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Aired January 9, 2018 - 17:00 ET
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Taking the heat. In an extraordinary move, the White House opens President Trump's bipartisan immigration meeting with lawmakers, and the cameras roll as the president calls on both sides to work together on what he calls a bill of love, saying he'll take the heat off both Democrats and Republicans.
[17:00:27] Putting out the fire. Sources say the open meeting was designed to dampen questions about the president's mental stability and fitness for office. Did the president decide on the move to try to put out the fire?
Secret testimony. A top Democrat releases testimony about the infamous Trump/Russia dossier, showing a former British spy turned researcher went to the FBI because he was worried Donald Trump could be blackmailed. Did the FBI have intelligence from within the Trump camp?
And Bannon falls. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, under fire for comments in a new book critical of President Trump, has now stepped down from Breitbart News, the media outlet that turned into a very powerful right-wing force.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. Amid new questions about the president's fitness for office, the White House today took what one official calls a move to stop all the hyperventilating. Officials pulled back the curtain to show President Trump in action, running a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers on immigration.
And in a remarkable session, open to cameras for close to an hour, the president appealed to both parties to come up with, quote, "a bill of love" to keep the so-called DREAMers from being forced to leave the country. But the president also offered some contradictory messages. And while he still insists that any bill must include border security, the White House now seems to be stretching the definition of a border wall.
Also breaking, testimony from the firm behind the Russia Trump dossier is now public, indicating the former British spy hired to do the research went to the FBI back in 2016, because he feared Russians were blackmailing Donald Trump. The co-founder of the research firm Fusion GPS testified that the former British spy learned the FBI had similar intelligence from a source inside the Trump camp.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein released the transcript over Republican objections, suggesting it would counter misinformation and efforts to undermine the Russia investigation.
And after marathon negotiations between the two Koreas, Kim Jong-un's regime agrees to send a team to the upcoming Winter Olympic Games next month. But at the same time, the North warns that its missiles and nuclear weapons are aimed at the United States.
I'll speak with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they're standing by with full coverage.
Let's begin with the breaking news, as President Trump holds an extraordinary on-camera bipartisan meeting on immigration. Let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, what this about helping the DREAMers or perhaps helping the president's image right now?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think a little bit of both, Wolf. President Trump surprised much of Washington today by turning on the cameras for a nearly hour-long discussion about on the tricky issue of immigration.
The president tried to look in command during the discussion after days of questions about his mental stamina. But the question for the president, probably the biggest of all, is whether he is serious about solving the problem on the table today, the fates of hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people, or whether this is just another edition of the reality show that he's brought to the White House.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Different things for border security.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It was a bipartisan breather in a city that feels perpetually at warm as President Trump sat down with both Republicans and Democrats to try to find a solution to spare young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers from deportation.
TRUMP: This should be a bipartisan bill. This should be a bill of love. Truly. It should be a bill of love.
ACOSTA: Last fall, the president made the decision to end the program known as DACA that protects roughly 700,000 DREAMers from being kicked out of the U.S., protection that begins to end in March. Now both parties are scrambling to craft a bill that would give some kind of legal status to DREAMers, but the president is insisting that border security be part of any deal.
TRUMP: To me a clean bill is a bill of DACA, we take care of them, and we also take care of security. That's very important. And I think the Democrats want security, too. We started off with Steny saying, we want security, too. I mean, we started off with studies saying, "We want security also." Everybody wants security.
And then we can go to comprehensive later on, and maybe that is a longer subject and a bigger subject. And I think we can get that done, too.
If we do this properly, DACA, you're not so far away from comprehensive immigration reform. And if you want to take it that further step, I'll take the heat. I don't care. I don't care. I'll take all the heat you want to give me, and I'll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans. My whole life has been heat. I like heat in a certain way.
[17:05:12] ACOSTA: The question is whether the president will demand a wall in exchange for saving the DREAMers, the same wall he promised Mexico would pay for during the campaign. Democrats seem to think the president will take some border security now and a wall later.
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MINORITY WHIP: I think the president uses "wall" for border security. I think he thinks they're interchangeable, because he mentioned border security on a number of occasions in talking about what was necessary to be in the DACA bill.
ACOSTA: The White House take on that...
(on camera): The wall has to be part of a deal in order for these DREAMers to have protection?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Border security does have to be part of this process.
ACOSTA: I mean, there is a difference, right?
SANDERS: Why we want to secure our border? I absolutely do. Because the safety and security of the people of this country are the president's No. 1 responsibility and his No. 1 priority when it comes to anything that he does. So absolutely.
ACOSTA: I understand that. Can you understand how the wall can be different than border security, Sarah?
SANDERS: No actually, I don't, no.
ACOSTA: Border security can mean drones. It can mean agents. It can mean more fencing. It doesn't necessarily mean a physical wall.
SANDERS: And that's part of the negotiation that we expect Congress to have.
ACOSTA (voice-over: The president boasted to Democrats at the meeting that he can build a wall for far less than current estimates.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: You have put it out there that -- that you want $18 billion for a wall or else there will be no DACA. Is that still your position? TRUMP: Yes, I can build it for less. We can do it for less. We can
do a great job. We can do a great wall, but you need the wall. And I'm now getting involved. I like to build under budget, OK? I like to go under budget, ahead of schedule. There's no reason for seven years, also. I heard the other day -- please, don't do that to me. Seven years to build a wall? If we can build the wall in one year...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, sir.
TRUMP: And we can build it for much less money than what they're talking about.
ACOSTA: The president's focus on the DREAMer issue comes as Democrats are slamming his decisions to end temporary protections for 200,000 migrants from El Salvador and 50,000 people from Haiti. And the president is still engaging in hostile rhetoric on immigration, falsely comparing a lottery price tag for some migrants to drawing names out of a bowl.
TRUMP: I just call it lottery, where countries come in and they put names in a hopper. They're not giving you their best names. Common sense means they're not giving you their best names. They're giving you people that they don't want. And then we take them out of the lottery. And where they do it by hand, where they put their hand in a bowl, like probably what's in their hand are the worst of the worst.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump said once obstacle to closing a deal is the partisan rancor in Washington, without recognizing any role he's played in that.
TRUMP: I think the levels of hatred, and I'm not talking about Trump. I'm talking you go back throughout the eight years of Obama, and you go before that, the animosity and the hatred between Republicans and Democrats...
ACOSTA: Still one key senator told the president there is the potential for an agreement.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You have created an opportunity here, Mr. President, and you need to close the deal.
ACOSTA: The dramatic discussion on immigration even eclipsed the speculation over whether Mr. Trump will face Oprah Winfrey in 2020, but the president weighed in on that, too.
TRUMP: She had Donald Trump. This was before politics. Her last week. And she had Donald Trump and my family. It was very nice. No, I like Oprah. I don't think she's going to run.
ACOSTA: We'll see about that.
Now just as the president was sounding more moderate on the issue of immigration, his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was shown the door at Breitbart. We're told that Bannon was essentially fired over his comments in the Michael Wolff book "Fire and Fury" and that the president himself was putting pressure on this decision.
As for the president, the White House insists he has not given up on his promise to make Mexico pay for the wall. Remember that one? Though as we have reported time and again, Wolf, the administration has not really ever specified how that would be accomplished -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he keeps saying in some form, whatever that means. All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much. Much more on the extraordinary White House meeting coming up.
But also breaking right now over Republican objections, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee has released testimony about the Trump/Russia dossier.
Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, tell our viewers what you're learning.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, stunning development today, Wolf, when Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, released this transcript over the objections of Republicans on the committee, and something that some on both sides of the aisle said could effectively threaten this bipartisan investigation that actually had been stalled for some time.
But Feinstein says she had to do this to shine some light on the process and actually push back against the assertions that that British agent, Christopher Steele, and over his investigation into the Trump/Russia connections, because as this testimony shows, Wolf, that Mr. Steele believed that this issue was so serious he had to brief the FBI about what was going on.
RAJU (voice-over): The 312-page transcript includes new revelations about the infamous opposition research dossier on Donald Trump and the Russians.
[17:05:03] Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a former British agent who compiled the dossier was so concerned about what he found that he decided to brief the FBI in the summer of 2016. The agent, Christopher Steele, worried about a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed, according to Simpson's transcript.
Simpson also testified that Steele told him the FBI had similar intelligence from an internal Trump campaign source. And that the FBI believed Chris's information might be credible, because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing. And one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump Organization.
A person close to Simpson clarified that the reference to an internal Trump campaign source actually refers to the Australian ambassador, who contacted the FBI to pass on information that he'd received from former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Simpson testified the research did not start out as a Russia-focused
investigation but rather was a broader look at his business career, his finances; and they were trying to figure out whether he's really as rich as he says he is.
But Simpson later said he was also interested in Russia. And how Trump had made a number of trips to Russia. And talked about doing a number of business deals but never did one. "And that struck me as a little bit odd and calling for an explanation."
TRUMP: It's all fake news. It's phony stuff.
RAJU: The president and his allies from the beginning have said the dossier is fake and full of lies. But Simpson testified that Steele understood that the Russians use disinformation as a common tactic. What he said was, "Disinformation is an issue in my profession and that we are trained to spot disinformation. I'm telling you that I don't believe this is disinformation."
The top Democrat on the committee, Dianne Feinstein, released the transcript despite furious opposition from the committee's GOP chairman, Chuck Grassley, whose spokesman said the unilateral move was totally confounding, because it could undercut the inquiry.
The move intensified the partisan acrimony on the panel.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I think in some ways this is the signal of the end of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
ACOSTA: So two other things, Wolf, that Glenn Simpson pointed out in his interview from last August. He did mention that he has met with that Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, that same Russian lawyer who attended that Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, that same meeting in which Donald Trump Jr. initially was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign.
Now according to Glenn Simpson's testimony, they met before and after that meeting, but on a completely separate topic, and he said they never discussed that Trump Tower meeting. He didn't learn about that, according to Simpson, until he read about that in "The New York Times."
And also, Wolf, there was a lot -- there were questions about the sources, Christopher Steele's sources about who actually gave him some of the information, but Glenn Simpson's attorney said he did not want to reveal the sources out of fear for some of these people's lives. And in this meeting he actually said, Wolf, that "somebody's already been killed as a result of the publication of the dossier, and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work." Those are the words of the attorney for Glenn Simpson to those investigators on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
BLITZER: Do you know who he was referring to when they said someone was killed?
RAJU: They did -- they did not specify that specifically. There have been some reports suggesting that there was someone that has been murdered because of that, but that's been something that we have not reported but others certainly have, Wolf.
Manu Raju up on the Hill. Very disturbing information, indeed. Thank you very much.
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He's a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Do you know who they're talking about...
MANCHIN: No, I don't.
BLITZER: ... who was murdered as a result, potentially, of this dossier?
MANCHIN: Any time you have a lot of assets in danger. And that's why we never try to put -- that's why we don't talk about it from the Intel Committee. We never want to put any of our assets in harm's way. And this is what comes up, if it has. I hope it has not.
BLITZER: Of course that would be very, very disturbing.
I want to get back to the dossier in a moment, but let's get back to this extraordinary meeting that the president had with some of your colleagues from the House and the Senate over at the White House today. What do you want to see happen as far as the DREAMers and immigration in the short term right away? I know the long term, you want comprehensive immigration reform, but what about right now?
MANCHIN: Right now we have to have a pathway forward. And it seems like we're at an impasse if we can't come to an agreement. And border security is something I have been for. I have voted for border security.
In the 2013 comprehensive immigration bill, $42 billion over a ten- year period was spent on border security. Seven hundred miles of walls and fences, but using a cadre of things that we need to, to secure our borders. So I'm all for that, as most Democrats and Republicans are.
[17:15:08] Everybody's for border security. The question is, in exchange for allowing 700,000 or 800,000, 900,000 DREAMers, these people who were brought here illegally by their parents and have been raised over all of these years here in the United States. In exchange for that, would you be willing to do what the president apparently still wants, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border?
As long as we're securing the border and it's done with the advice of those experts on the border who are building our country, building a wall where the wall is needed, using the technology whether other technology and maybe a wall doesn't work, I'm for all of that.
The thing that we're held up on now in the negotiations, I was very encouraged today from the meeting, I talked to some of my colleagues, they were encouraged the meeting they had with the president, as you just showed, but basically it's the change immigration. How far do you go? So the child is here. The parents brought the child in. Should the parents also? Absolutely. You want the parents in that. Should the other siblings? People are saying absolutely not. So it should stop with the child that's here now parents here now and the child in the country.
After the extraordinary meeting with your colleagues, the White House said any short-term issue to deal with the DREAMers would also have to include what they called border security. It's unclear what they mean, if that means a wall specifically. Also this chain migration, ending that and also what this lottery system is. They want all four of those elements to be in a short-term piece of legislation. Are you with them?
MANCHIN: Well, I'm with them on negotiating. I think all of that should be in the mix, and all that's reasonable. I think it's not unreasonable. But with these young people that have been here all their lives, practically, that's the....
BLITZER: Because a lot of your Democratic colleagues say just do a clean bill on DACA, on the DREAMers. Let them stay. And all of those other issues -- chain migration, border security, you know, the lottery system, the pathway to citizenship -- do that with a comprehensive immigration reform piece of legislation.
MANCHIN: If they could bring back the 2013 bill...
BLITZER: You supported it at the time.
MANCHIN: One thousand percent support it again. It was a great piece of legislation.
BLITZER: So when your Democratic colleagues, let's say, like Dianne Feinstein or others say, "You know what? Just do a clean DACA bill, leave all the other issues down the road." The president said he wants to do comprehensive immigration reform. He also said today, "I'll take the heat."
MANCHIN: We could give the bill that we've had. The bill we had before is a great bill today, even. And that's a bill we could run with if they want to go with the complete and have to be done that way. But if you're going to do them separated, that's with negotiations.
The difference that we're in in the Senate we weren't in before, we're in regular order now. It takes 60 votes. That means you have to have 9 Democrats. So we are in the negotiations. We are important.
We were left out of the -- of the tax reform -- tax cuts. We were left out of when he tried to repeal the health care. We're brought into it now. And I have a group of those moderate Democrats that want to work and find something that really, you know, is a solution to the problem.
BLITZER: But very quickly, if the president and the Republicans insist the DREAMers can stay in the short term, they can stay as far as the short-term legislation is concerned, but you've got to approve, they want $18 billion for a 2,000-mile wall.
MANCHIN: Well, he just said -- the president just said $18 billion is too much.
BLITZER: He says he can do it for a lot less.
MANCHIN: A lot less than that, and I know we can, too. You know, we were doing, for $8 billion, 700 miles of wall and fencing combined. So we know it can be done. I'm willing to work with him. I think we can compromise and find a working solution.
BLITZER: All right. Senator, there's more unfolding even as we speak right now. Stand by. Take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[17:23:12] BLITZER: Our breaking news, over the objections of Republicans, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has released the stunning testimony about the Trump/Russia dossier, saying it will counter efforts to undermine the Russia investigations.
We're back with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. He's on the Intelligence Committee.
Did she do the right thing, your colleague Dianne Feinstein, even though the chairman of her committee, Chuck Grassley, didn't want her to do it, said he didn't know she was going to do it. She released these 300-plus pages.
MANCHIN: I'm understanding Dianne has tried for quite some time to bring more of this into the light, transparency, bring it into the open.
BLITZER: It is pretty extraordinary to do that without the committee chairman's permission.
MANCHIN: Well, basically, you have the committee chairman and the ranking member. They usually should work together. And when there's a disagreement of this validity, then something is going to happen; and Dianne just came to her wit's end. She said the people need to know. They need to know that this is serious.
BLITZER: So what's your bottom line, as far as what we learned in these 300-plus pages that Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of GPS, he testified before the committee, what, for about 10 hours, 300-plus pages of testimony in which there's a lot of stunning new details.
MANCHIN: Well, they're very much concerned, and we should all be concerned of the Russians' involvement and what their intent has been, no matter who it would be. Someone at the highest level seeking the highest office in the land and anybody else that they could be involved with that would change their position and basically how we do business, how we elect, the democracy we run, the way we run our government.
So we're very much concerned about that, and it's a very, very serious investigation.
BLITZER: Because the former British spy, Christopher Steele, who wrote the so-called dossier, he went to the FBI, apparently, because he was so concerned that Donald Trump at the time, a candidate for president of the United States, was potentially or could be blackmailed by the Russians, based on the information he had collected of what was going on between his connections with Russia.
[17:25:06] MANCHIN: True. We haven't seen that, but basically, that was a concern he had from what information he had. So he acted upon that. And that was information that President Obama had before he left office and I think was passed on.
But we are where we are today. We've got to finish this investigation. The more cooperation we receive, the more -- faster this is going to be completed. And when it is completed, then we're going to have, hopefully, our -- the Intel Committee on the Senate work in a bipartisan way and put a report out.
BLITZER: Was the -- very quickly, was the Russia dossier the start of this whole probe going on with the FBI and now with the special counsel?
MANCHIN: It's the one that -- it's the one that raised the level of concern that everyone might have and basically spurred it to be an accelerated movement it is.
BLITZER: But apparently, according to Glenn Simpson in this testimony, they did have a source within the Trump camp that was also expressing some concern about what the Russians were up to. What can you tell us about that?
MANCHIN: I don't think -- I don't think there's anybody, anybody that has any wherewithal or has any know-how on this and has been briefed, that doesn't believe that the Russians have done and what they have done...
BLITZER: But was the earlier source before Christopher Steele George Papadopoulos, who's pled guilty, as you know, in the face of these charges that were levelled against him? He apparently, according to "The New York Times," was at an event in London with the Australian ambassador, shared some thoughts, and eventually the Australian ambassador went to the U.S. law enforcement, U.S. intelligence community and said, "There's a problem."
MANCHIN: Well, there is a problem when you have people talking...
BLITZER: But was that the original source? MANCHIN: Papadopoulos?
BLITZER: Or was it Christopher Steele?
MANCHIN: It's been said that's that's where -- well, I think that Christopher Steele, basically from what knowledge we have and what's been reported, has done this investigation he had in the dossier before Papadopoulos. He's the one, basically, that I understood had knowledge of it and started speaking of it, and as they say, loose lips sink ships. That's what happens.
BLITZER: Joe Manchin, thanks very much for coming in, Senator.
MANCHIN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
Coming up, more on the breaking news. Word of a possible White House shake-up. Could more aides be leaving? We have new reporting just coming in.
And President Trump holds a bipartisan immigration meeting, telling lawmakers to strike a deal and he'll be the lightning rod for any criticism they get.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'll take all the heat you want to give me, and I'll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans. My whole life has been heat. I like heat the in a certain way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories over at the White House right now. In addition to President Trump's extraordinary on- camera meeting with Democratic and Republican lawmakers to discuss immigration today, we're now getting word of another possible White House staff shake-up.
[17:32:28] Let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and our specialists. Dana, tell our viewers what you're learning.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have a story with Jeff Zeleny and Dan Merica, as well as Kevin Liptak, about what's going on inside the White House. And the two most senior officials that are on the potential, and I underscore potential, list of people who might leave the White House in the near future are H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, and the White House counsel, Don McGahn.
Now, McGahn, let's just start with him, he obviously has been very, very much involved in the Russia investigation. He's even a potential witness in the Russia investigation. But the president has, we are told, said some things about his -- his disregard for some of the actions that McGahn has made. He was also the president's lawyer during the campaign, so he's been with him for some time. So it also wouldn't be surprising, just for personal reasons, that he's had enough. Because as you know, that happens a lot after the first full year of any White House.
And then second, with H.R. McMaster, he is an active-duty general. He certainly is a commanding presence inside the White House, we know, but he also has clashed with the president on some really important foreign policy issues like Afghanistan.
So we'll see what happens there, but they are certainly two people being talked about.
Even beyond that, though, Wolf, there are some people who have already said that they are out the door. McMaster's No. 2 at the NSC, Dina Powell. Over at the economic council, you have Jeremy Katz. So there are a lot of places where there are gaping holes, and the biggest one is probably the one left by Steve Bannon. There is still nobody who can channel the president's sort of political whims and needs, and that's a very important thing that needs to go on.
The issue, though, is that there are major problems recruiting people to come into the White House for a full host of reasons. But that's a big problem. And one official who's familiar with the discussions, trying to get people in, said to me, "Kelly" -- meaning John Kelly, the chief of staff -- "is eating bullets every day by himself and doesn't have a lot of help. He needs reinforcements." So we'll see who ends up leaving. We'll see who ends up coming in, but it hasn't been easy.
BLITZER: Yes. Very difficult, indeed. Steve Bannon's got his own problems. He was let go by Breitbart today amidst all of this.
BLITZER: Jackie, let's talk a little bit about this extraordinary meeting at the White House today. Do you have a clear understanding now -- and we heard the president moderate this discussion for almost an hour, all on camera. We heard it all. We heard the White House subsequently.
Do you have a clear understanding of what he means in the short term, in exchange for letting the DREAMers stay, what border security means?
[17:35:06] JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not particularly. Because it seems that -- it seems that they're talking about the wall, but then they're talking about border security, and they're insisting that border security means the wall. But then border security actually means lots of different things. It -- so on a technology front, on not necessarily the physical fencing but other personnel, lighting, all sorts of things.
So -- but the most remarkable thing about this press conference was the president seemed to be talking about comprehensive immigration reform. You could just hear -- and talking about a bill of love when it comes to DACA. The campaign trail is littered with Republicans that have said similar things, people like Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich. And I am going to -- I'm watching with great interest to see how the base reacts to what the president said today, because you're already seeing it percolating on places like Twitter, that they are not pleased with what this president said.
BLITZER: The president used the words "comprehensive immigration reform." He said he's ready to take the heat. There are a lot of members of his party who see that as amnesty. They see letting the DREAMers stay here as amnesty. They hate that. There's a lot of criticism already emerging.
Bianna, how do you see all of this unfolding? Can the Democrats get what they want, a short-term piece of legislation that will allow the DREAMers to stay without adding all this other stuff: border security, you know, all the other things the president wants?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it seemed like the Democrats were just as stunned as all of us by what unfolded today. As Dana had been reporting earlier today, to be a fly on the wall in what takes place and how the sausage is made for an hour, to watch the president with Republicans and Democrats, really talk this through.
Now, he may have had his own agenda, as some sources say, to show that he is in charge and is capable of policy discussions, but it appears the Democrats walked into this conversation expecting one thing and to fight for one thing; and they came out sort of stunned that he was willing, at least to some degree, agree with them. And you could see Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans at times have to walk him back and say, "Do you understand what you're saying here? Let me" -- you know, in his conversation with Dianne Feinstein.
So I think the outcome is still, you know, people are really puzzled as to where this ended. But as far as the conversation itself, it shows the side of the president that's very affable, that's a people- pleaser, that gets along with everybody.
When he won this election, many Democrats were saying amongst themselves, "Well, he's actually not a true Republican." Many Republicans were saying the same thing and were worried about that.
So many puzzled people today, but I think we also saw a fascinating display of this president really on a charm offensive.
BLITZER: Yes, and if the president, Dana, wanted to counter what's in this new book, this bombshell new book, he effectively succeeded today by showing, at least in this meeting, he was in charge.
BASH: Yes. I mean, there's no question that was one of the major goals that the president had going into this meeting and having the cameras there.
I was told by two Republicans who were in the room that before the cameras came in, the president said, "We'll just have the cameras come in. I'll make a statement, a couple of you if you want to, and then they'll leave." And then he decided sort of as it was going on to keep the cameras in.
And, you know, whether or not he, with one event, as remarkable as it was, can erase all of the narrative that has been going on, not just in the book but, of course, that is the most recent, but in the past year-plus about his behavior and about his personality that we have seen ourselves just on Twitter, that's not going to happen.
Having said that, this was a good first step to showing that there is another side, that there is a Donald Trump that can command a room, have a conversation, talk to Democrats and Republicans, encourage them to get things done, to get legislation done.
Whether or not he understood things like the political nuance of what Dianne Feinstein, who has a big Democratic challenge in California, was trying to do, to try to push him up against the wall to take a Democratic position, clearly not. But, you know what? At least we got to see the sausage being made.
KUCINICH: But one of the interesting things, we kind of saw it live, the president tells everyone sort of what they want to hear, unless you're a Republican in that room.
BASH: That's very true. That's very true.
KUCINICH: We've seen it behind closed doors, where people come out saying he said this and then the White House has to walk it back. We saw it live today.
KUCINICH: And you saw that. I mean, you can imagine what it looks like even behind closed doors when he says these things to, as he calls them, Chuck and Nancy.
So what that means functionally, I don't think we know, but it was -- that was extremely interesting to actually see that happen and the reaction around the room.
BLITZER: Because a few weeks ago, Bianna, you remember, he did meet with Chuck and Nancy, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House. He did meet with them. And they came out of that meeting thinking they had a deal on the DREAMers, that their -- the whole issue of the wall would be left down the road. There would be border security, but the wall would be down the road. But they would go ahead and get legislation passed that would allow the DREAMers to stay.
[17:40:14] GOLODRYGA: Yes. That famous budget deal where Chuck and Nancy were the president's best friends, and the White House seemingly had to walk back what transpired, because it turned into a he and she said versus what the president and what the administration said and stunned Republicans who were in the room.
Again, this was one day and one day only, but you could make the argument that it was a very good day for the president, not only in terms of what transpired in front of cameras but also the news that just came out about Steve Bannon leaving Breitbart. I mean, if this became a war between the president and Steve Bannon, it looks like, at least for now, the president won.
BASH: One open question on the substance of what they were talking about, immigration, and about the strategy here, is whether the president came out a little bit too soon in saying, "I'll take the heat. I'll give you..."
GOLODRYGA: We'll see about that.
BASH: Give you political cover. Because now, as you said, I mean, the cat was already out of the bag that the president was ready to, from the perspective of his base, sell them out and allow for what they very much consider amnesty, allowing anybody who's undocumented to stay in this country legally.
If he can withstand the pressure that he is already getting that will only mount now that he's said what he said, that is an open question. But he certainly sent all the signals that he will, as Lindsey Graham said in that meeting, be the one to close the deal and take the heat.
BLITZER: And you heard, as Bianna said, as soon as the president made some statements that were music to the ears of the Democrats...
BLITZER: ... Kevin McCarthy, the Majority Leader, Republican, in the House, said, "Well, Mr. President, let's not forget..."
BASH: But that was also for the cameras. I mean, all the Republicans had to show their base they weren't just, you know, kind of selling them out, as well. That they weren't going to let the president talk about that.
KUCINICH: But it's suddenly becoming very clear why Lindsey Graham has become the president's best friend. I'm just saying.
GOLODRYGA: And my favorite moment when he was approached with that $18 billion bill for the wall, he said, "Oh, we'll do it for less." And we were sort of left stunned. And, you know, I mean, that's how the president is, and we got to see it play out.
BLITZER: Well, he's a builder, so he can build it for less. That what he -- and he's also saying, you know, that long 2,000-mile wall doesn't necessarily have to be a wall. He keeps saying parts of it, you know, there are already rivers. There are mountains. There are natural barriers already in place, so you don't need, necessarily, a wall along the entire border with Mexico.
You know, Dana, as the -- the meeting was going on and Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, was in that meeting, she asked the president some pointed questions, made some specific points.
Shortly thereafter, she released that 300-plus-page document, the transcript of the Glenn Simpson testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But what was extraordinary, not only the details that were released, and some of them are very significant, but the fact she did it against the wishes of her chairman, Chuck Grassley.
BASH: She did. And look, it's not the first time she has released things against the wishes of even people in her own party. Remember, she released a report on torture during the Obama administration and the president of her own party didn't want her to do that.
In this particular case, she's trying to take the political air out of the balloon for Republicans, who are using this dossier, using the genesis of it, what's in it, how it was used and kind of bounced around between political campaigns and the FBI, using it against -- against the president. Excuse me, against Mueller, against Democrats. So that was the goal there.
And the people who testified, Glenn Simpson himself, has said, "Please release this." He didn't feel and, obviously, Dianne Feinstein didn't feel that there was anything classified in there that needed to be kept secret. So the more it was kept secret, the easier it was for Republicans to use it as a political football; and she tried to take that away from them.
BLITZER: Yes, Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, he wrote a -- co-wrote an op-ed in "The New York Times," asking that the document be released. It's now been released.
KUCINICH: Right. And -- and to your point, Dianne Feinstein, I mean, she does what she wants. And but this was something, this partisanship that has infected the congressional investigations, this has been building. And the wheels -- we're seeing the wheels start to come off as Republicans want to wrap this up, and Democrats still think that there's a lot more to probe on the -- I wouldn't be surprised, you know, come June, maybe sooner, that we're just left with the Mueller probe as the real one that's taking...
BLITZER: Bianna, let me get to a point you made just a moment or so ago about Steve Bannon being let go by Breitbart. This is a significant development on many different fronts.
GOLODRYGA: On many different fronts, specifically from a financial front. He lost a lot of his backing. He lost support from the Mercer family. He lost support from Breitbart readers. He came out, I guess, a few days too late in his pseudo apology, and in that apology, he still said that, in terms of the president, he's the only one who could really be the voice of the president's agenda for the country. And, you know, the president didn't say anything after that apology. And we see where Steve Bannon is today.
And it's so fascinating, Wolf, because less than a year ago, we watched the inauguration. And I was there probably a hundred feet away from that platform on that rainy day.
And after the inauguration ceremony, when everyone went inside to the Capitol, one person remained on that platform, taking it all in. And that was Steve Bannon along with Kellyanne Conway. And just to see how far we've come in less than a year, where Steve
Bannon, who knows where he'll be tomorrow? But as of today, he's lost a crux of his support system and his power.
BLITZER: Yes. Mitch McConnell, a whole bunch of other Republicans, they're pretty happy about all of these developments that Steve Bannon loses that position. They blame him, in large part, for what happened in Alabama as well.
There's more news we're following. North and South Korea negotiators make a deal about the Winter Olympic Games, but Kim Jong-un's representatives also deliver a new threat against the United States.
[17:50:40] BLITZER: We're following very important developments in the wake of the first direct talks in more than two years between North and South Korea.
Today's meeting lasted nearly 12 hours and produced a deal for North Korean athletes to take part in next month's Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. But North Korea's top negotiator had very threatening words for the United States.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. Tell us more, Brian, what happened today.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as he scolded his South Korean counterpart, North Korea's top official at these talks said that his regime's deadliest weapons are aimed only at America.
U.S. officials and outside experts are telling us tonight that claim is a joke designed to throw the South Koreans off their game.
TODD (voice-over): With camera lights flashing and under intense pressure to dial back tensions, North and South Korean negotiators say they've reached a deal for Kim Jong-un's regime to send athletes to the Winter Olympics. But even as both sides deliberate over how to deal with the military standoff, there's disagreement.
A South Korean official says the two sides discussed the need to talk about North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons. But a North Korean negotiator responds that his counterpart shouldn't have said that.
RI SON-GWON, CHAIRMAN, NORTH KOREA'S COMMITTEE FOR THE PEACEFUL REUNIFICATION OF THE COUNTRY (through translator): Since the nuclear issue has been brought up, our hydrogen bombs, atomic bombs, ICBMs, and all of our latest strategic weapons are solely aimed at America, not toward our same people.
TODD (voice-over): But security experts say the claim that North Korea is not pointing some of its deadly weapons at South Korea is not laughable. DR. PATRICK CRONIN, SENIOR ADVISOR AND SENIOR DIRECTOR OF THE ASIA-
PACIFIC SECURITY PROGRAM, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: They've been infiltrating South Korea for years. They've been aiming every conventional weapon they have at South Korea. They've been aiming biological, chemical weapons, cyber weapons at South Korea.
Is it really credible to think they wouldn't use all their means at their disposable if they thought it would be beneficial militarily? Of course, North Korea's going to target South Korea with every weapon they have.
TODD (voice-over): Analysts say by saying their nuclear weapons are pointed only at America, the North Koreans are likely trying to convince their South Korea counterparts to break from their U.S. allies and move American forces off the peninsula.
Veteran diplomats who've dealt with North Korea say it's naive to think these talks will lead Kim to eventually give up his nuclear weapons.
TODD (on camera): If they don't denuclearize, then what's the point of this? What good can come of this?
JOSEPH DETRANI, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY FOR SIX PARTY TALKS WITH NORTH KOREA: Well, I think it's that the element of hope, Brian. People are saying, maybe this could move itself. Maybe as we build confidence in the -- some trust in the relationship, then maybe, if we sit at the table, we can talk about their nuclear weapons program.
TODD (voice-over): Analysts say by emphasizing that their deadliest weapons are pointed only at the U.S., Kim's regime could bring the standoff back to President Trump and the personal animosity that's been building for months.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.
CRONIN: Kim Jong-un is directly appealing to President Trump to treat North Korea as an equal as a nuclear arms state. He has great power dreams, but he is not a great power.
TODD: Still, most security experts believe that as soon as the Olympics are over, Kim Jong-un is going to go right back to testing his powerful rival in Washington. That he'll test fire some of his missiles and fine-tune his nuclear weapons, possibly even mass-produce them.
And they say we can expect the U.S. and South Korea to resume their joint military exercises around the peninsula as soon as the Olympics conclude. Wolf, things could even get worse right after this.
BLITZER: They certainly could, Brian. The South Koreans seem to make a promise about sanctions which the U.S. is pushing back on, right? TODD: It seems so, Wolf. A top South Korean official said today that
if it means they need to take another look at sanctions in order to ensure that the North Koreans go to the Winter Olympics, then the South Korea government will, quote, review the sanctions against North Korea in coordination with the U.N.
But the State Department said, later on, the U.S. is confident the South Koreans will make sure that the North Korean's participation in the Olympics does not violate U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang. The State Department signaling the South Koreans, don't talk about sanctions right now.
BLITZER: Significant developments indeed. Historic, I should say, as well. Brian Todd, thanks very much.
Coming up, breaking news. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, under fire for comments critical of President Trump, stepping down from Breitbart News, the media outlet he turned into a powerful right-wing forest.
[17:55:00] And in an extraordinary on-camera meeting on immigration, the President tells both parties to work together.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I feel having the Democrats in with us is absolutely vital because it should be a bipartisan bill. It should be a bill of love. Truly, it should be a bill of love, and we can do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:00:00] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Bill of love. President Trump urges Republicans and Democrats to protect the young immigrants known as Dreamers, but he left lawmakers frustrated, uncertain about what he wants in a new bill.