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Attack in Michigan; Republicans Continue Crafting Secret Health Care Bill; Interview With Florida Congressman Ted Yoho; White House Staffers Headed to Capitol Hill for Health Care Briefing; Pentagon Updates Response Options for North Korea Nuclear Test. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 21, 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: President Trump is heading to Iowa this hour, celebrating a new political win for his party. How did the GOP prevail in Georgia's special election, despite Mr. Trump's baggage?
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, the FBI says it's investigating a knife attack at the Flint, Michigan, airport as an act of terror.
Officials say the attacker shouted "Allahu akbar" before stabbing an off-duty Police officer in the back and neck. The suspect now in custody identified as a 50-year-old Canadian man named Amor Ftouhi.
Also breaking, a top Democrat is demanding information from the White House about why senior adviser Jared Kushner still has access to classified information even as his Russia connections are under investigation.
The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Congressman Elijah Cummings, says he has serious concerns about the administration's ability to protect America's secrets. Cummings also seeking documents on the failure to suspend Michael Flynn security clearance before he was fired as national security adviser, despite repeated warnings he was vulnerable to blackmail.
Also tonight, the Senate Judiciary chairman is suggesting his panel is ready to look into possible obstruction of justice by the president, saying -- quote -- "Everything is on the table." Committee leaders meeting with special counsel Robert Mueller as they pursue separate, but overlapping investigations.
And the former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson tells lawmakers that Russia's election meddling is a fact and it was directed by President Vladimir Putin. The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says the only person in the U.S. who doesn't believe Moscow tried to sway the election is President Trump.
This hour, I will talk with Congressman, a key Republican on the foreign affairs committee. And our correspondents and specialists also standing by.
First, let's go to CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, what more did we learn about this possible act of terror in flint, Michigan?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf.
Just right out of the gate, the FBI telling us that they are investigating this as an act of terror, terrorism. What we have learned is that the suspect, Amor Ftouhi, came here through Lake Champlain through a border crossing there and had spent some time in Flint, in the Flint, Michigan, area and went to the airport today.
This entire incident appears to have been captured on surveillance cameras at the airport. He dropped his bags and then used a knife to stab a police officer in the neck. The FBI then went into detail about some of the things that Ftouhi was saying during the incident, describing why he was doing this attack. And then they also described the knife, and furthermore, what he had said. Now, take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GELIOS, FBI: The knife was about a 12-inch knife with an 8-inch serrated blade. As you will see in the complaint, when the subject went up to the officer and stabbed him, he continued to exclaim allah, and he made a statement something to the effect of, you have killed people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are all going to die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PROKUPECZ: That's right.
So, Wolf, so what happens now is they are going to potentially do search warrants to try and get more information on his phones, computers. Also, the FBI, I am told, is going to work with Canadian officials. They may actually be at his house already in the Montreal doing search warrants trying to learn more information to see if he's connected to anyone else, if this is part of any bigger plot perhaps.
And also the key question here is going to be whether or not he was inspired, was he watching videos, sort of what set him off on this path. That still has not yet been determined.
BLITZER: They are working closely with the Canadian government on this, getting good cooperation from the Canadians.
I was pretty surprised in this affidavit of this criminal complaint that they released. They released a lot of information about this suspect.
PROKUPECZ: Yes, it's more than usual certainly in other terrorism cases. We usually don't even get charges this quickly, but because this occurred on airport property, they were able to bring this federal charge of committing a crime in an airport, which is a federal facility.
But, also, Wolf, exactly what you said, the details about his statements, the fact that they revealed that he's cooperating with authorities, all that doesn't usually happen until much later in the case because he still has to be arraigned. He still has to go before a judge, and he will presumably make a plea.
So, there is still a lot more to do here. So, it was pretty striking for me to see the FBI release this much information so quickly.
BLITZER: And we are going to be learning a lot more about Amor Ftouhi, 50 years old, from Canada, in the coming days, I'm sure.
And, fortunately, the police officer whose neck was stabbed, Lieutenant Jeff Neville, is in satisfactory condition in a Flint, Michigan, hospital right now. We wish him only the best.
Thanks very much for that.
Let's get to the other breaking news we're following right now in the Russia investigation.
Let's bring in our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju.
Manu, what are you learning about this strongly worded letter sent by Congressman Elijah Cummings to the White House chief of staff?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this really has to do with rules governing access to classified information.
This is something that Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, is pointing to, saying that both Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and a top White House adviser, and Michael Flynn both did not -- both were maybe unfit to handle classified information.
Certainly, Kushner now at the White House still, Flynn no longer at the White House, but did stay on the White House staff for 18 days after these concerns about him being susceptible to Russian blackmail were initially raised.
Now, the question about Jared Kushner, this has to do with his failure to disclose foreign contacts initially on his security clearance forms, including four contacts with Russian officials, including Sergey Kislyak, and the head of a Russian bank that was under U.S. sanctions at that time.
Now, in this letter that Cummings sent to Reince Priebus ,the White House chief of staff, he cites this about Jared Kushner. He says: "It appears that Mr. Kushner allowed his colleagues at the White House and the American people to be misled about his multiple communications with the Russian officials. Mr. Kushner reportedly failed to disclose contacts with dozens of foreign officials on his security clearance application. In any case, it is unclear why Mr. Kushner continues to have access to classified information while these allegations are being investigated."
Now, the White House did not comment, Wolf. They referred questions to the president's personal attorney, who also did not comment, but previously the president -- Jared Kushner's -- son-in-law's attorney has pushed back and said that security clearance form, Wolf, was submitted prematurely and that he had plenty of foreign contacts that he is happy to go into detail with.
And the reason why he did, they said, because of the role that he played during the campaign and the transition, Wolf.
Also, in that letter there, they're seeking, Elijah Cummings, a lot of information, a lot of documents. What else can you tell us about that?
RAJU: Yes, that's right.
July 5 is the deadline that Elijah Cummings has set for the White House to turn over documents related to these discussions about the security clearance that was provided to both Jared Kushner, as well as for Michael Flynn, having that security clearance form, despite the warning from the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, and that perhaps that he could have been vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.
But there is a catch here, Wolf. You need a Republican to compel the White House to produce those documents and to subpoena to compel the White House. There is no Republican support for what Elijah Cummings is pushing right now. Trey Gowdy, the chairman, of the committee, declining to comment, saying he has obtained the letter, he is reviewing it, but no commitment yet from Trey Gowdy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Are they working closely? Because Trey Gowdy is the new chairman taking over, Jason Chaffetz leaving the House of Representatives. Is this committee getting some better cooperation or not so much?
RAJU: We're not seeing any evidence of that yet, Wolf. This is a committee that has been at loggerheads over a number of key issues. There was some bipartisan cooperation initially on some of the Flynn matters a few weeks and months ago between Cummings and Jason Carroll.
But that really has dissipated. Democrats believe the Republicans aren't doing enough to go after a lot of these questions about Michael Flynn's security clearance and how Michael Flynn was essentially given this job with all these questions that were raised ahead the time before he was given that national security adviser job, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much, Manu Raju on the hill.
Let's get more now on the Russia investigation, from Moscow's election meddling to allegations of obstruction of justice.
Our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is investigating for us as well.
What are you learning?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Yes, a lot today. We heard in both houses of Congress in no uncertain terms how aggressive that Russian hacking was. But remember it was just yesterday the White House left it open-ended as to whether the president believes that.
Also today, there were some tough questions for President Obama's head of homeland security.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Special investigator Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill today meeting with senators on the Judiciary Committee who are now willing on their own and separate from Mueller's investigation to tackle potential obstruction of justice by the president.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Everything is on the table.
KOSINSKI: And in both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees today, Russian cyber-meddling front and center.
JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: In 2016, the Russian government at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself orchestrated cyber-attacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election. That is a fact, plain and simple.
BILL PRIESTAP, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: A well-planned, well- coordinated, multifaceted attack on our election process and democracy.
KOSINSKI: Homeland Security officials telling lawmakers the Russians were aggressive and relentless, trying to target not only entities like the Democratic National Committee, but election-related networks in 21 states.
In Illinois alone, the attackers were hitting five times per second 24 hours a day. But just yesterday, though, White House spokesman Sean Spicer says he doesn't know if the president even believes this meddling happened.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: The one individual in America that still seems to not accept this basic fact is the president of the United States.
KOSINSKI: U.S. intelligence agencies concluding, though, that the Russians were never able to change votes, only gather data and release it to sow distrust and uncertainty.
But there were plenty of questions, too, for former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on why the Obama administration didn't alert the American public sooner once they detected Russian activity last summer.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Why did we wait from July until October to make that statement?
JOHNSON: One of the candidates, as you recall, was predicting that the election was going to be rigged in some way. And, so, we were concerned that, by making the statement, we might in and of itself be challenging the integrity of the election process.
KOSINSKI: In the Senate hearing, one member asked if Donald Trump was unwittingly acting as a Russian agent by calling the election rigged. Another asked if Hillary Clinton was by, as he put it, blaming her loss on things like hacking and fake news.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOSINSKI: At this point, there are five different investigations. And that's why special counsel Mueller has been meeting with members of the House and Senate to try to work out what are the parameters for each of these so that the investigations don't interfere with each other.
He also plans to meet soon with the acting director of the FBI, Wolf, to talk about resources, and he has been reassuring some members of Congress that the investigation will have all the resources it needs.
BLITZER: It's moving forward, clearly. All right, thanks very much, Michelle Kosinski, reporting for us.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Ted Yoho. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: Thanks for having me on, Wolf.
BLITZER: Based on what you have learned about this airport stabbing in Flint, Michigan, do you believe this was an act of terrorism?
YOHO: I think it pretty evident that it was. The guy is yelling Allahu akbar.
And our thoughts and prayers go out to officer Neville. We hope that everything turns out well there.
But I think this is something that you're seeing a ramp-up with this. We're seeing this around the world. And it's a point in time where we all have to come together to bring this under control.
BLITZER: Well, we are waiting to hear how the United States Supreme Court, as you know, will rule on the president's proposed travel ban, but that travel ban would not have prevented today's attack. This individual was a Canadian who crossed into the United States through Lake Champlain and then apparently drove over to Flint, Michigan.
YOHO: All right. But where did he come from? Was he born in Canada? Is he a Canadian citizen that was born there or did he immigrate from a country that would be on that list?
That information needs to come out yet, so I don't want to speculate too much. And I think you will see this travel ban, I think you will see a decision come out on this real soon.
BLITZER: But irrespective of where he was born, if he was a Canadian citizen, the president's travel ban would not have affected him. The president's travel ban deals with six Muslim-majority countries.
YOHO: Right, good point there.
But if that person had immigrated from one of those areas that would be on that ban, an area in the United States, hopefully we'd prevent those kind of attacks.
BLITZER: What policies do you believe that Trump administration is now putting forth to try to address attacks like this one, an individual gets a knife, doesn't have a gun, let's say, but gets a knife, and stabs a police officer at an airport?
YOHO: You know, I don't know how you're going to stop those. Those things are always going to happen, unfortunately. I hope they're far and few between. And that relies on us, too, the American people. If you see something, say something.
And the DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, has got a good program informing people. We're at a point in time in this country, these are not Republican or Democratic issues. These are national security issues that we as Americans all need to have a part in this.
So, people, if you're out there and you see something suspicious, report it to the authorities.
BLITZER: It hasn't gone unnoticed and I'm sure you're aware of this, Congressman, especially within the Muslim American community, that the president has not been outspoken in condemning attacks where Muslims have been the victims.
Do you believe that hurts his counterterrorism effort?
YOHO: No, I don't think so.
I think we all speak out against that. You know, I would have to go back over and see what he said, but I think there was enough people speaking out against this. We had Earl Blumenauer from Oregon led a session on the floor speaking out against terror and hate crimes against anybody.
And, again, we as the leaders up here of our communities, we need to speak out about that, but we also need to have the community raise up and say, we're not going to tolerate this.
BLITZER: Let's turn to the developments in the Russia investigation that we're watching.
Congressman, it's now been reported that Michael Flynn, who was fired as the president's national security adviser, he actually sat in with the CIA Director Pompeo's intelligence briefings for more than two weeks even after the White House was repeatedly warned about Flynn's Russian contacts.
And he potentially he was subject to Russian blackmail. Do you believe, with hindsight now, looking back, that was appropriate?
YOHO: I think, looking back, I think anybody that gets relieved of their duty, they should lose their security clearance.
And, you know, whether that was an oversight or they had a reason to leave him with that, I think that's something that, in the future, if you lose your job for certain reasons, especially one like that, you need to lose your security clearance for sure.
BLITZER: But the White House was warned by the Justice Department, among others in the law enforcement and intelligence community, that Michael Flynn potentially represented a threat, that he could have been blackmailed, that he wasn't telling the vice president, wasn't telling other officials the truth about his contacts with Russian officials, yet he was allowed to participate in those top-secret briefings for, what, 18 days.
How did that happen?
YOHO: You know, I don't know. I don't know why they allowed that, but there might have been some information that they wanted him to share with them on the Intelligence Committee and that's why they had him in there.
And so I would let that investigation go forward so that they can decipher, go through all that information and figure out why he was there, but, more importantly, the information that he might have lent to this investigation.
BLITZER: Do you believe the CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is a former Republican congressman, I assume you know him, he served together with you, do you think he should have prevented that from happening in the first place? Because there are now these reports that officials at the CIA were deeply concerned.
YOHO: Wolf, I would have to go back to see why Mike decided to do that. Mike's a very up-front guy. His credibility, his ethics are, you know, unchallenged.
And if he allowed that, there had to be a reason for him to do that. And, again, I don't know if he was looking for specific information on this investigation that they can use, you know, with Secretary Mueller.
BLITZER: Special counsel Mueller.
YOHO: Special counsel Mueller.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little about the other development today. The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Democrat Congressman Elijah Cummings, he writes this in a letter.
And I will read it: "In any case, it is unclear why Mr. Kushner" -- Jared Kushner, the president's senior adviser and son-in-law -- "continues to have access to classified information while these allegations are being investigated."
Here is the question. Should Jared Kushner's security clearance, As Elijah Cummings is suggesting, be suspended until a complete investigation could be done into his calls and meetings with Russian officials?
YOHO: No, I don't think so. They're allegations. We're a country of laws.
And let's go through the due process. And if that comes out to where they need to be suspended, then absolutely. And the president is the one that has the ultimate authority on taking his security clearance away.
But I would do the investigation and follow through what they're doing right now.
BLITZER: The former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, he testified today before the House Intelligence Committee and he called Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election a fact. I'm quoting him now, a fact, plain and simple. Do you believe that?
YOHO: I think it's pretty evident that they were involved in that.
You know, and if we go back to when you and I talked right after the election in the beginning of the year, I wanted this to play out. And, so, as the information comes out, we're seeing more of that. And, again, there is going to be more information that comes out.
And I think he spoke real loud and clear that he went to the DNC and wanted to know why -- he wanted to help them prevent any leaks and give them more cyber-security, and they refused to do that. And I'm a little bit concerned about that and I want to plug a bill that we're putting in.
It's a cyber-security bill to prevent these things, but more importantly, to define when they do attack and then what we can do to counter that.
BLITZER: Have you ever asked the president of his opinion whether or not the Russians interfered in the presidential election? Because, as you know, Sean Spicer, the press secretary, yesterday said he's never asked the president this question.
YOHO: You know, I have never had the opportunity to talk to him about that. We have talked about it in different committees, but never directly to the president or Vice President Pence.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Congressman. We have a lot more to discuss.
I'm going to take a quick break. We will resume this conversation right after that.
BLITZER: We're back with House Republican Ted Yoho. We're talking about the Russia investigation and other stories breaking right now.
Congressman, I need you to stand by.
BLITZER: Later tonight, the president is going to be getting away from the nation's capital and the drip, drip, drip of the Russia investigation. He's heading to Iowa to surround himself with some very, very friendly faces and to celebrate an important political victory for his party.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, right now.
Jeff, what are you learning about preparations for the unveiling of the Senate Republican health care bill, first of all?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, even as the president flies here to Iowa tonight, we're told that his top aides are going to be briefed by Senate Republicans at the White House about the details of this health care plan.
It is going to be announced tomorrow morning on Capitol Hill. They are trying to win the president's support. The president not involved in those briefings at this point, Wolf. He's coming back here to Iowa, his first visit since taking office, to bask in the glow of his adoring supporters.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump has a new reason to smile tonight with Republicans seizing victory in a hotly contested congressional election. Tonight, he's headlining a campaign rally in Iowa for his 2020 reelection, his first visit west of the Mississippi River since taking office five months ago.
Republicans won the most expensive House race in U.S. history on Tuesday, denying Democrats their first triumph of the Trump era.
KAREN HANDEL (R), GEORGIA CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: A special thanks to the president of the United States of America.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ZELENY: Karen Handel didn't mention Mr. Trump by name after keeping him at an arm's length in a reliably Republican Georgia district. Yet Democrats failed in their multimillion-dollar effort of tying Handel to Trump. The president said the win held a lesson for his critics.
"Democrats would do much better as a party if they got together with Republicans on health care, tax cuts, security. Obstruction doesn't work."
Since winning the White House, Republicans are now 4-0 over Democrats in contested special congressional elections. Yet that record does not guarantee that GOP victories will continue in next year's critical midterm elections, where control of Congress is at stake. In President Obama's early months in office, Democrats ran up a 7-0 streak over Republicans in special elections, but lost their House majority in 2010.
In the wake of the Georgia contest, Democratic leaders conceded today voters are more concerned with pocketbook issues like health care and the economy.
REP. JOE CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: And as much as I think people in Washington tend to focus on the issues of Russia and the president and the Republicans' inability to get much of anything accomplished, we need to focus on the local issues. That's what gets Democrats elected.
ZELENY: The White House is also eager to change the subject back to one of the president's top priorities, rewriting the health care law. But Republican leaders are making clear that they'd prefer Mr. Trump keep his distance for now.
"The White House has been super hands-off, which feels just about right," one top Republican aide told CNN. Senators are still waiting to see the fine print of the health care legislation. Republican leaders plan to unveil details of the bill on Thursday, still hoping to take a vote before the July 4 legislative recess.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: A working draft will be released tomorrow. I think all of the concerns people have had about the process will evaporate, because I think there will be unlimited opportunity for people to read it and understand what's in it and then debate it.
ZELENY: Now, President Trump is arriving here with a bounce in his step. He will be talking to a rally here in downtown Cedar Rapids to thousands of supporters. But he's also arriving to a piece of advice from the local newspaper, "The Cedar Rapids Gazette."
Wolf, it says this. "Dear Mr. President," in a front-page editorial. It says, "Now is not the time to rally. Now is not the time to campaign." It says, "Now is the time to govern."
That is one of the challenges facing President Trump. It will start tomorrow morning on that health care bill. It's one of the key issues of concern here in Iowa, a state that he won last fall, but, Wolf, so many voters here have so many questions about what's in the bill and if it will ultimately be reconciled with the House version and if he will actually sign it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, they will release that draft tomorrow. We will watch it closely.
Jeff Zeleny in Iowa for us, thanks very much.
We're back with Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida.
Congressman, you celebrated the bill's passage in the House with President Trump in the White House Rose Garden.
YOHO: We did.
BLITZER: Were you surprised the other day to hear the president call the House version mean?
YOHO: Yes, we were a little surprised about that, you know, and again, you know, we will see what this new bill comes out and we will go from there, and, you know, like we talked about before, the president has a certain style and we will see how it works out.
BLITZER: Because he undermined what you were doing. He really sort of pulled out the rug from the House version, slighting it as mean.
YOHO: Yes, well, again, we will see. It passed and we're at phase two now, and we will see how it works out. And I'm going to hold any more comment until we see the bill and we read it before we vote on it.
BLITZER: Yes, he also says, he wants more heart, heart in the Senate bill than what you guys in the House gave him.
What do you think he means by that?
YOHO: I don't know. I think heart, you know, if you want more heart, you're going to have to pay more, and we will have to, again, see what recommendations that the Senate gives us and what they want us to do.
And then we will -- it will go to conference and we will decide which way to go with that. But I think your reporter before this brought out a very good point. You know, those elections in Georgia and South or North Carolina, the American people want stuff done.
They don't want to get bogged down in all these other peripheral things. Not that they're not important, but we need to govern and we need to focus on that. And the president out rallying the troops, I'm OK with that because I know we've got tax reform coming up and we're going to finish up this health care bill.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman Yoho, thanks as usual for joining us.
YOHO: Thanks, Wolf, appreciate it. Have a great day.
BLITZER: You too. Thanks very much. Just ahead we're going to tell you what we're learning about the possibility of U.S. military action against North Korea if -- if Kim Jong-un orders another nuclear test.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, the FBI says it is investigating the stabbing of a police officer at the international airport in Flint, Michigan, investigating it as an act of terrorism.
Let's dig deeper with our experts and analysts. David Axelrod, if the FBI does confirm that this stabbing was an act of terrorism, it will be the first domestic terror incident of the Trump presidency. Are you surprised we haven't yet heard directly from the president on this act, this stabbing in Flint?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm a little surprised because it's out of character for him not to leap into these stories. But I'm actually encouraged by that because I think the job of the president is to gather the facts and then respond responsibly proportionate to those facts.
And if that's what he's going to do, that would be a welcomed innovation in his approach. We saw what happened during the London attacks when he waited right in and got into a back and forth with the London mayor and so on.
That's really not the role a president should play. So, if this marks more of a reflective approach, a more responsible approach. That would be a step forward.
BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, this incident comes as the United States Supreme Court is taking up the president's proposed travel ban, lower courts have said it's not constitutional. But this ban, the travel ban, would not have impacted this incident if, in fact, it was an act of terror. The individual, a 50-year-old named Amar Fatuhi (ph) apparently came from Canada.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and so one of the key questions, of course, in the Supreme Court case ruling, and other rulings so far blocking the ban, has been this question of what was the rationale, and was it an appropriate rationale for choosing these countries, all Middle Eastern countries, to ban travel to the United States from those countries.
And the president has said, you know, these are countries where terrorism comes from, and that was the rationale for his decision. But the courts have said, you know, this isn't good enough. But obviously Canada not one of the countries that the president included in his executive order. BLITZER: We're going to learn a lot more about this individual in the coming days, I'm sure. Bianna, I want get to the latest developments in the Russian investigation. As you know, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Congressman Elijah Cummings, has written this letter to the White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus regarding General Michael Flynn, who was fired as national security advisor and Jared Kushner, their security clearances in light of context with the Russians.
He writes this, this is Elijah Cummings. "In any case, it is unclear why Mr. Kushner continues to have access to classified information while these allegations are being investigated." How do you anticipate the White House responding to this?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Yes. I don't think he's going to get the answer that he's hoping to get. Look, if Michael Flynn was the president's right hand, Jared Kushner is definitely his left hand, and as long as he is in office as an advisor to the president, he is his closest confidant. I don't see how the president would make any steps to have his security clearance removed.
Though it is worthy to question it. I mean, remember, he had plenty of opportunities to redact his initial statements, to redact and change his initial disclosures. What was really questionable and concerning about it was that not only that he did disclose that he met with Russian officials including the ambassador and the CEO of a sanctioned bank, but they were alternating explanations.
You know, Jared Kushner and the administration said we met because we were talking about foreign policy specifically related to Syria. The Russian version of it was that, no, Jared Kushner met with us because he wanted to discuss his own family interests and their company interests.
So, there is reason obviously to bring this up. I wouldn't hold my breath on the administration responding in any sort of way.
BLITZER: This comes, Ron Brownstein, after "The New York Times" reported Michael Flynn was in daily top secret intelligence briefings over at the White House, the CIA Director Mike Pompeo was there as well for 18 days even after the Justice Department warned the White House that Michael Flynn was subject potentially to blackmail from the Russians. How does that happen?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, you've got two kind of story lines converging there. One, the question that people have been asking really for many months is why has the president so protective and solicitous of Mike Flynn on so many fronts including the question of whether, in fact, he pressured the FBI to drop the case against him as FBI director -- former FBI Director Comey testified.
[18:40:08]The other, I think, line of questioning that kind of converges with this is a completely separate issue and it goes to the doubts that President Trump faces among many votes not so much about his agenda but just simply about competence and temperament. That is the kind of carelessness with the handling of national security and evidence in his conversation with the Russians and the release of classified information.
You know, it's hard to know whether -- either way, this is a remarkable kind of development, but it's hard to know whether it's kind of malicious or just simply kind of malfeasance. Either way as I say, it just kind of leaves you scratching your head about how it could happen.
BLITZER: Brianna, you just came back from Georgia where they had the special election last night and Karen Handel won the election. Democrats poured in tens of millions of dollars to try to win. They didn't.
Democratic Congressman Kathleen Rice of New York, she reacted to this Democratic loss by telling CNN, I'm quoting her now, "We need leadership change. It's time for Nancy Pelosi to go and the entire leadership team."
We heard similar calls after the Democrats lost the House, lost the Senate, lost the White House last year in November of 2016. Are we going to see any changes this time?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It's hard to see where there is going to be a change in the immediate future unless there is more widespread calls than this. Certainly I think what you are seeing, though, is what is normally private sentiment or semi- public sentiment bubbling up in an even more strong way from Congressman Rice.
But when you talk to people close to Speaker Pelosi, they say they have created opportunities for younger members to develop themselves politically so that they can sort of push forward with some of their political ambitions, but they say, you shouldn't let Republicans pick who the Democratic leaders are going to be.
Nancy Pelosi is a very good fundraiser. She's a consensus builder. She has this background certainly as a whip where she is able, I think, sometimes to unite Democrats in a way that I think might even make Republicans jealous at times. But this is very serious frustration that you're hearing from some of the younger ranks.
KEILAR: They are very frustrated and I think anyone will look at what's going on with Democrats and say there needs to be the development of more talent beyond what you're seeing now because there does seem to be this older guard and that's not going to push Democrats --
BLITZER: Stand by, everybody. I've heard a lot of that complaining quietly today as well. Just ahead, the Republican Senate health care bill shrouded in mystery. Tonight, White House staffers are heading to Capitol Hill to learn more. We will as well. Stay tuned.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:47:34] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There's breaking news tonight on the Republican Senate health care bill, expected to be released tomorrow. CNN has learned that White House staffers are going to Capitol tonight for a briefing on the measure, which has been drafted behind closed doors.
David Axelrod, are you surprised to hear so many Republicans criticize this process that there has been such limited transparency?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think the process has been very, very unusual. I think back to the affordable care act and there were hundreds of hearings and public events relative to that. The president went on C-Span with all the members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, to discuss details of the proposal as it was advancing.
And so, this is a very unusual process. But Mitch McConnell is trying to navigate a very narrow pass. He can only lose two Republicans and pass this bill and there is a huge gulf between conservatives and moderates in the Senate. So, he doesn't want any of the details to leak too early for fear that it will get tanked by one side or the other.
BLITZER: Can he do that, Brianna?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, if someone can do it, the expectation would be that it would be Mitch McConnell. But just to make clear what a narrow passage way this is as described by David Axelrod, I mean, think of how many votes Democrats lost when they passed health care reform, they didn't maybe -- you know, maybe they didn't quite need as many, but at the same time, it's -- this is a very -- it's a very difficult thing to do.
And especially as you are hearing this complaining and we have seen this in the hallways. Some of it has almost been comical at times. Not if you're Mitch McConnell because I think it is pretty frustrating to hear so many Republican senators who are saying I haven't seen the bill, have you seen it? And they are outright publicly voicing their frustration about this.
BLITZER: Senators like Mike Lee on the inside.
BLITZER: He's complaining. He hasn't seen it yet either.
KEILAR: John McCain, Lisa Murkowski.
BLITZER: They release it presumably tomorrow. It will then be reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office.
Rebecca Berg, will there be a vote next week?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the plan, Wolf. As we saw on the House side, when they were going through this process, plans can change. If you don't have the votes, they're not going to bring it to the floor and force their members to take a difficult vote on something that's going to fail. So, their plan is to vote next week, but it is a very narrow passage, as the others have said, and it's not going to be easy.
[18:50:02] Even having just one week of this sort of public discussion about this bill is very perilous in such a divisive issue.
BLITZER: Bianna, how do you see this unfolding?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Well, we talked on the last break about the infighting within the Democratic Party. You talk about the infighting right now when it comes to health care within the Republican Party. As a whole, we're getting some details of these new proposals. You are still seeing Medicaid expansion and you are still seeing deductibles rise. That's a hard pill to swallow for some of the more moderates. Obviously, they've got to get it back down to the House if it does pass the Senate.
So, they have a couple of days to get this passed, but it is still looking very dicey within a party that's frazzled and very divided over this health care bill.
BLITZER: Yes, it's true, because, Ron, they only have -- the Republicans at 52-48 majority. You need 50. To get 50, the vice president, the president of the Senate will break the tie.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I think it's somewhat crocodile tears about the process. If Republicans really objected to the process, three of them could effectively derail it and demand that they won't vote until there are hearings and more public discussion.
I think there are two key facts here. One as we talked about for months, this health care bill, particularly in the unprecedented cuts to Medicaid, imposes its greatest pain on older and lower income whites who have become a core Republican constituency. And that is a real problem for senators from the interior, like Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito, particularly in states that are dealing with the opioid epidemic, where Medicaid has become, you know, indispensable to the response.
And the other thing is true, I think indisputably, is whatever happens, even if they pass this bill, this isn't the end because the price of getting it out of the Senate, if they can, is going to be put out of -- going to be to put off these Medicaid cuts passed 2020, which means that whatever happens, this is going to be on the ballot again in the 2020 election for, what, the fourth consecutive presidential election when we will be debating what the federal role in health care will be. And I think that is a guarantee regardless of whether Congress can do this or not.
GOLODRYGA: And, Wolf, don't forget, today is the deadline also for insurance companies to submit their plans for 2018 when it comes to their participation in the exchanges as well. So, it continues to add to the uncertainty in the market and we continue to see premiums rising because of that. BLITZER: Very quickly.
KEILAR: Just to correct myself, I said they need the same amounts of votes as Democrats needed, but they have less wiggle room. And just one other point, having been down in Georgia, and having Democrats and Republicans looking at those polls, that issue of health care broke through, that is very scary for Republicans.
BLITZER: Yes. And I know a lot of House Republicans who voted for the House version are very upset the president has now branded the house version as mean, says the Senate version needs more heart.
Just ahead, signs North Korea will be preparing for another nuclear test. Will this prompt a U.S. military response?
[18:57:08] BLITZER: Tonight, the Pentagon has new options for a military response if North Korea conducts another nuclear test.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She got new details.
Barbara, the United States is determined to stop North Korea from developing a nuclear weapon that can strike the American mainland. What are you hearing?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the problem tonight, the uncertainty about Kim Jong-un's next nuclear moves.
STARR: Kim Jong-un could order a sixth underground nuclear test. It could lead to President Trump considering military action. U.S. spy satellites spotted personnel and vehicles at one of the tunnel entrances at this test site. U.S. officials familiar with the classified assessment of Kim's personality profile say he is so unpredictable there is no way to tell what he might do next.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We call on the DPRK to halt its illegal nuclear weapons program and its ballistic missiles test.
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We have the responsibility -- we, the Department of Defense, number one, to deter any provocation but Kim Jong-un in the meantime and to provide the president with a list of options in the event that hostilities occur. And that's exactly what we're doing.
STARR: But the Pentagon also specifically updated military options to respond to a nuclear test. Some officials say a test could indicate China's pressure on Kim isn't working. And, therefore, military options would be presented to the president.
In a recent tweet by President Trump, adding uncertainty: While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi and China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried. Defense Secretary James Mattis set a military red line on North
Korea's weapons program.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Is it the policy of the Trump administration to deny North Korea the capability of building an ICBM that can hit the American homeland with a nuclear weapon on top? Is that the policy?
JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Yes, it is, Senator Graham.
GRAHAM: But does North Korea already have a missile that could hit the United States?
GEN. JOHN HYTEN, COMMANDER, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND: They already have the capability to deploy an intercontinental ballistic missile, the question is, when will they able to make a nuclear weapon.
STARR: Stopping Kim from getting a nuclear weapon with U.S. firepower may be impossible.
BALBINA HWANG, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: I think it's just too late. Unless you have a full scale military invasion where you're going to just go in and sweep the country, we simply will not be able to end these programs.
STARR: Now, Wolf, there is no indication tonight that the Pentagon is about to get military orders for North Korea. But commanders are making clear, they will be ready -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a dangerous situation, indeed.
All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- thanks very much.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.