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Interview With Virginia Senator Mark Warner; Supreme Court Fight; Trump Son-in-Law in Iraq; Trump Son-in-Law Expands Role as Shadow Diplomat; Russia: Deadly Subway Blast Was Terrorist Act. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Now heading to a final vote, with Democrats poised to filibuster, and the Republicans ready to take historic action to stop them. What kind of fallout might there with when the nuclear option is triggered?

Behind closed doors. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees both meeting in private sessions, as the White House claims the Trump- Russia investigation is moving in a trouble direction. I will talk to top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner, about new controversy surrounding the probe and the alleged unmasking of Trump campaign associates.

Terror underground. Passengers panic, as a deadly attack on a Russian subway train unfolds. Is ISIS to blame and does the terrorist group have its sights on Vladimir Putin?

And high stakes. President Trump kicks off a critical week of global diplomacy by meeting with Egypt's strongman, sending his son-in-law on a surprise mission and unleashing a new threat aimed at North Korea and China.

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 this hour: the United States Senate now barreling toward an epic showdown over U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch that could change the rules for confirming high court justices forever.

The Gorsuch nomination getting the green light from the Judiciary Committee today, even as Democrats secured enough votes to launch a filibuster to block a vote in the full Senate on Friday. Republicans now amping up their plans to respond by triggering the so-called nuclear option that would lower the number of votes needed to confirm Gorsuch and future U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

Also tonight, President Trump vowing to support Egypt's hard-line leader and work with him in the fight against terrorism. Mr. Trump welcoming President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to the White House, something President Obama pointedly did not do.

And we're following breaking news in the investigation of the Trump camp's contacts with Russia. Members of the House Intelligence Committee gathering this evening after weeks of partisan division and gridlock and controversy surrounding the chairman, Devin Nunes. We're standing by for updates on what happened in that meeting.

We're also going to get new information this hour about the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation after new witness interviews were conducted behind closed doors. I will speak live with the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the vice chairman, Mark Warner. There you see him. He's standing by to join us live, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we cover all the news that's breaking right now.

Up first, our CNN congressional respondent Sunlen Serfaty with more on the Gorsuch nomination.

Sunlen, right now, it looks as though Republicans will have to trigger what's called the nuclear option to get Gorsuch confirmed.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Wolf, because Democrats today have secured enough support to be able to filibuster Neil Gorsuch's nomination, which essentially dares the Republicans to do what they have been threatening to do all along and invoke that so-called nuclear option, essentially changing the Senate rules to allow Gorsuch to go through by a simple majority vote.

And as of tonight, it does look like Republicans are making good on that threat.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Judge Gorsuch's answers were so diluted with ambiguity, one could not see where he stood.

SERFATY (voice-over): The partisan battle lines are now fully drawn.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Our colleagues on the other side who are willing to vote against the nominee for the United States Supreme Court, for the first time in history conduct a filibuster, I think that's unworthy of the Senate.

SERFATY: The Senate is now headed toward a high-stakes showdown over President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Democrats are setting a very dangerous precedent.

SERFATY: Today, Democrats locked in enough support to successfully filibuster Gorsuch when he faces the full Senate later this week.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I'm not ready to end debate on this issue, so I will be voting against cloture, unless we are able as a body to finally sit down and find a way to avoid the nuclear option. SERFATY: According to CNN vote count, Senator Coons' support today

marks the 41st Democrat to sign onto a filibuster, making it impossible by the math for Republicans to get the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster.

SEN. THOM TILLIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: It's an amazing theater that we have created here to create this pretext for a partisan filibuster. This is not going to be successful.

SERFATY: Meaning Republicans will have to make good on their promise to invoke the so-called nuclear option to get Gorsuch through. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell not mincing words about what he intends to do when Gorsuch faces the full Senate.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: What I can tell you is that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week.


SERFATY: The nuclear option will change Senate rules so that Gorsuch and future Supreme Court nominees will only need a simple majority, 51 votes, to get through, rather than the 60 votes that had been established under longstanding Senate rule.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes, this is going to be very bad. I'm going to tell you what is going to happen. The judges will become more ideological because you don't have to reach across the aisle to get one vote any longer. This is going to haunt the Senate. It's going to change the judiciary. And it's so unnecessary.

SERFATY: Today, Gorsuch's nomination advanced on a party-line vote out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the last step before reaching the Senate floor, giving Democrats the opportunity to sound off on the process.

FEINSTEIN: This nomination is not the usual nomination. It comes in a different way. And it has proceeded in a way of excessive spending of dark money that, in the time I have been on this committee, I have never seen before.

SERFATY: And the nominee.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: And I'm disappointed that Judge Gorsuch wasn't forthcoming with his answers.

SERFATY: With Republicans crying foul.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: If they're going to oppose Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States, they will never vote and never support a nominee of this president.


SERFATY: So, here's what all happens next tomorrow. At some point, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he will move to end the floor debate on Gorsuch. That sets up a key procedural vote that will happen at some point on Thursday.

We expect, as we've been reporting, that the filibuster will not be defeated. That means that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will start to trigger the nuclear option. That sets up, Wolf, a potential final confirmation vote for Neil Gorsuch at some point on Friday.

Again, under these new rules, if it follows this procedure, will be 51, a simple majority vote, he needs to get through -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thanks.

Now to President Trump beginning a very busy week of meetings with world leaders that will test him like never before. In his talks with Egypt's leader today, the president signaled a shift in U.S. policy. He's now emphasizing the joint commitment to fighting terror with Egypt while staying silent at least in public about Egypt's alleged human rights abuses.

The president's decision to send his son-in-law to Iraq also raising some eyebrows. Senior adviser Jared Kushner meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, something Mr. Trump's secretary of state has not done yet.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, Kushner's Iraq trip, the president's meeting with the Egyptian leader, it's all just a warm-up for the main event later in the week.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. That main event is China.

President Trump made a pledge to voters in places like the Midwest that he would get tough on China as a way to boost jobs here at home. And the president has continued to talk tough on China heading to this very critical meeting at Mar-a-Lago later this week with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

But it's worth pointing out, as a candidate, President Trump vowed that China would be designated a currency manipulator on day one of his administration. And that still has not happened.

But in an interview with "The Financial Times" newspaper from over the weekend, the president did slam China once again, saying -- we can put this up on screen -- "When you talk about currency manipulation, when you talk about devaluations, they are world champions," talking about China. "And our country hasn't had a clue. They haven't had a clue. The past administration hasn't had and many administrations. I don't want to say only Obama. This has gone on for many years. They haven't had a clue.

But Trump says, President Trump says, "I do."

Now, critics of the president on this issue worry that Mr. Trump will start a trade war with China and that will actually hurt U.S. jobs here at home. But here is what the president had to say about China during the campaign. More of that very tough rhetoric. Here is what he had to say.


TRUMP: Because we can't continue to allow China to rape our country. And that's what they're doing. It is the greatest theft in the history of the world.


ACOSTA: Now, we should point out last week the president did order a review of trade policies, including the U.S. relationship with China.

But one reason the president may not be willing to act as forcefully as he once promised is that the U.S. has long relied on China to apply pressure on North Korea over its renegade nuclear program. But the president did signal in that interview with "The Financial Times" that he may be willing to depart from that policy as well, saying it's an approach that did not work for Presidents Bush and Obama.

So this will be a very high-stakes situation. These discussions will be extremely high-stakes, Wolf, when the president and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, meet later this week down at Mar-a-Lago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very important, indeed. All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

We're also standing by for a live, very important interview with the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner. There he is.

Stand by for a moment, Senator, because we're getting some new information about the investigation of Russia and its contacts with the Trump camp.

The House and Senate Intelligence Committees, they are holding new sessions as controversy intensifies over one angle of the probe, the alleged unmasking of Trump campaign associates whose conversations were caught up during routine surveillance.


Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

What's the latest on this very sensitive issue?


Big picture, we're in a place now where intelligence is routinely politicized. We're seeing this throughout the Russian investigation. And you have competing allegations here. I have spoken with former senior intelligence officials at the highest levels who served both Republican and Democratic administrations.

And they have told me, one, unmasking is not leaking. If a senior national security official asks for the identification of an American name that comes up in a conversation with a foreign intelligence official that's been intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies, they can ask for that to be unmasked, but that information is not shared publicly. It's shared with that official.

Two, it's legal. There's a process that's been in place since 9/11. And, three, the intelligence agencies have to approve that request. I'm told, again, by senior intelligence officials who have served both Republicans and Democrats that the NSA has to give this approval, they're very conservative about when and where they do it.

They need a reason to do that. So, pushback from intelligence officials who have dealt with these kinds of questions and served both Democratic and Republican administrations that unmasking by itself is some sort of crime or some sort of misuse of classified information.

That's what we're hearing now. Of course, there are still questions to be answered about how that information was then used, and that's something we continue to look into.

But this is happening as you have continuing investigations on the Hill, Senate Intelligence Committee investigations of Russia connections, as well as House Intelligence Committee investigations of Russia connections to the Trump campaign, but, right now, severe questions, even coming from Republicans, as to whether that House investigation can truly be bipartisan going forward.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, members of the House Intelligence Committee meet to try to find a way forward in the committee's Russia investigation.

Even GOP Senator John McCain says any hope of a bipartisan effort under the committee's Republican chairman, Devin Nunes, is now lost.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If we are really going to get into the bottom of these things, it's got to be done in a bipartisan fashion. And, as far as I could tell, Congressman Nunes killed that.

SCIUTTO: On Friday, the top Democrat on the committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, examined classified intelligence reports of intercepted communications referencing Trump campaign officials, this several days after his GOP counterpart, Nunes, first viewed them and claimed they showed evidence of possible surveillance of Trump advisers.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: How does the White House know that these are the same materials that were shown to the chairman, if the White House wasn't aware what the chairman was being shown?

These materials were produced in the ordinary course of business.

Well, the question for the White House and for Mr. Spicer is the ordinary course of whose business? Because, if these were produced either for or by the White House, then why all of the subterfuge?

SCIUTTO: That is raising questions among Senate Republicans as well. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think the whole question is bizarre, that if he did in fact receive intel from White House staffers to then go brief the president, it's a bit odd. Why can't they just show the president what they have got? So, that whole episode was kind of strange.

SCIUTTO: Meanwhile, new revelations about dismissed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. White House disclosures show that Flynn failed to support thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Russian companies before joining the administration.

Flynn has requested immunity to testify in the House investigation, but the Intelligence Committee is so far not interested. President Trump backed Flynn's request in a tweet.

Congressman Adam Schiff told CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" that move has a clear political purpose.

SCHIFF: The president is pretty transparent in his tweets. I think he wanted to get across a message that he's not afraid of what General Flynn has to say and basically daring the Congress to give him immunity.

And then, if we make a judgment that, no, we shouldn't be giving him immunity, the president can say we don't want his story to come out. So, I think it was a strategic move by the president, and a pretty transparent one.


SCIUTTO: I have reached out to Susan Rice for comment on reports, Wolf, that she was the official that unmasked these identities of U.S. persons related to the Trump campaign, and so far we don't have a comment.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Sciutto reporting for us, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Senator Mark Warner is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the vice chairman.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Wolf.

It's tough to keep up with all these stories going on.

BLITZER: It certainly is, but you can do it, because I know you're well-briefed on all of this.

First of all, the so-called incidental surveillance, the unmasking part, is that part of by your Senate Intelligence Committee investigation?


WARNER: If somebody inappropriately unmasked an American name, we want to know that.

But as your prior correspondent, Jim Sciutto, said, there is a procedure and a process that in the normal course of intel, an intel official can ask for unmasking of a name.

I don't know whether that happened or didn't happen because the papers that Chairman Nunes looked at, we in the Senate still have not seen. Chairman Burr and I, we're trying to do this in a bipartisan fashion. We said to the White House, no, we're not going to come down there to look at those papers. You should either produce those, because we know how to handle intelligence papers sensitively, or we will get them from the NSA or wherever they originated.

And we're still awaiting. I think those papers may just be getting into our offices tonight.

BLITZER: I'm sure they will show it. If they showed them to the Democrat and Republican leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, I'm sure the White House will be happy to share the information with you and the chairman.

But is there a risk, in the so-called unmasking process, that it could be politicized?

WARNER: Of course.

You have always got to be careful of unmasking. But, again, there is also an absolute procedure that if someone is trying to find intel and it says Mark Warner talks to Wolf Blitzer, and Wolf Blitzer is under some level of investigation, and an intel person says, we ought to figure out who that guy talking to Wolf was, there is an appropriate procedure to unmask another name, in this case, if it was Mark Warner.

So, again, I don't want to comment on hearsay at this point. We have tried to do this without kind of chasing whatever happens to be the story du jour. We're trying to do this in a more methodical process, trying to do it in a bipartisan process.

At the end of the day, we need to all step back for a moment and take a breath and realize this is about Russians interfering massively in our election, this time to help one candidate, Mr. Trump. Next time, it could help somebody on the other side. And we all ought to be concerned about it as policy-makers and as Americans.

BLITZER: I want to get to that in a moment. But just one final question on this part, have you seen any evidence at all that President Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, did anything wrong, illegal, improper, in unmasking the names of individuals?

WARNER: I have not seen any of that yet. Now, again, I haven't seen all the NSA documents, but at this point, absolutely not.

Again, as I think Lindsey Graham, one of your comment -- senator, said, I just don't understand this whole story of the House chair going and looking at classified information, and then going back and briefing the president.

If there was something that the White House had, why not share it with all four of the ranking members, Democrat and Republican, on both sides? I can tell you all the members of the Senate Intel Committee, Democrat and Republican alike, still don't know what Mr. Nunes has been talking about.

BLITZER: Your committee began interviewing individuals today as part of the investigation into what is suspected potentially some collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia. Can you tell us who you are interviewing at this stage, what sort of information you are seeking?

WARNER: Wolf, what we're doing right now, we're still on the foundation.

There was a January 6 report that the entire intelligence community contributed to that said Russians tried to interfere, they hacked one party and released selective information, they paid Internet trolls that created bots that then basically flooded the zone with false information that helped shape the narrative in certain states that were key in the election.

And we want to look at the people who put that report together and say to those analysts, tell me -- you had to reach a 95 percent confidence level, let's say, on that piece of information. Tell us what maybe you only had a 60 or 70 percent confidence level, what ended up on the cutting room floor.

This is going to be these early conversations between our staff and some of the staff who put together these analyses. I don't expect there to be any kind of smoking guns or big explosions coming out of these early interviews. But the more facts we collect, by the time it comes to introduce some of the bigger names, we want to be able to ask them the right questions.

BLITZER: Why do you -- speaking of bigger names, why do you believe General Flynn, Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Trump, is seeking immunity as part of this investigation?

WARNER: Well, we have had General Flynn get fired because he was -- didn't tell about certain conversations we had with the Russians. We have heard reports, again, recently, I don't know these factually, but it's been reported a lot in the news that he was also paid by the Turkish government. And now we hear other reports of other payments from Russians.


We need to find out whether those facts are correct or not before we question him. But, obviously, it raises a lot of smoke.

BLITZER: I assume your committee, Senator, will weigh in with the Justice Department before making a decision on whether or not to grant Flynn immunity for prosecution.

WARNER: It's way too early for us to be talking about immunity to anyone.

We have got to get our questions, do our research. And I know people want to get to the bottom of this. Trust me, I am a very impatient person myself. I want us to be further along. But it's better that we do it right, that we do it thoroughly, and that we do it bipartisanly, than it is to somehow race to the cameras about each story that comes up what seems to be almost every day.

BLITZER: And so far the Senate Intelligence Committee is working in a bipartisan fashion, as opposed to the House Intelligence Committee, which has some serious problems.

Senator, there's a lot more to assess. I want to take a quick break and resume this conversation right after this.

WARNER: Sure, Wolf.



BLITZER: We're back with Senator Mark Warner and the breaking news we're following. Democrats now have enough support to filibuster the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch, making it very likely the Republicans will pull the trigger on what is called the nuclear option.

Senator, you announced that you will support the use of a filibuster against Neil Gorsuch, that you won't vote for him, confirmation. How did you come to that decision?

WARNER: Well, first of all, Wolf, let's -- let me go ahead and acknowledge neither political party comes to this process with entirely clean hands.

I mean, the Democrats changed some of the rules in 2013, and then, in 2016, you had an unprecedented effort where the Senate Republicans wouldn't even consider the appointment of Merrick Garland, who I think would have been a very qualified judge who would have had much broader bipartisan support.

I have to tell you, Judge Gorsuch has got impressive intellectual credentials. But I was really disappointed with his testimony in his private meeting with me, where he wouldn't reveal any kind of feelings on any prior cases, going back not just to Roe vs. Wade, which protects a woman's right to choose, but questions around the kind of abuse of money coming into the system.

And I just know that, at the end of the day, he was so evasive. And I was again a bit disappointed that the president seemed to only choose from a prearranged list of judges that had been in effect put out by a series of very conservative groups, and then those groups have spent literally tens of thousands of dollars.

That's not been the process that's taken place in the past, where I believe, even with Judge Garland, I believe at least that President Obama called a couple of Republicans to get some suggestions on the front end.

I'm disappointed we're at this point. I have got to stay an optimist. Maybe there is some way for avoiding this so-called nuclear option. But, yes, I have decided to vote agree to continue the filibuster and then, if it's overturned, to vote against Judge Gorsuch.

BLITZER: But you know the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has vowed that Gorsuch will be confirmed by the end of this week one way or the other. How concerned are you that he will invoke the nuclear option requiring just a simple majority vote, and that that changes the rules for all future U.S. Supreme Court nominees as well?

WARNER: Well, I'm very concerned.

And I think we were talking earlier about our investigation in the Senate being bipartisan into the Russia challenge. A very different approach in the House. The House is incredibly more partisan, regardless of who is in control.

And I am afraid that a place that we still struggle for a little bit of bipartisanship, if we convert back to rule of the majority only on things like judges, that we could end up with, again, even more extreme judges, regardless of who is in control.

There may be some -- I know there have been some efforts to put together something that might still end up resulting in Gorsuch being approved, but preserving the rule. But I'm not sure -- having been most of my time on the Russian investigation, I'm not sure those efforts are going to bear fruit.

BLITZER: If the nuclear option is used right now, Senator, doesn't that fundamentally weaken the Senate for both parties down the road, given what the Democrats and Harry Reid did in 2013 for lower federal judges, and now what is about to be done for U.S. Supreme Court justices?

WARNER: Well, that's why I said, Wolf, that neither party comes to this issue with exactly clean hands.

The Democrats changed the rules after the Republicans on lower court judges had filibustered more lower court judges during Obama's tenure than in all the prior history of the country put together.

And then there was this question about Merrick Garland, not even giving him a hearing last year.

But your core question is right. If we kind of drive over this cliff, it will mean that the power of the minority, no matter who is in charge, is going to be diminished.

BLITZER: So, just to be precise, Senator, you think that Judge Neil Gorsuch is so unqualified for the U.S. Supreme Court -- the American Bar Association says he's highly unqualified -- but you think he's so unqualified, you're willing to blow up a couple hundred years of tradition in the United States Senate? WARNER: Wolf, what I'm saying is, if you can't get 60 votes on a

senator, what you should do is not change the rules. You should change the candidate.

And I'm sure there would be other judges that President Trump could put forward that I would be supportive of. I just am a little surprised and disappointed that we've got a judge here that I do think that has outside-the-mainstream views. And rather than saying, "OK, let me try to put somebody up that could get 60 votes," the same way that the judges that Obama put up for the Supreme Court gained more than 60 votes, instead we're going to have the majority leader change the rules.

I think that's disappointing. And it may inure to the Republicans' benefits, short term, but at some point, as we know in politics, the times will change, and the Democrats will get control, and then they'll use the same tool. So again, I know there are some people still talking, so I'll try to -- you know, try to keep a little bit of optimism for a couple more days.

BLITZER: All right. I spoke to one of your colleagues, Senator Coons. He's also hoping that there can be some resolution, although increasingly it looks unlikely.

Senator Warner, thanks for joining us.

WARNER: Thank you so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, as congressional investigators meet behind closed doors, the White House complains the probe into Russia's campaign meddling is veering in a troubling direction.

And why did President Trump send his son-in-law to Iraq instead of his secretary of state?


[18:36:25] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on the president's U.S. Supreme Court pick. Democrats now poised to filibuster Neil Gorsuch's nomination, Republicans ready to trigger what's called the nuclear option to stop them.

Let's bring in our analysts. Gloria, Senator Coons of Delaware told me earlier today he's still hoping for some miracle to emerge that would avoid that nuclear option. We heard something similar from Senator Warner just now, as well. Is it too late, though?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Miracles can happen but not in the Senate. Not over this. And, you know, I think there's going to be a filibuster. And I think at some point, Mitch McConnell is going to keep his word. He has said this Gorsuch is going to be approved by the end of the week. The way he's going to do that is by executing the nuclear option, which would mean that he'd only need a majority vote. And, you know, I don't think there's -- there's any way around that. And, you know, my question is, once you unleash it now and you say,

"OK, we don't need a -- you know, you can't filibuster a Supreme Court nominee, all you would need is a majority," how long does it take for that slippery slope to go down to legislation, say you only need a majority, and then the Senate turns into the House of Representatives, which no one would say is a role model for the way to get things done.

BLITZER: Because Harry Reid triggered the nuclear option...

BORGER: He did. He did.

BLITZER: ... in 2013 about lower federal judges, their confirmation.


BLITZER: And the Democrats supported it then. Now the Republicans are threatening to do something similar. Gloria is afraid it could continue for all sorts of legislation that would really change the whole nature of the U.S. Senate.

BERG: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And make it much more like the House of Representatives, where everything is just a simple majority. Is the opposition that Democrats, Rebecca, are now showing to Neil Gorsuch, genuine opposition or is it, like, revenge for the way Merrick Garland was treated during the final year of the Obama presidency?

BERG: Well, if you take their word for it, Wolf, they say it is genuine. In your interview just now with Senator Mark Warner, he was saying that Gorsuch is too extreme, he didn't answer questions and testimony to the satisfaction of Democrats. OK, so that's fair enough. We can take Democrats at their word there.

But part of this is definitely about Merrick Garland. And part of this is just purely about politics, Wolf, because Democrats need to show that they are opposing Donald Trump. They need to show their activist base that they will do everything they can to hold up his agenda, to try to slow or stop him. And this is the only tool left in their toolbox on the Supreme Court nomination. And of course, it's not much of a tool at all, because Mitch McConnell and Republicans will override it. But it really is about politics for them and showing that they're putting up a fight.

BLITZER: David Swerdlick, if in fact, that nuclear option is triggered...


BLITZER: ... and if there's another opening over the next nearly four years of the Trump presidency, the next Supreme Court nominee that he picks could even be more conservative, and he or she would only need a simple majority.

SWERDLICK: That's right. And Wolf, I don't take the Democratic senators at their word. This is completely about politics in my view. And I think that the ramifications, though, are predictable and maybe not as bad as everybody says.

Partisanship is broken in Washington already, so I don't think this breaks it that much further. Yes, you are right, Gloria: this will go on a slippery slope toward getting rid of the filibuster for all legislation. But I think that's just the political moment we're in now, we're heading toward.

BLITZER: Let me switch to another subject. Phil Mudd is with us. As you know, President Trump and his supporters, they've been trying to find some reason to back up his tweets from several weeks ago that Trump Tower was wiretapped by former former President Obama.

I want to read to you a couple of the most recent tweets from the president, President Trump: "Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by 'FOX and Friends.' Spied on before nomination. The real story."

[18:40:02] A little bit later, he tweeted, "FOX News from multiple sources, there was electronic surveillance of Trump and people close to Trump. This is unprecedented."

Is unmasking what President Trump is making it out to be, that it was surveillance, inappropriate surveillance of him and his campaign?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The most disturbing part of this, Wolf, is the president of the United States is looking to FOX News to understand how government works. And he's revealing through tweets that, as the chief executive in government, he does not understand the national security process.

Let me make this easy, and let's switch the tables. The national security adviser under President Trump receives information that is masked. Let's create a scenario. That information suggests that former Obama administration officials are undercutting the president, President Trump, in conversations with Russian officials.

If you're President Trump's national security adviser, you have one option in that circumstance. That is to say, "I need to know who those former officials are who are undercutting us." And that's an unmasking process that happens all the time in Washington.

I don't think it was any different under Obama. Officials are seeing information that suggested that Trump individuals were undermining President Obama, and they said, "I need to know who these people are." It happens all the time.

And what we're learning is that the president of the United States is misunderstanding or simply not asking questions about how his own government operates.

BLITZER: You've been doing, Gloria, some reporting on all of this unmasking. What have you learned?

BORGER: Well, it goes -- it goes along with what Phil was just saying. I was talking to a former senior intelligence official who said, "Look, nobody here would be targeting the Trump people or surveilling the Trump people. What you do, if you want to get something unmasked, it means you're trying to find out exactly what it is you are reading. You are trying to understand what you are reading. So you need to know the context of what you are reading."

And Wolf, it's not -- the process is not as if you pull off a Post-It note and uncover the name of somebody. This has to go through a number of people, professional career intelligence officials, who will ask you why you need to know this, why they should grant it. And there's a whole legal process you have to go through.

And once that's unmasked, the number of people who actually see it, I was told, is maybe a dozen or two. So it's not as if this has been widely disseminated. It is -- it is a process, and you do it because you need to try and understand what you are looking at.

BLITZER: But Rebecca, you know that the president's supporters think this is really confirmation of what he was tweeting weeks ago, for all practical purposes.

BERG: Right. And that's exactly it. I mean, Phil, I think, is giving him the benefit of the doubt here, saying that President Trump misunderstands this issue. It could be that he understands it perfectly well and is using this issue to help shape the debate around the Russia investigation and everything else. And to move it more in a direction that is favorable to him, that makes him look like the victim, as opposed to the perpetrator here. So it's an open question, really.

BLITZER: President Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, all of a sudden, her name has been involved by these individuals, these reports, suggesting she was unmasking these names. That's going to give a lot of fuel to the controversy.

SWERDLICK: It will give a lot of fuel, particularly because Susan Rice's name is known to folks from the Benghazi controversy, et cetera. But I think ultimately, whether this becomes a bigger scandal in the minds of conservatives will be whether or not what she did was illegal, which right now it doesn't -- there's no evidence that what she did was illegal.

The irony, Wolf, I think for Republicans on this or for the White House on this is that if they hadn't -- if President Trump had not done that four-tweet tweet storm...


SWERDLICK: ... four weeks ago, they could have had a big reveal with this information now, but now it falls short of the mark as fill-in.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. There's more news unfolding. How much global power does the president's son-in-law have right now? We're taking a closer look at his surprise visit to Iraq and his expanding influence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:48:43] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, President Trump's son- in-law Jared Kushner is at the center of another high profile diplomatic mission, meeting with the Iraqi prime minister in Baghdad. Kushner's rapidly expanding role as a senior adviser to the president is raising some questions, though, about who is in charge of carrying out the Trump administration's global policy.

Our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is joining us now live from the State Department.

Michelle, the president clearly has put a lot of trust in his son-in- law. But others aren't necessarily as confident.


Yes, would that everyone could have this kind of relationship with their in-laws. Kushner has gone from son-in-law to close adviser to the president's go-to guy on you name it. This is a guy with no experience who's been tasked with spurring American innovation and orchestrating Mideast peace among other things.

So, this has more than raised eyebrows around the world. It's even caused confusion among foreign diplomats here, wondering who they're supposed to be talking to, and why?


KOSINSKI (voice-over): More than a seat at the table, Trump's son-in- law and senior adviser Jared Kushner seems to be at the head of nearly every table at the White House, from streamlining the government to solving peace in the Middle East.

President Trump told one newspaper, "Jared is such a good kid and he'll make a deal with Israel that no one else can."

[18:50:05] Tonight, Kushner is in Iraq, invited by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to see the situation firsthand and get an update on the fight against ISIS, prompting this bewildered tweet former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, "Kushner in Iraq before the national security national advisor or secretary of state. Totally normal."

But it's not just Iraq. Kushner has been designated the president's point person on a list of issues, including trade deals, communicating with China, heading up the new office of American innovation, which includes updating the entire government's technology infrastructure and tackling the opioid crisis.


KOSINSKI: He's held important meetings with foreign leaders, even when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was noticeably absent.

Today, the White House was asked how exactly he can do all of this. SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's a lot of

relationships that Jared's made over time with different leaders, Mexico being one of them you mentioned, that are going to continue to have conversations with him and help facilitate that. It doesn't mean by any means that it's being done without coordination with the State Department. Quite, in fact, the opposite.

KOSINSKI: No question it's taking time for the State Department to get up to speed, still understaffed at the senior level. So has Jared Kushner who sources say has won the president's confidence by projecting a lot of confidence even when he doesn't have the experience or knowledge, the de facto secretary of state.

To many, it has appeared that way and appearances affect influence, to the point that some diplomats like the Chinese ambassador have been dealing directly with him. Sources say it's also worked well for Middle Eastern delegations like the Saudis. For them, government is a family affair. Kushner also was at the center of negotiations to get the president and Mexico to the table in D.C., which then collapsed after Trump's executive order on immigration, as well as some presidential tweets.

Some European ambassadors, though, have expressed outrage to CNN that a son-in-law has been given such a big role. One saying, "This would never fly in Europe."

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: And the larger question is, up until now, we haven't seen a lot of regular order in this administration when it comes to making foreign policy. It's supposed to be centered around the National Security Council. They debate the policy, they decide the policy, they speak the policy. That doesn't seem to be happening. There's a lot of freelancing going on.

KOSINSKI: Tonight, as Kushner works in Iraq and prepares for the president's high stakes meeting with the Chinese President Xi on Thursday, the man with his zero diplomatic, government or foreign policy experience may now be the most high profile member of the administration doing just that. Why and how are the lingering questions, outside the White House and around the world.


KOSINSKI: So, talking to a senior Republican member of Congress who is familiar with this web of influences around the White House, I asked that question. Is Kushner essentially functioning as secretary of state? He said no, because Tillerson meets with the president so often. He believes Tillerson has the president's respect, has his ear and he's aligned himself with Secretary of Defense Mattis and that they are working on plans to deal with things like Russia and ISIS.

Still, that is not the same kind of access or relationship that Kushner has, but this member of Congress says because Kushner out of necessity has to go out and find information, find advice and he has to listen, among those who are most influential to him on some of these issues are Tillerson and Mattis -- Wolf. BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski over at the State, thank you.

Just ahead, an explosion rips through a subway train as President Putin visits the Russian city of St. Petersburg. At least 10 people are dead, dozens wounded. So, who is behind the bombing?


[18:58:08] BLITZER: Russia says terrorists are to blame for the bloody bombing on a metro train in St. Petersburg. An explosion ripped through the train as it traveled between stations, killing at least ten people and wounding dozens more. A second device was found and disarmed.

Let's go live to CNN's Paul Newton. She's in St. Petersburg for us.

What's the latest on the ground, Paula? Is it known who is responsible?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Wolf. And the problem is we're working on 12 hours after this happened. Authorities are scouring through a lot of the surveillance video that they have from both subway stations to have a look. But the problem is, in terms of trying to identify these suspects, it is clear the authorities really don't know which direction to go in.

Having said that, you know how Russia is prosecuting that war in Syria right now. Of course, they're looking at whether or not this is ISIS- related. They also have their own problem here, as you know, Wolf, with some certainly Chechens who have gone to Syria to fight and maybe back. Putin has pointed to that as a problem in the past, Wolf, but does not said anything at this time.

We should say, about a mile from here, Vladimir Putin laid his own flowers to commemorate the victims, but, Wolf, this is a city very much in shock and disbelief.

BLITZER: Was it a coincidence that the Russian president, Paula, was in St. Petersburg today?

NEWTON: Well, it is a coincidence. Of course, this is his hometown. He was here for a political summit. He was supposed to be here for a few hours? Many lawmakers, though, are now saying that, look, could this really have been a coincidence. They believe terrorists targeted this city precisely because they knew Vladimir Putin would be here.

BLITZER: All right. Paula Newton in St. Petersburg for us -- Paula, thanks very much. A really horrendous terror attack there today, but it could have been a whole lot worse if that second bomb had gone off and had not been disarmed.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.