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Trump Defends Use of Tear Gas on Migrants, Including Children; Roger Stone Associate Jerome Corsi Refusing to Take Plea Deal; Trump: 'I Don't Believe' Administration Climate Report; Congress to Investigate Trump Ties to Russia, Saudi Arabia. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 26, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, serious disapproval. President Trump's disapproval ratings soars to an all-time high of 60 percent in a new Gallup poll. And in new remarks a short time ago, the president voices his own disapproval of migrants, General Motors, and his own administration's new climate change report.

Pleas. No, thank you. A key figure in the Russia investigation, Jerome Corsi, refuses to take a plea bargain offer by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, calling it a lie and adding -- and I'm quoting now -- "They can put me in prison the rest of my life."

Putin's aggression. President Trump says he's not happy about Russian aggression against Ukraine after Moscow's military seized three Ukrainian navy ships and 24 sailors. But what is Mr. Trump going do about it?

And investigation threats. As Democrats prepare to take control of the House, they're planning to probe President Trump's financial ties to Russia and Saudi Arabia. Is money the reason he won't stand up to the autocratic leaders of those countries?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump defending the use of teargas by U.S. Border Patrol on migrants, including children who tried to rush the border from Mexico.

As he left the White House just a while ago for a rally in Mississippi, Mr. Trump also blasted General Motors, which is cutting production and jobs at five plants. The president says he was, quote, "very tough" on the company's CEO when he talked to her earlier.

I'll discuss that and much more with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents, analysts, and specialists are also standing by.

Tonight, a new Gallup poll puts the president's disapproval rating at an all-time high. For that poll, 60 percent among all Americans. But right now he's in friendlier territory, in Mississippi.

Our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is joining us from Tupelo where the president is campaigning for Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who faces a runoff election tomorrow.

Kaitlan, the president had a lot to say as he was leaving the White House.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, Wolf. And immigration seemed to be front and center on the president's mind. He was asked if the United States has reached a deal with Mexico to keep asylum seekers in Mexico and not the United States. And he said they'd been discussing it, but nothing had been finalized yet.

Wolf, he also falsely claimed that children were not teargassed during that border crossing that was closed yesterday, one of the nation's busiest border crossing, despite photos showing that children were teargassed as U.S. border agents tried to break up the caravan that was rushing the border.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will not be coming into our country.

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump seizing on the unrest at the U.S.-Mexico border while leaving the White House today as he hopes to squeeze his political opponents into funding his border wall.

TRUMP: Here's the bottom line. Nobody's coming into our country unless they come in legally.

COLLINS: After tensions flared at one of the nation's busiest border crossings Sunday, when hundreds of Central American migrants rushed the border, Trump called on Mexico to send the migrants back to their home countries and defended U.S. border agents using teargas to disperse the caravan that included children.

TRUMP: They had to use, because they were being rushed by some very tough people.

COLLINS: Trump telling Mexico, "Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it any way you want, but they are NOT coming into the USA."

But the border isn't the president's only political headache, after American icon General Motors announced it will stop production and slash thousands of jobs at five plants in North America, including one in Ohio where Trump made this promise to residents last year.

TRUMP: Don't move. Don't sell your House. We're going to get those values up. We're going to get those jobs coming back.

COLLINS: Trump lashed out at the company today.

TRUMP: This country's done a lot for General Motors. You better get back in there soon. That's Ohio. COLLINS: And as leaders around the world denounced Russia for its

acts of aggression against Ukraine over the weekend, including firing upon and seizing three Ukrainian vessels, Trump offered a muted response today.

TRUMP: We do not like what's happening either way. We don't like what's happening. And hopefully it will get straightened out.

COLLINS: All this as the president's legal team is preparing for the special counsel to issue his report on the Russia investigation.

Hoping to cast doubt on any final conclusion, Trump tweeting today that Robert Mueller is highly conflicted, asking why didn't interview the hundreds of people in his campaign who didn't collude with Russia.

But even those who frequently defend the president predicting the report will be politically devastating.

[17:05:07] ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR EMERITUS: I think the report is going to be devastating to the president.

COLLINS: The president departing Washington for cleanup duty in Mississippi tonight, holding two rallies in hopes of dragging Cindy Hyde-Smith across the finish line --

TRUMP: And I know she apologized, and she misspoke.

COLLINS: -- after the Republican senator became engulfed in controversy for making this remark.

SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI: If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row.


COLLINS: Now Wolf, President Trump was asked about that dire report showing that the economic strength that will be caused by climate change. He said he's received that report. He's read part of it. But he says it's fine, but he said he doesn't believe it will be as economically devastating as the report predicts.

Now Wolf, we're here. You can see the crowd behind me waiting on President Trump and Air Force One to land here in Tupelo, Mississippi. And the president said before departing he had spoken with Cindy Hyde- Smith and that he believed she apologizes for that remark she made, in a state that has more lynchings than any other state after the Civil War, and that he thinks she'll be fine when voters go to the polls tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kaitlan, thank you. Kaitlan in Mississippi for us.

Let's got the latest on the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border right now. Our national correspondent Miguel Marquez is in Tijuana for us. Miguel, tension has been rising there. What's the very latest? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, things are a lot better

today. But both sides are very tense. The Mexican military and the army here, the police, have -- have come out on the streets along the border in big numbers. The U.S. is moving more border agents to the California sector because of what happened yesterday.

I want to show you, give a sense of what happened there. This is Mexico. This is where preplanned protests had come up. They overwhelmed Mexican police barricades, and then they moved over in this direction, under this bridge, and into the Tijuana river here. And then moved all the way up to the U.S. border.

What you're looking at, that brownish steel fence out over there, that is the U.S. border. They moved to that through this riverbed and then all along the border, looking for any sort of place that they could get over the border.

There were women and children that were among the many hundreds that ran in that direction. CPB says that several of their officers were hit with rocks. They weren't injured, because they were wearing riot gear at the time.

But that then necessitated the use of C.S. gas or tear gas, and pepper balls, shooting them with pepper balls, which can really hurt if you get hit with them. Sort of like getting hit with a paintball.

Right now, though, things much calmer. Very big police presence here on the Mexican side of the border to make sure what we saw yesterday doesn't happen again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you. Miguel, thank you very much.

Meanwhile a key figure in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation tells CNN he will not enter into a plea bargain with the special counsel.

Our political correspondent, Sara Murray, is working this part of the story. Sara, this is Jerome Corsi refusing a plea deal from Mueller, because Corsi said it would be a lie. What's the latest?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's kind of an extraordinary situation. He spent about two months talking to the special counsel's team. He's testified before the grand jury. And recently, he predicted that he could run into some legal troubles. Now he's out there very publicly, saying Mueller's team offered him a plea deal and he's going to pass.



MURRAY (voice-over: Jerome Corsi, an author, conspiracy theorist, and associate of Roger Stone, says he won't take the special counsel's team up on a deal to plead guilty to one count of perjury. Corsi tells CNN he won't sign it, because he didn't willfully lie. "They can put me in prison the rest of my life. I am not going to sign a lie," Corsi said. Investigators have been probing whether Corsi had early notice that WikiLeaks was in possession of then-Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's hacked emails and whether he shared any intel with Stone. Corsi told a conservative news outlet Monday that he came to his Podesta conclusions on his own.

CORSI: In July, it was our 25th wedding anniversary, and my wife and I traveled to Italy. And -- for our wedding anniversary with the family. And on that trip, I kind of figured it out. It all came together for me that Assange had Podesta's emails.

MURRAY: But Corsi says investigators weren't buying it, and he said earlier this month he expected to be indicted. As for Stone, he says he and Corsi never spoke about Podesta's emails before they were publicly released by WikiLeaks.

"I continue to see that my friend, Dr. Jerry Corsi, is being harassed by the special counsel. Not for lying but for refusing to lie," Stone said in a statement.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has already made clear they don't take lying lightly.

With a good-bye kiss to his wife, George Papadopoulos reported to a federal prison in Wisconsin today, the foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign beginning his 14-day sentence, his punishment after he pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his interactions with foreign contacts that had connections to Russia.

[17:10:11] GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Sometimes looking back, it was a chaotic moment, you know, and sometimes you make mistakes. That's all I can say about it.

MURRAY: After a brief period of contrition, Papadopoulos switched up his legal team and tone suggesting on Twitter that the Russia investigation is rife with corruption and vowing to testify publicly after serving his prison sentence.

"The truth will all be out," he tweeted Sunday. "Not even a prison sentence can stop that momentum. The wool isn't going to be pulled over America's eyes forever. Much love."


MURRAY: Now George Papadopoulos gives you somewhat of a window into what happens when witnesses lie to investigators, Wolf. But it's unclear what is going to happen now with Jerome Corsi. When I spoke to him earlier about what might happen next, he said, "I don't know."

BLITZER: Good point. All right. Thanks very much for that. Sara Murray reporting.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is joining us. He's a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, thanks so much for joining us. I want to begin with these

late-breaking developments in the Russia probe. Do you expect an indictment against Jerome Corsi in the coming days?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: It would be hard not to expect it given the circumstances when you're negotiating a plea deal with somebody. If you're operating in good faith and when the individual refuses to agree to the plea agreement, you tend to go forward and not just drop everything. It's rare for a prosecutor of the statute -- stature to make up that he has a case of some kind.

So I think at this point, you go forth and you test the proposition. And you get the grand jury to indict, and you go on from there.

BLITZER: You're a former U.S. attorney, you served as the attorney general for the state of Rhode Island. Do you believe prosecutors need Corsi's testimony?

WHITEHOUSE: I don't see that. I think that there's a wide array of things to look at. Obviously, it would be helpful, but I don't know enough about what his testimony would say to be able to say that he knows anything that is critical or anything for which he's the exclusive source.

And I do think there are things that could stand a lot of looking into, particularly this business of the Ukraine plank in the Republican platform being changed by Trump folks, including Manafort, who probably never saw a thing that wasn't quid pro quo for him in his life.

So the nature that that change was made, that it benefited the Russians and hurt the Ukrainians, and Manafort had been working with the pro-Russia Ukrainians, that whole area just smells to high heaven. And the idea that there's nothing there seems very unlikely. So I suspect there will be more activity out of the Mueller investigation.

BLITZER: We anticipate more activity indeed, very, very soon.

Do you believe that, after the president fired Jeff Sessions, appointed Matthew Whitaker to be the acting attorney general earlier in the month -- and I know you expressed concern that Whitaker was appointed for the purpose of stifling the Mueller probe, but has he taken any specific action, Whitaker, any specific actions so far that indicates he's willing to do so?

WHITEHOUSE: Not that I'm aware of. As you know, the special counsel has to go to the Department of Justice to get approvals the same way that any U.S. attorney does.

And Mueller and Rosenstein knew each other very well, had a very respectful relationship. Both were experienced prosecutors. So you didn't have to explain much to Rod Rosenstein.

Whitaker's been out of the prosecuting business since he was a political U.S. attorney years ago. And it's not clear what Mueller wants to bring to him under the circumstance. So you could very easily have a situation in which Whitaker isn't

being asked to do anything wrong and isn't trying to do anything wrong. But in order to steer around him, in order to protect the investigation, Mueller is waiting to see how this turns out before he moves forward with things that would require his approval. So even his mere presence could be having a chilling effect on the investigation.

BLITZER: I want to get your thoughts on climate change. The report released by the Trump administration last Friday, the report warns of devastating effects from climate change. But President Trump suggested today that he doesn't believe -- believe it. What's your response to the president?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, look, the climate-denying operation that the fossils fuel runs has its perfect moment here. Because a devastating climate report by all the best scientists came out in the Trump administration, when fossil fuel stooges are just crawling everywhere through the administration. If there was a shred of doubt about the credibility of this report, about the credibility of real climate science, what a perfect time to mount an attack on this report and get all these fossil fuel stooges to go after it.

[17:15:16] The fact that they ducked that fight, the fact that they tried to bury the report on Black Friday and hoped that it would be low news is, to me, the most significant admission of all in all of this. It's like Edgar Alan Poe's "Purloined Letter," the secret in plain view. These guys don't believe that their climate denial stuff is true. And they more or less just admitted it by refusing to tangle with this report, instead trying to bury it.

So what Trump claims to believe or not believe, that's pure politics. But clearly, this has been a very bad day for climate denial. And the big exponents of climate denial had a perfect chance to take on real climate science if they'd wanted to, and they walked away. That's a big admission.

BLITZER: The president did say he wants clean air. He wants clean water. But he says he doesn't believe that there would be serious economic consequences from -- as outlined in this report.

So what's your bottom-line message to the president right now? What needs to be done?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, we need to get a price on carbon very quickly so that the market can work the way it's supposed to work and the fossil fuel industry is not hiding behind these enormous subsidies that it gets from being able to do harm to the general public but not have that harm baked into the price of its product.

And to the president, I can only say, look, you've got to go listen to the scientists. And now listen to the economists. As clear as climate science is that this is really happening, the only thing that's clearer than that is the view of the economists.

It's virtually unanimous that a carbon price is the way to do this, that these are dangerous externalities, that they distort the market. And as Nobel Prize-winning economists have testified under oath, the best economic pathway is the pathway to renewable energy. The status quo is dangerous and expensive.

BLITZER: He says he doesn't believe the consequences, the economic consequences that are outlined in this report. Senator Whitehouse, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you.

Next, it's not just Democrats who want to investigate the president. Some Republicans are demanding to know more about his handling of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Plus, we have more on the breaking news: the president's disapproval rating soaring to an all-time high in a new Gallup poll.


[17:22:11] BLITZER: As Democrats prepare to take control of the House of Representatives, they want to know if money is the reason President Trump refuses to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for their transgressions.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us from Capitol Hill. Manu, so what are Democrats planning to do?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president has denied, Wolf, having any ties to Saudi Arabia, but for a long time, his organization has had financial transactions, real- estate dealings with the Saudi kingdom, something that he has boasted about over the years.

So the House Intelligence Committee plans to look into that issue, any involvement that he has had with Saudi Arabia and whether it's driving his response to the killing of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

This as Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee, also wants to look into any ties the president or his organization had with Russia. Schiff yesterday made it clear that Saudi Arabia, too, would be part of his committee's investigations.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: What is driving this, I don't know. Whether this is simply an affinity that he has for autocrats. He seems to choose them repeatedly over his own intelligence agencies, or whether there's a financial motivation; that is his own personal finances. We do know, of course, he has openly bragged about how many millions he makes from Saudi Arabia. Is his personal financial interest driving U.S. policy in the Gulf?

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now I also spoke to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, who expects action to happen as soon as this week and this month going after Saudi Arabia.

One, a vote this week on a resolution calling for the end of U.S. involvement in a Saudi-led effort, that war in Yemen. Also, he is calling for Gina Haspel, the CIA director, to come brief senators along with Jim Mattis, Mike Pompeo, who are also -- who are scheduled to brief senators.

He's wants Haspel to come, as well, to detail what the CIA has learned about the Khashoggi murder. In addition, expect for more push and talk about sanctions against the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

This as the president himself has stepped away from talk about going after the kingdom. But it's very clear, Wolf, Congress wants to push on this matter, even if the Trump administration does not.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. All right, Manu. Thank you very much.

Coming up, so what's ahead in the Russia investigation, now that Roger Stone ally Jerome Corsi won't make a plea deal with Robert Mueller's prosecutors?

And with President Trump's angry public condemnations, will they persuade General Motors to back down on its plans to lay off workers and close U.S. plants?


[17:29:26] BLITZER: We're following new developments in the special counsel, Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Today, Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi told CNN he rejected an offer from Mueller's team to plead guilty to one count of perjury.

Also today, one-time Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos reported to a Wisconsin prison to begin serving 14 days for lying to Mueller's investigators.

Let's talk about this with our political and legal experts. And Susan, do you believe Mueller's team actually needed Corsi's cooperation?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, thus far Robert Mueller hasn't done anything without a purpose. We can assume that there's some kind of reason why he's so focused on Corsi. And of course, perjury or false statements are often a way to gain leverage over individuals to get their further cooperation.

[17:30:09] That said, there's a difference between needing someone's cooperation and someone's cooperation being helpful. Certainly, Corsi is the kind of person who could provide helpful cooperation in potentially connecting those dots between WikiLeaks and Russia and the Trump campaign. But is he really the only individual who can provide that testimony? It does seem like there is potentially a lot of other strong evidence

against Roger Stone. So I don't know that they necessarily need his testimony sort of in the strict sense.

BLITZER: Corsi says that Mueller's team wanted his plea -- plea deal to remain under seal. Why would he want that, Mueller?

HENNESSEY: Yes, so I think we should always have sort of a note of caution in crediting anything that Jerome Corsi says. Ordinarily, when people are in serious plea negotiations, they don't talk about it in public, because it can actually harm those negotiations.

That said, there are two reasons why you would want a plea agreement to be under seal. One is, you want ongoing cooperation from that person such that if everyone knew they were cooperating, you couldn't get it. The other is if there's piece of information that the government doesn't want to disclose publicly. So how do they know that Corsi was lying, putting something -- and I'm speaking hypothetically here -- like a taped conversation with Julian Assange or an e-mail from X account. That potentially could tip off other individuals, and so that's one reason why prosecutors would ask for it to be sealed.

BLITZER: You know, Joey Jackson, the -- he was professing his innocence, but last week Corsi said he was in negotiations with Mueller and his team for a plea deal. Why would someone who was thinking of cooperating with the prosecutors all of a sudden announce publicly no deal?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So here's the issue. When you plead guilty, oftentimes or all the time, you have to not only plead guilty, but you have to allocute. What that means in English is that you have to present to the court specifically what you did. You have to make admissions about what you did, when you did it, and with whom, if anyone, you did it with.

And so there are times where a client, in principle, wants to plead guilty but says, "Look, I did what they accused me of in count one, two, and three of the indictment. I didn't do four or five." And so they will have serious issues with making an agreement into saying things that just did not happen.

Now here's the bigger point. The bigger point is that no one has to take a guilty plea. You have an absolute right to go trial, and a judge will tell you as you're pleading guilty, "Are pleading guilty because are you guilty? Do you understand that a plea of guilty is as if you did have a trial?"

So essentially at the end of the day, you don't need to enter a plea. But in the event that he says, "I'm not going to do it and I'm staunchly against it," you had better be right. Because now you do get to go to that place called a trial, and the consequences are often so much more severe, Wolf, after trial if you're found guilty than they would be at a plea bargain, hence the incentive to plead in the first instance. BLITZER: That's an excellent point, indeed. Jamie, the Harvard Law

professor emeritus, Alan Dershowitz, who has defended the president in some of these legal issues over the past year or so, he said yesterday that the Mueller report, in his view, will be politically devastating to the president. Politically devastating to the president.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: If Donald Trump has lost Alan Dershowitz on this one, who has been defending him and defending him, he should be worried. And I think, looking at Trump's Twitter feed today, he is worried, because he was back out there going after Mueller.

Expect two things. Alan Dershowitz says the White House is already preparing a response. That will be a legal response. But also expect the political response from the man who likes to fight more than anybody else, and that's Donald Trump. There is going to be an avalanche of insults and exclamation points and capital letters like nothing you've seen.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: And just to highlight Jamie's point, I think Susan and Joey touch on it. There's a huge difference between legal outcomes here and political. They're just not the same.

Donald Trump always says, "Well, no one stepped forward. I'm innocent." It's not really -- the political piece of this is not really about guilt or innocence, necessarily. It's about what does Mueller have and how does that impact Donald Trump's political future? How much does that impact Republicans' political future, Democrats' political future? So these things are -- they are moving, obviously, along parallel tracks. The legal as it relates to Mueller, and then the political impact from Mueller. But they're not the same thing.

So Donald Trump may, in the end, not be indicted or found negligible or whatever in the legal piece. That doesn't mean that politically, he's out of the woods. I think we have to separate them. They're intertwined but not the same.

HENNESSEY: I mean, the other --

BLITZER: The Democrats, the Democrats are about to be the majority in the House. They can investigate whatever they want.

CILLIZZA: And I think they will. And that's the key. Remember, I think depending -- I always say this -- depending on what Mueller has, that may be, in some ways, a start for some of these investigations. A launching point to say, "Well, Mueller went here, but is there more?"

So this is -- we tend to look at the Mueller investigation whenever it happens in this release as the end of the story. I doubt that it will be, given Democrats in the House.

[17:25:06] HENNESSEY: Another thing to keep in mind is we know an extraordinary amount of politically damaging information already --


HENNESSEY: And so the power of a report that presents that, not in news articles over the course of months or years, but all in one report with sort of the imprimatur of the federal government behind it, even if there weren't revelations of new information, even that could be really politically devastating.

CILLIZZA: Totally.

GANGEL: And don't downplay politically devastating. His approval ratings are at 60 percent today.

BLITZER: Disapproval.

GANGEL: Disapproval ratings. And what's the most important word in Donald Trump's mind right now?

JACKSON: Ratings.

GANGEL: 2020. It's that --

BLITZER: But Joey, when you say ratings, he's always worried about his ratings.

GANGEL: Precisely. And so obviously, it's problematic. But you know, he'll continue to govern for his base, et cetera. And he has a staunch group of people who are behind him, will continue to be behind him. And that's what he plays upon, and that's why he's met with so much success.

BLITZER: I've got a quick break coming up right now. Everybody, stick around. Much more right after this.


[17:40:40] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts. And Jamie, General Motors announced today that they're laying off thousands of workers, shutting down five plants in the U.S. and Canada. Fifteen percent of their salaried work force going out.

The president says he's not happy, very angry about it. Listen to what he said last year at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was looking at some of those big, once-incredible job-producing factories, and my wife, Melania, said, "What happened?"

I said, "Those jobs have left Ohio." They're all coming back. They're all coming back. Coming back. Don't move. Don't sell your house.

We're going to get those values up. We're going to get those jobs coming back, and we're going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build brand-new ones. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Those jobs are not coming back, and people are going to have to start selling their houses.

GANGEL: Correct. So there's good news for Mary Barra. Her stock price --

BLITZER: The head of GM --

GANGEL: The head of GM -- went up today. The bad news is, she is now on Donald Trump's speed dial and under his Twitter finger. He is going to be going after this. We saw it with Harley-Davidson. We saw it with Carrier.

But here's the reality. This is about exactly what we just heard Donald Trump say. This is about jobs and about votes. Ohio is critical for him. It's the same reason he is going to Mississippi tonight, and not doing one rally but two rallies. It's about votes.

BLITZER: Closing plants in Ohio and Michigan. Critically important states.

CILLIZZA: Right. So how does Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016? He does it in the Midwest in places that we didn't think he could by really mobilizing white, not -- this is -- I'm being broad here, but white men who were lower educated and lower income, who wanted a saving of that manufacturing industry.

Wisconsin, Scott Walker lost the governor's race. Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, wins.

Now, in Ohio, a Republican, Mike DeWine, has won the governorship there. But in Pennsylvania, a Democrat wins. Illinois, a Democrat wins.

So look in that space and remember that, for all of Donald Trump's about how he won with a massive amount, you take one of those Midwestern states away, and his path becomes a lot more problematic.

To Jamie's point, he made a lot of promises like that on the campaign trail in places like Ohio and Michigan and Illinois and Pennsylvania. "I'm going to fix everything. We're going to make everything better. The Manufacturing industry is going to come back. You're all going to have jobs."

Anyone who knows the nature of our 21st Century economy knows that that was going to be a very, very, very hard promise to keep. I think some of that bill is going to come to bear on Donald Trump in 2020 in these states.

BLITZER: Very embarrassing for the president after all the talk he made of bringing those jobs back, opening new GM plants, getting the U.S. auto industry working again. And all of a sudden, this announcement from GM. CILLIZZA: Well, and remember, so much of the conceit of the campaign

was "Other presidents, other politicians make bad deals. I will make good deals, and I will tell these people they're not allowed to do X, Y, or Z and leave." Well, saying, "It's very bad. I'm very upset," isn't the same thing as changing her mind, Mary Barra, the head of GM. That's not what's happening here.

So does some of the mystique wear off? Joey made the point earlier, not among his base. No. Because the mystique is never going to wear off there, but in the middle.

GANGEL: And he likes to say he's a smart businessman as if, oh, build a better car, as if GM didn't think about that before. Their stock price went up today, because they did do a smart business decision.

BLITZER: And the Gallup poll, Joey, has him -- his disapproval number, a high of 60 percent of the American people disapprove of the job he's doing. If Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard Law professor emeritus, is right, that the Mueller report will be politically devastating, who knows where the number could wind up?

JACKSON: Yes. I think it could be problematic for him in the event that it certainly is made public and everyone has an opportunity to evaluate it. But there's a lot of dots yet to connect. And depending upon what those dots are -- I mean, certainly we were anticipating and expecting -- and I think Mueller did the right thing, Wolf, inasmuch as waiting until after the election, not meddling in that at all. And then thereafter, I think the shoe is going to drop quickly.

And I think part of that shoe is what we talked about previously. What does Corsi have to do with anything?

[17:45:00] What does Corsi have to do with anything? What does Roger Stone have to do with anything? Is there a connection? Is there, on the issue of Russian collusion, any collusion there?

We know that there have been indictments. There certainly have been guilty pleas. We saw someone today, Papadopoulos, walk into jail.

What's going to be the next thing to happen? How is Trump connected to it? And how damning is the report once it's released?

I think that will affect approval numbers for sure, and we certainly know that this President is obsessed with ratings.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, good point again.

All right, everybody, stick around. There is much more coming up, including more on the very dangerous new provocation on a key shipping route. World leaders are blaming Russia. So what's Vladimir Putin up to now?


[17:50:28] BLITZER: Breaking news. Leaving the White House this afternoon, President Trump described himself as not happy at all about a dangerous new crisis involving Russia. Russian gunboats seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and temporarily blocked a sea passage vital to Ukraine's economy.

The U.S. State Department calls the incident a violation of international law. And at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, the U.S. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, called it -- and I'm quoting her now -- yet another reckless Russian escalation.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what are we learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we are learning that anger and frustration in Washington toward Vladimir Putin is building. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just condemned, what he called, this aggressive Russian action.

But a key question tonight, is President Trump really going to hold Vladimir Putin to account over this?


TODD (voice-over): What began as a high-speed pursuit on the high seas, tonight, has become a high stakes international crisis.

It began Sunday as this Russian navy ship was bearing down on a Ukrainian vessel. You can hear a commander barking orders in Russian.


TODD (voice-over): Come on, he says, left. Then with a heavy thud and a splash of spray, the bigger Russian vessel slams into the Ukrainian boat.

This collision, caught on camera, is the latest flashpoint between Russia and Ukraine and the latest aggression, critics say, by a power- hungry Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine says Russian ships intercepted Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait, a narrow passage between Russia and Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which Putin annexed illegally four years ago.

The Russians say it was the Ukrainians who acted aggressively.


TODD (voice-over): But the Russians seized three Ukrainian ships and detained two dozen Ukrainian sailors.

Analysts say this fits a pattern of the ambitious Russian president who, they say, is obsessed with the former Soviet Republic that he partially invaded in 2014 after it began turning away politically from Mother Russia and toward Western acceptance.

MATTHEW ROJANSKY, DIRECTOR OF THE KENNAN INSTITUTE, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Putin is obsessed with Ukraine because it works. Because constantly needling Ukraine prevents the biggest country in Europe from moving on, being something other than a post-Soviet basket case.

When and if it happened, at that point, 150 million Russians are going to look to the west, at 50 million Ukrainians, and say, well, why not us? And that would be a very big problem for Putin.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say Ukraine's moves toward joining the E.U. and NATO, two groups it has not yet joined, are a threat to Putin who still regrets the day the Soviet empire collapsed.

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE OFFICER FOR RUSSIA AND EURASIA, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE COUNCIL: For him, having what he is calling this privileged sphere of influence is critical to -- on the path to restoring Russia's great power status. And Ukraine really sits at the heart of that.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump's U.N. Ambassador made it clear who she is siding with.

NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The United States will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine against the Russian aggression.

TODD (voice-over): But, tonight, the President is being less forceful.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't like what's happening. And hopefully, it'll get straightened out. I know Europe is not -- they are not thrilled. They're working on it, too. We're all working on it together.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say this latest international crisis puts more pressure on President Trump to hold Putin accountable when they likely meet at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires this week.

KENDALL-TAYLOR: Russia has a long track record of probing and testing U.S. and Western resolve, and that's exactly what's happening here. So I think it really raises the stakes in formulating our response.

We have to come back with a clear, strong, unified message at the G20 about what the United States is willing to do if Putin doesn't stop these types of provocative actions.


TODD: So will President Trump really put pressure on Vladimir Putin over this latest clash between Russia and Ukraine in their expected meeting in Argentina this week?

Well, we pressed the Trump administration repeatedly on that question. Neither the White House nor the State Department would comment, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, some analysts are saying there is a certain way President Trump has to approach Putin over all of this. What's going on?

TODD: Right, Wolf. One analyst, a former senior intelligence officer, says if Trump is really going to come out strongly and criticize Putin over this incident and make him feel any consequences for it, well, Trump has really got to do that in private.

This analyst says that Putin would respond better to that, and it would allow him to adjust his behavior without appearing weak in the eyes of the Russian people. And that is absolutely crucial for Vladimir Putin. So a lot of eyes are going to be watching them in Argentina this week.

BLITZER: We'll be watching them very closely. All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

[17:55:04] Coming up, a key figure in the Russia probe refuses Robert Mueller's offer of a plea deal. What does it tell us about the Special Counsel's investigation?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Border escalation. President Trump is defending the use of tear gas against migrants who rushed toward the U.S. border, seizing on the unrest to push funding for his wall. Is his threat to close the southern border permanently serious?

[17:59:56] Refusing to plead. An associate of Trump ally Roger Stone says he won't agree to a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Will Jerome Corsi wind up in jail like the former Trump campaign aide who started his prison time today?