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Trump Denies Supreme Court Pick Criticized Him; Ex-Spy Chief: Trump Travel Ban Damaging, Unnecessary. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 9, 2017 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: "History of Comedy" is premiering tonight at 10 p.m. right here on CNN. Our thanks to Sean Hayes.

[17:00:04] Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper, @TheLeadwithJakeTapper is our Twitter handle. That's it for the show. I turn it over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Alternative reality. President Trump denies his Supreme Court nominee criticized the president's attacks on judges, and the White House chastises reporters for pressing the issue. Will the president's high court pick go public with his remarks?

Counselor "counseled." A day after the president calls Nordstrom unfair for dropping his daughter's clothing line, top advisor Kellyanne Conway urges people to buy Ivanka Trump's merchandise during a live TV interview from the White House. Did her plug violate federal law?

Firing back. In an exclusive interview, the man who stepped down as the nation's spy chief just days ago characterizes President Trump's travel ban as dangerous and unnecessary. Is it helping ISIS recruit new terrorists?

And nonstarter. President Trump reportedly denounces a key nuclear arms deal with Russia in his first phone call with President Vladimir Putin. I'll talk to a U.S. senator who says President Trump is ignorant about nuclear weapons and policy. She calls the president negligent.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, including denials by President Trump and his press secretary. They're rejecting the fact that the president's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch told Democratic and Republican senators that President Trump's attacks on judges are, quote, "demoralizing and disheartening."

Also breaking, the uproar over a TV plug for Ivanka Trump's clothing line by top Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway. During a live TV interview from the White House, she urged people to buy the first daughter's merchandise, which has been dropped by Nordstrom department stores. The White House says Conway has been, quote, "counseled," but lawmakers are now reaching out to the Office of Government Ethics, which has been overwhelmed with calls and e-mails.

And the former director of national intelligence now speaking candidly about President Trump's travel ban, which is now before a federal appeals court. James Clapper, who stepped down from the post just days ago, tells CNN in an exclusive interview that he doesn't know of any threat warranting the president's executive order, which he says ISIS will now use as propaganda.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.

Let's begin with our White House correspondent Athena Jones.

Athena, officials there deny Judge Gorsuch's remarks, even though the aide they appointed to help him get confirmed have actually confirmed those remarks.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. That's right. Another day, another argument over facts.

The White House disputing the idea or the facts that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch called the president's tweets about federal judges "disheartening and demoralizing."


JONES (voice-over): Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch meeting with senators who will decide his fate and avoiding questions about President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you condemn the remarks, sir?

JONES: This after senators from both parties say Gorsuch told them in private that he found the president's remarks criticizing the federal judges handling a challenge to the administration's immigration ban "demoralizing and disheartening."

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There's no question that Judge Gorsuch said to me that he found these attacks on the judiciary by the president to be "disheartening and demoralizing."

JONES: Today, meeting with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss the nomination to the high court, the president denying Gorsuch ever criticized him.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His comments were misrepresented.

JONES: White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisting Gorsuch was talking in general terms and not directly calling out the president.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The judge was very clear that he was not commenting on any specific matter. Right? And then he was asked about his general philosophy. He literally went out of his way to say, "I'm not commenting on a specific instance."

JONES: But that statement refuted by Gorsuch's White House appointed spokesman and a Senate Republican who met with the nominee and said they discussed the president's criticism.

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: "Disheartening" is a great word. Judge Gorsuch and I actually talked about that, and frankly, he got pretty passionate about him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your answer about the context doesn't make sense when you think about what Senator Ben Sasse said today and this morning on TV. He said that he asked Judge Gorsuch specifically about the president's "so-called judge" tweet and in response...

SPICER: Phil, this is like the fourth time I've asked and answered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a different context.

SPICER: I understand that.

JONES: Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said Gorsuch made it clear he wanted his concerns shared.

BLUMENTHAL: In fact, Judge Gorsuch specifically said, "You should feel free to mention what I said about these attacks being disheartening and demoralizing."

JONES: Still, he and other Democrats want Gorsuch to go further and publicly denounce the president's comments.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Whisper to a senator, but to refuse to say anything public is not close to a good enough show on independence.

JONES: While Republicans contend the episode demonstrates Gorsuch's respect for judicial independence.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MONTANA: What Judge Gorsuch is showing here is his independent character, the fact that, as a judge, he's going to call them as he sees them.

JONES: All this coming as White House counselor Kellyanne Conway sparked another controversy while defending Trump's decision to blast Nordstrom for ending sales of Ivanka Trump-branded items.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: Go buy Ivanka's stuff is what I would tell you. I'm going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody.

JONES: Her sales pitch drawing the attention of ethics watchdogs who say it could be a violation of federal law. Asked about Conway's remarks, Spicer only had this to say.

SPICER: Kellyanne has been counseled, and that's all we're going to go with. She's been counseled on that subject, and -- and that's it.


JONES: So, the White House counselor has been counseled on that subject.

And, Wolf, when it comes to criticizing judges, remember, this is not the first time. During the campaign then-candidate Trump criticized U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was handling a case against Trump University, saying the judge had an absolute conflict in presiding over the case because of his Mexican heritage.

Now, the press secretary said today that the President Trump stands by the comments he's made about federal judges. So, it's fair to say that we can probably expect more of this, more of these types of comments from the president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena Jones, our White House correspondent, thank you very much.

And we have some breaking news. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has just announced the three judges have reached a decision on President Trump's proposed travel ban. That decision will be announced, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals says, within hours before the close of business day out on the West Coast. That would be in San Francisco. Of course, CNN will have extensive live coverage once we get the decision from those three judges.

In the meantime, let's get some more on what's going on with the Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. She's a member of the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committee.

So you see the breaking news we're getting. What do you hope the decision is, Senator?

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, obviously, I hope they will strike down the executive order on immigration. I think this is an order that is un-American. It's not consistent with our values of a nation that's built on immigrants. It was poorly implemented. There's still a lot of confusion about what it means. I think it's not good for us economically.

I'm hearing from people in New Hampshire they're already seeing travel affected. Our universities are seeing people who they want to have for research who can't get into the country. So, I think for all kinds -- and finally, it doesn't make us safer.

BLITZER: Why is it not legal? Because the White House and the president, President Trump, they've repeatedly cited laws which give the president wide-range authority to determine who is allowed into the country and who is not.

SHAHEEN: Well, I think it's up for that three-judge panel and the courts to determine if it's legal.

The question I have is whether it's good policy. And I don't believe it's good policy, because it -- those people who we want to help us in this fight against terrorism are the people who are going to be turned off by this order. And what we're seeing already is that ISIS and other terrorist groups are using it as a recruiting tool.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have much more on this coming up. Once again, the headline right now, the breaking news, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just announced that they have reached a decision. The three judges have reached a decision and will be announced soon. We'll, of course, have that as soon as the announcement is made.

Let's talk about the U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. Your leader, the Democratic leader in the Senate, minority leader Chuck Schumer, his team just put out this statement. I'll read it to you.

"Sean Spicer just made it crystal clear that Judge Gorsuch has refused to condemn President Trump's attacks on the judiciary. That makes an already weak response already weaker and is further proof that the judge has not demonstrated the kind of independence necessary to be a check on this administration."

Do you believe if, in fact, what Sean Spicer said, that the judge wasn't specifically referring to what the president has said about federal judges, that that weakens his case to be confirmed?

SHAHEEN: Well, look, I haven't had a chance to meet with Judge Gorsuch yet independently. This is a question I'm going to be asking him. I think, at the very least, we should expect our judges who are candidates for the Supreme Court to understand that the judicial branch is a separate but equal branch of government, and I would expect him to be willing to say that.

But I think there are a lot of other issues on which I'm going to be looking to Judge Gorsuch to make a decision about, whether I'll support him or not.

BLITZER: So, you're open-minded at this point?

SHAHEEN: Well, I haven't met with him, so I'm going to listen to what he has to say.

BLITZER: President Trump today said it's, quote, "very dishonest and very unfortunate" when, in his words, "because of politics" people oppose his nominees. Are you worried that the White House is trying to quash, really, any serious dissent?

SHAHEEN: I am. I think that's been a concern as we've looked at nominees for the Trump camp, that there's been an effort to push people through, to not give an opportunity to really question them about where they stand on the issues. Certainly, that was true of Betsy DeVos, who we saw had only one hearing, where there was one round of questioning, and people had a lot of other questions that were submitted to her in writing. We never got answers back on those.

So, I think there's been a deliberate effort to push nominees through without the public having a chance to hear where they stand. BLITZER: She is the education secretary now.

SHAHEEN: She is.

BLITZER: She has been confirmed. And it confirms the old adage, elections matter.

SHAHEEN: Absolutely elections do matter. And she was confirmed on a 51-50 vote. They had to bring in, for the first time in history, the vice president of the United States to vote on a nominee to the president's cabinet.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about another uproar that has developed. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, she was on FOX TV, FOX News earlier today, and in the process of that interview, which she did from the White House, she promoted Ivanka Trump's apparel line. The Democratic ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Representative Elijah Cummings, he called this in his words, "a textbook violation of government ethics law."

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, today said she has been counseled -- he used the word "counseled" -- on the subject. Is that enough?

SHAHEEN: Well, it was totally inappropriate for Kellyanne Conway or for any public official or public employee to use the White House or office for personal gain for themselves, their families or people that they know. So, I think this was totally inappropriate.

I think there will be the ethics -- there will be ethics committee that will look into what she's had to say. And it's up to others to determine whether she should be counseled beyond that and whether there should be some other action taken.

BLITZER: Is Congress doing enough right now to deal with potential conflicts of interest in the White House?

SHAHEEN: I don't think so. You know, this is a president who has not complied with what, historically, presidents have been willing to do, to divest himself of all this businesses, to put them in a blind trust, to have no engagement at all with what's going on with businesses. And I think this is a president who's in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. And unfortunately, I think Congress has been -- the Republican majority in Congress has not been willing to take on those violations.

BLITZER: You're on the Foreign Relations Committee. You're on the Armed Services Committee. Reuters is now reporting that, during his phone conversation with Vladimir Putin, President Trump denounced what's called the START -- START 2 treaty...


BLITZER: ... with Russia. The White House was asked about this. They called the call private. They provided no details. If this is true, what's your reaction? SHAHEEN: It's very troublesome that we would have a president who

would know so little about the New START treaty that he would have to ask his aides what it is, and to have a conversation with Vladimir Putin of Russia and suggest that he does not want to continue to reduce nuclear weapons is very troubling, especially from a president who has talked about nuclear weapons as if they're just another weapons system and we don't have to worry about the tremendous devastation that would occur, and who suggested that countries like Saudi Arabia and Japan should have their own nuclear weapons system. It's just beyond troubling to think that the president of the United States would take that cavalier attitude towards nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: And I assume you have confidence in the defense secretary, General Mattis, who's in charge, basically, of that nuclear arsenal.

SHAHEEN: I've had the chance to ask both Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson about their commitment to the New START treaty and to reducing nuclear weapons; and they have both said they believe we should do that.

BLITZER: So, they're both on the same page with you.


BLITZER: All right, Senator, there's much more coming up. I want you to stand by. We've got the breaking news. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has just announced that the three-judge panel has reached a decision. They've reached a decision on whether or not President Trump can go forward with his proposed travel ban, basically not allowing people from seven Muslim majority nations to come to the United States. That is about to be announced.

[17:15:17] We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Breaking news, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has just announced that its order in the Trump travel ban case will be released before the close of business day. We're standing by for that. As soon as we get the decision from these three judges on the fate of the travel ban affecting seven mostly Muslim nations, we will share that with you and have extensive live coverage. Stand by.

[17:20:05] We're back with Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. We want to talk with her about that, also about a CNN exclusive. The former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is speaking candidly about President Trump's travel ban on refugees and people from those seven Muslim majority countries.

Our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is with us. He's got details.

Jim, you had a chance to speak exclusively to James Clapper about the ban. What was his take? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's

right, Wolf. I've spoken with Director Clapper a number of times. He certainly does not shy away from sharing his honest judgments. And today he very directly criticized the travel ban as both unnecessary, to his knowledge, and damaging. And he also raised genuine concerns about the effects of President Trump's public criticism of the U.S. intelligence community.



SCIUTTO (voice-over): In his first interview since stepping down, the nation's top spy until just three weeks ago told us he is aware of no intelligence necessitating the president's travel ban. And, in fact, finds the ban damaging.

(on camera): Does the terror threat necessitate the ban from these seven countries?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't believe we in the I.C. were aware of any extraordinary threats that we weren't already dealing with. And we're using, I think, some very rigorous vetting processes which we constantly improved on.

SCIUTTO: Does a ban like this, in your view, does it damage U.S. image, but also counterterror partnership?

CLAPPER: Yes, I do worry about those countries in question, with whom we do deal and who are reliable partners. I also worry about this creating a recruiting tool for the extremists. That they -- this -- they will point to this as proof that there is, in fact, a war on all Muslims.

SCIUTTO: And you're confident in the vetting that the U.S. is already doing for travelers from this country?

CLAPPER: I am, and we have improved that process as we've gone.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Retired director of national intelligence James Clapper commented for the first time on the decision to brief then- President-elect Trump on a dossier alleging that Russia has compromising information on him which CNN was first to report.

CLAPPER: We thought that it was important that -- that he know about it. That was the main point. Not to comment on the veracity.

SCIUTTO: In the wake of the dossier's revelation, Mr. Trump publicly criticized the intelligence community, even comparing it to Nazi Germany, which prompted a phone call from Director Clapper to Trump.

CLAPPER: I was very concerned, as many in the intelligence community, quite upset about the inference that -- of likening the intelligence community to the Nazis. I felt obliged to call the president-elect and appeal to his higher instincts and to make sure he understood what our motives were, what our -- what impelled the intelligence community is support to the commander in chief, and to keep him as informed as possible, particularly if it involved some jeopardy to him.

SCIUTTO (on camera): Were you successful?

CLAPPER: Well, he took the call very well. At first he took the call and was very affable and solicitous. And so, I had thought it was a successful -- it was a constructive engagement.

SCIUTTO: Then he went to the CIA?

CLAPPER: Yes. Well, for a couple minutes, it was fine. I actually -- I was encouraged when I heard that his first visit after the election was going to be the CIA. The wall he stood in front of is hallowed space, not only for CIA people, but actually for the entire intelligence community.

I would also mention that lesser known is a similar display at NSA which has even more stars. And those places and the memories of people in the intelligence community that have paid the ultimate sacrifice, extremely important to intelligence community people, not just CIA. And I just -- I would hope that when people stand in front of edifices like that, that they remember that.


SCIUTTO: Wolf, on Russia's hacking of the U.S. election, Director Clapper told me that he had a visceral reaction to it in the pit of his stomach. He saw it as an attack on U.S. democracy.

And he made three points about the hacking. He said one, there's no reason to believe that Russia has stopped hacking U.S. political institutions. He believes it continues. He also says that he believes Russia will attempt to attack future elections. In his words, he wouldn't put it past them.

[17:25:03] And when I asked him, will Russia next time around, perhaps, try to target the actual vote tallies, as opposed to just political candidates, et cetera? To that, as well, Wolf, he said he would not put it past Russia. He says it's in their DNA, in his words.

BLITZER: Yes. Pretty stark words from the man who ran the U.S. intelligence community less than three weeks ago. All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

We're back with Senator Jeanne Shaheen. She's a member of the Foreign Services and Armed Services Committee.

You've suggested, Senator, that this travel ban -- and we're all awaiting now fairly soon the ruling from this federal appeals court -- you've said if it goes into effect, it will be, in your words, a recruitment tool by al-Qaeda. Tell us why.

SHAHEEN: Well, we've already heard that, that both ISIS and al-Qaeda, other terrorist organizations are using this to justify what they claim is a war on Islam by the United States, and that's one of the ways they recruit people to join their terrorist organizations.

This is a ban that takes a shot at countries that we need to help us in this fight against ISIS. Our ally, Iraq, for example, we are fighting hand-in-hand with Iraq right now to try and throw ISIS out of Mosul. We're going to be working to get them out of Iraq entirely, and for us to ban Iraqis coming to this country is a real shot -- shot at our allies.

BLITZER: Because the argument that administration officials make is, you know what? ISIS and al-Qaeda and these other terrorist groups, al Shabaab, they have plenty of recruitment tools right now. What the U.S. is doing in trying to have what the president calls extreme vetting is not going to affect their recruitment. They're doing it in any case, especially over social media.

SHAHEEN: Well, they are. But this is another confirmation that they can use that what they've been saying about the United States is correct.

And as Director Clapper pointed out, we already have extreme vetting of refugees coming into this country. Most of the refugees who come into the United States are fleeing conflict, but they're women. They're children; they're the disabled. And, so, the idea that we're going to -- we're going to change our vetting process and make it even better, I think, is not really what we need to do.

BLITZER: It was also very chilling -- and you just heard General Clapper tell Jim Sciutto -- that the Russians are going to continue doing what they're doing, trying to undermine the U.S. democratic election process, and maybe even going further. Rather than just hacking various web sites, various e-mails from Democratic or Republican politicians, they're actually going to try to change the outcome of U.S. elections by going into the election process, if you will. That's pretty chilling to hear that from the former DNI.

SHAHEEN: It's very chilling. And we heard in the Foreign Relations Committee today from the former supreme allied commander in Europe general Breedlove, who said exactly the same thing. Not only that they're doing it here in the United States, but they're doing it in Germany, in France where they're facing elections this year. They're doing it to try and unsettle the Balkans.

And he suggested that, for us not to have a public investigation so the public understands what went on and take action against Russia, is really a travesty, that we should be screaming very loud about what's happened here, and that Congress should be working together in a bipartisan way.

BLITZER: Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, thanks very much.

SHAHEEN: Nice to be here.

BLITZER: We're continuing to stand by in this very important ruling in the Trump travel ban case. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just announced it will be releasing its final decision by the end of business day today. That could be within an hour or three hours. We're standing by for that decision. Lots at stake.

Also ahead, new concerns that hackers controlled by Russia's Vladimir Putin may have a new target: another presidential election held by an important U.S. ally.


[17:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: We're following the breaking news. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has just announced its order in the Trump travel ban case, will be released before the close of business today. That could be in an hour or two hours, three hours. We'll of course have extensive live coverage. We'll bring you the decision as soon as we get it. In the meantime, let's bring in our political and legal experts. And Jeffrey Toobin, let me start with you. Do you have any idea what these three judges are going to announce?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we don't know for sure, but what we do know is that this will be a major event in the early history of the Trump administration, because, you know, this has been a signature measure. This attempt to ban certain groups and people from our shores, and the appeals court either will uphold the stay, that is, keep the Trump executive order off the books, they will allow the executive order to take effect, or there will be some sort of compromise. And we know, too, that the legal story will not be over after tonight. That the case will either go back to the district court for further proceedings. The losing side here may go to the United States Supreme Court to overturn whatever is done today. So, this will be a major moment, but it will not be the last moment in the tortured legal history already of this executive order.

[17:35:03] BLITZER: And very quickly, Jeffrey, the fact that the three-judge panel, one of them, Judge Canby, was appointed by President Jimmy Carter. One judge, Michelle Friedland, was appointed by President Obama. And Judge Clifton was appointed by George -- President George W. Bush. Can we read into anything? Two of appointed by a democratic president and one appointed by a republican president, if it's a two to one vote, we know what happens.

TOOBIN: Two to one, right. You know, the fact is it is often significant to know which president appointed the judge. I mean, the fact is democratically appointed judges tend to vote in a more liberal direction. Republican appointed judges tend to vote in a more conservative. That's not always the case. Remember, the judge who imposed this stay in Seattle, Washington was a George W. Bush judge. So, it is not a perfect parallel, but it is often a hint, and you can be sure that the plaintiffs in this case, the Washington attorney general, the Minnesota attorney general, were pleased with the draw they got in the Ninth Circuit, which already tends to be one of the more liberal circuits, because they got two democratically appointed judges.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to have the results, we're going to have that decision as soon as it's announced by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal. So, Jeffrey, don't go too far away. David Axelrod, I want to move to this other uproar that has developed involving Kellyanne Conway, the Counselor to the President. Listen to what she said on Fox News earlier today.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S COUNSELOR: Go buy Ivanka's stuff is what I would tell you. I'm going to get -- I'm going to get -- he's shopping and I'm going to get some on myself today. It's a wonderful line, I own some of it. I fully I'm going to just give a -- I'm going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody, you can find it online.


BLITZER: Got the same title in the Obama White House, David Axelrod, Counselor to the President. So, go back to those days. If you or one of your colleagues would have done what she did, what would have happened?

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, was that Fox or the home shopping network? I'm confused about this. Look, absolutely, I can't imagine such a scenario under the Obama administration, but we're in an entirely new paradigm. We've got a president who has refused to divest himself of his -- of his holdings, or put, or liquidate them and put them in a blind trust as past presidents have done, his sons are running the business, their business dealings are somewhat opaque, his tax returns remain secret. So, the whole thing is rife with conflicts of interest. So, there really are no rules. And my guess is, you know, Kellyanne feels like she has an audience of one here, not ethics rules, but the president of the United States, and he was probably pretty tickled by what she did this morning.

LITZER: He probably was, but she's paying the price. The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said she has now been formally counseled. You know, Dana, I want your -- I want your thoughts on this as well, but stand by just for a moment. We're going to get back to that. Brianna, I want you to stay with us as well. We've got some more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:40:00] BLITZER: Once again, the breaking news. We're following the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. It's just announced that it will release its order in the Trump travel ban case before the close of business today. That could be the next hour or two. We're standing by for that decision. We'll bring it to you as soon as we get it. In the meantime, let's go back to our political and legal experts. And Dana, I want to talk about the Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. There are a lot of sources out there, including plenty within the Trump administration, who are insisting that what was announced, what was said by Senator Blumenthal and other senators was accurate, but the president is contradicting -- is contradicting what other members of his own team, including a spokesman for Judge Gorsuch, Gorsuch appointed by the White House, are saying "why?" DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORESPONDENT: Because it criticizes him. I mean, that's just I think the most simple, straightforward way to answer the question. Even though it is the notion of the judge, seeming to be independent, sounding independent in these private meeting is exactly what you want in a judge, especially if you're a U.S. senator trying to decide whether or not to support him to be a Supreme Court justice. But the fact is it comes at a cost when you're Donald Trump because it's personally kind of criticizing what he had said.

I am told that -- by a source that is familiar with some of these conversations that the judge has had with senators -- that the question that comes up is something along the lines of, you know, what do you think about the president attacking the judges who have ruled against his executive order, and that the judge's, Judge Gorsuch's response is -- I can't comment on that, I can't comment on a specific case for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that I might actually have to hear it if I'm a Supreme Court justice, but I can tell you, in general, I think it's a bad idea, you know, and then the adjectives that Senator Blumenthal used, talking about the fact that it clearly makes him uncomfortable, is something that he said in multiple meetings.

So, the context is clear, regardless of the specifics, and Sean Spicer, he tried to split hairs. He tried to walk a line today, because, look, I think it's pretty clear watching it, he's in a tough position. He knows, as David said before, there is an audience of one for him. It's the president of the United States, and yet he still has to try to maintain credibility with the truth.

[17:45:10] BLITZER: What do you make, Brianna, of the way the White House Press Secretary was parsing his words?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it -- he was defending the indefensible in a really illogical way. I mean, first off, there is a reason why the veteran GOP operative, who is staffing Gorsuch through this process, confirmed these remarks as relayed by Senator Blumenthal, and that's because it makes Gorsuch look reasonable. I've talked to democrats who lament the fact that the senator did this because they say, "Oh, it makes it harder to paint him as extreme." But let's just dissect Sean Spicer's argument here. What was reported and what we know to be true, and then, considering the context, is that he was saying that Donald Trump's attacks on the judiciary are demoralizing. Sean Spicer is saying, "No," he's saying, in general, that the attacks on the judiciary are demoralizing. That's as if Gorsuch said, "I don't like Skittles," and Sean Spicer is saying, "No, he said I don't like candies." I mean, it falls under the umbrella here, right? So it doesn't -- that part doesn't even make sense. It's just a poor argument.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, you're chuckling there. Go ahead. Tell us why.

AXELROD: Well, look, I think, in fairness to Spicer, and on Brianna's point, it's hard to defend the indefensible in a logical way. OK. So -- and that's the position he keeps finding himself in. But I want to make a larger point here, Wolf. Yesterday, a court in Russia disqualified a potent opponent to Vladimir Putin from the presidential race on phony charges. It is -- there is a certain majesty to our judicial system. The fact that we're waiting to hear whether some judges will disqualify a signature act of the president of the United States, speaks to what makes the United States of America different, and the fact that Judge Gorsuch, whether it was tactical or not, the fact that he was willing to express himself on this, is a good and positive thing.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by because speaking of Putin, we're -- we got a new report that's coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. New concerns that Russian hackers controlled by Vladimir Putin, have a new target for their politically related cyberattacks. Also remember, we're standing by for the decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the Donald Trump travel ban. We'll share that with you as soon as we get it.


[17:50:00] BLITZER: This hour's breaking news the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco says it's order of the Trump travel ban case will be released before the close of business today. That could be in the next hour or two. Also breaking, in an exclusive interview, the Director of National Intelligence, who just stepped out James Clapper, is warning of continued Russian cyberattacks like the ones during last year's Presidential Election. A little over two months, French voters will be choosing a new president, and tonight, we're following new worries, the election could be the Russians' next target. CNN's Brian Todd has been working his sources. What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we're told by a French official, there is serious concern that Vladimir Putin's hacking teams are going to try to destabilize their upcoming presidential elections with cyberattacks. Tonight, the French government is guarding against possible hacks, concern that the Russians might obtain information that could damage the top candidates.


TODD: Tonight, new concerns that Vladimir Putin's notorious hacking teams could be trying to influence another election, targeting a key U.S. ally. A French official tells CNN the French government is concerned about Russian involvement in their upcoming presidential election, and they're monitoring for possible cyberattacks. CNN has learned French officials are worried that Putin's hackers will fish for damaging information, using similar tactics to how they targeted Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

JASON HEALEY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY CYBER SECURITY EXPERT: The personal account of many of these - of many of the leading politicians and also that of their spouses, their friends, their lovers, I would think all of those would be very rich targets for people that were brought up in the KGB system.

TODD: One French official worries Russian hackers will send out fabricated news reports or social media postings that might influence voters' minds. When asked if France was safe from cyberattacks similar to those in America, France's defense minister recently said, "No, of course, one must not be naive." And in recent weeks, U.S. intelligence officials warned that Putin's government has tried to influence elections across Europe. Russian hackers are believed to have targeted France before. In 2015, a powerful cyberattack almost destroyed a top French T.V. network.

HEALEY: They got in, they disrupted T.V. Monde's television broadcast. They hacked the Twitter feed, got into e-mails, they did all sorts of things to really disrupt this T.V. news station.

TODD: In the upcoming French elections, analyst say, "Putin has got his eye on a far-right candidate."

Who does Putin want to win in France?

HEALEY: Marine Le Pen is one of the Kremlin's favourite politicians. Why? Because Le Pen wants to break Euro-Atlantic institutions. Le Pen wants to bring France out of NATO, she wants to bring France out of the Euro, she wants to break a block which Putin sees correctly as preventing Russia achieving the dominant position in Europe as a great power.

TODD: Marine Le Pen's party has already gotten the boost from the Russian President. A loan three years ago of about $10 million from a bank owned by a close friend of Putin's.


[17:54:59] TODD: Now, we got no immediate response from the Kremlin to the concerns of a Russian hacking of the French elections, but Vladimir Putin has, of course, consistently denied ordering the hacks that targeted Hillary Clinton's campaign. Analysts caution France is not the only U.S. ally which could be in the crosshairs of those Russian hackers. They say Germany and the Netherlands could also be targeted in their elections coming up this year. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting. There's breaking news. We're awaiting the decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on President Trump's travel ban. Stay tuned.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, Travel ban ruling. We're standing by for an appeals court decision. Tonight, on the immediate fate of president - the president's executive order. Will a three- judge panel reinstate the ban that caused so much confusion and outrage? Under threat: Even as the new Attorney General takes charge, we're learning -