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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Trump Administration Under Fire; General Flynn Seeking Immunity; New Terror Threat; House Intel Vice Chair Views Secret Docs at White House; White House Changing Allegations of Surveillance; Trumps Backs Immunity to Protect Flynn from "Witch Hunt"; Kim Jong-Un Ties Up Loose Ends After Brazen Murder. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 31, 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, breaking news: new terror threat.
CNN has exclusive new information about laptop bombs being developed to get through airport security without detection to terrorists, finding new ways to make these explosives seem like everyday electronic devices.
Explosive testing? New intelligence suggests terrorists could be testing their new bombs on screening devices they may have stolen from airports. How should the U.S. and its allies now respond?
A story to tell. Would Michael Flynn implicate the president if he testifies about the Trump camp's Russia's ties with the promise of immunity? New reaction tonight to the fired national security adviser's offer to exchange information for protection.
And White House visit. The top Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee accepts the administration's offer to review classified documents. What did Adam Schiff see? And what will it mean for the controversy surrounding the Russia investigation?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight.
CNN has new information about how ISIS and other terror groups have developed bombs small enough to be hidden in laptops and other electronic devices. FBI testing now shows those bombs can evade commonly used airport screening. We're told U.S. intelligence suggests the terrorists have gotten hold of sophisticated airport security equipment to test how well the new bombs can avoid detection.
Stand by for our exclusive reporting on this threat and how it figures into the new electronics ban on some U.S.-bound flights. Also breaking, sources tell CNN there's no indication the FBI wants to
re-interview Michael Flynn or give the ousted national security adviser immunity. Flynn now is seeking protection for prosecution in exchange for his testimony in the federal and congressional investigations of Russia's contacts with the Trump camp.
Sources tell CNN the House and Senate Intelligence Committees also are not likely to agree to an immunity deal. The White House says President Trump wants Flynn to testify with immunity and isn't worried that his former aide might reveal damaging information about the president.
This hour, I will talk with Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a Foreign Affairs Committee member and a military veteran.
And our correspondents and expert analyst, they are also standing by.
First, let's go to CNN's Evan Perez and Barbara Starr with CNN's exclusive new reporting on new terrorist bombs hidden in laptops.
Evan, let me start with you. What are you learning?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has learned that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies believe that ISIS and other terrorist organizations have developed innovative ways to plant explosives in electronic devices that FBI testing shows can evade some commonly used airport screening equipment.
The concern is heightened because there is U.S. intelligence suggesting that terrorists have obtained sophisticated airport security equipment to test how to effectively conceal explosives in laptops and other electronic devices.
Terror bomb-makers have come up with a way to hide explosives in battery compartment, but still have the laptop be able to turn on long enough to get past screeners. Now, in December, FBI experts reported that they have tested variants of the laptop bombs using different battery and explosive configurations to assess how difficult it would be for the airport screeners to detect them.
Now, using TSA-rated machines, the testers found that the machines have a far more difficult time detecting the new types of bombs -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Evan, stand by.
I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, who is also working the story.
Barbara, the United States and Britain, as you know, recently banned electronics from the cabin of some flights from Middle Eastern and African nations. Is this why?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening.
This is indeed a very significant part of why those actions were taken. But we have been talking to a number of government officials and there is more to it. They are growing increasingly concerned about airline plots. And they have been tracking specific information emanating from al Qaeda in Yemen, al Qaeda in Syria and ISIS. The concern is growing, Wolf.
STARR (voice-over): The intelligence comes amid heightened concerns that ISIS and al Qaeda-affiliated terror groups have perfected their ability to hide bombs in electronic devices.
CNN has learned this new intelligence was a significant part of the decision earlier this month to ban laptops, tablets and other electronic devices from the passenger cabin of planes flying directly to the United States from 10 Middle Eastern and North African airports, demanding instead that they be stored in checked luggage.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Elevated intelligence that we are aware indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressive in pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer objects.
STARR: Officials told CNN there was credible and specific intelligence that ISIS would try to attack aviation assets and a hint from a top U.S. commander about why the accelerated effort on the ground in Syria against the group.
LT. GEN. STEPHEN TOWNSEND, U.S. ARMY: There's an imperative to get isolation in place around Raqqa, because our intelligence feeds tell us that there is significant external operations attacks planning.
STARR: Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen, AQAP, has for years been actively trying to target commercial airliners destined for the U.S., looking for ways to create bombs that contain little or no metal content to evade airport security measures, including hiding explosives in the batteries of electronic devices like laptops.
And in February 2016, a wakeup call when a laptop bomb, according to Somali authorities, was used to blow a hole in a Somali passenger jet. The plane landed safely, despite the attack claimed by the al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabab.
CNN has learned the explosives were hidden in space created by removing parts of the DVD drive.
STARR: Now, over the last 24 hours, CNN has discussed this reporting with a number of government agencies, including the FBI and the CIA. So far, both those agencies declined to comment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Al Qaeda in Yemen in particular, Barbara, how serious a threat do they pose? STARR: What's so interesting here is that you have so many different
threats. We're talking about ISIS. Al Qaeda in Yemen remains one of the top threats to U.S. aviation, officials tell me. They believe that al Qaeda in Yemen continues to very actively plot to try and bring down a U.S. airliner with these general type of advanced explosives.
And it's important to remember they actually came very close to doing it Christmas Day 2009, when an airliner was landing in Detroit and that man had the so-called underwear bomb on him. They are the ones that have so far been able to reach out and touch U.S. shores. They also, like ISIS, remain a top worry tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr, good reporting. Thanks very much.
A critical question tonight, in light of our exclusive reporting, why hasn't the U.S. government issued a wider ban on laptops on board flights?
Let's go back to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
Are you getting any answers from the TSA?
PEREZ: Wolf, the explanation that we got when the ban was first introduced a couple weeks ago was that U.S. and Europeans have layered security that greatly improves the chances of detecting explosives beyond just the screening equipment.
Now, we reached out to the TSA to explain again why that is, knowing that these FBI tests showed security gaps. The Homeland Security Department just commented to us, saying in a statement that: "The U.S. government continually reassesses existing intelligence and collects new intelligence. This allows DHS and TSA to constantly evaluate our aviation security processes and policies and make enhancements when they are deemed necessary to keep passengers safe. As always, all air travelers are subject to robust security system that employs multiple layers of security, both seen and unseen" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Excellent reporting from you as well, Evan. Thanks very, very much.
Let's get some on all of this.
Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, served in the U.S. Air Force.
Congressman, what could it mean that ISIS and other terrorist organizations are thought now to have some sophisticated bomb-making capability that could evade airport security?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Well, it doesn't surprise me in the least, because, if you think about it, so, ISIS' main focus right now is developing this caliphate.
Well, that's what it was. Now they are losing this caliphate, so they have to try to find a way to get street cred, credibility and to recruit. al Qaeda in -- AQAP is basically the legacy al Qaeda and these are the folks that are largely focused on destroying Western assets or the United States.
And so they have been a real threat. I'm actually, to be honest with you, kind of surprised that it has taken so long for them to come up with this technology. So, we have to continue to be on our game in terms of how we are screening. It may not just be by looking at an object coming through a screen or maybe by sniffing for some kind of a bomb-making material, anything like that.
We have to continue to progress as the terrorists continue to progress. And I think the last and most important thing to remember is, we have it stay on offense against them, because, as they are disorganized because at home they are being attacked, they are much less organized and able to reach out and strike foreign assets.
BLITZER: I think you're an Air Force pilot. You still serve in U.S. the Air Force Reserves. Correct me if I'm wrong.
But what kind of damage, Congressman, could a bomb like this on a laptop, hidden in a laptop, actually do to a big commercial plane?
KINZINGER: Obviously, it depends on how big the bomb is.
But you hear about the Somali airliner and it blew a hole in it. The movies and stuff make it look like even if you shoot a bullet outside of a window inside of an airplane, everything gets sucked out and the airplane is gone. That is not the case, because what it does is just depressurizes the cabin unless you get a really structural issue.
So, domestically, if it is a small bomb, obviously, you would have injury. You have the possibility of it being a catastrophic bomb. But if it is just blowing a hole in the plane, the plane can land. Where there is real concern, though, is if a plane is over the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean.
You get a hole blown in the plane, you may still have structural integrity, but you're three hours from any landing spots. That may be -- and I don't know this from any firsthand information -- but that actually may be the reason that this just extends to international flights right now and not domestic flights.
BLITZER: But doesn't it make a big difference, Congressman, if that hole in the plane, in the structure occurs when you're flying, let's say, at 8,000 or 10,000 feet, as opposed to 30,000 or 35,000 feet?
KINZINGER: Yes, it does, because -- and it mainly has to do with pressurization.
So in terms of the actual air flow over the aircraft or something like that, there won't be any difference. But in terms of if you're at 8,000 or 10,000 feet, a plane can depressurize with no effect on the passengers. Your ears will pop pretty fast, but you can still breathe with oxygen.
At 34,000 feet, your time of useful consciousness is maybe only about 20 seconds. By the time you realize that, you have to get on oxygen. The pilots should be able to in time, so it is not overly catastrophic, again, just being depressurized, but it is much less time to be able to react and put on your oxygen mask.
BLITZER: You're on the House Foreign Relations Committee. Is the U.S. working with these countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East to make sure their security screening is improved, strong enough to detect these kinds of bombs?
KINZINGER: Yes, we are.
But there is only so much can you do with a different country if in fact they want to work with you. There are some countries obviously that we're not friendly with that are probably much less interested in working with us on screenings.
Those flights are banned, for instance. They can't come into the United States. But a lot of it for them is an issue of money. This screening technology cost a lot of money. And it is something to keep in mind when we talk about the idea of cutting the State Department by 30 percent or 40 percent.
This kind of stuff and working in homeland security reaches out to protect Americans even. It's not just being nice across the world. It has to do with our safety here at home.
BLITZER: Right now, we are talking about 10 airports in North Africa and Middle the East. But is the ban wide enough? If it's so publicized, are you concerned that terrorists could evade the security screening at an airport in Europe or Asia heading to the United States?
KINZINGER: Yes. I mean, I think it's a natural concern.
And I wouldn't be surprised if now we start with this small ban, if in fact this spreads now to basically all international flights or even domestic flights. What we need to be concerned with, obviously, passenger safety should be the absolute first thing we're focused on.
But, secondly, look, if terrorists just get us to basically make air travel even way more uncomfortable and people quit flying because of all these concerns, that will be a victory in and of itself. I think when it comes to terrorists, we have to react wisely, but also not overreact.
And so I think the government will figure out where that proper balance is, I hope.
BLITZER: What else should be done to assure travelers that this is all under control?
KINZINGER: So, look, it's a number of things. It's again, saying, look, the reality of actually being killed or
injured in a terrorist attack is extremely low, no matter, frankly, whether you're in Europe or the United States. It is understanding the reality that it is really not common, but it's a concern.
I think the other thing, as I mentioned, is we have to stay on the offense against the war on terror today to keep these networks disturbed, to keep them reactive, instead of proactive.
And the other thing is, we have to understand that we have to fight what I call the next generational war on terror, which is the 7- or 8- year-olds now are prime recruiting ground for ISIS that lack opportunity.
So, giving them opportunities, giving them hope, giving them a place to live, it is much less likely to recruit somebody into terrorism when they are successful, when they have freedom and when they have opportunity. So, that next generational fight, which isn't a fight at all, it's giving opportunity to somebody, is essential to winning this war in the long run.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks for joining us.
KINZINGER: You bet. Any time, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, how did the terrorists develop this new bomb? And what can the U.S. now to protect flyers? Our experts, they are standing by. We're following the breaking news.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news on newly developed terrorist bombs that can be hidden in laptops.
CNN has learned that FBI testing now shows those bombs can evade commonly used airport screening.
Let's bring on our experts on terrorism, national security and aviation.
Evan Perez, you have done a lot of the reporting on this. How does the intelligence community keep track of these new capabilities?
PEREZ: Wolf, there is a lot of effort to try to use both the intelligence collection, the capabilities, the listening devices. And they try keep satellites and drones and keep an eye on these terrorist groups, as well as informants.
And so there is all of that information that's being collected both by the United States, as well as the allies in the region, to try to prevent some of these devices from getting on to airplanes. Clearly, beyond the testing that the FBI has done and beyond some of
the collection that the intelligence agencies have been able to do, there is new information that has been developed in the last few months that they believe indicated there was a greater threat to those airports that they introduced the ban to in the last couple of weeks.
So that is what we're told is behind the decision-making that was made.
BLITZER: Miles, what kind of damage could a bomb like this, a laptop or another electronic advice, actually do?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: If you think about a laptop, you are pretty limited in size, especially if you want to create a laptop that can actually still power up in order to evade security.
Imagine a relatively small device. But it is all about location. If you're sitting in just the right spot, perhaps over a wing. The wings are where the fuel tanks are. You could have a tremendous amount of trouble as a result of that.
But we have seen bombs that have brought planes down, Pan Am 103 back in 1988, and more recently we've seen attempts where holes have been blown in aircraft and they are able to land the airplane safely. It is hard to say.
BLITZER: We have all seen, Clarissa Ward, those terror guides, AQAP. They've had these articles that they posted how to build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.
What sorts of ways are these terror groups now spreading the word on these new devices and how to go ahead and try to sneak one on a plane?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have a whole plethora of ways that they're doing it, from the ISIS manual known as "Inspire" to -- sorry -- the al Qaeda manual known as "Inspire," to ISIS' magazine, "Dabiq."
They are coming out with new and creative ways to allow people at home who may have never set foot in the Middle East, let alone spend time in territory of any of these groups, to make their own explosives often using kind of homemade bombs, using things that you could buy at your local drugstore.
For a long time, Wolf, blowing up a commercial airliner has been the kind of Holy Grail for many of these groups. And we have seen the various incarnations of technology as they have tried using liquids, using an underwear bomb, using in the case of Metrojet explosives smuggled on to the hold in a soda can reportedly by a baggage handler or someone who was working at the airport.
So they are working every single angle that they can in order to try to get the technology to a place by whatever means necessary to actually blow up one of these planes successfully.
They came very close to it with the Al-Shabaab attempt to blow up the plane in Somalia that we have just discussed. In that case, the plane was flowing low enough that the pilot was able to land the plane, even though there was a huge hole in the wall of the fuselage.
But they know the devastating impact, both from a point of casualties and from a point of disrupting everyday life, so this is a high priority for groups like ISIS.
BLITZER: And, Paul Cruickshank, I'm looking at the eight countries where these nonstop flight to the United States, electronic equipment has been banned from the cabin. You take a look at -- there's 10 airports in the UAE. And in Saudi Arabia, two airports are on that list.
Why did they pick those eight countries?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think one of the concerns is some of these airports in the Middle East may not have the state- of-the-art technology.
And by that, I mean explosive trace detection technology where you take the swabs at the airport and you test it for very, very small amounts of explosives. Those machines can detect a picogram of explosive, a trillionth of a gram.
And they are actually very, very good indeed at detecting the kinds of explosives these terrorist groups are trying to put into devices, very, very good indeed, Wolf, at detecting them. And they are in place at some airports in the Middle East, notably Dubai, notably Abu Dhabi.
It is a bit after head-scratcher why those airports have been targeted. They are very good at detecting even when explosives are concealed in the electronics of a laptop. I think some words of reassurance for travelers in Europe, in the United States, the machines that are currently available should beat this terrorist threat.
The worry is that in some developing countries that they could get a bomb onto a plane, either because there is poor training or they just don't have the machines available.
BLITZER: Richard Quest, what sorts of materials, methods would get through airport screening? I think you have probably been to every one of those airports in North Africa and Middle East.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, most of them, Wolf.
And that is, frankly, what is weird about the way this whole thing has been put together. It is the discrepancy, Wolf, between the British list and the U.S. list. Now, there are some small differences in places like Morocco, Tangier, between the two.
But it's the three airports of Doha, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai that appear on the U.S. list, but not on the British list. And you have got to start -- and the reason why Dubai that is so significant is, it happens to be the largest busiest international airport in the world at the moment, because of Emirates and their A-380s.
So you have really got to ask yourself, now, what is the -- we know this risk exists as a result of the reporting that we're bringing you tonight. What is the reality of this risk?
Have those machines been compromised by the fact that terror organizations now actually have a real machine with which they can test the efficacy of detection devices to avoid detection?
And then you're left with, well, for goodness sake, hang on a minute. If the U.S. and the U.K. has banned those airports, but passengers can now go through those airports and on to Frankfurt, Paris, Stockholm, Oslo, or whatever, and then on to the United States, well, we really are now in the position of saying, what can we believe when we actually get on a plane?
Because clearly there is no uniformity and no conformity in standard.
PEREZ: I'll say beyond, what Richard is pointing at, I think some of the reporting that we have obtained in the last few days indicates the FBI testing is what really makes a difference here.
The FBI has been testing some of these specific models of machines that are used around the world and they were really alarmed to find in a lot of cases they were not detecting some of these newer types of bombs that were -- that the terrorists have been able to build.
That's the problem, is that it is beyond just these eight countries. These machines are used around the world, including here in the United States. So it really points to a vulnerability that we have here in this country as well, Wolf. So the question is, that is being raised here is whether the United States should also have some version of this ban, whether there's something that should be done at least until the United States is able to fix some of the machines that are used.
BLITZER: Miles, should the U.S. expand this ban?
O'BRIEN: I sure hope not.
I think we have a pretty good security system here. I think swabbing the devices is an important thing. And ultimately just putting devices in the hold raises all kind of other safety issues, including the risk of putting those batteries in the hold.
BLITZER: In the baggage compartment.
O'BRIEN: In the baggage compartment, which is I think is -- and ultimately, frankly, in Pam Am 103, the bomb in the hold, the experts will tell you that actually made it worse, because it was in a depressurized hold.
And it increased the explosive capability of the bomb. Keeping them on the plane is a mistake.
BLITZER: We are going to stay on top of the exclusive CNN reporting.
Everybody, stand by.
Also coming up, the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is now willing to testify if, if investigators grant him immunity from prosecution. President Trump backs that move. But so far, Congress and the FBI, they are not interested.
And the House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat goes over to the White House to review classified material 10 days after White House officials helped his Republican chairman get an advanced look.
BLITZER: Tonight, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee just left the White House after reviewing classified documents. Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is joining us right now.
[18:33:38] Sunlen, Congressman Adam Schiff, I take it, has just issued a statement?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. He did, after spending about three hours inside the White House complex, just issuing a statement tonight reading, in part, quote, "Today my staff director and I reviewed materials at the White House. It was represented to me that these are precisely the same materials that were provided to the chairman over a week ago. While I cannot discuss the contents of the documents, if the White House had any concern over these materials, they should have been shared with the full committee in the first place as part of our ordinary oversight responsibilities."
And it goes on to say that nothing he saw today warranted a departure from the normal review procedures and later went on to say that the White House essentially has a lot more explaining to do. He wants to know why senior staff members apparently shared the material with one member of that committee, of course, Chairman Nunes, and then were not briefed for other members of the committee.
SERFATY (voice-over): House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff at the White House today to review classified information offered up by the White House, an invitation extended in this letter, sent the Senate and House Intelligence Committees Thursday. But it's not clear if Schiff will be looking at the same classified documents shown to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. And Schiff, before his visit, sent a letter of his own back to the White House, expressing "profound concern with the way these materials are being made available to the committee."
[18:35:06] Meantime, Chairman David Nunes faces continued fallout, with new revelations about what he knows and how exactly he learned that information.
First reported in "The New York Times," a U.S. official now confirms two CNN White House staffers, Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis, are believed to be two of the individuals involved. But still unknown: whether these two White House staffers were involved directly in showing Nunes the documents when he was on White House grounds last week as he looked at the intelligence materials that he claims show Trump campaign aides' conversations were picked up in intelligence collection.
Nunes today remaining adamant, a spokesperson saying, "Chairman Nunes will not confirm or deny speculation about his source's identity, and he will not respond to speculation from anonymous sources. The White House staffers' involvement fueling even more questions about the independence of Nunes's investigation from the White House.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I'm firmly convinced that the president and his aides concocted this and drew Devin Nunes into it, and he became an advocate and and abettor to what I think is an absolute fabrication.
SERFATY: And even more criticism of the credibility of Nunes's claim that the information was brought to him by a whistleblower.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: To me, this looks nothing like nothing like a whistle blower case. And -- and again, I think the White House needs it answer, is this instead a case where they wish to effectively launder information through our committee to avoid the true source of the information.
SERFATY: The White House today attempting to swat down the criticism.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What he did, what he saw and who he met with was 100 percent proper. We all found out -- you, me, everyone else that is coming down here after he held a press conference with your colleagues, to say he was coming down here based on stuff that he had found that didn't have do with Russia, that a whistleblower source had given him.
SERFATY: Meantime, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is facing increasing questions about whether he still stands by the chairman. A spokeswoman saying today, "The speaker doesn't know the source of the disclosure to Chairman Nunes. The Chairman has the speaker's full confidence."
SERFATY: And as all these questions continue to swirl around them, Chairman Nunes, who's back in his home district right now in California because the House is not in session, he in an interview tonight is offering up some criticism of all these reports that White House officials were involved in the intelligence disclosure. In an interview tonight, he calls the report mostly wrong, but notably, Wolf, he did not offer any details or specifics as to why -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill.
Also breaking tonight, sources tell CNN there's no indication that the FBI wants to give Michael Flynn immunity in exchange for his testimony in the Russia investigation. We're told the House and Senate Intelligence Committees aren't likely to cut a deal with the fired national security adviser either.
Tonight, the White House says President Trump wants Flynn to testify and isn't worried about what he might say or whom he might implicate under oath.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, a lot of questions about this at today's White House briefing.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And as you said, the White House, President Trump wants former national security advisor Michael Flynn to go ahead and testify. And the president is encouraging Flynn to seek immunity from prosecution in order to tell what he knows.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president is not worried about what Flynn has it say. And Spicer suggested the real story is not these ongoing questions about Trump campaign ties to Russia, but instead the president's allegation that he and his team were unlawfully wiretapped by the Obama administration.
But one thing we heard today from Spicer is that the White House is no longer focused on proving that the president was wiretapped before the election as he originally claimed in his now well-known tweets. We've seen those tweets time and again where the president talks about being wiretapped before the election.
Now the White House is saying that surveillance could have happened at other times and still prove the president's claims.
Here's what Spicer had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Does the White House have any information -- is it providing any information to these intelligence committees that would draw these members to the conclusion there was some kind of surveillance going on before the election, as the president originally alleged?
SPICER: So again, I don't -- I don't want to specifically get in, but I think if we're splitting hairs about what day on the calendar it was, that's a pretty interesting development. I think that we have now come to a place where I think we can...
ACOSTA: The president's allegation.
SPICER: I understand that. But if the allegation is, well it was actually on the first of December or the tenth of December, versus the 31st of October, I think that we're starting to split some serious hairs here. The idea that ow we are arguing over the date, not the substance. And the substance is why were people using government resources,
violating civil liberties, potentially, looking into people's backgrounds to surveil them, to understand what they were doing and who they were, to unmask them, provide their names into -- into sources, spread classified information and make it available to other -- spread it to places that they weren't supposed to.
[18:40:20] Hold on. Let me just -- I'm sorry. I think that it is interesting. Because again, I get your question, but if what we're really arguing is did it happen on a Monday or a Tuesday, or did it happen on the 31st versus the 7th or the 8th, I think we've lost focus here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: So Wolf, just to review that, you know, you have the president originally tweeting about wiretapping and the White House says you really mean surveillance. And before, the president was tweeting about wiretapping that happened before the election. Now they're basically talking about any time line that seems to fit what the president was originally alleging.
Now, as for Michael Flynn and that situation, the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee, as you said, appear to be rejecting the idea of granting immunity for Flynn. So after Flynn's attorney floated this out there yesterday that perhaps his client would be willing to testify in exchange for some kind of immunity, now it appears to be up to the retired general and his lawyer how they want proceed at this point, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta over at the White House.
Just ahead, immunity and questions of hypocrisy. What President Trump and Michael Flynn are saying now and what they said about Hillary Clinton during the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Next president of the United States right here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:46:07] BLITZER: Tonight, the president is backing Michael Flynn's offer to testify in the Russia investigation if he gets immunity from prosecution. At the same time, Mr. Trump is slamming the probe as a, quote, "witch hunt".
Let' let's bring in our political team.
Jackie Kucinich, I want you to listen to what president said as a candidate back in September and what General Flynn said at the same time they were talking about Hillary Clinton's campaign. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're not guilty of a crime, why do you need immunity for, right?
MIKE FLYNN, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: When you are given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How significant is it that General Flynn through his attorney now is saying I'll be happy to speak to the congressional committees, the FBI, but only if granted immunity from prosecution?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Life comes at you fast when you listen to those sound bites. But we just -- we don't know yet because this could be the -- he might think he is in some legal trouble. There has been some concern raised about money he made from Russian entities. And in addition to some of the things he talked to the FBI about in terms of what was picked up in correspondence, or this could be some smart lawyering. It is not unusual for someone who is going to testify to ask for immunity so they don't incriminate themselves.
So, we just -- we don't know yet, but there is that cryptic comment that his lawyer made saying he wants to tell his story.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
BLITZER: And usually, if the FBI or congressional grants immunity, it's because they think whoever is going to be testifying can bring down a higher up.
LIZZA: Yes, exactly. There's nothing wrong -- it does not imply that you committed a crime if you are given immunity. But the FBI and prosecutors are in the business of getting to the bottom of people who committed crimes.
So, an immunity deal means that they think that that will pursue, that will help in the pursuit of figuring out who committed a crime. So, Flynn is pretty high, was a pretty high White House official. There is really nobody higher, right?
So, if you were are a prosecutor looking for someone higher, well, it's hard to think of anyone beyond Pence and Trump, anyone higher than that. So, I would say, if the Justice Department, if the prosecutors of the Justice Department suddenly grant Flynn immunity, watch out. That is explosive because that means there's something else that they are going after. There aren't too many people.
If the committees give him immunity, it might not be as meaningful. I mean, that may be more we want the full story. This is an important issue. We need information.
BLITZER: On this issue, Bianna, the president tweeted and I'll read, quote, "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt except excuse big election lost by media and Dems of historic proportion." But today, the White House said the president believes Flynn should testify.
How unusual, Bianna, is all of this?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Meaning what? Everything we're talking about the past three months is unusual. But given the specific topic, there had been reports that story would come out, that Flynn would be asking for immunity for the past few days.
So, look, I think you have an administration that doesn't want to completely alienate Flynn because obviously they are very close. If there are any Russian associations, Flynn would know about them. At the same time, Michael Flynn is somebody who feels disgruntled. This is now the second administration in which he feels that he's been burned by and which he has been fired for.
So, the president on the one hand doesn't want to completely isolate him. On the other hand, he has to distance himself as well.
BLITZER: He was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon. You're right, he was fired by the Obama administration at that point. You wanted to say something?
LIZZA: No, I'd just -- just one small thing on that. We are all trying to figure out, are Flynn and Trump on the same team here? Is Flynn going to be a sort of good soldier for the White House? Or is he no longer loyal to the White House?
I know you shouldn't read too much into the personal views of one's lawyer, but it is notable, I think, that his lawyer is a so-called Never Trump Republican who tweeted extensively during the campaign anti-Trump tweets and that is the person he went to as a lawyer.
[18:50:08] GOLODRYGA: And don't forget Michael Flynn was a Democrat as well. So, he is known to align himself with both parties. He's a very emotional man that people describe as a loose cannon. Genius in any ways, but a loose cannon.
LIZZA: You know, we are getting some information from Adam Schiff's briefing over at the White House, spent a couple of hours over there. And in that statement he put out, he basically said he was given access to the exact same information that the chairman of the committee, Devin Nunes received a week or so ago. And the still question remains, was Devin Nunes, the whole visit he had there, the information he received, orchestrated by the White House?
KUCINICH: And, you know, Adam Schiff did not speak to that. He said going in that his silence on what he saw and what he observed shouldn't be interpreted either way as he saw something that shocked him or that you know, it was nothing. So -- but he also said this is information that has been released to the entire committee.
So, you will have to see what he says later this weekend. But at this point, he is making a lot of the same point that made going into the White House in the first place. LIZZA: I'm a little surprised that he maybe Friday night and Schiff
is a pretty media savvy guy. So, maybe he wants to wait. I know he's going to be on Jake Tapper's show on Sunday. I was e-mailing with his spokesperson before he came on. He said he's not going to have any comment between now and then. But it is a little unusual he would not characterize these documents one way or another, would not confirm whether the White House or Nunes has been accurately characterizing them.
BLITZER: You know, Bianna -- go ahead.
GOLODRYGA: I was going to say, there are reports that he had a brief and cordial meeting in exchange with the president as well in this meeting.
BLITZER: Yes. We're just getting word, confirmation, from a White House official, Bianna, that the president and Adam Schiff had about a 10-minute meeting in the Oval Office. It was described as cordial and polite. So, very nice description.
Bianna, everybody, stand by --
LIZZA: So it was cordial.
BITZER: Everybody, stand by for a moment. We're going to continue right after this.
[18:56:35] BLITZER: Weeks after the designation of his half brother, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un seems to have tied up some loose ends.
Our Brian Todd is looking into this for us. What's the latest, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, officials in Seoul, Washington and elsewhere, are fuming. The body of Kim Jong-un's half brother is now back in Pyongyang as are three North Korean men wanted for questioning in his murder. It appears that Kim Jong-un has carried out a brazen murder on another country's soil and completely gotten away with it.
TODD (voice-over): It's a clean sweep tonight for Kim Jong Un. North Korea's dangerous young leader has gotten the body of his murdered half brother Kim Jong Nam. The Malaysian government has released the body to the North Koreans and has released three North Koreans wanted for questioning in the murder. They've been hiding in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The three men believed to be filmed here on a plane. One stares down a journalist who approaches him.
REPORTER: Did you take part in the assassination of Kim Jong Nam? No?
TODD: At the same time, Malaysia got back nine of its citizens who had been stuck in North Korea during this standoff. The Malaysians insist that three North Koreans were not traded for nine hostages.
KHALID ABU BAKAR, INSPECTOR GENERAL, ROYAL MALAYSIA POLICE: We were finished with them, so that's why we allowed them to go.
TODD: Analysts dispute that.
SUE MI TERRY, FORMER CIA ANALYST ON NORTH KOREA: Of course, there was a deal. It's absolutely tied. I think the Malaysians rolled over and just gave everything that the North Koreans wanted.
JAMES PERSON, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: The most shocking thing about this is the fact that Kim Jong Un is getting away with murder.
TODD: Malaysian and South Korean officials say Kim Jong Un ordered the hit on his half brother who they saw was smeared with a banned chemical weapon VX nerve agents in the Middle of Kuala Lumpur's airport.
Kim's regime vehemently denies involvement. But experts say the North Koreans have pulled off several aggressive moves like this over decades with virtually no payback.
TERRY: Conducted multiple assassination attempts against South Korean leaders, assassinated first lady of South Korea, blew up Korean civilian airliner, killing 115 people on board. In 2010, North Korean sank a South Korean vessel, Cheonan, killing all 46 South Korean sailors. And always, every single time, North Korean has gotten away with these things.
TODD: Tonight, Kim seems to feel emboldened. A U.S. defense official telling CNN, in recent days, the U.S. has observed a lot of activity at a North Korean research facility tied to its development of long- range missiles that could some day strike America. Analysts say expect Kim to ramp up his aggression.
PERSON: We will likely see a continuation of missile test. We will likely see also, very soon possibly, according to recent satellite imagery, another nuclear test.
TODD: The only people who are being held accountable for the murder of Kim Jong Nam, these two women, one Vietnamese, one Indonesian, who Malaysian officials say smeared the VX nerve agent in his face at the airport. They're charged with murder. They both deny it, claiming they thought they were taking part in a TV stunt. But tonight, they both face death by hanging for this crime -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd with an update on an important story for us. Brian, thanks very much.
And that's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I hope that all of you have a wonderful weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.