the Rose Garden after Trump took no questions from reporters during his first appearance in the briefing room yesterday. The president describing his meeting with Democrats as productive, though that's not what they said.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We really cannot resolve this until we open up government, and we made that very clear to the president.

[17:05:03] COLLINS: Friday ending with no solution to the government shutdown in sight. But the president said he's assigned a team to huddle with Hill staffers over the weekend.

Asked about his message to those federal employees who won't receive a paycheck during the shutdown --

TRUMP: Those people, in many cases, are the biggest fan of what we're doing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you know that, sir? Do you have evidence to support that?

TRUMP: All right, please. Major, go ahead.

COLLINS: And while hundreds of thousands of federal workers are going without pay during the partial shutdown, new documents reveal that hundreds of the president's political appointees are slated to receive annual raises of around $10,000 tomorrow, including cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and even the vice president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice President, will you turn down the raise?

COLLINS: Mike Pence vowing not to take one today. And Trump said he's considering asking his cabinet to forego theirs. After several rank-and-file House Democrats brought up impeaching the

president, Trump said he discussed it directly with Speaker Pelosi today.

TRUMP: You can't impeach somebody that's doing a great job. I said, "Why don't you use this for impeachment?"

And Nancy said, "We're not looking to impeach you."


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, regarding those raises that are scheduled to go into effect at midnight, Sarah Sanders issued a statement saying that the White House is exploring options in order to not give those other cabinet secretaries those raises either, in addition to what Mike Pence said.

But the bottom line for this shutdown, Wolf, is it is going to come down to two people: Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi. Those are the only two people who can end this shutdown; and judging from the comments they both made today, neither of them are feeling the political pressure to do so. And until they do feel it, that is not -- that is when we are going to see them come up with a solution to reopen the government. Right now, Wolf, we are not there.

BLITZER: Let's see what, if anything, they can do over the weekend as these meetings continue. Kaitlan, thank you very much.

President Trump and Democratic leaders clearly walked out of their meeting with very different views about how it went. Let's go to Capitol Hill right now.

Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, on the scene.

Phil, what are you learning, first of all, about what actually happened during the meeting over at the White House in the situation room?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it was contentious, at least according to two people familiar with what occurred in the room right from the get-go.

I'm told shortly after President Trump walked into the situation room where congressional leaders were waiting for him, and they sat down, he launched into a 15-minute salvo about why he would not budge from his top-line number request of $5.6 billion for the wall. He repeated that that was his bottom line. He was not moving from that bottom line. And if Democrats did not come towards him on that, as Kaitlan noted, he would keep the government shuttered for weeks, months, perhaps a year. Maybe, I'm told, until the next election.

It's something Senator Chuck Schumer addressed when he walked out after the meeting.


needed the government open. He resisted. In fact, he said he'd keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years.

The discussion then -- we discussed a bunch of issues, as the leader said, that were somewhat contentious. And we'll continue discussing, of course. But it's very hard to see how progress will be made, unless they open up the government.


MATTINGLY: Now, Wolf, in the midst of that 15-minute opening statement, the president also delved into impeachment, as Kaitlan noted, bringing it up directly to Nancy Pelosi, talking about how Democrats on Capitol Hill had been talking about it since they'd taken over the new majority.

Pelosi, I'm told, responded to the president, "This meeting isn't about impeachment. This meeting is about opening the government."

In all, I'm told it was, while lengthy, rather unwieldy. And there were no kind of end games that were laid out. The bottom line here, from both the White House perspective and the Democratic perspective, is their positions right now are completely divergent.

Democrats have said they don't want to continue discussions until the government is open when it comes to border security. The president making clear, he won't have discussions about reopening the government until border security is addressed. What that means right now, going into this weekend, going into the two-week mark of a government shutdown, Wolf, at least at this point, everybody involved says no major progress has been made. And this is only going to go on longer.

BLITZER: So what are some of the negotiating points that could happen over the course of this weekend?

MATTINGLY: Wolf, I think one of the best windows into where things actually stand right now is what the president said about what's supposed to happen this weekend.

The president, during his press conference, announced that there would be a working group. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talked about a working group that would get together. Vice President Mike Pence, Jared Kushner, Mick Mulvaney.

Democrats say the idea of a working group never actually came up during the meeting, at least as far as they recall. They agreed that staff discussions would probably occur and Vice President Mike Pence brought up the idea of staff discussions.

But a working group in and of itself, Wolf, we're at the point where nearly side can agree whether or not a working group even exists, let alone if one is going to make progress.

Now, I am told that at a smaller bore level, there were agreements on the top line, on things like ports of entry or perhaps even asylum for certain individuals. But the bigger picture issues right now, the two sides, are so far apart that, Wolf, and I can't underscore this enough. They can't even seem to agree on whether a working group exists to have more discussions this weekend, Wolf.

BLITZER: In the meantime, 800,000 federal workers without pay now. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, are Republicans feeling pressure right now to back down?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are certainly growing concerns within the rank-and-file of the Republican Party, some on the Democratic side. But you're starting to hear some from House Republicans and from some Senate Republicans.

Last night when the House moved to pass the Democratic bills to reopen the government, there were five defections who voted -- Republicans who voted to reopen the Homeland Security Department up until February 8. Seven Republicans voted to reopen the rest of the government for this current fiscal year.

One of those Republicans, Pete King of New York, told me earlier today that the president needs to stop listening to the House Freedom Caucus, the very conservative group, and instead try to cut a deal to get the government reopened.

And on the Senate side, two Republican senators -- Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine -- both up for re-election in 2020, support the Democratic position to reopen the government and continue negotiations over the wall separately. But they are very small in the minority, because a large majority of the Republicans on both sides support the president's position.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came back from the White House and made it very clear, even earlier on the Senate floor, that he would not move forward on legislation until President Trump addresses -- supports whatever deal is cut between Democrats and Republicans in the White House to reopen the government.

And, of course, what was interesting, too, Wolf, was that Mitch McConnell was not at that Rose Garden press conference next to the president when the House Republican leaders. McConnell has tried to extricate himself from this whole process. And Mitch McConnell -- the president was asked why McConnell wasn't there, and he said, "Well, it's because Mitch McConnell is running the Senate." It turns out, Wolf, the Senate was out of session at that point, and it's not going to be in session until Tuesday.

McConnell and his aides are saying he wasn't even told about this press conference. He would have attended, had he have known.

But it just shows the larger point here. The ultimate deal, according to McConnell, needs to come from Republicans and Democrats right now. The White House and the Democrats nowhere near a deal. And we'll see if the pressure forces the leadership to relent, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Manu, thank you.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us. And as you've heard, we're getting a lot of mixed messages right now. Democrats emerged from the meeting saying it was contentious with the president. The president, on the other hand, saying the shutdown could go on for years. But he insisted that progress is being made.

Do you get a clear sense of where this is headed?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Wolf, first it's important to point out that the bills that passed the House that Speaker Pelosi brought forward are not Democratic bills. These are bills that represent appropriations on most of these agencies that had been agreed to by Democrats and Republicans. So it had already been approved by the Senate on several -- several months ago.

Secondly, the continuing resolution for homeland security passed the Senate by unanimous vote. So there's clearly the votes in the Senate to pass what the House has done, if Leader McConnell would bring these bills up for a vote.

But as he said, he's not going to do anything unless the president says for him to go forward. So it's really the president of the United States that's causing this shutdown. But we could end it if we could get the House bills on the Senate floor.

BLITZER: It's clear the majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is not going to allow any of that to come up, because he says the president would simply veto it; and he's not going to bring it up for a vote on the Senate floor.

The president says, as you heard, his bottom line is $5.6 billion for the wall and border security. Is there anything the president could offer Democrats in return for that money that you would find acceptable?

CARDIN: Wolf, we've already said we support border security. We're prepared to talk with the president as to what we need for border security. We will not support a wall, because the experts tell us, the wall is a waste of money, and it detracts from dollars being available for real border security.

So we need to talk about how we can make our border safer, and yes, Democrats and Republicans can come to an agreement on that. But it's unclear whether the president's interested in that or is just interested in his wall.

BLITZER: Well, there's got to be a compromise. Otherwise, 800,000 federal workers, many of them in your home state, are going to go without paychecks; and you heard the president today saying that could go on for months, even years. [17:15:10] CARDIN: Well, clearly, this shutdown is ridiculous. It

hurts people. People are trying to figure out how they're going to pay their mortgages, how to pay their bills. People who need government services aren't getting them. People who want to buy a home can't get the FHA approval of their mortgage payments; and the list goes on and on and on. Our national security is being threatened at times, because we don't have our full work force doing their responsibility.

The president has a responsibility to keep government open. There are many paths forward where we can keep government open. The burden is on the president of the United States, and quite frankly, he has made it very difficult for us to reach any type of an agreement.

But certainly, we want government open. We're prepared to talk to him about reasonable compromises. But we're not going to waste taxpayer money just for the president of the United States.

BLITZER: But don't you agree -- don't you agree, Senator, that there are some areas along that very long border between the United States and Mexico where a barrier or a fence or a wall, whatever you want to call it, might work and might be essential to keep people from sneaking into the United States?

CARDIN: We have barriers on the southern border at different places. We do use different types of border security. We're not -- that's not what the president is talking about. He's talking about building a wall, originally wanted it from coast to coast, and he wanted his beautiful wall. It had nothing to do with security.

Certainly, you need barriers. And we support barriers.

BLITZER: The president claims he could -- if you guys continue to resist what he wants, he could simply declare a national emergency in order to build a wall and not require any congressional approval. Is that, first of all, from your perspective, legal? Is it OK if the president were to do so?

CARDIN: No, it's not legal. Yesterday, I took the oath to support the Constitution of the United States for my third term in the Senate. And quite frankly, there are three branches of government. The president cannot abolish the judiciary and legislative branches of government. We have our responsibility. We appropriate the funds. The president is responsible to follow the laws that we pass. And the appropriations we pass.

BLITZER: Bottom line, are you willing to give up anything in order to see an end to this shutdown?

CARDIN: I absolutely want to see an end to this shutdown. I'm absolutely willing to sit down and talk at any time about border security and what we can do. But I am puzzled as to why the president is holding the federal work force, so many agencies that have nothing to do with border security, hostage towards his wall.

It's difficult to work with this president, but, yes, I'm prepared to work with him. I'm prepared to sit down and try to figure out how we can solve this problem. But the president's been a moving target when it comes to trying to reach agreements. And he has to recognize that the merits of building a physical wall barrier is just not practical.

BLITZER: Senator Ben Cardin, thanks so much for joining us.

CARDIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, we have more breaking news. A federal judge has extended the term of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's secret grand jury. Does that mean Mueller's probe is far from finished?


[17:22:26] BLITZER: There's breaking news in the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. A federal judge has just extended his grand jury.

CNN's Kara Scannell is working this for us. Kara, so does this mean Mueller isn't near the end of his investigation?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Mueller's investigation will continue. The chief judge in the D.C. District Court has extended the grand jury at Mueller's request. Mueller's grand jury was put into place in July of 2017 for an 18-month term. That term was set to expire this weekend. And so Mueller's team had asked the judge to extend it. The judge has agreed to do it.

Under federal rules, a judge can extend the grand jury's term for up to six months if it's in the public interest. We're not sure exactly how long this grand jury has been extended, but it can go at least for another six months.

And you know, this Mueller's grand jury has heard, you know, a lot of testimony from witnesses, including some of Roger Stone's associates. They've also indicted nearly three dozen individuals, entities, on charges of hacking and making false statements and lying to the FBI.

So as of now, this grand jury has been extended for an unclear period of time. But we do know that Mueller's investigation can continue.

BLITZER: Yes, those numbers of the grand jury, they've been working hard for 18 months already, and now more.

Could the shutdown, the partial government shutdown, Kara, have any impact on the grand jury?

SCANNELL: So the judiciary is funded until the end of business next Friday. I just talked to a source in New York who said that there were discussions to try to extend the funding for the judiciary for another week.

But this person said, you know, it's still an open question. They believe the grand jury will continue to sit, not necessarily Mueller's, but other grand juries, you know, as long as their courts are open, which there is a constitutional reason to have the courts open. They just won't get paid immediately.

And so I think here in D.C., it's an open question still that they're grappling with. But you know, it appears as though the grand jury will continue to function. They just may not get paid, unlike any of the other federal employees, until this shutdown is resolved -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Kara Scannell with the breaking news.

We've got more news coming up. Our experts and our analysts, they are standing by. We'll talk about all of these new developments in the Mueller investigation and everything else right after a quick break.


[17:29:16] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour. President Trump warning that the two-week-old government shutdown could last for months, potentially even years unless congressional Democrats give him the $5.6 billion he wants for his border wall.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts. And Gloria, the president seems to think there's some progress being made. The Democrats say it's very contentious. There are going to be some meetings over the weekend. How's this going to fall out?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I have absolutely no idea. There's a meeting with staff tomorrow. So we'll -- Democrats and Republicans. So we'll see what happens with that.

But the Democrats put a proposal on the table today, which was, "Let's just deal with all these spending bills, get that done first, reopen the government. And then we will, you know, we'll talk about border security," and the president, according to Phil Mattingly, flatly said, "Absolutely not." So you are back to square one.

[17:30:02] The president said could this last years. It isn't going to last years. But I don't think they're anywhere right now. And I think that at this point, neither side has a really strong impetus to kind of give in, because they're both playing to their base of their party.

BLITZER: The president also all of a sudden today said he could bypass congress if he wants, simply declare a national emergency on the border with Mexico. And go ahead and have the U.S. Military build the wall.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so, the president does have broad emergency powers to do things like redirect appropriated funding. In an actual emergency, there is no question that there's an emergency here. There isn't one. There isn't one by any legal definition. What the president is really talking about here is violating, you know, the basic principle and tenet of the U.S. Constitution, which is that there is a separation of powers. Congress has the power of the purse, the ability to say what money gets spent and where. And so, for the president of the United States to stand up and act like it's an inconvenience, like something that he can just disregard if it gets in its way, you know, it really is -- you know, it's remarkable hear.

BLITZER: The president also says Mexico, for all practical purposes, is going to pay for the wall, because of the new U.S./Mexico/Canada trade agreement. That hasn't even been ratified yet by congress. And so, there's a serious problem here. In the meantime, the U.S. taxpayer is going to have to pay for that wall.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And what's interesting is that he -- whenever he runs into a wall, where he can't get the funding, he comes up with a new mechanism of funding. Even if this had gone into effect, there's no legal way that he could have this trade agreement pay for the so-called wall that he wants to build on. Which, by the way, let's all acknowledge, it's not really a wall; it's kind of a wall. You know, and other things.

If you go back two years ago, he also told us that he was going to stop repatriation of about $25 billion back to Mexico. This is when people who live here send money back to their family and that money is going to pay for the wall. That didn't happen either. What's happening is that Donald Trump is moving so quickly and saying so many things that the American public find it very hard, let alone us, to digest what he this exactly means.

BLITZER: When he was answering reporters' questions in the rose garden, Sabrina, earlier in the day after he made his opening statement, he was repeatedly asked about the impact all of this is having on 800,000 federal workers. And not just 800,000 federal workers; it's 800,000 federal workers and their families. Listen to what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This really does have a higher purpose than next week's pay. And the people that won't get next week's pay or the following week's pay, I think if you ever really looked at those people, I think that's a, Mr. President, keep going. This is far more important.


BLITZER: Your analysis of that. Because I've seen no evidence to back that up.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, there is certainly no evidence to support the notion that the majority of federal workers are behind the president's demands for a wall along the U.S./Mexico border. It's striking, in fact, that the president, when talking about the impact on federal workers, spoke within the terms of winning or losing and whether this is something that is working for him politically.

When, in fact, you have 400,000 federal workers that have been furloughed and another 400,000 who are working without pay. Many of those workers have filed for unemployment benefits. You have some who I've heard from who said they are tapping into potentially their retirement benefits. You also have, according to the latest reporting from CNN, hundreds of TSA agents who are calling out sick. They, of course, are some of those federal workers who have been forced to work without pay.

So, that is actually the true nature of the impact on federal workers. And you really didn't hear the president speak to that. Think back to 2013, for example, during the government shutdown under President Obama. At that time, President Obama did write an open letter, saying to federal employees that they were top of mind. You haven't really seen this president strike a similar tone.

BLITZER: Susan, you're a former federal employee. Do you think these federal employees are happy about not getting their paychecks because they're much more concerned about a border wall with Mexico?

HENNESSEY: I don't. I think it's incredibly insulting. Look, there are many federal workers who are mission-driven that give up higher salaries in the private sector because they want to devote their talents to their country. That doesn't mean they don't care about being paid for their work. These are people who have families, mortgages, bills. This is a really, really scary time for those people. But in addition to that, this is actually a pretty serious security issue.

When you have thousands of federal employees that are now being placed under tremendous financial stress, that is a security risk. Intelligence agencies, the military, national security agencies, very closely monitor the financial situations of their employees, because they recognize that risk. And so, as this goes on, that risk just is going to be driven higher and higher.

BORGER: Can I just say that the president doesn't believe that federal employees are his people. He believes they're Democrats, as he's tweeted. He believes they're part of the deep state. So, you don't hear him talking about them the way he talks about the base of his party and how they've been forgotten and how he's going to give them more tax cuts and all of the rest.

[17:35:09] Clearly, this is a president who doesn't want to personalize this in any way, shape or form. And what you're going to hear from the Democrats are the anecdotes and the stories of people who can't pay their mortgages, of people who can't pay their kids' college bills. And that's not what you're going to hear from Donald Trump. Because these -- you know, he doesn't -- this is not the way he thinks about this government shutdown.

BLITZER: You know, Mark, the president used to say the wall would be a beautiful wall, concrete wall. He's backing away from that right now. Listen to this.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You ran your campaign promising supporters that Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

TRUMP: Oh, here we go again.

COLLINS: The wall is going to be made of concrete.

TRUMP: As far as concrete, I said I was going to build a wall. I never said, I'm going to build a concrete -- I said I'm going to build a wall. When you build buildings like I build buildings, believe me, walls are easy. No windows, no nothing. Precast concrete, going very high. Let's say about a little higher than that. The politicians would come up to me, and they'd say, you know Donald, you can't build the wall. I would say, you have to be kidding. You have to be kidding. Concrete plank. You have to be kidding. Precast. Precast, right? Precast. Boom! Bing! Done. Keep going.


BLITZER: Our Kaitlan Collins asked an important question to the president. Then, you heard his answer. You heard what he had said on several previous occasions.

PRESTON: Right. And he just continues to flat out lie. I mean, so, he goes out and says what is politically expedient for him at the moment. He says his words, he doesn't care that he can, you know -- you know, be stalked and said, look what you said in the past. He doesn't care about that, as long as he hits his base. But, again, he is moving so quickly and sending so much information out there, that people can't digest it. I think you have to listen to Will Hurd, who represents the longest part of the border, you know, down in Texas.

BLITZER: The Republican congressman.

PRESTON: The Republican congressman, former CIA agent and he's like come on, it's ridiculous. It needs to be a wall. It needs to be technology, it needs to be manpower.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's much more that we're following. The breaking news continues. We're going to get more on the extension just approved for the special counsel, Robert Mueller's grand jury. So, what does that tell us about where his investigation stands right now?


[17:41:56] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including a federal judge just extending the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury. Susan Hennessey, what does this mean? Another six months? It's been going on for 18 months already. We thought it was getting close to an end, but now this could go on.

HENNESSEY: Yes, so we don't know how long this extension for the grand jury was set to expire after that 18-month period. It could be extended for up to six months. But we don't know how much sort of short of six months it might be going. Look, I think the simple answer is that it means that Mueller is not done yet. It means that he expects that there are going to be more criminal indictments. I think it speaks to, you know, the complexity and the length of this investigation. And so, people who are sort of making predictions about the Mueller investigation being just around the corner from wrapping up, all evidence now as to the contrary. BLITZER: The political impact could be very significant.

BORGER: I'm expecting a tweet any minute from the president about this. Look, as Susan said, we just don't know whether he's going to wrap it up in six weeks or whether he's going to get another extension at the end of six months. We have absolutely no idea. We know that he wasn't ready to end it this week or next week. So, it is continuing. I wouldn't have expected it to conclude this early. But I'm sure this isn't going to make the White House happy. It isn't going to make the president very happy. But I think it's not surprising that he's extending it, given the fact that he clearly couldn't be done right now.

BLITZER: It's not going to make --

HENNESSEY: -- trying to find new information. So, it doesn't just mean that's sort of the process isn't over, but the actual investigation is still ongoing.

PRESTON: If I could and a question of Susan, doesn't it say something, though, that this -- that the judge has agreed to extend it? I mean, it actually says something. I mean, that in itself is significant, because the judge can think there was anything near -- I think judge would have shut it down?

HENNESSEY: So, the rule is it has to be in the public interest, but yes, I do think that it is an external ratification. This isn't just a witch hunt, this isn't Mueller coming in with nothing. This is Mueller coming in with enough evidence for a federal judge to say, we're going to take the unusual step of actually extending the investigation. There must be evidence there.

BLITZER: For up to six additional months.

SIDDIQUI: And frankly, the notion that the Mueller investigation was coming to a close or that a report was imminent is a talking point that has primarily been pushed by the president and his legal team, in part because they wanted to further the narrative that this investigation should be coming to a close. Because that's, of course, what they would like. But the grand jury's work, of course, has led to criminal cases against several Trump associates, as well as indictments of Russian nationals.

We've had, of course, very -- consequential information come out of the cooperation of people like Michael Cohen, the president's attorney. And so, I think that as much as the president is not going to like it, the investigation is ongoing. There is new information that is still being uncovered. And one thing that has changed if the president does, for example, try to interfere with the investigation is you now also have a house that is controlled by Democrats who are less likely to look the other way if the president, for example, does try and get in the way of the special counsel and its work.

BORGER: You know, and this is something that the acting attorney general doesn't have anything to say about, right? I mean, this is just -- this is a judge saying there is a reason it is in the national -- or the public interest. And we're going to extend it. So, there is no sort of politics involved in this at all. And although I'm sure it will be charged that there is politics involved, but there really isn't. This is just the court system working its will.

[17:45:17] HENNESSEY: I do think that that touches on sort of the big, major story that people have sort of lost the thread on and that is whether or not Matt Whitaker is going to continue to oversee this investigation. Taking steps like trying to -- like bringing an indictment to the grand jury. That actually is something that the individual, the acting attorney general overseeing the investigation would be able to have a say over. He would certainly get forewarning. And so, do you think it underscores how important and frankly, you know, extraordinary and unacceptable that you have someone as conflicted as obviously conflicted as Matt Whitaker, continuing to oversee it.

PRESTON: And we're going to have Democrats in the United States Senate be able to ask questions of the nominee to take over Matt Whitaker's acting role, which is --

BLITZER: Those hearings start this month.


BORGER: And might want to ask Matt Whitaker questions.

PRESTON: I also want to ask him too, I don't know if that's going to happen. But they certainly want to. But listen, you know, to the point, this is a validation of this investigation. And it happened on a Friday night, as these things usually do. But to Gloria's point, I do think it is going to be politicized pretty quickly.

BLITZER: Salute all those grand jurors on that grand jury, 18 months already, maybe another six months to go.

BORGER: It's not their choice.

BLITZER: Pretty patriotic stuff, guys. Stick around. There's more news we're following. President Trump boasts about his relationship with Kim Jong-un. Is the North Korean dictator playing a cat and mouse game of flattery and threats?


[17:51:16] BLITZER: Sources tell CNN, the Trump administration is already scouting out some potential sites for a second summit between the president and Kim Jong-un. The president is clearly encouraged by a letter he received from the North Korean dictator, but is he falling prey to Kim's flattery? Our Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, White House sources in Korea and analysts are telling us they believe that Kim Jong-un has figured out how to play to President Trump's ego and has now engaged in a full-on offensive with that. But at the same time, Kim's regime has been leveling threats against the U.S.; it's a double game with enormous consequences.


TODD: It just may be the oddest relationship in international relations, the American president repeatedly flattered by and flattering North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: We're doing very well with North Korea, and that's based on relationship also.

TODD: Trump's positive mention of his relationship with Kim Jong-un today came only about 48 hours after the president showed off the latest personal letter he got from the North Korean dictator.

TRUMP: And they've never written letters like that. This letter is a great letter.

TODD: Sources familiar with the contents of Kim's letter tell CNN it was "predictably effusive." The view of some in the administration, CNN is told, is that Kim sends letters to Trump to appeal to his ego and to keep Trump enthusiastic about their personal bond, especially at times when Kim feels negotiations over his nuclear weapons have hit a plateau. Analysts agree, Kim is whispering in Trump's ear.

FRANK JANNUZI, PRESIDENT & CEO, THE MANSFIELD FOUNDATION: I think what he is saying to President Trump is: you, sir, are better than all of your predecessor; wiser, smarter, more clever, the better deal maker, you can do what none of your predecessors was able to do.

TODD: Experts believe Kim Jong-un has compiled a personal dossier on how to work Trump and has mastered the dark art of flattering the president to try to get what he wants; skills, analysts say, that were on full display during the two leaders' meeting in Singapore last summer.

KIM JONG-UN, SUPREME LEADER, NORTH KOREA (through translator): I would like to express my gratitude to President Trump for making this meeting happen.

TODD: In another letter sent to the White House last July just weeks after their summit, Kim referred to Trump as your excellency four times in just four paragraphs. But experts tell CNN, Kim may be using a carrot and stick approach with Trump, mixed with personal flattery of the president over the past few months have been threats to the U.S. from Kim's regime, including in December when North Korea said it wouldn't relinquish its nuclear weapons unless the U.S. eliminates its own nuclear threat, followed by a new year's message warning that if the Trump team keeps up sanctions --

KIM: Then we have no choice but to defend our country's sovereignty and supreme interest and find a new way to settle peace on our peninsula.

TODD: Why this double game from North Korea?

JANNUZI: I think Kim Jong-un needs to see some tangible benefits himself, in the same way that President Trump would like to see some tangible steps towards denuclearization, Kim Jong-un needs sanctions relief.

TODD: But some analysts believe Kim is simply stalling, buying time to further develop his weapons program.

MATTHEW KROENIG, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: If Kim Jong-un were serious about denuclearizing, he could have taken steps since the June summit, he could have dismantled missiles, dismantled war heads, and he's not doing that. So, I think what we see now is that the North Koreans are really playing the United States.

TODD: The key question tonight: what does this personal dynamic between the two men lead to?

JANNUZI: It's either going to be an engagement or a breakup. So, we're either going to make progress together or we're not. And if we're not -- and there's a breakup, then I think basically Kim Jong-un turns to another suitor.


TODD: And experts say that would leave President Trump and his team without many options for how to deal with Kim's threat. One option could be to simply keep up the sanctions pressure, the other would be that unpalatable option of considering possible military action, where we were almost two years ago. Wolf.

[17:55:06] BLITZER: Brian Todd with that report. Thank you very much. Coming up, the breaking news. Two weeks into the government shutdown, President Trump warns congressional leaders it could go on for months or even years without money for his border wall. And he says, he could use national emergency powers to build that border barrier.


BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. One way or another. President Trump is vowing to get billions of dollars for his border wall even if the government shutdown lasts a year or more. Mr. Trump confirming Democrats over at the White House, even as the support for his hardline position is eroding within his party.