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Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; President Trump Set to Deliver State of the Union; Source: Trump Firing Mueller Still "A Possibility". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 30, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: State of disunion. President Trump is getting ready to address the nation, promising a message of unity, as Republican efforts to discredit the Russia investigation fuel partisan fury and distrust. Is he still seriously considering the firing of the special counsel?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Divisive decisions. We are learning that the president wants to move quickly to release the secret GOP memo on the FBI, ignoring the protests of Democrats and his own Justice Department. How soon will it happen after his speech?

BLITZER: And unsanctioned. Is Mr. Trump snubbing the lawmakers he will face tonight by refusing to carry out new sanctions against Russia that passed Congress with broad bipartisan support? Tonight, new concerns that the administration's response was a cut-and-run job.

COOPER: We want to welcome our viewers to our special coverage of the State of the Union. I'm Anderson Cooper.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer.

And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We are following breaking news. President Trump over at the White House, preparing to deliver his first State of the Union address as the Russia investigation casts a long shadow over his speech and his administration.

Tonight, a source tells CNN it is still a possibility that Mr. Trump might fire special counsel Robert Mueller despite warnings from members of his own party that it would spell the end of his presidency.

As we stand by to hear directly from the president less than three hours from now, we will also hear from our analysts and our experts, and I will interview Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is a leading figure in the Judiciary Committee's Russia investigation.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, what are you learning? JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has

learned that while the president is not expected to address the Russian investigation in tonight's State of the Union address, Mr. Trump has grown increasingly impatient with the special counsel's office.

A source close to the White House who is familiar with the president's speech said it is still possible the president could fire Robert Mueller. The source told CNN, and we can put it on the screen, here is a quote from this source.

It says: "Anybody who knows Trump best knows that's a possibility. This guy is a street fighter and he thinks this Mueller investigation is B.S."

Now, as for the memo from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes alleging abuses in the Russia probe, our White House team has learned that aides to the president are reviewing that memo and that Mr. Trump favors releasing it, though it appears that will happen of course after the State of the Union speech. They don't want to step on that.

But we should note White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says, at the moment, there are no current plans to release the memo. We will have to see if that changes.

Now, as for the speech, CNN has learned the president will have some tough tack for North Korea tonight. A source familiar with the speech says that portion of the speech will likely generate headlines tomorrow, telling us -- we can also show this quote from the source -- "It will be eye-opening," in the words of the source. Eye-opening in terms of what the president says about North Korea tonight.

We should note in recent days CIA Director Mike Pompeo has made some dire predictions about North Korea's nuclear program, saying the regime could have nuclear weapons that could strike the U.S. within a handful of months.

Now, as for other parts of the speech, the president is expected to make his pitch for a $1.7 trillion infrastructure plan, as well as a proposal to grant citizenship to more than one million undocumented immigrants, including the so-called dreamers, some of whom will be in the audience at the State of the Union tonight.

The president has been telling supporters he views his proposal, which calls for the wall and other major changes to the immigration system, "generous."

Wolf and Anderson, keep in mind, we are a still a week and a day or two away from another government funding deadline. The government could run out of money and have a shutdown. We are learning in just the last several minutes it is now likely the White House and Congress will need another one of those continuing resolutions, short-term spending bills, to keep the government open.

They don't think they have enough time, according to a source that is close to this process, to hammer out a lasting budget agreement -- Wolf and Anderson.

BLITZER: Yes, they run out of money a week from Thursday.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's talk a little bit more about the Russia investigation and all the breaking developments and the cloud over the president's speech tonight.

We are joined by our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, we are getting lots of information. And this cloud is very, very real.


And I think, as you mentioned earlier, other White House reporters, that the president does not want to mention it in the speech tonight, but the news goes on. One, we have just learned that Steve Bannon, the president's former chief strategist, he was scheduled to come before the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow. It's not going to happen now.

But it will be rescheduled. You may remember the last time he came before the committee, he basically didn't answer questions, citing a claim of executive privilege. That's still to be worked out.

We are also getting news now that the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, he will not attend tonight's State of the Union speech. As you know, a number of Democrats are not attending out of protest. This is not the case with Senator Burr.


He says he has a family matter to attend to. But it's worth noting that he has made a point of not having too many interactions with the White House as he continues to lead the Senate Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation.

Then, of course, a topic you and I have talked about frequently is this memo, this FISA alleging wrongdoing by the FBI in terms of foreign surveillance warrants. The president -- that is now in the hands of the White House. It is now up to the White House to decide if the president wants to declassify this. But we do not expect a decision on that certainly tonight, as the president gives his State of the Union address.

BLITZER: Amidst all of this, the White House is still refusing to implement new sanctions against Russia, sanctions that were overwhelmingly passed by the House and the Senate last summer. The deadline was yesterday. Basically, they just issued a list of the

richest guys in Russia and they didn't decide what they are going to do about it.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and it looked that the list was very similar to a list that appeared in "Forbes" magazine.

I spoke to a senior administration official today who made the case that the law does not actually require the administration to impose new sanctions on this date, just to come out with a list of potential targets, and that that possibility, the administration, if it sees cause, will issue sanctions when it sees fit.

And that can happen at any time. But, listen, that's not an argument that Democrats are buying. I spoke to Adam Schiff today. He says this is an administration that is not fulfilling its duty.

And as you noted, Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly passed this legislation in both houses of Congress to require these steps from the president and again for meddling in the Russia -- election.

I should say that there's also a timing issue here because a very interesting story went out on official Russian media earlier today, the TASS news service, saying the head of Russia's equivalent of the CIA was visiting Washington last week and met with the head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo.

Now, I spoke to a number of intelligence officials and they would not confirm Mike Pompeo's schedule, but they did not that, listen, this is something that the director of the CIA and other senior U.S. intelligence officials do. They meet with their Russian counterparts because they have information to share, specifically on counterterrorism, a shared target.

And they pointed me to previous comments. I will also say this because it's notable the head of Russia's equivalent of the CIA, the SVR, is currently under sanction by U.S. law. Here is a response on the record from the spokesperson for the office of the director of national intelligence.

He says that: While we do not discuss the schedules of U.S. intelligence leaders, rest assured that any interaction with foreign intelligence agencies would have been conducted in accordance with law and in consultation with appropriate departments and agencies," basically making the point, as it was explained to me, that, listen, if the head of the CIA wanted to meet with the head of a Russian intelligence service who was currently under sanction, they would get all the necessary approvals before that would happen, exceptions, while acknowledging the law is in place.

So, you might call that one of those nondenial comments that you hear sometimes in Washington on this. And they, at the same time, made the case for why it would be useful for the head of the CIA to meet his Russian counterpart.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you very, very much.

Joining us now, a leading Democrat in the Senate's Russia investigation, Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee, as well as the Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: So, the president hasn't ruled out the firing, the possibility of firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

What will it take for Republicans, do you believe, to support legislation protecting Robert Mueller?

BLUMENTHAL: I think this continued flow of indication that the special counsel investigation is at risk creates a lot of momentum.

And I have talked to a number of my Republican colleagues over the last few days. They are deeply troubled. And the president has said he's going to fight back. He's entitled to a defense to make the argument that the facts don't warrant any sort of potential charges, but he's not entitled to threaten the investigation itself, which he has done repeatedly.

BLITZER: When Robert Mueller finishes his investigation, he presents it to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who will decide what action to take with all of that information.

Are you concerned, Senator, that Devin Nunes' memo might target Rosenstein? Is Rosenstein safe in his role?

BLUMENTHAL: That is exactly one of the predominant concerns that we have, that the so-called Nunes memo, a four-page memo which, by the way, threatens extremely classified information and endangers sources and methods of our intelligence community, could also be used against Rod Rosenstein.

It purportedly alleges -- I haven't seen it -- that information was used in the warrant process in the FISA court, a process that then Rod Rosenstein renewed, and perhaps could be used to threaten him.


That is very, very troubling, because it could be used as a pretext for firing Rosenstein, and then to fire Robert Mueller. That kind of chain of events directly threatens the rule of law.

BLITZER: If the FBI director, Christopher Wray, had concerns about that Devin Nunes memo after he read it over the weekend, why didn't he speak publicly against its release?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, there were members of the Department of Justice who spoke very directly.

In fact, Stephen Boyd, who has direct responsibility here and is, by the way, a Trump appointee, a former aide to then Senator Jeff Sessions, hardly a Democratic partisan, said it would be extraordinarily reckless, his words, extraordinarily reckless, to release this memo.

And there are procedures, by the way, to challenge a warrant if incorrect or defective information is used in them. In fact, I helped to write those provision that provide for an adversarial process before the FISA court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, if a warrant is defective.

The committee, in effect, is end-running or circumventing that proper procedure and endangering the intelligence sources that produce the information going into that warrant.

BLITZER: Do your Republican Senate colleagues have a responsibility to speak out against the release of this memo?

BLUMENTHAL: I just went to the floor of the Senate, Wolf, Senator Whitehouse and I, directly on that point and urged my Republican colleagues to break their silence.

We have a responsibility at this moment, and it is an extraordinarily historic and threatening moment to our democracy, comparable to the days of Joseph McCarthy, because this memo is an example of the kind of gutter partisan politics that should be denounced by my Republican colleagues.

It is a misuse of the process and a derogation of responsibility that I hope my Republican colleagues will criticize.

BLITZER: So, it is a complex issue.

I want you to explain to our viewers out there, explain to the American people why this is important, from your perspective, why this is significant.

BLUMENTHAL: It comes back to Russia. Russia attacked our democracy.

There is not a scintilla of doubt in the intelligence community about Russia interference in our last election, nor is there any doubt that it will happen again. In fact, just today, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said the Russians were continuing to meddle and would meddle again in the 2018 elections.

So, the question is, will we stand up and impose sanctions, as President Trump refused to do today? Will there be a valid and thorough investigation of previous Russian meddling and possible collusion by the Trump campaign with it and obstruction of justice of that investigation?

It is a matter of national security, because the Russians are going to do it again, unless they pay a price for it. And it will distort and demean and degrade our democracy. The integrity of our elections is at stake. They have to pay a price for it. And so do anyone, whether it is the Trump campaign or anyone else, who aided and abetted them.

That's why the Mueller investigation is so critically important, why its integrity has to be maintained.

BLITZER: We are told, by the way, that the president won't mention the Russia investigation in his State of the Union address tonight because he doesn't want to dignify what he considers the whole hoax of an investigation.

So he won't even talk about what Russia did during the presidential election back in 2016. On the other hand, should there be more transparency, Senator, in the whole Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the FISA process, how it works, to make sure that Americans can trust the process, to make sure that the U.S. government isn't monitoring American citizens illegally?

BLUMENTHAL: That's a very, very important point, Wolf.

And I have actually worked for more transparency. It was part of the reforms that we sought both this time in the FISA reauthorization and last time. And it's part of the reason why an adversarial process, raising doubts or qualms or corrections that need to be made in the warrant process, is so important.

And one more point. The warrants that are sought for surveillance have to be thoroughly documented. And in this instance, they were. We know that Carter Page, who was under surveillance, was a suspected spy well before 2016 in the latest elections, In fact, had been identified by foreign governments as a possible Russian informant or aide or agent well before these past elections.


So, there is a lot of facts and material that justify this particular warrant that has been made known. But you're absolutely right. The issue of transparency is important in the foreign intelligence surveillance process. And there is a need for more.

BLITZER: As far as I know, Carter Page hasn't been charged with any criminal wrongdoing, at least of now, right?

BLUMENTHAL: That's correct.

BLITZER: But you are saying he was a suspected spy for Russia?

BLUMENTHAL: And that was the basis for the warrant that the FBI sought. It was part of the factual basis that was submitted.

And it's important to note that this attack in the Nunes memo and the kinds of assaults, really an all-out assault by some of my Republican colleagues, on the FBI is part of a different tactic that the president's defenders and surrogates are using to undermine and discredit the FBI and the special counsel investigation.

It is part and parcel of an effort to, in effect, create doubt, to sow this kind of lack of credibility or challenge of credibility before the investigation is concluded.

BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us. BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we have more breaking news.

The president may not discuss the Russia investigation tonight in his State of the Union address, but a source says it is still very much on his mind and that it's still possible the president could still fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Anderson Cooper is standing by with our experts.



COOPER: And we are counting down President Trump's State of the Union address.

Following breaking news in the Russia investigation, a source telling CNN that it's still a possibility that Mr. Trump might decide to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

Let's take that to the panel.

Jason Miller, would that be a wise move for the president?

JASON MILLER, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: No, not at all, and I don't think the president is going to do that. Hopefully, this investigation is going to get wrapped up pretty quickly here and we go to move on.

But I think it's kind of an unfortunate sign where at this stage we have an important State of the Union address and it's so easy for someone to go and throw out there some rumor. Yes, it's a big night for you, but, oh, the president might go and fire him. And then we go chasing after it.

I think, at a certain point, we need to push back on some of this and say, unless someone is going to go and put their name on it, then I don't think we should give it that much oxygen.

COOPER: But there's certain a lot of other things which are overshadowing the State of the Union as well, Paul.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The Russia story is the scandal that is eating the Trump administration. And it's going to devour it and it will bring it down. And this is one part of it.

This is the best night of the year for the president. He has a right to command that stage. He needs to tell our country how we are doing and where we are going. And yet he is feeding this and his colleagues and friends and allies on the Hill are feeding this with this nonsense about this memo, with this completely unfair thing, where we're going to release a Republican memo, but then wait a week before we release the Democrats' rebuttal.

And all of that is building I think toward making a case for firing Mueller. Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey, he ran the transition, this morning said the president shouldn't testify before Mueller. Then the president is above the law.

They are all laying the groundwork. If you put it together, I hope Jason is right. I think he is wrong. The president is going to fire Mueller and it's going to prompt a constitutional crisis. Lindsey Graham has said it will be the end of his presidency if he does it.

I hope and pray he doesn't, but I think he will.

COOPER: But "The New York Times" is reporting -- and it's been backed up by others as well I think, including CNN -- was that the president actually wanted to fire Mueller in June. Went to Don McGahn, the White House counsel, who said, look, don't do this, and stopped him.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But that was under his other attorney, Marc Kasowitz, who took a very aggressive stand. He wanted to push back on absolutely everything.

I think it's very possible that Marc Kasowitz says you need to get rid of Mueller and do it now. And the president may have listened to him, talked to Don McGahn and said, no, that's a stupid idea, I'm not going to do it.

When four unknown sources who were not in the room, we do know that, they were not in the room, but they heard this may have happened. I just don't understand why that's such a big story. But I tell you what is a huge story, the fact that unemployment, right now, is at a 17-year low and that African-American unemployment is one of the lowest in decades.


KINGSTON: Hispanic unemployment is one of the lowest in history.

Those are real issues. People are better off today than they were a year ago. The economy is growing. And the other thing is, if you think about the businesses that held their money in December and November knowing the tax bill was about to pass, suddenly, they are going to make a big investment.


APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Anyway, here is the deal, Jack.

When you talk about unemployment going down, there's a trend. And it's a trend that started over a year ago. But here's the devil that's in the details.

You keep saying it's great, it's great. How do you tout something that is great when there's still great hurt? The African-American unemployment rate, which the president tweeted about to Jay-Z over the weekend, after the Van Jones interview on this network, the president talked about, has he seen my -- the black unemployment numbers?

Well, 6.8 percent vs. the white unemployment rate, which is 3.7. And the president said -- he is talking about these numbers, and he's not talking about a targeted approach. There is a problem right there. Don't tout it.


KINGSTON: Well, no, no. Number one, it is a significant drop, which was a far bigger drop than his predecessor.


RYAN: That's not true. That's not true.


KINGSTON: Is there a way to go?

RYAN: From 16 percent way down to 7?


KINGSTON: Absolutely. That's why he's talking less regulation on business, so that more mom-and-pop businesses can be created.


KINGSTON: Take yes for an answer. This is good. Can you do better?


COOPER: Let's go back to the Mueller...

BEGALA: Right. We are talking a constitutional crisis here. I wish we had the luxury of just arguing over whether President Obama or President Trump is more deserving of credit for the economy.

He's going to fire Robert Mueller, isn't he?


COOPER: Do you think he should fire Robert Mueller?

KINGSTON: No, I don't.

But let me say this.


KINGSTON: Those of us -- I think it would be a mistake to fire him.

But those of us who had the opportunity to talk to people in the administration -- and I talked to a heck of a lot of members of Congress -- they are not obsessed with the Russian thing. I always hear from people who are not involved in it, oh, this eats up all the time at the White House.

It does not. COOPER: These are unnamed people you are talking to.


KINGSTON: I can name them all. I can name a lot.


ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If you have been watching this for the last year, you see that anybody who has been working on this Russian investigation -- and it began a year ago.

He has got ridden of Sally Yates. He got rid of Preet Bharara. He got rid of Comey. He got rid of McCabe. Now it's targeting Rosenstein. It is obvious where this is leading.

Is there anybody in this room that thinks that Donald Trump is not capable of waking up all wound up one morning and firing and making sure that this firing is able to take place? That being on the table, Republicans need to pass, Congress needs to pass the bill to give...


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Talks about the targets on Rosenstein.

We know the president has been fuming about him, complaining about him lately, thinking about firing him. And it's funny if you go back and look at what the White House was saying after they fired the FBI director, James Comey, because the day after they fired him, Sarah Sanders, who is now the press secretary, of course, put out these statements because if you remember correctly, they hung their hat on saying they dismissed James Comey because it was at the recommendation of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

And when they were saying that, giving them credit, they were saying that Rod Rosenstein was the gold standard at the Justice Department, very well-respected man who had a career there for 30 years.

It went from May, he was this great, respected person at the Department of Justice, and now they're saying the president only has problems with people at the very top.

COOPER: David Chalian.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's also important to remember, as Paul Ryan reminded today, Rod Rosenstein was appointed to this job by President Trump.


COLLINS: A year ago. Less than a year ago.

CHALIAN: This is a Trump appointee. It's just important to say that. To go back to what Paul was saying about Chris Christie this morning and saying that perhaps Chris Christie doesn't think the president should sit for an interview, my ears perked up when I heard that too, especially because our most recent poll showed that 80 percent of Americans, majority of Republicans, majority of independents, majority of Democrats, across party lines, it's the only thing on the Russian investigation that unites people across party lines, is the fact that if he is asked to testify under oath by Robert Mueller, the president should absolutely do so.

So, if they are laying the groundwork for him not to talk to Robert Mueller, that is going to be a big, dramatic development in opposition of where the country stands.


MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: I also think it's worth noting that President Trump himself has praised Rod Rosenstein. He's done it.

He's been appointed to the job and he praised him. But just to try to bring everyone together, let me be the uniter here, right, because I can do that. I feel like I can do that just a couple hours beforehand.

Let us acknowledge that the economy is doing very well. That is a big story. OK, let's move it out of the way. Let us acknowledge that this Russian investigation, we already have two people who are cooperating right now and two other people right now are under indictment, and then, of course, you have this black cloud over the Trump presidency right now, which, Jack, I do have to disagree with you.

People are consumed with it, not just in the media, but they are consumed with it in the White House, they are consumed with it in Congress. You talk to members of Congress. We all talk to members of Congress. They will all tell you, you need to get this over with, whatever the results are.

CHALIAN: But I'm sure we all agree that talking about the economy is the approach the president should take tonight.


CHALIAN: It is actually Americans, you are right, Jack, are saying they do feel better than they felt a year ago.


CHALIAN: And he will talk about that all night long, as any strategist would tell him to do.

KINGSTON: And don't forget national security.

ISIS is absolutely, positively on the run. American military is being rebuilt. I had the honor of representing five military installations. And I can tell you there hasn't been money in the budget to do training, to buy the weapons system, to keep up with the foreign countries. It is an absolute, real threat.

And it's on the land, it's on the air, and it's in cyber. And this president is making a huge commitment to it. And I believe national security, as I know everybody else does, is bipartisan.

BEGALA: I agree. But why is he so tough on ISIS and such a wimp on Russia?

KINGSTON: He's not a wimp on Russia.

BEGALA: He's a lay-down wimp. He's a total wuss.

KINGSTON: He dropped bombs in Syria on Russia.

NAVARRO: He's not enforcing the sanctions.

BEGALA: He won't even enforce...

NAVARRO: He's not enforcing the sanctions that Congress passed.


MILLER: Look, the president's not going to talk about -- the president's not going to talk about Mueller or the investigation tonight. He's going to talk about what he accomplished in the first year.

[18:30:11] I think there's also a broader thematic he's going to get into this evening. And that's kind of this restored feeling of American patriotism.

April, you made a point earlier, talking about how the rest of the world is watching tonight...

RYAN: Yes.

MILLER: ... and the actual state of our union. And the president and his supporters very much believe that we can be proud to stand up and lead from the front again. We don't have to lead from the back.

This is a time where we can be proud to be Americans. We're standing strong on the international stage. Our economy is good. We've almost crushed ISIS. I mean, we are back. And I think there's this strong, powerful feeling that the president is going to be conveying this evening.

RYAN: I think -- I think you're right. He's going to make some statements. But I beg to differ with you on the economy just a little bit.

This most recent trip to Davos was basically a sell as the world is saying, "Wait a minute," looking at us with a side eye a little bit on issues of national security, on issues of the economy. China is above us now when it comes to the economy. So the president went to Davos trying to sell America first but also

saying, "Look, this is what we have." This was a sales trip. So that's the piece of the economy. That's a piece to the economy.

On the infrastructure, going back to that, if he gets into the infrastructure and gets into the weeds, from transportation to bridges that are -- and roads that are dilapidated, it needs -- it takes people.

And I will tell you one group that really benefited during the Obama years, when Hilda Solis was labor secretary. It was the Hispanic community. Their unemployment numbers rose [SIC]. So this infrastructure issue, if he's really talking about unemployment, this infrastructure issue could really help.

MILLER: That's a great point. Because I think one of the things that's going to come up this evening, there are a couple of little nuggets. For example, we talk about infrastructure. Obviously, roads and bridges are a huge priority. Talking about rural broadbands.

But I think what -- if what I'm hearing is accurate, they're also going to talk about things like making sure that we have all lead out of drinking water over the next ten years. And so even though we talk about the crisis in Flint, which President Obama started on but wasn't able to get it done while he was there, I think we're going to see President Trump really chart a course on, really, kind of a whole national rebuilding on this front. And it's little things like that.

RYAN: Will he say it in the speech? Will he talk about it in the speech?

MILLER: There are a lot of things like this, really good things that are part of this infrastructure bill, this plan that he's been putting together. I think we're going to hear from him tonight.

COOPER: Let's take a quick break. Just ahead, the president may drop some surprises into his State of the Union. A source says he'll make some, quote, "eye-opening remarks" on North Korea. We'll be back with the rest of it on that.


[18:37:15] COOPER: And welcome back tonight as we count down to President Trump's State of the Union address. We are getting a new window into his thinking about Special Counsel Robert Mueller. We're also learning more about what Mr. Trump will say tonight. We're going to have more of that from our Jim Acosta in a moment. But let's go back right now to the panel.

I mean, David Chalian, we've heard the President Trump, according to the White House, is supposed to give what is described as eye-opening remarks about North Korea.

CHALIAN: I think we've heard eye-opening remarks about North Korea before from the president. "Fire and fury" comes to mind. "Nothing like the world has ever seen." I don't know how much more eye-opening the remarks can be, unless it's a complete 180 from that and there's some sort of olive branch, if you will, that he's offering in some way to North Korea.

It seems to me that the president has been -- he's been in a bit of two places on North Korea. Of late, it has been a little bit more subdued, and the rhetoric has calmed down from what we saw over the summer. I would be curious to see if eye-opening means we're returning to more sort of belligerent or boastful kind of rhetoric.

COOPER: To, I think it was Jack's point, I mean, the president does have -- or maybe it was Jason -- does has a good story to tell on ISIS, on the progress that's made. Now, you can say that a lot of that progress began toward the end of the Obama administration, but that certainly has continued, and there's been a lot of battlefield victories.

You know, the question is, the president is sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan, and there the -- certainly, the picture is more mixed. We've seen a number of attacks just in the last several weeks.

PRESTON: You know, the whole idea of eye-opening, too, can go either way, right? It can go eye-opening as David says, where it becomes very bellicose, belligerent; or it could go the other way, where it becomes very diplomatic very quickly. And I'm hedging towards the side of very diplomatic very quickly, only because we're coming up on the Olympics. We're now seeing a thawing of relations between South Korea and North Korea. But as we've all noted tonight, he's very unpredictable.

COOPER: I want to go to Wolf -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, we're getting some excerpts now from the president's State of the Union address that I'll be delivering later tonight. I want to go to CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, you're reading through, as am I, some of these excerpts. Update our viewers.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You were at that lunch earlier today with the other anchors, meeting with the president here at the White House; and the president emphasized to you that he wants to touch on this theme of unifying the country and bipartisanship. That is in -- that is reflected in these excerpts that were released from the White House just a few moments ago.

Just to read a few of them to you. It says the president will say this tonight: "This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream. Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to leave, what kind of nation we are going to be. All of us, together, as one team, one people and one American family. Americans love their country, and they deserve a government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return. For the last year we have sought to restore the bonds of trust between our citizens and their government." [18:40:03] Now, obviously, a couple of things that people will want to note in those comments. When the president talks about that Americans deserve a government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return, obviously, that is a unifying theme that is not felt by a lot of Americans out there who have felt, over the last 12 or so months, that the president has not been a unifying force in this country.

And then one other thing, Wolf, we should point out the president is going to make that pitch for immigration, an immigration deal with Democrats and Republicans to help protect those undocumented DREAMers from deportation. That is reflected in these excerpts. There's one line that says, "Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families."

And here is a key quote, Wolf: "So tonight, I'm extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens of every background, color and creed."

I think that's a pretty interesting excerpt, Wolf, given the fact that the president, and his advisers and allies and so on were doing a touchdown dance after that government shutdown ended. They were spiking the football, essentially, in Chuck Schumer's face when they felt they had the upper hand when it came to that government shutdown. Obviously, the president trying to change the tone and be much more unifying in his speech tonight.

And of course, when people hear the president talking about every background, color and creed in this country, that also appears to be an attempt, Wolf, by this president to heal some of the divisions that he has inflamed as president of the United States over the last 12 months. And of course, we could run through all of those different episodes, but we don't have time to do that at this moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he says, "This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream."

All right. I know you're going through other excerpts. We'll get back to you. We're also standing by for other information. Is there another point, Jim, you want to make?

ACOSTA: Yes. Well, one more point we should note. In just the last several minutes, our CNN team over here at the White House has confirmed that the agriculture secretary, Sonny Purdue, will be the designated survivor. That is the one member of the president's cabinet who won't be at the president's speech in case of a catastrophic event in the nation's Capital. That is a custom that we go through every year with the State of the Union speech. The president of the United States designates somebody to be that designated survivor, and tonight, that is Sonny Perdue.

BLITZER: The agriculture secretary, indeed. All right. Thanks very much.

Anderson, back to you. COOPER: I want to go to Paul Begala. Paul, when Democrats hear this

message coming out of the White House, I can imagine, you know, what a lot of them think, that this president is not the person to be spreading this message. Maybe it's in one speech, but will they follow up? This is the point you made earlier when you were showing your favorite hometown newspaper, "The Washington Post." That -- that there's not a lot of sort of build-up or follow through, necessarily, on some of the initiatives that the president or the White House sometimes comes up with.

BEGALA: Right. The president spends, I don't know, most of his waking time attacking Democrats. He's a partisan, that's fine. But now he wants to, for an hour, pretend that he's a unifying hitter (ph).

And this phrase that Acosta had from the speech, apparently, "bonds of trust between our citizens and government." This president, at his stage in his presidency, is at an all-time historic low for a first- year president. He has ruptured those bonds.

In fact, a large number of people who voted for him, as many as 1 in 5, have now disapproved. They've quit on him. So he started at 46. That's pretty low to begin with. Now he's down to about 36, 40 in some polls. So he has ruptured those bonds of trust. Every fair- minded journalist who's fact checked him has said -- "Washington Post," for example -- that he's lied something like 2,000 times in public in his first year in office. So the bonds of trust are ruptured. But they're ruptured by Donald Trump.

It's like John Dillinger giving a speech in support of gun control. I might like the policy, but the messenger is not credible.

MILLER: And so Anderson, this is really where Democrats find themselves in a pickle. Because whereas they kind of stick to the anti-Trump talking points, the fact of the matter is, is that the president is going to get out there and lay down a plan to come up with a DACA fix, to go and come up with a pathway for DREAMers. This is huge. This is something that multiple presidents, in a row, have not been able to get done. And here, President Trump is doing something that's very unorthodox. I think that's going to put Democrats in a real box as they start figuring out...

BEGALA: There's no trust.

KINGSTON: Anderson, one of the things that I know that we had to do as Republican House members during President Obama and President Clinton is find things to agree on. Because the American people don't want you to be the perpetual resistance. And that, unfortunately, is what has embraced the Democrat base. That, hey, we are the resistant movement. And if we're not criticizing Donald Trump, then we're a bad Democrat, we're a bad American, or whatever. And I think most -- most voters back home get tired of that.

COOPER: Wasn't that deja vu? I mean, isn't this what the Republicans did during the Obama years?

KINGSTON: And you know what? And when we did it too much, we lost out on it. The time to do it is not necessarily...

NAVARRO: This time, he might actually get boos from the right when -- if he talks about immigration. A lot of people on the right don't like the -- but look, here's the thing. Yes, there's a good economic story. Yes, there's a good story on national security. But despite that, he has got the lowest numbers there are. Why? Because people don't like him. Because people don't believe him. Because people don't trust him. Because people think he's a racist. Because he pardons Joe Arpaio. Because he says denigrating things about Haiti and about African countries.

And those things matter. Tone matters. Being presidential matters, he's had a year and he failed.

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And they get their paycheck and they see their 401(k)s, and they are excited.


NAVARRO: Nothing he does will matter.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We've got to take a break.

As I said, there's more breaking news with Congress clearly divided by the Russian investigation and controversial GOP memo. House Speaker Paul Ryan is urging people not to overstate that memo or to try to oversell it. The question is, has the damage already been done?

More on that ahead.


[18:50:25] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We are back with breaking news.

A source telling CNN that it's still a possibility that President Trump might decide to fire the special counsel Robert Mueller despite consequences.

Let's go to our chief political correspondent Dana Bash. He's up on Capitol Hill for us tonight.

Dana, you've been talking to lawmakers ahead of the president's speech. What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you talked about the news that we are hearing from White House reporters about Robert Mueller. Of course, the Russia investigation and everything in and near it is looming extremely large here on Capitol Hill. It is what people are buzzing about here much more at least ahead of the time than what the president is talking about.

And on that note, I can tell you according to a source familiar with the House speaker's remarks today in private to his members, he said about that memo that we are waiting to see if it comes out, he said that he wants his members to be careful not to overstate the facts in the memo and not to over-sell it. And he said that the rank-and-file have to be careful when they talk to us reporters that they try to separate the whole notion of what is in this memo from the Mueller investigation.

Now, he said that publicly as well. But the idea that he made this case to his members in private is very interesting and noteworthy, first of all, because it is State of the Union tonight. There are people like me, all of the over the Capitol, cameras, reporters, asking a whole host of issues. And members of Congress are talking about it, talking about this memo in a big way, Wolf.

And he wasn't that successful even after he made this plea to his members to just be cautious and conservative in how they talk about this memo. One of his examples, of his rank and file members went on and said it's an example of how the Mueller investigation is tainted. So we are going to see a lot of kind of toing and froing in this.

But I have to also say, Wolf, the fact that he made this plea and he personally said very clearly that he believes the Mueller investigation is credible and should go on, it is a perfect example of kind of pretzel he and other House Republicans are in, by saying they want Mueller to go on but being fully in on this Republican house memo being released to the public, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Dana, we're going to get back to you soon. Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill here for us tonight.

We'll have much more on the breaking news right after this.


[18:56:38] BLITZER: As we get closer to President Trump's State of the Union Address, let's take a closer look at the stakes for him and for his party in the upcoming midterm elections.

Our chief national correspondent John King is over here at the magic wall and the stakes coming up are very significant.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. We are obviously in the 2018 midterm election year, the biggest single barometer in any midterm election year, the president's approval rating.

So let's go through the history to underscore the stakes for President Trump tonight who we know has a wobbling political standing at the moment.

Let's go back in time, 46 percent for Clinton in 1994. That was his first midterm election. The new Clinton administration, the president at 46 percent, heading into the midterm election, look what happened, the Democrats lost eight Senate seats, 52 seats in the House lost by the Democrats.

This was Republican revolution year. Newt Gingrich would go on to become the speaker. The Democrats losing control of the House. That's 1994.

This, 2006, important to note, this is the second midterm of the Bush administration, George W. Bush, the first midyear was in 2002, the first election after 9/11, the Republicans held steady. But by 2006, Iraq war fatigue, Katrina fatigue, the Bush administration, the president at 35 percent, the Republican lost six Senate seats, they lost control of the House, 30 seats lost, Nancy Pelosi would go on to become speaker.

2010 is a year that many Republicans think could be instructive for President Trump. President Obama then at 46 percent heading into his first midterm election, look at this, wow, Democrats lost six Senate seats and 63 seats in the House. The Republicans capture control of the House. They hold it to this day.

So, look especially at the 46 for President Clinton, the 46 for President Obama, those were first midterm. President Trump will step in the Capitol tonight at about 40 percent approval rating, well below President Clinton and President Obama in their first midterm, a little above George W. Bush was in his second midterm.

Is it easy for the Democrats to get it back? No. But Republicans what they hope, they know one speech will not change this. What they are hoping for is that the speech can be part of a building block for the president to move up from 40 to 41 to 42 and beyond. They think every point or two saves a few House seats.

This is why, though, the Democrats are optimistic. We're only at the end of January. Check the number in October. But if the President Trump is in the 40s, the low 40s or below that, by the time we get to November, the Democrats think maybe it won't be 60. Maybe it won't be 52. But even 30, they need 24. And that of 24, even 24 would be enough.

So if you look at the numbers today, especially the president's approval rating, this is why Democrats think pretty good chance to get the House, reasonable to raise money, to maybe even get back the Senate. So, watch the president's approval rating. A lot of numbers in the midterm election year.

The president's approval rating, by far, the number one barometer, and at the moment, as you can see, especially compared to the first midterms of Obama and Clinton, President Trump steps up there in a bit of trouble, wolf.

BLITZER: But very quickly, John, there's plenty of time between now and November.

KING: There is a lot of time. So, that's what's key. Republicans can hope the president can stay disciplined, give a speech tonight like he gave in Davos. Stay focused on economy. Voters are optimistic about the economy than they have been in years.

But because of this, the president's low personal standing, some of the rising tide of the economy usually lifts all presidential boats, if you will, that's what helped Bill Clinton through his troubles. Donald Trump not getting the personal approval credit for that right now. Republicans are hoping tonight's speech focusing on the economy, focusing on tax cuts is a building block. BLITZER: John King reporting for us. John, thanks very much.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks for watching. Anderson and I will be back 8:00 p.m. Eastern, an hour from now.

Right now, CNN's special coverage of President Trump's first State of the Union Address continues with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."