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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Unveils "Merit-Based" Immigration Plan; Growing Concern About Iran's Use Of Drones; Interview With Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) About Surveillance On Iran; Top Congressional Leaders Get Briefing On Iran; A.G. Bill Barr Says It's Up To Mueller If He Wants To Testify; Trump Reports Making At Least $434 Million In 2018; Newly Unsealed Evidence Shows Flynn Helped With Mueller's Probe; North Korea Faces Severe Food Shortages With Worst Drought In Decades. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 16, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Now perhaps President Trump is just laying bare the privilege that previous presidents have occasionally, arguably, have used for political reasons. Or perhaps that sense of shame that Bush and Clinton felt was at least important. And now it's gone, like so many other standards.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: likely doomed. President Trump reveals a new immigration proposal that would require would-be immigrants to learn English and pass a civics exam and would give preference to those young, skilled and educated.

But with little support on Capitol Hill, is the plan doomed?

Secret briefing: as top congressional leaders and heads of the Intelligence Committees gather for a secret briefing on Iran, CNN learns the U.S. has images showing Iranian freighters reconfigured to carry hidden missiles.

President Trump reportedly tells his Defense Secretary he doesn't want to go to war with Iran.

But are top advisors pushing for just that?

Able to testify: Attorney General Bill Barr says he won't stop special counsel Robert Mueller from testifying before Congress.

But will President Trump go along with that?

And Kim's crisis: Kim Jong-un is known for his lavish lifestyle. But now North Korea admits to its worst drought in decades as the United Nations says millions face severe food shortages.

Could a new crisis threaten the dictator's rule?

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

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: as top congressional leaders and the heads of the Intelligence Committees get a briefing on the growing tensions with Iran, CNN is learning the United States has images showing Iranian freighters, their decks altered to carry hidden missiles.

At the same time, officials say Iranian naval forces have beefed up their presence in strategic waters. Asked if the U.S. is going to war, President Trump answers, and I'm quoting him now, "I hope not."

Also breaking, the president unveils a merit-based immigration proposal that would require future immigrants to learn English and pass a civics exam prior to admission. The president says the plan would award points to would-be immigrants based on youth, skills and education, arguing it would boost national unity.

So far even Republican lawmakers have shown little interest. I'll speak with Republican Senator Tom Cotton of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories. Let's begin with Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

The president has unveiled a new immigration plan.

Will it fly?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Critics here at the White House would say it's only flying right now with the right wing but President Trump just proposed some major changes to the nation's immigration system in an address that sounded like a campaign speech straight from the White House Rose Garden.

But the president has been busy behind closed doors trying to tamp down on some of the pressure building inside his administration for some kind of military action against Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Playing to his base for the 2020 campaign, President Trump revealed his plan to change the nation's immigration system, issuing a warning from the Rose Garden that Democrats should stop resisting his proposals.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, if for some reason, possibly political, we can't get the Democrats to approve this merit-based, high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election when we take back the House, keep the Senate and, of course, hold the presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, what about DACA?

What about the DREAMers, Mr. President? ACOSTA (voice-over): Without addressing the fate of the millions of undocumented in the U.S., including the so-called DREAMers, the president said his administration would start turning away more asylum seekers at the border.

TRUMP: Legitimate asylum seekers are being displaced by those lodging frivolous claims. These are frivolous claims to gain admission into our country.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president also proposed a new legal immigration system that would fast-track immigrants who speak English.

TRUMP: To promote integration, assimilation and national unity, future immigrants will be required to learn English and to pass a civics exam prior to admission.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But the proposed legislation is getting a lukewarm reception on Capitol Hill, where many Republicans are telling CNN there's little appetite for another immigration fight. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it would make the current spike of migrants at the border even worse.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I've always said it gets to be more of a humanitarian crisis the more the Republican -- the administration -- I won't paint all the Republicans with this -- the more the administration --

[17:05:00]

PELOSI: -- acts in a shameful way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are we going to war with Iran?

TRUMP: I hope not.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Behind closed doors, the president has another potential crisis on his hands, Iran. Sources tell CNN the president has been grumbling that some of his more hawkish advisers, including national security adviser John Bolton, are pushing too hard for military action against Iran.

TRUMP: We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East. They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none. And they knew there were none.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Some of his political advisers worry waging war with Iran would run counter to Mr. Trump's criticism of former president George W. Bush during the 2016 campaign. Back in 2011, Mr. Trump falsely predicted that then President Obama would go to war with Iran to win re-election.

TRUMP: Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He's weak and he's ineffective. So the only way he figures that he's going to get re-elected, and as sure as you're sitting there, is to start a war with Iran. ACOSTA (voice-over): The president also revealing a bit more about his finances, even as he hides his tax returns from the public. In a new financial disclosure form, the president says he made more than $400 million last year, including another $40 million at his D.C. hotel, which has pulled in twice that since he's been in office.

Mr. Trump has also taken aim at a new Democratic contender, tweeting that, "New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is a joke. But if you like high taxes and crime, he's your man. New York City hates him."

De Blasio is responding by taking issue with Mr. Trump's hardline approach to immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK MAYOR AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And in so many ways, immigration is the founding and unifying element of the American experience. It's so much of what it means to be American. Immigration defines us and, therefore, it shouldn't divide us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The president did not take any questions at his immigration speech or as he left the White House for New York this evening. He has yet to weigh in on the Alabama abortion law just passed and signed into law down there in Alabama. That could be heading to a challenge at the Supreme Court, where his conservative, hand-picked justices will be watched very carefully.

It's also unclear where the president stands exactly on Iran at this point. You heard the president saying earlier today that he hopes there will not be a war with Iran but it's unclear exactly where he stands on all of this.

But some of his advisers are saying privately they do not trust national security adviser John Bolton on this, Wolf. As one of those advisers told me earlier, we need to be very careful with his judgment. Those are the words of that adviser -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Significant development. Jim Acosta, thank you.

More now on the breaking news involving Iran. Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, you have some new reporting about the images the United States has collected.

What's the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.

The U.S. now does have imagery showing that Iranian freighters, large commercial vessels, are operating in the Persian Gulf with portions of their decks cut out and underneath those open areas, the U.S. believes the Iranians are carrying missiles and other munitions and that these freighters are moving in and out of Iranian ports.

And we already know that smaller Iranian ships, known as dhows, also carrying missiles. So the concern here is that all of this evidence is mounting, that the Iranians are essentially weaponizing the commercial fleet in the Persian Gulf, which is such a vital shipping area, really, to bring goods back and forth to the entire world, oil and other goods.

So a lot of concern about all of this. The key question right now is the intelligence.

Can it be declassified?

Can it be shown to the world so that the U.S. can demonstrate this pattern of activity by the Iranians right now?

It is essentially different than the usual. This is not business as usual, that the U.S. has evidence that some of this does point to the view they have, that the Iranians are planning for a possible, possible attack against U.S. forces.

The Pentagon is adamant they are not looking for war but they are ready to defend themselves if it comes to that.

BLITZER: You're also learning that there's concern about Iran's drone capability.

What are you hearing?

STARR: This is part of the overall picture of the growing Iranian capability in this region and why the Pentagon, why the military says there is increased evidence of Iranians planning for that possible attack.

There is evidence that Iranian drones have been improved, that this gives the Iranians an ability to put drones up in the sky, get a wide picture of surveillance about what is going on. And that allows them more precision targeting. They get a clear picture overhead. They know where their targets are. They can target weapons if it comes to that.

All of this adding to the concern that the Pentagon has. We will see in the coming days if more U.S. assets are added to the region.

[17:10:00]

STARR: But again, what the Pentagon says it's doing is deterrence. The aircraft carrier strike group, those B-52 bombers are there as a presence to show the Iranians, don't even try it. The price will be way too high. Not about invading Iran, not about going to war against Iran, they say, but about defending the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty now. Sunlen, the Attorney General Bill Barr has said he won't stop Robert

Mueller from testifying before Congress.

What's the latest on setting an actual date?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there still is no resolution at all. No date set yet. And this, of course, has been a big source of contention. A lot of back and forth between the parties in recent days and certainly weeks.

Today, notable that the attorney general Bill Barr, he said in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" that the decision whether to testify is up to Robert Mueller, that he would not be standing in the way of him doing so.

But today on Capitol Hill, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, the one who has been negotiating this and all this back and forth between the three parties, he essentially was shooting back, saying, yes, well, the attorney general is saying that. But that is not what we're getting from the DOJ, that they certainly haven't committed yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We've been talking to the department and we've been trying to set a date and we haven't managed to set a date. They've been avoiding setting a date. So maybe the White House is telling them not to. I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And the president himself has certainly been all over the map about what he thinks about this, first saying that it's up to the attorney general to decide whether Mueller testifies, then saying that Mueller should not testify. Then going back again and saying that it should be up to the attorney general.

You can certainly sense a lot of the frustration there from the chairman of the committee, Jerry Nadler, certainly that it has not come together. Yet he's, of course, said he would subpoena to get Mueller to testify if need be.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Joining us now, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. He's a member of both the Intelligence and the Armed Services Committees. He's also the author of a brand-new book, an important book, entitled, "Sacred Duty. A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery." There you see the book cover right there. We'll talk about the book, Senator, in a few moments. Let's get to the news.

The Gang of Eight, as they're called, the top leaders of the U.S. House and the Senate, the Intelligence Committee, they've just been briefed on the situation involving Iran. You are on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee.

Have you been briefed on what's going on?

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Wolf, the Intelligence Committee has been getting regular daily updates for at least a week now about the multiple and credible sources of increased threats in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf from Iran.

That's why the Department of Defense has recommended and the president has agreed to deploy an additional aircraft carrier strike group, those B-52 bombers, Patriot missile defense systems, to the Middle East to make sure that the ayatollahs in Tehran recognize that if they were to take military action against U.S. personnel or allies in the region, there would be grave consequences to pay.

BLITZER: Because if the threat is as serious as you suggest, as the administration is suggesting, why is the administration waiting until next Tuesday to brief the full U.S. Senate?

COTTON: Well, every senator, at least as of today, has access to all of the information that the Intelligence Committee has seen. So even if there's not going to be a briefing until next week, any senator can read that intelligence and see the multiple, credible, serious threats that we're facing from Iran that's just picked up the pace over the last couple of weeks.

That's why the president has taken these prudent steps to deter any Iranian action against the United States or our allies.

BLITZER: You heard Barbara Starr's report from the Pentagon.

How serious is this threat now that the U.S. intelligence is seeing these images of these Iranian freighters that have been reconfigured, supposedly with missiles?

COTTON: Wolf, I won't talk about any one of these particular threats. I'll just say there's multiple threats. And the reporting has increased. What Iran has been doing for a long time is out there in the public domain, though. They've been supplying missiles and armed unmanned aerial vehicles to the rebels in Yemen.

They work through paramilitary forces in Iraq, sometimes in close proximity to our forces in Iraq. And in the Persian Gulf, in the Strait of Hormuz, they've long used a variety of ships and small boats to threaten the United States Navy and our allies and commercial shipping as well.

BLITZER: I know it is sensitive information you're getting. Certain things you can't discuss. But I don't hear you denying these reports about these freighters.

COTTON: Wolf, I'm not going to confirm nor deny any particular threats. I'll just say that there are multiple serious and credible threats. Just earlier this week, there were at least three tankers that were significantly damaged in a port in the United Arab Emirates, two Saudi, one Norwegian freighter. Those didn't happen by accident.

BLITZER: Who did it? [17:15:00]

COTTON: Wolf, I'm not going to confirm or deny who did that but I don't think it was the Swedes in a competition with the Norwegians. Let me just put it that way.

BLITZER: So was it the Iranians or their proxies?

COTTON: Wolf, I'm not going to speak any further about classified information but that kind of attack is an example of why we need an enhanced presence in the Middle East, to deter anyone who might want to take a shot at our personnel or our allies.

BLITZER: "The New York Times" is reporting that President Trump has told his acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, that he does not want to go to war with Iran and he said he'd like to sit down with the Iranians.

Would you advise the president to do exactly that, sit down and talk to the Iranian leadership?

COTTON: I'm sure the president doesn't want to go to war. No one wants to go to war. We want to prevent a war from happening.

In the meantime, I don't think any kind of conversation with the ayatollahs would be productive. They've really been waging a low- grade war against us for 40 years. So until they significantly change their behavior, I don't think we should sit down with them. I don't think it would be a productive use of time.

BLITZER: We know that the national security adviser John Bolton has consistently advocated actually for removing the Iranian regime, going to war. At least he used to do that before he became the national security adviser.

What about the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo?

Are Bolton and Pompeo, from your knowledge, Senator, on the same page?

COTTON: I've long known Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Bolton. Long agreed with them on a lot of issues but ultimately advisers advise and the president decides.

I know there's a lot of reporting about palace intrigue and disagreements in the administration. But as the president himself said, that's routine when you face grave decisions like whether to commit military forces into action. It's not surprising to know there are some disagreements behind the scenes.

But advisers advise. Only the president decides. That's true of this president and it's true of the 44 that came before him.

BLITZER: Well, I guess someone who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and you have, in the U.S. military, are you happy with the advice the president is getting? COTTON: Everything I've seen suggests to me that he's getting a full range of options and they're considering all the various consequences for a course of action. Again, the best course of action is to deter Iran from taking any kind of military action against our personnel or our allies. That's exactly what the Department of Defense has been trying to do over the last 10 to 12 days.

BLITZER: You think the Iranians are looking at the president and saying, this is a president who said he wants to get U.S. troops out of Syria?

He basically wants to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan as well?

You think they are seeing that and they sense that there may be an opportunity for them now?

COTTON: No, no, I think they see a president and a military who is posturing to retaliate if Iran takes any kind of provocative military action against us. They also see an administration that is exerting maximum pressure on the Iranians, whether it's eliminating all oil exports from Iran or designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

BLITZER: You've written a fascinating and very important new book. It's called "Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour to Arlington National Cemetery." Explain why this is a subject so close to your heart.

COTTON: Thanks, Wolf, for your interest in "Sacred Duty." It tells the story of the Old Guard of Arlington, America's oldest infantry regiment. It goes back to 1784, three years before the Constitution. For the last 71 years, it's had the honor of performing funerals for our fallen heroes in Arlington National Cemetery and guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Between my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, I served with the Old Guard. And I performed many missions at Arlington. I also performed the dignified transfer of remains at Dover Air Force Base, where we welcome our fallen heroes back into the United States.

I wanted to share the story of these remarkable young men and women and their drive to achieve perfection in every single thing they do, to honor our fallen heroes and to give their families that one last perfect image of honor from the nation to those families.

BLITZER: As someone who has visited Arlington National Cemetery on many occasions, Senator Cotton, thanks for writing this important book and thanks so much for your service.

COTTON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, the president releases his annual financial disclosure statement. And it shows he made hundreds of millions of dollars last year.

How did he do it? We'll be right back.

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[17:20:00]

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BLITZER: Our breaking news: President Trump says he hopes the United States is not going to war with Iran. Top congressional leaders just received a classified briefing on what U.S. intelligence knows about the Iranian threat.

Also, sources say the president is irritated with top aides who he feels are pushing for a war with Iran. We have a lot to ask our experts.

Dana Bash, let's talk about this so-called Gang of Eight. They've just been briefed on the Iranian situation late this afternoon, following an uproar from some senators who feel they've been left in the dark. Listen to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I have confidence in Secretary Pompeo and the national security team but I am in charge of the State Department's funding. And I'd like to know why we took the action we did. I think there are a lot of senators who feel like they're in the dark and they dropped the ball on this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: They removed, the State Department, all nonessential personnel from Iraq.

Is it a mistake on the part of the White House to withhold this kind of intelligence from key lawmakers?

[17:25:00]

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, they tried to begin to make it right, as you said, this afternoon by having a briefing for the so-called Gang of Eight. But that's not everybody and Senator Graham is a perfect example.

I mean, the fact is, as you well know, Wolf, it's a very extreme move to remove embassy personnel from a place. And it means that they likely had very specific intelligence.

And the fact that the person in charge of funding that and other diplomatic posts around the world -- that's one of the jobs that Graham has -- doesn't know about it, is really striking. And it begs the question about what's really going on. And it puts into question that Democrats and some Republicans are

saying, what exactly is this intelligence?

And doubts about that intelligence, especially given the fact that this is a president who campaigned on, you know, keeping this kind of thing at bay, who has a national security adviser who, we are told, the president is very annoyed with because he is worried that John Bolton, the person I'm talking about, is way too aggressive.

We know he's a hawk on Iran but been way too aggressive in recent days and weeks on Iran.

BLITZER: Gloria, we're learning the president is frustrated at this impression that his aides, namely the national security adviser John Bolton, as Dana just noted, are pushing for a war with Iran.

What are you learning about the tension within the Trump administration?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look. It's very real, despite the fact that the president tweeted that it was not real.

But my question is, what should he have expected?

He knew, if he had just sort of gone to the Google and checked out John Bolton, he would have known what a hawk he is generally, what a hawk he is on Iran, how he has supported regime change. And there are some real hawks on the National Security Council now. And the president believes, we're told, that he's gotten out front, not only on Iran but on Venezuela, for example.

And to the point where the president basically has to tweet, oh, there are no disagreements and I'm in charge here, I'm the one who makes the decision. And this is someone, as Dana was pointing out, who has run -- who ran for the presidency on getting out of foreign entanglements.

And now he finds himself in a situation saying, oh, can you get the Iranians to talk to me?

Maybe the Swedes can help us out here.

Anybody need my phone number?

I mean, I think the president does not like being in that position because he looks like a supplicant, which we know he does not like to look like.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We're just getting started. I also want to ask all of you about the latest Democrat to join the 2020 presidential race.

Does the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, have a chance?

[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts.

Joey Jackson, the Attorney General Bill Barr now says it's up to Robert Mueller to decide if he will testify before Congress. The President had previously wavered over whether the Special Counsel should answer questions from lawmakers. Is this administration afraid of what may -- of what Mueller may reveal?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know what, Wolf, I'm a bit confused because you have Trump saying, well, it's going to be up to the Attorney General -- that is Barr -- to decide whether Mueller testifies. And then you have Barr saying, well, it's up to Mueller to decide whether he testifies. I think we need a little bit more transparency.

To the central part of your question, I do think that there is concern. Why? There's concern certainly for Trump in that he, that is Mueller, implicates him. How? "No collusion, no obstruction," that's the narrative that's been put forth. That's not the narrative that Mueller has to talk about.

In fact, his report addresses the 10 specific instances wherein one might say that there was indeed obstruction. And so that's what he would, that is Mueller, have to say if -- in the event that he testified and so that is not good.

And then secondly, of course, as it relates to Barr himself, he is asked a question we all know, and that is, were there any concerns expressed regarding your four-page summary?

And of course, we know that Mueller had a lot to say as it related to the four-page summary not accurately characterizing the full nature and extent of what his report was all about.

And so, yes, I do believe that there's a lot that the administration has concerns about with regard to what Mueller will reveal in the event that he gets before Congress.

BLITZER: You know, Chris Cillizza, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman says the Department of Justice has yet to commit to a date for Mueller's testimony. What does that tell you?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I mean, to Joey's point, if -- Bill Barr has said, on any number of occasions, that he is -- including as recently as today, that he is fine with Mueller testifying and that it's up to Mueller.

Donald Trump has admittedly said it's up to Bill Barr. I don't think that Mueller should do it, but it's up to Bill Barr again. So it would seem as though that that's the kind of thing that would get on the schedule.

So it tells me, the fact that it is not, something is holding it up. And I don't know if that's on the Mueller end, Justice Department end, White House. But until it is on the schedule, I think we have every reason to believe there is something, some sticking point here. My other point, just to echo Joey. You would think that Bob Mueller,

if he had his druthers, if it was truly his choice as Bill Barr has said, that he would want to testify because the one thing that we know about Mueller's view on how Barr interpreted the report is he had an issue as it related to the description of obstruction of justice in that four-page letter.

[17:35:10] So you would think if you wrote a letter to the Attorney General to make clear, sort of put on record, your concerns about the way in which obstruction was described in the letter, you would think, given a public forum -- again if it was up to him, Bob Mueller, you would think he would take that opportunity.

BORGER: But I have a question, Wolf, about what limits would be placed on Mueller's testimony.

He could go up there, and he could have an FBI lawyer sitting on one side of him saying, you know, you can't answer that question. You can't answer that question. And the Department of Justice could say, you know, you can only say what is in the report.

And so, you know, how lucrative would that be for members of Congress if he can just say, well, I'll refer you to page 385 of the report and that's all I can tell you?

I think what members of Congress want to hear from him is the why. You know, why did he decide on obstruction to sort of say, I -- you know, we're not going to make a decision on that? Why did he decide on collusion, specifically? If there were no Office of Legal Counsel opinion on obstruction, would he have indicted?

And I think those are areas that they want to sort of probe on, and the question is whether he would even be able or willing to answer those questions.

BLITZER: And we don't know the answers, whether he's willing or able to do so.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: You know, Dana, at the same time, there has been some new financial disclosure statements released by the White House showing the President made $434 million in 2018. What do these records reveal?

BASH: That he is still making money, as we suspected, from his properties. Properties that have his name all over it, including the one that's just a couple of blocks from the White House, the Trump International Hotel in D.C. Which these financial disclosure forms show that he made $40.8 million.

And, look, that's a lot of money. I mean, maybe not if he's really the billionaire, multibillionaire that he says, but it is a lot of money given the fact that it is so incredibly unusual and breaks every protocol of the -- of the recent past and distant past for a United States president to have an active hotel with his name on it that he is profiting from just a couple of blocks away. Where people come from all over the world and stay there knowing that it could benefit the President and hope that they could get something in return.

CILLIZZA: And, Wolf, just one other quick thing on this. Don't assume the financial disclosures, despite what Donald Trump says about how financial disclosures, actually reveal more than tax returns.

BASH: No, they don't.

CILLIZZA: For anyone who thinks that, go look at the financial disclosures on cnn.com. Go look at the financial disclosures. You can look through it.

The ranges of these things are vast, between $5 million and $25 million, between $1 million and $5 million. You have no real sense, not only of his wealth but also of his business debts --

BORGER: Right.

CILLIZZA: -- who he owes, loans, business he is doing. So I actually think a release like this of the financial disclosure is the final debunking of this idea that tax returns actually don't really matter because they do.

BORGER: You know, revenues minus expenses equals profits.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

BORGER: And we don't know what the expenses were.

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. A quick programming note -- and it's related -- CNN's Erin Burnett has been investigating how President Trump and his family do business. Her "CNN SPECIAL REPORT: THE TRUMP FAMILY BUSINESS" airs tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, new details about the cyberattack on Florida's election system. At least two counties told the FBI they'd been -- they've seen suspicious activity.

[17:38:56] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. New documents from the Mueller investigation have just been unsealed, and they involve the former national security adviser to the President, Michael Flynn.

Let's go to our Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some of these documents were documents that previously had been released, but they were redactions made because the Mueller investigation was still ongoing. What has happened now is that some of these documents have now been

more -- released more in full, and a couple of things stand out.

One of them has to do with communications that, according to this court filing, that the -- Michael Flynn and his -- and his legal team are saying that they got outreach from people connected to the administration, people in Congress, that, according to him, could have affected his cooperation with the Special Counsel's investigation.

Now, that could potentially be a big deal if there were people who were trying to interfere with Michael Flynn's cooperation. People who were, perhaps, trying to discourage him from cooperating as part of this investigation. That could be a big deal for those people.

Now, here's the deal. I mean, we know that the Special Counsel already knew all this information before the report -- the Mueller report was released, so some of that information is already reflected in the Mueller report.

But, really, Wolf, what it does -- this information that's now being released sort of underscores why it's important to hear more from Mueller, from some of the people in the investigation, if members of Congress want to understand more about what happened with the obstruction investigation.

[17:45:01] How many -- how many things like this did they consider before they decided that they couldn't reach or wouldn't reach a decision on charging the President or anybody else with obstruction of justice in this investigation?

I think some important new questions are being raised as a result of this new information that we're learning.

BLITZER: And in one instance, there was a voicemail that was turned over. Is that right?

PEREZ: Right, there was some -- according to this court filing, there was at least one instance of voicemail that Michael Flynn was able to share with the prosecutors from the Mueller -- from the Mueller team.

And again, that's evidence that the Mueller team had on their -- had on hand as they were preparing the Mueller report. Again, this is all reflected -- it's all baked in to the report that has now been made public.

Now, as we just discussed, I mean, some of this is information that is still, obviously, in the hands of the prosecutors and could perhaps be more -- could reveal a little bit more about their thinking and, again, why perhaps members of Congress really want to get more of the redactions, the stuff that's still hidden in the report. And also to try to get some testimony to explain exactly what went into this investigation.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to stay on top of this breaking news. Evan, thank you very much. There's more news we're following. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:00] BLITZER: A stunning announcement from North Korea suggests the country may once again be facing a desperate plight. Brian Todd is looking into this for us.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we're coming off a surprising admission from North -- from Kim Jong-un's regime, a very rare one. The regime is admitting there is a crisis in North Korea. And, tonight, western intelligence officials are scrambling to determine just how dire the situation is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): On state T.V, North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un often celebrates the bounty of his country's harvest. He is seen visiting fields producing potatoes by the truckload and fisheries brimming with fresh catch. All part of a propaganda campaign designed to sell North Korea as vibrant and equal to America.

But tonight, Kim's regime is being forced to make a jarring admission. North Korea is suffering its worst drought in 37 years. Only about two inches of rain have fallen on the country this year, the regime says.

United Nations officials on the ground recently observed dried-out fields and farmers struggling to plant rice crops.

BILL BROWN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE MANAGER FOR EAST ASIA, OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Likely, there is some major problem coming, otherwise they wouldn't have announced it.

TODD (voice-over): The admission of the drought comes on the heels of U.N. reports saying about 10 million North Koreans, almost half the country's population, are facing severe food shortages, and urgently need help. Even as Kim builds skyscrapers, amusement parks and ski resorts, and parades his army through the streets of Pyongyang.

It's not the first time this has happened. During the 1990s, under the rule of Kim's father and grandfather, a crippling famine, brought on partially by drought, killed hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of North Koreans.

BROWN: During the famine, it gets another level down where they're actually having to eat plants, tree bark, grass, that kind of thing, and not surviving. A lot of --

TODD (voice-over): Economic and human rights experts tell CNN they don't expect this food crisis to approach those levels, but they're concerned over how Kim Jong-un is managing this crisis.

ROBERT KING, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY FOR NORTH KOREAN HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES, DEPARTMENT OF STATE: They're willing to import parts for missiles, they're willing to put funds into the military, but they don't put funds into taking care of their population. They put more into imports of cognac and high-end cars than they do into food imports.

TODD (voice-over): And the timing of North Korea's announcement of the drought is raising questions tonight.

It comes just a few days after Kim's regime tested short-range missiles, which could threaten U.S. forces in South Korea and their allies. And it comes as President Trump's diplomatic outreach to Kim over the dictator's nuclear weapons has stalled.

TODD (on camera): Is Kim playing up these problems as a means of leverage against Donald Trump?

KING: I don't think there's any question. When there's an opportunity, Kim will use what's available. I think Kim Jong-un has shown that he is quite willing to take advantage of any opportunity to get what he wants.

And I think using the famine and playing the famine, not giving it attention, calling the United Nations' attention to the issue, is one of the ways of doing that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: A key question tonight, how should President Trump respond to this? The President did say, recently, he would support the South Korean sending food aid to North Korea. But this is a delicate balance. Analysts say the President has to show humanitarian concern while not buckling to Kim's play for leverage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Important story, indeed. Brian Todd, reporting, thank you.

Coming up, breaking news. Newly unsealed documents from the Mueller investigation show former national security adviser Michael Flynn helped in the Special Counsel's obstruction investigation. Stand by for new details.

[17:54:36] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. How Flynn helped Mueller. Newly unsealed documents reveal how the President's fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, aided the Special Counsel's investigation. We have new details this hour.

Making it political. President Trump appeals to his base with a new immigration reform plan that's likely going nowhere in Congress. What are the merits of his proposed merit-based system?

[17:59:54] I hope not. That's the President's response when asked about a possible war with Iran. As he tries to tamp down fears, we're getting new information about Iranian military moves and the potential threat to the U.S.