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Schumer: Trump Pulled 'Temper Tantrum,' Walked Out of Talks; Giuliani Says Trump Won't Answer More Questions from Mueller. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired January 9, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. "Temper tantrum." Democrats say President Trump pulled a, quote, "temper tantrum," walking out of the meeting on the government shutdown. The president says he left when his request for a border wall was rejected, calling the talks a, quote, "waste of time."
No more answers. President Trump's legal team has informed Special Counsel Robert Mueller that the president will not answer any more answers in the Russia probe. Lawyer Rudy Giuliani tells Reuters the last contact with Mueller's team came before Christmas.
Departure date. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, is now expected to lever once the president's new attorney general is confirmed. Does that mean the special counsel's investigation is merely complete or facing new threats?
And Putin's "pawns"? The Kremlin claims it doesn't use people as pawns after an American is detained on charges of espionage. But is Paul Whelan's arrest meant to send a message to other countries?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. On this, day 19 of the government shut down, Democrats say President Trump walked out of a White House meeting, pulling a, quote, "temper tantrum" when they rejected his demand for a border wall.
The president tweets that he left because the meeting was a, quote, "total waste of time."
Earlier, the president insisted GOP senators are totally unified behind him, but there are cracks in that GOP wall, with three Republicans now calling for an end to the shutdown and six others voicing concerns.
The president is still threatening to declare an emergency to get the wall built.
I'll speak with Republican Congressman Will Hurd of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by with full coverage.
Let's get straight to the breaking news. Our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is joining us.
Kaitlan, are the talks completely stalled now?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they were already at a stalemate. And now it seems that they have crumbled. And it's an understatement to say that things in this meeting went south pretty fast.
They were in that room for less than half an hour. And then, as you saw, both of them came out trading blame after the White House asked the Democrats, if the president signed those other bills to open up the other agencies that are closed right now over the next 30 days, could they negotiate and have Democrats come up from that hard line that they've drawn of only wanting to give 1.3 billion in border security funding.
Clearly, the Democrats said no, that is not a proposal they were interested in, and that is where things collapsed.
COLLINS (voice-over): Talks between the White House and Democrats crumbling tonight --
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Our meeting did not last long.
COLLINS: -- after President Trump stormed out of his meeting with congressional leaders when it became clear Democrats wouldn't budge on funding his border wall.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The president just got up and walked out. He asked Speaker Pelosi, "Will you agree to my wall?" She said no. And he just got up and said, "Then we have nothing to discuss," and he just walked out.
COLLINS: Democrats declaring that the president threw a temper tantrum, as he tweeted that the meeting was a "total waste of time," writing, "I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up? Are you going to approve border security, which includes a wall or steel barrier? Nancy said no. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!p"
Vice President Mike Pence saying Democrats were unwilling to engage in good-faith negotiations.
MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He asked Speaker Pelosi that, if he opened things up quickly, if he reopened the government quickly, would she be willing to agree to funding for a wall or a barrier on the southern border. And when she said no, the president said good-bye.
COLLINS: The episode dramatically escalating a shutdown where talks were already at a stalemate.
During a Bill signing in the Oval Office today, Trump claiming he never wanted this shutdown to begin with.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not a fight I wanted. I didn't want this fight.
COLLINS: Despite saying on camera he was willing to take the blame.
TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security.
COLLINS: The president claiming today that the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are bracing to miss their first paycheck Friday are backing his shutdown.
TRUMP: A lot of them agree with what I'm doing.
COLLINS: After stopping short of declaring a national emergency on the border during his primetime pitch, Trump leaving the door open today.
TRUMP: I think we might work a deal. And if we don't, I may go that route. I have the absolute right to do a national emergency if I want.
COLLINS: Despite a growing number of moderate Republicans signaling they are ready to open the government, with or without funding his border wall, Trump says the party is firmly behind him.
[17:05:07] TRUMP: Mitch McConnell has been incredible. He said, "If the president is not going to sign it, I'm not going to waste my time."
COLLINS: That confidence as Trump seems to be increasingly concerned about losing Republican support.
TRUMP: We have tremendous support in the Senate. We have tremendous support in the House.
We have great Republican support.
We will have border security. Tremendous Republican support, and I think we're going to win.
COLLINS: After a lunch with the president on Capitol Hill today, some Republicans seem to be growing impatient.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: How can we resolve this? We owe it to the American people. This is like a circus.
COLLINS: Now, Wolf, right now we know that the president's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, and the White House legislative affairs director, Shahira Knight, are back on Capitol Hill, meeting with senators and talking about this shutdown and what's going on right now. But it's unclear if any other meeting is on the agenda right now, any other meeting that was the most crucial. That would be between President Trump and Nancy Pelosi, who are going to be the two people that this entire shutdown comes down to and whether or not the government reopens.
Now, on Friday that's when those federal workers, hundreds of thousands of them, are not going to get their first paycheck. And Wolf, on Saturday, this will become the longest continuous shutdown in U.S. history.
BLITZER: Very sad indeed. All right, Kaitlan. Thanks very much. Kaitlan Collins at the White House.
A swirl of activity at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue happening right now. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty.
Sunlen, after that stormy meeting in the situation room over at the White House, Democratic leaders Schumer and Pelosi, they are now, I understand, back on Capitol Hill.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are indeed, Wolf. And tensions are running very high up here on Capitol Hill as the leaders return back from that White House meeting farther from a solution, not anywhere closer to getting an agreement.
Afterwards, it was very clear, after that -- those talks, rather, devolved in the situation room, that neither side, essentially, is compromising. And both sides are essentially criticizing the other, not only for their unwillingness to move and negotiate in these talks but this is just an indication at the point we are in all of this. They're also criticizing their actions and their behavior in the room.
We heard from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, returning back to Capitol Hill tonight. And she says the meeting was a meeting with a petulant president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: We've been having conversations with him. But you cannot come to a conclusion if the president of the United States says, "My way or the highway. There's nothing to negotiate. Either agree with me or it's over. And by the way, I am willing to hold the American federal workers hostage to my point of view."
How pathetic is his argument that he doesn't even have confidence that he can prevail in a negotiation, if he has to shut down government to strengthen his hand?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: Now, right now, Wolf, the House of Representatives, they are keeping up this pressure campaign, so to speak. They are voting on individual appropriations packages on the floor of the House.
The one they're voting on right now is the financial services appropriations Bill. That intended to reopen parts of the government, intended to keep pressure on Republicans; to show, essentially, that they're trying to do something. As of now, the vote is still going. There are eight Republicans who broke ranks and are voting with the Democrats to keep the government open. We'll see if that vote tally swells over the course of the vote tonight and the additional appropriations bills that they intend to pass later in the week.
BLITZER: As you know, Sunlen, the president earlier in the day went up to Capitol Hill to meet with the Republicans. Is there a concern there are some serious cracks emerging in terms of support from his own party?
SERFATY: There are certainly some cracks emerging, Wolf, for sure. In the Senate, you have three -- at least three Republican senators saying that they want the government to be reopened with or without the border wall funding. That in defiance of President Trump's strategy here.
What we saw today is President Trump trying to downplay those cracks. He came up here to Capitol Hill with Vice President Mike Pence, in large part to try to shore up support to make sure that they have unity. And we saw him repeating time and again, after that meeting, he believes that there's solidarity within the caucus.
And the Republicans I spoke to said that message was loud and clear from President Trump. One Republican senator is telling me that Trump essentially said, "Saddle up. We've got to stay firm on this." And he said that Trump indicated he is not going to budge an inch. But of course, we will see in the growing days, especially as this government shutdown continues, whether other Republicans break ranks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
We're going to have much more on the shutdown and all of the breaking news in just a moment. But there's other breaking news we're following right now, including a very major development today that may impact the Mueller probe.
I want to bring in our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
Evan, one of the president's lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, has just told Reuters that President Trump will not answer any more questions from Robert Mueller and the Mueller team. So is the door now completely shut to an interview Q&A between the president and the Mueller team?
[17:10:12] EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think Giuliani has said a version of this before: "over my dead body." Various versions of this.
It does appear, Wolf, that the fact is that the Mueller team and the president's team haven't really had substantial communications in over a month. And they don't -- they don't have any more -- they don't believe that they are going to be able to provide any more answers, whether written or sitting down, with the Mueller team. So for all intents and purposes, this is over, as far as they're concerned.
Now, whether or not the door is fully closed -- the lawyers who are handling all of this, the day-to-day interaction with the Mueller team, they don't want to close the door fully to everything. So they believe, though, that this investigation is perhaps nearing an end. And so that's the reason why they believe that perhaps they're not going to need to answer any more questions with regard to the Mueller investigation.
BLITZER: Yes. The president did answer some written questions --
BLITZER: -- in writing earlier. But since then, no more questions have been answered.
BLITZER: The deputy attorney general, meanwhile, Rod Rosenstein, apparently, he's getting ready to leave immediately or shortly after the new attorney general, the nominee, William Barr, has been confirmed.
PEREZ: Right. That's right. Bill Barr is expected to have his confirmation hearings in the next couple of weeks, perhaps a confirmation by mid-February. And Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is in charge of the Mueller information, has now told the White House that he plans to step down after Bill Barr gets into the Justice Department, given, perhaps, a little time for transition.
This is an important step here. I think one of the things that this, perhaps, signals to us, Wolf, is that the Mueller investigation is, indeed, coming to a close.
One of the things that we know is that Rod Rosenstein has told officials there that he wanted to leave when he was satisfied that either the Mueller investigation was -- was substantially complete or close enough to completed that he had made sure that it was protected.
And so I think he feels comfortable enough saying that he wants to leave once the new attorney general gets into place perhaps the next few weeks. Perhaps we're going to see Rod Rosenstein exit some time in February or March.
BLITZER: Yes. As you say, it could be a sign that Mueller is beginning to wrap things up.
There's also concern up on Capitol Hill, among the Democratic -- a lot of Democratic senators -- that Barr's views on the Mueller probe could be a serious problem down the road. Because once Rosenstein leaves and he's confirmed as the next attorney general, he oversees everything. And he's apparently not interested in recusing himself, as Sessions did. One of the things he wrote not that long ago was that the whole Mueller probe, in his words, was "fatally misconceived." So is there a potential problem?
PEREZ: I think -- the Democrats believe that there is a problem. He's going to have to explain himself. He's going to have to give some assurances, Wolf, that those comments that he made, including perhaps some additional comments that he said that he didn't believe that Mueller had any right to question the president with regard to obstruction of justice.
There's a lot of questions that the Democrats have for Bill Barr, the nominee for attorney general.
Lindsey Graham met with Bill Barr, and he came away with the assurances he believes guarantees that he should be confirmed. Take a listen to what Lindsey Graham, the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, said about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I can assure you, based on what I heard, that has a high opinion of Mr. Mueller, believes Mr. Mueller is doing a professional job and will do a professional job, will be fair to the president of the country and as a whole; and reason for Mueller to stop doing his job and is committed to allowing Mr. Mueller to finish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: I think you've heard some very strong comments from Democrats who are going to be asking questions at this hearing in the next week or so. They're going to be asking for assurances that he doesn't plan to do anything to interfere with the end of this investigation.
And secondly, I think some of them even are talking about asking him for recusal. You know, as you pointed out, he doesn't seem very likely to go that route.
But I think this is going to be a flash point in the hearings coming up. And then of course, we know -- you know Republicans have enough votes to probably confirm Bill Barr to be the next attorney general.
BLITZER: Fifty-three Republicans in the Senate, 47 Democrats. So they have the votes once that comes to that if all the Republicans hold pretty much firm. Thanks very much, Evan, for that report.
Joining us now Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. He's a key member of both the Intelligence and the Homeland Security Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Sure. It's always a pleasure to talk with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's begin with the shutdown right now. You're one of nine members of the House of Representatives who represent a district along the southern border with Mexico. At this point, you're the only Republican representing a border district. The others are all -- other eight are all Democrats.
[17:15:14] But you, along with every other member on this map that we're showing our viewers of the various districts aligned next to Mexico, you oppose the president's demand for a new wall. Your district, by the way, makes up a third of the entire border with Mexico, about 820 miles of territory that President Trump wants to build a wall across. Tell us why you believe a wall is not necessary and why you oppose the president's plan on this specific issue.
HURD: Well, I think building a concrete structure sea to shining sea is a most expensive and least effective way to do border security.
There are some places where a wall is indeed a physical barrier. But in many parts of the border, Border Patrol response time is measured in hours to days. In your response time is measured in hours todays then a wall is actually not a physical barrier. It's not going to impede people.
It is 2019. We don't have operational control of our border. We have apprehended last year 400,000 people trying to come into the country illegally.
But the only way you solve this problem is by using technology and making sure that we're looking at all 2,000 miles of our southern border at the exact same time. We also need to be doing this at our northern border, as well.
We've also got to be addressing root causes that is driving migration to the United States, and that's violence and lack of economic opportunities within Central America, specifically the northern triangle region of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
The State Department, USAID are working on programs there. They're one of the entities that are involved in this shutdown right now. We need to make sure that they have the tools to continue doing their work there. Oh, and by the way --
BLITZER: And by the way, on that specific issue, Congressman, as you know, the president is threatening to cut off all U.S. aid to those countries.
HURD: That would just exacerbate the problem. We should be working alongside our allies in those places. The new Mexican president, President Pena Nieto, announced a number of weeks ago 1 billion -- the equivalent of 1 billion U.S. dollars to do economic development in those countries. We need a Marshall Plan for the northern triangle. Because when we address those root causes you'll stop seeing people come here.
And when you have an economy that's at 3.9 percent unemployment, we need workers, whether it's in agriculture or artificial intelligence. So if we were streamlining immigration and we could start doing that with DACA and TPS, these are -- this is going to only continue to make sure our economy grows and people continue to have good paying jobs.
These are -- that's some of the principles that we should be able to come together on. It's unfortunate both sides are trying to negotiate through the press. It's unfortunate that there's a lack of trust between the people that are negotiating this deal or this agreement. And ultimately, there's a lack of understanding of the nuance when it comes to securing our border.
As you said, I have more than anybody else. I spent nine and a half years as an undercover officer in the CIA, chasing bad guys. And, you know, this is -- we need technology. We need manpower in order to solve this problem.
BLITZER: The president had a very ,very brief meeting in the White House situation room a little while ago with the Democratic and Republican congressional leadership, the leaders in the House and the Senate, and then he tweeted this. I'll put -- I'll read it to you, Congressman.
"Just left the meeting with Chuck and Nancy. A total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up and you are -- are you going to include border security, which includes a wall or steel barrier? Nancy said no. I said bye-bye. Nothing else works!"
He ended the meeting. He walked out of the room after only a few minutes inside. What's your reaction to that?
HURD: Well that's not going to inspire trust in order to solve this problem. And ultimately, when both sides are coming with preconditions, you're not going to be able to have a fruitful conversation.
I think it also shows a problem with how a Washington, D.C., negotiates. Washington, D.C., likes to negotiate through subtraction. They put 100 things on the table, and they try to whittle it down to maybe 10.
What we should start is saying, "Hey, what is the one thing I need? What's -- you know, that's one apple. How many oranges does that make up," and have that conversation and build from what you actually need. That doesn't happen up here.
I think this -- there's a solution to all of this. I think it's going to require many of us that understand this issue well to suggest an alternative plan and try to get agreement by those that are negotiating the final -- the final deal.
BLITZER: You know, at least in his public comments, the president seems to have little direct concern for the 800,000 federal workers who won't be getting a pay check on Friday. And this will directly impact them, their families and a whole bunch of others, including a bunch of government contractors who aren't going to get paid either.
[06:20:14] He says they -- and he's referring to what he claims to be the majority of all of these federal workers and contractors -- They'd rather see a border wall than get a paycheck, which many of them need paycheck to paycheck simply to make ends meet.
What's your reaction to that?
HURD: Well, my reaction is I'm sure there are some people that agree with this tactic. The folks that I've talked to have the exact opposite opinion.
When I was down in Del Rio, which is along the border, this weekend, talking to members of border security, they used some pretty colorful language that I can't repeat on television when describing whether they should be working for free.
When I go through the San Antonio Airport and talk to the folks that are hard-working in TSA, they're concerned about not -- about working without pay.
I think y'all at CNN had an -- had an interesting report lasts week, talking about how the number of TSA officers that are calling in sick or calling that they can't come in has increased week by week by a significant number.
We -- I just learned, I was with some folks that are air-traffic controllers. This shutdown is having an impact on them. We don't have enough air-traffic controllers, and this shutdown is preventing others from being trained. So that's going to have a long-term effect on the safety in our skies.
So I don't think we understand completely all the ramifications and the second- and third-order effects that this shutdown is going to have. But again, if this is a crisis, you should pay the people that are going to try to deal with this crisis.
And I think shutdown politics, I've only been up here in Washington, D.C., for four years, Wolf. I don't think anybody has ever won a shutdown debate. And I think this is -- this is a silly way to negotiate.
And the American people -- my takeaway from the 2018 elections is that they actually sent this up here to get things done, work across the aisle, not try to burn this place down.
BLITZER: You used to worked in the CIA and you worked in national security for our country for several years. What would be your reaction if the president did what he's threatening to do: declare a national emergency and start using Pentagon funds, money from the Department of Defense, money that's supposed to go to the U.S. military and used that to build a wall?
HURD: I think it would be an amazing misuse and abuse of power. This is something I think folks will worry that he was going to suggest last night. But declaring that national emergency, now, he is -- he has the ability to declare a national emergency. But there's two provisions within the National Defense Authorization Act that could be potentially used in order to have unobligated funds. These are funds that were supposed to be spent on something but haven't actually been used, to do something like this. I think this is going to immediately go to the courts. I prefer not
to use military funds for -- for Department of Homeland Security. Over the last two or three years under the leadership of Max Thornberry, my fellow Texan, we have been rebuilding the military. And having to make a decision about what projects are we not going to do for the military, in order to try to build a Fourth-Century solution that is unnecessary, to actually stop the fentanyl from coming into our country.
We have this drug problem, $66 billion a year, being spent -- that's a conservative number -- here in the United States. That's coming through our ports of entry. That's coming through our mail. And these are the things that we need to address.
I always highlight the -- the -- our folks, our friends in the Coast Guard. Coast Guard is only able to action 25 percent of the intelligence on drugs coming into our country. That's absolutely outrageous. That means 75 percent of drugs that we know are coming in here we can't do anything about. And these are some of the problems that we should solve. And declaring a national emergency and trying to have the military build a wall is not the way to go.
And again, the principals are we should be making sure -- let's complete the Secure Fence Act. Let's replace some of the existing fencing. There's 650 miles of fencing already on our border. Let's do the SMART Act, which is using technology to solve this problem. Let's streamline immigration and DACA and TPS. This is the Temporary Protected Status. And let's have a Marshall Plan for Central America.
Those steps will make sure that we are securing our country and that we can continue to facilitate the movement of goods and services at the same time, and we're using American taxpayer dollars wisely.
BLITZER: While I have you, Congressman, let's turn quickly to the Russia probe. As you heard, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has just told Reuters that President Trump will not answer any more questions from the special counsel, either in writing or in a face-to-face meeting.
[17:25:00] Does the president have the power simply to refuse to answer any more questions from the special counsel?
HURD: I'm not a legal scholar. And I think some have said that he does have that.
One of the things I've learned, serving along the hard-working men of the FBI and a number of U.S. attorneys, they generally don't ask questions they don't already know the answer to. I'm sure -- I'm sure Mr. Mueller has a lot of the information that he needs in order to close this case.
But Bob Mueller should be allowed to turn over every rock, pursue every lead, and we should wait to make sure that he's been able to complete his work.
BLITZER: Are you confident that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein's, departure -- and apparently, he's going to leave shortly after the attorney general nominee, William Barr has been confirmed. Are you confident that that won't affect the Mueller probe?
HURD: I think my colleagues on the Senate, but while they go through this confirmation process, they're going to be exploring this topic. And I think, in the previous segment with the person you were talking about, is correct when Mr. Rosenstein said he probably would not leave until he knew that the Mueller investigation was near its end or wrapping up.
So I would suggest -- that seems like, to me, that this is -- this is near completion. That's just conjecture on my part, based on previous comments that have been made.
BLITZER: Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. Thanks so much for joining us.
HURD: Always a pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thank you.
Up next the breaking news: President Trump storms out of a meeting when Democrats reject his demands for a border wall. With both sides casting blame, is there a way out of this government shutdown?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Breaking news on this 19th day of the government shutdown. Democrats and Republicans can't even agree on what happened during a late afternoon negotiating session over at the White House.
[18:31:12] In a tweet, the president called the meeting "a total waste of tame time." Let's discuss the stalemate with our experts.
And Gloria, I'm going to play a clip. This is what they said following this very brief meeting which accomplished absolutely nothing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The president just got up and walked out. He asked Speaker Pelosi, "Will you agree to my wall?" She said no. And he just got up and said, "Then we have nothing to discuss," and he just walked out. Again, we saw a temper tantrum, because he couldn't get his way.
MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They demanded once again that before any negotiations could begin, that we would have to agree to reopen the government.
And the president called the question in the meeting. He asked Speaker Pelosi that, if he opened things up quickly, if he reopened the government quickly, would she be willing to agree to funding for a wall or a barrier on the southern border? And when she said no, the president said good-bye. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He said, "Bye-bye," according to himself in his tweet. What do you think?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: This is typical Trump. Welcome to Trump, the real-estate guy. Because when I was doing reporting on Trump during the campaign, everybody who was in meetings with him said this is his M.O. He would walk into a meeting. He would throw a grenade in the meeting, if it wasn't going the way he wanted, and then he would get up and leave. And that was a negotiating tactic for him.
Well, it may have worked in real estate. I'm not so sure it worked with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Remember: this is the president who said he would proudly own the shutdown. He did not make any new proposal in this meeting. In fact, the proposal that was made was the same proposal that was made a little while back. So there was nothing new put on the table. And I do think -- I agree with your analysis; it was a total waste of time for everyone.
BLITZER: It sounded like a total waste of time. What did you think?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple things. One is, I don't think President Trump still understands the rules of the game and how they have changed just in the past couple of weeks. He lost the House in November. He now needs to negotiate with Democrats.
What I found really interesting is when Kevin McCarthy came out. Now, we should note --
BLITZER: He's the Republican leader in the House.
PRESTON: The Republican leader in the House, who was present in the meeting. We saw Mike Pence come out, the vice president. Kevin McCarthy, and a couple of others. And we saw Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi come out. We didn't see President Trump come out.
But Kevin McCarthy was very careful to say that the president calmly said, "I guess you're still not wanting to deal with the problem." He also said that he politely spoke to Nancy Pelosi.
It's amazing that they actually had to qualify that the president wasn't outrageous or a jerk.
BORGER: Well, Schumer said it was a tantrum, right?
PRESTON: Right, right. It was just amazing how really, as you said, two different stories there. But wow.
BLITZER: Yes. Nia, what did you think?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think we're going to see more of the same. These two sides seem very dug in. They're both obviously being bolstered by their respective bases who don't want either of these parties to give in. We'll see the president go down to the border tomorrow.
We see him, I think, in many ways turning away from the terrorism rhetoric, but he's also sticking to this idea that maybe there will either be a concrete wall or a steel slat wall.
He also seems to just be completely, you know, bolstered by his base. You have some cracks showing among Republicans, three or four or so in the Senate, some in the House. You've heard Will Hurd there.
But I think that's what he's looking at. He's looking at those base voters, particularly white evangelicals, who are the most supportive of this wall. If you lack at all of the data, those are the folks who are most supportive. And they, of course, are among Trump's most fervent supporters.
BLITZER: Sabrina, you think a national emergency declaration is coming?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, today the president refused to take that option off the table. And I think that, while the president does have broad authority at his disposal, he would almost certainly face legal challenges if he were to circumvent Congress and start the construction of a border wall.
[17:35:07] In fact, that's a proposal that has been criticized even by some of his conservative allies.
I think what was also telling is today when the president was asked what would be your threshold for declaring a national emergency? He said, "Well, my threshold would be if I'm dealing with people who are unreasonable," in essence putting the blame on the Democrats. So actually reinforcing the notion that there is, in fact, no crisis at the border. This is all just political posturing.
And the president, he repeated a lot of these misleading claims in his speech last night, trying to make it seem as though immigrants are just flowing across the border illegally, when in fact, the rate of illegal immigration has steadily fallen over the past decade. And in fact, the undocumented population in the U.S. was at a 12-year low last year.
BLITZER: The president keeps saying the Republican Party is fully behind him in the House and the Senate, but we've just checked. Now it's up to 12: 12 Republicans, senators, members of the House. And you can see the pictures of them right now. They have serious concerns. They want this resolved, and they're ready to side, if necessary, with the Democrats to allow these 800,000 federal workers to get back to work and get paid.
BORGER: Well, and that was raised when the president went up to the Hill today and met with -- and met with Republican senators. Senator Murkowski raised the question about her constituents.
And don't forget: the president may not have a lot of empathy, but politicians in the Senate are all about empathy. And on Friday, their constituents are going to start losing their paychecks. And the president regards government workers as the deep state and the
people who are in Washington. But in fact, that's not the case. And he said they're mostly Democrats.
BORGER: That's also who knows? And so he doesn't see them as his constituency, but they are. And once people stop getting government services that they want, members of Congress, you're going to see more Republicans starting to say, "Let's stop the shutdown and let's just -- let's make government run again, and then let's talk about immigration."
BLITZER: Because there are so many of these government workers who live paycheck to paycheck, whether clerical workers or maintenance. They're not -- they don't get huge salaries, and they rely on this paycheck that they're going to get on Friday to pay their rent, to buy food, to take care of their kids. It's not just the 800,000 federal workers. It's their families, as well.
PRESTON: Well, and the businesses that surround the community.
You know, there's a big misperception that, here in the swamp, that the federal government workers all work here, and they make an incredible amount of money. And they smoke cigars and drink brandy every day at 4 p.m., and they don't work anymore, which is absolutely ludicrous.
We know that the folks that are laid off -- by the way, that is ludicrous. That doesn't happen here. I wish it did, but it doesn't.
But I will tell you that if you go across the country, there are federal workers in every community right now that are feeling this pinch. And this is not going to change until what Gloria says, we're going to see the -- we're going to see people start calling the switchboard at the United States Capitol and start showing up at these congressional offices, these House offices and Senate offices, and you're going to start seeing interest groups running ads. You wait to see that happens. Things will change.
BLITZER: Well, the president says -- he believes most of these workers are with him. They want a secure border, and he suggests, "You know what? Even if they go without a paycheck, they have a bigger priority to make sure that the border is secure."
HENDERSON: We already talked about at one point he said they were Democrats. Now he seems to be saying they're all part of his base. They're all Trump supporters. And they're --
BLITZER: Where does he get these statistics?
HENDERSON: I think he -- I mean, we sort of know. I mean, out of thin air. He doesn't -- just makes them up as he goes along, because it sounds better than saying, "Oh, I don't care about those Democrats." He's basically saying, these are all of his supporters. If you look at the polling, the American public certainly isn't with him in terms of building a wall. Fifty-seven percent or so say that they don't want to see a border wall from sea to shining sea.
But he clearly is looking at those numbers among Republicans. And we'll see.
I think the Republican most important to look at is Mitch McConnell, right? As long as he isn't willing to budge, as long as he is taking his cues from this president and not willing to bring up any sort of bills that come out of the House, this thing seems to be at a stalemate.
And the president almost seems to like this. He seems to be more energized than ever in terms of this fight. And we'll see what he does tomorrow down at the border.
BLITZER: You notice, after these meetings in the White House situation room, the Democratic leaders walk out. They answer reporters' questions, make a statement. The Republican leaders walked out, except for Mitch McConnell.
HENDERSON: Mitch McConnell wasn't there.
BLITZER: He immediately heads back to the U.S. Senate. Very busy guy.
All right, guys. Stick around. There's much more news we're following. One of Vladimir Putin's top officials claims Russia doesn't use people as pawns. So why are the Russians holding a former U.S. Marine and accusing him of spying?
Also, new concerns emerging right now about the safety of defectors who fled the brutal regime of North Korea's Kim Jong-un.
[17:44:26] BLITZER: Tonight, a top Russian official is denying his country detained and charged a U.S. citizen with espionage to pressure Washington or other countries, claiming Russia doesn't use people as pawns. The American is former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was picked up late last month.
Let's go to Moscow right now. Our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is on the scene for us. Fred, what is Russia saying about Whelan's detention?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. It had been fairly quiet around Whelan's case over the past couple of days here in Moscow, but all of that changed today with a vengeance.
And the Russians really taking shots at questions about whether or not the Russians may have taken Whelan as something like a bargaining chip or maybe a political pawn, for instance, to try and get some sort of exchange perhaps with someone like Maria Butina. Of course, U.S. already said that she was an agent for Russian officials inside the United States.
On Russia's most important political talk show, "Today," Wolf, the hosts there taking massive shots at those questions, saying they firmly believe that Whelan is guilty and that he was, quote, caught red-handed.
Also, for the first time today, Wolf, we heard from the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Vladimir Putin.
I want to read you exactly what he said today on a conference call with reporters. He said, quote, Russia never uses people as pawns. Russia is investigating those being suspected of espionage. That happens regularly, but we never use people as pawns.
So the Russians trying to shoot down that theory or those questions. The Russians also saying that this investigation could take a very long time. That, of course, is very bad news for Paul Whelan.
His lawyer, apparently today, telling "The Wall Street Journal" -- something that we had also heard from him as well -- that he might be in for at least six months as that investigation continues, as they continue to hear witnesses.
And, of course, if he is found guilty, things could get a lot more difficult for Paul Whelan as well. Unless, of course, the U.S. government manages to do something for him and manages to get him out on some other way or through negotiations, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A very, very sensitive issue, indeed. We'll stay on top of it together with you, Fred. Thanks very much.
We have more breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. President Trump walks out of negotiations on the government shutdown because Democrats won't give in to his demand for a border wall.
Also, an unintended consequence of the improving relationship between North and South Korea. Will it endanger the lives of North Korean defectors?
[17:51:26] BLITZER: Now that Kim Jong-un has wrapped up his visit to China, we're hearing new concern about the fate of a one-time top diplomat who vanished and may have fled the North Korean dictator's brutal regime. CNN's Brian Todd has been working his sources for us.
Brian, what are they telling you?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are saying tonight that this man and probably his wife have likely gone underground, probably still working out where he might get asylum if he is, in fact, defecting.
What's surprising tonight is that former North Korean defectors are saying the South Koreans, who have always been receptive to defectors, are now not stepping up to the plate.
TODD (voice-over): He is one of Kim Jong-un's top diplomats anywhere in the world, and he's been missing without a trace for two months after disappearing from his post at North Korea's embassy in Rome. South Korean media reports say he has defected.
Tonight, prominent North Korean defectors say they're worried about the safety of Jo Song-gil and his wife. And they're pleading with the South Korean government to protect him.
THAE YONG-HO, FORMER DEPUTY AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED KINGDOM OF THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA (through translator): We urge the South Korean government to put in the effort for Jo Song-gil so that he can make the journey safely to South Korea if his family wants to.
TODD (voice-over): But Thae Yong-ho, a top North Korean diplomat in London who defected three years ago, says he does not believe the South Korean government under President Moon Jae-in is doing enough to embrace the missing diplomat.
Quote, neither the South Korean government or its citizens expressed their intention to rescue Jo and his family. I'm saddened by the current situation.
This comes just a few days after Thae Yong-ho wrote an open letter to the missing diplomat, begging him to come to South Korea.
What are President Moon Jae-in and his government doing to make South Korea less hospitable for North Korean defectors?
DR. SUZANNE SCHOLTE, CHAIRWOMAN, NORTH KOREA FREEDOM COALITION: There's a suppression of their activities. They are blocking the balloon launches, the efforts that the North Koreans are making to reach out and get information into North Korea.
The second thing is they've cut off funding for all the defector-led NGOs who are advocating for human rights in North Korea. They've stopped all those activities. They've cut off all their funding.
In addition, Moon Jae-in never talks about human rights in North Korea.
TODD (voice-over): Some analysts say the South Korean President is so eager to make peace with Kim Jong-un that he doesn't want to anger the North Korean dictator over high-profile defectors.
DEAN CHENG, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: He would like to see significant improvement in North/South relations. And the reality is a defector, especially a high-ranking one, is a black eye. It's a very awkward thing for the North Koreans to have to handle.
TODD (voice-over): There's no significant evidence that the South Koreans have cut back on security for North Korean defectors. But a key question tonight, if this missing diplomat, Jo Song-gil, doesn't surface in Seoul, where could he turn up?
GREG SCARLATOIU, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: I suspect he may end up in a European country, in a western European country, perhaps in the United States. He will assume a new identity. He will be under protection for an indefinite period of time.
TODD: We have pressed officials at the State Department on whether the U.S. is going to offer asylum to this missing North Korean diplomat. They have not responded.
We have also been pressing South Korean government officials in Seoul and at their embassy here in Washington to respond to the criticism that they are making life more difficult for North Korean defectors. They have not responded to that, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, good reporting. Thanks very much.
Coming up, more breaking news. Democrats say President Trump threw a, quote, temper tantrum walking out of the meeting on the government shutdown. The President calls the talks a waste of time, saying he left when his request for a border wall was rejected.
[17:54:57] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Trump storms out. The President abruptly leaves talks on ending the government shutdown after Democrats stand firm against funding his border wall. Both sides are digging in deeper right now as this shutdown is on track to become the longest in history.
Hints of collusion. We're learning more this hour about Paul Manafort's handover of polling data to an alleged Kremlin operative. Who was the information intended for? Stand by, we have new information.
[18:00:05] Saying no to Mueller.