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Multiple Deaths as Amtrak Train Derails Over Washington Highway; Trump Unveils 'America First' National Security Strategy. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 18, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SCIUTTO: That is it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:00:14] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Deadly derailment. An Amtrak passenger train on an inaugural route in Washington state flies off the track. Some cars plunge from an overpass onto a highway. Others are left dangling. There are multiple fatalities with one official describing the scene in the cars as horrific. So what went wrong?
Trump doctrine. President Trump turns his "America first" slogan into an official national security strategy. But in a speech unveiling his policy, the president doesn't mention the part of the document that accuses Russia of trying to undermine democracies.
Waiting to explode. In a new CNN exclusive, multiple sources now say the president is privately much less agitated about the Russia investigation and insists he'll be exonerated, but as a key figure behind the Trump Tower Russia meeting talks to investigators, some Trump allies fear the president could soon explode.
And searching for space ships. Why did the Pentagon spend $22 million taxpayer money to research claims about UFOs? We'll take a closer look the at the role played by a powerful former senator.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news, there are multiple deaths as an Amtrak passenger train on its first trip on a new route goes off the track on a curve in Washington state. Horrific images of derailed train cars lying on an interstate highway and dangling from an overpass tell part of the story. An NTSB emergency team is on their way to the scene to piece together what happened.
President Trump unveils his national security strategy. It's a document every president in the last three decades has published, outlining threats to the United States and how to respond. President Trump's plan builds on his "America first" campaign slogan and, in a speech, the president just slammed his predecessors over immigration, trade and the Iran nuclear deal. He painted Russia and China as rival powers, but the president avoided the part of the document which accuses Russia of trying to undermine democracies. And in a CNN exclusive, sources say President Trump is privately
taking a calmer tone on the Russia investigation, boasting to friends and advisers that he expects Special Counsel Robert Mueller not only to clear him of any wrongdoing, but to even write a letter of exoneration that he can show the world. One source worries, though, about a presidential meltdown if that doesn't happen.
That comes as the man who arranged the Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and Russians talks to congressional investigators. I'll speak with White House National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they are also standing by with full coverage.
Let's begin with the breaking news, the deadly derailment of an Amtrak passenger train which sent rail cars plunging off an overpass on \to a highway in Washington state.
CNN's Rene Marsh is covering for us. Rene, update our views. Tell us what you're learning.
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this hour, and we are talking about six hours after this derailment, and we still do not have a clear handle on how many people have died. Local law enforcement saying that it is just not safe to search all of the cars at this point, but I'm quoting one law enforcement officer who says anyone in those cars at this point is not alive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amtrak 501. Emergency -- emergency. Emergency. We are on the ground. Need EMS ASAP.
MARSH (voice-over): Tonight, dramatic audio moments after Amtrak 501 left the tracks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 there, right north of Nisqually, and we went on the ground.
MARSH: The 14-car train jumped the tracks and plummeted over an overpass and onto Interstate 5 during morning rush hour near Olympia, Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is everybody OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still figuring that out. We've got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.
MARSH: Police confirm multiple deaths and injuries on the high-speed train, which was on its inaugural run between Seattle and Portland. Amtrak officials tell CNN there were 78 passengers aboard, along with five crew. More than 70 people were rushed to local hospitals. Witnesses described the scene.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We felt a little bit of a jolt and then at a certain point the -- we could hear a crumpling of the train car and we were catapulted into the seats in front of us.
MARSH: Amtrak's CEO tells CNN positive train control, a technology designed to slow down a train that's going too fast, was not activated on the tracks at the time of the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is launching a full investigation, tonight dispatching a team of 20 investigators to the scene.
[17:05:06] BELLA DINH-ZARR, NTSB: This was called an inaugural run of this -- this service, but we want to check and make sure what that exactly means and find out more information about that specifically.
MARSH: An NTSB official tells CNN the investigation will focus on recovering the train's data recorders to determine the train's speed. They'll also examine the tracks and signals and conduct extensive interviews with the crew and passengers.
CHRIS KAMES, PASSENGER (via phone): We went down an embankment. We had to kick out the window, the emergency window.
MARSH: The last major Amtrak crash was just 2 1/2 years ago in Philadelphia when Amtrak 188 from Washington, D.C., to New York City derailed, killing eight and sending more than 200 others to the hospital.
In that crash, the train's data recorder revealed it was traveling at 106 miles per hour around a sharp curve that had a speed limit of 50.
MARSH: All right. So no doubt, Wolf, they will be looking at speed, as well, in this investigation. We know that along the track it's 79 miles per hour, however, it could be slower within that curve.
The other outstanding question is the experience of the crew. Were they used to this new route? What was their experience level with Amtrak? I posed that question to the CEO of Amtrak today, and he was not ready to answer. So we're waiting to see. Perhaps that would be another piece of the puzzle for investigators, Wolf.
BLITZER: They're saying multiple deaths and scores of people injured. What, almost 79, 78 people taken to hospital. People injured on the ground and people who were aboard the train.
MARSH: Absolutely. But all of the deaths, though, what we've heard is from passengers who were on board the train. The injuries, you're right, both on the train as well as on the ground. We know that more than 70 people have been transported to the hospital. But, you know, we've heard from the sheriff earlier today. They still haven't even gotten into the train to search all of the cars. So I would imagine, you know, we're going to find out a lot more as far as death toll and how many injured.
We're being very careful with those numbers, because as you know, with these sorts of situations, it's always preliminarily and it always changes.
BLITZER: Yes. NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board team on the way to start this investigation...
BLITZER: ... which could go on for months and months before we get an official final report.
Rene, I know you're working your sources. We'll get back to you.
Joining us now on the phone, Mayor Michael Courts of Dupont, Washington. That's the town nearest to the scene of the derailment.
Mayor, thanks so much for joining us. First of all, what can you tell us about the -- I understand there's a search and rescue effort underway.
MAYOR MICHAEL COURTS, DUPONT, WASHINGTON (via phone): There is. All of the uninjured and really, apparently injured have been evacuated from the scene. In the city of Dupont, we processed 21 people that were either uninjured or lightly injured, and we brought them through our city hall. So my understanding, all of the known injured have been removed from the site, and as I heard your previous caller discussing, there will be a more detailed recovery effort that begins now.
BLITZER: We're getting some confused -- some sort of different numbers as far as the death toll. Do you know how many people were killed in this derailment?
COURTS: I don't think anybody knows that yet. They have not gotten into the depth of the train and lifted the cars so, you know, I don't think anybody has any good numbers at this point.
BLITZER: Have all the families been notified of their -- of their loved ones who may have been aboard this train?
COURTS: You know, those that came through Dupont were provided the opportunity to call their families. Those that have been evacuated directly to hospitals, I don't have any accurate information on that.
BLITZER: The mayor of nearby Lakewood, Don Anderson, had raised the alarm, we're told, about needing more safety protocols for this high- speed train. He told KOMO news that -- and I'm quoting him now -- "this project was never needed and endangers our citizens." Do you agree?
COURTS: I know Don Anderson well. And when that issue came up, my city joined the city of Lakewood in a lawsuit to try to stop it. That was not going to happen.
The issue is that there are several at-grade crossings in the city of Lakewood and one at-grade crossing in Dupont, and so you bring a 79- mile-an-hour train through the center of population centers. No matter what you do, there will be concerns.
Was it a needed move on the tracks? I'm not in a position to make that decision. I do know that Amtrak, Washington department of transportation and others have worked very hard to mitigate those risks. Within a few years, my city will have a great separating crossing because of some other work going on. But Lakewood will continue to have at-grade crossings. So that will be a concern. It will remain a concern.
[17:10:08] BLITZER: Because the mayor of Lakewood had issued that warning some two weeks ago. He was deeply concerned, and today as you know, this was the inaugural run, the first time paying passengers were aboard that train. What do you suspect, Mayor -- you're there on the scene -- went wrong?
COURTS: Well, I can tell you that the accident did not occur at any of the at-grade crossings, and the accident did not occur on the new tracks. It took place at a location that is where that train has always been going. It was on a stretch of track that was crossing Interstate 5 to a more inland portion before it turned south towards Portland, and that piece of track has been in use for years.
So as much as I have safety concerns for the at-grade crossings, I don't believe that any of the new work had anything to do with it. So it will be interesting to see what the NTSB determines.
BLITZER: Mayor Michael courts of Dupont, Washington. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks. Let's hope we get a clear understanding of what happened, lessons learned to make sure it doesn't happen again. Thanks so much for joining us.
COURTS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this derailment coming up later this hour. But there's other news that's breaking right now, including President Trump. He's just unveiled his national security strategy. That's a normal version of his "America first" campaign slogan.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He's joining us. Jim, the president didn't exactly stick to the script of that lengthy document.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And we should point out, the president did mention the train derailment in Washington state in that national security speech earlier today, but the speech was also notable for what it did and did not include on the subject of Russia.
ACOSTA (voice-over): In a speech on his national security strategy, which covered a range of global threats from North Korea to ISIS, President Trump used the "R" word, Russia
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also face rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values and wealth. We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries, but in a manner that always protects our national interest. ACOSTA: But in the president's roughly 30-minute speech, there was no
mention of Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. That's despite the fact that there's a reference to Moscow's interference included in the written version of the White House strategy, stating "actors such as Russia are using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies."
Over the weekend, the president tried to put to rest any questions about whether he would fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller over his handling of the Russia investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?
TRUMP: No, I'm not. No.
ACOSTA: Even as top cabinet members don't seem to be completely ruling it out.
STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I don't have any reason to think that the president is going to do that, but that's obviously up to him.
ACOSTA: The president's message on national security was muddled by his own lack of discipline. His first tweet on the train accident in Washington state didn't mention the loss of life there. Instead, he made a pitch for his policies, tweeting "The train accident that just occurred in Dupont, Washington, shows more than ever why our soon-to- be-submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly."
Mr. Trump made sure to mention the victims later on in his speech.
TRUMP: Our deepest sympathies and most heartfelt prayers for the victims of the train derailment in Washington state. All the more reason why we must start immediately fixing the infrastructure of the United States.
ACOSTA: the president also used his national security speech to tout his tax cut plan that's on its way to final passage.
TRUMP: We are days away from passing historic tax cuts.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump has pointed to the Reagan tax cuts from the 1980s as proof his plan will work, but back in 1991, the then-businessman slammed the Reagan cuts as devastating for the economy.
TRUMP: So this tax act was just an absolute catastrophe for the country.
I truly feel that this country right now is in a depression. It's not a recession. We're in an absolute depression. And one of the reasons we're there is what happened in 1986.
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Have you ever tried a jury trial?
MATTHEW PETERSEN, JUDICIAL NOMINEE: I have not. ACOSTA: The White House is also responding to criticism over the
president's picks for the judiciary, just days after a fellow Republican blasted one of his selections, Matthew Petersen, at a hearing.
PETERSEN: I understand the challenge that would be ahead of me if I were fortunate enough to become a district court judge.
ACOSTA: Louisiana GOP Senator John Kennedy urged the president to scrap the nomination. Petersen has now withdrawn his name from consideration, a move the White House has accepted.
KENNEDY: He's never been in a courtroom before. And no disrespect, but just because you've seen "My Cousin Vinny," you're not qualified to be a federal judge.
ACOSTA: Now the White House appears to recognize the president made some kind of mistake by tweeting about this infrastructure plan in reference to that train derailment out in Washington state.
[17:15:04] Later on in the afternoon, Wolf, the White House did with the president's Twitter handle as well as the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders' Twitter handle go ahead and mention the human toll in that train derailment in Washington state after the president pushed for his infrastructure plan in that very first tweet on the drain derailment out there in Washington state, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.
Let's stay at the White House. Joining us now, the White House national security spokesman, Michael Anton. Michael, thanks so much for joining us.
MICHAEL ANTON, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY SPOKESMAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: I got a copy, what, 55 pages of this national security strategy of the United States of America. A lengthy document. Very detailed. Have you read the whole strategy document?
ANTON: WE -- I've been reading it, actually, in development for many months. Yes.
BLITZER: Has the president, as far as you know, read the entire strategy document?
ANTON: The president has been involved in the drafting of it from the beginning, has been presented with sections of it over the past many months and was briefed on the final documents several weeks ago. And then the president himself personally led the presentation of the document to his cabinet only about a week ago.
BLITZER: But has he read the whole document?
ANTON: I can't say that he's read every line and every word. He certainly had the document, the entire -- throughout -- throughout the process it has been briefed on it.
Remember, this document specifically is based on his words. It's based on his campaign speeches and his major speeches this year. So this document is a summation of everything that he has been talking about for at least the last two years and really much longer and everything he's been trying to operationalize in 2017 as president on the foreign policy realm.
BLITZER: I asked -- I asked the questions, Michael, because in the speech he delivered over at the Reagan building this afternoon, in the speech he certainly didn't go as far as the document goes on several key national security issues.
Let me give you a couple of examples. The document says -- and it's a lengthy document, I'll admit it. It said, "Today actors such as Russia are using tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies." And then the document says, "Russia uses information operations as part of its offensive cyber efforts to influence public opinion across the globe. Its influence campaigns blend covert intelligence operations and false online personas with state-funded media, third-party intermediaries and paid social media users or trolls."
The president didn't say anything along those lines in his speech today. And over the past year, as you know, he's insisted all of those allegations of Russian interference and all of that, a witch- hunt, a hoax. Why didn't he mention those specific points?
ANTON: No, no. That's not -- that's not...
BLITZER: Why didn't he mention those specific points today?
ANTON: First of all, that's not what he said. That's not what he said over the past several months. He said that -- that collusion, that the idea that his campaign in any way colluded with a foreign power, is false. He has admitted on three instances that I can -- he's affirmed, I should say, on three instances that I can think of off the top of my head.
The first in January of 2017 in the transition after he was briefed by intel agencies on what they judged the Russians had done in the U.S. election system. Second time in Warsaw, standing next to the president of Poland. And also really twice in Warsaw: once standing next to the president of Poland and the second addressing the Polish people. He talked about Russia's destabilizing behavior.
And the third and most recent time was at a press conference with the president of Vietnam in Vietnam. He was asked this question specifically by the press corps traveling with him, and he reaffirmed yet again what he believed about Russian interference.
So I don't know why you all keep coming back to this as if this is something that he's been denying or in any way doubts. He's affirmed it many times. He keeps getting asked the question. People don't seem to believe his affirmation, and then he repeats it. I think it's time CNN and everyone else took "yes" for an answer and moved on. BLITZER: Well, Michael, let's just be specific. So the president
firmly believes that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election?
ANTON: I will go back to his exact words from January, from Poland in June and from Vietnam. He's been very, very clear.
BLITZER: He said on April 30 on "Face the Nation," he said, "Hackers could have been China or a lot of different groups. Knowing something about hacking, if you don't catch a hacker, OK, in the act, it's very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I'll go along with Russia. Could have been China, could have been a lot of different groups."
And he said that -- he sort of grudgingly has said over the past year, year and a half, "Maybe it was Russia, maybe it was China, maybe it was something else."
You're the spokesman for the National Security Council. Can you say flatly right now, speaking on behalf of the president, he believes that Russian trolls, Russian cyber warfare activists, were engaged in trying to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election?
ANTON: Yes, he has said that. And getting to those comments that you just mentioned, he's also affirming a fact that the cyber problem is not simply a Russian problem. There are other malicious cyber actors, including North Korea, for one, and that the cyber threats are not just these influence operations. The cyber threats, there are a range of cyber threats, threats to critical infrastructure, threats to American intellectual property and to our economic security.
[17:15:23] I mean, we face, actually, a growing cyber danger that the whole government has to get together to confront; and it's not just about one country. It's not just about one area.
BLITZER: Let me ask you about another line that jumped out at me. In the document, in the actual document, it says, "China and Russia are revisionist powers who want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests." Does the president believe that?
ANTON: He believes that -- that, yes, these are powers that want to overturn a status quo that has been favorable to U.S. interests. Or at least in some ways they do.
He's also said that there are areas of cooperation with Russia and China. For instance, right now the United States is cooperating strongly with China to put economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea, but at the same time, we recognize that we have serious differences with China over trade practices, over our trade deficit and other economic issues that he is determined to discuss and confront forthrightly with the Chinese.
So it's not a simple matter of all one or all the other. We can find areas of cooperation while we're still forthright about protecting our interests, which is exactly the line from the speech that you quoted earlier. That's exactly what that line says. BLITZER: The president also says America will build a partnership
with Russia where possible, as you correctly point out, but will also stand up for the country when necessary. When has President Trump, as far as you know, and you're the spokesman for the NSC, the National Security Council, when has he directly stood up to President Putin either in a phone conversation or during a one-on-one meeting?
ANTON: Well, how about -- how about closing the consulate, the Russian consulate in San Francisco? Closing two other consular annexes earlier this year and expelling American diplomats in response to Russian -- we thought unjustified Russian action -- I'm sorry, expelling Russian diplomats in response to what we considered to be unjustified Russian actions against American diplomats.
Tightening up and shoring up the sanctions regime that the United States government put into place over Crimea and Ukraine earlier this year with so-called maintenance sanctions. Those are -- those are clear instances of the United States standing up to Russia, and they were all led by this president.
BLITZER: So basically, are you saying that when he meets with Putin, when he speaks on the phone with Putin, he complains about various Russian policies directly to the president of Russia?
ANTON: He brings up American concerns, and he forthrightly defends American interests. He talks about areas of cooperation. They talk about fighting ISIS. They talk about trying to work together to produce a stable Syria; a resolution of the Syrian civil war and a stable outcome in Syria.
And but the president is also forthright in his statement and defense of American interests. I don't think I would use the word complaining. It's a matter of being -- of being bold and of standing up for his own country. As the president likes to say about this country, other countries, he says he's got to be for Russia. He'll say that about other leaders, they have to be for their country, "but I'm for America." He's forthrightly for America.
BLITZER: As he should be. The document, and it's a lengthy document, also says -- and I'm reading from the document -- "We must upgrade our diplomatic capabilities to compete in the current environment and embrace a competitive mindset."
As you know, that seems to directly contradict the president and the secretary of state's action over at the State Department, severely cutting the budget, leaving very important positions unfilled. How committed is President Trump to the policies outlined in this document when it comes to the State Department bolstering diplomacy?
ANTON: He's completely committed. Again, this is a document that begins from his campaign speeches and flows directly from his speeches and actions as president.
I don't -- I think even the most, you know, the people with the longest experience at the State Department who wish the State Department well and love its mission would admit that the State Department is in need of reform. There's a lot of necessary reform that can take place. This is an administration that's working through that reform in order to precisely fulfill the goal that the strategy says, to make our diplomatic corps stronger and more able to advance American interests in 2018 and beyond.
BLITZER: The president also, in his speech over at the Reagan Center, at the Reagan building here in Washington, he used the words, as he always does, "radical Islamic terrorism," but that phrase does not appear at all in the national security strategy document. There's a reference to "jihadist terrorists" but no "radical Islamic terrorism" in the document.
Why is the language in the document different than what the president says if he's responsible for creating the document?
ANTON: This is a distinction without a difference. I think we all know what we're talking about, whether the phrase is "radical Islamic terrorism," "jihadism," "violent extremism" and so on. It is a violent movement inspired by a radical ideology that its adherents believe is inspired by religion, but that, you know, many multiples of other faithfuls who claim to adhere to that same faith reject.
[17:25:18] So the president is forthright is -- in describing what the inherent -- the adherents of this radical ideology, where they believe that the basis of their ideology comes from. But he also has wonderful relations with leaders in the Muslim world, in the Gulf, in the Arab world and elsewhere.
As you saw in his trip to Saudi Arabia, the very first trip he took as president and the speech he gave to more than 50 Muslim leaders, he spoke movingly about the importance of the Muslim faith to those leaders and movingly about the need to confront those who take that faith and pervert it.
So there's no difference. These are the same ideas expressed, perhaps, in slightly different wording in the speech and document and in other speeches throughout the year, but it's the exact same idea the president has been talking about all year and all of last year and through 2015.
BLITZER: Well, I raise the question because, as you know, he used to rail against President Obama and Secretary Clinton for not using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism." He says that was -- he was always angry, bitter that they were refusing to do so. He was complaining they were politically correct, couldn't talk about radical Islamic terrorism.
The document doesn't talk about radical Islamic terrorism. It talks about jihadist terrorists.
ANTON: Well, I don't know how you got into -- I don't know how you got into his head to -- to determine that he's anger and bitter. What he was pointing out was that...
BLITZER: He was angry and bitter at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. ANTON: He was pointing out correctly that American foreign policy,
the elite consensus had drifted in a kind of political correctness that tried to say there's no connection whatsoever to any interpretation...
BLITZER: So why is the document politically correct? Why is the document politically correct?
ANTON: The document is not politically correct at all.
BLITZER: It doesn't mention radical Islamic terrorism.
ANTON: The document talks about jihadism. The document talks about these threats. The document is much more forthright than past national security strategies.
BLITZER: But you're an expert, Michael. Don't you agree that there's a difference between jihadism and radical Islamic terrorism, using those words differently?
ANTON: What do you think the difference is? I think that it's exactly the way I described it.
BLITZER: Why would the president make such a big difference -- a big deal about it during the campaign when Hillary Clinton refused to use that phrase?
ANTON: Because -- because he was running during a time when, for the past eight years, you had an administration in power that essentially wanted to deny that there was any connection whatsoever between even some people's interpretation of a religion and what was going on, just scrub that out, as if this was all sort of a problem of bland violent extremism that had -- that had no source, not even in the minds of its adherents. And that was not getting America anywhere. In fact, keeping our head in the sand about that fact was causing us to lose ground.
BLITZER: It's a very fascinating document, I've got to tell you. I've read it. And I know that, under the law, you have to release a document like this. I think the Trump administration released it a lot more quickly than earlier administrations. They've been required to do so for some three decades. So at least you got it out. I know you guys worked really hard on it.
ANTON: We believe we're the first administration to ever get it out in the first year, and we're the first administration to ever have the president personally introduce it to the American people. That's a choice that he made enthusiastically. He wanted to -- he wanted to explain this document and the strategy behind it to the American people and remind them of what the challenges we face are and the things that we still need to do to implement the strategy that the document plays out.
BLITZER: And I'm glad you clarified, speaking on behalf of the president, that he, like the intelligence community, like the FBI, firmly believes that Russia did last year interfere in the U.S. presidential election.
ANTON: He's only said it on camera on the record at least four times off the top of my head that I can think of, Wolf. But I'm glad I could help clear that up for you.
BLITZER: Just to repeat it, he always -- he always does it grudgingly. That's just something that I've noticed over the past year.
But I'm glad you clarified that, speaking on behalf of the president. And it's worth investigating right now what, if anything, can be done to prevent Russia from doing it in 2018, in 2020. That's why this investigation up on Capitol Hill, as well as the special counsel investigation from your perspective, Michael, is so important, right?
ANTON: There's really, unfortunately, nothing I can say about the special investigation. I'd have to refer you to the lawyers specifically for that, but certainly what is important is protecting all of America's critical infrastructure, and that absolutely includes our electoral system, protecting the integrity of our electoral system from any kind of outside interference.
BLITZER: Michael Anton, it was nice of you to join us. Thank you so much for joining us. Michael Anton of the National Security Council staff. Appreciate it very much.
ANTON: You're welcome.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're covering. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: In a CNN exclusive, multiple sources now say President Trump has been privately much calmer about the entire Russia investigation, insisting that he'll soon be cleared in writing. But some are fearing that if things don't turn out that way, the president could explode.
[17:34:34] Let's turn oh our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, what are you learning?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Behind the scenes, President Trump really expressing some calm to his advisers, believing that this investigation that Robert Mueller has initiated is going to be over soon and that he'll be exonerated. And believing that all he could actually have a letter, something in writing saying that he did nothing wrong.
Now, this is creating some concern within circles in the West Wing, because that's -- there's no guarantee that will happen. In fact, there are indications that Robert Mueller's investigation is still picking up some steam, particularly in light of Michael Flynn, that former national security adviser who said that he is willing to cooperate with the special counsel's investigation.
Now, Wolf, this comes as a key time this week. We understand that the president's attorneys will be meeting with the special counsel and his own attorneys to get a clearer sense of which direction the investigation is going to go.
Now on Capitol Hill, Wolf, a number of President Trump's close allies here are trying to do everything they can to steer clear of the subject of Russia and Russia meddling, not wanting to inflame the president. And also whenever this comes up in private discussions, we are told that they like to steer the conversation back to other areas, because they know that this is an area that does upset the president.
But behind the scenes, Wolf, the president trying to make clear that he believes that he's going to be exonerated sometime soon. But the question is if he's not, what action will he take and will he do anything to get rid of Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Right now, his attorneys say that is not in the cards, but still a lot of speculation that Robert Mueller's job may not be safe, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
Let's get back to the breaking news. President Trump unveiling a new national security strategy. In a lengthy 55-page document full of striking departures from the president's typical rhetoric, the strategy outlines a very tough stance towards Russia, a policy he failed to mention during his speech touting the announcement.
Let's get reaction from our experts.
Peter Bergen, you're our national security analyst. You've read every word in this document. What's your bottom line?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, what's surprising, the usual suspects are in there -- Iran, North Korea, ISIS -- but I mean, the focus on China as a state antagonist of the United States and on Russia and the framing that we're back to an era of great power of competition. That's really the headline.
You know, in terms of Russia, a lot of discussion of influence operations, information warfare, subversion of democracies, nothing really specific about the U.S. election, but clearly by implication, that's an issue.
And then, of course, with the Chinese, a giant theft of American intellectual property and also, you know, the expansion in the South China Sea.
And so really framing these two countries and actually calling for the United States military to prepare for, quote, "a major war" because of these two revisionist powers. So that -- that's new.
BLITZER: And that's a good point, Phil Mudd, because in the document, the document calls China and Russia revisionist powers who want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests. It is a very tough document, very detailed document. You heard all about the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. But it's, as I said, in marked contrast to what we hear from the president on a day-to-day basis when he refers to the Russia involvement as a hoax. PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, I think there's a
couple of things to take note of here, Wolf. You hit on one.
The gap between the president and what he says, including what he said about the strategy today and how policy is executed in the U.S. government has never been broader, in my view. For example, the president talks very aggressively about North Korea, and the State Department, Rex Tillerson, got sideways with the president a short while ago when he was talking about face-to-face talks with the North Koreans.
The president has talked very tough about Iran, but it's not clear that the State Department and others are opposed to having some continuation of a nuclear deal with Iran.
So the air gap between what the president says publicly and what documents like this say that are developed by his staff is pretty fundamental.
One quick comment. I think Peter Bergen is dead-on. This is "Back to the Future." I would have thought in 1991 at the end of the Soviet Union, we talked about the peace dividend. We didn't think that we would face another superpower rivalry of the kind I was concerned when I was 6 years old in grade school. We were all concerned about the Soviet Union.
And now we see a document that says the future is not only one superpower rivalry but a rivalry with both the Chinese and the Russians. I think we're -- it feels like 1985 again.
BLITZER: It's interesting because you remember last September 27, Mark Preston, the president tweeted this: "The Russia hoax continues. Now it's ads on Facebook."
This document, though, spells out in great detail what the Russians did during the election. And anybody who reads this and remembers all the past year what the president has said has to come -- come to the conclusion that there's a -- there's a vast gap there.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there's a disconnect, and, in fact, the disconnect just happened just a short time ago, just a few hours ago.
We didn't hear anything from the president when it came to directly addressing the election meddling that occurred in 2016. He didn't say that. He just described China and Russia as rival powers.
But to your point, what I thought was very interesting. For everything that was written in that very important document, this one sentence stood out. It said, "The American public and private sectors must recognize this and work together to defend our way of life."
[17:40:02] What it's saying is we must recognize the threat that Russia is doing and has done. However, the problem with that sentence is that the president needs to be the one who recognizes it first. And to your point on that interview that we just did, you just did,
the recognition seemed to be there, but it wasn't there. Because the fact of the matter is President Trump has left it so ambiguous about whether he thinks Russia came in and meddled in our elections or if Russia did not.
BLITZER: This document basically signed off by General McMaster, the president's national security adviser. He's still an active-duty general right now. And he's known as a very serious guy. Wrote a book about the failures of the Vietnam War. He knows these subjects quite well.
Is there a gap as far as you can tell, Rebecca Berg, between what General McMaster believes as opposed to the president?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there absolutely is, Wolf. You can point to what McMaster has said and believes on Russia and how the United States should confront Russia. You could look at what he has said about NATO and what the United States' role should be in supporting and defending NATO and participating in the alliance. There is a major gap between what he has said and the president has said.
But there are two important things to remember about H.R. McMaster, and one is that he is still working in this administration. He is a survivor in spite of the differences of opinion he has with the president. And so he has enough defenders in the administration that he's able to navigate those differences with the president, but it's also...
BLITZER: He's still -- he's still an active-duty three-star general...
BERG: That's right.
BLITZER: ... as well, which is significant. Peter, you're our terrorism engine better. You heard Michael Anton, the spokesman for the National Security Council. When I said the president refers to "radical Islamic terrorism," the document refers to jihadi -- "jihadist terrorists." Is there a difference there? What is the difference?
BERGEN: Well, I think there's been a lot of discussion in Washington of this, and it's mostly semantics. Because I think, you know, Michael Anton is right. We kind of basically do know what we're all talking about, whatever we call it.
I mean, the Obama administration was careful not to conflate radical Islamic terrorism, conflating Islam and terrorism. This document goes out of its way, I think, to not use that phrase.
BLITZER: It follows the Obama approach.
BERGEN: Well, not necessarily the Obama approach.
BLITZER: As far as not using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism." BERGEN: Right. But it does call them jihadist terrorists which is...
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton used to call them jihadist terrorists, as well.
BERGEN: Well, the great thing about that is it's accurate and it's not controversial, and it doesn't mention the word "Islam," so there's no conflation. I think if you're trying to find the best phrase, the most accurate phrase, that is it.
At the end of the day, however, it is kind of a Washington thing to be very focused on the semantics. As President Obama would say, "Look, it doesn't really matter what we're calling them. We're killing thousands of them." And similarly with President Trump, we've killed -- the United States has killed 60 to 70,000 members of ISIS. Whether we call them radical Islamic terrorists or jihadist terrorists.
The fact is that ISIS is now basically gone from Iraq. I was in Iraq just over the weekend. The country is liberated from ISIS. And that was, you know, President Obama did a lot to make that happen, and President Trump obviously did something, as well, there.
BLITZER: What else did you learn about what's going on in Iraq right now, specifically how much influence Iran has?
BERGEN: Well, I mean, the big takeaway for me is at Baghdad Airport, you know, there wasn't -- when I talk to people, they said for the past two months in Baghdad, it's the first time that they've felt secure and safe. I mean, obviously, you know, peace is not going to break out all over Iraq. But there's a feeling with ISIS gone, you know, they can take a breath. There's really a pause here and really a moment where, you know, there might be some hope, which is not something you normally hear in Iraq.
BLITZER: Want to get Phil Mudd to weigh in. What do you think, Phil?
MUDD: I think that's true. I would make one additional point.
One of the things we've seen in the past 15 years after the Iraq war is the law of unintended consequences. You can be an American and hope for democracy in a society like Iraq. When you've got 65 percent of people who are Sunni, which is the same sect that you would see in Iran, that guarantees when you get a democracy, that people who are supported by Iran will take power.
So we brought some version of democracy or helped to to Iraq. We also brought in Iran. And I think we will see the Iranian influence in Iraq, which is an influence counter to our interests, for decades to come as a result of that war.
BLITZER: Do you agree with that, Peter?
BERGEN: Yes. I mean, there's some suspicion of the Iranians in Iraq, as well. They call them the Persians, which is not a term of endearment. So yes. I mean, Iran has great influence in Iraq. But you know, Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a very important Shia cleric in Iran, just went to Saudi Arabia. So it's not as -- sort of -- Iraq is not an Iranian client state. It's much more complicated than that. But certainly, the Iranians have enormous influence.
BLITZER: I just want to get Phil to weigh in. Over the weekend, the president clearly was trying to tamp down this notion that he was going to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, telling reporters on the White House lawn that wasn't under consideration.
But there are a lot of prominent voices out there among -- in conservative media who are comparing the FBI to the KGB, speculating about whether or not Mueller was leading a coup. A banner suggesting "coup in America" called for a, quote, "purge" of the FBI.
You're sort of smiling when you hear that, but those are very worrisome terms when you hear it. And a lot of people could start to believe that kind of stuff.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's -- and that's why this is dangerous. This is what I would call a beltway ballet. That is, the President knows, based on his experience taking out Jim Comey, that the consequences of taking out Robert Mueller are dire.
He takes out Mueller, and all of a sudden, you revitalize the congressional investigations. There is no way the Senate can drop this investigation if Robert Mueller is removed.
What's happening here is that people who are fronting for the White House are setting out -- setting up this dance. The setup is -- undermine Mueller, so that if he ever brings charges that are close to the White House, then you go attack Mueller and say, we told you all along, this is a witch-hunt. The charges are a witch-hunt.
And now, the charges that Mueller brought have no validity because Mueller himself has no validity. They're just fronting for the President because the President can't take out Mueller.
BLITZER: Everybody, standby. There is more breaking news we're following. We're also learning about a secretive military program. Why did American taxpayers fund research into UFOs to the tune of $22 million?
[17:51:01] BLITZER: A secretive federal program designed to track unidentified flying objects is facing new scrutiny tonight. We're learning fresh details about the now-defunct initiative, which some officials deemed a national security priority; others, a massive waste of taxpayer money.
Brian Todd is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM with more.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a short time ago, former U.S. Senator Harry Reid, the driving force behind this controversial program, defended it to CNN, saying it was groundbreaking. But we have learned Senator Reid was persuaded to push this program by a longtime friend who had donated to his campaigns, a man who says he believes in UFOs and aliens.
TODD (voice-over): Commander David Fravor still can't explain what he says he saw that day.
November 2004, the Navy fighter pilot was on a training mission west of San Diego when he was ordered to check out something in the water not far away.
On a clear day, over a smooth ocean, he saw the object, waves breaking over it, and says he saw something hovering above it.
CMDR. DAVID FRAVOR (RET.), UNITED STATES NAVY: It's randomly moving -- north, south, east, west. Just random. You know, just stopping, going the other direction, like you could do with a helicopter but a little bit more abrupt. And it looks like a 40-foot-long Tic-Tac with no wings.
TODD (voice-over): Fravor says he and his four-man team tracked the object for several minutes until it just disappeared.
Tonight, CNN has learned the Pentagon had a secretive program to research UFOs like the one Fravor spotted. The project was called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, ran by an official named Luis Elizondo.
LUIS ELIZONDO, FORMER DIRECTOR, ADVANCED AVIATION THREAT IDENTIFICATION PROGRAM: I think this is a national security imperative. We have clear things that we do not understand how they work operating in areas that we can't control.
TODD (voice-over): A Defense official tells CNN the program cost at least $22 million over five years before it was shut down in 2012. According to "The New York Times" and POLITICO, which first reported this story, tens of millions of dollars for the project were pushed through by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Those publications say a lot of the money for the Pentagon UFO program went to a company called Bigelow Aerospace, run by a longtime friend of Reid's, Robert Bigelow, a big believer in UFOs.
Public records show Bigelow contributed about $20,000 to Reid and his political action committee.
RYAN ALEXANDER, PRESIDENT, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: That campaign contributor got research contracts from this program. That just is a bad picture. It doesn't look good for anybody.
There's -- it's hard to imagine that something that came about that way and profited somebody who pushed for the program was a good use of taxpayer money.
TODD (voice-over): A Pentagon spokesman, in fact, told CNN the program was shuttered because there were, quote, other, higher- priority issues that merited funding.
ALEXANDER: It's definitely crazy to spend $22 million to research UFOs. Pilots are always going to see things that they can't identify, and we should probably look into them. But to identify them as UFOs, to target UFOs to research, that is not the priority we have as a national security matter right now.
TODD (voice-over): But pilots like Fravor, who says he saw something, see merits in the program.
FRAVOR: Look, if it is real, and I think it's real because I saw it, and what if there's more of these and what if we do nothing?
TODD: Now, just a short time ago, Senator Reid responded to CNN, saying he's, quote, proud of this program and its groundbreaking studies. Speak for themselves, he says. Reid says, it's silly and counterproductive to politicize the serious questions raised by the work of the UFO program.
The head of that aerospace firm, Robert Bigelow, did not respond to CNN's multiple requests for comment by our deadline -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, there's also information that former Senator Reid tried to keep information about this entire program out of public view.
TODD: That's right, Wolf. "The New York Times" says that Reid acknowledged to them that he and two other senators, Ted Stevens and Daniel Inouye, both deceased, did not want public debate on the Senate floor over this program.
Reid told "The Times" that the funding for the project was so-called black money, meaning that was secret money for classified programs, they didn't want it talked about.
[17:55:04] BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us. Brian, thank you.
Coming up, the breaking news. There are now multiple deaths as a passenger train flies off the tracks. Some cars plunged from an overpass onto an interstate highway. Others are left dangling. So what went so terribly wrong?
[17:59:54] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Deadly train crash. A high-speed train hits a curve, jumps the track, with some cars plunging onto a busy interstate. We have dramatic audio from the accident as we learn more about ominous warnings about this new Amtrak service.