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Biden Offers Trump Advice; Dow Surges; Interview With California Congressman Eric Swalwell; Trump Asks Pentagon for French- Style Military Parade; North Korea & U.S. Bring Spy Games to Olympic Games. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 6, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, tonight, in an exclusive interview, former Vice President Joe Biden has a surprising take on whether President Trump should sit down with Robert Mueller.
And takeoff. The creator of Tesla launches the biggest rocket in history, with an unusual payload on board. One of Elon Musk's electronic cars now speeding into orbit in outer space.
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, President Trump opening his mouth and stepping all over urgent new efforts to keep the government running. Mr. Trump declaring he'd love to see another shutdown if Democrats don't agree to his demands on immigration.
His White House chief of staff, John Kelly, also fanning some flames by suggesting that many of the young immigrants known as dreamers are lazy.
I will get reaction from Congressman Eric Swalwell. He's a Democrat on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the latest shutdown deadline is nearing Thursday night, midnight, and the president seems to be saying, bring it on.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly does, Wolf.
Just as both parties appear to be on the verge of a big budget agreement, President Trump rolled a verbal hand grenade into the mix by threatening to shut down the government over immigration. Meeting with a group of lawmakers and law enforcement officials here at the White House, the president said he would love to see a shutdown of the government if he cannot secure the concessions he wants on border security. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we don't change it, let's have a shutdown. We will do a shutdown. And it's worth it for our country. I would love to see a shutdown if we don't get this stuff taken care of. No other country in the world has what we have.
And we're going to get it stopped. And if we have to shut it down because the Democrats don't want safety, and, unrelated, but still related, they don't want to take care of our military, then shut it down. I would shut it down over this issue. I can't speak for everybody at the table, but I will tell you, I would shut it down over this issue.
If we don't straighten out our border, we don't have a country. Without borders, we don't have a country. So would I shut it down over this issue? Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, it's not clear how seriously this is all being taken. I just spoke with a GOP source close to the budget talks, who said the view up on Capitol Hill tonight is that this was just empty bluster from the president and that both parties seem to be closing in on a deal.
The source said this was Trump being Trump, but, Wolf, there isn't much time to make a deal happen. The government, as you said, is scheduled to run out of money very shortly -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, also made some rather controversial comments about DACA recipients. Tell us about that.
ACOSTA: He did. This happened up on Capitol Hill as well earlier today. The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, made this comment when he was trying to explain why the president was willing to offer a path to citizenship to nearly two million undocumented immigrants, instead of the 700,000 illegal dreamers in the country right now who received protection from deportation under the program known as DACA.
Kelly said that's because there could be more dreamers out there if weren't too -- quote -- "lazy" to sign up.
Here's what he said.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There are 690,000 official DACA registrants.
And the president sent over what amounts to be two-and-a-half times that number to 1.8 million. The difference between 690,000 and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn't sign up.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, this obviously came up at the White House briefing earlier today. I asked the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, whether that was just simply an offensive comment coming from the White House chief of staff. Here is what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Can I get back to the chief of staff saying that some of the dreamers may just have been too lazy to get off their asses?
Just on the face of it, isn't that just a wildly offensive comment about these undocumented immigrants who are waiting for some kind of solution to come out of this city?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the only person that's actually offered a solution is this administration. The president has been a champion of giving 1.8 million DACA recipients and DACA-eligible people a pathway to citizenship and he's laid out a plan and a solution that actually addresses both Republicans and Democrats' concerns.
I think it's hard to argue with that.
ACOSTA: On the surface of that, Sarah, though isn't it just an offensive comment, though, isn't it, just on its surface?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that's something you would have to decide for yourself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: So, she really didn't answer the question.
Now, immigration advocates would point out, Wolf, that most of these dreamers are far from lazy. They're working very hard, whether it's in school, college, or at work, to keep their protected status and avoid being thrown out of the country -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The White House also responding, Jim, to President Trump's comments that it was treasonous, un-American for Democrats not to stand and applaud during his State of the Union address.
Tell us about that.
ACOSTA: That's right. The White House press secretary, she was also asked about that.
She said the president was only joking when he said that Democrats were treasonous for not applauding him during the State of the Union speech. As you know, Wolf, GOP Senator Jeff Flake, a Trump critic, responded
with a tough speech up on Capitol Hill earlier today saying that treason is not a punchline. But Sanders was not backing down, Wolf, arguing that it's -- quote -- "un-American" to not be excited about the fact that more people in this country have jobs than they did before.
Of course, as you know, Wolf, Americans are well within their rights to not applaud the president of the United States. The only people who are at risk for being punished for something like that live in other countries, undemocratic ones at that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.
Also breaking right now, the White House is sidestepping new questions about whether President Trump will agree to an interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller. The president's lawyers clearly have their deep concerns about where a meeting with Robert Mueller might lead.
Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. She's following all the new angles in the Russia investigation.
Jessica, apparently, there's a lot of pressure on the president just to say no to Mueller.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president's lawyers are really concerned here that if he gave an interview, it could really place the president in a precarious position given his self-admitted history of false statements in an unrelated case back in 2007.
So his lawyers are now pushing back on a possible sit-down with the special counsel, advising the president an interview would not be wise and also preparing some legal challenges. Could it end up playing out in court?
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, the president's lawyers may be headed towards a showdown with the special counsel. John Dowd and his deputy, Jay Sekulow, have advised the president not to grant a face- to-face interview with Robert Mueller's team, according to "The New York Times."
Trump's legal team is concerned the president, who admitted in a 2007 libel case deposition that he had lied in the past, could contradict himself and be charged with lying to investigators.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I would refer you to a statement from Ty Cobb on that. The professional and active discussions between the office of special counsel and the president's personal lawyers regarding how and under what terms information will be exchanged are understandably private.
SCHNEIDER: Just two weeks ago, the president himself said he would gladly sit down with the special counsel.
TRUMP: You know, again, it's I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all of that, but I would love to do it.
SCHNEIDER: CNN has learned that the president's legal team is prepared to argue that the special counsel hasn't met the high legal threshold to force the president to talk.
Sources tell CNN the president's attorneys are prepared to argue that other people can provide the exact same information sought from Trump, which could set up a legal challenge if Mueller insists on interviewing the president.
Meanwhile, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has agreed to talk to Mueller's team, and has also been given extra time to make his appearance before the House Intelligence Committee. Bannon was subpoenaed by the committee, which just extended today's deadline to next week. The committee's Republican in charge of the Russia probe, Congressman Mike Conaway, said that the delay ensures Bannon "will be able to thoroughly answer all our questions without concerns regarding the scope of executive privilege."
But the committee's ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, contends Bannon might be less than forthcoming. This week, Steve Bannon's counsel informed the committee that the White House continues to prohibit Mr. Bannon from testifying to the committee beyond a set of 14 yes-or-no questions the White House had pre-approved.
Bannon refused to answer questions related to his time at the White House or the transition when he was interviewed by the committee last month. All this while the White House weighs whether to release the 10-page Democratic memo pushing back on the Republican memo made public last week.
The man at the center of that memo, Carter Page, speaking out to defend himself now that it's been disclosed he was under surveillance amid allegations he was acting as a Russian agent.
CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: What I have seen thus far is just complete ridiculousness.
SCHNEIDER: Page is also claiming he's never met the president, despite working for several months as a foreign policy adviser for the campaign.
QUESTION: You have been under surveillance from the court since October 2016. Since that time, have you ever spoken to Donald Trump?
PAGE: I never spoke with him since. I never spoke with him any time in my life.
QUESTION: You have never spoken to Donald Trump in your life?
QUESTION: No e-mail? No texts? Nothing like that? PAGE: Never.
SCHNEIDER: And when it comes to the Democrats' rebuttal memo, the five-day window is now ticking down for the president to decide if he will declassify it. In fact, President Trump met with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, today at the White House to review the memo.
The White House does say that this rebuttal memo will undergo the same review as the Republican memo before any decision is made by the president on whether to release this.
BLITZER: I wonder how that meeting with Rod Rosenstein and the president went, given the president's lack of confidence in him last week when he said. And a lot of us remember that. We will see what we learn.
Thanks very much, Jessica, for that report, Jessica Schneider reporting.
Let's talk a little bit more about all these breaking stories.
Congressman Eric Swalwell is joining us. He's a Democrat on both the Intelligence and the Judiciary Committees.
Congressman, you heard the president. Will there be another government shutdown if you and your Democratic colleagues don't agree to his demands on border security and immigration?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Boy, Wolf, I hope not. The American people need leadership right now from the president, not this childish behavior.
We can do big here. We don't have to keep living like this, where we plan budgets three to four weeks at a time. We should think big, do big, and, you know, help people by building schools in their communities that can prepare them for this new economy. Help them reduce their health care costs, and why not invest in renewable energy to bring down their heating and air-conditioning costs?
Let's do big around here. And he's just playing small ball right now.
BLITZER: The president's proposal, as you know, would create a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million dreamers, young people who were brought here illegally by their parents, over the next 10 to 12 years. Isn't that worth a compromise on some of these other border security- related issues?
SWALWELL: We can solve the dreamers' fate and give them a citizenship in the United States and address the border security.
Chuck Schumer even said that he had gone and offered to provide funding for the wall, and the president rejected that. But, Wolf, what the president wants to trade is, he wants to trade the dreamers' for legal family reunification, a process that's existed in our country for decades.
And I don't think we want to let -- you know, pit two different immigrant communities against each other. We can, I think, work to solve all of these challenges.
BLITZER: How do you think the White House chief of staff, John Kelly's, comments today will exact all of these negotiations?
SWALWELL: It's another setback, Wolf. You know, I think of a young man named Jose in Hayward, California, in my district. He told me a couple months ago that he's a dreamer. He wants to be a police officer.
He's not lazy. He's afraid that he can't work as a police officer until his status is certain and it's known what he can be in our country. And so those are the people I think of. They're police officers. They're serving in our military. This is -- it's a disgraceful comment.
BLITZER: Let's turn to the Russia investigation. You're on both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. The president is being encouraged to refuse an interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, so he doesn't incriminate himself, potentially.
What does that tell you?
SWALWELL: Well, it's time for the president to come clean with the American people about what happened.
And I remember a candidate for the presidency who said that only the mob invokes the Fifth Amendment, and if you don't have anything to hide, innocent people don't invoke the Fifth Amendment. He should follow his own advice. That candidate was Donald Trump in September 2016. And just sit down and answer the questions, so we can all move on.
BLITZER: But if the president does refuse to be interviewed, what happens next?
SWALWELL: Well, Bob Mueller has a choice. He can seek a grand jury subpoena, and then the president doesn't have any lawyers in the room. And he could invoke the Fifth Amendment, or he could testify to the grand jury.
It shouldn't come to that, because cooperative witnesses who don't have anything to worry about don't get dragged in front of the grand jury. And he should -- you know, he should keep his original promise to just cooperate, so we can get past this.
BLITZER: You're a member of the House Intelligence Committee. How important is it, Congressman, for President Trump to release the Democratic memo, the 10-page memo countering the Nunes three-and-a- half-page Republican memo? SWALWELL: It's very important, Wolf, to clear up the poisonous
rhetoric that's been put out there about this investigation.
We're reluctant to disclose any information, but we think the best anecdote is to give a full picture that bolsters the seriousness that went into this FISA application. And the best way to do that is to release this memo. But, again, we haven't interviewed witnesses for nearly a month because we have seen attack after attack on the process.
And we want to just get back to interviewing witnesses, so we can tell the American people what happened.
BLITZER: In general terms, what are we going to learn from your Democratic minority memo?
SWALWELL: You're going to learn that there was an arsenal of evidence, independent of the Steele dossier, that went into this FISA application, and that the representations about the Steele dossier were misleading, and that they had very good reasons to surveil Mr. Carter Page.
BLITZER: Steve Bannon's testimony before your committee was delayed today. Will he be able to comply with your committee's subpoena in another week? He has got a week to make up his mind.
SWALWELL: He should have complied weeks ago, Wolf. And he's not asserting any legal privilege. It's a legal privilege to say, you know what, I was at the White House, that's an executive privilege. And we could litigate that.
He is saying that the White House is telling him he can't answer questions about his time on the transition, his time at the White House, and even all the way up to present day.
That's unlawful, actually, to assert that you're not going to testify, but not being able to assert any legal privilege.
BLITZER: What will your committee do if Bannon doesn't comply with the subpoena?
SWALWELL: Well, I hope, one, we hold him in contempt, but I also hope that, as other witnesses from the executive branch come forward, that we show the same willingness to doggedly get their testimony, meaning that if they try to stand on these bogus privileges, that we subpoena them and proceed with contempt proceedings.
Corey Lewandowski, who never spent a day in the White House as an executive employee, is essentially asserting the same nonsense privilege that Steve Bannon is asserting, that he doesn't have to answer any questions for anything that occurred after the campaign.
We should treat them all the same, even witnesses that are favorable to the Democratic side. No one should be above a subpoena. BLITZER: Before I let you go, Congressman, you're introducing
legislation, what is called the Journalist Protection Act. Explain what this bill does and why you feel it's necessary.
SWALWELL: I wish I didn't have to do it, Wolf, but we have seen too many efforts to attack the media or threaten to attack the media, so it would make it a federal crime if you threaten violence or commit violence against a journalist in the pursuit of news gathering.
And that doesn't draw a distinction between a conservative reporter or a liberal reporter. It just says this is a fundamental value, the freedom of speech, and it should be respected everywhere.
BLITZER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thanks for joining us.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a CNN exclusive. The former Vice President Joe Biden has some legal advice for President Trump about whether he should agree to talk to the special counsel. His views may surprise you.
And a new frontier in space, as a Tesla electronic car soars into orbit aboard the biggest rocket in history.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, the former Vice President Joe Biden speaking out to CNN about the risks President Trump faces if he agrees to be interviewed by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
CNN's Chris Cuomo spoke exclusively to Biden about the Trump presidency and the Russia investigation. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the first president -- I have been here for eight presidents -- this is the first president to make a full-throated, unvarnished attack on the entirety of the FBI, not going after J. Edgar Hoover, who was one person in the FBI and -- this was -- this is to discredit the FBI and discredit his own Justice Department.
You know, look, I spent a lot of time traveling around the world. What do you think they're thinking in Moscow? This is doing everything that Putin ever wanted, sowing doubt about whether or not our justice system is fair, sowing doubt about whether or not there is anything that's remotely consistent with our Constitution.
It's just -- it just -- it's a disaster.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You think he should sit down with the special counsel?
BIDEN: If I were the president's lawyer, I would probably tell him not to sit down with the special counsel.
CUOMO: And they subpoena you and you wind up in front of a grand jury without a lawyer?
BIDEN: Yes. And if they -- you're in a situation where the president has some difficulty with precision.
CUOMO: That's one of the most subtle things I have ever heard you say, Joe Biden.
BIDEN: And one of the things that I would worry about if I was his lawyer is him saying something that was just simply not true without him even planning to be -- to be disingenuous.
CUOMO: You think he has that little control over whether he tells the truth or not?
BIDEN: I just -- I just marvel at some of the things he says and does.
Like, what, two days ago, anybody who didn't stand up and clap for him was un-American and then maybe even treasonous?
CUOMO: They say it was tongue in cheek. Democrats can't take a joke.
BIDEN: Well, let me tell you, he's a joke.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Strong words from the vice president.
Let's bring in our chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and our justice reporter, Evan Perez.
So where do things stand, Evan? You have been doing reporting on this, on the possibility of working out a deal whereby the president would speak to Robert Mueller.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, the latest we have is that is still a possibility, Wolf.
Look, I think, first of all, the special counsel has not actually made a formal request to get a voluntary interview with the president. And I think that request is probably still a couple of weeks away, if you talk to people around the president. They expect perhaps that they will get a formal request in the next couple of weeks.
And they still haven't closed to door completely to the idea that maybe they can reach some kind of arrangement, whereby perhaps Mueller would submit questions in writing and the president would be able to sort of like a take-home test. Or he can have a narrowed scope of questioning. So I think there's
still that possibility. At this point, though, the advice from the president's lawyers is still, there is no -- they haven't reached a place where they can grant interview to Mueller.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what happens if the negotiations fail, they can't reach an agreement? Does it, what, go to the Supreme Court?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, not initially. Certainly, what I suspect would happen is Robert Mueller's team would serve the president with a grand jury subpoena.
He would then move in the district court in Washington to have that subpoena quashed on the grounds that, as president, he doesn't have to submit to a grand jury examination. That specific issue, does a president have to respond to a grand jury subpoena, has never been specifically resolved by the United States Supreme Court.
That, presumably, would be on a rocket ride to the Supreme Court, regardless of what the district court and the court of appeals did, because it's a very serious constitutional issue.
I don't think anyone knows for sure how this Supreme Court would resolve it. And it would be a roll of the dice on both sides if they decided to take that fight all the way. It would also be a substantial delay in the investigation.
BLITZER: You think Mueller might be willing to just do it in writing? He submits questions in writing and then the president and his lawyers and his team, the can write back the answers?
TOOBIN: I think that proposal is a complete nonstarter, because I think everyone knows that what are known in the legal world as interrogatories, which are written questions and written answers, are handled almost entirely by the lawyers.
And you are not getting anything like a spontaneous result -- response from the subject that you're hoping to interview. So I think written questions and answers is something Mueller will reject without hand. There are a lot of other variables. How long the interview would be. What subjects would be covered. Would there be a transcript? Who else would be present? Would it be tape recorded, videotaped?
All of that is subject to negotiation. But written questions and answers, I just can't believe Mueller's team would go for that.
BLITZER: What do you think of the fear of his lawyers that if he were to sit down, potentially he might lie, there could be perjury? They don't want him to do it. You heard what Joe Biden, the former vice president, just said.
TOOBIN: Well, Joe Biden hasn't practiced law for a long time, but I think he certainly understands the issues here. You know, it is, at once, a legal issue, but it's also a political
issue. If this president were under investigation in a criminal matter, but he wasn't president, his lawyers would certainly advise him not to speak.
I mean, the subjects of criminal investigations almost never agree to speak to prosecutors. But he's the president. And if he doesn't speak, even if he -- especially if he takes the Fifth, like most subjects do, that's a big political problem that ordinary people don't have. So, both sides have -- you know, have something at risk and something to gain in this situation.
PEREZ: And, you know, we hear this from the president's own lawyers. I think they do worry that if he says no, then he's going to get killed politically. And the other question, I think Jeffrey might has sort of hinted at this, is, the question from Robert Mueller's point of view, Wolf, if you bring him before a grand jury, are you able to use that, if indeed the president is a target?
And we don't know the answer to any of these questions yet.
BLITZER: There are precedents, several precedents, where presidents have been forced to testify in these kinds of investigations, right, Jeffrey?
TOOBIN: Well, to be specific, I mean, the most direct precedent, it's not an exact precedent, is the Clinton v. Paula Jones case, where the Supreme Court said, Bill Clinton had to answer questions in a civil lawsuits deposition.
Why that precedent is very helpful to Mueller is that the courts generally say criminal investigations are more important than civil investigations. So if the president had to answer questions in a deposition in a civil case, the logic would go, well, then he would certainly have to answer questions in a grand jury proceeding.
The other precedent is the United States vs. Nixon case, where the court unanimously said Nixon had to turn over the Watergate tapes as part of a subpoena for a pending trial.
You know, all of those suggest that Mueller's legal position is good, but it's certainly not a guarantee.
BLITZER: Ronald Reagan did it in writing, right, during the Iran- Contra investigation?
TOOBIN: He did. He did. And other presidents have agreed voluntarily.
Gerald Ford testified voluntarily in the assassination cases, the attempted assassination cases against him. Bill Clinton, as we all know, testified in Kenneth Starr's investigation and gave a deposition in the Paula Jones case.
Notably, his false statements in both of those settings gave rise to his impeachment in 1998, which is certainly not a precedent that the Trump forces would look on very happily.
BLITZER: No, indeed. All right, guys, stand by. There's a lot more news we're following, Evan Perez, Jeffrey Toobin.
By the way, you can see Chris Cuomo's exclusive interview in its entirety later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern on "ANDERSON COOPER 360." Don't miss it. It's really fascinating.
There's also more breaking news we're following. We're getting new information about the rapid expansion of the special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
Plus, the spectacular launch of the world's most powerful rocket.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight. Records obtained by CNN show the special counsel, Robert Mueller, rapidly expanding his Russia investigation, asking a government agency soon after his appointment to preserve documents related to Donald Trump's presidential transition.
[18:34:33] Let's get back to our analysts and our experts. And Jeffrey Toobin, what sort of insight does this bring, the fact that he so quickly decided to expand the overall Russia probe?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is not -- it is not a surprise at all. Remember, one of the conversations that James Comey had with the president-elect about the Russia investigation was -- was during the transition. So it is not surprising that he would want e- mails related to that period, because the whole issue of obstruction of justice and the question of whether the president wanted to stop the Russia investigation, which was already underway by the time of the transition, is very much on his plate.
[18:35:20] So this shows, this is an aggressive, serious investigation. But it certainly doesn't qualify as a surprise.
BLITZER: Yes, it does show that they're taking it very seriously, Mueller and his team, the instructions that they got from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, what they could investigate: any links and/or cooperation between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign or President Donald Trump, and" -- this is significant -- "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation."
That second part opens it up to almost anything that they come up with during the course of the investigation.
TOOBIN: That's true. I mean, remember, the one indictment -- pending indictment that he has issued relates to Paul Manafort and Rick Gates' efforts on behalf of the Ukraine, which is not specifically related to his original grant of jurisdiction, but it is presumably a related matter.
This is something that may get litigated. The Manafort lawyers are already challenging the -- Mueller's -- Mueller's ability, his right to bring those cases. But it's a very broad grant of authority to Mueller. And he appears to be taking advantage of that.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, you know "The New York Times" is reporting the president's lawyers don't want him to answer questions from the special counsel. So politically, what message would that send if he refuses to talk?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: OK, well on one level, Wolf, it's not going to look good, right? It's going to look like the president is trying to hide behind his lawyers and that he's not willing to go out there and face the music on what's been sort of a year and a half or year-long investigation.
But politically, I'm guessing that the White House is thinking, play it safe. They can read poll numbers. They can see that right now in RealClearPolitics polling average, the president is at 42. That's only 2 percent lower than he was on inauguration day. They're going to count on the fact that there's a core base. The bottom hasn't fallen out of it. And they're going to see this as defiance in a good way. They'll stick with that.
BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins, our White House reporter, is us. Kaitlan, the president in the next four days has to decide whether to release the minority Democratic report rebutting many of the points in the majority Nunes memo that came out.
Where do things stand right now, based on your reporting?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are two things to keep an eye on here. One thing that we learned today that someone familiar with this process told my colleague, Jeremy Diamond: the president is going to heed the advice of the FBI and the intelligence agencies over whether to release this memo.
That's interesting, because the president did the opposite of that last week with the Republican memo, when the FBI director and the FBI put out a statement saying, "Do not release this memo." They wanted it to stay private. And the White House ignored their advice completely and released this memo anyways.
And a second thing is that the White House says they're following the same process, the same procedure with this memo that they did with that one last week. But we know that the president decided to release that memo before he had even read it, because he was on a microphone saying he was going to 100 percent release it before he had even looked at the thing.
So those two things are important to keep in mind if they do go ahead and decide to not release the Democratic memo, which will cause a lot of outcry. But if they say it's because of the FBI's advice, telling them not to release it, then the question will be, why didn't you listen to that advice when they gave you the same advice for the Republican memo?
BLITZER: He was overheard on that microphone as he was leaving the State of the Union address before a joint session of congress.
Rebecca Berg, the president's getting a lot of heat right now for what he said said yesterday, that the Democrats who didn't stand up or applaud during the State of the Union address were either treasonous or un-American, don't love this country.
I want you to listen to Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. He was on the Senate floor responding to the president.
We don't have the sound bite, but I'll read to you what Senator Flake said. He said, "I have seen the president's most ardent defenders use a now-weary argument that the president's comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue in cheek, but treason is not a punchline, Mr. President."
Are more Republicans going to be speaking out against what the president had to say?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Maybe not in this case, Wolf. It's possible that they would, and we have seen Republicans challenge the president, as Jeff Flake challenged him today, and as Jeff Flake has challenged him before.
But for all of these Republicans, it's a question each time the president says something controversial of, really, a cost/benefit analysis. Is this the battle they want to fight with the president? Or should they save their political capital, save that risk of going out and challenging the president for another time, an issue that they view as more important?
And what we've seen from Republicans, by and large, is that most of the time, they've decided to focus on policy issues, where they can gain some ground over the president. They focused on their own political survival. So making sure that he stays popular for their own benefit, as opposed to taking this moral high ground, like you've seen with people like Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, others who are retiring and have less to lose.
[18:40:18] BLITZER: We're just getting word...
TOOBIN: But when do any Republicans ever challenge him, except those Republicans who are leaving office? I mean, you know, he's in charge of this party. And this party marches in lockstep behind him. I mean, there is no dissent in this party. Just the people with the door hitting them on the way out.
BERG: Right. Right, and...
COLLINS: And that's why people hate Washington. Because they do thing like this. If it was the reverse situation and a Democratic president, you can guarantee all of these Republicans would be out in front of every single camera that they could find, condemning these remarks. It's why people do not like D.C.
BLITZER: We've got some more breaking news that's unfolding right now. The president apparently wants a massive military parade right here in Washington. We'll have details right after this.
[18:45:40] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Before we get back to our specialists, I have breaking news.
I want to quickly go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, the president apparently wants a big military parade, tell us about that.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, a Pentagon spokesman a short time ago confirmed that they are looking at dates on the calendar for a parade that Mr. Trump apparently has told the Pentagon he want as an expression of national unity and patriotism.
Where does this whole idea come from with the president?
Well, you'll recall over the summer, he was in Paris for Bastille Day, the French national day, and he observed a very patriotic display by the French through portions of Central Paris, with their military force commemorating their national day. And he was quite taken by it, saluting the French, all of that, saluting U.S. troops that participated at the time. And since then, the idea, by all accounts, has intrigued him.
So, now, the Pentagon looking at possible dates. But, what are we really talking about here? There has not been a military parade typically by the U.S. military in many years. The last one really after Desert Storm in the 1990s.
If Mr. Trump wants a parade with tanks and missiles rolling through Pennsylvania Avenue, down the route of the inauguration of the president, that may be a very complex issue that will be a little tougher than he anticipates, those kinds of heavy weapons do damage to city streets. There are not that many U.S. troops stationed in the capitol area. They are mainly small ceremonial units. Not, you know -- military families, but not that many, a few who are currently serving overseas.
So, it's going to be a difficult proposition. And it may be very controversial.
The veterans have long wanted some kind of welcome home parade. This may be seen as something unduly militaristic overseas, may be seen as an expression of celebrating years of America's wars abroad -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he loved the Bastille Day military parade in Paris. He later said on September 18th of last year, Barbara, he said, I do want to say that I was your guest at Bastille Day and it was one of the greatest parades I have ever seen. It was two hours on the button and it was military might and I think a tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France.
And then he said this. And to a large extent, because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July 4th in Washington down Pennsylvania Avenue. That's what the president said last September 18th.
But what you're saying, suggesting Abrams battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy missiles. The streets of Pennsylvania Avenue here in Washington, D.C. might not be able to tolerate that? There would be extensive damage?
STARR: Well, it's entirely possible. I mean, these tanks are in the weight of tonnage, not necessarily something Washington, D.C. city streets may be able to tolerate. You're certainly going to have to remove all the street signs, all the light posts. It will be a very expensive proposition.
Our colleague, Jeff Toobin, made a good point a few minutes ago. What we more typically see is America's heroes marching down Broadway in New York, the Canyon of Heroes, the ticker tape. This has gone on for decades, throughout America's wars.
And those kinds of Broadway, New York, celebrations are really a true celebration of the service of those who go to war on behalf of the nation.
BLITZE: All right.
STARR: It's not very typical, frankly, to see American weaponry rolling through America's city streets. It is something -- I don't know that anybody can predict how nations overseas, especially in the Middle East and Asia, might react to it all -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I -- we're getting more North Korean every day in this country. You know, yesterday the president says people who don't cheer are un-American and treasonous. And today, we're going to start having big parades with tanks and missiles.
And, you know, people have to decide whether they want to have that kind of country. I mean, we have a country where we celebrate our troops, as Barbara said, when they come home from battle in Lower Manhattan and we throw ticker tape.
[18:50:02] But the idea in peacetime, simply to have tanks roll through the streets of Washington, that's, to use a phrase that the president likes to use, in my experience, that's un-American.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: And one of the reasons we don't tend to have American those military parades in America is just as being said, being the power that we are, we don't need to show off our military might like countries like North Korea or Russia might need to, or even a country like France which has a very strong military.
But certainly, it's not on the level of America's military. It's kind of like why brag about it if you are the United States?
BLITZER: It's usually showcasing the U.S. military men and women marching, as opposed to the missiles, the tanks. DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Like Rebecca
said, there's no one in the world who doesn't know we have the best, biggest and best trained military in the world. I think it's important, Wolf, that we honor our military, our uniformed service members, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I say to everybody, go to Arlington national cemetery Section 60 whenever you come to the nation's capital.
But when you are talking about, if you're the president, you think what this nation needs is a military parade, to me, that's like Jeffrey said, that's like North Korea, that's like a middle-aged guy who goes out and gets an earring and a ponytail. That's like -- that's trying to prove something that just simply doesn't need to be.
BLITZER: Very quickly.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We can already see the future what's going to happen here. This parade will probably go forth on Veterans Day, or whenever the White House is proposing a date. Democrats and critics will automatically draw conclusion to this is like North Korea, that the president is acting like dictator, and White House will in turn say those people aren't unpatriotic and they love our troops and they don't want a military, setting a showdown.
BLITZER: Veterans Day in November, not too far -- not too far down the road. A lot of preparation if he goes forward with this. He's the commander-in-chief. He wants a parade, he can clearly have a parade. We'll see what happens.
Guys, thanks very much.
Just ahead, the world's most powerful rocket puts an electric car into orbit. Plus, spy games over at the Olympics. Why is prime espionage opportunity for North Korea and U.S. unfolding.
[18:56:45] BLITZER: A flawless lift up for the world's powerful rocket. The launch marks a milestone for SpaceX's billionaire founder, Elon Musk, who hopes to build even more powerful rocket to carry people to Mars.
The rocket's test payload, an electric sports car built by Musk's other company, Tesla. If all goes as planned, it will orbit the sun with a mannequin named Star Man behind the wheel.
Shortly after the lift off, the reusable booster rockets landed back on earth. They are what makes SpaceX rockets unique and less expensive to launch. Pretty impressive.
As the world watches the Olympic Games in South Korea this week, high stakes spy games maybe taking place.
CNN's Barbara Starr joining us.
Barbara, the Olympics are an opportunity for espionage, is that right?
STARR: You bet, Wolf. Think of it this way, it maybe Olympic sportsmanship at its best, and espionage at its most secret.
STARR (voice-over): Signals being sent and deciphered at the highest level even before the Olympic Games in South Korea begin.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With regard to any interaction with the North Korean delegation, I have not requested a meeting, but we'll see what happens.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think we'll just see. We'll see what happens.
STARR: A careful offer just in case the North Koreans are ready to talk. But behind the scenes, count on plenty of spy games at these Olympics.
PATRICK CRONIN, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: It's going to be crowded with intelligence operatives, not least from the North Korean team who will be looking to make contacts, looking to put in place or make contact with sleeper agents.
STARR: The games will provide U.S. intelligence personnel with an extraordinary opportunity to directly watch and approach North Korean targets.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Any time you are in close proximity to people, representatives of an adversarial nation, it would be foolish for intelligence agencies not to try to capitalize on that.
STARR: North Korean's first espionage opportunity, ensure there are no embarrassing defections during the game.
KIRBY: I think that they will try to take advantage of this opportunity. There's no question. They'll also be spying on their own people.
STARR: But there were also be hidden high tech spy tools. U.S. Navy submarines lurking offshore and aircraft overhead can monitor North Korean communications. U.S. Air Force AWACS aircraft can make certain only friendly are in the air. U.S. Special Operations Forces will be close by in case of trouble.
But for now, very public tit for tat goes on with no North Korean give on its weapons policy.
JU YONG CHOL, NORTH KOREAN DIPLOMAT: The U.S. who is unhappy with this trend is seeking to intentionally aggravate the situation by deploying huge nuclear assets nearby the Korean peninsula, including aircraft strike groups.
ROBERT WOOD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT: The situation on the Korean peninsula has not changed. The regime continues work on its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. This -- what I would call this charm offensive, frankly, is fooling no one.
STARR: Charm offensive for the North Koreans, for the U.S. still a very hard line. North Korea must give up its weapons program -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thank you. That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.