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Interview With California Congressman John Garamendi; New Travel Ban; Trump Creates Firestorm Over Wiretapping Claims; Attorney General Does "Not Recall" Discussions About Campaign; North Korea: Kim Jong-Un Supervised Missile Launches. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 6, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: No question. The White House stand by President Trump's unsubstantiated claim that he was wiretapped under the order of President Obama. Tonight, breaking news on the FBI director's stunned reaction to what may be the most serious allegation ever made by one president against another.
No good answer. Mr. Trump's aides come forward to defend his wiretap claim without offering a shred of proof. Did the president blindside his own staff by embracing a right-wing conspiracy theory?
Travel ban do-over. Three Trump Cabinet members promote the new immigration executive order, while the president stays behind closed doors to sign it. After the backlash over the first travel ban, will this one pass muster in the courts?
And knives out. Sources say the chief of staff may be vulnerable with the president reportedly fuming over the latest controversies. We're going to tell what we're learning about the conflict, the backstabbing within Mr. Trump's inner circle.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on President Trump's bombshell allegation that President Obama ordered a wiretap of his phones at Trump Tower in New York City during the campaign.
CNN has learned that FBI Director James Comey was incredulous when he learned of Mr. Trump's tweet because we're told Comey knows the allegation is not true. But Comey apparently hasn't shared that with the president.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says he's almost 100 percent certain that Mr. Trump has not spoken to Comey about this, nor has he spoken to President Obama. Even key Republican lawmakers are casting doubt on Mr. Trump's wiretap claim, saying they have seen no evidence to back it up.
But, tonight, the homeland security Secretary, John Kelly, tells me the president must have some convincing evidence for him to make such a powerful allegation.
Also this hour, top law enforcement officers in multiple states say they're reviewing the president's new travel ban, weighing possible legal challenges before it takes effect 10 days from now, Mr. Trump refusing to allow reporters in the room as he signed this new executive order.
After the first ban faced global outrage and court roadblocks, this one is more limited in scope. Iraq was removed from the list of Muslim majority countries affected. Valid visa and green card holders are exempt.
And the new order makes clear that permanent U.S. residents are exempt as well.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including a key Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman John Garamendi. He's standing by live, along with our correspondents, and analysts, as we cover the day's top stories, including breaking news unfolding right now on the House Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
First, let's go to CNN's Jessica Schneider with more of the president's wiretap claims and the FBI's response.
Jessica, tonight, members of both parties are asking the White House, where is the proof?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. That's right. It's really bipartisan bewilderment. Members on both sides say they haven't seen any evidence to back up those wiretapping claims from the president. And now it's the FBI making the most public push for clarification.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, FBI officials are demanding a flat- out denial from the Justice Department, but not yet getting one, this after President Trump went on a Twitter tirade Saturday, tweeting: "Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones? Bad or sick guy."
Sources tell CNN the FBI asked the DOJ to refute the claims because, as a matter of law, the president cannot unilaterally allow eavesdropping of a U.S. citizen's phone. Only a court can order a wiretap.
CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The process to attain a FISA application involves many levels of operational, legal, management and senior leadership review, both within the requesting agency and within the Department of Justice and ultimately the court.
SCHNEIDER: So far, the Justice Department isn't commenting on Trump's Twitter accusations, but some are asking why FBI Director Comey is refraining from issuing his own statement, since he didn't hold back during the 2016 campaign, commenting three times about the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server.
Former President Obama vehemently denying Trump's charge, his spokesperson saying: "Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."
James Clapper, President Obama's director of national intelligence, also denying the allegation.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time or as a candidate or against his campaign.
QUESTION: And at this point, you can't confirm nor deny whether that exists?
CLAPPER: I can deny it.
QUESTION: There is no FISA court order?
CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Of anything at Trump Tower?
SCHNEIDER: Trump's team isn't buying it. Press Secretary Sean Spicer, speaking extensively off-camera, defending the president's tweet: "There has been enough reporting that strongly suggests that something occurred," continuing by saying lawmakers have a lot to look into. "There is obviously information that affects national security that has been leaked out. That concerns him."
And late today, Homeland Secretary Kelly in an interview with Wolf backed the president.
JOHN KELLY, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The president of the United States said that. He's got his reasons to say it. He's got some convincing evidence that that took place.
SCHNEIDER: But members of Congress are calling for outside investigations.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: A special prosecutor is the best way to ensure that an investigation proceeds impartially for several reasons.
SCHNEIDER: In the ongoing House intelligence panel inquiry, Republican and Democratic leaders are setting an aggressive timetable, sending this letter to a acting director of national intelligence requesting the release of documents and in-person interviews by March 17 and material to reveal any links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns. (END VIDEOTAPE)
SCHNEIDER: The president is also renewing his calls to probe what he terms pervasive leaks that are undermining national security, according to Press Secretary Sean Spicer this afternoon, but Spicer still not offering up any proof from the president when it comes to the wiretapping claims -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much, Jessica Schneider reporting.
Let's dig deeper right now on the breaking news, FBI Director James Comey's incredulous response to President Trump's wiretapping claim.
Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, broke the story for us.
Pamela, tell us what you're learning.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I'm told by a person familiar that the FBI director, James Comey, had a level of incredulity when he saw this tweet from President Trump over the weekend alleging that President Obama ordered a wiretap of his phone.
To the FBI director, we're told, there was concern about the allegation, given the magnitude of the allegation and the fact he knew he was wrong. And the concern was that it was bad for the FBI's reputation and institutionally he felt like it was important to knock it down.
And so we have learned through sources over the weekend staff in the FBI reached out to career personnel within the Department of Justice asking for DOJ to publicly knock down this allegation that James Comey knew not to be true, that then-candidate Trump's phone was wiretapped during the campaign.
Of course, Wolf, that has not happened. And we're told through a person familiar that that's been frustrating for the FBI director, that DOJ has not publicly come out to knock down the report that he feels like is not good for the FBI in particular, because of course if President Trump's phone was wiretapped, that would be something that the FBI would do.
And the FBI sources we have been speaking with deny that his phone was ever wiretapped. And the idea that a president could order that also, that notion is simply not true, according to people we've been speaking with. That was part of the frustration, the fact that there was sort of a level of disbelief among the FBI director in response to the tweets from the president over the weekend -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Still no public official statement from either the FBI or the Justice Department. Right?
BROWN: That's right, still no public official statement. We heard from Sean Spicer today of the White House. He sort of danced around the question whether the president still has confidence in FBI Director James Comey. He said earlier too that he didn't believe that the two had spoken. I
asked a person familiar whether the FBI director is worried at all about his job, given the fact that he seems to be at odds with the president. And we're told, no, that he's not concerned, that he knows there is a possibility of course he could be fired. He has no intentions of resigning.
But clearly he wanted this allegation to be to be proven wrong publicly by DOJ and that has not happened.
BLITZER: In contrast, the homeland security secretary, John Kelly, told me the last hour that he does have confidence in his friend Comey. They work together in a lot of areas.
Pamela Brown, good reporting as usual. Thank you.
Let's get to the president's wiretap allegation that's raising lots of new questions about his relationship with FBI Director James Comey.
I want to bring in our White House correspondent, Sara Murray.
Sara, you had a chance to speak with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer just a little while ago. Tell us how that went.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
As Pam just noted, Sean Spicer was a little bit wishy-washy earlier today when he was speaking with reporters on camera about the situation between the president and with James Comey. And now that we have had a little more time to go over Pam's excellent reporting, the notion that Comey was incredulous about this, I asked Sean Spicer what the nature of their relationship was, if the president still has full confidence in FBI Director James Comey.
This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: What's the president's view of James Comey right now? Does he have the president's full faith and confidence to stay on as the FBI director?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, we have only heard unsubstantiated, anonymous sources make those claims. I don't think Director Comey has actually commented on anything that he has allegedly said.
So I'm not going to comment on what people say, he might have said. I think the director is more than capable of speaking for himself. And right now, as I said, the president has asked the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to use their resources and processes to look into any actions that occurred during the 2016 election that may have been proper or improper with respect to wiretaps or surveillance. MURRAY: But what about the president's view of the FBI director?
SPICER: I haven't even asked him that yet. I think obviously he's focused today first and foremost on this effort to keep the country safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: So you see there, Wolf, I asked him twice whether the president has full confidence. He would not say, instead sort of changing the subject.
It is worth noting I asked him whether the president has any regrets about sending out those tweets about wiretapping. Spicer said of course not.
BLITZER: Very different response from Sean Spicer about Comey than we heard from the secretary of homeland security, John Kelly.
Sara, thank you very much, Sara Murray over at the White House.
Let's get some more on all of this with Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Sure. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
The president called it, in his words, a fact, he used the word fact, that President Obama was tapping his phones. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly just told me President Trump has got his reasons to say it, he's got some convincing evidence that took place. He's got to believe that.
I want you to react to that. Do you believe that the president has some convincing evidence to make such a shocking allegation against President Obama?
GARAMENDI: He does not.
But he lives in an alternate fact world. Consider that he spent four years going after the birther thing, and then there are three million votes out there that were illegal, another alternate fact. Ted Cruz's father somehow involved in the assassination of JFK.
This man has more alternate facts about what's going on in the world than any other person I have ever heard of. And it is extremely dangerous, because the world cannot count on him. They cannot count on what he might do next.
It is very, very troublesome, particularly in the complex, very dangerous world we have. You have got a crazy guy in North Korea. How is this -- how is the president going to respond? At 3:00 in the morning, what's he going to do? Tweet out or do something even more serious?
I'm very, very concerned about what this guy, what the president is all about.
BLITZER: You heard our justice correspondent Pamela Brown just report that the FBI director, James Comey, was incredulous, incredulous, after the president tweeted those comments, those assertions about President Obama early Saturday morning.
What do you make of the fact that, from everything that we have heard, the president, President Trump, has not even spoken to the FBI director, James Comey, about this?
GARAMENDI: Well, it is another very serious concern that I have, and I suspect many other people have, about the way that he operates as president, listening to Breitbart News and then assuming that that's a factual rendition of what's going on and not even bothering to talk to his intelligence agencies, his FBI, before he starts a huge controversy that really only embroils him, doesn't embroil anybody else.
It is a very, very serious problem. We have got a serious situation around the world that requires a serious president focusing on the serious issues that confront us here in the United States, as well as around the world.
BLITZER: Would you like to see the FBI director comment on this?
GARAMENDI: Well, of course. And I think he probably will, particularly if the Justice Department, Mr. Sessions, continues to basically block the information that Comey believes is factual, that there was no FBI involvement in any wiretapping at all.
And I suspect that Comey will not stand quietly and have his view of what the FBI has done and the entire dignity of the FBI called into question if Sessions continues to block the appropriate information.
BLITZER: As you know, the president of the United States can fire an FBI director. Do you think he could go that far and actually fire Comey?
GARAMENDI: Well, we have seen this play before, haven't we? This is exactly what happened during Nixon, Watergate period.
I think we went through three FBI directors before someone was found that would kowtow to President Nixon. So, yes, sure he can fire him. And then who is he going to put in? And it goes on and on from there.
We don't need this in America. We have got some really important things we have to deal with. We have got Russia and Putin out there, not just the issue about who was involved in the campaign, who was talking to who.
But we do know that Russia is putting extraordinary pressure on the Baltic states, obviously on Ukraine. They've taken over Crimea, and China is out there and North Korea. These are fundamental national security issues, to say nothing of what's going on in the Middle East. And here we are spending four or five days, maybe longer, about one of the president's early morning, what, 3:00 in the morning tweets where he's on a rant about something that nobody has put forward as factual.
BLITZER: It was 3:00 a.m. your time out in California. It was 6:00 a.m., 6:30, to be precise, here on the East Coast, that first of several tweets Saturday morning.
President Trump has asked Congress now, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to investigate his baseless claim that the former president, President Obama, tapped his phone. He hasn't asked specifically that these committees investigate Russian President Vladimir Putin, yet there is plenty of evidence that Russia did, in fact, launch cyber-attacks, meddled in the U.S. elections.
Does this concern you, he wants an investigation of President Obama, but doesn't necessarily want an investigation of President Putin?
GARAMENDI: Well, this is once again his standard procedure of trying to change the story, change the narrative to something quite different.
It is absolutely certain, from 17 different intelligence agencies, that Russia was engaged, not only in hacking and then disseminating that information through WikiLeaks, but also trying to influence the American presidential election. That is extremely serious.
That is a direct blow to our democracy and to the very nature of our country. That has to be investigated. And, frankly, I don't think it can be done by the Congress. It needs to be an independent commission, perhaps an independent prosecutor, but this has got to get away from politics because we're talking about the very nature of our democracy here.
Now, those are facts, and those are things that absolutely have to be investigated and the facts will take it whenever we need to go. And maybe it will come awfully close to the president. We don't know. But it has to be out there. The public has to have confidence in our election.
And we clearly have to know what Putin is up to, because he is a very dangerous person. He is known to have killed his opponents in that country. He is now actively engaged in trying to direct the spring elections in Europe and France and other places. This is very serious.
Now, if the president wants to get engaged, engage in that, and put aside this foolishness of this early morning rant that apparently he was on. There are things that we have to pay attention to, not the least of which his effort to take 20 million Americans and remove the security that they have for health insurance.
BLITZER: There is a lot more to discuss. I want you to stand by, Congressman. After months of waiting, we're now learning of the House Republican
bill to replace and repeal Obamacare. We are going to tell you what we're learning right after a quick break.
BLITZER: We're back request Democratic Congressman John Garamendi.
Congressman, I want you to stand by.
We're getting some breaking news, new information about the House Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. It's just been made public.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He's joining us from Capitol Hill right now.
You have got details. What are you learning, Phil?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Wolf.
It's the 57 legislative pages of Republicans have been promising for more than seven years. Now it's officially out. And Republicans, they will be acting as soon as Wednesday to start moving this forward.
Now, the details of what is in this draft obviously are incredibly important. A couple top lines that we're aware of going into this. It will repeal the individual and employer mandates. It does work to keep individuals on their parents' plans until the age of 26, just like Obamacare.
It will also work to maintain the ban on coverage -- on changing coverage for people with preexisting conditions. It's the details in terms of funding how this all works that is most important. Right now, Obamacare obviously relies heavily on subsidies.
Those subsidies will be repealed over a three-year period, Wolf, in the current plan and they will be replaced with refundable tax credits. Now, this is an issue that has really divided the Republican Conference.
And here is how Republicans have tried to address of some those concerns. They will start to phase out based on income level starting at $75,000 for individuals, $150,000 for joint filers. Those tax credits would change based on age. For those in their 20s, it would be $2,000 tax credit going up to those in their 60s who would get $4,000.
Now, the other major thorny issue here, Wolf, is Medicaid. Obviously, in Obamacare, the Medicaid expansion was something that a number of governors decided to act on, including Republicans. They have been very concerned about how that will work in this new plan.
According to the Republican draft that we now have, Medicaid expansion will be allowed to continue until January 1 of 2020. At that point, it would freeze, everybody that was using Medicaid extension and the money provided for that up to that point will be grandfathered in, Wolf.
And I want to explain why this is so important. Just a few hours ago, four Republican senators a letter was to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying if the Medicaid extension, the Medicaid program in general wasn't protected to a way that kind of meets their liking, meets their desire, because they come from states where the expansion was accepted, they would be forced to oppose the bill altogether.
Obviously, there are 52 Republicans in the U.S. Senate. They need 51 to be able to pass the bill when it gets over to their chamber. That's not a small issue. We're staring to see the details come out. The first legislative action, Wolf, as I noted, starts on Wednesday and really starts this whole process.
House Republican leaders say they want this bill on the House floor within the next couple of weeks, but first they have to address some very real Republican concerns that still exist inside their conference, Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly do.
All right, thanks very much, Phil, Phil Mattingly reporting.
Now to the president's new travel ban. Tonight, the American Civil Liberties Union is arguing it's still a -- quote -- "Muslim ban," despite the administration's efforts to make this version more limited and more acceptable to the federal courts.
Let's bring in our senior global affairs correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.
Michelle, the president signed this executive order behind closed doors today. He sent top Cabinet members out to defend it.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.
The way this was presented was almost a kinder, gentler, temporary travel ban. But it's still a travel ban based on national origin and that in itself is controversial. There are just going to be remain these serious questions over whether this is urgent at all or even necessary.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): The Trump administration's travel ban do-over today presented by the attorney general, Department of Homeland Security and secretary of state.
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: To our allies and partners around the world, please understand this order is part of our ongoing efforts to eliminate vulnerabilities that radical Islamic terrorists can and will exploit for disruptive ends.
KOSINSKI: The signing taking place in private away from reporters, only an official photo released, quite the difference between the big ceremony for the first botched rollout in January in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.
The new 90-day ban includes six majority Muslim countries, not seven. Iraq is off the list, this after intense lobbying by the Iraqi government, the U.S.' crucial partner against Iraq. The Trump administration says Iraq is working with the U.S. to implement new security measures, though at this point CNN says nothing has changed in procedure, just better communication of what measures are already in place.
Among other tweaks to the original travel ban, it now spells out clearly that if you have a green card or visa you can travel to the U.S. Officials can allow others in too on a case-by-case basis. For refugees, Syrians are no longer banned indefinitely.
And the new order removes language that seem to allow preferential treatment to Christians. The refugee program will still be on hold for 120 days and the total number of refugees for this fiscal year is capped at 50,000, instead of the 110,000 the Obama administration had raised it to.
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This executive order responsibly provides a needed pause, so we can carefully review how we scrutinize people coming here from these countries of concern.
KOSINSKI: This time, though, the administration is making an attempt to back up the need for this order, saying 300 refugees admitted to the U.S. are currently under investigation by the FBI for potential terrorist activity.
But officials refuse to say what countries those refugees are from or even if any are from the six named. And the recent Homeland Security assessment showed that most foreign-born extremists in the U.S. were radicalized here and years after they arrived.
DAVID STERMAN, NEW AMERICA: This new executive order suffers from the same problem as the previous one, which there is no real evidence that there is a security threat from people from these countries who have entered the U.S.
KOSINSKI: Another question, the urgency. After the first travel ban, President Trump tried to explain why it was rolled out so quickly, without input from lawyers or agencies, without a buffer period.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Kelly, now Secretary Kelly, said, if you do that, all these people will come in, in a month, the bad ones. I said , how about one week? He said, no good. You got to do it immediate, but the problem is we would have wasted a lot of time and maybe a lot of lives, because a lot of bad people would have come into our country.
KOSINSKI: Also tweeting, "If the ban were announced with a one-week notice, the bad would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad dudes out there."
Now the new travel ban rolled out with a 10-day notice and weeks after the first one was halted in court.
KOSINSKI: Even before this executive order, if you're a refugee wanting to come into America from any country in the world, it takes an on average a year-and-a-half to two years.
So, it's unclear what more could be done to make that more stringent. There's plenty of reaction out there, too, many Republicans saying this in keeping with trying to protect America, many Democrats and refugee groups calling it things like immoral, mean-spirited, un- American, unconstitutional and dangerous, Wolf.
[18:30:19] BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the State Department, thanks very much.
Let's bring back Congressman John Garamendi of California.
Congressman, do you welcome these updates, these changes to the original travel ban, now excluding Iraq, exempts current visa holders, green card holders? Do you still see any legal issues with this new revised order?
GARAMENDI: Well, I'm sure there's going to be new legal issues that have been raised. Certainly, there are these issues that you just spoke to are issues that were during the previous one. They apparently have been removed.
But Wolf, my head just spins. I cannot understand. The vetting under this travel ban or any of these visas from every country requires the work of the State Department. And just this last week, the Trump administration put out a 37 percent decrease in the State Department funding. So I don't get it.
On the one hand, you want severe vetting; and you want to deal with all of these potential problems. And on the other hand, the people that are supposed to deal with it, you've cut their budget by a third. It is nonsense, and it's just part of the chaos that's coming out of this administration.
As to the legality of this, lawyers that are out there -- I'm not a lawyer. We'll leave it to them to judge it. But the reality is that there are terrorist organizations from many, many countries around the world and we need a solid State Department and homeland security looking at these issues. We need to have clear communications with all of the countries, not only these six, and it's difficult in cases of some of these six. Certainly, Yemen and Somalia, there isn't really a government.
But in other countries, the European countries, the sharing of the information is absolutely critical. And here within the United States, those 300 people, we have no idea who they are, where they came from. But hopefully we're watching them and that's a good thing. BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.
GARAMENDI: Happy to do so.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll have more on the White House defense of the wiretap claim against President Obama. Will there be political fallout from Mr. Trump's newest and perhaps most serious allegation that he's put forward without any proof?
And we're going to tell you what we're learning about Kim Jong-un's role in North Korea's new missile test. Are his provocations growing even more dangerous?
[18:37:22] BLITZER: Our breaking news. A source says FBI Director James Comey is incredulous over President Trump's unfounded claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama. Let's bring in our experts.
And Phil Mudd, let me start with you. You spent some time at not only the CIA but at the FBI, as well. If, in fact, what the President Trump is saying is true, it would have involved the FBI in some sort of massive conspiracy. What is your thoughts on all of this and how are FBI agents going to react to this really serious accusation?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You know, Wolf, there are mixed views from my friends across government. Most of the people I speak with are transitioning from seeing this man as the president of the United States to seeing this man as a circus clown.
Let me be clear: He's either alleging that the FBI and the Department of Justice conspired with another branch of government, that is the judiciary, the judiciary. The FISA court -- that's a special secret court -- would have to approve this in a huge conspiracy to tap members of the president's party. That's crazy, Wolf.
Secondly, he's -- if that's not correct, he's alleging that the former president conducted a felonious violation of federal law that exceeds what we saw in Watergate, without a single fact to support it.
The conversation, Wolf, has to transition to how do we understand what the president of the United States says, to understanding that these are circus clown remarks.
We have an Iran nuclear deal that he said we'd tear up. We don't talk about. We have Russian intervention in an election that my friends think is of serious concern, not for what happened in 2016 but for what happens in 2020. How do we talk about that?
We have North Korea launches a potentially nuclear-tipped missiles. And what does the president of the United States do? He launches a smokescreen, because he's afraid to answer questions about Russian interference in election and Russian contacts with the members of his party. And the smoke screen is a lie that says there is a massive conspiracy involving the judiciary, the FISA court, the Department of Justice, and the FBI. The man is delusional, Wolf. And the conversation has to transition
from how do we explain what the commander in chief is doing to how do we understand the acts of a man who doesn't understand the difference between protecting his brand and protecting the country? I've not ever seen anything like this, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, strong words from Phil Mudd, but the president, the White House now says they want the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to investigate and clarify exactly what happened.
But the president has the authority himself. He could clarify it within the next couple hours. He could declassify whatever sensitive information he wants and release the evidence, if there is evidence, backing up his assertion.
[18:40:06] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he certainly could. I mean, one of the clear federal laws is that the president of the United States has the immediate authority to declassify anything at any time. And he could certainly do that.
But I have to say that this idea that you throw out a -- what appears to be a false statement and then say, "Well, there should be an investigation," I mean, you know, why should there be an investigation if there's no basis for the underlying assertion?
BLITZER: But if he has the evidence, as he says he does, why doesn't he release it?
TOOBIN: Well, that's a separate issue. Of course, he should do that. But then to make this false statement and then say, "Well, Congress should investigate this statement." I mean, I think that -- that gives the president too much credit. I think Congress should only investigate things that have actually bases, not just stuff that comes from scrolling the Internet at 6 in the morning.
BLITZER: Six-thirty, to be precise.
Let's talk, Gloria, about Sean Spicer today at his briefing. He said, there's no question something happened with the wiretapping. It's an extraordinary claim, but at some point, they've got to back it up with some facts. Are they painting themself -- themselves in a corner?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: That's like the same as Donald Trump that goes "People are saying something happened." OK, so perhaps the Russian ambassador was wiretapped, as we know, because of General Flynn.
But I think, in an odd way, this is going to backfire on Donald Trump and I'll tell you why. It's going to backfire on him, because it adds more fuel to the fire of people who are saying, "OK, let's appoint an independent counsel. Let's make sure that all of this gets investigated."
I understand what Jeffrey is saying that, if nothing happened, why investigate it? But perhaps the president himself is now, you know, letting people who say, "OK, we need something more than just a congressional investigation," because if the president's claims are true, then there is really something rotten in Denmark and that perhaps that needs to be investigated.
If you take the president at his word that he knows more than we do, yes, he can disclose it, as you point out, but he's clearly choosing not to for whatever reason. Then I think this investigation needs to -- needs to broaden, and people who say that, you know, might have more reason to say that right now.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, Sean Spicer at the White House today said the president has not yet spoken with the FBI director, James Comey, about this. But don't you think before he makes a serious charge like this against President Obama, he should have consulted with the head of the agency that would be responsible for implementing surveillance at Trump Tower in New York City?
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, of course he should. I mean, this goes to what Gloria and Phil and Jeffrey were all saying. Right? He's the president of the United States. It's within his power to ask questions and get answers.
Two things about the tweets. To the point you were just making, Gloria, the president in these tweets on Saturday morning didn't do his typical "I'm hearing what people are saying." These tweets were stated as facts, so now he's got to back it up.
And then the second thing is that he's tweeting as if he's this aggrieved party with no power. And yet, he's the president. He's the leader of the free world. He has every opportunity to declassify it and get to the bottom of this if he wants to.
TOOBIN: But -- but doesn't Donald Trump have a terrific advantage here? In that we give up on the scrutiny of these things after a little while. You know, he said 3 million people voted illegally, and we were all outraged: "Oh, there's no evidence." But, you know, the circus moved on, and we stopped looking at it. And now something else is going to happen, and we'll stop paying attention to this false statement by Donald Trump. I mean, I think, you know, he understands the press perhaps better than a lot of his critics do.
BORGER: Well, you know, I think we do live at the bottom of the food chain in many ways, but you have members -- because we don't have this information. It's not readily available to us. We don't have subpoena power. But you do have people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain just coming out today and saying, "Look, this needs to be investigated, because if what he is saying is true, it's dangerous; and if he is saying this without any proof, it's also dangerous."
BLITZER: The president said it was a fact. He said it was a fact that "President Obama was tapping my phones in October." That was one of his several tweets on this..
All right. We've got much more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Everybody stand by. We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:48:56] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to our panel and our experts.
And, Jeffrey Toobin, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, he provided a supplemental letter to the Senate today regarding his testimony where he claimed he had never met with Russian officials during the campaign. We know he did have two meetings with the Russian ambassador. In the letter he writes, among other things, "I do not recall any discussions with the Russian ambassador or any other representatives of the Russian government regarding the political campaign on these occasions or any other occasions."
He doesn't deny political campaign conversations. He uses the words "I do not recall". What do you make of that?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is certainly interesting and it's important to hear his point of view. This calls for an investigation. I mean, it -- there are ways to do this. You have to find out were any other people present at that meeting? Were there any e-mails about that what's said at the meeting? Did anyone take notes at this meeting?
I mean, this is why we have a Department of Justice to do investigations like that. Of course, you know, this is a possible response.
[18:50:00] But the appropriate way to handle this is for the Department of Justice, with Attorney General Sessions recused, to appoint real investigators and start doing an investigation to see whether Attorney General's Sessions' statement, which was clearly misleading at best, whether it was false. I don't know whether it was actively false, a lie, but it certainly merits an investigation and not just a letter exculpate -- you know, with the subject saying he didn't do anything wrong.
BLITZER: Gloria, you're doing some reporting on Reince Priebus, some of the controversies swirling inside that inner circle in the White House. What are you learning?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Reince Priebus, as you know, is the chief of staff, and I think when there's incoming from the president, I think he absorbs it the most. And a bunch of us at CNN reporting about a meeting that occurred last Friday in which the president voiced his displeasure in no uncertain terms at the way the staff had conducted itself since the great reviews he got of his joint session of Congress.
I believe he did not want Sessions to recuse himself, did he not believe there was any reason for him to do so and he didn't like being taken off track with all the stories with Russia and Sessions recusal when he wanted to continue to bask in the glory of his address to the joint session and policy.
He would like to have seen more wins. I mean, when he first came into the White House as the president who said, "I want to rack up the wins" and so far, he signed a lot of executive orders but he hasn't gotten on track on Capitol Hill, which is why they're rushing to do healthcare so quickly.
BLTIZER: Very quickly, Phil, you've been around D.C., the CIA, the FBI. Have you ever seen anything like this before?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: No, I haven't. And, I think, in fact, it's going to get worse. For those of us in the national security business, if this weren't so serious, Wolf, this is better than Netflix.
Let me tell you what's going on here, the people who actually have to deal with real problems, secretary of defense, secretary of state, dealing with the Europeans and NATO after a president makes a derogatory statement about NATO, they have to execute policy. Meanwhile, you have hammerhead ideologists like Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus in the Oval Office trying to project an image for the president, what you're going to see on Netflix here, in our world of reality is those idealists, those people in the White House who are whispering in the president's ear are going to come toe to toe with people like secretary of state and secretary of defense.
And I'll say one more final word: I believe the realists at Defense, State, et cetera, will win and I predict within two years, Steve Bannon's gone.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. We've got a lot more to discuss including North Korea. Its newest missile provocation is very personal for Kim Jong Un. We have no information right after this.
[18:57:49] BLITZER: In an apparent response to U.S./South Korean military exercises, North Korea says Kim Jong-un personally supervised the launch of a salvo of missiles toward Japan, calling it a drill for striking U.S. bases in Japan. There's been a sharp response from the Trump administration.
Let's quickly go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
So, what's likely, Barbara, to happen next?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Universal condemnation for this missile launch, Wolf. And now, tonight, they're watching the peninsula even more closely -- watching the underground nuclear test site because on the surface, our sources are telling us, they do see activity at the underground nuclear test site, dirt, rock moving around, some other equipment moving around, potentially a pattern of activity of that would come prior to a yet another underground nuclear test by Kim Jong-un. But, of course, they cannot be sure what he is up to.
They are also watching a missile launch area. They see activity there. They see missile engine testing, preparations all indicating possibly more missile launches.
Kim Jong-un very much committed to his missile program, to his nuclear program. Tonight, no sign he's backing off, no sign he's giving up -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Those joint exercise, the U.S./South Korea joint exercises, they happen every year, they're continuing, right?
STARR: Those are continuing. There is a theory out there in the intelligence community that all of this activity from North Korea is their typical response when these exercises happen. They feel they have to respond.
But really, the underlying message here is the U.S. intelligence community, the U.S. military simply cannot be sure what Kim may do next. It may be a huge national security challenge for President Trump -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It may be the biggest national security challenge that he faces based on all the information we're getting.
All right. Barbara, thanks very much. Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.