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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Sen. Angus King (R-ME); Michael Cohen Subpoenaed By Congress; Senate Bills to Reopen Government Fail to Pass; Commerce Secretary Expresses Confusion Over Why Furloughed Federal Workers Need Food Pantries; New Bipartisan Push Underway For A Shutdown Compromise; Trump Open To Deal With Prorated Down Payment On His Wall; Testimony: Drug Lord's Beauty Queen Wife in On Escape Plot. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 24, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Down payment on a deal? There's a new push tonight to find a way to reopen the government temporarily to pave the way for a longer-term solution to the shutdown. Will the president's demand for a down payment on his border wall be a barrier for Democrats?

Cohen subpoenaed. Lawmakers take action to force the president's longtime lawyer to testify after he backed out of a planned hearing, blaming Mr. Trump's threats against his family. Will Michael Cohen make it to the Hill before he is sent to prison?

Dogged by Mueller. Trump ally Roger Stone posts a rather bizarre video of canines declaring his innocence as he braces for possible indictment. New grand jury testimony could be a sign that something big is about to happen.

And out of touch. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the Kremlin's number two diplomat bristles when asked if President Trump might be an agent of Russia, calling the idea out of touch. But was that a denial?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, we're following an urgent round of bipartisan talks aimed at trying to reopen the government temporarily, as the longest shutdown in U.S. history takes more and more of a toll on this country.

The president says he is open to signing a bill to fund the government for three weeks if, if it includes what he calls a prorated down payment on his border wall. Democrats already are pushing back on that.

Also breaking right now, Michael Cohen's lawyer says the former Trump fixer has been served with a subpoena by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the panel seeking Cohen's testimony next month before he goes to prison. This comes a day after Cohen pulled out of the a February appearance before the House Oversight Committee, citing threats to his family by President Trump.

This hour, I will talk with Senator Intelligence Committee member Angus King. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go live to Capitol Hill with Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill.

Also, let's go to the White House, Kaitlan Collins is covering all of the new talks on the shutdown.

And, Kaitlan, let me go to you first. We just heard from the president just a little while on his new search for a compromise. Update our viewers on the very latest.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president is now saying he is open to a deal if Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Mitch McConnell can reach one, but only if it's reasonable deal.

And that comes after his press secretary issued a statement saying that they would agree to a three-week short-term bill to reopen the government if it includes a down payment for the president's border wall.

Here's how he explained it to reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the ideas suggested is, they open it, they pay sort of a prorated down payment for the wall, which I think people would agree that you need. You need the wall.

In fact, I see a lot of the Democrats are all -- almost all of them breaking, saying, look, walls are good. Walls are good. Big difference from what you had two or three weeks ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: So, Wolf, he says one of the things suggested -- he doesn't say this is his idea or that he is fully behind it. But he says one of the things suggested is having a down payment for the wall.

And, of course, you know, Wolf, the president and the White House have asked for roughly $5.7 billion for the president's border wall. Roughly three of that weeks that was would be around $330 million. But it's unclear if Democrats would ever agree to that.

And, Wolf, if they did, it's unclear what would happen after those three weeks were up and then the government shut down again, if they had not come to an agreement. That's something they are still talking about. And it's a key word that the president used there when he said he would agree to a reasonable agreement that Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell came to, because what the president views as reasonable is sometimes much different than what Democrats or even Republicans think.

Now, Wolf, the president did say one thing while he was speaking to reporters earlier, and that's that if he doesn't get the funding for his wall from Congress, he will pursue other options. He said they have been exploring them.

And that comes as CNN has exclusively obtained documents showing that the White House has prepared a draft for the president to declare a national emergency and bypass Congress essentially to build his border wall, if it comes down to it.

BLITZER: And all this comes, Kaitlan, after what I think is fair to say was a rather bad 24 hours for the president.

COLLINS: Yes, it was, because not only did yesterday the president you saw him cede to Nancy Pelosi and say he wouldn't deliver the State of the Union address until after the government has reopened, something she had been demanding for days.

You are also seeing an increasing number of comments from the president's inner circle get backlash. One of the main ones today has been from the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, who said he doesn't understand why federal workers who aren't getting their paychecks are going to food banks to get food.

[18:05:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: There are reports that there are some federal workers who are going to homeless shelters to get food.

WILBUR ROSS, U.S. COMMERCE SECRETARY: Well, I know they are.

And I don't really quite understand why, because, as I mentioned before, the obligations that they would undertake, say, of borrowing from a bank or a credit union, are, in effect, federally guaranteed.

So, the 30 days of pay that some people will be out is no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, Wilbur Ross later tied to go back and walk back those comments. That's someone who "Forbes " estimates is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But that wasn't the only remark he made about the food banks. He also said he was disappointed in those air traffic controllers who are calling out of work, even though the host said that they're doing so because they can't support their families while they're not getting paid.

He said, well, they will get paid eventually. Now, of course, this has caused a lot of backlash. And the president was asked about his response. And here's what he said about Wilbur Ross. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I haven't heard the statement, but I do understand. And perhaps he should have said it differently.

Local people know who they are when they go for groceries and everything else. And I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say is that they will work along. I know banks are working along, of, if you have mortgages, the mortgagees, the mortgage -- the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along.

And that's what happens in a time like this. They know the people, they have been dealing with them for years, and they work along. The grocery store. And I think that's probably what Wilbur Ross meant, but I haven't seen a statement now, no, but he's done a great job. I will tell you that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: So the president admits the commerce secretary could have worded his comments differently, but then he seems to say that grocery stores will understand.

But, of course, Wolf, as our reporting has shown, that as this shutdown has stretched out over a month now, that workers are becoming increasingly desperate, not only for groceries, but also for their mortgage payments, braces payments, anything that any family typically has to pay for throughout the week, and something that they are greatly affected by when they do not get their paychecks.

Wilbur Ross alluded to that when he said that they could take out loans and then have them pay the banks later, but, Wolf, he even admitted in that interview that some of these American workers who are not getting paid might have to pay interest on their loans, essentially paying interest, Wolf, to get their own paychecks.

BLITZER: Good point.

All right, Kaitlan, thanks very much, Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, right now. He's up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, so where do these talks on a possible deal to reopen the government, at least temporarily, stand right now from Capitol Hill's perspective?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Democrats are rejecting the president's demand for a large down payment or a prorated down payment for his border wall.

Democrat after Democrat say this is a nonstarter, including a very important Democrat, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who just told reporters coming off the House floor this, that the president just said that if they come to a reasonable agreement, he will support it. She said, "I hope it doesn't mean some big down payment for the border

-- for the border wall." And she said, "That is not a reasonable agreement between senators," referring to the down payment.

Now, Democratic senators also sounding very similar notes, including Debbie Stabenow, who's a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, who told me, "If we give the president this now, then he's just going to hold the government hostage for any number of demands."

They say they're not going to go for this. Now, this came, Wolf, in the aftermath of two failed Senate votes that happened earlier today, one to implement the president's plan that included $5.7 billion for his border wall, along with other immigration changes. That failed after 50 senators voted to advance it.

Then the Democratic plan to reopen the government for up until early February, now ,that failed, but it got more votes, actually 52 votes. Both of those still failed because they needed 60 to advance.

Now, after that happened, a bipartisan group of senators said, we have to figure out a way forward. Let's go to the floor. Let's tell the president let's open the government for three weeks, and then let's see if we can come up with a bipartisan agreement on border security.

They offered a commitment to try to figure out a border security package going forward. And, Wolf, just as that was happening, the president issued a statement saying he wants a large down payment tied to three-week government spending bill to open the government.

That's what Democrats responded to saying, that is just not going to happen. And I asked a number of senators, Republicans and Democrats, about this idea of a large down payment, and even they're flatly confused, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a key Republican senator, who says, I'm not quite sure what the president is talking about.

And all of it points to a larger point, that a number of Republicans and Democrats, but Republicans in particular, don't know what the president's bottom line is. They did not get that from Vice President Mike Pence when he met behind closed doors with Senate Republicans today. And also they're not hearing it from the White House.

[18:10:00]

So, how this ends is anybody's guess. But Democrats in the House, Wolf, tomorrow will lay out what they believe they can do to fund border security, but not the wall, which, of course, has been the sticking point all along -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, a very important point.

Manu Raju, thanks very much.

We're going to have a lot more on this battle over the president's border wall and trying to reopen the federal government. But there's other important news we're following, including the new

subpoena for the president's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen. His lawyer, Lanny Davis, says Cohen will comply and will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Yesterday, Cohen backed out of an appearance before a House committee, citing concerns for his family's safety because of threats by the president and the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Let's bring in our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, how damaging could his testimony be to the president?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly could be very damaging, Wolf.

Remember, this is the same committee that Michael Cohen has already appeared before. And he went in there and has admitted this in court, saying that he went in there, lied to protect the president.

He now no longer is presumably going to do that. So it could be very damaging, because he -- as we have all along been saying, he knows a lot and he knows a lot about the Russians, and some of the business dealings, tie to the Russians, the Moscow project, other business dealings.

What's going to be interesting is whether or not he's going to be limited in how much he can say because of the ongoing Mueller investigation. If that's over by the time he appears, maybe he will be allowed to say more. Maybe they will work some kind of deal out with Mueller, so they could get the answers that they want.

But, nonetheless, it is going to be potentially very damaging for the president, because he's going to be able to now, hopefully, be honest and not try to protect the president.

BLITZER: Yes, let's remember Michael Cohen worked for 10 years as the president's lawyer and fixer.

There's other news we're following, Shimon.

The House Democrats now have -- also, they have subpoena power. It looks like they will also get some information that Deutsche Bank has refused to turn over, specifically requests on their business with Trump, the Trump Organization. What could we learn from these records?

PROKUPECZ: Right.

And this is really a clear sign to us that the Democrats are going to be focusing on Trump Organization, the business dealings of the Trump Organization.

What we know about Deutsche Bank, what's been out there, what we have reported on is that they were one of the major lenders to the Trump Organization. They were one of the few banks that would loan money to the Trump Organization.

And also Trump somewhat borrowed over $300 million. And then the other thing is also Kushner. Jared Kushner had deals with this bank. So, clearly a sign that all of this is pointing to the fact that members of Congress are now going to be trying and dig into some of the business dealings.

Also, the concern here with Deutsche Bank is Russian money laundering, what role they may have played, that bank, where the Russians moved money through that bank in some kind of laundering scheme, something that members of Congress also want to look at. They now will have a lot of power, so it will be very difficult for Deutsche Bank to resist some of these subpoenas and some of these requests from the Democrats, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, all of which underscores once again elections certainly do have consequences. The Democrats won 40 seats in the House of Representatives. They're now the majority, and they have subpoena power to go after all sorts of information.

Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very, very much.

Joining us now, Senator Angus King. He's an independent. He serves on both the Intelligence and the Armed Services Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction. We will get to Russia in a moment.

Quick reaction to what we just heard from the president. He's open to a two- or three-week temporary deal, provided that you -- that you give him what he calls a prorated down payment on a wall. He wants $5.7 billion. If you prorate it for the year, you heard Kaitlan Collins, our White House correspondent, say that could be $350 million in this temporary measure.

Are you OK with that?

KING: Well, as I understand it, there's -- a there's a proration built in. He's going to get $77 million, because that's what was in the budget from last year.

And what we're talking about is a continuing resolution, which would continue last year's funding. And it's about $25 million a week based on what the appropriation was last year. So there's money. He's given up $100 million by this one-month shutdown that would have otherwise come in.

It's important, Wolf, to realize that the administration last year came to the Congress and said, we need $1.6 billion for border security. It was approved. The Appropriations Committee worked through it. They said, yes, here it is. And then all of a sudden in December, as we're about to keep the

government going, we get this new $5.7 billion sort of parachuted in. There's never been any hearings. There's never been any discussion. There's never been any details about what it is.

[18:15:03]

So what we are talking about today on the floor -- and I was with that group of senators -- is a three-week continuing resolution, take a deep breath, and then let's negotiate a border security agreement.

BLITZER: But will that three-week temporary solution, a temporary solution, include hundreds of millions of dollars for a border wall?

KING: I think it's impossible to say.

You're precluding the ends of the negotiation. I, for one...

BLITZER: The president says that's -- for him, that's -- he needs it.

KING: Well, I, for one, have always said border security is very important. And I'm for it. There's no one who is for open borders.

The Democrats that I have talked to feel the same way. The only question is, where does that money go and what part goes to technology, what part goes to ports of entry, what part goes to a barrier? And there may be places where a barrier makes sense, where that's part of the solution.

And I think that probably would have to be part of a solution.

BLITZER: He says, if you don't work out a deal, he has got, in his words, a lot of alternatives, meaning executive action, meaning a national security declaration, to go without congressional legislation.

What would you do if he does that?

KING: Well, I think, at that point, it's going to be in the courts. And I think that would be very unfortunate.

I mean, one of the problems here, Wolf, is that this is a man who has never dealt with a board of directors, as far as I know. He has been a family-owned company. He never had anybody say no to him.

And the way our system works is, the president proposes, the Congress disposes. The president makes a budget proposal, says what he wants, what his priorities are. And then there's a process in the Congress that comes to some resolution.

He is saying, basically, if I don't get just what I want when I want it, I'm going to go and do something else through an emergency.

I think that's -- there are grave constitutional questions about that. And Justice Jackson in the Korematsu said, why would you give this power to the president? It's extraconstitutional. And let's just take a deep breath with the president and work this out

in the normal course of business.

BLITZER: I know you are deeply involved in this effort to try to reopen the government.

So, bottom line right now, what's going to happen in the next few days?

KING: I think perhaps when they realize that there will be money flowing into the Department of Homeland Security as a result of reopening the government, maybe that will be sufficient.

If he says, I have got to have this big down payment, $300 million or whatever it is, we're back into negotiating in a situation where the president is holding the government hostage.

And I just don't think that's -- one of the worries here, Wolf, and one of the reasons this is so difficult, there's a real concern that, if the president just basically bulls his way through this, gets what he wants, this will become the go-to tactic for the next two years.

We need a debt ceiling increase. OK, if you do that, we have got to change the asylum laws, or next year's budget, it is going to be, you have got to pass my NAFTA bill.

This isn't the way to govern. It's supposed to be a give and take and a negotiation. And the fact that we passed the budget that he wanted for the border back in last year is an indication that the Congress, both parties, can act in good faith.

BLITZER: While I have you, you are on the Intelligence Committee.

Your committee, the Intelligence Committee, issued a subpoena...

KING: Right.

BLITZER: ... to Michael Cohen to come testify, I assume behind closed doors, right?

KING: That's correct.

BLITZER: Behind closed doors. And our Gloria Borger is saying he has accepted that subpoena. He will show up, presumably in February, before he begins his three-year prison sentence in March.

But he is deeply concerned. He rejected the House Oversight Committee's open hearing, because he says he fears for his family's safety, after what the president and Rudy Giuliani have said.

How are you going to deal with that issue of his safety?

KING: Well, I think we have to respect that. And we have to try to take whatever steps are necessary to protect that.

That's -- it gets close to witness intimidation, which isn't in any legal system allowed or proper. So, we're going to have to take that into consideration.

He is subpoenaed. The difference between the House side, he wasn't subpoenaed. He was appearing voluntarily. Now he is subpoenaed. He has no choice but to come. And, hopefully, we're going to be able to get some information from him that he didn't share before.

As Manu said, when he appeared before, he wasn't truthful. And, in fact, that was one of -- his not telling the truth to the -- to our committee is one of the things that he pled guilty to, that he is going to jail for.

BLITZER: Will you release the transcript of that interview after he appears?

KING: I'm going to leave that to Chairman Burr and Ranking Member Warner. I'm not going to make a commitment here. But my whole philosophy through this whole process is, everything should be as public as is reasonably possible.

The other thing, Wolf, we have got to try to work with Mr. Mueller and be sure that we don't impinge or somehow damage the work that they're doing, but I think that can be worked out.

BLITZER: All right, let's hope that there is as much transparency as possible.

KING: That's what I'm going to try to make happen.

[18:20:01]

BLITZER: All right, we're with you.

Senator, thanks very much.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Angus King of Maine.

Just ahead: Could Trump ally Roger Stone be on the brink of being indicted? We are going to tell about you new testimony in the Russia investigation and why it could be rather significant.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with breaking news.

President Trump says he is open to a possible Senate deal in the works aimed right now at temporarily reopening the government. But he is seeking what he calls a prorated down payment on his border wall.

[18:25:00]

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is calling that unreasonable.

We're also following new testimony in the Russia investigation and what it could all mean for Trump confidant Roger Stone. The stepson of Stone associate Jerome Corsi appeared today before a federal grand jury run by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Let's bring in our political correspondent, Sara Murray.

Sara, so what could this testimony signal?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it tells you, for one, prosecutors are still interested in Roger Stone, as we know.

This guy Andrew Stettner, he's the stepson of Jerome Corsi, an associate of Roger Stone. And they have been looking into Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi's contacts in 2016.

And Jerome Corsi's stepson happens to be in the unfortunate position of having wiped one of Jerome Corsi's computers clean, and prosecutors wanted to talk to him about that and about whether essentially it was an effort to obstruct justice, which is something his lawyers deny.

So he was only in there for about an hour so, which is a pretty short grand jury appearance. But the timing of this is interesting. It happened on a Thursday. We don't usually see Mueller's grand jury convene on a Thursday.

And based on our notes, the last time that we know of them convening on a Thursday was this past summer. And the next day, Mueller brought down this indictment on a Friday against 12 Russians.

So it raises the question of whether they did this on a Thursday because they have more indictments ready for tomorrow, or whether this just happened to be more convenient timing for some other reason, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know -- and you have been covering the story, excellently, I should say -- Roger Stone has said publicly he thinks he eventually will be indicted.

But Mueller has not yet called him to appear before a federal grand jury.

MURRAY: Yes, it's been an awkward couple of years, frankly, for Roger Stone.

He's essentially been a target of an investigation, but he hasn't been contacted by Mueller's team. I talked to some friends of his for this story. And they said there was a period of time where Roger Stone didn't even make plans on Fridays because there was all this buzz about whether this Friday would be Roger Stone day, the day he got indicted.

And when I was talking to Roger for this story, he said, this whole thing has been financially debilitating for him. He's lost some of his consulting work. He has four lawyers on retainer. And so he's come up with some creative ways to fund-raise. That's included selling literal signed stones that he calls Roger Stones.

He's selling T-shirts, and he has some social media pushes, including some featuring his family dog, so I will show you that now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Roger Stone did nothing wrong. Roger Stone did nothing wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: So, this is part of his push to insist he did nothing wrong, he's being unfairly targeted.

And, in reality, this has been sort of an interesting saga for him to endure. It's changed a lot of his relationships with people like Jerome Corsi, people like Randy Credico, people he considered friends and business associates, who are now witnesses in this investigation. And he doesn't talk to them anymore.

He insists some of them are, in fact, lying about some stuff.

BLITZER: He's got a long, long history with Donald Trump. They go way, way back.

MURRAY: And he says they don't talk at this point either because of this ongoing investigation.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

All right, solid reporting, as usual. Sara, thank you very, very much.

Breaking news coming up next. President Trump demands a large down payment for his wall, but the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, says that's not reasonable.

Plus, more on the president's former fixer, Michael Cohen. Tonight, his lawyer is saying he will comply with a new subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:32:46] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Some breaking new this hour, a bipartisan push underway in Congress to try and hammer out a compromise to end the government shutdown just a little while ago. President Trump said he'd be open to a temporary deal if it included some sort of down payment on his border wall. Let's get some more from our experts and our analysts.

Originally, Mark Preston, they said that -- the White House said they want a large down payment. Then the President said it has to be a prorated down payment, it might $300 or $350 million for a three-week reopening of the government.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It sounds like you're buying real estate, doesn't it? I mean, certainly, the language that he uses, the strategy that he uses and the idea of how he's going to reach agreement is all as if you're buying a house, and that's not what he's doing here. He's trying to keep the government or he's at least trying to get to the point where he can reopen the government and try to save face. Right now, he is not going to get there. Nancy Pelosi does not seem like she's going to budge at all. She is not in a political pickle where she has to.

And when you heard the President today as he was asked about this, he continues to offer lies. He went out and said that democrats, almost all of them now, are breaking with the Democratic Party, saying that walls are good, so a little bit different than it was three weeks ago. That's what the President said today.

BLITZER: More republicans broke on his bill versus the democratic bill, which was significant.

Gloria, the President, he was sort of non-committal when he was asked at this photo op a little while ago about the negotiations in the Senate to try to come up with a compromise. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mitch McConnell's, maybe with Chuck Schumer, and see if they'll have to - see what happens at their meeting to see if they can work out something maybe on a temporary basis where we start. But we have a lot of alternatives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He kept saying, "We have a lot of alternatives." Meaning if there's no deal, he'll declare a national emergency or some sort of executive order and build the wall, pay for it on its own without congressional legislation.

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. We've been hearing that for a while. We heard it. Then it went away. And now, we're hearing it again. I think he's heard from a lot of conservatives actually that they don't like the President to use this kind of authority.

Remember when they used to call Barack Obama, the Imperial President who overused his executive authority. Yes, you remember. Well, there are conservatives who believe and who have been telling the President that you shouldn't - you should not actually bypass Congress, you should not do this, and it would set a bad president.

[18:35:07]

So I think he is been wavering on that. He's clearly feeling the pressure, trying to get some kind of deal. But we don't know if he's just throwing this out there as leverage or not. We just don't know.

BLITZER: Well, Nancy Pelosi has already said, David Swerdlick, that a large down payment is not reasonable. She opposes it.

DAVID SWERDLICK, POLITICAL ANALYST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Of course, from the democrats' point of view, it's unreasonable. Once they agree to any amount of money for the wall, even a couple million as a 'down payment', they have conceded the point that the wall should be built or the president has a point. They are not going to do that until they get something offered to them in return.

Wolf, I will just point out though that it strikes me as strange that none of these people seem to have ever gone to Vegas and played cards. When the president raised his bet on Saturday with the temporary proposal, the democrats should have re-raised him and said, "We'll give you $10 million in exchange for a permanent solution for the DACA kids and then put the President on the spot. Instead, we're in this little petty ante petty back and forth that's going nowhere.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Samantha Vinograd, that the President's former Chief of Staff and former Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly, has signed on to a letter, all of the former secretaries of Homeland Security signed on to a letter urging the President to fund the Department of Homeland Security, end the shutdown. That sends a pretty strong message to the White House that the Former White House Chief of Staff is together with all the former Secretaries of Homeland Security.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It does, but it's a little too late for John Kelly. John Kelly was Chief of Staff at the White House when the shutdown began. He knew the risks of a shutdown well before the shutdown started and should have made sure that the President understood that a shutdown supposedly in the name of national security was going to represent a grave threat to national security.

And, Wolf, I have to say, we are in very unfamiliar territory in the actual situation room. You have a Department of Homeland Security that is probably identifying more threats today than they did before the shutdown and then told they don't have resources available to counter them. In my entire career in government, that was never something that I dealt with. That was probably something that the four secretaries of Homeland Security dealt with. And everyone is going home knowing there are threats that we just have to let go because we don't have resources to address them.

BLITZER: This is really a serious crisis right now, not just affecting the 800,000 federal workers who aren't getting paid and they need the money. Many of them, they live paycheck to paycheck. But it's a serious problem and some of the people close to the President in the President's orbit, they are not necessarily showing a whole lot compassion for what these American workers are going through right now. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: They have the vacation but they don't have to use their vacation days. And then they come back and then they get their back pay. Then in some sense, they are better off.

LARA TRUMP, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN AIDE: It is a little bit of pain. But it's going to be for the future of our country. LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: I have met with my individual staff members. And God bless them, they are working for free. They are volunteering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are reports that there are some federal workers who are going to homeless shelters to get food.

WILBUR ROSS, SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: I know they are and I don't really quite understand why.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary says they should get a loan and deal with this with a temporary loan. Just walk into bank, get $1,000 or $2,000 or $3,000, as if it's that easy.

The President responded to what Wilbur Ross said. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I do understand that perhaps he should have said it differently. Local people know who they are, when they go for groceries and everything else. And I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say is that they will work along. I know banks are working along. If you have mortgages, the mortgage - the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along. And that's what happens in a time like this. They know the people, they've been dealing with them for years and they work along, the grocery store. And I think that's probably what Wilbur Ross meant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESTON: You know what banks do that? Banks do that when their lendee has like $55 million in credit extended out, and we've hit some hard times. And the bank wants to make sure they don't default. We're talking about communities who are not getting any money that's coming in from these federal workers in their Mom and Pop shops that are oh so hurting. It's really hard to even say anything of what we've heard from the response from the Trump campaign other than just surprise and disappointment.

BORGER: The president - don't forget when this started, the President said the landlords might go easy on the people who couldn't pay their rent, because he had been a landlord and I'm sure he went easy.

VINOGRAD: He would have done that.

BORGER: Yes, exactly. So it's sort of a theme that's continued throughout all of this, which is, you'll be fine. It's temporary pain for you but I know you don't mind. I know you don't mind that you can't afford that medicine for your child or you can't pay your rent.

[18:40:04]

SWERDLICK: If someone doesn't understand by now that many, if not, most Americans live paycheck to paycheck and two, three paychecks down the road, they're not able to pay some basic bills, they shouldn't be a Cabinet Secretary.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Gloria, Michael Cohen, he has been subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, you have been doing reporting on it, he will comply. We heard Angus King say this will be behind closed doors. How do you expect this to fall out?

BORGER: Well, it's hard to know how it's going to play out. We broke that story this morning. And his attorney, Lanny Davis, is saying they are going to comply and they hope they can come up with some ground rules. We know that the Senate Intelligence Committee normally does its interviews behind closed doors, and so we would expect that to happen again.

But don't forget, Michael, they have asked him for mid February. Michael Cohen is supposed to go to jail early in March.

BLITZER: March 6th then.

BORGER: So there is not a lot of preparation time here for him. He doesn't have an attorney aside from Lanny Davis and this is not Lanny Davis's specialty, I would presume, although I'm he could help represent him.

So I think there are issues and also he's got the house that he has to deal with because he's backed out of that because he is afraid. I don't think he will be any less afraid for his family and for his own safety for the Senate than he was for the House. So I think the issues still remain even if it's behind closed doors. So I think there's a lot - there's a lot that's going to happen between now and then.

BLITZER: And, David, you have heard that Michael Cohen is afraid for his wife, afraid for his father-in-law, afraid for his family because of the statements made by Donald Trump, the President of the United States, and Rudy Giuliani, his lawyer.

SWERDLICK: Right. And Michael Cohen, like anybody who's in his position in the hot seat, under this pressure, you can imagine and almost sympathize with the fact he is looking out for himself and his family. He knows President Trump and Mayor Giuliani better than almost anybody. So he should be able to evaluate what they're saying and these risks. And he is in a terrible position. But ff he wants to sort of clear his name, as your reporting has suggested, he does, the subpoena and talking to the American people is that avenue.

BLITZER: Very strong information that we're getting. Everybody stick around. I want to get to a CNN exclusive right now.

A top Kremlin official addressing questions about whether President Trump has been working on behalf of Russia and against American interests. Our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is joining us live from Moscow right now. Fred, you had a chance to sit down with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister. Tell us how that went.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, Wolf. It's not often we sit down with top Russian officials like this. And, clearly, he wasn't happy to hear questions about whether or not President Trump may in the past have been working on behalf of Russia, and he kind of he tried to shoot them down. Here's what we learned.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: Tonight, Moscow lashing out at questions about President Trump's possible ties to Russia. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the Deputy Foreign Minister denying the American President was ever under the influence of the Kremlin.

There are even some questioning whether President Trump is an agent of Russia. What do you make of that?

SERGEI RYABKOV, RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: I mean, it's completely, completely out of touch with anything that could be conceived as you know anywhere close to the reality.

PLEITGEN: The Deputy Foreign Minister says Russia wants to work with the U.S. to try and repair relations. But despite all the evidence of interference in the 2016 presidential election denies Moscow's involvement.

RYABKOV: Please do not be afraid of your own shadow. We are not that threatening. We are not trying to meddle into the U.S. Domestic affairs. We do not benefit from the situation in which our relationship finds itself right now.

PLEITGEN: Russia reiterated its satisfaction with President Trump's decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, saying Russia is committed to ensuring Israel's security against Iranian forces fighting on the side of the Assad government.

You are Iran's ally on the ground, aren't you, in Syria?

RYABKOV: I wouldn't use these words to describe where we are with Iran. We, in no way, underestimate importance of measures that would ensure very strong security of the State of Israel.

PLEITGEN: But Russia is challenging the U.S. closer to home. Vladimir Putin pledging his support for embattled Venezuelan leader, Nicolas Maduro, again tonight. Moscow recently sent nuclear capable bombers to Venezuela and signed a major oil deal with Caracas.

Russia now ripping into the Trump administration's decision to recognize Maduro's opponent, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President.

[18:45:06]

Do you consider that meddling?

RYABKOV: For sure. I mean, it's pouring gas on the fire. There's a very, very dangerous moment. And everyone should show utmost responsibility.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PLEITGEN: Well, clearly, the Russians only want the Americans to show utmost responsibility in all this. Not however, the government of Nicolas Maduro, Wolf. There was a call tonight between Maduro and Vladimir Putin, where apparently Vladimir Putin, this is according to the Kremlin, said that he believes the protests in Venezuela were induced from the outside. So, another swipe at the United States, Wolf.

BLITZER: Really glad you got that interview with that Russian official. Thanks so much. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us.

Also tonight, we have new reporting on an unusual affect of the government shutdown. It's having an impact on the trial of a notorious drug kingpin.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, there's also some new blockbuster testimony coming out of that trial.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. This is the trial of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, former head of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico.

Tonight, the talk of the trial is about El Chapo's wife, a former beauty queen, who according to one witness helped plan one of his spectacular escapes from prison.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): She's been a devoted and very stylish presence at the trial of her husband, the drug lord El Chapo Guzman, even down to coordinating matching velvet jackets with him in the courtroom.

But tonight, it's not the courtroom wardrobe that Emma Coronel, a former Mexican beauty queen and American citizen, planned for her husband's trial that's making news. It's how involved one witness testified she was in planning a great escape.

Damaso Lopez, a former cartel associate of El Chapo's testified that Emma Coronel was in on at least one getaway plot, including when Lopez coordinated to spring him from a maximum security Mexican prison. Lopez said after visiting her husband in prison, Coronel would bring him messages, orders on El Chapo on how they should plan the escape.

MALCOLM BEITH, AUTHOR, "THE LAST NARCO": It shows that she was well aware of his operations. You know, she can't play the naive beauty queen wife in any way.

TODD: Coronel is an American. Prosecutors have not said whether she will face charges. Her spokesperson didn't comment on the allegations.

The blockbuster plot that Coronel allegedly helped coordinate busted El Chapo out of Altiplano prison in 2015. He dropped out of sight through a hole in his prison shower stall into an elaborate tunnel, complete with electricity, lighting, tracks laid along the ground and a modified motorcycle cart for transportation. Police say he then fled through a mile of tunnel and then up a ladder into a half built house that disguised the exit.

He escaped another high security prison reportedly hidden in a laundry cart. In one daring escape, according to testimony, he was actually with a different woman than Coronel, his mistress. That woman testified that when police were trying to break in, he escaped through a trap door concealed under his bathtub which was set on hinges. He ran through a system of underground tunnels, completely naked.

MICHAEL VIGIL, FORMER DEA CHIEF OF INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS: El Chapo Guzman I consider to be the modern day Houdini. He escapes from the two most maximum secure penitentiaries in Mexico. And the one in Altiplano was the most spectacular prison break that I have seen anywhere in the world.

TODD: Through it all, Emma Coronel was the trusted of El Chapo's, a woman who he met when she was a teenager, a woman who came from his world.

BEITH: She didn't come from this -- as an outsider. She was raised in -- within a family that was trafficking drugs, a brother, father and an uncle. And trafficking drugs with El Chapo Guzman.

TODD: Tonight, while the drama continues inside the courtroom, there are concerns about security surrounding the trial. The proceedings have been heavily fortified with U.S. marshals guarding El Chapo, the witnesses and protecting the anonymous jurors.

But because of the government shutdown, funding for the courts is running out. The marshals and prosecutors haven't been paid in weeks. And a former top DEA official is worried.

VIGIL: That is going to create a lot of distraction. And it leads to frustration. It leads to anger. And the fact is that as a result of that distraction, it could lead to potential breaches within the security of the trial.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, officials with the U.S. court system tell CNN tonight, the El Chapo trial will go on, even if the court system's funds completely run out. A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service tells us their staffing remains the same, and they are committed to providing protection and security for as long as the courts are open -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Brian, there was at least one other moment in the trial involving El Chapo's wife which caused a bit of a scene. Tell us about that.

[18:50:00] TODD: That's right, Wolf. A former cartel associate and mistress of El Chapo testified last week about her work for the cartel. At one point, this woman kind of broke down and said she thought she had been a, quote, romantic partner of El Chapo's. Well, that prompted El Chapo's wife Emma Coronel to laugh out loud in the courtroom. It's quite a scene.

BLITZER: I'm sure it was. All right. Brian, thank you very much for that report.

Much more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:02] BLITZER: This Sunday night at 9:00, CNN presents the original film, "Three Identical Strangers". It's a story of three young men who accidentally discovered their identical triplets who were separated at birth as part of an extraordinary and disturbing secret.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and screenwriter of "The New Yorker" magazine, staff writer Lawrence Wright, first broke the story some two decades ago. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I tell people my story, they don't believe it, but it's true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would it be like if you turned the corner one day and you saw yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first time the boys met, the three together, it was a miracle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was nothing that can keep us apart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's when things kind of got funky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something was not right. I'd like to know the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was always a question mark.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The parents had never been told.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are trying to conceal what they did from the people they did it to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's still so much that we don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How could you not tell us?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wow.

And Lawrence Wright joins us right now.

Lawrence, thanks so much for joining us. All of this as it was all unfolding. What was the public's fascination early on with this story?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR, "THE LOOMING TOWER": Well, you know, separated twins reuniting is a chestnut of journalism. It's one of those feel good amazing stories.

But reunited triplets, that doesn't happen very often and it was a sensation when they found each other, and, of course, it was unsettling for them, revelatory, but like so many of these reunited twins, they create a lot of questions about who we are and why we are who we are and that's why twins are so fascinating.

BLITZER: It certainly is. It's really an amazing story on how it develops after they found each other.

At the time, you were reporting on scientific studies of twins and triplets for that matter. Why is this such a rich area of research?

WRIGHT: Well, twins answer questions for us that nature has a box of secrets and only twins can tell us something about how much of our intelligence, how much of our personality is related to our genetic history, our genes, or how much is our environment.

And, you know, Wolf, the whole 20th century, you can look back at how this question was at the root of the titanic struggles between for instance, Nazism, where twin studies was, you know, at the root of some of their most fanatical experiments, and the communist system which entirely rejected that and had the idea that you could inherit traits that had been acquired. So these two systems clashed and its replicated in our own country with the arguments about whether people are who they are because of their genes, in which case why spend so much money on education or social programs? Or is it the environment which creates the people that we are? These questions are still simmering.

BLITZER: They certainly are. And when you were first -- you learned about these identical triplets separated at birth, how did you react and what was your greatest surprise?

WRIGHT: Well, you know, it was all apart of my study of reunited twins and so when I found out that there was a set of triplets, what was really surprising to me is that they didn't know very much about their background and yet they had been a sensation, a media sensation and yet, who are there parents, where they came from and what had happened to them.

All of those things were a mystery to them and no one had really ever told them some of the tales that I had been able to find out. So, it was -- it was shocking to me far more shocking, I believe, to them.

BLITZER: And their parents, their adopted parents, they were not informed about this, were they?

WRIGHT: No, no. Apparently that was part of the goal was to keep them in the dark. It made it a better experiment, I suppose.

BLITZER: It's an amazing, amazing story and this film, you've seen the film, what's your bottom line on the film?

WRIGHT: I think it's wonderfully told. Great storytelling, but it also tells us a lot about our nature and who we are. Twins are like that. I mean, twins and triplets, identicals, they -- they are -- nature poses a riddle and only by studying twins can we unsolve that -- or can we solve that riddle.

BLITZER: Thanks for helping us. Appreciate it. Lawrence Wright, thanks so much for joining us.

The original film "Three Identical Strangers" airs this Sunday night right here on CNN.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.