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Trump Accuses Google of Rigging Search Results; Manafort's Second Trial Delayed One Week; House Committee Interviews Bruce Orr; Roger Stone to Supporters: 'I'm on Mueller's Hit List'. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 28, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Experts do not expect it to go away until the weather cools, and that will be right around the midterms. Our coverage continues now with my colleague Wolf Blitzer. He is in the SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:16] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, blame game. A week after Michael Cohen's guilty plea turned President Trump into what some experts are calling an unindicted co-conspirator and a week after his former campaign chairman was convicted of fraud, the president offers his latest conspiracy theory, accusing Google of rigging its search results to make him look bad.

Trial delay. There's a new delay in the start of Paul Manafort's second trial. Prosecutors intend to show how he allegedly skirted foreign lobbying laws and tried to sway witnesses. Will they bring up his work as Trump campaign chairman?

Counting the dead. Hurricane Maria killed an estimated 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, a new study finds. That's more than the number of people killed in Hurricane Katrina and nearly the same as the number killed in the 9/11 terror attacks. So until two hours ago, why was the official death toll only 64?

And Putin in the wild. Russian President Vladimir Putin takes a trek in Siberia, hiking and boating. The Russian leader is still flexing his muscles, but keeping his shirt on this time.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump has a new target. As Americans offer tributes to the late Senator John McCain, the president is now complaining about his own coverage. He says Google has rigged its search results to produce bad news about him. And he warns ominously that Google, Twitter and Facebook better watch their step.

That comes as Senate Republicans debate whether their former colleague, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, should stay or go. One top lawmaker says the Trump/Sessions relationship is beyond repair. And another says Sessions should stay exactly where he is.

I'll speak with Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are all standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with the breaking news. Our CNN chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is standing by. Jim, a new warning now from the president.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. After igniting a massive controversy over respecting the late Senator John McCain, President Trump started some new firestorms today, warning Google, it better be careful, accusing the search engine of discriminating against conservative voices, including himself. The question is just how far the White House is willing to go.

But one top adviser said today the White House may start investigating Google.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump has just taken his battle against the news media to the next level. Now, the president is warning he may be coming after social media companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think what Google and what others are doing, if you look at what's going on at Twitter, if you look at what's going on in Facebook, they'd better be careful, because you're -- you can't do that to people. You can't do it. We have tremendous, we have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in. They're really treading on very, very troubled territory.

ACOSTA: The reason behind the president's rant? He doesn't like the news reports he sees when he searches Google, tweeting, "Google search results for Trump news shows only the viewing reporting of fake news media. In other words, they have it rigged for me and others so that almost all stories and news is bad. They are controlling what we can and cannot see. This is a serious situation; will be addressed."

White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow told reporters the administration may actually investigate the practices of social media companies.

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISOR: We'll let you know. We are taking a look at it. We'll let you know. We're just doing some investigation. That's what we do.

ACOSTA: Google released a statement, denying it's politically manipulating its search results, saying, "Search is not used to set a political agenda, and we don't bias our results toward any political ideology."

The president's social media fixation shouldn't come as a surprise. At a rally in West Virginia last week, Mr. Trump began echoing the complaints of some conservatives who claimed they're treated unfairly on social media.

TRUMP: There's too many sources. Every one of us is sort of like a newspaper. You have Twitter. You have whatever you have, Facebook. But everyone, you can't have censorship.

ACOSTA: Even with his new crusade, the president hasn't given up on one of his oldest rallying cries, his demand that Mexico pay for a wall on the border.

TRUMP: We will build the wall. And who is going to pay for the wall?




TRUMP: A hundred percent.

ACOSTA: One day after he announced a new trade deal with Mexico, he insisted the Mexican government will one day fund that wall.

TRUMP: Yes, the wall will be paid for very easily by Mexico. It will ultimately be paid for by Mexico.

[17:05:03] ACOSTA: Another unresolved issue for the president: the fate of his attorney general after a top Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham, suggested the end may be near for Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The president has lost confidence in Jeff Sessions. And I'm telling you what everybody in the country knows. This is a dysfunctional relationship. We need a better one.

ACOSTA: The Senate majority later made it clear he disagrees.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I have total confidence in the attorney general. I think he ought to stay exactly where he is.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House has yet to comment on a new study that shows nearly 3,000 people died after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The official number of deaths was standing at 64 people. That's nowhere near where most experts believe that number should be.

And Wolf, as for that wall on the border, Mexico's foreign minister tweeted out this response to the president. We can put it up on screen. You don't really need to read between the lines here. It says, "We just reached a trade agreement with the U.S., and the outlook for the relationship between our two countries is very positive." Goes on to say, "We will NEVER" -- capitalize "never" -- "pay for a wall, however. That has been absolutely clear from the beginning."

Wolf, it sounds like Mexico will never, ever pay for that wall, despite what the president says.

BLITZER: Yes, despite what the president says. Those are his words. Thank you very much, Jim Acosta.

A week after he was found guilty of bank and tax fraud, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort faces now a second trial, this one related to alleged violations of foreign lobbying laws and attempts to influence witnesses.

We're learning that opening statements in that trial will be delayed for a week. Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is with us right now.

Jessica, what's the latest?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, jury selection will still start as planned September 17. But it's actually the opening statements. Those will be delayed one week to September 24.

Now, this change in schedule, it gives the defense team more time to prepare, since of course, they just finished their trial in Virginia last week, where Paul Manafort was convicted on 8 of those 18 counts.

Now in addition, the defense plans to ask the judge to move this trial out of D.C. They tried the same exact tactic in Virginia, trying to move that case from Alexandria to Roanoke, but they were denied.

And really, when you look here at the polling numbers from Washington, D.C., you can see why Paul Manafort's attorneys might have cause for concern. Just 4 percent of the voters here in D.C., just 4 percent cast their ballots for Donald Trump, which of course, might lead the defense team to believe that there could be bias against their client, who was Trump's campaign chairman for several months.

Of course, prosecutors have said they will not bring up that connection. But the judge in this case, she did make a slight comment, seeming to see the defense team's side, when she said that more people in D.C. probably woke up surprised or maybe even disappointed the day after the 2016 election. More people in D.C. than those being surprised in Virginia.

But she did tell both sides she likely won't allow any juror questions about whether or not they voted in the election. But she will ask jurors if they have any Ukrainian ties or if they posted about Paul Manafort on social media. So Wolf, the judge saying here that this jury selection could stretch out for a week because of these pretty in-depth questions.

BLITZER: As you know, up on Capitol Hill today, Justice Department official Bruce Orr, he's been testifying behind closed doors. What have Republican lawmakers learned from him. What have they been asking him about?

SCHNEIDER: They've really been pressing Bruce Orr. And of course, Bruce Orr has been a subject of Republican criticism, as well as the president.

They're pressing him on multiple contacts with former British spy Christopher Steele during the 2016 campaign. And conservatives are saying what's more disturbing here is that Orr continued to correspond with Steele even after the FBI stopped using Steele as a source and that Steele was then feeding information to the FBI.

Now, Bruce Orr's wife, Nelly, she also did work for Fusion GPS. That was the firm that paid for part of that dossier. And Bruce Orr's connection to Steele and his wife's work, it has fueled much conservative conspiracy theories that Orr was working with Steele to undermine President Trump's candidacy.

And of course, President Trump, himself, has since raised the possibility that he could revoke Orr's security clearance. Now, Republicans, they've been in that closed-door hearing all day. They still -- they say that they still have more questions, and they say that they now want to call back Fusion GPS's co-founder, Glenn Simpson, for more testimony, as well as former FBI attorney Lisa Page, who has since left the FBI.

And really, Wolf, what's notable about this hearing today is that it was mostly just Republican lawmakers there. It was Democratic staffers who were there, but not those Democratic House members. Of course, the House is on recess, so that's not completely abnormal. But it really does show you how much the Republicans are pressing this and looking to really make it an issue that perhaps Bruce Orr improperly influenced some of this Russia investigation. That's the main point.

BLITZER: Good point.

That's a significant development. Jessica, thank you very much. Jessica Schneider reporting for us.

[17:10:07] Joining us now, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Why didn't you attend today's hearing with Bruce Orr?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: You know, Wolf, this is an ongoing effort by our Republican colleagues to try to promote this false narrative, this conspiracy theory in the same way they did with Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

Bruce Orr is a career -- is a career DOJ official; dedicated three decades of his life fighting the Russian mob and Eastern European country corruption in those countries and has really nothing to do with the ongoing Mueller investigation.

This is an effort, again, to try to promote this idea that somehow the FBI and the Department of Justice had an elaborate plan to undermine President Trump and his candidacy. There's no evidence to support that, and this is a continuation of that.

The Judiciary Committee should be doing oversight hearings on family separation, on what we're doing to protect our elections from foreign adversaries, a number of corrupt practices in the Trump administration. We have real oversight responsibilities. But this is an ongoing effort to create this story about this big conspiracy that just doesn't exist.

BLITZER: The Republicans point out, though, that he did meet with Christopher Steele, who is the former British spy who wrote that -- that unconfirmed dossier; that Bruce Orr's wife actually worked for Fusion GPS, which was the company that was hired by the Democrats to get this dossier with Christopher Steele.

Wouldn't you have been interested to at least hear what he had to say during this closed-door meeting with lawmakers?

CICILLINE: Look, we'll have the opportunity, obviously, to read the transcript of that testimony of Bruce Orr. But there's no question that this is a former British intelligence official, someone that everyone has described as reliable and trustworthy, who collected information.

But it's also important to remember, this had nothing to do with the initiation of the counterintelligence investigation regarding the Trump campaign and potential collusion with the Russians. So we had -- there are parts of that dossier that have been corroborated. There are parts that have not been corroborated. But this is a reliable collector of information. It's not surprising that we continue to receive information from reliable sources. We'll have the opportunity to review it.

But again, this is an effort to promote a narrative that just is not true. That somehow, this dossier is the reason this investigation began. Multiple sources have made it clear, that is not true. But this is a Republican effort to continue to promote that story.

BLITZER: All right. I want to move on and talk about the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Some Republican senators are now saying it's foregone conclusion that he should leave, even Lindsey Graham, who once said there would be holy hell to pay if the president were to fire Sessions now says the president is entitled to an attorney general he has faith in.

Do you believe that a new attorney general would try to limit the authority of the special counsel, Robert Mueller?

CICILLINE: Well, I think that should be a concern to everyone. The reality is, when people say, "Well, the president's entitled to have an attorney general that he has confidence in," what that really means is he wants to have an attorney general who believes that protecting the president of the United States is his or her first responsibility. That is not the case. The attorney general takes an oath to the Constitution to support the rule of law.

The president doesn't seem to accept that proposition. And so he wants someone who's going to protect him, regardless of the rule of law, regardless of the Constitution. So he is never going to be happy with an attorney general who takes that position.

And so I think Mr. Sessions has made it very clear, he has an obligation under the law to have recused himself from this investigation. He did that. He was required to do it. The president doesn't like that, but it's the law.

He also doesn't like the fact that the attorney general doesn't see his first priority to protect the president, which it shouldn't be. His first priority is to uphold the rule of law and to protect the Constitution.

So I think, unfortunately, the president is never going to be happy with an attorney general, because there is not a single person who would be sworn into that job who will take the oath and say, "My job is to protect the president." They will all say their job is to protect the Constitution and the rule of law.

BLITZER: Is there anything lawmakers can do to protect Mueller?

CICILLINE: Absolutely. We have legislation pending in the Congress, in the House that will protect Robert Mueller, that will protect him from being fired, except for cause. It is time for our Republican colleagues to join us, to bring that bill to the floor or vote immediately.

We have to insist that Mr. Mueller be permitted to complete this investigation. The president has made it very clear that he wants the investigation to end and stop. He's tried it in a million ways to make that happen. We need our Republican colleagues to do what's right for the country, to put our country above party and make sure that Mr. Mueller can complete his work.

BLITZER: The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, now says he wants to discredit Mueller, telling "The New York Times" -- and I'm quoting now -- Mueller is now slightly more distrusted than trusted, and Trump is now a little ahead of the game.

Does that fit a pattern of obstruction of justice from your perspective?

[17:15:00] CICILLINE: Well, I mean, there's no question, that this president and his attorneys have done everything they can to undermine this investigation, and they have continued to attack the integrity and professionalism of Robert Mueller.

You know, if you remember, when he was appointed, everyone praised him, Republicans and Democrats alike. They recognized his service to our country in uniform, his career at the FBI. He's a person of impeccable integrity.

And the only thing that's changed is he's doing his work and he's doing it well. And the number of people have been indicted and convicted. And I think the circle is closing in. And now, of course, they've begun to attack him. This has to stop. I think the American people understand that Mr. Mueller is a person of tremendous integrity, performing very important work. And we should expect the president and his advocates to continue to try to undermine this investigation and discredit the work by attacking Mr. Mueller. BLITZER: I should point out that Bruce Orr, the Justice Department

official, his testimony behind closed doors with members of your committee, the House Judiciary Committee, is now over. He spent about eight hours answering only Republican answers. Not one Democrat decided to attend that closed-door meeting. But it's now over with.

Anything finally you want to say before I let you go, Congressman?

CICILLINE: No. I mean, we'll have -- I suspect we'll have Bruce Orr before the committee in the same way that Peter Strzok was brought before the committee after a lengthy in person interview.

But again, this is an ongoing effort to distract from the ongoing and very serious investigation of Mr. Mueller. And I wish my colleagues on the committee would focus on making sure that we're protecting the 2018 elections, making sure we end this family separation policy, doing real oversight of these cabinet officials who continue to spend money and engage in very, very wasteful practices and have been forced to leave office because of corruption.

I mean, we have oversight responsibilities. Let's do our job and focus on the real things that face the American people.

And finally, this is an example, again, Wolf, of a White House embroiled in scandals, and investigations, and lawyers. And as a result, the work of the American people is not getting done: driving down health care, creating 3good-paying jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, and being serious about tackling corruption. That's what we should be focused on. But this president's behavior and the behavior of his administration has caused us to be embroiled in all this other stuff.

BLITZER: Congressman David Cicilline, thanks so much for joining us.

CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Up next, will Jeff Sessions stay or go as Republican lawmakers openly discuss his fate?

What would a new attorney general mean for the fate of the Mueller investigation? And longtime Trump ally Roger Stone says he's next on Robert Mueller's hit list. He's calling it the hit list. Why is he hinting he may be indicted?


[17:22:03] BLITZER: In a fundraising e-mail, long-time Trump confidant, Roger Stone, declares he's next on the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, quote, "hit list," suggesting he'll be indicted. At the same time, he's trying to head off media reports about him.

Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a classic preemptive strike by Roger Stone. He's doing some damage control on a possible article mentioning him before the article even comes out. But in doing so, Roger Stone keeps alive questions about whether he was in the middle of any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.


ROGER STONE, LONGTIME ADVISOR OF DONALD TRUMP: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

TODD (voice-over): He's shadowy, conspiratorial, supports a Nixon tattoo on his back, is fond of saying that the so-called deep state is coming after him. Now, legendary Republican political operative Roger Stone is launching a preemptive strike against a respected publication.

STONE: Somebody has been pushing a fake news story.

TODD: In an Instagram video, Stone alludes to being contacted by three publications, most recently "The New Yorker," about a confirmation Stone allegedly had with his former boss, then-candidate Donald Trump, in the fall of 2016.

STONE: Someone is saying that they overheard a conversation in which I told Donald Trump in October of 2016 what exactly would be in the WikiLeaks disclosure and when they would be disclosed. This is categorically false. This is exactly the epitome of fake news.

TODD: CNN could not reach Stone for more detail on what he believes "The New Yorker" is about to report. Stone's lawyer wouldn't comment. "The New Yorker" tells CNN it doesn't comment on pieces it hasn't published.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: With Robert Stone -- and I think this is the way he likes it -- you never actually really know. If he's not involved in something, he'll make as though he is, because it's a part of his character; and it's a part of what keeps him relevant.

TODD: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been digging into possible contact between Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 campaign. Mueller could be looking into whether Stone had any advanced knowledge of WikiLeaks's release of stolen e-mails with damaging information about the Hillary Clinton campaign and whether Stone might have aided Trump by giving him a heads up ahead of time. Stone did once brag about being in contact with Assange.

STONE: I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next one traunch of his documents pertains to the Clinton Foundation, but there's no telling what the October surprise may be.

TODD: Stone has since walked all of that back, denying any contact with Assange, denying talking to Trump about any of this. But Stone did recently acknowledge that he was probably the unnamed Trump campaign contact mentioned in an indictment of Russian officials for hacking the Democrats.

STONE: I think I probably am the person referred to. TODD: Stone admitting he had contact with hackers tied to Russian


STONE: I certainly had a 24-word exchange with the persona Guccifer 2.0 over Twitter direct messages.

[17:25:07] TODD: Stone says that contact was benign. He denies any wrongdoing but does seem to think he'll be the next person indicted by Robert Mueller. He started an online fundraising campaign, claiming he's had to raid his grandchildren's savings to pay legal fees.


TODD: And there are tangible signs that Robert Mueller could be closing in on Roger Stone. Several of Stone's former aides, including so-called Manhattan Madam Kristin Davis, and several other Stone aides have either appeared before a grand jury or other investigators or been called to appear. Stone has claimed that his associates are being harassed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Adding to all this intrigue, Brian, surrounding Roger Stone, one of his long-time aides has flopped in appearance before a Mueller grand jury, right?

TODD: That's right. The aide's name is Andrew Miller. Miller was recently asked to appear before a grand jury, but he refused to do it. His lawyer says Miller is not involved with Russia, with hackers or with WikiLeaks, but his lawyer does not want Miller to have to testify about Roger Stone. The lawyer says she's concerned that Miller will get caught up in questions about his financial entanglements with Roger Stone and with a super PAC. Stone has got his tentacles all over the place, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, top Republicans debate the fate of the attorney general of the United States. One key senator says the president has lost confidence in Jeff Sessions, while another says Sessions should stay exactly where he is. And what impact would a new attorney general have on Robert Mueller's Russia investigation?

Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news. In a recording now heard by CNN, President Trump is warning of violence if Republicans lose the midterm elections and Democrats take over up on Capitol Hill.

[17:31:27] Speaking last night before evangelical leaders in a dinner over at the White House, the president said -- and I'm quoting now from the recording that CNN has heard -- "I think we're popular, but there's a real question as to whether people are going to vote if I'm not on the ballot. And I'm not on the ballot. A lot of people think I don't like Congress. People say, 'I'm not voting because the president doesn't like Congress.' It's not a question of like or dislike, it's a question that they will overturn everything that we've done; and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently."

The president said, "There is violence" -- his words -- "when you look at Antifa. These are violent people," he continues, "who have tremendous power. You were saying in this room, you have people who reach -- who preach to almost 200 million people depending on which Sunday we're talking about," closed quote.

That from the president. Let's get some insight from our political, legal and law enforcement analysts.

Jackie Kucinich, pretty strong words from the president, predicting violence if the Democrats take control of the majority in the House of Representatives.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he certainly isn't the first person to scare people to the polls. And if he's asking these reverends and whatnot to do that, it's irresponsible to say that there's going to be violence if Democrats take over. That's just -- that's not true. There's no proof of that.

But this isn't a president that deals in facts. But this won't be the only time that we see this sort of exaggerations in the 2018 midterms. We're going to see this as a thread throughout the -- the entire cycle. If it's not Antifa, it will be immigration; it will be MS-13. This is going to be a thread.

BLITZER: Because the president was with it, this closed-door meeting with these evangelical leaders, Sabrina Siddiqui, and it was closed to the press. But we did hear a recording. CNN did hear a recording. And once again, let me read those keywords: "They will overturn everything that we've done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence." Then he referred to Antifa.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": It's clear that the president does sound very concerned about how the midterm elections might play out; and the rhetoric that we're hearing from him is not at all dissimilar to the words he used on the campaign trail in 2016, when he similarly predicted that there would be violence if Hillary Clinton were to have won in November. In fact, he incited violence among his supporters on more than one occasion.

And what is striking about this is, presidents often engage in politicians engage in -- or politicians often engage in inflammatory rhetoric that might suit their message, and certainly, we've seen this president, in particular, exaggerate, as Jackie was alluding to.

But there's a way in which they speak to some norms when it comes to trying to defend their majority in Congress, when it comes to midterm elections. And this is a president who clearly does not have confidence in being able to run on his own agenda, so what he resorts to is trying to sow discord among the American public.

And that is what is so dangerous about these comments. They certainly undermine the democratic process and the way in which our midterm elections typically take place.

BLITZER: What do you think, Susan?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, I think it is astonishing rhetoric to hear from the president of the United States. He's not just on the campaign trail any longer. He is in a position where he's supposed to represent larger American values.

[17:35:03] And in some sense, you have to wonder, whether or not these are not the kinds of comments that actually incite violence. Because the president is discussing what is a peaceful process -- and it's always been a peaceful process in the United States of America -- as if it is some kind of actual violent struggle.

Whenever we see some of the rhetoric that we've seen, you know, from the alt-right and elsewhere, it really does make you concerned that the message -- whatever the president intends, the message that other people are going to receive is we're talking about not not the peaceful election of a different party but the violent overthrow of a government.

BLITZER: And he's referring specifically to this group, Antifa. But go ahead, you know something about that.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. I mean, what is law enforcement supposed to do with this information? The United States, president of the United States sets policy, as far as what the Department of Justice will look at and what law enforcement will look at. So what is he saying now, that law enforcement should start looking into this now? What is the prescription? Because if there's a threat that's on the table that he somehow knows about, then law enforcement has to act on it. I think it's irresponsible.

BLITZER: What about this group he specifically referred to? You're a former FBI supervisory agent.

CAMPBELL: That's right. And this is an issue, a group that has been of concern. If you look at some of the rallies. I mean, they've obviously been out there. In instance, there has been violence. But it doesn't appear that, at least coming from the Department of Justice, from the FBI, that this rises to the case where this is a national pandemic that law enforcement is now combatting.

I think this is pure politics. This has nothing to do with national security. Essentially, it's a dog whistle, to say, "Look, if these people come out, if -- you know, if you don't come out and counter this and we don't win, then bad things will happen." Again, it's so irresponsible for the commander in chief.

BLITZER: You'll remember, and Sabrina makes a good point. During the election campaign, he was repeatedly suggesting there were going to be millions of illegal votes and it was going to be rigged if he lost the election.

KUCINICH: Well, he even had a commission that was supposed to look into this. And that didn't really go anywhere, because it wasn't true. You know, I think it really is interesting, and Sabrina said this.

Why isn't the president talking about the economy? He has -- he does occasionally, but in theory, that's the only thing, tax cuts and the economy, that the president should be talking about, because that is a winning message.

But, apparently, that's not enough for him, and he has to resort to these scare tactics. Perhaps it's habit because of the campaign trail. Or it really is perplexing, given the fact that Republicans really do have something to talk about going into the midterm elections.

BLITZER: Yes. And it is pretty extraordinary for the president to be predicting, at this stage, what, about 70 days or so before the midterm elections, that if the Democrats win, become the majority, everything he -- he says everything that he has achieved will be thrown out. "It's not a question of like or dislike. It's a question that they will overturn everything that we've done. They will do it quickly and violently." Then he repeated, "And violently. There is violence."

SIDDIQUI: It's any president's job to try and encourage the public to come together, even when an election hasn't gone in the way of his own party. And that's something we simply haven't seen from President Trump.

And I think that, ultimately, we don't know what will happen in November. But he is already trying to undermine the legitimacy of Democrats if they were to retake control of Congress, which is ironic, since this is a president who is very sensitive to any allegation that his legitimacy might be called into question as we talk about the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election.

But I also thought Jackie raised an important point when she mentioned MS-13, because he's talking about Antifa. MS-13 is, of course, he -- the president tries to push forward this notion that they pose a very real threat here in this country, when they only make up for less than 1 percent of gangs in the United States. So a lot of his own messaging, very much, is rooted in fear mongering. That's the only way that he has shown himself as knowing how to campaign.

HENNESSEY: I also think we should be clear about what the president is actually afraid of if Congress shifts parties, and that's his own personal impeachment. So anytime that the democratic process produces outcomes that are not favorable to the president, he declares those processes illegitimate. And so I think that this is part of that same, you know, broader trend, really has nothing to do with sort of his actual policy and accomplishments and everything to do with his basic political survival.

BLITZER: Because if the Democrats are in the majority in the House, they can subpoena anyone they want. They can investigate anything they want. They can have hearings on anything they want, and they can certainly have impeachment hearings. That's what they want.

Stick around, guys. This is significant news. We're going to have more on that.

Also other breaking news: a shocking new study prompts Puerto Rico's governor to raise the death toll from Hurricane Maria to nearly 3,000. Why had the Puerto Rican government's official death toll been only 64?

And later, Vladimir Putin shows off for the cameras, again. What's he trying to prove this time during his latest trek to Siberia?


[17:44:10] BLITZER: There's more breaking news. Just a little while ago, Puerto Rico's governor announced he's ordering a dramatic increase in the official death toll blamed on Hurricane Maria. The governor now accepting the results of a truly shocking new study that estimates that the storm caused nearly 3,000 deaths. The official government death toll had been only 64.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is here in Washington with us. She's been following the story from the very start. Tell us what the governor, Leyla, has just said.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he basically said that they are going to change that death toll. And that's something that we've been waiting months to hear, if that would happen, if that would happen, what it would take for it to happen. And so, that's a big day coming today, especially given that this study came out, out of George Washington University.

He's also acknowledging some of the issues that were brought up, saying, "Look, we were only prepared for a Category 1 storm." Obviously, Maria, Hurricane Maria, was not a Category 1. That came in, actually, as a 4. So, just acknowledging the study, saying that it is enough to change it.


But what really makes this study a little bit different from the others -- because, remember, Harvard had a study. They said that there were at least 4,000 deaths. Earlier, they acknowledged, the government of Puerto Rico in a report to Congress, that there were at least a thousand deaths.

But this was the study that was commissioned by the government of Puerto Rico. They had access to all of the records. So I know that that's a lot of numbers to keep up with, right, but what are the other numbers we should talk about? Sixteen. That's what President Trump praised and mentioned when he visited Hurricane after the storm.

Remember this?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We saved a lot of lives. If you look at the -- every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with, really, a storm that was just totally overpowering -- nobody has ever seen anything like this.

What is your death count as of this moment, 17?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen, certified.

TRUMP: Sixteen people, certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all your people -- all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.


SANTIAGO: Thousands of people, certainly not the case today. Now that that has changed, we should also mention, just hours after that, that you just saw, that number went up significantly.

So, CNN, today, asked the Governor about that very moment. And he said, look, I don't think it had anything to do with politics. He had some regrets. He acknowledged that not everything was perfect but really didn't come down on President Trump for this.

Now, something else that I certainly want to make clear. That is that this study is about excessive deaths. It is a statistical analysis. It does not show you a list of names. And so for a lot of families, they are still waiting for that to come, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A lot more work needs to be done, but nearly 3,000 people. The government of Puerto Rico now accepts that number as the official death toll. That's very, very significant. Remember, these are U.S. citizens, the people of Puerto Rico, too.


BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of this story. Excellent reporting, Leyla.

SANTIAGO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Leyla Santiago is in Washington with the story.

Coming up, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is showing off, once again. But this time, he is, guess what, fully clothed. Stand by for details of Putin's latest vacation getaway.


[17:52:26] BLITZER: Tonight, we have a new and unusual look at the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has released a video of the 65-year-old Russian leader hiking during a vacation in Siberia.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. He is joining us live from Moscow right now.

Fred, so what is the Russian leader up to?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he was apparently in Siberia over the weekend. This was in southern Siberia, Wolf, in the Tuva region, which is actually very close to Mongolia. And as you said, you can see him hiking there. You can see him taking a trip on the river.

Of course, this is something, Wolf, that the Russian President does from time to time to show that he is very much in command but also, of course, that he is a strong leader for the Russians. Also trying to portray that abroad as well.

One of the things that many folks thought was very interesting is that it was not just Vladimir Putin in that video but also his Defense Secretary as well as the head of the FSB, the intelligence service, Alexander Bortnikov. Of course, them trying to show that Vladimir Putin is also very much in control of the government, that they're all working together and, obviously, also hanging out together there in Siberia.

It comes at an interesting time, Wolf. The Russians, just today, announced that they're going to have the largest-ever military maneuver since the end of the Soviet Union coming up very soon with some 300,000 soldiers involved, Wolf.

BLITZER: This isn't, of course, the first time we've seen images of Putin on vacation, right?

PLEITGEN: No, it's not the first time. And normally, one of the things that we see with Vladimir Putin when he has those pictures from his vacation is that we see him bare-chested. We've seen that when he went fishing. We've seen him bare-chested on a horse.

And one of the interesting things that folks are talking about here in Russia, some of the T.V. shows, is why he didn't show more skin, as they've said. In fact, one of the main political talk shows here had almost its entire show devoted to that very topic.

I want you to listen in to one of the panelists on that show and what he had to say about why that could have been.


SERGEY MARKOV, CO-CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL STRATEGIC COUNCIL OF RUSSIA (through translator): You know, sometimes, you shave to get naked and show the world your muscles. But if you do it all the time, that's kind of pervy, and our President is not a pervert. He is a real man.


PLEITGEN: So there you have it, Wolf, them saying Vladimir Putin very much a real man. Obviously, trying to show that once again with the pictures that were released just now, Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks like he's having a pretty good time in Siberia right now. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much. Coming up, there's more breaking news. President Trump has a new

target, saying Google has rigged its search results to produce bad news about him and warning ominously that Google, Twitter, and Facebook better watch their step.

[17:54:57] And as top Republicans openly debate of the fate of the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, what would his possible departure mean for the Special Counsel's Russia investigation?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Beyond repair? Support for Jeff Sessions is waning among some key Republicans who fear the President's dysfunctional relationship with the Attorney General cannot be fixed. But tonight, the Senate Majority Leader is weighing in and throwing Sessions a lifeline.

Undermining Mueller. As the Special Counsel keeps the Trump legal team waiting, Rudy Giuliani defends his performance as the President's attorney. Giuliani now openly admits that his main job is to chip away at the trust in the Russia probe.

[18:00:07] Warning of violence. The President is now predicting dangerous consequences if Republicans lose the midterm elections and control of Congress.