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Russia Targeting U.S. Elections; Interview With Missouri Senator Roy Blunt; White House Under Fire; Police Say They Have Evidence To Indict Trump Ally Netanyahu; Hospitals Bombed in One of Syrian War's Bloodiest Weeks. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: the FBI timeline.

In a rare public hearing and in sworn testimony, the head of the FBI contradicts the White House claim that it only recently learned of spousal assault allegations against former top aid Rob Porter. Is the White House now shifting the blame to its own Personnel Security Office?

Continuing interference. U.S. intelligence chiefs unanimously agree that Russia is targeting the 2018 elections using propaganda, social media and more to influence the outcome.

Why is President Trump still at odds with his own intelligence leaders over Russia intelligence meddle?

Still not clear. Congress demands answer about why up to 40 White House staff still lacking permanent security clearances, including presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, are still getting the job and seeing classified information. The director of national intelligence says the government security office is broken. How can it be fixed?

And refusing to share. The FBI director said he won't discuss the Russia investigation with President Trump or provide him with information about it. And he defends the bureau against allegations of bias. Will the president continue to attack the FBI?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following a breaking news, the White House now shifting blame for as it faces continuing questions about when it first learned of spousal assault allegations against former aide Rob Porter.

The Trump team's timeline crumbled when the FBI director, Christopher Wray, revealed the bureau finished its investigation of Porter for a security clearance last July. When asked about that, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who pointed a finger at the FBI yesterday, said the process was in the hands of what she called career officials in the White House Personnel Security Office, up until Porter's resignation last week. We will talk about the breaking news this hour with Senator Roy Blunt.

He's a member of the Intelligence Committee, and our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the White House is clearly changing its story.


The White House is at odds with the FBI once again, this time over the timeline in the scandal involving former Staff Secretary here at the White House Rob Porter, directly contradicting White House officials. The director of the FBI testified today that it had completed its investigation into Porter's background months ago.

The response over here at the White House is anything but me, too. It is more like anybody but me.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump once steered clear of questions about former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter.

QUESTION: Do you believe Mr. Porter's ex-wives, Mr. President?

ACOSTA: Whose resignation amid allegations of domestic abuse has raised critical questions about the security clearance process for West Wing staffers.

At a congressional hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray disclosed what he knew about Porter's background check and made jaws drop across Washington when he said his agents completed their investigation last summer.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March and then a completed background investigation in late July, that, soon thereafter, we received requests for follow-up inquiry. And we did the follow-up and provided information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January.

ACOSTA: That appeared to contradict what top White House officials have said for days, that the background check investigation was not finished.

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: His background check was ongoing. He was operating on an interim security clearance. His clearance was never denied and he resigned.

ACOSTA: Today, aides to the president tried a new explanation, stating that while the FBI has completed its investigation ,the White Personnel house Security office had not.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned.

The White House Personnel Security Office plays, run by career officials, and we hadn't received a recommendation from that office.

ACOSTA: That's despite the fact that the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders just said Monday the FBI handled the background check process.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: But, look, this is a process that isn't -- doesn't operate within the White House. It is handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community. And we support that process.

ACOSTA: Sanders continued to maintain Chief of Staff John Kelly only became aware of the details of Porter's past last week, but even she appeared frustrated with the shifting explanations.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: I can only give you the best information I have and that's my understanding.

ACOSTA: Joining Wray at the same hearing, the director of national intelligence said the government security clearance process is due for an overhaul.

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The process is broken. It needs to be reformed. We have 700,000 backups. So, we have situations where we need people in places, but they don't yet have that.

ACOSTA: Even fellow Republicans aren't happy. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said the president hasn't done enough to stand up for victims of domestic abuse.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: I think he needs to send a stronger message, a stronger message. We need to allow women and men that have been abused to come out, make sure their stories are heard and believed.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House said once again today that the president continues to have confidence in Chief of Staff John Kelly.

It was Kelly who told "The Wall Street Journal" earlier today that everything was done right in the Porter matter. But that's of course after a White House spokesman said that things could have been handled better over here in the last week.

Another inconsistency from a White House that just can't seem to get its story straight. Wolf, many of the questions here keep coming back to the White House counsel, Don McGahn.

I talked to a White House official just in the last hour who said that McGahn knew much about what was in Porter's background checker last summer in that area of July that the FBI director talked about it and simply didn't share enough of that information with top White House officials, including Chief of Staff John Kelly. This official said Mr. McGahn has never had to answer for that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you very much, Jim Acosta over at the White House.

Also breaking tonight, multiple sources familiar with President Trump's thinking say he remains unconcerned that Russian interfered in the presidential election, despite unanimous agreement from his own intelligence chiefs.

Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is working the story for us.

Jessica, you're learning new information tonight. Update our viewers.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, despite those hours of testimony today that Russia has interfered and continues to interfere in the election process, CNN has learned that President Trump is still unconvinced that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

In fact, three sources tell CNN the president still views the notion that Russia meddled as a way of undermining his election win. Of course, this view contradicts his intelligence chiefs, leaving lawmakers today baffled and frustrated.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, a unanimous warning from the heads of all six U.S. intelligence agencies: Russia is at it again.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Yes. We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here.

ROBERT CARDILLO, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL GEOSPATIAL-INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I agree with Director Pompeo's assessment about the likelihood of the 2018 occurrence as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not going to change or stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is not going to change, nor is it going to stop.

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with Director Pompeo.


SCHNEIDER: The intelligence chiefs also stand by last year's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

COATS: There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts as successful.

[16:40:01] SCHNEIDER: But despite this, the president has repeatedly called the entire Russian investigation a hoax.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For 11 months, they have had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government. And it has hurt our government. It does hurt our government. It is a Democrat hoax.

SCHNEIDER: Prompting members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ask the intelligence chiefs to push back.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I just wish you all could persuade the president, we cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, with a whole-of-government response when the leader of the government continues on deny that it exists.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: The president inconveniently continues to deny the threat posed by Russia. He didn't increase sanctions on Russia when he had a chance to do so. He hasn't even tweeted a single concern.

SCHNEIDER: The Russia investigation is ongoing in three separate congressional committees, plus the Special Counsel's Office. And when the FBI director was asked if the bureau would ever share information from any of the probes from the president, Christopher Wray was clear.

WRAY: I am not going to discuss the investigation in question with the president, much less provide information from that investigation to him.

SCHNEIDER: Wray publicly clashed with the president about making the Republican memo public. And now, nearly two weeks later, Wray continues to question the rationale behind the release.

WRAY: We have then and continue to have now grave concerns about the accuracy of the memorandum because of omissions.

We provided thousands of documents that were very sensitive, and lots and lots of briefings, and it is very hard for anybody to distill all that down to three-and-a-half pages.


SCHNEIDER: Wray also contradicted the president's previous claims the bureau is in tatters and said morale remains strong.

WRAY: I like to think that our folks are pretty sturdy. I'm a big believer in the idea that the FBI speaks through its work, through its cases, through the victims it protects. And I encourage our folks not to get too hung up on what I consider to be the noise on TV and in social media.


SCHNEIDER: And FBI Director Wray also acknowledge that President Trump has not directly ordered the FBI or other agencies to confront and stop Russian meddling.

Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee chair, Richard Burr, though, he says that their investigation continues and they do expect to release a report on election security before next month, along with a review of just how extensive Russia's meddling has been in the elections that went by in 2016 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pretty amazing stuff. Jessica Schneider, reporting for us, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us, Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee, sat through the hearing today.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, I want to get to Russia in a moment, but first I want your reaction to the White House handling of the entire Rob Porter allegations.

You know the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, told "The Wall Street Journal" that it was all done right. His words. It was all done right.

Do you think it was all done right the way, the White House handled this?

BLUNT: Well, I'm certainly no expert on this. I assume General Kelly knows more about what they did than I do.

I do think that Director Coats was right today when he said that the clearance process is broken. Talking to people who have been nominated for various jobs, who put their lives basically on hold for six or eight months, and still haven't had the full clearance they have to have, we have got to do something to make process work better.

But we have to also really respect and appreciate the clearance process before people have access to the kind of documents that you should only have access to when you're cleared.

The White House, in that first year, clearly a lot of on-the-job training was going on. I hope that the second year takes these things better. But I also hope that they get more help from the bureaucracy and the agencies of government that are supposed to get in and get this work done.

I just heard listening again to that testimony today, they had a report in July. They were asked a question. They don't get the answer to the question back until November. Now, unless this was an unbelievably complicated question, why couldn't you get it answered and get that part of the file completed?

I think there's plenty of fault to here go around and it is not all just the White House.

BLITZER: Well, they completed the background investigation, the FBI said, in July.

Take a look at this. We have got the outline, the timeline of what....


BLITZER: In March of 2017, they submit a partial report to the White House. In late July, they complete the Porter background investigation, submit to the White House. November of 2017, they complete the follow-up request.

In January, this past January, they close the file on the background investigation. In February, they received additional information, which they pass on to the White House.

Throughout this whole time, Senator, Rob Porter was having access to the most sensitive information. Who screwed up there?

BLUNT: Sounds like there was again plenty of blame to go around.

Again, let me revisit just what you told me again. They get a request for follow-up information in July. They can't answer that question until November. If you want to close these files and get people through the process, everybody needs to cooperate.

This surely wasn't such a difficult question that it took July, August, September, and October to get an answer back. And then they close the file in January. By the way, this is February. This is one month after January. You can make this timeline sound as long as you want to.


BLITZER: Are you blaming the FBI?

BLUNT: I'm saying the process is broken, just like Dan Coats said it was broken.

And whoever is supposed to be doing these clearances is not -- they're either asking the wrong questions, don't know how to get the answers. People are waiting for months just to get their background clearance, so they can be the undersecretary of something in the Department of Transportation.

Now, your other question, though, is, should people who don't have clearance have access to documents that require clearance? And obviously the answer is no.


BLITZER: But there's a problem on that front, a very specific problem. Senator, excuse me for interrupting. "The Washington Post" has reported that the president's son-in-law and

senior aide, Jared Kushner, gets access to what is called the presidential daily brief. That includes the most sensitive classified secrets, even though he doesn't have permanent security clearance.


Should Jared Kushner be allowed to see the presidential daily brief?

BLUNT: Well, it depends on I think the level of provisional clearance and what the issue is that they can't get permanent clearance.

But I think people need to have permanent clearance. And the provisional clearance is something that shouldn't stand out there for very long. If a question can be answered, it needs to be answered by both the person they're looking at and the people who are doing the investigating. And it needs to happen as soon as it can.


BLITZER: On that point, on that point, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, a former senator, a man you know -- I assume you admire him. You like him. He specifically said if you only have interim clearance, not full clearance, interim clearance, you should only have access to limited information.

Now, the presidential daily brief is not limited information. So do you think Jared Kushner should have access to the presidential daily brief?

BLUNT: I'm not totally clear with what level of even interim clearance he has.

But I agree. If you don't have clearance to see information, if you have limited clearance, you can only see either information of a limited sort or for a limited time. The clearance process is very vigorous.

There are things I can see in the intel room that I can't look at in my own office because the level of security, the level of other people around, may not be appropriate for what I'm looking at. I deal with this every day.

The White House needs to deal with it the also. But I don't know what the daily pattern of who sees what at the White House is. And so I'm in no position the to comment just because of a "Washington Post" report that you're reading to me now.

But clearance matters. And we all ought to be sure that people are only seeing what we know that they are properly cleared to see.

BLITZER: Is this an issue that -- you're a member of the Intelligence Committee. There are Democrats on the Intelligence Committee. Is this something that you guys should investigate?

If you only have interim security clearance, should you have access to the most sensitive top-secret information? There are, what, 30 or 40 White House officials who still only have that interim security clearance.

BLUNT: I think the question there is, what's wrong the process that a year into the job, if that's how long some of those people have been there, they would still have, they would still be at a place where they have not been cleared?

The agency apparently have said, OK, they're far enough long. We can give them an interim clearance. Why haven't they been cleared? Both the White House needs to be concerned about that and people that are going through process.

When you agree to serve with the president, the president's term only lasts four years. If it takes you a year to get cleared to do the job, suddenly a lot of what you hoped to do, that time is gone. And we all have to do -- insist on a better job being done here at both ends of this clearance process.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on a couple other issues that came up in this truly extraordinary hearing today.

The president still, still has not yet condemned domestic violence in a public statement or even a tweet. Why is it so difficult for him to condemn domestic violence in the aftermath of this Rob Porter scandal?

BLUNT: I don't know.

I think domestic violence is unacceptable. Nobody should leave any question in anybody's mind that it is unacceptable. And whether the White House thinks they're asking and answering a different question or not, I think you can always add at the end.

And, by the way, under no circumstances is domestic violence an acceptable thing.

BLITZER: Because it doesn't seem like it would have been so hard. The president twice today was with reporters. They shouted a question to him about domestic violence. He ignored the question. Refused to answer.

Even though the other White House officials are saying privately, yes, he condemns domestic violence, does it bother you, Senator, the president is refusing to say so publicly in the aftermath of the scandal?

BLUNT: Well, I was actually in, I think, one of those meetings today where we were talking about aluminum and steel, possible tariffs or actions against companies that are dumping. There were 19 members of the House and Senate there.

It was a great discussion for an hour with the president. And the media stayed in during the whole hour. Whether or not he should then answer questions shouted at him as he's leaving the room, I don't know. But he should be absolutely clear, as should everybody else in the

White House, that domestic violence is not acceptable. Now, they can still believe that someone they know is not actually guilty of domestic violence.


But even if you believe that, you should rush to say, if this occurred, it is wrong.

BLITZER: Yes, the president often answers questions at the end of an unrelated meeting from reporters if he wants to answer the questions. He has an opportunity to do so. Today, he refused to do so.

Let me get quickly your thoughts on one other issue before I let you go. And you have been generous with your time. The heads of all the intelligence agencies that testified before your Intelligence Committee today, they said that Russian efforts to influence the November elections, the midterm elections that are coming up, are ongoing right now.

The FBI director, Christopher Wray, says President Trump, though, hasn't specifically directed any action to stop Russian interference. Why not? Why is the president silent in the face of all of his intelligence officials unanimously agreeing the Russians did it in the presidential election and they're doing it again now?

BLUNT: And all of them saying that they are engaged in doing something about it. Whether the president has to -- whether he needs to address that, I don't know.


BLITZER: You would think the president, you would think, if he sees this as a national security threat to the United States, he would talk about it. Talk about it in the State of the Union address. But he clearly doesn't believe, based on all of the reporting, that the Russians did what his intelligence chiefs say that they did do.

BLUNT: Well, the Russians interfered in the elections.

And what we need to be particularly focused on as we approach these March and May primaries is to be sure that the part we don't think they interfered with, the actual counting, the Election Day process, the part that people have to have ultimate credibility in, is secure.

And that's what I talked about in my questions today. And the directors in various agencies also expressed their sense that that was important. And if we're going to do something about it for this election cycle, we have to get that right done now.

So, frankly, our committee should get that part of its report out. And then the only thing really left out there to be determined is the other issue of collusion, rather than the issue of whether the Russians were active or not, as they have been in countries all over Western Europe for a couple of decades now. BLITZER: Yes, the president says repeatedly, as you well know, he

apparently believes that this entire Russia investigation, the meddling allegation, is a witch-hunt, a hoax. He says that, apparently still believes that, despite what his intelligence chiefs are telling him.

You have been generous, as I said, with your time. Senator, thank, as usual, for joining us.

BLUNT: Wolf, good to be with you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, the White House press secretary seemingly distancing herself from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and changing her story as questions grow in the scandal over a top aide accused of spousal abuse.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: I wouldn't have access to that information. I wouldn't know the answer to that.

I can only give you the best information that I have and that's my understanding.

We're simply stating that we're giving you the best information that we're going to have. We relay the best and most accurate information that we have.




BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, the White House shifting blame and qualifying its answers as it faces a new barrage of questions surrounding former aide Rob Porter and who knew what about spousal abuse allegations against him.

Let's bring in our analysts and our experts.

And, Gloria, clearly, the White House press secretary was struggling today to give a coherent explanation.

Listen to this.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: Every day, we come here, we do the very best we can. And every day we can do better than the day before.

I wouldn't have access to that information. I wouldn't know the answer to that.

I can only give you the best information that I have and that's my understanding. We're simply stating that we're giving you the best information that we're going to have. We relay the best and most accurate information that we have.

And we get those from those individuals.

QUESTION: This scandal has been going on for a week now, and we still don't have answers to the basic questions of sort of who knew what when.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I have done the best I can to walk you through that process, as has Raj. We have done that pretty extensively, and I would refer you back to all of the statements we've given.


BLITZER: Is she trying to difference herself from all of this?



I just think also it's possible that the true timeline is not yet known inside the White House, even by somebody at Sarah Sanders' level.

What happened today, when you had the FBI director testify and give a completely different timeline than the White House has given, raises really serious questions. You have the chief of staff saying that he only learned about the difficult details 40 minutes before he fired Porter.

And you have the head of the FBI saying that the FBI closed the file in January, after it had received a request for a follow-up. We don't who know requested it, which the bureau completed and provided in November.

We have been reporting that General Kelly knew as far back as November. What we need to know is what the White House counsel knew, who the White House counsel spoke with to about this, who was requesting more information here, and what General Kelly knew and when he knew it.

Shawn Turner is with us, a former director of communications for U.S. national intelligence. Yesterday the White House was blaming the FBI for Porter's security clearance problems, if you will. Now they're pointing to career staffers over at the White House personnel security office. Does any of this make sense to you?

[18:30:19] TURNER: I wish it did, but unfortunately, it does not. When we look at the way that this process works, the White House personnel security office is responsible for taking that completed investigation, which we now know that they got from the FBI in July, and looking over that investigation, making a determination as to whether or not the individual on the other side of that investigation is worthy of a security clearance. You have to understand that for these people, that is a major

consideration, and the information in that investigation is not the kind of information they sit on and wait to determine whether or not that's the sort of thing that they should move forward on. They let people know. They make a decision early on.

So we're talking about a time line here that involves a total of seven months between the time that they received a completed investigation and the time that all of this began to break open. I cannot imagine a scenario in which security personnel would have had that information and sat on it and not passed that information on to anyone in the White House. It's just -- it's unlikely.

BLITZER: Mark Preston, it was an extraordinary moment. Not every day you hear the director of the FBI publicly contradict what the White House has been saying. Listen to the director, Christopher Wray, explain when they told the White House what was going on. Listen to this.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March. And then a completed background investigation in late July. That soon thereafter, we received requests for follow-up inquiry. And we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month, we received some additional information, and we passed that had on, as well.


BLITZER: All right. Despite all that information going from the FBI to the White House, Porter himself was being considered for a promotion, maybe even becoming the deputy White House chief of staff just days before the scandal erupted.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And you have to wonder, why was he still on the staff track to even get more power? The position he was in is very powerful. You're right next to the president.

My understanding is that General Kelly is looking at a White House of novices. People who have never been in government. They've never been in the West Wing, you know, except for the first day when Donald Trump himself walked in as president. And he's looking around at who's going to be in the foxhole with him, who understands government.

Now, Rob Porter was Orrin Hatch's chief of staff. He did time with Senator Rob Portman. He did time with Senator Mike Lee. He is very much from the establishment mold. And you have to wonder, was General Kelly saying to himself, "OK, he did this stuff, but I really need him more right now, because there's no experience in this..."

BLITZER: It's really an amazing development. Rebecca Berg, chief of staff John Kelly, he actually told "The Wall Street Journal" that it was all done right. He has no problems with the way it was done even though others, including the vide president, said, "You know what? They could have done it a lot better, in explaining what was going on."

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it doesn't look, Wolf, from our cheap seats, at least, like this was done right, that this was handled well. And actually, deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in his remarks a few days ago that this was not handled as well as it could have been.

Of course, our White House reporters found that President Trump was not happy with him saying that, and that's probably why we're hearing Kelly saying now that this was handled correctly, that everything was above board. Because this is a White House that, when this situation and so many others, they never accept defeat. They never admit any sort of error. They always want to project this sort of strength and perfection in everything they do. In this case, it's just not true.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is P.R. malpractice. Seriously, if you have a story to tell, that you want to defend, you give time line the way Chris Wray gave the time line today. The White House can do that. Kelly can do that. He can try and clean this up. He can admit if he made a mistake or if he didn't make a mistake. Or the White House counsel can do this. I mean, you know, there has to be some accountability here.

This was questions of domestic abuse that were not paid any attention to, even when red-flagged. To your point, it had to be red-flagged. So they -- they need to sort of...


BORGER: tell the American public what happened without letting it drip out.

BLITZER: Instead of sending Sarah Sanders out there to make the case. John Kelly should go into the briefing room, make the case, explain what happened. If there were blunders, he should apologize and see if they can move on. Otherwise they'll have to make some major decisions over there.

Stand by. There's more breaking news we're following: a very troubling warning about Russian election meddling from U.S. intelligence chiefs. But President Trump still doesn't believe it actually happened. Can the U.S. fight Russian interference without the president's direct support?


[18:39:54] BLITZER: We're back with our experts and our analysts. We're following the breaking news.

Sean Turner, the leaders of the intelligence community, all of them testified today, no doubt Russia interfered. They're planning on interfering in the mid-terms once again.

But Christopher Wray, the FBI director, said President Trump still hasn't specifically directed them to take any action -- any action -- to fight this Russian aggression.

How effective can the U.S. government be in dealing with this if the president doesn't even believe the Russians interfered?

TURNER: Well, there are some things that the intelligence community can do to block the efforts of foreign adversaries when it comes to interfering in our election.

But it is the case also that without a whole of government approach, a strategy that looks at this from all different angles, there are limits to what the intelligence community can do.

You know, there really -- if the administration really wants to tackle this, there are three things that they really need to do to make this a priority.

The first thing is that we need a more proactive approach to alerting the American people to information, to disinformation and attempts to influence foreign adversaries. That's an area where the intelligence community can play a role, but the intelligence community should not lead on that.

The second thing that we need to do is make absolutely sure that we are holding Russia accountable. And that's the real travesty here, is that we absolutely know that Russia interfered in our election the last time around. We know that they are -- they are already attempting to do it this time around, and they also have not done anything to substantively hold them accountable. And that's something that we should all be concerned about.

And then the last thing, as we go into the 2018 election, we know that at the state level, our -- our election infrastructure is relatively -- relatively secure. But we know that the Russians and others are probing around in that area, and we need to make absolutely sure that we...

BLITZER: One problem, the president says he thinks that when Putin denies it, Putin is being sincere.

PRESTON: He says that he believes him when he says it. And that is a big problem. It's a big problem when you are serving the president and you are sitting before Congress and you are saying one thing and you are now having your boss the next day, the day before, saying an entirely different thing, which we all know, by the way, is not true.

So you have to ask yourself. At some point, what are the likes of Dan Coats, who was a senator, who was an ambassador, who doesn't need this job at the DNI, will he just walk away and say, "I've had enough." You've got to wonder. Are we going to see that in other parts of the White House, as well?

BORGER: There's no way to get around this with the president. Because he thinks it's delegitimizing his election. And he also thinks, according to my sources and other people's sources, that this goes on all the time and that there's nothing new about this. We spy on them. They spy on us. We try and interfere in their politics. They try and interfere in ours. I mean, he said this to his friends, which is, "I'm the legitimate president. Democrats want to take this away, and by the way, this isn't new."

TURNER: Yes, the president is right that this is the kind of thing that happens. But to be clear, we have never seen interference on the level that we saw in this past election.

BORGER: No, of course not.

BLITZER: The president doesn't believe it. It's a hoax. It's a witch hunt, this whole investigation.

All right, guys. Stand by. There's more news we're following. Just ahead, breaking news out of Israel. The prime minister and Trump ally, Benjamin Netanyahu, moves one step closer to possible corruption charges. Can the longtime leader survive this scandal?


[18:47:52] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We have more breaking news tonight. Israeli police say there's sufficient evidence to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two corruption cases. Israel's attorney general will make the decision whether to charge Netanyahu who is a close ally of President Trump. So, the president denies wrongdoing and says the allegations against him won't come to anything.

Let's dig deeper with Ambassador Dennis Ross. He's a former special assistant on the Middle East to President Obama, counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Dennis, thanks for joining us.

Can Netanyahu survive this?

DENNIS ROSS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes, he can. I mean, he was the victim of a police recommendation in 1997 that he should be indicted. The attorney general they found that there was wrongdoing but not sufficient to indict. The same thing could happen again.

BLITZER: His predecessor, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, he was indicted, convicted, and wound up in jail. They're pretty tough over there, the Israeli police, their recommendations.

ROSS: We've seen an Israeli president put in jail. We've seen an Israeli prime minister put in jail. They have done a long investigation here. The investigation will now -- the results will be given to the state attorney general who has been involved with this investigation all along who will then also make a recommendation to the attorney general. Then the attorney general have to make a judgment call.

BLITZER: As you know, President Trump has a long history, a very close relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu. What do you think this means for their relationship? The fact that police are now recommending criminal charges?

ROSS: My guess is the president will say, look, let's let the process play out. This is -- as Prime Minister Netanyahu said, look, he said that he has confidence in the overall judicial process and he feels that as he has seen before, there have -- he gave a speech where he talked about 70 percent of the police recommendations were indictment they'll get acted on. So, I think he will continue to present a pretty confident face and I suspect the president will be supportive of it.

BLITZER: In the meantime, there is a lot going on. The peace process at least for now is dead. Will this have any impact at all in trying to revive it?

ROSS: I don't think you're going to see much movement on it at this point. I do think, by the way, if the administration came with their plan and it was seen as credible, and they had orchestrated Arab public support for it, you might see the prime minister, depending upon where this judicial process, he could conceivably call for elections and say, let's go to elections to, in a sense, make a judgment on the plan.

[18:50:17] BLITZER: And you think he believes that if there were new elections, the Israel public would go ahead and re-elect him despite these potential criminal charges?

ROSS: I think that he feels confident that he still has sufficient support. I mean, bear in mind something about the Israeli political system, Likud, which is the biggest party which he heads has 30 seats out of 120. So, he doesn't have to have majority. He has to get -- he has be the largest party and be able to put together a government.

BLITZER: Meantime, there's potentially a threat of war emerging in Syria with the Iranians.

ROSS: Look, the Iranians crossed the threshold. Typically, when they attack the Israelis, they do it through proxies. This time, they were carrying out, sending in a drone that was a stealthy drone, they did it directly. This wasn't through proxies. They crossed threshold, which is game changer which is why the Israelis responded the way they did.

BLITZER: Lots going on over there. A very dangerous situation. Dennis Ross, thanks very much for coming in.

ROSS: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Much more news right after this.


[18:55:55] BLITZER: We're following major breaking news.

The White House now scrambling to try to explain why former aide Rob Porter was allowed to continue working in the west wing despite allegations of abuse by two ex-wives. The FBI Director Christopher Wray directly contradicted the White House version of events during testimony, extraordinary testimony I should say up on Capitol Hill today. We're going to follow that story here on CNN throughout the evening. Stay with us for that.

But now to a CNN exclusive, a new level of horror in the war in Syria. At least six medical facilities bombed and one of the bloodiest weeks of fighting as United Nations investigate alleged chemical attacks on rebel-held areas.

We want to warn our viewers this report by CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon contains very graphic images.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yasiv's (ph) tiny chest heaves with each breath. He was born during a week that even by Syria's ungodly standards was especially punishing. His mother Hannan's (ph) body still trembles --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even now when I look at him, I can't believe he's here.

DAMON: And that's not because he was born prematurely, it's because the hospital he was at was bombed.

The footage from that night is a glimpsed into a magnitude of the horror, the fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you taking the babies?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The incubators! The incubators!

DAMON: There were around 300 people, staff, patients in intensive care, and the most precious and vulnerable.

In a span of just five days, six medical facilities in Idlib Province were targeted in airstrikes.

(on camera): This is the lower level, underground and this is where they used to do all of the main emergency surgeries and it's also where right now they're storing whatever equipment they've managed to salvage.

(voice-over): Days before we arrived as doctors were treating the wounded from an airstrike in a market, the facility was hit again. The death from the market were outside, now buried not in graves but somewhere in the crater left behind.

This is a population that feels like it's on borrowed time.

Fayeed Hatab (ph) was in a makeshift underground bunker with neighbors when an alleged chlorine strike took place. He vomited, couldn't breathe and thought, that's it, my number's up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, at the moment I was thinking about my kids. DAMON: Luckily, many of the women and children here had fled just days before. The two toxic shells impacted near an empty field.

(on camera): There's still a little bit of sort of an acrid stench. Yes, it's been six days.

(voice-over): Two members of the civil defense team who responded were also affected.

The war here has long been a science of methodical cruelty as the world looks on and Syria endorsed one of the bloodiest weeks of this conflict.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After all he's been through, it's impossible he survived.

DAMON: Hannan watches her baby fight in one of the last remaining facilities where he even stands a chance. So, what kind of a world are these babies fighting to live in?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here you can never know, we live through one hour, we don't know if we'll survive the next.

DAMON: Arwa Damon, CNN Idlib Province, Syria.


BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story that is. But the war there continues.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.