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The Situation Room
Interview With Florida Senator Bill Nelson; Interview With Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond; Stormy Makes Waves. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 22, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And Stormy makes waves. The former porn star who allegedly was paid to keep quiet about a past affair with President Trump is cashing in on her notoriety -- new details emerging tonight about her revealing appearance at a South Carolina strip club.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, crucial votes in Congress to end the government shutdown, as Republicans and Democrats already are diving into the ugly unresolved battles ahead over immigration and more.
This hour, we're watching a final vote in the House of Representatives on a compromise short-term spending bill. We're also following the shutdown fallout for President Trump and both parties.
This hour, I will talk with two prominent Democrats, Senator Bill Nelson, and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric . And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, President Trump is claiming victory tonight.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
The White House is taking a victory lap after Democrats in the Senate caved and voted to reopen the government. The odd thing about this victory lap is it's missing the man in the driver's seat today, the president, who has been meeting with senators from both parties behind closed doors this afternoon.
But he's still steering clear of the cameras. A source close to the White House tells us that's by design to make sure the shutdown was not about him, so, for the last three days, it's been the art of the conceal.
ACOSTA (voice-over): After pushing back it was a Democratic shutdown, the party's leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, announced it was about to end.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: After several discussions, offers, counteroffers, the Republican leader and I have come to an arrangement. We will vote today to reopen the government.
ACOSTA: Roughly three days into a shutdown designed to press for a solution for the young undocumented immigrants known as the dreamers, Democrats gave in to Republican demands to reopen the government.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think if we have learned anything during this process, it's that a strategy to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration is something American people didn't understand and would not have understood in the future. So I'm glad we have gotten past that.
ACOSTA: But missing in the GOP victory lap was President Trump. Instead, the press secretary read a statement from the president.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Quote: "I'm pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses."
ACOSTA: Throughout the weekend, the president kept out of view, except for a few official White House photographs.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: What the president did clearly worked.
QUESTION: When will we see him?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: We will keep you posted. We will make sure you guys are aware when that time comes.
ACOSTA: Now comes the hard part. While the deal funds the government for the next three months, it comes with a nonbinding agreement to find a solution for the dreamers. In exchange for protecting the dreamers, the White House says it wants to build a border wall, end family-based immigration, or chain migration, and scrap a lottery program for some immigrants.
One senior administration official expressed the hardening White House view by saying a wall does not equal border security, and the White House won't even say if the dreamers will receive a path to citizenship.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's part of the negotiation process. But, right now, again, we want a permanent solution for that program.
ACOSTA: Add to that this new Trump campaign ad that paints undocumented immigrants as criminals and Democrats as their accomplices.
NARRATOR: Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants. President Trump fill fix our border and keep our families safe.
ACOSTA: The White House seemed to defend the ad. HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that if people are unwilling to secure our
borders, that they're unwilling to end chain migration, unwilling to end the visa lottery system, unwilling to fix all of the problems we have in our immigration system, and aren't willing to negotiate and actually do things that fix that system that we know to be problematic, then, yes, that would be a problem and certainly allow for future incidents to take place.
ACOSTA: And there's no guarantee there won't be another shutdown in three weeks. As the president's budget director described it, shutting down the government has its perks.
MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: The reason that obviously I'm heavily involved with this is that the Office of Management and Budget is charged with sort of implementing and running a shutdown. In fact, I found out for the first time last night the person who technically shuts down the government is me, which is kind of cool.
ACOSTA: Now, there's no denying the president and his allies are spiking the football after the shutdown.
Trump wins again is how one source described it to me. Another White House official crowed the Democrats caved on the shutdown. It's unclear how much time the president will spend on the issue of immigration, though, for the rest of this week. He's scheduled to keep his trip to Davos, Switzerland, for the Global Economic Forum later on this week now that the shutdown is ending.
So, Wolf, while the president will be tasting chocolate in Switzerland, Democrats will be licking their wounds in Washington -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta over at the White House.
Let's go to Capitol Hill right now as we follow the final vote to end the shutdown.
Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is joining us right now.
Phil, they're voting in the House of Representatives. What's the latest?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the House has the votes to actually pass the short-term funding bill, which includes the six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Vote's still open, they should gavel it close soon. But, Wolf, this means it's now one step from reopening the government. It just needs to go to the president's desk and get his signature. The big question now, though, kind of as Jim laid out, is what are the next steps? How does this all turn out from here? One of the most interesting elements, Wolf, of the last few hours has just been watching Democrats try to figure out what actually happens after these votes.
You had a lot of dissension inside an internal Democratic Caucus meeting this morning before Leader Chuck Schumer announced they were going to move forward. You had folks on the far left or the progressive side of the party who were very upset this was the pathway Democrats were going to go, but the most interesting element really of the last three days, Wolf, has been a bipartisan group of senators that really helped push this to the forefront.
Republicans reporting regularly to Majority Leader McConnell. Democrats doing the same to Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. Really helping pushing this across the finish line. The big question now is, is that bipartisan group of 25 or so senators, will that form the baseline to kind of a new relationship going forward, or are we just going to end up here again on February 8, Wolf?
BLITZER: We will see what the final result is. You see the results so far. They're still voting, though, what, 257 yeas. That's plenty more than they need, 136 nay. It looks like 43 Democrats have voted yea at least so far. All right, Phil, thank you very, very much.
Get the final results momentarily.
Let's talk a little bit more about this deal to end the standoff and whether Senate Democrats caved.
We're joined by Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond. He's the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D), LOUISIANA: Thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: A source in your meeting today has told CNN that you said Senate Democrats are getting their butts kicked on this shutdown debate. Is that true?
RICHMOND: I'm not sure of the exact words, but the sentiment that we did a poor job in messaging is correct. I think that we just failed to let the American people know exactly what's going on here.
And that is that Republicans have all three branches of government. General Mattis has said you can't fund the military that way, it's debilitating. We have not funded community health centers. We haven't done a million things, and you can't run a government three weeks at a time.
So, at some point, you have to stand up and say no. And I think that we have let the debate shift into an area that it shouldn't have. But have we done the right thing? The answer is absolutely yes. BLITZER: Done the right thing from your perspective. You voted
against this short-term spending bill. I know you're angry at what the Senate Democrats did. What would you do differently had you been Chuck Schumer?
RICHMOND: Well, part of this stuff, now, the Senate's the Senate. And they have their own dynamics over there, and they have their own internal meetings, and, of course, we were not in any of their meetings.
So I don't know what agreements that they do have. I can just tell you from the House standpoint the Republicans have over 230 votes. They have failed to pass a long-term spending bill. And then this short C.R., they funded CHIP, which is the Children's Health Insurance Program, but they didn't fund community health centers.
They didn't fund disproportionate hospitals. And so, therefore, kids with insurance now will have no hospitals to go because community health centers are laying people off. And our university hospitals, our teaching hospitals are not funded. So, you know, this is just no way to fund government.
And then we won't even talk about all of the other aspects of what a C.R. means. And then we failed to fix the broken immigration system, the health care system, and the budget process is still a mess.
BLITZER: So you seem to think, Congressman, and correct me if I'm wrong, that your fellow Democrats in the Senate caved. How long would you have been willing to keep the government shut down?
RICHMOND: Well, I'm not necessarily saying they caved.
I think I disagree with the ultimate conclusion of where we are, which is allowing that bill to come over here and be passed out of the House. And we still don't have funding for all of those areas that are critical. And we have a loose commitment to bring up an immigration bill, when you have a president out there that is just the simplest way to say it is he's lying about all of the issues.
The diversity lottery, the diversity visa program is a program that everyone is vetted. And it was created so that people from low- immigration countries could actually immigrate to the United States.
And family reunification is a program that allows people once they're here and established to then petition for their family to come, because in America we promote families being together.
So we're just allowing this president, who is not based in fact in most of the things he says, to continue to shape the argument.
And if we keep following him down rabbit holes that are not based in fact, I think we lose. And so if I have any frustration, it's the fact that I think that he's been able to, and the Republicans, have been able to mislead this country on why the government's shut down and why it's not.
They have the votes, and it's their responsibility to bring forth a long-term spending bill that both sides can support, or if they want to make it just their side, then provide the votes for it and pass it. But if you want our votes, we're only going to vote for a bill that doesn't go against our values and our conscience. And this bill does.
BLITZER: Hold on one second, Congressman. It looks like they are ready. They have ended the voting. Let's see.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... unanimous consent to take from the speaker's table Senate concurrent Resolution 33 and ask for its immediate consideration in the House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The clerk will report the time of the concurrent resolution.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senate concurrent Resolution 33, a concurrent resolution providing for a correction in the enrollment of HR-195.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there objection to the consideration of the concurrent resolution? Without objection, concurrent resolution is agreed to and the motion to reconsider is laid on the table.
BLITZER: All right, looks like we got a little bit of the procedure going on there.
Congressman, do you trust the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to live up to the commitments that were announced today?
RICHMOND: Absolutely not.
They made a deal with their own congresswoman about funding the Affordable Care Act. And that was before our last break. And they immediately came back and they denied her a vote on it. So, no, I don't have much confidence at all that they will live up to their commitment.
But, again, we're still governing three weeks at a time.
BLITZER: Let's say they work on a compromise on the dreamers in the Senate, they pass it, it goes to the House. Do you think the speaker will allow it to come up for a vote in the House, even if there isn't a majority of the Republican members in the House who support it?
RICHMOND: I don't think so.
I think that the speaker and the Republicans in the House are inclined to have this hard-nosed, racist immigration bill, one that ends diversity visas and one that ends chain migration. And when you talk about diversity visas, no matter if you believe the president said shithole or not, his sentiment was the same: Why do we want all these people from Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador, when I want more people from Norway? We can't allow this president to show that kind of animus towards immigrants coming from those continents? So, look, I think we're in for a long fight in this. And I think he's doing what he does best. And that is to divide and pit people against us. I think he wants to pit our dreamers against our African diaspora that participates in the diversity visa program.
And then that way, he gets to sit back and watch what he would consider a Democratic or liberal base fight each other. It has nothing to do with morals. It has nothing to do with the facts, because the immigrants coming in from Africa are the most educated of all.
So I just -- you know, we're in a bad place in this country. And I don't think we're going to get to a better place until we can have longer conversations to educate the public on what indeed is fact and what indeed is fake news.
But most of the fake news we get comes from the White House press Briefing Room or from the president's Twitter. None of it is based in fact.
BLITZER: Having said all that, did this fight, and you have been watching it so carefully with enormous consequences clearly, did this fight expose some serious, worrisome divisions within your own Democratic Party?
RICHMOND: No, that's not what worries me the most about this fight.
What worries me most about this fight is that the state of popularism we're in right now, you always pick an enemy. And I think that this president has been very good of always picking enemies, and his base blindly following him and making it the issue.
The issue is not only immigration. The issue is the economy. The issue is jobs. The issue is injustice, discrimination, and a whole bunch of other things. And for this president, he would rather just keep picking enemies, as opposed to solving real problems.
BLITZER: Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, thanks so much for joining us.
RICHMOND: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk to a Democrat in the U.S. Senate.
We're joined by Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Good evening, Wolf.
BLITZER: You heard congressman Richmond. He and a whole bunch of other Democrats in the Senate and the House, they are pretty upset about how all of this played out today. [18:15:05]
You voted in favor of this latest version to keep the government going until early February. What is your response to your fellow Democrats?
NELSON: Well, 81-16 is not caving.
What that is, is bipartisan consensus to get something done. I'm hopeful that not only that the promises that were made will be kept, but I think they will, simply because they were both made in the glaring spotlights by both leaders on the floor of the Senate, that DACA and the dreamers would be taken up.
Now, that's a far greater advance toward helping the dreamers than we had before. When you consider the fact that the bipartisan group of us that worked on this grew up to 30 senators, so we're talking about a substantial part of the Senate on both sides of the aisle to make sure that these commitments are carried through with.
BLITZER: Final vote was 81-18. Two Republicans voted against it; 16 Democrats voted against it. You voted in favor of this latest version.
Do you trust the Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to keep the promise he made today?
NELSON: Remember trust but verify?
And I think the verification was what I just laid out, that it's put in such a way under the glare of the spotlight with a substantial part of bipartisan Senate that is going to make sure that these promises are kept, and, therefore, to take care of the dreamers so that they're not deported on March the 5th.
You think about, what's the alternative? The alternative was to keep in this gridlock and not solve the problem, and at least we have a pathway now to solve the problem, Wolf.
BLITZER: If the majority leader were to break that promise that he delivered today, is another shutdown on the horizon?
But here's what is facing the majority leader. There are so many other things, such as the desperate need of increasing the fence, which the Democrats will insist that there are things in the domestic spending, NASA, the Coast Guard, education, I mean, go through all of the agencies.
So, the majority leader, Senator McConnell, has got to have the agreement of the Democrats in order to get these other critical things done.
Give you another example. Texas certainly wants hurricane disaster assistance. It is absolutely essential for my state of Florida. But you can't get that done unless you have the cooperation of both sides. I hope what has happened over this weekend, with all of this bipartisan discussion and now consensus, that this is a template that maybe, just maybe, the Senate might be starting to work as the Senate should be.
BLITZER: Senator Nelson, thanks so much for joining us.
NELSON: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's bring in our correspondents and analysts.
And, Jeff Zeleny, does it sound like the Senate will be able to come up with a bipartisan solution by this February 8 date, 17 days from now?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Senator Nelson was talking about a pathway to a solution.
I think in the Senate, that pathway is there. The problem here, the challenge is, the pathway likely only goes over one half of the Capitol. The problem here still remains the House of Representatives. That has always been the issue on immigration. It was the issue on immigration the last go-round here in the Obama administration.
The Senate of course passed the bill, the House didn't. So I think that the president here, it's all on the president. If he would endorse a bill that would give House conservatives and Republicans the chance to vote for it, that is still very much an open question, but we have seen more engagement from him this afternoon.
He had senators over to the White House, a group of six Republican hard-liners mainly, and then a couple moderate Democrats as well. Again, it's all on the president. He was something of a sort of bystander the last 72 hours or so.
Will he engage more, and will he get the House on board? The Senate now is not as much a concern on this as the House, but if Democrats don't get what they want in three weeks, I think there absolutely could be a shutdown again, because next time they have to get something.
This time, they didn't get very much.
BLITZER: A lot of Democrats, as you know, David, they were pretty upset by what happened today. A whole bunch of progressives in the Senate and the House pretty upset. We have heard from many of them.
What is really driving their anger right now?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Wolf, I think it's a combination.
I think some Democrats wanted to stand and fight. I think other don't trust the Republicans in the House or the Senate. I also think you have some of those senators who voted no on cloture are those who want to run for president in 2020, Warren, Murphy, Booker, Harris, et cetera.
But I think there's two theories of the case when you're looking at whether or not this was a good deal for Schumer. If you want to look at it in favor of Schumer, Wolf, it's that he pocketed six years of CHIP and then he preserved the right to filibuster on February 8.
On the other hand, I think McConnell gave up nothing and preserved order and got the Democrats to climb down. I don't totally agree with the President Trump was on the bystander sort of framework. This was a negotiating tactic.
I think the president actually got what he wanted. He got out of the fight and then he made it so that Mitch McConnell could get in there and get a deal for Republicans.
BLITZER: The president during the campaign, you remember, Rebecca, he often bragged about his deal-making capabilities. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to make the great deals.
I am going to make great deals for our country.
I built an extraordinary business on relationships and deals that benefit all parties involved always.
I make deals. I negotiate.
Everybody wants me to negotiate. That's what I'm known as, is a negotiator.
I'm so anxious to negotiate.
Nobody can outnegotiate these deals.
I will make a great deal and lots of great deals for the American people.
We don't make great deals anymore. But we will once I become president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Having said all that, a lot of members, Republicans and Democrats, complained that during this most recent crisis, he was on the sidelines.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Although there were also some lawmakers, of course, Wolf, who were relieved he was not necessarily involved in these negotiations, first of all, because he let Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer and the other senators do their work, and you know, maybe the president could have become engaged if this had gone on a little longer. But remember what Chuck Schumer said also, in the context of this
shutdown, in the context of the immigration reform debate, that negotiating with the president is like negotiating with Jell-O. So I think over the past few days, we have seen sort of a shift in this narrative from the president being this great deal-maker, as he so effectively cast himself during the course of the campaign, to this narrative that, actually, he oftentimes gets in his own way in the course of trying to make these deals and in the way of Republicans getting the deals they want.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, how do you see it?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I see this a little differently. I see the big loser here is the 800,000 people, human beings, who have lived their entire life as Americans who are weeks away from being deported because the Republican Party in this country is not really doing anything to protect them.
The president talks about love. The president talks about how he really is sympathetic to the dreamers. The dreamers' lives are hanging by a thread, and no one is doing anything about it. That, you know -- it's like, did McConnell win, did Schumer win? I don't know, but the point is, there are human beings' lives at stake, and no one is helping them.
BLITZER: Can they get a deal done, Jeffrey, over the next three weeks?
TOOBIN: I don't see any way there's going to be a deal done because the House of Representatives is against a deal. The Republican House wants to see these 800,000 people deported.
Stephen Miller, who is apparently running immigration strategy in the White House, he wants to see these people deported. So they're going to get deported. And this is going to be a human tragedy that is a hell of a lot more important than who won some news cycle.
BLITZER: So should the Democrats have stuck to their line, avoided this deal, because the leverage they had is a government shutdown?
TOOBIN: Well, that's the only leverage they have, but you know what? There's a reason they call the minority party the minority, because they don't have the votes.
And, yes, it's true, in the Senate, you need 60 for a lot of things. But government shutdowns rarely work. The only reason Ted Cruz wasn't humiliated more when he caused a shutdown years ago is that the Obamacare Web site went down right afterwards and everybody forgot about it.
This is a disaster for these human beings. And they're the people I care about, not these politicians.
BLITZER: Yes, Jeff Zeleny, a lot of people believe the only way, even if a compromise version were to pass the Senate, the only way it would pass in the House is if the president really got involved and he started telling those conservative lawmakers, the Republicans in the House, you have to pass it.
ZELENY: Exactly, that is the only way.
He said two weeks ago tomorrow, I will take the heat. So far, we haven't seen him take the heat. But if he does that, I think it will definitely happen. The one thing I would say is that there are Republicans in the House of Representatives who do want this bill. It may not be the majority, but there are Republicans who think it's the right thing to do and good politics.
And eight in 10 of Americans, 80 percent of Americans, agree to that. The question is will there be enough border funding for the wall, will they do the rest to get this deal done? But I think now is the time over the next three weeks to see if the president wants to cut this deal.
This is his moment here. He's been all over the board on immigration. He does not like it to be suggested. Lindsey Graham did this for a reason. He said Stephen Miller and the attorney general -- Stephen Miller and the chief of staff are sort of running things. That irks the president. He wants to be in charge of these negotiations. We will see if he does it or not.
BERG: Can I just add quickly, I think the president does understand the politics of protecting dreamers and protecting DACA and understands how important it is for him and his party. He was on the phone the other week with Steve King, the congressman from Iowa, who is very far to the right on immigration, and Steve King told me that the president said there just isn't support in America to deport all of these kids.
So I think he really does see that eight in 10 figure that you cited, Jeff.
TOOBIN: If that's true, where is he? I mean, you know, it's one thing to say that you want to protect the dreamers. He's the president. He could do something to protect the dreamers. He's the one, remember, who declared Obama's law -- executive order unconstitutional, even though it was still before the courts.
The idea that this president is helping the dreamers is, on the current evidence, preposterous.
BERG: That doesn't mean he won't, though. And I think that's the important thing to remember. We have six weeks before we hit this deadline.
SWERDLICK: But six weeks is nothing. They have been at this for 15 years.
I agree with everything the both Jeffs and Rebecca said, but I think you have to call the president a winner because he wasn't pinned down to a position either way, and he got order restored.
ZELENY: Short-term win.
SWERDLICK: Yes, he didn't win the war, but he won the battle.
ZELENY: At some point, it's incumbent -- Jeffrey is right -- on the president to lead on this issue. We will see if he does. He has said over and over he wants it to happen. We will see if he does. We do not know the answer to that question as we sit here tonight.
BLITZER: Was the real Trump when he said, you know, you guys work out a compromise, he said to Lindsey Graham, Dick Durbin, you guys work out a compromise, I will support it, I will take the heat and I will push for it/
Was that the real Trump, or is there a different Trump?
ZELENY: I think that's the deal-making President Trump. He wants to make a deal. He likes the good headlines, but then he gets reined in by his staff.
But he is the one who ultimately has to be responsible for this. We hear so much talk about how his staff is guiding him. He's the president of the United States here. So I think there may be more than one actually, but he definitely wants to get a deal, I believe. We will see if he does it or not and we will see if Speaker Ryan is willing to do maybe without the majority of the majority.
Many open questions, but the next three weeks I think are pivotal.
SWERDLICK: In chapter two of "The Art of the Deal," President Trump says I like to stay flexible. I don't like to get pinned down to any particular option because most deals fall through.
I think that's what he did successfully in this case. I mean, we don't like to think of President Trump as being the master manipulator of Washington, but in this case, he got everything he wanted and gave nothing up.
BLITZER: Let me let Jeffrey Toobin weigh in.
Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Well, just how wonderful for him that he did that, and he stayed flexible.
But, you know, I just think viewing this entire through the prism of who won or lost today or the next couple of days, I'm not sure that's the right prism to see it through. There are these people whose lives are at stake. And the clock is ticking. And they are less safe than they were three weeks ago.
You had the president saying that he was going to do something. Now we have the can kicked down the road even farther, with, at least in my opinion, less likelihood of a deal going forward.
SWERDLICK: Jeffrey, you're totally right, except that the people, the 750,000 or 800,000 dreamers, their fate is relying on Democrats having a better game plan.
And the Democrats, at least this round, did not have a good game plan. What they agreed to today, they could have agreed to on Friday night without experiencing all of the blowback over the weekend. The gamesmanship and the ultimate outcome are connected.
BLITZER: It's pretty extraordinary when you think about it, Jeff, Jeff Zeleny, that Lindsey Graham, the senator, is blaming Stephen Miller, a senior adviser, senior aide to the president for this current impasse instead of blaming the president himself.
Does Stephen Miller -- and you have covered the White House for us -- does he have that kind of power over Donald Trump that he can tell Donald Trump this is good, this is bad?
ZELENY: I don't think he does.
I was talking to someone over at the White House earlier today who said that Stephen Miller obviously is implementing the president's policy. He works at the pleasure of the president.
I think what Senator Graham, again, was doing, was trying to get a message directly to the president by suggesting that other people are sort of running the show here, as opposed to the president himself.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by.
There's more breaking news we're following. As lawmakers vote to reopen the government, will a continuing deadlock over immigration shut things down again?
Plus, the FBI says the House Intelligence Committee chairman won't share his classified memo alleging surveillance abuse by the bureau. So, what's behind Republican claims of FBI bias?
[18:30:10] Then appearing in a strip club, porn star Stormy Daniels is making money off her alleged sexual relationship with Donald Trump, but she's not talking about it.
BLITZER: We're waiting for President Trump to sign a bill ending the government shutdown after a final vote in Congress just moments ago.
[18:35:00] We're also following new attempts by Republicans to accuse the FBI of bias in the Russia investigation involving a secret memo, as well as hundreds of texts.
Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, Republicans are pushing for that secret memo alleged surveillance abuses to be made public, but the House Intelligence Committee chairman won't share it, what, with the FBI?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And won't share, really, what he's alleging the wrongdoing is here. It's CNN's own reporting, this related to a FISA warrant for Carter Page, to monitor Carter Page during the campaign.
But it's also CNN's reporting that the FBI had its own intelligence to back that warrant up. So the question for Devin Nunes, who is pushing this, is what exactly is the wrongdoing he's alleging here? And a lot of Democrats calling this a political stunt.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The short-lived government shutdown did not shut down GOP efforts to undermine the Russia investigation. Republicans may bypass the executive branch's declassification process to release a classified memo on the FBI's alleged surveillance abuses and are now considering releasing some of the underlying intelligence behind the memo.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Committee will come to order.
SCIUTTO: Spearheaded by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who recused himself from the Russia probe last year after coming under investigation for unauthorized release of classified information, the memo alleges that the dossier on President-elect Trump was used as part of the justification for a secret FISA court warrant to monitor the communications of former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. This according to sources familiar with the document.
Democrats note that the FBI used other intelligence in its warrant application, calling the memo an attempt to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Republicans are also seizing again on text messages between two FBI officials, with a new cache of 400 pages handed over to lawmakers. In one exchange, an official says, it is, quote, "unbelievable" that Trump and Clinton are facing off in the presidential race. The other official responds, quote, "Now the pressure really starts to finish MYE," an apparent reference to the midyear exam, the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server.
Neither effort has interrupted the special counsel's work.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Donald John Trump...
SCIUTTO: One new potential focus for investigators, though, as Trump took the oath of office, at least half a dozen Russians connected to the Kremlin were in Washington to celebrate his inauguration, as first reported by "The Washington Post" and confirmed by an intelligence source to CNN.
Including Russian pharmaceutical executive Alexi Rippic and his wife Paulina, who received tickets to watch the inauguration right in front of the U.S. Capitol. They also attended events surrounding Trump's swearing in, even getting close enough to shake the president's hand.
According to "The Post,: also in Washington were Viktor Vekselberg, a businessman closely connected to Putin, and Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who attended a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 with Donald Trump Jr., offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
"The Post" reported, and CNN has confirmed, that FBI counterintelligence officials were concerned about the attendance of some, who had also surfaced in the investigation of potential ties between Russia and the campaign. "The Post" did not specify which attendees raised that concern.
SCIUTTO: That Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya, she told "The Post" that she was in Washington just for business, including for the issue of Russian adoptions, U.S. adoptions of Russian children. Of course, you'll remember, Wolf, that that was the original misleading reason given for that 2016 Trump Tower meeting. We later learned that, in fact, she came to that meeting offering that dirt on Hillary Clinton -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us. Thank you very much.
Also tonight, the porn star who had claimed a past affair with Donald Trump and was allegedly paid to keep quiet is going public. Stormy Daniels making her first appearance since the story broke at a South Carolina strip club. Brian Todd is monitoring this story for us.
Brian, this is all turning out to be rather profitable for Daniels.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is certainly, Wolf. She is capitalizing on the attention, booking appearances at adult nightclubs. But when journalists approached her at a strip club in South Carolina, she was very guarded about the alleged affair with Donald Trump. Then, she made a quick getaway.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight Stormy Daniels is capitalizing on her alleged affair with Donald Trump but not revealing details about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the trophy club on the heels of Stormy's national publicized alleged affair.
TODD: Daniels appeared at this strip club in Greenville, South Carolina, over the weekend. The owner won't tell us how much he paid her or how much he made but said he booked her as soon as he saw published reports on the alleged affair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no politics involved. It's just I happen to be dumb lucky with when it's happening.
TODD: But CNN is told Daniels could be booked at other adult clubs around the country in the coming months.
[18:40:00] Daniels made a quick getaway after her performance and would not talk to journalists about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump, reported by "InTouch" magazine and "The Wall Street Journal." But she was quoted as saying her life since the story broke has been stressful and amusing.
Stormy Daniels has had a long career as a porn star.
STORMY DANIELS, PORN STAR: I'd like to show you around. You'd be surprised at how much we can do around here.
TODD: And even a potential Senate candidate.
DANIELS: Politics can't be any dirtier of a job than the one I'm already in.
TODD: But the "Wall Street Journal" says that shortly before the 2016 election, she was paid $130,000 by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to stay silent about alleging a sexual encounter with Donald Trump in 2006. Cohen has never denied making the payment.
And tonight, there is new information about a reported attempt to cover up her claim of an affair.
In 2011, Michael Cohen threatened to sue "InTouch Weekly" magazine, if it published their interview with her, according to four former magazine employees who spoke to the Associated Press. "InTouch" never published Daniels' allegations of an encounter with Donald Trump at a golf resort in Nevada until now.
Before the Associated Press story broke, CNN asked "InTouch's" new editor why it was held for seven years.
JAMES HEIDENRY, "INTOUCH WEEKLY": Why it wasn't published before, I can't really speak to. In fact, I don't have the answer.
TODD: One Trump biographer isn't surprised that his lawyer reportedly threatened to sue the magazine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has a long pattern of going after people legally, whether they've criticized him, whether it's someone who has some embarrassing information about him. He uses threats, lawyer letters, actual lawsuits, all to control the message.
TODD: Donald Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, did not get back to us regarding the Associated Press report that he threatened to sue "InTouch" magazine.
The magazine's representatives told us they would not comment on the report, but Michael Cohen has previously denied the affair took place, and today, Vice President Mike Pence told the Associated Press that reports of the affair are, quote, "baseless" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Was she a bigger than usual attraction at that strip club, Brian?
TODD: We're told that she was, Wolf. The owner told us it was filled to capacity, that he charged double the usual cover charge, but apparently less than some rates that he charges for more popular acts. He insists that he was not gouging his customers.
We're also told tonight she is booked for other adult clubs in Oklahoma and elsewhere around the country. She could be booked through the month of June.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thanks very much.
Let's bring back our analysts. Shimon Prokupecz is joining us right now. Shimon, some Legal analysts have raised this possibility, raised the question that, if there was alleged hush money paid to her, what, a month before the presidential election, it could have been seen as an in-kind campaign contribution. An organization, Common Cause, has already filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, the FEC, the Federal Election Commission. Is that plausible?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and Wolf, in reading this complaint, and certainly their position is that, if this was some kind of a gift to the Trump Organization, then this is something that the Department of Justice should investigate, because that would be illegal. And so they want the Department of Justice, they want the FEC to investigate.
There are a lot of questions here, Wolf, that probably need to be answered, and certainly, where did this money come from? If all of this is true -- and we should note, Michael Cohen, the president's attorney at the time, is not denying that there was a -- that money was exchanged. He's denying that there was an affair.
But let's say if this money was exchanged, you know, there are reasonable questions that need to be asked about why was this done, basically, a month before the election? The president, Mr. Trump, is now the president. There could be all sorts of blackmail questions. So certainly, a lot of people have raised the issue that the FBI probably would need to look into this and should look into this.
BLITZER: Yes, the allegation that there was money provided a month before the election through some LLC in Delaware.
PROKUPECZ: That's exactly it.
BLITZER; That was first reported by the "Wall Street Journal" the other day.
So Jeffrey Toobin, do they, Common Cause and others who see an in-kind campaign contribution, do they have a case?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, if we were functioning on planet earth, for example, I think this would be taken very seriously. Because why else would you give Stormy Daniels, for all her wonderful talent, $130,000? If only -- the only reason is to keep her quiet during the campaign. That is a campaign contribution. That is illegal, if it's not reported properly.
Whether the Department of Justice and the FEC, which is essentially a paralyzed agency, has the courage, has the integrity to go forward with the real investigation, I don't know. And especially if you combine this with the reports in Michael Wolff's book that there were many payments to such women during the campaign, which also would be campaign contributions, you know, I think if we had a serious Department of Justice, it would be investigated.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Jeff Zeleny, that the White House is basically saying this is old news. It's been denied in the past. But they're really not denying it right now, although Mike Pence, the vice president, he issued a flat statement saying it's untrue.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDET: He did. He told "The Associated Press" that to today's. He said it was a baseless allegation. He's traveling in the Middle East.
I thought it was interesting, too, for the vice president to weigh in because we know during the campaign, he was concerned about the video that was released at the end of 2016, the campaign. But for the White House to say this is old news, that simply is not true. The reality is, this is a new information the "Wall Street Journal" and others have been reporting about the LLC in Delaware, about the money that was provided here.
So, it's not old news at all. The White House has got around not answering that. The president as of yet has not been asked this directly. I expect at some point that probably will happen. He's been shielded from the press now for several days.
BLITZER: Yes, the vice president was asked directly, and he flatly denied it. Would this, Shimon, I want, Jeffrey Toobin to weigh in as well, within the purview of Robert Mueller, the special counsel's investigation?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: So that's a great question, Wolf, and I sort of spent the day trying to ask people. It's not entirely clear, because it could be something that an FBI field office maybe in New York where Michael Cohen is, where perhaps maybe some of the money came from, from a bank in New York, it could be in Delaware. It could be where she lives.
So, it could be something that could be picked up by a field office, by an FBI field office. In the end, it would be probably the FBI that would investigate this. It could be Mueller.
I don't know how it would fall under Mueller because we don't see evidence that this is somehow associated with Russia. But who knows? I mean, this could fall under his purview, and the interesting thing to be is what happens next, you know, if any FBI agents, if Mueller wants to speak to Stormy Daniels.
BLITZER: As you know, Jeffrey, you know this a lot better than I do. In the olden days, what they used to call an independent counsel, they could start investigating one area but if they find some potential criminal wrongdoing in another area, totally unrelated, they go after it.
TOOBIN: Well, that's true, and you also had under the independent counsel law a provision for expanding the jurisdiction of the independent counsel.
Remember, of course, famously, Kenneth Starr started investigating white water, found nothing against President Clinton and somehow wound up investigating Monica Lewinsky at the instigation of the Department of Justice. The question here for Rod Rosenstein, who was supervising the Mueller investigation, whether he will refer this to Mueller and say, you should investigate this as well. That's a question for Rod Rosenstein. And I think it's an important one.
BLITZER: What about, David Swerdlick, the political fallout from all of this?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. So, I think if this does chip away at the president's credibility and it fits into a narrative about the president's behavior as a private citizen. That said, you know, when you're being investigated by the special counsel for possible collusion with a foreign power, when you're being investigated or people around you are being investigated potentially for money laundering, I don't know if a campaign finance violation, serious as it is, is what's going to shake the White House in its boots. I'm not sure where this quite fits in.
BLITZER: I was going to say to Rebecca, Mike Pence, the vice president, he's made flat denials in the past that have come back to haunt him involving Michael Flynn, the national security adviser. For example, now he's made a flat denial on this.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, and so maybe this is something that Mike Pence didn't know about. It's probably better for him politically if he does have sort of a plausible deniability in this case, that he wasn't aware of the payments that Michael Cohen was making, he wasn't aware of this affair, et cetera.
But it is amazing to go back to what David was addressing, just a minute ago. It is pretty amazing when you think of how this sort of scandal, this sort of controversy would have registered with any other politician, but this barely registered on the Trump political Richter scale. It's like a blip on the radar for us. And that's pretty astounding when you take a step back.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, bottom line, where is this going?
TOOBIN: I think I have to go cover the Stormy Daniels tour to know that for sure.
No, I mean, I think it's really going to be up to the FBI. The FBI is going to have to decide, is this something worth pursuing? You know, as always, the rule is follow the money. And you know, for all that this story has certain comic aspects, where that $130,000 came from and who asked that it be paid and for what purpose, that's a very serious legal question that the FBI ought to figure out the answer to.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by.
There's more news we're following. Breaking news as we stand by for President Trump to sign a bill ending this government shutdown.
[18:54:32] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump is expected to sign a bill ending the government shutdown now that Congress has approved a compromise bill.
As we stand by for that, we have a CNN exclusive on sexual harassment allegations in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive. An ATF special agent is coming forward to expose what she saw and the price she says she paid when she tried to stop the perpetrators.
Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider has been digging into this story for us.
[18:55:00] Jessica, some very disturbing allegations.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Very disturbing indeed, Wolf. And when one special agent at the ATF tried to expose those allegations, she said that she was retaliated against.
I sat down with special agent Lisa Kincaid as she described the way actual harassment, and even an assault complaint, were brushed aside by upper management. And a recent report, even the inspector general seemed to agree that the Justice Department as a whole has a problem when it comes to reporting and investigating sexual harassment and misconduct complaints.
LISA KINCAID, ATF SPECIAL AGENT: It's not the way you want to go out.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Lisa Kincaid is marking three decades as a special agent at the ATF, years she was proud to serve as a branch chief and as a supervisor for the ATF's DC Arson Task force.
KINCAID: I'm proud of my service. I feel betrayed.
SCNEIDER: For the past four years, Kincaid said she's been sidelined and demoted after she was specifically assigned by the ATF to investigate claims of sexual harassment.
KINCAID: One woman claim that she was assaulted. That the supervisor at a work related function put his hand up her skirt and squeezed her thigh. And this was after he had made several passes at her and she had rebuffed those passes.
SCHNEIDER: Kincaid was a special agent in the internal affairs division, tasked with investigating a complaint with an agent who claimed sexual harassment and discrimination. Kincaid's probe began with that one woman's story. But soon, she was on her way to interviewing five other women with the similar stories about the same two supervisors. KINCAID: By the fourth interview that we conducted, we knew that
there existed pattern of abusive behavior in that office.
SCHNEIDER: Kincaid turned in a nearly 300-page preliminary report to senior managers, outlining numerous allegations. They are detailed in the lawsuit she just filed against the Department of Justice where Kincaid claimed she was retaliated against for exposing what she found. Most of the allegations are redacted but what is revealed includes is a supervisor allegedly shoving his hand up an employees skirt and discussing oral sex in front of female ATF employees.
KINCAID: Throughout the whole process, I was naive to think that the system was going to work and the system wasn't going to work.
SCHNEIDER: Kincaid says upper management tried to dismiss the allegations.
KINCAID: I think senior leadership tried to protect them from the very beginning of the investigation.
SCHNEDIER: Kincaid said both supervisors remained at the ATF despite those allegations. Since none of the women ever filed formal complaints, the ATF would not comment on personnel but said we take sexual harassment complaints very seriously and they are thoroughly investigated. But in a motion to dismiss Kincaid's lawsuit, the government says Kincaid was reassigned because she admitted to divulging information from her investigation to her husband, a retired ATF agent.
And it says the inspector general did investigate Kincaid's findings and issued one paragraph summary. But that report only covered a supervisor's gambling while on duty and said nothing about complaints of sexual harassment.
Findings last year pinpoints problems throughout the Justice Department's inspector general pinpoints problems throughout the Justice Department's components, including at ATF. It says the DOJ has issues in how it handles sexual harassment complaints and some of the subjects of pending sexual misconduct received performance awards and weren't properly disciplined.
A spokesman for the Justice Department said the deputy attorney general has convened a working group to look at the issues raised by the report. That process is nearing completion and we will soon be responding to the inspector general with the department's recommendation for action. But Kincaid's attorney believes these probes and reports from inspector general dating back to 2015 have spurred no changes.
BOB SELDON, ATTORNEY: What happens to a woman who is an attorney who comes and talks about one of these guys sticking his hand up her dress? You know, what is she supposed to do? You know, there's nothing that's ever addressed by I.G. office.
SCHNEIDER: And that's why Kincaid says she is speaking out. She wants to spotlight the issue outside the black and white. KINCAID: I want to make a difference. I want to know that taking a
stand wasn't for nothing.
SCHNEIDER: And in addition to Lisa's story, similar complaints are also being voiced by members of the DOJ Gender Equality Network. That's a several hundred member group of Justice employees. They've actually have been in touch with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's staff and they say they want the DOJ to improve the protocols for employee reporting since right now employees must report any harassment within 45 days to an EEO counselor and often their supervisors get directly involved.
And, of course, Wolf, this can really create a cumbersome process and intimidating process for some of the employees that might feel violated. And I did talk to a number of DOJ employees who say that they have a group who say they have witnessed or even experienced this harassment.
BLITZER: Thanks for that report, Jessica. Very, very important. Jessica Schneider reporting.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.