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GOP's Nunes: "We Have To Keep The Majority" To Protect Trump; Giuliani: GOP Will Benefit If Investigation Goes Into Midterms; Russia New U.S. Sanctions Are "Unacceptable And Illegal"; Russia: Will Work On "Retaliatory Measures" To U.S. Sanctions; Trump Team Leaves Mueller With Tough Choices On Interview. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 9, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @LeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer. He is in the "SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, fear of perjury. President Trump again calls the Russia investigation a witch hunt, a term he's tweeted more than 100 times. But now he is hinting an action stating stay and I'm quoting it now "stay tuned" as the lawyer seemingly worked to thwart an interview with the special counsel. Why do they fear their client tells all the truth?

Secret recording. The GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is caught on tape saying the House needs to keep its Republican majority to protect the President from the special counsel Robert Mueller.

Silent treatment. Russia responds to the latest U.S. sanctions calling the move blatant hypocrisy. But as the Russians worry about the new punishment why has President Trump will promise no one was tougher on Russia and so silent on this topic?

And securing the vote. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson claims Russians have penetrated Florida's voter registration roles. Are election systems across the country prepared to defend against more cyber attacks?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the "Situation Room".

President Trump is spending his vacation keeping everyone guessing about whether he'll agree to an interview with Robert Mueller. While he's lawyers were to torpedo (INAUDIBLE) the question and answer session with the special counsel, the President delivers another very angry rant about the Russia investigation and adds cryptically perhaps ominously stay tuned. What is he threatening?

I'll speak with Congressman John Garamendi of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are all standing by with full coverage. Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He's covering the President in New Jersey right now. Jim, the President still hasn't made up his mind apparently about talking to Mueller. What's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right Wolf, it doesn't sound like it. And he just wrapped up a round table discussion on the issue of prison reform over at his golf club here in New Jersey. He didn't take questions from reporters those questions were coming from reporters in the room about subjects like the Mueller investigation. And so what we have here -- now here Wolf is the latest reality TV cliff hanger from President Trump. The President is keeping the country in suspense over a critical question. Will he or won't he sit down with Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation?


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's the question of the moment for President Trump. But the President isn't signaling to reporters which way he is leaning on whether to tell what he knows about the Russia probe to special counsel Robert Mueller. Instead he is letting the response build tweeting this is an illegally brought rigged witch hunt run by people who were totally corrupt and/or conflicted. Stay tuned.

REP. RYAN COSTELLO, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: I think the tweets are ad nauseam at this point. We know what he thinks. I don't understand what he means by stay tuned. He obviously likes to suck all the oxygen out of the room.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The President's outside lawyer Rudy Giuliani says an answer to the Mueller question is coming soon, but he is dropping hints that Mr. Trump's legal team is worried a trap is being set.

RUDY GIULIANI, DONALD TRUMP'S LAWYER: He knows the answers to every question that he wants to ask. He is going to ask them. Did you tell Comey to go easy on Flynn? The President will say no I didn't. Hey Bob, you know it. Why do you want to get him under oath? You think we're fools, you want to get -- I know because you want to trap him into perjury. But we're not going to let you do that.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Giuliani told Fox Mueller shouldn't even bother asking a question about whether the President has obstructed justice in the case. Despite, Mr. Trump's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey in his repeated bullying of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

GIULIANI: But the reality is -- the reality is he doesn't need to ask a single question on obstruction. He has all the answers. They're not going to change, the President is not going to change his testimony. So, stop the nonsense. You are trying to trap him into perjury because you don't have a case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

TRUMP: I'm looking forward to it, actually. ACOSTA (voice-over): The President has been all over the place on whether to talk to Mueller, sounding eager at times about sitting down with the special counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you like to testify to special counsel Robert Mueller, sir?

TRUMP: Thank you. Sure. I would like to.


ACOSTA (voice-over): But he's also indicated he sees some peril in cooperating.

TRUMP: Right, wait, I have to find if we're going to be pleaded fairly. Because everybody sees it now as it is a pure witch hunt. Right now it's a pure witch hunt.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Top GOP leaders have their concerns, as well. Trump loyalist and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes suggested to a private fundraiser that GOP majority in Congress is needed to protect the President.

DEVIN NUNES, (R) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's like a classic catch 22 situation where (INAUDIBLE) puts us in such a tough sport. If Sessions won't unrecuse and Mueller won't clear the President, we're the ones which is really the danger. That's why I keep and thank you for saying it by the way. I mean we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority, all of this doesn't go away --


[17:05:20] ACOSTA: Now, CNN has learned the President is expected to have dinner with his outside attorney Rudy Giuliani at his golf club later on this evening here in New Jersey. Another sign the Trump legal team is closing in on a decision on whether to give Mueller one of the final pieces he needs to wrap up the Russian investigation, but Wolf it seems the President and his legal team are trying to have it both ways both complaining that this investigation is taking too long. While at the same time withholding from Robert Mueller the one thing that he needs to wrap up this investigation and that is an interview with the President. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jim Acosta in New Jersey for us, thank you.

Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, it's not unusual that Congressman Devin Nunes would pitch donors on the need to keep a Republican majority. But the reason why and this audio tape shows the reason why is pretty stunning.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it confirms a lot of the criticisms and concerns that have been raised about the way Devin Nunes has run this committee ever since last year. You'll recall in March of last year 2017, he came across some concerns about what he viewed in secret intelligence reports. He rushed to the White House and briefed the President about exactly what happened. He is handling and classified intelligence about, the health ethics investigation about that. He had to step aside from running the Russia investigation.

But at that time, you know, he step aside, he wielded considerable influence which squashed subpoena efforts by Democrats. He would not let them schedule witnesses. They wanted to bring forward in all culminated in that February release of that so-called Nunes memo that called into question how that warrant to surveil Carter Page was obtained. The democrats contended that memo was totally misleading, did not actually characterize the facts.

And -- but still Nunes has gone after the Justice Department. Is -- how Russian investigation, the House is close down. He's put his focus on the investigators themselves all of which of Democrats is say, he's just trying to under cut the Mueller investigation, protect the President. And here we have Nunes on tape essentially saying that.

BLITZER: And also on tape, he is now revealing a political strategy he has in mind for impeaching the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man overseeing the whole Mueller probe.

RAJU: Yes. And he talks about the timing of this. This of course came up right before the House left for its August recess. They put off that fight in large part because of the divisions within the House Republican Conference. But Nunes here said at the fund raiser, one reason why two is the timing being that if they were to pass something out of the House, the Senate would have to act and they could scuttle efforts by the Senate to try to confirm the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. He says it's all about timing.


NUNES: I've said publically Rosenstein deserves to be impeached. I mean -- so, I don't think you're going to get any argument from most of our colleagues. The question is the timing of it right before the election.


RAJU: So of course Wolf, that passing Congress very unlikely this point. House Republicans are divided over whether to impeach Rod Rosenstein. The House speaker himself has said that he is opposed to the idea. Certainly no support among the House, Senate Republican. But it might of all this controversy and reach out to the House Speaker's office for comment about what Nunes said, no comment from the speakers office and no comment from Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the House Republican leader and she attended that fund raiser with Devin Nunes. She's in a tough race for herself. But no comment whether she aligns herself with Nunes' remarks at her own fund raiser about the House majority needing to protect Trump.

BLITZER: Yes, very, very controversial remarks. Thanks very much Manu Raju helping us better appreciate what's going on.

Now, let's get some more from Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California, he's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, do you think it's the job of lawmakers, members of the House of Representatives like you to quote, "protect presidents from their own party?" That's the suggestion that we heard from Devin Nunes.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI, (D) CALIFORNIA: Absolutely not. When we swore our oath as we took office, it was not to protect the President. It was rather to protect America, the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. Nowhere did it say protect the President. That's not our job. We are equal and opposite in a case I mean an opposing branch of government. Our job is to make sure that we are protecting America from enemies within and without. That's not to say the President is an enemy. It's simply to say that's not our job. We do have some very, very serious issues. And Devin Nunes is a major problem in trying to find out what happened, where Russia operated so that we can understand how to protect our Democratic process in an election which is less than 90 days away.

[17:10:01] And you just heard about Bill Nelson being concerned about the voter registration roles being hacked by Russia. We're concerned about that all across this nation. Our task is to protect this nation, not to protect the President.

BLITZER: Should Congressman Nunes be removed from his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee?

GARAMENDI: Absolutely. He should have been removed a year ago when it was very clear that he was not working in the interest of Congress and not working in the interest of trying to find out what had actually happened with Russia's involvement in the election, not only in the Presidential campaign and perhaps with the Trump campaign but in the broader scope of influencing the men and women of America that were going to go and vote as well as breaking the law, hacking into and stealing information not only from the Democratic National Committee, but also from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as well as John Podesta. Those are crimes that Russians have been indicted for taking part in.

BLITZER: Let's turn to Rudy Giuliani's latest comments to our own Dana Bash. He says, this is the President personal lawyer, says, he doesn't mind dragging out this Russia investigation because it might actually help fire up the Republican base before the mid term elections in November. Is the President's legal team negotiating in good or bad faith?

GARAMENDI: Bad Faith. Rudy Giuliani throughout this entire process that he's come back as the personal attorney to the President has been dissimilating, he has been changing his story every other day. And he's been putting up false flags for one thing or another. And frankly, I don't believe for a moment that he is telling the truth about anything that he says. He is about as disreputable as the President when it comes to truth telling.

BLITZER: Should Robert Mueller take the timing of the midterm elections, the elections coming up in November into consideration as far as the decisions are concerned in the coming weeks?

GARAMENDI: We've already seen what happens when the FBI tries to play it politically. That happened in the Hillary campaign and it was a major problem for her campaign when Mr. Comey tried to take into account the political import of what was going on with regard to the investigation of her e-mails and her computer systems. The result of that was a very bad thing. The answer to your question is no, he should not play politics. He should be straight up and down on the issue of the investigation and let it go where it may go.

Would it influence the election? Perhaps it would, one way or the other. But his job is to investigate what happened. Find out if there were crimes, if they were and he needs to presume.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the devastating wildfires as raging across your home state of California. The largest fire by the way in state history, is currently burning in your congressional district. Give us the latest on efforts to contain this blazes and how the people of your district are coping with this disaster?

GARAMENDI: Well, first of all, the very largest fire which is in data (ph), my district, the ranch fire together with the adjacent River's fire is huge. And when they get to be that big we do not have enough equipment and personnel to surround that fire. And so it continues to burn into the federal forest and into area fortunately that is not much habitation. There are very few people living in that area. That's the good news about 115 homes presently burned in those two fires. But they're just two of the many, many fires that are now burning in California. The Carr Fire in the Red area, has about 1,000 homes, seven deaths already there.

So we're short of personnel, we're short of equipment. Fortunately the mutual aid coming from other states and in fact from Australia and New Zealand much appreciated, much needed. We do need a presidential disaster declaration for the ranch in River Fire. You can merge that with the fires in Carr and down in Ferguson in the Yosemite area. We are under attack in California.

And then one more thing Wolf, when the President says the problem is that we're letting water flow out to the ocean, that's just foolishness. There are many other words I could use to describe it. But let's just say it's foolish. What we do need is federal assistance in the Presidential disaster declaration and we also need over time to manage our wild lands, our forests better than we have in the past. And that's going to take federal money. And so we'll need that help from the President, as well.

BLITZER: Have you been in contact Congressman with the White House to try to get a clear answer on exactly what the President means, what he is proposing when he says your environmental laws in California are preventing water from being used by the firefighters to end this?

[17:15:10] GARAMENDI: I wouldn't even try to understand what this President is thinking. It looked to me like he wasn't thinking. I would -- as he said that, what my mother would say, engage your brain before you engage your mouth. Similarly, the President really ought to ask a few people what's going on before he starts his finger on his tweet. The reality is it was just foolishness. The reality is that we do need federal help, we do need water policy in California. And there's one thing, they could help with. In the area where that fire is now burning we need -- we must build an off stream storage reservoir, called Sites Reservoir. We need federal help on that. Specifically we need $35 million right now so that the Bureau of Reclamation can do its part of the environmental and engineering work for that reservoir.

If that reservoir was in place it wouldn't have much to do with the fire except you certainly wouldn't have it burning where the reservoir is. But it would be of enormous help in providing environmental water for our fish, water into San Francisco Bay and into the Delta as well as for our communities and for our agriculture.

So Mr. President, yes there is a water issue and yes there is something you can do, help us with the Sites Reservoir.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: And good luck to all the folks in your district elsewhere in California, as well. This is a true disaster.

Up next, the Moscow is furious at new sanctions order by the Trump administration, after a nerve agent attack in Britain. Now, will the Kremlin retaliate?

And President Trump's lawyers seem to be out to thwart an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. So what's Rudy Giuliani's strategy?


[17:21:10] BLITZER: A day after the Trump administration announced new sanctions against Russia for a nerve agent attack in Britain, the Kremlin is talking about retaliation. Let's go live to Moscow. Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is on the scene for us.

Fred, how is Russia reacting to these U.S. sanctions?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well today there was a water fall of criticism coming from the Russians pretty much from all levels of the Russian government. You start with the Kremlin Dmitry Peskov the spokesman for Vladimir Putin coming out and calling this new sanctions first unacceptable and then also totally illegal. There are some went even further. There's a one politician who called the U.S. a police state and another one who said that this is what he called theater of the absurd.

Now, the Russians also went further than that. They're actually threatening to retaliate against the United States, some pretty strong words for the spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry. Let's listen in. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, SPOKESWOMAN, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translation): Russia will be working on retaliatory measures in response to yet another unfriendly act by Washington. Against this backdrop, the assurances of the U.S. administration to nevertheless increase efforts to improve relations with Russia look quite peculiar. This is blatant hypocrisy.


PLEITGEN: Blatant hypocrisy she says. So the Russians are saying to them, they're not really sure what exactly President Trump's policy is. Does he really want better relations or not, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sounds like Russia is complaining about mixed messages from President Trump all warmth over Helsinki --


BLITZER: -- at the summit with Putin. But then these sanctions, what's your sense on that?

PLEITGEN: Well, I think the Russians are absolutely confused. And it's quite interesting to see how they're sort of trying to come to terms with -- come to grips with this. I mean one of the things we have to keep in mind is that these sanctions were announced on exactly the same day that Rand Paul announced that he had carried with him a letter from President Trump to Vladimir Putin apparently offering some sort of negotiations or better relations on certain issues. So, the Russians say those are pretty mixed messages there.

It was interesting, because one person on state TV came out and said he believes that in the U.S. the left-hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. At the same time it seems as though especially on Russian state TV that there are still people who seem to believe that there might be some sort of master plan that President Trump has to maybe shame his critics in Washington into supporting better relations with Russia. Let's listen to what happened on Russian state TV tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): If President Trump really wants to have cooperation with Russia, this turmoil is beneficial because he can say look what the Washington swamp led us to. We are almost fighting with a nuclear armed country.


PLEITGEN: That's Russian state TV there. And that was also quite interesting to hear also from the Kremlin spokesperson Wolf, because they weren't willing to go as far as to completely criticize the United States. Dmitry Peskov, also saying that despite the new sanctions that have been announced Vladimir Putin, he says, still very much committed to trying to improve relations between the U.S. and Russia. And he says that policy is nowhere near changing at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting. Now, the sanctions yes, go forward from the U.S., but the President his -- he remains pretty much silent on these sensitive issues as far as Russia is concerned. His top aides, they're not silent, but he is. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us, thank you very much.

Coming up, are the President's lawyers trying to foil an interview with special counsel by imposing tough conditions on Robert Mueller? And do they fear their client is simply unable to tell the truth?

Plus, the GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is caught on a secret recording saying Republicans need to keep their majority in the House to protect the President from Robert Mueller. Stay with us. You're in the "Situation Room".


[17:24:40] BLITZER: As we await special counsel Robert Mueller's next move in the Russia investigation, President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani is arguing Republican candidates in the mid term elections could actually benefit if negotiations drag on over a Presidential interview with the special counsel's team.

Let's discuss this and more with our political and legal experts. Dana Bash, give us details, first of all, the most recent conversations you have had with Giuliani on this. Where do you this -- see this moving?

[17:30:07] DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not moving anywhere right now. They are now in a waiting game in Trump's legal team to see what, if anything, Robert Mueller and his team come back with after the counteroffer was sent yesterday. You know, we have seen and heard various things from Rudy Giuliani. He's done a sort of a media blitz over the past 24 hours. Sometimes he has said this is going to be probably our final offer, other times he said differently.

To me, he seemed to suggest that he hopes that they're getting close but genuinely admitted, Wolf, they have no idea. They have no idea how Robert Mueller is going to react. The suspicion and hope inside the President's legal team is that a subpoena is not something that Robert Mueller will do because it will make a court battle last for months and months and months. But they genuinely have no idea. So, what they're doing instead is playing the political card because it's the only card they have.

BLITZER: I don't think anybody seriously thinks Mueller is going to accept this latest offer from Giuliani, right?

BASH: Well, we -- truthfully, we don't know what's in it. We suspect based on all of the things that Giuliani and other members of the President's legal team and the President himself has said that there is going to be not much on the table from the President's point of view that has to deal with possible obstruction of justice, and it's hard to imagine that Robert Mueller will be OK with that. BLITZER: Is it appropriate, though, Laura, for the attorney for the

President of the United States to be making this kind of political calculation as far as the legal process is concerned, suggesting, you know what, if there's no deal, it might be good for Republicans in the midterm elections?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think appropriate is clearly in the rearview mirror for Rudy Giuliani at this point in time. He is the personal attorney of the President of the United States, which makes people think themselves, oh, he's trying to pick the office of the presidency. He has a very different role. His role is to actually protect Donald Trump exclusively and to playoff of the court of public opinion in a way that he recognizes that this could ultimately be a battle of impeachment, not in a court of law. But for him to suggest that he has some ability to have leverage over the special counsel over a probe into collusion between a foreign government 90 days out from a midterm election when we are aware that there are further evidence and further attempts by Russia to infiltrate is really inappropriate, it's myopic, it's arrogant, and frankly, it's overly ambitious.

BLITZER: But does he have a point that this will rile up the Republican base, Giuliani, going into the midterms?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple of things, one, yes, he is right, but it won't rile up necessarily the Republican base. What it will rile up is the 30 to 37 percent of people who are die hard Donald Trump supporters. When we talk about polling right now, we see, look, Donald Trump has an approval rating of 85, 88 -- I mean, clearly, close to 90 percent amongst Republicans. That's a little bit different than having these same Republicans go out and are willing to vote for a candidate that Donald Trump says is a good candidate.

BLITZER: Jackie Kucinich, the President tweeted today, once again, as usual this is illegally brought -- this is an illegally brought rigged witch hunt run by people who are totally corrupt and/or conflicted even, goes into some accusations and winds up with these words, stay tuned. That's a threat. I don't know what he's threatening but what do you sense?

PRESTON: What's he threatening?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, those tweets are basically magnetic poetry at this point. You just kind of -- he mixes them around and it is a different -- it's the same things in different -- in different terms. But we don't know. But the President does love these cliff-hangers, right? He wants to keep people on his side and riled up, to your point, before the election. And they're making all these accusations like Mueller is going to do this and that. We don't what Mueller is going to do. It's the -- it's the iceberg effect, you know? What we can see is -- there's a lot more under the -- under the surface.

PRESTON: If you just recall, you know what's very interesting -- and if you take a step back and look at everything we're talking about, we don't know what Robert Mueller has, but we seem to know all the cards on the table for Donald Trump, the person in the driver seat right now is Robert Mueller, it's certainly not Donald Trump, and it isn't Rudy Giuliani, who keeps changing his story to try to spin his way out of this.

COATES: That's precisely how it should be. The person holding all the cards should be the person who is charged with the mandate to actually oversee this probe, not somebody who's charge the mandate of making Donald Trump look good.

BLITZER: And clearly, the President is deeply, deeply concerned about what's going on. He'd like to know what Mueller has as well. Eventually, we'll all find out.

Let's turn to another sensitive issue, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman, Dana, of the House Intelligence Committee -- a secret recording, he told Republican donors that the Republicans have to keep the majority in the House of Representatives in order to protect the President from Mueller. Listen to this.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If Sessions won't unrecuse and Mueller won't clear the President, we're the only ones. Which is really the danger. I mean, we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.


[17:35:10] BLITZER: Did he just say out loud something that members of Congress are not supposed to say?

BASH: Yes. I mean, absolutely. Look, he went into that fundraiser for a political reason which is OK, completely legal, I'm totally above board, and he's making a political argument. Also OK in the broad sense. But the fact of the matter is Devin Nunes, the argument that he is effectively making is members of Congress don't work for the constituents that sent him -- or them, they work to protect the President. And that's effectively not Democracy. I mean, that is -- that flies in the face completely with how the constitution was written because the Congress is supposed to be a check and a balance on the executive power, the Congress isn't supposed to do whatever it takes to prop up the executive. And, you know, I get, politically, all the reasons why Republicans want to have someone like Donald Trump in there, they passed the tax cut, a lot of policy issues, fine. But to articulate it the way he did as if he and other Republicans are the President's protector is really, really not OK.

KUCINICH: And I think that could hurt them in certain districts where they're looking at the Republican agenda of voters, and they're saying, I like that, I don't like the President, but I like what you're doing. Well, their job is just to protect the President, that really undermines those Republicans that are in these marginal districts where -- and they're struggling to survive. If they've got that a 30-second ad running their district. COATES: And you know what else it undermines? The Nunes memo and the House Intelligence Committee probe that essentially said that they were genuinely and authentically investigating the matters of collusion on the parallel investigation along with Robert Mueller and is collusion probe team. And so, they have to speed the incentive, not only for him to articulate it, not only for him to voice it, but actually to feel that that was his role calls into question the entire basis of that memo and it really justifies and bolsters the credibility of the other side by Adam Schiff that says, you were never about trying to help the American people, just protecting one person.

BLITZER: The Congress is supposed to be a co-equal branch of government, and it's not simply supposed to be a part of the executive branch including the President of the United States. They have a separate oversight role that they're supposed to engage in.

PRESTON: Right. And as our colleagues are saying here, the investigators are not supposed to be sidled up with the investigates, right? That is not supposed to happen. But are we surprised? He's the one who went down to the White House, Devin Nunes, to talk to him about what was being investigated on Capitol Hill. Devin -- I mean, look, there will be winners and losers in history when we look back on this. Sad to say I think Devin Nunes is going to be a loser in this.

BLITZER: Guys, standby, there's more news we're following. Coming up, an alarming claim by a United States Senator that Russians already have penetrated his states' election systems. Are other states at risk? Stay with us.


BLITZER: Tonight, there's breaking news in the fight over immigration. Today, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from deporting immigrants while they're fighting for the right to stay here in the United States, an order that means two deportees who already were on a plane to El Salvador being brought back to the United States. CNN's Justice Reporter Laura Jarrett is following the story for us. Tell us more, Laura.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Wolf, a dramatic scene unfolding today in the case of a mother and her young daughter from El Salvador who are trying to stay here in the U.S. seeking asylum. It all started in federal court here in Washington, D.C. when the ACLU who's representing the family was trying to fight the deportation order, and they found out that the family was already gone on a plane back to El Salvador, something which apparently came to -- as a surprise to the Justice Department as well as to the court.

Now, Judge Sullivan did not take kindly to this. He called it outrageous. He ordered the family immediately returned back to the U.S. And we're still trying to find out exactly where this family is at the moment. Earlier this afternoon, officials told us that the family would not get off that plane but they were certainly sent scrambling. And just a short time ago, I was told, that the plane is now en route back from El Salvador to Houston, Texas, and it should be landing shortly if it has not already. But clearly, an extraordinary -- just extraordinary turn of events here, Wolf, reaching almost to the level of contempt where Judge Sullivan threatened the Attorney General Jeff Sessions along with several other administration officials if they did not comply with his order, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. The President and his supporters in the White House, they're not going to be happy about this. We'll continue to follow this story. Thanks very much for the update, Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department. Coming up, new concerns about every state's elections after a U.S. Senator's alarming claim that the Russians already have penetrated some voting systems here in the United States. Also ahead, a live update on the California wildfires, which are threatening more homes right now.


BLITZER: Breaking news in California, where what they're calling the Holy Fire is now burning near the border between Orange and Riverside counties and is now threatening homes in several neighborhoods. Stay with us, we're going to have a live update from California's top fire official. That's coming up. The situation clearly getting worse.

Also tonight, we're following up on Senator Bill Nelson's astonishing claim that Russian operatives have penetrated the voting systems of some Florida counties. Let's bring in our own Brian Todd, he's working the story for us. Brian, how significant is this threat, not just in Florida, but elsewhere around the country?

[17:50:01] BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're told this threat is very significant. Cyber security experts have given us a very disturbing picture tonight of just how easy it is for Russian hackers to get into voting registration systems. Still, there's a serious question being raised about whether Senator Nelson's claims that Russian hackers have actually penetrated Florida system are really accurate.


TODD: Less than 90 days from the midterms, an ominous warning from an influential Senator who says Russian hackers have successfully breached Florida's voter registration systems. That bombshell dropped by Democrat Bill Nelson who spoke to the Tampa Bay Times.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: They've already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.

TODD: When both the newspaper and CNN asked Senator Nelson for specifics about what the Russians have done, he didn't elaborate, saying that's classified. The Florida Department of State which runs elections there, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security tells CNN they've seen no evidence to support Nelson's claims. No new compromises by Russian hackers of election systems. U.S. intelligence officials recently said the Russians don't appear to be as aggressive as they were in 2016.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Relative to what we have seen for the midterm elections, it is not the kind of robust campaign that we assessed in 2016 election.

TODD: Still, Dan Coats says the warning lights are blinking red on America's digital infrastructure. How could Russian hackers get into Florida's voter registration system?

JOE HALL, CHIEF TECHNOLOGIST, CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND TECHNOLOGY: It's using a phishing e-mail to gain a presence on their system and then they would use that presence to do bad things. And so, this piece of malware would do things like record passwords and usernames that people are using to log in to the voter registration system and then it would be able to use those credentials as if they were their own.

TODD: Then, experts say they can inflict chaos at the polls.

Once they're in the system, what kind of damage can they do?

MICAH SHERR, COMPUTER SCIENCE PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Sure, what they can do is they can affect voter rolls such as this one, and they can insert people, they can modify, they can delete, they can change information like Social Security numbers and birthdays, and effectively make it more difficult for voters who are affected come voting day to come in and actually cast ballots.

TODD: Something Senator Nelson says he's worried about.

NELSON: You can imagine the chaos that would occur on election day when the voters get to the polls and they say, I'm sorry, Mr. Smith, I'm sorry, Mr. Jones, you're not registered.

TODD: Cyber security experts say some of those problems can be worked out at the polls, but the Russian hackers could still create chaos by planting doubt in the minds of American voters.

SHERR: Certainly, a big part of elections is how we trust the election process. And if they're able to degrade that trust, that can affect things like voter turnout.


TODD: Now, one key question tonight is, can the Russian hackers actually affect the vote counts? Cyber experts say that's tougher for them to do because of the electronic protections in place and because many states use paper ballots. But experts say the Russians are getting better at this and state election officials in Florida tells CNN they're taking this threat very seriously. Wolf?

BLITZER: And you're also hearing, Brian, that in a recent investigation, Florida -- the state of Florida didn't fare very well when it comes to election security.

TODD: That's right, Wolf, the Center for American Progress this year investigated all 50 states for election security, and we have to say, that is a liberal think tank, but that firm gave Florida a grade of F. The center said that Florida officials didn't give them enough information on what they were doing to prevent and detect hacking, and that their systems, their auditing systems to determine whether the votes were accurate just isn't good enough.

BLITZER: That's pretty worrisome, indeed, all of that, Brian Todd reporting. Lots of work needs to be done. Thank you very much. Coming up, while his lawyers work to limit or thwart an interview with Robert Mueller, the President delivers another very angry rant about the Russia investigation, ending with a very cryptic and perhaps ominous and saying -- and I'm quoting the President of the United States, Stay tuned. What's he threatening?


BLITZER: Happening now, to tell the truth, after eight months negotiating with the special counsel over whether President Trump will sit down for an interview, there's still no resolution, but the President's lawyers are clearly worried about their client telling the truth.

Caught on tape, a recording surfaces of the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, telling donors the House Republican majority is necessary to protect President Trump from the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Culture of corruption, Democrats are seizing on the indictment of Republican Congressman Chris Collins, charged with insider trading and lying to the FBI. A new talking point Democrats appear ready to use in an attempt to win back control of the House this fall.

And Space Force, President Trump's re-election campaign launches a new fund-raising drive selling Space Force merchandise hours after Vice President Pence lays out an ambitious plan for the new branch of the United States military.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani continue to send mixed messages tonight on whether the President should sit for an interview with the special counsel Robert Mueller for his Russia investigation. Giuliani is speaking openly about the perils and possible political advantages, while the President who's spoken for and against the Mueller interview tweeted just a little while ago these ominous words, stay tuned. We'll talk about that much more with Congressman Ted Yoho of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.