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Trump Heads to Border to Press Case for a Wall; Border Talks Break Down as Friday Deadline Looms; Democrat Ilhan Omar Apologizes After Backlash Over Israel Tweets; Interview with Representative Madeleine Dean (D-PA); Trump's Ex-Lawyer Michael Cohen Postpones Congressional Testimony for a Third Time; Adam Schiff Expresses Concern on Mueller Probe Not Doing Enough; Jailed Gun Activist Denies She's A Russian Spy. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 11, 2019 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:00] TAPPER: It all happens at 10:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow only on CNN.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching THE LEAD.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, bordering on a shutdown. Negotiations bogged down as the country teeters on the brink of another government shutdown and President Trump heads to the border to press his call for a wall.

Banking on it. In a rare break, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff seems to criticize Special Counsel Robert Mueller for not digging deep enough into President Trump's finances and possible money laundering. Schiff says if Mueller won't do it his committee will.

All apologies. A freshman Democratic congresswoman publicly apologizes after facing fierce backlash for tweets condemned from both sides of the aisle as anti-Semitic. And Virginia's embattled governor embroiled in a racist photo scandal is facing new questions tonight after referring to slaves as indentured servants.

And alleged spy speaks. For the first time Maria Butina gives her side of the story detailing a raid on her apartment, her subsequent arrest, and the emotional impact of her case all the while insisting she's innocent.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, President Trump is en route El Paso, Texas, where he'll press his case for a border wall tonight, while back here in Washington congressional negotiators are struggling to reach a deal that would avert another government shutdown at the end of the week.

I'll talk about that and more with Congresswoman Natalie Dean of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents, analysts, and specialists are also standing by. First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president is holding a rally tonight just miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And President Trump is starting to dig in his heels as the deadline approaches for another government shutdown. The president as you said is on his way to El Paso, Texas, to pitch his border wall one more time but there's one other sticking point in the shutdown talks that also goes to the heart of the immigration debate.

The president isn't vowing to own the shutdown this time around, we should point. When asked just a short while ago whether there will be a shutdown, he said that's up to the Democrats. But this time around the president wants more than a wall. He wants beds.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With just four days and counting until the government runs out of money again, President Trump is looking to escape any blame this time around and pointing the finger at Democrats. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney warns a shutdown could happen again.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: You cannot take a shutdown off the table and you cannot take $5.7 billion off the table, but if you end up someplace in the middle, yes, then what you'll probably see is the president say, yes, OK, and then I'll go find the money someplace else.

ACOSTA: But now there is a new wrinkle. Not only is the president demanding more money for his wall as part of a deal to avert a shutdown, Democrats want something, too. A cap on the number of detention beds used by ICE to keep undocumented immigrants in custody.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats want them to go in to our country that's why they don't want to give us what we call the beds. It's much more complicated than beds.

REP. DEB HAALAND (D), NEW MEXICO: I was just at the border this past weekend. And the whole situation with those facilities is that they weren't meant to detain families. Whole entire families now are being detained at the border facilities and it's an untenable situation.

ACOSTA: The president is off to El Paso to whip up support for his wall but he'll have company as potential Democratic contender in 2020 Beto O'Rourke is planning a rival event just down the street from Mr. Trump.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Not too far from the coliseum where we're going to present a powerful positive message for the country about who we are on the U.S.-Mexico border.

ACOSTA: President has been taking jabs at potential rivals in 2020 mocking Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar's snowy announcement over the weekend, tweeting, "She was talking proudly of fighting global warming while standing in a virtual blizzard of snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Bad timing. By the end of her speech she looked like a snowman-woman."

Klobuchar said the president doesn't know the difference between weather and climate issues.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I'd like to see -- when he called me a snowwoman, I'd like to see how his hair would fair in a blizzard.

ACOSTA: The president is also trolling Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and her past claims about her heritage, tweeting, "Will she run as our first Native American presidential candidate? See you on the campaign trail, Liz." Mr. Trump capitalized the world trail which appeared to be in reference to the deaths of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears. Warren didn't wait long to fire back.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, here's what bothers me. By the time we get to 2020 Donald Trump may not even be president.


WARREN: In fact, he may not even be a free person. .

[17:05:06] ACOSTA: The president is also defending how much time he spends on the job after leaks of his schedule to Axios showing he's spending hours in the residents on executive time, as he tweeted, "No president ever worked harder than me, cleaning up the mess I inherited."

With the government closing in on another shutdown, Mr. Trump is asking Democrats to lighten up, tweeting, "loosen up and have some fun."


ACOSTA: And a top official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency known as ICE, held a conference call with reporters earlier this afternoon and blasted any notion that there should be a cap on the number of detention beds for immigrants coming into their custody but Democrats worry the White House has moved way beyond law enforcement concerns and is simply trying to use ICE to try to round up law-abiding people who pose no threat to their communities.

And earlier today, Wolf, we should point out California's Democratic governor, Gavin Newsome, he announced he's pulling hundreds of his state's National Guard troops from the border, accusing the administration and the president of trying to manufacture a crisis there at border, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. This crisis continues right now. Let's see if they've got a deal before the end of the week to keep the government open.

Jim Acosta, over at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on the negotiations underway right now. It's a critical moment. Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is up on Capitol Hill for us.

Phil, the bipartisan group of negotiators, I understand they've been meeting behind closed doors. What are you hearing? What's the latest?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Wolf. For more than 90 minutes that meeting just starting to break up between the top four negotiators in both parties on that conference committee and the fact that they are talking at all, at least according to one person, with detailed knowledge of the talks is a very good step because, frankly, 24 hours ago there were no discussions.

Jim outlined the breakdown that occurred over the weekend after days of slow but steady progress. Members on both sides of the conference committee predicting that an outcome was within reach, that all came to an abrupt halt. The issue over those detention beds. It's an issue that has actually driven Democratic opposition for months if not longer. Now taking a stand during these negotiations trying to cap the total number of beds the Trump administration can use for interior enforcement.

Now Republicans even though that position had been outlined earlier on in the talks believe Democrats would eventually drop it. The fact that it was resurrected or came back to the table over the course of the weekend they believe was a poison pill so much so that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell took to the floor earlier today and called it just that, said it was a complete nonstarter for the White House.

That said, I'm told from one Democratic source it is not considered a red line. The issue in itself, interior enforcement, how the Trump administration operates, Democrats do want something related to that especially if they're going to give more money for border barriers. But those talks right now are clearly back on. They're clearly still occurring. And according to lawmakers who are walking out of the room just a short while ago, they will meet again at 6:00 to continue those negotiations.

The reality is, as off track as they were just a few hours ago, they are very much back on. Will that lead to an agreement is still an open question. There's a lot of work left to do, Wolf, but that they're talking at all is certainly a positive, at least compared to where they were over the course of the weekend.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. Let's hope they can come up with some sort of deal. But if the deal is not reached by Friday, that's the deadline, Friday at midnight, is there a backup plan to avoid another government shutdown?

MATTINGLY: Here is one of the big problems right now, one of the big concerns for members in both parties that I'm talking to, is there's not an agreed upon backstop. Usually in a situation like this, Wolf, you've covered enough of these funding fights to know that often there's a punt, a short-term punt, some type of continuing resolution to maintain the current funding levels for a period of time so negotiations continue.

The problem with that, at least at this point in time is, they've tried that. They've tried that now. They're in the middle of a three-week punt. They tried that before. There needs to be a resolution is essentially the message that you've heard from members of both parties.

Now if they do get down to the wire, I can tell you in talking to Republicans and Democrats, administration officials as well, nobody wants another government shutdown particularly in the wake of that 35- day record setting shutdown just a few weeks ago. They will try and find a stop-gap way out of this. But for the moment all of the focus is on trying to find a broader deal, trying to put an end to these crisis talks that they've had over the course of the last couple of months -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Amidst all of this, a Democratic lawmaker is now apologizing for what were seen as anti-Semitic tweets after facing some very sharp criticism from the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, indeed the entire House Democratic leadership. What's the latest?

MATTINGLY: Yes. Exactly right. Ilhan Omar, a Democratic congresswoman, a freshman congresswoman from Minnesota, now apologizing after a series of tweets, two tweets that were condemned as anti-Semitic by members of both parties. Now one of those tweets saying, quote, "It's all about the Benjamins," suggesting a reference to the fact that the Israeli power or the pro-Israel lobby here is effective only because of donations. That is now something she is apologizing for.

Wolf, as you noted, this was an apology called for by the entire House Democratic leadership. Congresswoman Omar tweeting out a statement just a short while ago saying, quote, "My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. That is why I unequivocally apologize."

[17:10:06] And, Wolf, this isn't an issue that's going away. Republicans have been attacking on this for the course of the last couple of days. Democratic leaders obviously calling for that apology, something we're going to have to keep a close eye on in the days and weeks ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Phil. Thank you. Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania is joining us. She's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It's my pleasure.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to the whole issue of potential government shutdown. Do you agree with the position of at least some Democrats that they are taking in these negotiations on capping the number of detention beds for undocumented immigrants in ICE custody?

DEAN: What I agree on, and I think my entire caucus agrees on, and I bet most of the Republican caucus agrees on, is that we must never shut down government again over a policy dispute, over a political dispute. What we know happened after 35 days of shutting down government was we cost our economy $11 billion. And we cost people, the human factor, in immeasurable ways. 800,000 federal workers and their families were harmed. We must stop holding them hostage and in the balance as we do what we're supposed to be doing which is good governance and funding our government.

BLITZER: The deputy director of ICE said today that if lawmakers capped the number of detention beds, and I'm quoting him now, "We will immediately be forced to release criminal aliens who are currently sitting in our country," in our custody, I should say.

Does that concern you?

DEAN: The issue concerns me. What we know is that ICE beds have increased, the daily census for ICE beds has increased dramatically over the course of this administration, from somewhere in the 30,000, low 30,000 range, to now 49,000 folks in ICE custody.

What we want to do by limiting the number of beds is to say prioritize the deportation of anyone who is a dangerous criminal or a security threat. What we fear and what we know is that more than half of the folks being held at detention have no criminal background other than the fact that they are immigrants.

BLITZER: The Senate majority there, Mitch McConnell, called this a poison pill. Are Democrats really willing to blow up the negotiations over this specific sticking point potentially leading to yet another government shutdown?

DEAN: I have talked to the negotiators, a number of the members of our team in the House, nobody is interested in blowing anything up. We're interested in resolving problems for the American people. We want to keep government open and we want to keep our country safe. Those are common themes. Those are common values. And I hope that these negotiations continue.

I'm delighted that they just continued in good faith. They're going to continue again at 6:00. No one wants a shutdown. And I'm willing to stay through the weekend, whatever it takes, to make sure it doesn't happen.

BLITZER: Are you confident that you'll be able to avoid another shutdown?

DEAN: I'm optimistic and I'm confident. I'm a member of both Judiciary and Financial Services, so in those committees we're going to have the opportunity to make sure that we keep our leaders and the conferees working and pushing forward. I'm confident and I'm optimistic.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on some comments from the House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff. He expressed concern that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller wasn't digging into President Trump's finances enough. Do you any reason to believe that Mueller isn't being thorough enough in his investigation specifically as far as the finances of President Trump are concerned?

DEAN: I certainly have no information on how thorough Special Counsel Mueller is being other than his reputation for extraordinary thoroughness. So I have no concerns over that. I certainly am well aware of what Chairman Schiff said over the weekend on "Meet the Press." And I trust him very well. It is absolutely important that we look at the president's finances, particularly the finances of his industry and his businesses because we want to make sure the president is working in our best interest, that he is not compromised in any way either through pecuniary interest of his own.

We know at the end as he was running for office he claimed to have no involvement with Russia and yet it looks like he was actually trying to negotiate the biggest deal of his career. We have a right and actually an obligation I believe in the House in many of these different committee in terms of oversight to take a look and make sure the president was not compromised and has always only worked in the interest of us.

BLITZER: At the same time, though, do you worry that Mueller could exceed potentially the scope of his investigation by digging into President Trump's financial interests?

DEAN: I don't believe so. No. I don't worry about that at all. It's certainly relevant to the workings of this administration.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, thanks so much for joining us.

DEAN: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.

BLITZER: All right. There's more breaking news just ahead. Michael Cohen has just postponed testifying before Congress for a third time.

Plus, an alleged Russian spy speaks out for the first time. Maria Butina giving her side of the story in her high-profile case.


[17:19:17] BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. President Trump's former fixer and personal lawyer Michael Cohen has just postponed testifying before Congress for a third time.

Let's bring in our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez. He's working the story for us.

So, Evan, what is this latest delay by Cohen signals? EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it signals that Michael

Cohen might be going to prison. He has a date in early March when he's supposed to be showing up to federal prison, Wolf. That he may well end up going to prison before he ever testifies in Congress.

Now we don't know whether or not there's going to be a new date set. But as you mentioned there's now three committees that he was supposed to hearings or interviews with, closed doors, behind closed doors, and also out in public. And now this is the third time, according to Lanny Davis, his attorney, he has a recovery from shoulder surgery.

[17:20:06] So that's the reason why this one has been delayed with the Senate Intelligence Committee. But again they want -- they all want Michael Cohen's testimony. And so you have to figure that they're going to figure out when they can do, even if it means bringing him back from prison.

BLITZER: Three cancellations for three different reasons.

PEREZ: For three different reasons. That's right. Exactly. So --


BLITZER: There's Oversight Committee, House Intelligence Committee, and now the Senate Intelligence Committee.

PEREZ: Right. Exactly. And all of them -- again, you know, he was trying to get in before he went to prison. That date is fast approaching.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said. He seems to be a bit concerned about Mueller's investigation as you heard. Not necessarily doing enough to investigate President Trump's personal finances, potential money laundering allegations. Where is this headed?

PEREZ: Well, you know, I think actually this is a very important thing that needs to be said. And I think there's a lot of people certainly on the left, critics of the president, who are expecting the world from the Mueller investigation. And if they're expecting all of these different types of findings, they may well be disappointed because Mueller, if you remember, was appointed with a specific charge to look into what happened in the 2016 election, things that are related to that.

Anything that goes beyond that I think may well have to be handled by someone else in the Justice Department. But listen to Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House, talking about this.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: There has been reporting that when it was alleged that the special counsel had subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, that the president moved to fire Mueller and the way they've talked him off the ledge was by promising that that reporting wasn't true. That the special counsel hadn't subpoenaed Deutsche Bank. Well, if the special counsel hasn't subpoenaed Deutsche Bank he can't be doing much of a money laundering investigation. So that's what concerns me.


PEREZ: And Wolf, you know, again, he may even well be disappointed if that's what he is expecting from the Mueller investigation. Now we don't know yet what's in the Mueller findings whenever they come. And so this is why I think it's important for the congressional committees if this is what they want to flow to ask those questions, to subpoena those documents, to get that testimony.

BLITZER: So why are Democrats really so interested in probing the Deutsche and what if any connection does that have with the Russia probe?

PEREZ: Well, you know, I think it's a very important question because there's been -- we know that for many years Donald Trump and his company were unable to get regular loans. A lot of banks would not touch Donald Trump and his company. And so Deutsche Bank is one of the few places where he was able to get loans. And that's one reason why I think critics of the president have been asking the questions.

What exactly is it that Donald Trump was giving to Deutsche Bank to allow him to be able to get the financing that he needed? And we know that Deutsche Bank also some have ties to Russians. They got in trouble with some Russian money laundering in the years past. So this is the reason why they've -- you could hear this from Democrats in Congress that they want to get some answers, they want to see documents, they want to see financial documents to see if there's any ties between Deutsche Bank, Russians and Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Yes. And what's clear is that if Mueller is not looking into all of the personal finance issues, the House Intelligence Committee under Adam Schiff will.

PEREZ: Exactly.

BLITZER: All right. Evan, thank you very much.

PEREZ: Sure.

BLITZER: There's more news we're following. Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina speaking out for the first time from behind bars and maintaining her innocence despite her guilty plea.

Plus, more on the looming government shutdown and the sticking points bogging down congressional negotiations.


[17:28:16] BLITZER: Our breaking news, as President Trump heads to a rally at the border in El Paso, Texas, congressional negotiations will be meeting in the next hour to try to make a last-minute deal to avoid another government shutdown. Let's bring in our correspondents, reports, analysts to assess this


And Abby Phillip, the president has had weeks to makes his case about the need for a border wall. It looks like it's coming down to the crunch one more time. He's going to be giving a big rally speech tonight.

What do you think?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm not sure the speech tonight is really about changing anyone's mind about what's happening here. The president has actually made it very clear that his strategy in terms of talking about the wall is about giving himself more options, what he calls setting the table for the option that I think in some ways he prefers and others prefer which is a national emergency.

But otherwise this trip to El Paso is about pressing the case against Democrats trying to edge in maybe a bit of a political win before this whole thing is over. I mean, the polls really show that the American public did not support the shutdown for the wall. They don't support a wall by and large. And the president's views on this haven't really changed the overall public. In fact it's just made this issue more polarized, much more difficult to solve. And I think tonight we'll just see President Trump at a campaign rally getting feedback from his people, not so much changing people's minds who are watching.

BLITZER: It's his first political campaign rally of this new year. And he loves these rallies as we all know.

What's your read, Chris Cillizza, on the state of the negotiations right now?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Sure. Before he left, he told the White House pool that's up to the Democrats, he was asked, is there going to be a shutdown or not. So I think, this is to Abby's point, we're already a little bit in the political blame game stage of this. I continue to struggle with -- it's sort of a two-part question.

Part one, will they find a way to make some sort of deal that can pass Congress? I think that there's a real possibility there. Part two, there's some sign, and I think the working assumption over the last week or so was, well, he'll sign it because, you know, he doesn't want a national emergency, or really a government shutdown, neither are great options.

I just keep going back to -- I know he says a lot of contradictory things. But let's remember right after they formed this conference committee that's designed to solve this, he called it a big waste of time. Those are his words not mine. So maybe he just reverses his course and signs it if they come up with something that's moderately good. Mitch McConnell comes in and says we absolutely have to have you on this. But it -- people should know it is a two-step here. Even if it passes

Congress, it now goes to him and he is unpredictable, whether you like him or hate him, he said things on both sides of this in terms of what he would sign.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If he goes beyond and really hard tonight on a border wall, is it going to make the negotiators' life even more complicated than it already is with only a few days left?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I mean, the records speak for itself. Republicans had two years to get this border wall funding when they control Washington. We didn't get it. Right? So when it comes down to what the president will ultimately decide, it could very well be a matter of what benefits him short term versus what the party, the Republican Party, says may set a precedent. And of course this goes back to the emergency funding.

The president may view this as a quick fix. There are some Republicans, Lindsey Graham in particular, who say this is what should be done to avoid a government shutdown. Of course you have Republican leadership overall saying this should be avoided at all cost because think about what could happen down the line if we start setting a precedent now.

The president does remember what happened to his poll numbers during the last shutdown. It cost the government $11 billion. Another one could have another lasting impact. It could impact millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of workers again. And also the IRS, remember, they are waiting for their tax returns as well.

So I do think this may be coming more of a battle amongst within the party itself over what the president does. Of course everyone does want to avoid another shutdown.

BLITZER: Yes. Republicans don't want another government shutdown either.

You know, Laura Jarrett, the president isn't ruling out declaring a national emergency and to use funds already appropriated for other reasons to build the wall. He tweeted this, and he's quoting Congressman Tom McClintock, "The president is on sound legal ground to declare a national emergency. There have been 58 national emergencies declared since the law was enacted in 1976 and 31 right now that are currently active. So this is hardly unprecedented."

He says sound legal ground. How sound is this legal ground?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, that's the thing. There haven't been 58 national emergencies in a situation like this where it would be clearly against the will of Congress. Congress controls the purse strings. And I think that's why over the past several weeks he has not done this. We've heard time and time again, as Bianna mentioned, Republican leadership is not universally on board with this, namely Mitch McConnell has privately behind the scenes cautioned not to do this. Senator Cornyn who's cautioned not to do this. They've all come on

our air saying, I think we should pump the brakes on this. And so he can go ahead and do it but it's immediately going to get challenges in court. But that's a legal issue, and maybe for him this is a political battle. And so if he does do it, he's showing his base he's strong, he's not giving in to Democrats. And so if it gets tied up in the court, he can say, well, it's some judge's fault.


CILLIZZA: And if there's -- go ahead, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There is a feeling among a lot of Republicans that they just really want a way out. They want something that lets them get this off their plate even if they don't like the national emergency. I know McConnell really doesn't. There are many members who are talking to the White House saying, look, we can't do another shutdown, this might be our best option. And you know what, if the wall doesn't get built then so be it. At least we never caved on this issue.

CILLIZZA: Yes. They know -- I was going to make that point just to add one thing to it. They know what goes down the road of a government shutdown. The party in power gets blamed, it looks like they can't run even the most basic affairs of government. Poll numbers drop.

To Laura's point, down the road of national emergency, it clearly creates for the president's sake, if the president can just take any money he wants and allocate it as he sees fit without Congress' influence, obviously that's a dangerous precedent. But that's a much, say, 50,000 foot 50 years from now conversation of what it will mean as opposed to the here and now in a government shutdown.

Mitch McConnell has said over and over again, I don't want one, I've never wanted one. They just endured the longest one in American history. The idea they're going to endure another one two weeks later --

PHILLIP: One thing that just be looking out for tonight the president is going to be in an environment where he's getting a lot of feedback from his base, but he's also going to be talking to Laura Ingraham who's very critical of him in the -- the ending of the last shutdown. So this is a really, you know, potentially dangerous time for lawmakers because you don't know what the president is going to decide after being pushed and pressured by his base tonight.

These are the kind of times where you could see really dramatic swings and what he intends to do, whether he might sign any kind of compromise that come out of this bill or not.

[17:35:02] BLITZER: The clock is clearly ticking. You know, it's interesting, Bianna, I'm going to put it up on the screen. We got a graphic showing violent crime levels in El Paso, Texas. That's where the president is going to be speaking at this rally later tonight. He's been making some false claims that the violence in that city really went down once the border wall was constructed there, the fence that they have. It's a pretty elaborate fence around El Paso, Texas. But if you take a look at the crime levels in El Paso, even before the border wall was constructed, the levels were really going down dramatically.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And I mean, it's just not true and the facts speak for themselves. El Paso is one of the safest border cities in the country, and you don't have to listen to Beto O'Rourke to get that feedback. You can listen to Republicans like Will Hurd as well, also from Texas. The only Republican to represent the largest amount of a border area. And he's argued the same thing that when you're talking about immigrants who are coming into this country, the problem lies in when they come in through legal ports of entry, and that the border is not an issue.

So this is clearly something that both Republicans and Democrats are raising and the fact that the president continues to tweet and talk about facts that just don't play out is frustrating. But at the same time he's got a big base, a big constituency that will follow him wherever he goes. And so we'll probably continue to hear more of the same tonight.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. We've got much more on the breaking news right after this.


[17:41:09] BLITZER: We're back with our reporters and our analysts.

And, Laura Jarrett, Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer and fixer, now once again postponing -- this is the third time -- congressional testimony. He's supposed to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow. He's now explaining that he's got to pull out citing post-surgery medical needs. He did have some surgery on his shoulder. Three different postponements, three different explanations. Why?

JARRETT: Well, I mean, in this case, you can imagine if you're going to be going to prison on March 7th or 6th rather, you might want to have surgery done before. I mean, I think that's -- that is a legitimate concern. We know that he has had some shoulder issues. But Senators really only have so much time considering they could try to get him once he's already in prison for tax evasion for three years but they don't want to go through that. So they want to try to get him before he goes in on March 6th.

Obviously as you mentioned there are three different committees that want him. But it's interesting, though, for the House Intelligence Committee, they said that they were delaying it in the best interest of the investigation.

BLITZER: The Mueller investigation.

JARRETT: Of course what investigation other than the Mueller investigation?


JARRETT: That's a little bit different than shoulder surgery.

BLITZER: Chris Cillizza, listen to Senator Elizabeth Warren. She's officially running for president of the United States. Saying this over the weekend about the president of the United States. Listen to this.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: By the time we get to 2020 Donald Trump may not even be president.


WARREN: In fact, he may not even be a free person. .


CILLIZZA: I mean, what she's doing -- you hear the crowd going bananas. And that's why she says it. I don't think, and I defer to Laura on these matters, but I don't think there is a significant likelihood that Donald Trump is incarcerated in one year's time or in 18 months time. I don't see how that could happen even if you believe that the Mueller investigation will find that he committed these crimes.

We now know from a variety of sources that the Department of Justice does not believe you can indict a sitting president. So again, I'm probably going further down this line than Elizabeth Warren meant to. I think she threw it out there because it's a campaign line. I do think it does make clear that for a big section of the Democratic Party base there is really nothing you can say that's too far as it regards Donald Trump. I mean, you could say, and I'll be the one that put him in prison. That would also get a big applause line.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I think Democrats are very much -- the Democratic base right now is fired up about the idea that Mueller is going to have something on President Trump that is significant enough to put him in legal jeopardy. Many of them want him to in jail but the truth is -- I'm not a lawyer but I don't think he's going to go to jail by 2020. And I think Elizabeth Warren actually knows that. But at the same time Democrats run the risk of really ginning up their base for something that is going to be a big -- that might very well be a very big --


CILLIZZA: And I don't -- I don't --

PHILLIP: It's not going to be quite what they're expecting.

BLITZER: Let me get -- let me get Bianna into this.

Bianna, and another significant development, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, seems to be criticizing Mueller's team for not necessarily going deeply enough in investigating the president's personal finances including with Deutsche Bank.

GOLODRYGA: Listen, I interpreted it as perhaps him suggesting that he could help him along that investigation and he may be itching to want to go down that road as well.

The president has long been known to have a checkered history with Deutsche Bank. They have a love-hate relationship that goes back many decades when no other bank would do business with the Trump Organization. Deutsche Bank did loan them hundreds of millions of dollars. Deutsche Bank has also been accused of loaning money to sanctioned Russian banks and at some point along the way was also accused of possibly funneling money from the Trump Organization that their debt to Russian banks as well.

[17:45:00] They were raided last year by prosecutors in Germany tied to the Panama papers.

At the same time, though, the financial crisis in 2008 when the President owed the bank $640 million, he decided to sue them for $3 billion, blaming the bank for causing the financial crisis. So they have a long, tangled history that I am sure Congressman Schiff would love to help Mueller investigate.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And then that stuff again, Laura, that American banks were reluctant to lend the Trump Organization money.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure. I mean, the whole worry was that he wasn't going to pay them back. That was always the concern with any lending institution.

But to the Elizabeth Warren point, can I just say, I think that this is such dangerous ground for Democrats because they have no idea what's in the Mueller report. They have no idea how this will all play out.

As everyone has said, DOJ's position is you cannot indict a sitting president, let alone put him on trial, put him in jail. And if they set this bar so high and Mueller doesn't come through for them, what are they going to do about it?


BLITZER: That's an excellent point.

CILLIZZA: And by the way, Wolf -- just very quickly -- context. Let's remember the famous/infamous Donald Trump rally chant of "lock her up" over what. We're getting into that same territory. Maybe Donald Trump has done something wrong, maybe it's illegal, but no way. Elizabeth Warren knows that.

GOLODRYGA: But, look, it also speaks to the polarization in the country, right?


GOLODRYGA: You have the President's base that would stand with him, as he said, if he shot somebody on Fifth Avenue. And you're increasingly seeing another base on the other side --


GOLODRYGA: -- that could stand with their candidates saying that no matter what the President is or isn't accused of, we don't think that he is worthy of being in office.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There is more news we're following including some jailhouse recordings where you'll hear a one-time gun activist deny allegations she is a Russian spy.


[17:51:35] BLITZER: Tonight, we have some new and rather intriguing insights about Maria Butina who's accused of acting as an unregistered Russian agent.

CNN's Brian Todd is here. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been given audiotapes of interviews with Maria Butina. In these interviews, she says she is shocked at how she's been treated in this country. And Butina says she is no spy.



TODD (voice-over): For the first time, the alleged Russian spy and gun advocate, Maria Butina, is speaking out and firing back, saying if she had really been a Russian agent, she would have been the worst one imaginable.

BUTINA: If I would be a beautiful Russian spy, you would never see me in public. I mean, I would be the most unseen person on earth.

TODD (voice-over): Instead, the 30-year-old, who pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to being an unlawful, unregistered agent for a foreign government, says she was unfairly accused of trading sex to get political access.

BUTINA: For the last 40 days, me being called a whore, it's very hard.

TODD (voice-over): Prosecutors later retracted that accusation, blaming it on a misinterpretation of her text messages. But government lawyers did imply in court papers they believed she was using her boyfriend, Republican operative Paul Erickson, to further her objectives.

Erickson, seen here singing "Beauty and the Beast" with Butina in a recording studio, recently was indicted on unrelated charges of money laundering and wire fraud. His lawyer says his full story hasn't yet come out.

Butina is speaking out in a series of exclusive interviews with James Bamford, author of several books on intelligence, who wrote an article on her in the new edition of "The New Republic" magazine.

In audio clips of those interviews, which Bamford shared with CNN, Butina talked of being surprised by federal agents when they raided her apartment last year, a couple of months before her arrest.

BUTINA: I just cleaned my apartment and I was baking banana bread. They told me, FBI, search warrant. So I opened the door. They just walked in so I was pushed back.

TODD (voice-over): In the interviews, which were conducted before and after her arrest, Butina emphatically denies she was a spy.

Bamford notes she was never charged with espionage. The lesser charge she pleaded to included admitting she tried to infiltrate Republican political circles and influence U.S. relations with Russia through her inroads with the National Rifle Association and other groups.

But Butina has claimed she did that simply to improve U.S./Russian relations and because she wanted to expand gun rights in Russia.

Bamford sides with Butina, saying he doesn't believe she did anything covert. As for the prosecutors' claim that Butina worked at the direction of Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker with ties to Vladimir Putin?

JAMES BAMFORD, AUTHOR, "THE PUZZLE PALACE: INSIDE THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY, AMERICA'S MOST SECRET INTELLIGENCE ORGANIZATION": The facts show that she was not a spy, that she was never paid, never directed by the Russian government. She didn't work for Torshin. Torshin couldn't tell her what to do. He couldn't fire her, he couldn't reassign her, he couldn't demote her.

TODD (voice-over): But prosecutors say Butina did update Torshin on her efforts to meet influential Republicans. Former intelligence officers tell CNN they don't believe Butina was a trained spy on the Russian government payroll, but they say that doesn't mean she wasn't cultivated by the Russians to give them sensitive information.

ERIC O'NEILL, NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGIST, CARBON BLACK: The FBI conducted a pretty airtight investigation. We have serious e-mails between her and her Russian handler. We have Twitter communications. They got her phone records. And many of those e-mails point to her as a Russian intelligence operative.


[17:55:09] TODD: Still, James Bamford says he believes the prosecution of Maria Butina was unfair and motivated by politics and the desire for publicity.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said because the case is still pending and Butina is awaiting sentencing, they would not comment on those remarks by James Bamford -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.

Breaking news next, congressional negotiators working to avert another government shutdown. New details of the obstacles they're facing.


[18:00:02] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Border stall.