Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); Democratic Hopefuls Campaigning in Key Early Voting States; Top U.S. General Warns ISIS Remains a Threat to America; Trump Slams McCabe, as Ex-Acting FBI Chief Insists DOJ's Rosenstein Was Serious about Wearing a Wire to Record Trump; States Suing over Trump's Emergency Declaration?; U.S. Discussing A Step Toward Formal Diplomatic Ties with North Korea Ahead of Trump-Kim Summit. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Stone cold attack. Trump ally, Roger Stone blasts the judge in his criminal case, appearing to show her in the crosshairs in a social media post. Is he violating a gag order issued by that same judge and supported by Robert Mueller?

Diplomatic liaisons. Just days before the second Trump-Kim summit, we're learning about a potentially significant move toward building formal relations between the two countries. Stand by for the exclusive details.

And Democrats divided. White House hopefuls are converging on early voting states as the split widens between the left and the center. Tonight, we will hear a moderate voice, as Senator Amy Klobuchar takes questions at a CNN town hall event.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a CNN SITUATION ROOM special report.

Breaking news tonight: A Trump insider is hinting that the president may be preparing to fire his Director of National Intelligence after Dan Coats repeatedly contradicted his boss' policies in public testimony.

After speaking with Mr. Trump by this weekend, Chris Ruddy tells CNN there's a feeling the president is disappointed in Coats and wants a change.

This as Mr. Trump is launching a new attack on former FBI acting Director Andrew McCabe. He's calling revelations about the Russia probe in McCabe's new book deranged. And in a new interview, McCabe insists Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was serious when he discussed wearing a wire to get evidence that might lead to Mr. Trump's being removed from office.

This hour, I will talk with Congressman John Garamendi, an Armed Services Committee member. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our White House Correspondent, Abby Phillip.

Abby, another member of the president's national security team may be on the way out.


Christopher Ruddy is one of the president's longtime confidants and he did spend the weekend in Florida this weekend, where he spoke to President Trump, but Ruddy is saying that sources are telling him that President Trump might be souring on Dan Coats.

Now, this information from Ruddy is coming just weeks after Dan Coats testified on Capitol Hill essentially contradicting President Trump on North Korea, saying that North Korea is unlikely to give up their nuclear weapons, but it also comes just days before President Trump is expected to head to Hanoi, Vietnam, for a second summit with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un.



PHILLIP (voice-over): Tonight, the president may be considering firing his top intelligence official, as he fires back at his former acting FBI director.

Chris Ruddy, one of President Trump's closest confidants and the CEO of Newsmax, telling CNN's Christiane Amanpour the president may get rid of his director of national intelligence.

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: The intelligence chiefs, including the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, just went before an open session of Congress and they openly said that they believe the president's policies and efforts in North Korea are going to fail based on the intelligence.

And, Christiane, I'm hearing from sources around the White House that there's just general disappointment of the president with Director Coats. There's a feeling that...


RUDDY: ... maybe there needs to be a change of leadership in that position.

PHILLIP: Tonight's revelations about Coats come as the president is lashing out at former FBI Director Andrew McCabe following McCabe's explosive interview with "60 Minutes."

Trump tweeting: "He was fired for lying and now his story gets even more deranged. He and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions, another beauty, look like they were planning a very illegal act and got caught. There's a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who had just elected a president who they really liked. This was an illegal and treasonous insurance policy in full action." In the interview, McCabe described in detail discussions with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about using the 25th Amendment to potentially oust Trump from office.

QUESTION: Rosenstein was actually openly talking about whether there was a majority of the Cabinet who would vote to remove the president?

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: That's correct. Counting votes or possible votes.

PHILLIP: And possibly wearing a wire inside the White House to record conversations with the president.

MCCABE: He said, I never get searched when I go into the White House, I could easily wear a recording device. They wouldn't know it was there. Now, he was not joking. He was absolutely serious.

PHILLIP: The Justice Department firing back, calling McCabe's account inaccurate, but not specifically denying the claim that the conversations occurred.

"The deputy attorney general never authorized any recordings that Mr. McCabe references. As the deputy attorney general previously has stated, based on his personal dealings with the president, there's no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, nor was the DAG in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment."


All this prompting Trump to retweet one FOX commentator who called McCabe's account an illegal coup attempt on the president of the United States. Trump adding: "True."

McCabe says Trump's public comments after firing Comey were cause for investigating obstruction of justice, as well as Trump's private pressure on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to include the word Russia in a memo justifying Comey's firing.

MCCABE: That concerned Rod in the same way that it concerned me and the FBI investigators on the Russia case.

PHILLIP: All this as activists converge on the White House to protest Trump's national emergency declaration to build a wall along the southern border.

One senior White House adviser not ruling out that the president might use his first veto of his presidency to override congressional attempts to stop the wall.


PHILLIP: And beyond the drama involving Dan Coats and Andrew McCabe, the personnel trouble for this White House continued over the weekend. President Trump's pick to be U.N. Ambassador, Heather Nauert, withdrew her name from consideration after questions about her background emerged. Now, Nauert's announcement of her position was announced before the

White House could even complete the vetting process. And like a lot of President Trump's previous nominees, she was forced to withdraw her name.

Sources are telling CNN that President Trump is returning to the drawing board, searching for a permanent person to fill that important ambassadorship position -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very important position, indeed.

Abby Phillip, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this, including the breakdown of Andrew McCabe's interview and the significance of his claims.

Our Crime and Justice Reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is joining us right now.

So, Shimon, how far did these ideas get, supposed ideas that we're hearing from Andrew McCabe that the Justice Department should consider invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to get rid of the president or to have the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, wear a wire to secretly record the president in the Oval Office?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, so, you know, when you look at what Andrew McCabe certainly says, you can tell that he was taking it serious.

It was something that he took back, he said, to his leadership, to his general counsel, he talked to them about it. He said that Rod brought it up twice and that, to him, it did not appear, at least, that Rod Rosenstein was joking

And, you know, if you're taking it back to your leadership team, to your general counsel, then it's probably true that Andrew McCabe thought that Rod Rosenstein was serious, and then Andrew McCabe as well memorialized all of this in these memos that are now with the special counsel's office.

So, for him, it was something that he certainly took serious. The Department of Justice, while they're not denying certain things about this, they seem to say, well, this wasn't as serious as Andrew McCabe is making it out to be.

Obviously, they have a very different position on this. But for right now, we have not heard, really, from Rod Rosenstein. We have heard from representatives of Rod Rosenstein, but Andrew McCabe says that this was a pretty serious idea.

BLITZER: And we're learning more from McCabe also about that memo that Rod Rosenstein wrote recommending that James Comey be fired.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. So this came up as well in the interview on "60 Minutes," and what Andrew McCabe says and was that in the memo, the president when Rod Rosenstein was crafting this memo about the Comey firing, the president wanted Rod Rosenstein to put information in there about Russia.

And here's how Andrew McCabe explained it:


MCCABE: Rod was concerned by his interactions with the president who seemed to be very focused on firing the director and saying things like, make sure you put Russia in your memo. That concerned Rod in the same way that it concerned me and the FBI investigators on the Russia case.


PROKUPECZ: What's not clear, really, Wolf, in the end, is why did the president want Russia mentioned in this memo?

It could be that the president wanted to say that he was not being investigated, that Comey had said he was not a target of the investigation. It could be for, you know, a whole host of reasons, but it is particularly interesting that Rod Rosenstein would have this conversation with Andrew McCabe.

It's not entirely clear to me as to why he would do that. But certainly having that conversation with Rod Rosenstein definitely seemed to set off alarm bells in Andrew McCabe's head.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a fair point.

Another sensitive issue right now, Roger Stone, he had a post on social media about the federal judge in his case, calling her, in his words, an Obama-appointed judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges against Hillary Clinton.

Would this be considered, this post, a violation of the gag order that she imposed on him?


PROKUPECZ: Yes, you have to wonder.

You know, we always talk about Roger Stone, but this has to be one of the dumbest things to do, especially coming on the heels of what the judge just issued the other day, this gag order.

The idea that he's posting anything about this judge, whether it's him posting it, whether it's someone else, it's on his Instagram page. The fact that he's essentially trying to fund-raise for his defense by, you can say, attacking this judge, he said that she was an Obama appointee, that she dismissed the Benghazi charges against Hillary Clinton.

And then he says, essentially, other things...


BLITZER: By the way, we're blurring her image. We don't want to give any publicity to this.


But the other thing, if you look up there on the left, there appears to be crosshairs, which I think could also be very concerning here. And it's all going to be in the end how the judge determines this. Does she decide that she wants to bring Roger Stone in?

Roger Stone after this posted took it down, then reposted it without the crosshairs, and then took it down. He issued a statement after it and he said that: "A photo of Judge Jackson posted on my Instagram has been misinterpreted. This was a random photo taken from the Internet. Any reference that this was meant to somehow threaten the judge or disrespect the court is categorically false."

Obviously, Roger Stone, after this was posted, someone got to him and said, hey, you better be careful. We will see what the judge does here. Remember, she has jailed Paul Manafort because of violations of certain things that she -- and gag orders and other things that she had said -- she had issued.

So this could get very interesting in the next few days.

BLITZER: It wasn't just the crosshairs that were on that picture. It was what he said about her.


BLITZER: This is the federal judge overseeing his case.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

BLITZER: And he's attacking her.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

This does not make any sense. We know that Roger Stone has wanted to be able to speak about his case, because this is how he claims he's raising money. But to attack the judge and raise any kind of issues, perhaps, that this judge is going to be unfair toward him because of Hillary Clinton or something else, obviously, he's trying to attack her. It could get ugly for him.

BLITZER: Yes, it could get ugly. He could wind up in jail...

PROKUPECZ: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: ... as he awaits a trial as well, like Manafort. He's been in jail for a long time already. And he's going to be in jail for much longer.

All right. Thanks very much for all of that, Shimon.

Let's discuss all this and more.

Congressman John Garamendi is joining us. He's a Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks, as usual, for joining us.


BLITZER: What are your concerns if President Trump were to decide to replace the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats?

GARAMENDI: Well, let's just start someplace else here.

This is President's Day. Let's think about the presidents that we're honoring today and how they carried this nation forward, and then this man, Trump, and all of the things you just went through, it's an OMG moment.

I think what we have here is, the president is totally out of control. He doesn't want to listen to his intelligence community at all. He'd rather listen to Putin. That was part of what was in the McCabe interview.

And it appears to be over and over again that he's more than willing to listen to Putin and the Russians than he is to his own intelligence people. It is an extraordinarily serious problem of national security when, the president refuses to accept the information from the intelligence community.

We just have to hope and pray that nothing serious is going to take place. I don't know. I just take a deep breath and pray, because this man is totally out of control and putting our nation in serious jeopardy, and we haven't even begun to talk about the Constitution.

BLITZER: Listen to this. I'm going to play for you the clip. This is Chris Ruddy, a longtime friend of the president. He spent the weekend down in Mar-a-Lago with the president in Palm Beach.

And he was on with Christiane Amanpour of CNN earlier in the day, and had this to say about the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.


RUDDY: There's a deep concern that, on the eve of the North Korea, to have your director of national intelligence in open hearings undercutting your position was very bad form.


BLITZER: Sounds like he's referring to the global threats hearing up on Capitol Hill where the director of national intelligence testified that -- in that hearing -- that North Korea was unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons.

Is that undercutting the president, in your view?

GARAMENDI: No, not at all. What it does is to give the president an extremely important leverage

position and knowledge that he has to have going into a discussion. God knows what he's going to give away at that. There's talk that he may open formal relationships with North Korea while we're still at war with North Korea.

I mean, this man needs to start to slow down, listen carefully. If he's not willing to read, then at least listen to his advisers, not just to Bolton but also to his intelligence community that has a very good understanding of what is going on in North Korea.


It's a -- it is a major concern to me, and I'm sure to other members of Congress and to anybody that's paying attention here in this nation, that this president is not willing to listen to people that have spent their life gathering information that is critical is the future of this nation.

BLITZER: The fired acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe also outlined reasons for opening up two investigations into President Trump...


BLITZER: ... after the firing of James Comey, the FBI director. Do you think that evidence was enough to justify his decision?

GARAMENDI: I think so, particularly when you consider the firing of Comey then the following up of that interview, that very famous interview, when the president just flat-out said, it's about this Russia thing, and then inviting into the Oval Office the foreign minister and the ambassador from Russia and apparently telling them the same thing.

All of this is of deep concern, and certainly when you consider what Mueller has actually found, the Russians that have been indicted, the Americans that have been indicted, found guilty, pled guilty. All of this, they're clearly was something going on -- not something -- there clearly was within the Trump campaign coordination and communication with Russian assets.

All of that is now proven. Was the president involved directly? Well, we will find out as the Mueller investigation continues on. But there's no doubt that this -- that the Trump campaign was assisted by Russia. And we haven't spent much time talking about all of the other things that were going in on Facebook, the trolls.

All of those things were happening. Was it coordinated? There's some indication that it was coordinated. What was that passing of critical information from the various surveys that were done? Those are surveys that would allow Russia to target specific areas of the nation for their troll factory.

It is of deep, deep concern. And what's all this going to lead to? I don't know. But, certainly, there is enough for the FBI to be deeply concerned way back at the beginning of this presidency, and it hasn't become any less as the days and months have gone by.

BLITZER: Congressman, I want to quickly turn to the president's decision to declare a national emergency to build his border wall with Mexico.

It looks like he is prepared to veto any joint resolution blocking his national emergency if Congress were to pass such resolutions. Do you think it would come to that? And if there is that veto, do you think it's veto-proof majority in the Senate?

I want to point out, your attorney general out in California is already threatening to file lawsuits to prevent this national emergency from being implemented.

GARAMENDI: Well, certainly, the attorney general in California and I think 12 other attorney generals are going to file a lawsuit. They should.

I have talked to Xavier Becerra about some of the underlying issues here. He will go forward. We have to fight back here. This is a fundamental constitutional crisis at hand. The Congress undertook a thorough, more than 12 months, of whether we should or should not build a border wall.

They came, the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans together, came to a conclusion that, no massive border wall, $1.375 billion for repairing and expanding some border fences. That's what the Congress decided, and the president signed that law.

Now the president is going around Congress, he's usurping the power of Congress, using a national emergency declaration to do so, creating an imperial presidency, one in which he is usurping the power of Congress, overriding Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, using some old emergency law that was established years ago and was never, never used to override the will of Congress, but rather to further the will of Congress.

This is fundamental. This is fundamental, Wolf. We have to fight this out. Good for the attorney general. Good for Xavier. Good for us. We're going to go back and fight this out. And I'm going to go right back into my committee and I'm going to find out what critical national security infrastructure is not going to be built as the vanity wall goes into place.

It won't happen.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead: Will there be new instability for the U.S. intelligence community? We will talk about the possibility that the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, might be fired by the president.

And is Roger Stone angering the federal judge who ordered him to keep quiet?


We're following all the breaking news in this SITUATION ROOM special report.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the possibility that President Trump may fire the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.

I want to bring in correspondents and analysts in.

Jeffrey Toobin, just to remind our viewers, Mr. Trump's longtime friend Chris Ruddy was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago down in Palm Beach with the president over the weekend. And now he's suggesting to our own Christiane Amanpour that the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, could soon be out of a job because he publicly, during that testimony on global threats that the United States faces, disagreed with what the president has been saying.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, if I were Dan Coats, I would not buy any green bananas, metaphorically speaking.

In my experience, Chris Ruddy is an extremely reliable guy to what Donald Trump is thinking. I have interviewed him many times for just that purpose. He does not make things up. And, you know, it may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing, but my belief is that if Chris Ruddy says Dan Coats is on his way out, Dan Coats is on his way out.

BLITZER: Yes, he says he didn't get that from the president himself, he got it from others around the president. That's what he's suggesting. He was at Mar-a-Lago having dinner with the president, as we know and as we have reported.

We have seen this movie, David Swerdlick, before. All of a sudden, word comes out that the president isn't very happy with one of his national security appointees.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, that's right. I mean, many of the old rules of Washington still apply.

One of them that doesn't is that the president of the United States now has someone like Chris Ruddy, the head of Newsmax, has his ear. A long=serving Republican senator like Senator Coats, now DNI, no longer has his ear on an issue like this. Similarly, you had Jeff Sessions was a senator, well-liked in his Republican Caucus, became attorney general. He was on the way out.

I would not predict when Dan Coats will be out, but I would take Chris Ruddy's word that it's being considered.

BLITZER: Yes, Tillerson, and General Mattis, and McMaster, we have seen this unfold before.

SWERDLICK: Yes, one by one, President Trump is sort of weeding out the people who don't play the tune that he wants them to.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a significant, potentially very significant development.

Sara, the former acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, who was fired, told "60 Minutes" that the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he's still at least for now the deputy attorney general, actually considered wearing a wire to secretly go into the White House and record what the president was saying and actually, also, according to McCabe, discussed the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove the president from office.

Was any of this ever taken seriously?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think it depends on who you ask.

You know, when McCabe is doing these interviews and he's talking about it, he certainly came away with the impression that it was a serious discussion. But now what we're hearing from officials that are at the Justice Department as well as the spokesperson at the Justice Department, they're sort of saying, you know, some of this was said in jest, some of it wasn't said seriously.

Certainly, Rod Rosenstein never had any reason to believe that the president should be removed by the 25th Amendment, so you may be seeing a little bit of damage control going on at the Justice Department right now or, you know, maybe McCabe read more into it at that time in that moment than what Rod Rosenstein was trying to convey.

BLITZER: He tweeted this, Susan, obviously, the president, about McCabe's interview on "60 Minutes," at least in part, he said this.

"This was the illegal and treasonous insurance policy in full action."

Were those discussions that McCabe and Rosenstein, according to McCabe, had illegal and treasonous?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They weren't illegal and treasonous. They weren't particularly good ideas, which is why they didn't actually happen.

I think we need to take ourselves back to what -- the situation the Justice Department and FBI officials were facing in that moment. They were investigating Russian election interference. They'd seen an absolutely disturbing, bizarre number of contacts with the campaign of the individual who would become president.

They're interviewing Michael Flynn for his contacts with Russians and lies about those contacts. The president of the United States asked the FBI director to see his way to letting Flynn go, which the FBI believes is potentially obstruction of justice. Then the president actually fires the FBI director, which they think

might have been an effort to actually impede the Russia investigation, itself a national security issue, right, sort of the obstruction is the collusion sort of theory.

And so I think what we're seeing is they were panicked. They had never seen anything like that really in the history of the United States. And so it goes to how overwhelmed they were in that moment.

Now, whenever they talk about sort of the 25th Amendment, none of the people in the room, as reported, have authority with regards to the 25th Amendment. It's not really different than any of us sitting around and talking about the 25th Amendment, except in one way.

That's that these are people who are actually seeing the president up close in private, the way he is conducting himself. And so, yes, it's shocking to hear that they were talking about this, but it's not as shocking as the idea that they were concerned enough about the president's mental stability that they actually thought that this was a reasonable discussion to have and that they thought that Cabinet members might go along.

I do think that is a pretty disturbing fact.

TOOBIN: I think the correct term is not treasonous, but patriotic.

I mean, they are thinking about the national security of the United States. These are all career officials. These are not Democratic political appointees. These are people whose job it is to care about the national security of the United States.

And remember, all these evidence has only gotten stronger over the past two years. You know, Adam Schiff is now conducting an investigation to determine, in effect, if the President is a Russian asset.

This remains a serious concern and there is much more evidence to support this idea. They didn't even know at the time about all the business deals that were going on between Russia and Trump during 2016, all those discussions about Trump Tower in Moscow. I mean, the idea that they were treasonous is 180 degrees wrong.

BLITZER: You know, Sara, on this other issue that you've been watching very closely, at the Roger Stone case, a gag order of sorts was imposed. Then all of a sudden, he posted this now deleted picture of the Federal Judge in the case that we've blurred her face, with only give her a lot of publicity about this. And they had some crosshairs, as you can see in the background. What are you learning about this rather bizarre development that potentially could wind up getting this guy in jail as he awaits the trial?

MURRAY: Right. This was the first iteration of the post which criticized the judge who's ever seen this case. Then he put up another version, just a photo of her without this apparent crosshairs in the background, again, criticizing her. And they showed both the photos out, put up another one with a

statement insisting that that was not supposed to be a crosshair, this is being misinterpreted, he never meant any kind of threat toward the judge. And he has now posted another Instagram post that says, that's just the logo of the website where they got this photo. It certainly wasn't a crosshair.

You know, Wolf, they have the saying that in politics, when you're explaining, you're losing, and that certainly seems to be the case for Roger Stone. He's already in enough trouble with this court. This is a very tough judge. He's the same judge who put Paul Manafort behind bars when he was witness tampering, and she put a gag order - a full gag order on his case.

So we will see if she decides to move forward on doing something further with Roger Stone. Obviously, we have heard no word from her, but it certainly not what you would want your client to be doing in a case like this.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an excellent point. Everybody stick around, there's much more on the breaking news right after this.



[18:36:54] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and analysts. So, Jeffrey Toobin, on Sunday, all of a sudden, the President took to Twitter once again and posted this, his hatred of the Mueller probe. I'll read it to our viewers. The Mueller investigation is totally conflicted, illegal, and rigged, should never have been allowed to begin except for the collusion and many crimes committed by the democrats. Witch hunt.

When I saw that, I said to myself, "Is the President bracing for a very damaging report from Mueller in the coming weeks?" Let's say, it's expected to be released fairly soon.

TOOBIN: Yes, that's certainly one possibility. You know, another possibility is that, you know, given the fact that he is the ultimate supervisor of the Mueller investigation, that all these Tweets have been evidence of, not all - not in and of themselves, but evidence of obstruction of justice themselves.

I mean, that is how outside the norms they are. You know, we've seen so many Tweets like this that we've become sort of inured to it. But this man is in charge of that investigation. And to call it an illegal investigation is not in and of itself but could be part of a pattern of obstruction of justice itself. He has first amendment rights. The President is allowed to attack whoever he wants. But when he's in charge of an investigation of him, this is something beyond that.

BLITZER: If it's illegal in his view, he could shut it down. He doesn't want illegality to continue, right? TOOBIN: That's the argument. And, you know, at this point, so many of us say, it's just another Tweet, that's just Donald Trump talking. He's the President. He's in charge of this investigation. And this kind of violation, at least of norms, may also be part of a violation of the law.

BLITZER: You know, Sara, let's get to another issue. Some thunderous silence that greeted the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence. He was delivering a speech in Europe before Europeans, European leaders, on major national security issues. Now listen to this.


MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and the Iranian people, to stand with our allies and friends in the region. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region and the world, the peace, security, and freedom they deserve.


BLITZER: All right. Beyond the painfully awkward silence that greeted the Vice President does illustrate the tensions that currently exist between the U.S. and its closest European allies.

MURRAY: Absolutely. You know, I think we have seen President Trump on the world stage, and when he's back here in the U.S., has no problem sort of rubbing our European allies the wrong way. I don't know what kind of reception Mike Pence hoped he was going to be receiving at that moment. You know, I think it's made more awkward by the fact that he does sort of seem to expect this kind of applause and adoration.


I think when Donald Trump goes abroad, he now knows at this point that the Europeans aren't so happy with what he has to say. But it does show how much distance this administration has put between themselves and these nations that we have long considered allies when it comes to foreign policy.

BLITZER: It's very awkward, David.

SWERDLICK: It's awkward and it also just shows where Vice President Pence has gone. There was a time when he was in Congress, he was a conservative's conservative, voted against T.A.R.P., was a strong critic of President Obama during his first team, then became the Governor of Indiana Conservative State. And now, he's here trying to get cheap applause for President Trump. That's the trajectory of Mike Pence.

BLITZER: How awkward was it? HENNESSEY: Look, I think it's incredibly awkward but it goes more to just sort of the awkwardness of a particular clip. It has been the extent to which we have degraded our relationships with these allies. And that comes with very, very real security concerns, security concerns that extend long past President Trump's sort of time in office.

You know, the President, really - he sort of treats everything as a personal expression, who likes him, who's nice to him. He hasn't ever made the case of how exactly alienating our NATO allies, our staunchest friends in the world that actually serves American interests at all.

BLITZER: Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, she went after the President at that conference as well.

Everybody, stick around. There's more breaking news we're following, including the progressive versus the pragmatist, as democrats look for a candidate who can defeat President Trump. CNN is on the campaign trail.

And live in New Hampshire, ahead of tonight's CNN Presidential Town Hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar.


[18:46:16] BLITZER: On this Presidents' Day, many of the 2020 Democrats out there on the campaign trail are trying to connect with voters in states that kick off the primary season.

Senator Amy Klobuchar is among them. She'll be taking questions at a CNN town hall event in New Hampshire later tonight.

Our Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny is joining us from Manchester, New Hampshire, right now.

Jeff, Klobuchar has a reputation as more of a moderate at a time when other Democratic hopefuls seem to be tacking left.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening. She certainly is drawing attention on the campaign trail for saying she wants to find common ground and work across the aisle with Republicans. The question is whether there's a market for that audience in a Democratic Party that's unmistakably moving left.


ZELENY (voice-over): That sound you hear on the campaign trail is Democratic presidential candidates moving sharply to the left. From Medicare for All --

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Health care is a fundamental right. And we will deliver that right with Medicare for All.


green economy should be the moon shot of this generation.

ZELENY: -- to a new wealth tax.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is time to put a modest tax on the giant fortunes in this country.

ZELENY: The wins winds of the Democratic primary blowing fiercely from the left, with liberal ideas creating early litmus tests and potentially setting up long-term political lands mines.

It's hardly a new divide inside the Democratic Party.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: That revolution, our revolution, continues.

ZELENY: But it's taking on greater significance given the party's progressive shift and president Trump is already trying to seize on that shift and brand Democrats as extreme.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.

ZELENY: While most Democrats resist that label, there's little doubt the energy of the party is coming from the left. Whether it's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declaring victory after Amazon pulled its new headquarters out of New York.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: We can ask for more because we deserve more.

ZELENY: Or Democrats calling for the elimination of ICE.

The dawn of the 2020 primary is raising a balance between pragmatism and purity. The divisions area also playing out on the Senate floor, like last week's vote to avoid a government shutdown.

Amy Klobuchar, Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders supported the spending bill while Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren opposed it.

Klobuchar is selling herself as a pragmatic progressive.

(on camera): Do you feel pressure to sign on to the latest liberal or progressive idea?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just look at each vote that we have and make a decision based on what I think we should do. You know, we have the vote on the agreement on the border, and I voted for it because I thought, well, that's what I would do whether I was running for president or not. Everyone makes their own decision, but you've got to be able to be yourself and not just try to be someone different than you've been.

ZELENY (voice-over): There is an appetite for moderation. A Pew poll shows 53 percent of Democrats and independents who lean that way prefer a more moderate direction for the party. While 40 percent favor a more liberal one.

Phyllis Weeks is one Democratic voter hoping the party takes the pragmatic route.

(on camera): So, you're not looking for perfection. You're looking for someone who can beat President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, and I don't like this idea of purity on the left -- I never have -- that the candidates have to be so pure.


ZELENY: And that is the sentiment we hear over and over again from Democrats, Wolf. They say the top priority is defeating the president, is putting a Democrat back in the White House. Of course, there's no agreement on how to do that. That's what this campaign is all about.

But Senator Klobuchar will be taking questions here tonight on this stage behind me from our Don Lemon from New Hampshire voters, Wolf.

[18:50:06] She's making an argument that she can win over red counties, Trump country. Of course, New Hampshire is far more blue, so she'll be debuting her message here, Wolf.

But other candidates still waiting to get in. Joe Biden, we're, of course, watching for him. Bernie Sanders and others. But, Wolf, this race is coming together -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jeff, thanks very much. Jeff Zeleny reporting.

And be sure to watch the CNN town hall event with Senator Amy Klobuchar anchored once again by our own Don Lemon. It all begins later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Just ahead, as President Trump heads to his second summit with Kim Jong-un will they take a pivotal step towards building formal diplomatic relations? We're getting exclusive new information on that.


BLITZER: Tonight, a top U.S. general is warning that ISIS remains a serious threat to the United States even at he's been visiting Syria laying ground work for the withdrawal of the ground troops.

Our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr is traveling with General Joseph Votel. He's the senior commander in the fight against ISIS.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Security was tight here in northern Syria when General Joseph Votel arrived on site for meetings with his Syrian counterpart, General Mazloum, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the troops that the U.S. has been backing in the fight to oust ISIS from this country.

But General Votel made clear in an exclusive interview with CNN that he still beliefs ISIS is a threat and a threat directly to the United States.

GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, CENTCOM COMMANDER: At this point, I think they could certainly inspire and, you know, perhaps, you know, provide, you know, some guidance in terms of that. I think we have to take it very, very seriously. They have demonstrated the ability to do this in the past, so we should expect that they would maybe attempt do that in the future.

STARR: General Mazloum put together a proposal of their meeting for up to 1,500 coalition, including U.S. troops to remain in Syria to help the SDF. General Votel making no promises saying that the U.S. was looking to how it could continue to help the SDF but making it absolutely clear that U.S. ground forces, more than 200,000 of them, will be coming out of this country, that that withdrawal is going take place.

And that is going to put the SDF in a very difficult position. Many people believe it will now have to join forces with the Assad regime and that could end U.S. help for the SDF. As long as the continue to fight ISIS, General Votel said he would be willing to see weapons to continue to flow to them. But if they join the regime, the U.S. does not do business with the regime and that relationship with the SDF will stop.

Barbara Starr, CNN, in Northern Syria.


BLITZER: Barbara, thank you.

Also tonight, CNN has learned that the United States and North Korea are discussing a potentially very significant step toward building formal diplomatic relations. This comes as President Trump is just days away from his second summit with Kim Jong-un.

Our Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Michelle Kosinski broke this exclusive report for us.

Tell us more about this potentially very significant move.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, we have to see where it goes first, because remember, North Korea so far has taken no real steps towards denuclearization. There's widespread skepticism that they ever intend do so.

And there's a stalemate that North Korea, before it says it will do anything, it's waiting for the U.S. to take a significant step. So, we're left with those question, what could possible come out of this next Trump-Kim summit?

Well, this could be it. Our sources are telling us that the U.S. and North Korea are seriously discussing exchanging diplomats. So, this would be nothing like opening an embassy in each other countries, but these people would be considered liaison officers. They would open up an office in each other's countries. It is incremental, yes, but it's a first step towards some kind of diplomatic relations.

And it's a big deal where it would when you think of where things are now. This shows you how much this administration wants something to come out of this meeting, but this exact same step was attempted in the mid-'90s. After all of these negotiations, it got to the point where the U.S. actually signed a lease on office space for just this purpose in Pyongyang and then suddenly, North Korea pulled the plug on the whole thing.

BLITZER: What would it take to make this happen?

KOSINSKI: Well, that's what we don't know. I mean, first of all, if North Korea is looking for something big on the part of the United States, would this be enough for them to actually take steps towards denuclearization? And before this could happen, what exactly is the U.S. looking for from North Korea? Are they asking them do something first?

When we ask this question of the State Department -- and we'll say, you know, don't give us any details you don't want to. Just yes or no, are you asking for something from North Korea first? They won't answer the question. That sure sounds like a no. And if it is a no before a step like this would be taken, it is going draw more criticism over whether this is being pushed forward too quickly. But if this does happen, it would be a big step.

BLITZER: It certainly would be. Let's see what they decide at the end of the summit at the end of this month in Hanoi.

Excellent reporting. Thanks so much for joining us, Michelle Kosinski.

With that, I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.