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THE SITUATION ROOM
Majority of Americans Believe President Trump Lying About Russia Investigation; United Nations Rebukes President Trump Over Jerusalem Move; Interview With House Minority Whip Roy Blunt.; FBI Deputy Director Backs Up Comey Claims of Trump Request for Loyalty; Haley Echoes Trump, Ties U.N. Jerusalem Vote to Funding. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 21, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:17] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: down to the deadline. It looks as though Republicans will avoid a government shutdown with little time to spare. We're following the votes and the crucial issues left undecided as lawmakers kick the can down the road.
United Nations rebuke. More than 100 nations condemn President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, defying U.S. warnings that the U.N. will pay a price. Will the administration make good on Ambassador Nikki Haley's direct threats?
Going after justice. The House Intelligence Committee chairman confirms he's investigating the Justice Department and the FBI, as some Republicans work to discredit the work of the special counsel. Is there a secret parallel Russia probe under way?
And not to be believed. CNN's exclusive new poll shows a majority of Americans think President Trump has not told the truth about the Russia investigation. The president hit with a powerful new show of doubt and disapproval tonight.
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 tonight, Republicans are putting off some very tough choices to avoid a government shutdown that could be a political disaster for the party just hours after its tax bill victory.
The House approved a short-term spending bill just a little while ago that will keep the government running through January 19. We're awaiting a similar vote in the Senate.
Also breaking, our new CNN poll on the Russian investigation shows a majority of Americans don't believe the president is telling the truth; 56 percent say Mr. Trump's public comments about the probe are mostly or completely false.
The special counsel Robert Mueller's approval rating in our exclusive poll is 15 points higher than the president's. Tonight, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee confirms Republicans are investigating the Justice Department, telling CNN it's not a secret.
Republican Devin Nunes says he's been pushing for information about how a controversial dossier on the Trump campaign and Russia has been used. Politico reports that Nunes and others are secretly trying to build a corruption and conspiracy case against senior law enforcement officials.
This hour, I will talk with a key member of the Republican leadership in Congress, Senator Roy Blunt. He serves on the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, on the day after the president's major tax bill victory, he's now facing some very sobering numbers in our brand-new poll.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he is indeed.
And those sobering numbers come specifically in this question, that 56 percent of Americans in our poll say they do not trust what the president says about the Russia investigation. Now, this speaks to his legitimacy, his credibility here, of course.
All this is coming as the White House is preparing to take a victory lap for that tax plan that was passed this week, even as the vice president is landing in Afghanistan and the president is visiting troops tonight at Walter Reed.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I bring greetings from your commander in chief.
ZELENY (voice-over): Vice President Pence secretly touching down in Afghanistan tonight, rallying soldiers fighting in America's longest war.
Meanwhile, President Trump, who has yet to visit a war zone as commander in chief, visiting wounded warriors at Walter Reed Medical Center.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're just going to wish them a merry Christmas, a happy new year, and we love those people.
ZELENY: While White House officials say he's save savoring the big Republican win on taxes, he did not answer questions about his legislative achievement or challenges facing the White House.
QUESTION: What do you think about the U.N. resolution, Mr. President?
ZELENY: But the victory lap on taxes has not resolved other matters, namely, the Russia investigation. Tonight, a CNN new poll shows that 61 percent of Americans believe the Russia probe is a serious matter, while 34 percent say it's an effort to discredit Trump's presidency. While Mr. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the investigation...
TRUMP: Let's put it this way. There's absolutely no collusion.
ZELENY: ... the poll finds 56 percent of Americans disapprove of how he's handling it, while 32 percent approve.
As some Republicans ramp up their criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller, the poll a majority of Americans don't agree; 47 percent say they approve of Mueller's handling of the investigation, while 34 percent disapprove.
As Congress scrambles to finish the year-end spending bill to keep the government open, at the United Nations, the president receiving a stinging rebuke today. An overwhelming of the world's nations condemning the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, on a vote of 128-9, with 35 countries abstaining.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley denouncing the vote.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We will remember, when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.
ZELENY: The action came one day after the president threatened to cut off American aid to any country that supported the resolution.
TRUMP: They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We will save a lot. We don't care.
ZELENY: All this as the president basks in the glow of passing the $1.5 trillion tax plan, making good on a campaign promise. His first major legislative victory of the year set off a stream of praise from vice president.
PENCE: I would say to the American people President Trump has been making history since the first day of this administration.
ZELENY: To Republican leaders.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Exquisite presidential leadership. Mr. President, thank you for getting us over the finish line.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: We're going to make this the greatest presidency that we have seen not only in generations, but maybe ever.
ZELENY: The flattery was so effusive, Mike Allen of Axios asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whether it was over the top.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: You know I'm not going to answer a question like that. ZELENY: Meanwhile, the president's daughter and senior adviser Ivanka
Trump also joining the victory lap on taxes, but incorrectly suggesting Americans will see the sweeping changes on their April tax returns.
IVANKA TRUMP, ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm really looking forward to doing a lot of traveling in April, when people realize the effect that this has, both on the process of filling out their taxes. The vast majority will be doing so on a single postcard.
ZELENY: Now, of course, the tax plan will begin to take effect in paychecks next year, likely in February. Of course, that will not affect people's taxes that they are paying in April for this past year, for 2017.
So a slight miscommunication there. But, Wolf, we're being told that the president is likely to sign that tax bill, at least that is the hope of the White House, before going to Mar-a-Lago for his holiday break tomorrow. The White House also is confident that the government will stay open and they will also approve and sign that continuing resolution to keep the government open for a few weeks longer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Any indication whether he is going to have an end-of-year news conference, as presidents usually do?
ZELENY: Wolf, they always do, or they usually do, we should say.
We do not know yet. The plan is currently, I am told, to have a conversation with reporters as he often does on the South Lawn of the White House as he's leaving for Mar-a-Lago for Marine One. I'm told it's not likely to be a formal sit-down news conference, but I'm also told, Wolf, it's still tentative and still TBD.
BLITZER: We will see what he decides.
All right, thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny over at the White House.
Let's get to the breaking news up on Capitol Hill, as Republicans race to beat a looming deadline and avoid a government shutdown.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.
Phil, the House has now voted and it's up to the Senate right now to follow suit.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
Right now, it looks like the enthusiasm to go home is besting the enthusiasm to stay for any kind of fight. Wolf, as you noted, the House passing. Republicans on their own had the votes to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open through January 19.
The Senate is now moving quickly as well and could vote at some point within the next hour or so try to speed up that process. This is a pared-back government funding resolution. Originally, they had plans to tack on a number of big picture items. This is not that.
But there are some key elements of this bill, including an authorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program, $3 billion for that through March. The government funding bill through January 19. A short-term authorization of the FISA surveillance, warrantless surveillance program that they wanted also through January 19.
And also have some other extensions for community health funding as well. Those are key items that they needed to take care of. But, Wolf, it also cues up a very large battle in January. They need to deal with budget caps, trying to raise those on both the defense and domestic spending side.
They're going to need a longer-term agreement. And this deal also does nothing when it comes to DACA, obviously a huge issue for Democrats, one they said they wanted finalized before the end of the year. That will not happen. That will also be pushed to January.
Republicans saying that it is something they will have to address. They know that. At this point, though, it's something they will have to address another day, Wolf.
BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on the Hill for us, thanks very much.
Let's get some on all of this with Senator Roy Blunt. He's a key member of the Republican leadership. He also serves on the Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: Hey, Wolf. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Will Republicans be successful in averting a government shutdown?
BLUNT: We will. Everybody has been saying for weeks that nobody wants a shutdown. I think that's absolutely true. We're going to have this vote in a minute and get back shortly after Christmas, coming really right back at about the time the schools are starting all over America to get back to our work as well.
And voters and members are going to be at home for a week talking about what we have gotten done here as we finish the year.
BLITZER: Is your party, Republican Party, Senator, committed to funding the Children's Health Insurance Program, CHIP, as it's called, in the long term?
I know there's temporary funding through March in this legislation, but are you committed to keeping it going long term?
BLUNT: We absolutely are. And I think there's a majority in both the House and Senate that want to be sure that the federally qualified health clinics that face a cliff that was part of the Obamacare language originally are also -- that we don't go off that cliff either.
We're committed to having access to children's health insurance, as well as access to health for underserved communities.
BLITZER: President Trump is clearly celebrating his first major legislative victory on tax reform thanks in part to the yes votes from your Republican colleagues Senator Susan Collins and Senator Jeff Flake, who were both promised various things, including Obamacare stabilization bills and protections for the so-called dreamers.
Not happening yet. Is it going to happen?
BLUNT: Well, I wasn't in the room when any of those promises were made. But I know both of those senators have worked hard on those issues.
I think something will be done to create more stability in the individual health insurance market. And 70 percent of the American people, including Jeff Flake and me, want to be sure that kids who grew up here, if they didn't get in trouble while they were here, are able to stay here.
This is as much their country as any other person who grew up in America. They didn't come here because they were violating the law. They were brought here by somebody else. And we can use them in our economy and in our country. And I think we can work to do that.
But I also think that 70 percent of the American people believe we ought to do a better job at the border. In any functioning government, it's easy to put those two things together and give the president a little more of what he wants at the border and ensure that these kids get to stay in the country that they grew up in.
BLITZER: Yes, there are about 700,000 or 800,000 of these so-called dreamers.
Senator, but here's the problem for you. If the Republicans don't keep the end of the bargain on these important and very sensitive issues, it will be a lot harder down the road to get those kinds of compromises, get things done, right?
BLUNT: Well, it's important to do what you say you're going to do. It's about the only thing in politics and in a representative government that you have going for you. So I wasn't in the room when commitments were made, but I'm sure that whatever commitments were made, every effort will have to be made to do exactly what that commitment was.
But the commitment that we made to the American people on reducing taxes and increasing job opportunities, I think we took a tremendous step in that direction this week. And by eliminating the individual mandate, we have eliminated the most offensive part of the Affordable Care Act, which was government was telling you, you had to buy a product that you couldn't afford and, in many cases, didn't believe you needed. And, by the way, nobody is kicked off insurance. All of the ability
to buy insurance, all the subsidies are still there, but the people that have paid this tax in the past have been families that were the least able to pay it because the insurance is more than they can afford and, in many cases, covered more than they need.
BLITZER: For all practical purposes, the president is wrong when he says Obamacare has now been repealed because of the individual mandate is gone. Obamacare is still alive, right?
BLUNT: Well, the law is still there, but I do think the most offensive part of the law and, frankly, what took a major step in a new direction, the idea that you could force somebody to do something they didn't want to do and buy a product they didn't want to buy is out of the law.
And I think it makes it easier, frankly, Wolf, to go back now and look at individual things in the law that can be eliminated or improved, like association health plans and other things that can make this health care system work a lot better than it's working now.
BLITZER: Senator, politically, you still have a problem. CNN polling, other polling shows that more than half of the Americans oppose the tax plan.
We put some numbers up. You can see 33 percent favor it, 55 percent oppose, 11 percent unsure. Do you expect it will get more popular when people start seeing some bigger paychecks? But savings in these paychecks presumably will be rather meager, compared to the new cap on state and local tax deductions.
BLUNT: Well, you know, 70 percent of the people now that file their tax returns file the simple form, which means they don't take that deduction anyhow.
And when you double the standard deduction, double the child tax credit, lower rates, it's strongly believed that 90 percent of the American people will, on a much simpler form, take the -- take that short form, fill it out. So now you're down to 10 percent of taxpayers.
I think the $10,000 that is allowed will go a long way toward making that 10 percent of taxpayers feel better about this bill.
But the 90 percent of the taxpayers that are going to see those big changes that benefit them are absolutely going to feel better. And 100 percent of workers, or somewhere close to 100 percent, are going to see a slightly bigger check next year than they are getting this year.
A family of four making $73,000, their tax burden is going to go down by $2,000. A single parent making $41,000 with one child going to see their tax burden go down by 73 percent. It will be reduced by about $1,300. And that is 73 percent of what they are paying now. People in Washington can say, oh, $100 a month, that doesn't make that
much difference or $200 a month doesn't make that much difference. They should go back and talk to the families that are struggling that they work for and they will find out that $200 a big difference.
BLITZER: It certainly does. The problem, though, as you know, those tax cuts go away in about seven or eight years, whereas the corporate reductions from 35 percent to 21 percent, they stay indefinitely. That's a bigger issue that certainly is going to come back in the next few years to be discussed.
BLUNT: Well, if the Congress doesn't do anything between now and 2025 or the Democrats who don't like these tax cuts get in charge, they will go away, but they will go away whether it's in the bill or not.
Senator Bernie Sanders the other day stood up and said if Democrats get in charge again, they are going to eliminate all of these tax cuts. If you don't like the $200 extra a month or the $110 extra a month, one way to do it is elect people who think they can spend money better than you can.
BLITZER: The problem Senator, as you well know, is that the corporate tax rates go way down forever. The middle-class tax cuts are temporary. And you could have made them permanent, but you decided to make them temporary. That's a problem, right?
BLUNT: Well, you couldn't make them all permanent.
And the reason that the internationally competitive cuts are permanent is so that more people put more money on the table in the long term, so that other people have better jobs.
We have had a history of being very hesitant about increasing individual taxes, but less hesitant to give a long-run view of what the tax situation -- look, the whole purpose of that second half of this effort, Wolf, is to encourage better jobs, more competition.
We brought the corporate rate back to where it was 31 years ago, when 35 percent was the middle of the countries we competed with. They have reduced their taxes. Now 21 percent, our new rate, is in the middle.
And when we're anywhere near the middle of our competitors, we're going to beat our competitors. This will be the best place in the world over the next decade to invest money and create jobs and the job creation part is what we all should be focused on.
BLITZER: Stand by, Senator. There's more we need to discuss. I'm going to have you put your hat on as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and new developments in the Russia probe.
A lot more coming up right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're back with Republican Senator Roy Blunt, as we following multiple breaking stories, including a new CNN poll that shows 56 percent of Americans don't think the president is telling the truth about the Russia investigation.
Senator, I want you to stand by for a moment.
We're getting some new information on the Russia investigation up on Capitol Hill.
Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is joining us once again.
Manu, what are you learning? The deputy FBI director was questioned on the Hill today. You're getting some new information.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.
In fact, this is the second time that he's been interviewed this week by multiple committees on the House side about a number of issues. We know that he was asked about a conversation that he had with then FBI Director James Comey, who was his one-time boss, as well as the Clinton e-mail investigation, which has been a big focus of today's closed-door hearing by the House Oversight and House Judiciary Committee.
A hearing that started at 11:00 a.m. and is still ongoing. Now, one thing we have learned from multiple sources who are familiar with the House Intelligence Committee's investigation is that McCabe, Andy McCabe, deputy director of the FBI, testified about conversations that he had with James Comey about Comey's conversations with President Trump. Remember what James Comey said earlier this year, that he spoke with President Trump on multiple occasions, including over at dinner.
And there was an ask of loyalty at one point from President Trump to James Comey. Now, what McCabe told the House Intelligence Committee, we're told, was that Comey told him about those conversations contemporaneously.
That conversation happened soon after. That suggests that McCabe could corroborate what James Comey said because he's essentially a contemporaneous witness to Comey's account.
Now, we should note that Trump has strongly denied what Comey has said, including the suggestion that Comey back off the investigation of Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser. But, clearly, Comey did tell his senior leadership.
And that's one thing that Comey did say in his public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, that he did talk to senior officials. But he never named Andrew McCabe. But McCabe himself told the Senate -- sorry -- told the House Intelligence Committee this week that that conversation did occur between the two of them.
Now, in addition to that, Wolf, a lot of questions about the Clinton e-mail investigation today. Some of the Democrats have criticized that Republicans we're focusing on it, but Republicans believe that McCabe has given them some new information for them to pursue.
They're concerned that the FBI investigation was not handled properly and they were concerned that Clinton was handled favorably as a candidate. And that's one area of focus that there's been throughout this hearing today about the Clinton e-mail investigation.
Expect more questions about that. McCabe the first witness as part of this Republican-led investigation into what they believe is some politically motivated decisions by the FBI in 2016, Wolf.
BLITZER: Manu Raju with new information up on the Hill, thanks very much.
Let's get back to Senator Roy Blunt. You're a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator. First, let me get your reaction to what we just heard about Andrew McCabe telling the House Intelligence Committee that contemporaneously James Comey, was fired by the president, had shared those sensitive words with him. What's your reaction to that?
BLUNT: Well, I'm not sure I know exactly the context that that discussion was held in, but we did have an open hearing on this.
The former director said that he was asked for loyalty, then said he pledged loyalty at some level. It just sounded like on both sides of that conversation it didn't seem to make a lot of sense to me. But nobody -- I don't know that anybody is disputing that.
I do know that Mr. Comey, three separate times, told the president he wasn't under investigation and on none of those times had the president asked him if he was. So here's the director of the FBI volunteering to the president-elect and then the new president on three different occasions, by the way, sir, you're not under investigation.
I don't know why that was part of that discussion either. But, you know, the Senate Intelligence Committee's work has not been as much to look at the FBI as to look at Russian interference in the election, and that clearly happened, and then whether there was any kind of real collusion between the campaign and Russians. And so we're going to continue to look at those two areas.
BLITZER: That's what the Senate Intelligence Committee, your committee, is looking at. But there's a lot of indications, though, that the special counsel is also, beyond those two points, also looking at possible obstruction of justice, right?
BLUNT: Well, you know, the special counsel can pretty much look at anything the special counsel wants to look at. And, as I said when the special counsel was named, I have significant
belief in his capability. But when you have got unlimited money, unlimited time and unlimited scope, the special counsel is going to find something, even if they have to go to obstruction or other past events that people were involved in, and it is a very broad brush that the special counsel gets to paint with.
BLITZER: From your view on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator, is there a justification, as some of your Republican colleagues are insisting, to investigate right now both the FBI and the Justice Department?
BLUNT: Well, I think the Congress clearly has oversight responsibilities on both the FBI and the Justice Department.
And certainly Democrats when they were in charge and there were Republican presidents felt like they had that oversight responsibility. And I think we all should feel that. I'm not on the Judiciary Committee, but if that committee thinks that they should look at these issues more closely and the FBI didn't do anything wrong, the only thing the FBI or the Justice Department has to show is the facts.
If they did do something wrong, the Congress should know about it and the American people should know about it.
BLITZER: The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner, he had some very strong words. Let me play a little clip of what he said yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Any attempt by this president to remove special counsel Mueller from his position or to pardon key witnesses in any effort to shield them from accountability or shut down the investigation would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of executive branch responsibilities and authorities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is he right to be so concerned?
BLUNT: Well, neither my friend Mark Warner or I are constitutional lawyers. In fact, we're not lawyers at all.
Whether or not it would be a flagrant violation of the Constitution, I believe those departments are both in the executive branch. But I think it would be a big mistake to either shut down the investigation or do much else that might interfere with it.
I think the president and the country are well-served to keep this investigation moving, come to a conclusion, get it behind us, and that's why I'm not urging either of those things.
In fact, I'm publicly saying that both of those would be a mistake. And I have no reason to believe the president's considering either one of those. But I also haven't talked to the president about either of those things.
But I've been very public, in my view, that both of those things would be a mistake, and I think the president probably has figured that out, as well.
[18:30:21] BLITZER: As you probably well remember, "The New York Times" did report back in August when you flew on Air Force One with President Trump that the president lobbied you to try to end your committee's investigation. Did that really happen?
BLUNT: Well, you know, I don't talk about the conversations like that that I have. That was reported and it was also reported, if it did happen, it was not in any kind of intense environment but just, "Gee, I wish we could get this kind of thing done." And I think a lot of people wish it could get done and I'm sure the president does, as well.
BLITZER: All right. Sounds like a yes, sort of like a yes, OK, right?
BLUNT: Well, it sounded like what it sounded like.
BLITZER; Yes, OK. Let's talk about this new CNN poll: 56 percent of the people think that President Trump's public comments about the Russia investigation are false. Fifty-six percent. Thirty-five say they're true. That's pretty alarming, that 56 percent don't believe the president of the United States.
BLUNT: Well, I think that we need to get the facts out there. You know, my view all the time has been we should talk to everybody a reasonable person would think you should talk to. We should look at everything a reasonable person should think you should look at, come to a conclusion that doesn't need to be unanimous but I would think it does need to be bipartisan and get those facts out there and let people based on the facts versus what they hear.
We've heard all kinds of things, particularly from Democrats in the House Intel Committee about how they had certainty about things that pretty quickly turned out to not be certain at all.
I think everybody here needs to be very thoughtful about doing our jobs rather than talking about our jobs. And the quicker we get this done, the better off we are. Can't be any quicker than it should be to do the things I said we ought to do, but it does need to be as quick as we can get this done and have done a thorough job that's bipartisan and believable.
BLITZER: Well, there is a bipartisan cooperation in the Senate Intelligence Committee, a lot more so than in the House Intelligence Committee. Senator Blunt, thanks so much for joining us.
BLUNT: Good to be with you and great for the holidays. And I will see you next year, if not again this year.
BLITZER: Yes. Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you and your family.
BLUNT: Same to you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll have more on CNN's exclusive new poll on the Russia investigation and the serious doubts Americans have about the president and whether he's telling the truth.
And the deputy FBI director is backing up James Comey's claims that the president demanded his loyalty. How will that impact the overall Russia investigation?
[18:37:33] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour and it's significant, multiple sources now telling CNN that the deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe, is backing up James Comey's claims that the president demanded his loyalty.
Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts. And Jeffrey Toobin, let me start with you. You heard Manu Raju's excellent reporting that Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director, may be able to actually corroborate what the fired FBI director, James Comey, said about his private conversations with the president. Says he was briefed by Comey contemporaneously. It's pretty significant, this development, if he backs up Comey, which the president is disputing.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. It's very significant, because the whole issue of the president's relationship with James Comey, his stated -- his desire to protect Michael Flynn, his concern about the investigation and ultimately, of course, the president's firing of James Comey, this is the heart of a potential obstruction of justice case. It relies very much, at the moment ,on James Comey's testimony.
So to the extent McCabe corroborates Comey, it's an important development. And it's something that the Trump supporters have never really explained, which is why the president was so concerned about shutting down the Russia investigation.
BLITZER: And Matthew Rosenberg, he could corroborate, Andrew McCabe, what Comey said, that Trump asked Comey for loyalty during one of those meetings. How worried should the White House be about this new development?
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, I think they probably knew it was coming. McCabe and Comey were close. McCain's -- McCabe's only given indications that he believed what he heard and what he's seen.
You know, and I think this is probably why we've seen attacks from Republicans on McCabe and his credibility to try to paint and others who were involved in the investigation as Democrats or partisan. And they're going to probably keep pushing that line. The other thing is these committee hearings are so partisan at this
point. I'm not sure what anybody says will change minds.
BLITZER: Because they're going after McCabe because his wife ran for...
BLITZER: ... a state office in Virginia as a Democrat and received some political contributions from a lot of other Democrats.
BLITZER: And that's the main point...
TOOBIN: Is I -- Wolf...
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.
TOOBIN: Wolf, if I could just add one thing. Comey also said that he wrote contemporaneous moments about these conversations with the president as soon as he left the president's presence.
[18:40:08] When you combine contemporaneous moments with corroboration by McCabe, it's pretty darn good corroboration that Comey is telling the truth about what went on in those meetings.
BLITZER: Abby, how do you see it?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that's about right. The president has only given his word that "I didn't say this" or "I never" -- or that it wasn't the way that Comey described it.
And I think a lot of Republicans since then have actually tried to downplay it by suggesting that, even if Trump had asked for some version of loyalty, that would not have been totally unusual, that that would be part of what a president would want to expect from someone who works for him at the FBI.
But the reason this was notable for Comey was because he thought that it was improper. He thought that it was part of a broader pattern of behavior from the president, where he was trying to influence the investigation, get him to drop the probe of Flynn. and do other things of that nature.
And it's all coming forward now, Rebecca, at the same time that the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devon Nunes wants a full-scale investigation of what he believes, potentially, could be corrupt behavior at the Justice Department and the FBI.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And by the way, that isn't happening in a vacuum. You're hearing that sort of rhetoric not only from Nunes but from Republicans across the board and also the president. This is a concern that you have heard all of them echo. Whether it's well-founded is another issue. Whether Nunes is acting
politically in raising this now is another issue. And there are certainly concerns about that.
But his timing also has to do with the Ethics Committee, which cleared him just a few weeks ago in the unmasking case that happened earlier this year. There were concerns that he acted improperly in that regard as the chairman of his committee. So now he is back on the scene, pursuing these investigations again.
BLITZER: Go ahead.
PHILLIP: I think it's important to just know that a lot of what's going on on the Hill is quickly approaching the point of irrelevance where these committees have become so partisan. These interviews are interesting. We learn some things about what -- what is out there as a result of them. But ultimately, the ball game is the special counsel. It's not so much what's being said and done on the Hill right now.
BLITZER: Do you agree?
ROSENBERG: Absolutely. And I think we see it in Chairman Nunes', you know, immediate kind of turn straight at the FBI. You know, we've seen no evidence -- they have presented no evidence that there is this kind of broad corruption there that Nunes speaks of, but they're launching investigations. And it does look a lot like a politicall- motivated attempt to kind of say, "Well, the important investigation is this corruption. It's not Russia. It's not the thing we said we were investigating." I think that's only further killing their credibility.
BERG: But if you look at the latest CNN polling on this, on the Russia investigation, you could see why Nunes would be launching an investigation of this kind, because 78 percent of Republicans believe that the Russia investigation is an attempt to undermine President Trump, not an important investigation that's underway.
BLITZER: Stand by. There's a lot more happening. Was President Trump warned about possible wrongdoing by the fired national security adviser Michael Flynn? We're going to have details of the brand-new report that is just coming out tonight.
[18:47:58] BLITZER: The breaking news: the deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe is corroborating accounts by former FBI Director James Comey, backing up his claim that President Trump asked for a loyalty pledge before he was fired. We're also following new reporting about the White House counsel. President Trump and a warning about possible wrongdoing by the fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.
And, Jeffrey Toobin, "Foreign Policy" is reporting that the White House counsel Don McGahn actually researched whether then national security adviser Michael Flynn had broken the law by speaking about sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States and that McGahn actually warned Trump about Flynn's possible violations.
How does that fit in to this overall investigation?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, remember, President Obama, one of the very first things he said to President-elect Trump was warning him away from Michael Flynn. And remember, too, that when Flynn was interviewed by the FBI, it was just January 24th, it was just four days after the inauguration, when he was interviewed and as he's now admitted, made false statements.
So, you know, Flynn, it appears, was a disaster waiting to happen from the moment he joined the Trump campaign, much less the presidency. And the question now is, as the "Foreign Policy" story raises again, is, how much did the White House know about all the problems that Flynn brought with him?
BLITZER: And Senator Rand Paul, Matthew, he really went at it today. He tweeted earlier in the day, let me read it to you.
Time to investigate high-ranking Obama government officials who might have colluded to prevent the election of Donald Trump. This could be worse -- worse all in caps -- than Watergate.
That's Senator Rand Paul.
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I'm not clear what he's talking, colluding on what? If he's talking about the dossier, or --
BLITZER: I assume he's talking about the dossier, that that was created to try to undermine Donald -- that's the suggestion.
ROSENBERG: That's the suggestion.
[18:50:00] There's a persistent talking point you see more on the right than the left that the dossier is what started the FBI investigation. And we see no evidence that's the case. The dossier was something that was paid for by both first Republicans, then Democrats.
It's not going to keep the FBI investigation going. You need predicate, you need facts. You need much stronger evidence. We have seen no real evidence this is what it's based on.
Therefore, I'm not quite clear what the Obama administration collusion unless the fact that the FBI started investigation under the Obama administration was alone collusion.
BLITZER: Yes, significant, though. He used the word colluded.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it's important to know this is a very possibly effective political strategy here where --
BLITZER: By the Republicans.
PHILLIP: By the Republicans.
At the beginning of the Mueller probe, it was hard to attack Mueller because he was a registered Republican. He was -- a character that was attested to by Republicans and Democrats on the Hill. Now, there is a little blood in the water as a result of a number of things, maybe this dossier, these text messages that come out from FBI agents involved in the probe. For Republicans, it's effective to attack the probe because in the event there is anything that comes out of it, they can undermine that in the court of public opinion, which when it comes to the president, you know, that's mostly what matters. It's a political matter, largely, what happens to the president.
Democrats are talking impeachment. That has to go through Congress. They are going to require public opinion to be with them on that one.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by.
There's more news we are getting in, including more on the administration's threat to retaliate against those who voted with the United Nations against the United States. Stand by. We'll be right back.
[18:56:40] BLITZER: The State Department says the United States will explore various options following the overwhelming U.N. vote condemning President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley slammed the move and she echoed President Trump, saying votes against the Trump administration may influence future funding decisions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The United States will remember this day, in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called up to once again make the world's largest contribution to the United Nations and we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us as they often do to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This afternoon, the former CIA Director John Brennan fired right back, calling those comments beyond outrageous and he said it shows the president expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone.
Let's get some more from our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott over at the State Department.
Elise, Ambassador Haley's remarks are clearly making lots of waves tonight.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. I mean, just a few days ago, the president and his national security strategy and in his speech rolling it out said that each nation is sovereign to do what it sees fit with its policy. So, the U.S. is sovereign to recognize Jerusalem and all of these members of the U.N. Security are also sovereign nations to criticize that decision as they see fit. And if the president is so comfortable with his decision, if Nikki Haley is so comfortable with recognizing Jerusalem, they really have to be comfortable with the criticism that comes with.
BLITZER: What's the general international reaction, Elise, that you've been seeing?
LABOTT: I think that this threat, Wolf, about withholding aid to countries or withholding aid to the U.N. is a little bit seen as empty rhetoric. I mean, you did see some small nations like the Marshall Islands, Togo, countries who need the U.S. support voting against. But if you look at some of the biggest recipients of U.S. aide, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, those countries voted against that resolution naturally because of their role in the Middle East and the U.S. doesn't give billions of dollars to these countries only because of the goodness of its own heart or because they are doing those countries a favor, it's because it's in the U.S. national security interest, and they'll continue to do so.
And I think that's what largely most nations think, that any responsible president is going to give U.S. aid according to U.S. national interest. And that's what they were doing in their decision, Wolf.
BLITZER: But the threat from the president and from Nikki Haley for that matter was blunt. You vote against the United States, you are going to pay a price, the U.S. isn't going to give you the aid you want. Very blunt. Very quickly.
LABOTT: Wolf, I was in Africa just a few weeks ago with Nikki Haley. And she said that the money that the U.S. gives to the United Nations and other countries is pennies on the dollar because it saves the U.S. from going to places where it doesn't want to go. So, i think it's a bit of an empty threat. We'll just have to see.
BLITZER: We certainly will. Elise Labott over at the State Department for us. Thanks very much for that report. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.