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Interview With Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA); Almost 100 Million in Path of Winter Storm; Top U.S. General for Korea: "Little to No Verifiable Change" in North Korea's Military Capabilities. Aired on 6-7p ET

Aired February 12, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Intelligence Committee chairman also is venting his frustration with President Trump's former fixer and lawyer, who postponed today's scheduled appearance before the committee, the angry lawmaker saying -- and I'm quoting him now -- "We may help him go to prison."

Shutdown for nothing. President Trump sends signals he may sign a compromise bill to avert another government shutdown, even though it contains less money for his wall than Democrats were offering in December. So what was the point of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history?

And winter storm wallop. One-third of the U.S. population is being pounded tonight by snow, ice, wind and rain, all of it creating travel havoc, with more than 2,000 flights canceled so far and even preventing lawmakers from landing to attend the funeral of former Congressman John Dingell.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: There's breaking news tonight in two major stories we're following, including a rare public split between the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, and the vice chairman, Democrat Mark Warner.

He's now saying that he rejects Burr's claim that the panel found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Also breaking, an angry outburst by Senator Burr aimed at former Trump fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen, who postponed testimony to the panel that was scheduled for today. Burr said that any goodwill that might have existed between the committee and Cohen is now gone.

I will talk about the breaking news with Congressman Ted Lieu of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill for us tonight.

Manu, it's a rare public split between the chairman and the vice chairman of this really important committee. What's the latest?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, for two years, this committee has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election looking into the key issue about whether there was a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians to influence the 2016 elections.

One issue that has been a partisan split that has mostly occurred behind closed doors has been about whether or not there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But, in recent weeks, Richard Burr, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, has gone public and said that what he has seen is no evidence to suggests there's any collusion whatsoever.

Now, that has given the president fodder on the campaign trail that we saw last night and on Twitter saying there was no collusion whatsoever between the campaign and the Russians. But he's facing now some significant pushback from the vice chairman of the committee, Mark Warner, who says that he significantly rejects that conclusion.

Now, earlier today, Richard Burr was asked directly whether or not his comments exonerate the president in any way.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I'm not sure how to put it any clearer than I have said it before. We have no factual evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.


RAJU: Now, when asked about this today, Mark Warner, the vice chairman, said, he doesn't agree.

He said: "Respectfully, I disagree. I'm not going to get into any conclusions I have reached because my basis of this has been that I'm not going to reach any conclusion until we finish the investigation, and we still have a number of the key witnesses to come back."

Now, Warner has been pushing for people like Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, to return to the committee. He has called for Donald Trump Jr. also to once again testify. They have not spoken to some key witnesses like Roger Stone, and there's a lot that the committee has not uncovered that the Mueller investigation has so far.

They want to look at the report, if it does come out and if it is sent to Congress, what else they have to look into. So there is some significant frustration that we have not seen play out publicly after Richard Burr's comments because much of this investigation still has not happened yet, because, even if it's been two years, Wolf, that key question has now been resolved, the amount of coordination, collusion, conspiracy that have may have occurred between Trump campaign and Russia.

There's still a disagreement along party lines and still, in Mark Warner's view, a lot more to investigate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu, Senator Burr also expressed his deep frustration with the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who has now delayed testifying up on Capitol Hill on three separate occasions.

Tell our viewers what the senator said.

RAJU: Yes, three separate committees on Capitol Hill just this year who wanted to talk to Michael Cohen after his guilty plea after he pleaded guilty to lying to both the Senate House Intelligence Committee about those conversations that he had with President Trump about that Trump Tower Moscow project up until the 2016 campaign, they want to hear more about those conversations.


He was scheduled to come before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, but he said he was not able to through his attorney because of a medical issue.

But what really set off Richard Burr today was seeing on Twitter that Michael Cohen appeared to be out and about on the town, even at dinner, appearing no real medical issue that he was dealing with, Wolf.

Richard Burr, when he was asked about this day, teed off.


BURR: I can assure you that any goodwill that might have existed in the committee with Michael Cohen is now gone. He's had a letter for six months asking for his return.

He's already stiffed us on being in Washington today because of an illness. Yet, on Twitter, a reporter report that he was having a wild night Saturday night eating out in New York go with five buddies. Didn't seem to have any physical limitations. And he was out with his wife last night.

I would prefer to get him before he goes to prison. But the way he's positioning himself, not coming to the committee, we may help him go to prison.


RAJU: Now, Burr's comments may have had some impact, Wolf.

He just told reporters in the Capitol that he's been speaking all have day to Michael Cohen's attorney. There's some optimism that he will come back before he reports to prison, although they have seen this movie time and again, scheduling time with Michael Cohen who's only delayed his testimony. Of course, he was supposed to come before the House Oversight Committee, one of those appearances in a public setting, but he was going to be asked about even that hush money scheme that he was involved with and those crimes that President Trump was implicated in during the 2016 campaign. But he delayed that public testimony out of fear for his family's safety.

Will he come before the that committee again? Elijah Cummings, the chairman of that committee, told me he's prepared to subpoena him even when he goes to -- when he reports to prison in March. So Michael Cohen has not seen the last of Capitol Hill, as you're seeing several angry chairmen want to hear what he has to say.

BLITZER: Yes, he's supposed to begin his three-year prison sentence on March 6.

Manu, I want you to stand by.

I want to bring in our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, what do you -- you have been doing a lot of reporting on this. What's behind Michael Cohen's repeated delays?


I think we're all kind of scratching our heads, right? Because he keeps saying he wants to come in. He wants to talk to members of Congress. But each time as we get closer to the date where he's supposed to appear, there's some excuse that comes up.

Now it's a medical issue. Well, on Saturday, as Manu there was saying, and as the senator was saying, he was seen partying at a restaurant, having dinner at a very exclusive restaurant. It's Fashion Week in New York. He's out having dinner with some family members and some friends, and he's seen by people in the restaurant shaking hands, talking as if everything is normal.

And then he's supposed to appear today. And then yesterday we learned that he says he can't come because there's some kind of medical issue. So the question really now is, will he actually show up? Members of Congress, members in the Senate, they all want to hear from him.

He keeps saying he wants to have his day. He wanted to come in and talk and tell his story. That hasn't happened yet.

BLITZER: Also on the Russia investigation, John Dowd, the president's former lawyer, is now opening up and explaining why he never wanted the president to answer questions in person from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, clearly fearing the president would wind up perjuring himself.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, and he gives an interesting story about why he was concerned that the president might perjure himself.

Look, time and time again, what we have heard from these lawyers, from the president's lawyers, from people close to the president, that they have always been concerned that there would be a perjury trap, that the president wouldn't remember something, and then Mueller would get him in a perjury trap.

And here's how Dowd kind of explained it in this podcast to ABC News.


JOHN DOWD, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: In my questioning him or talking to him, first question, easy. Second question, easy. Third question, he wasn't sure.

And he doesn't like being unsure. So he will guess. There's your trap right there. It's not whether he lies or not. Everybody wants to get into this integrity business. It's not a matter of integrity. It's overload.

What I was worried about is that he really couldn't do it. He couldn't do it. There's no way he could -- I mean, we would have to script it. As a matter of fact, I told Bob, I said, why don't you just let us script it?


PROKUPECZ: And Bob there, he is talking about Mueller obviously, Wolf, saying they wanted to script these questions.

In the end, they did get what they wanted. The president did submit to questions from the special counsel. He didn't have to be interviewed.

BLITZER: In writing.

PROKUPECZ: In writing. He did everything in writing and they did get what they wanted in the end.

But always, we have always heard the concern was always that the president was going to perjure himself and that Mueller would have something to kind of hold over him and perhaps could potentially bring charges against him.

But, clearly, it seems the lawyers here did get their way. They did get questions, written questions to him. But it's almost laughable when you think about the idea that the lawyers were trying to somehow control the Mueller investigation, offering to somehow script this.


I mean, that to me is a little bit going too far, the idea that a prosecutor would allow defense attorneys to script it. But he answered the questions the way they wanted in the end.

BLITZER: Interesting little detail.

Shimon, thanks very much. Manu, thanks to you as well. There's more breaking news we're following, mixed signals right now

from the White House on whether the president will sign a compromise spending bill to avert another government shutdown this Friday.

Our chief White House correspondents, Jim Acosta, is working the story for us.

Jim, this deal contains less money for the president's border wall than Democrats offered him in December, before the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And that's why President Trump is making it clear he is not happy with the border deal aimed at preventing another government shutdown. But he is sending signals that he will sign this agreement.

A White House official told us earlier today he's likely to sign the deal at this point, though other aides are saying they still want to review the agreement. But the question at this hour is whether the president will follow through on these signals that we heard from him earlier today, or whether the country is barreling toward another costly shutdown.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is bordering on a deal to keep the government from shutting down again. But he's far from pleased.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not happy about it. It's not doing the trick. But I'm adding things to it. And when you add whatever I have to add, it's all -- it's all going to happen where we're going to build a beautiful, big, strong wall that's not going to let criminals and traffickers and drug dealers and drugs into our country.

It's very simple. It's very simple. We're building a wall.

ACOSTA: A White House official said the president is likely to sign the deal that includes more than a billion dollars in new border fencing, but that's only a fraction of what the White House wanted, and even less than what Democrats offered Mr. Trump in December, all raising the question, did the president shut the government down for nothing?

REP. JOHN YARMUTH (D), KENTUCKY: I think it's what every compromise should be. It's not everything Democrats wanted. It's certainly not any -- everything Republicans wanted, and certainly not everything the president wanted.

ACOSTA: Slumping in the polls after taking ownership of the last shutdown, the president made it clear that's not going to happen this time around.

TRUMP: I accept. I have always accepted it. But this one, I would never accept if it happens, but I don't think it's going to happen. But this would be totally on the Democrats. ACOSTA: And Mr. Trump hinted at what White House officials have been

previewing for days, that the administration is likely to tap into other funding sources to scrape up more money for the wall than what Congress is offering.

TRUMP: We're using other methods other than this. And in addition to this, we have a lot of things going. We have a lot of money in this country, and we're using some of that money, a small percentage of that money, to build the wall, which we desperately need.

ACOSTA: Still, the president is eager to take the fight to Democrats in 2020, painting them as socialists with a radical environmental agenda.

TRUMP: It also has to do with 2020 and the election. But I really don't like their policy of taking away your car, of taking away your airplane flights, of let's hop a train to California, of you're not allowed to own cows anymore.

ACOSTA: The president is still using misleading talking points, continuing to spread the falsehood that a wall led to a drastic reduction in crime in El Paso, when local leaders have insisted Mr. Trump is lying.

TRUMP: I don't care whether a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat. They're full of crap when they say it hasn't made a big difference.

ACOSTA: The president is still crying foul over the Russia investigation, blaming the news media.

TRUMP: No president should ever have to go through what we have gone through in the first two years. It's a hoax. It's a disgrace.

ACOSTA: But this time, Mr. Trump's attacks on the press may have pushed one of his supporters over the edge, as a man in MAGA hat was spotted roughing up a photographer for the BBC.

TRUMP: Everything OK?

ACOSTA: Just another Trump rally that's gone to the dogs.

TRUMP: How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn? Would that be -- sort of not for -- I don't know, it doesn't -- I don't feel good. It feels a little phony, phony to me.


ACOSTA: Now, the big question moving forward this week, besides whether the president signs this deal, is whether the president declares a national emergency to build his wall, a move that would trigger legal challenges, or if the administration will simply look to other funding sources that won't get tied up in court.

Either way, the president may not be able to find the amount of money he needs to build the wall he promised supporters during the campaign, never mind the fact that Mexico is no longer picking up the tab. And, Wolf, we should point out, getting back to that incident that happened at the rally last night in El Paso, where a BBC photographer was roughed up, roughed up by a supporter of the president, the White House did release a statement this afternoon, saying: "President Trump condemns all acts of violence against any individual or group of people, including members of the press," this coming from Sarah Sanders, the press secretary.


She goes on to say: "We ask that anyone attending an event do so in a peaceful and respectful manner."

But, Wolf, absent from that statement, as you saw there from Sarah Sanders, is any kind of indication that the president is going to knock off the kind of volatile rhetoric that sometimes creates a climate of violence and danger for reporters who cover those rallies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You have covered a lot of those rallies. So you have some firsthand knowledge on all that.

Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California is joining us. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says they haven't seen any factual evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Do you think that's accurate?

LIEU: Thank you for that question.

Let me first say that today were the funeral services for John Dingell, an American hero, in Michigan. My prayers are with his wife, Debbie Dingell, and their family.

In terms of the question you asked, I disagree with the Senate chair of the Intelligence Committee. If you look at the indictment that was handed down on Roger Stone, it very clearly says that a senior Trump campaign official was directed by someone even higher to go seek dirt on Hillary Clinton from WikiLeaks, which is a front for the Russians.

That looks like collusion to me. In addition, you have Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chair, handing over internal polling data to a Russian operative. So I think the investigations need to continue before any judgments are made.

BLITZER: Is this a matter, though, of people interpreting the various facts differently depending on their political party? LIEU: It certainly could be that.

And I know that Senator Warner disagrees with the assessment of the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But the investigations are not yet concluded. And because of the indictment of Roger Stone, with that very tantalizing paragraph about a person directing a senior Trump campaign official to get damaging information Hillary Clinton, there's a lot more that needs to be resolved to know who gave that order, who else was involved.

And I don't think we can make any judgments at this point.

BLITZER: Yes, as important as the Senate Intelligence Committee or the House Intelligence Committee's conclusions are concerned, what Robert Mueller and the special counsel team come up with is clearly a lot more important.

We have no idea what their bottom line is yet going to be. But we assume it's wrapping up rather quickly.

It also sounds, Congressman, like Senator Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has completely lost patience with the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen.

How do you explain all the delays of his testimony on Capitol Hill?

LIEU: I can't explain it, because both the House and the Senate have subpoena power. Michael Cohen is very aware of that. Michael Cohen is not going to go anywhere. He's going to go to prison pretty soon. He will be called back at any time.

So I don't really know why he keeps delaying, because he cannot escape his testimony before either the House or the Senate.

BLITZER: We also heard from the president's former lawyer John Dowd, who says they were very wary of the president actually sitting down for an interview with Robert Mueller and his team.

What message does that send, if the investigation wraps up without a formal interview? He did some Q&A in writing, but without a formal sit-down interview with the president?

LIEU: There's a very easy way to not commit perjury. And that's simply to tell the truth.

And for Trump's former attorney to say that the president is basically incapable of telling the truth is something that should be very disconcerting to all Americans.

BLITZER: Your committee, the House Judiciary Committee, has now hired two new legal consultants who have previously advocated for the president's impeachment or possible indictment.

Are these new hires a step in the right direction? We're talking about Barry Berke, and we're -- let's put that graphic up one more time. You can see it -- and Norm Eisen, a former CNN contributor. LIEU: I am very pleased with these new hires.

Barry Berke is an outstanding lawyer who has a great reputation and knows a lot about criminal law. Norm Eisen is a former ambassador and ethics czar in the White House who knows a lot about ethics. We're going to need their expertise as we go ahead this year with our oversight of the Trump administration.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the border security deal, the compromise package.

It looks like the president will accept this compromise. You heard our report from Jim Acosta, but he's considering other options as well to what he calls to supplement the deal, divert potentially other funds to build his wall.

Is there any way for him to do that without having Democrats launch a major legal challenge?

LIEU: So, first, I'm pleased that both Republican and Democratic negotiators agreed on a deal. And I hope that Donald Trump signs it.

He cannot go ahead and redirect funds that Congress has previously appropriated to go build his wall. Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives has the power of the purse. We specifically direct funds for disaster areas, for military construction to help military families.


For him to reroute that money, in my opinion, would violate the Constitution.

BLITZER: Let's get ready, I'm sure, for some legal action, if that happens.

Congressman Ted Lieu of California, thanks so much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues next.

We're going to have more on the surprise sudden split between the top lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee on the question of collusion.

Plus, the brutal winter storm pummeling about one-third of the U.S. population tonight, we will get the latest forecast.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, a sudden and very public split between the top two lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The vice chairman, the Democrat Mark Warner, rejecting Republican

Chairman Richard Burr's statement that the committee has found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.

So, David Swerdlick, I'm going to play the clip. This is Richard Burr. And there's been a very collegial atmosphere over the past year, longer than that, between him and Senator Warner. But listen to Burr's specifically.


BURR: I'm not sure how to put it any clearer than I have said it before. We have no factual evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.


BLITZER: "We have no factual evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia."

Senator Warner says he respectfully disagrees. He says they have more interviews to do, more work to do, their investigation is not over.

What do you make of this?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Right. That answer from Senator Burr, I think, rests on what the meaning of collusion is, at least the way that he meant it.

If it means that there's not a prosecutable case of conspiracy to defraud the United States, OK. We don't have the Mueller report yet. Congress doesn't have the Mueller report yet. They're still doing investigations.

If he means that he has seen nothing to suggest that there were dots connecting the Trump inner circle during the campaign to anybody related to Russia, then I think that prompts further questions.

Warner and -- Senator Warner and Senator Burr work much better together than did Congressman Schiff and Congressman Nunes the House side. Maybe this is a slight rift in that relationship.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, I'm anxious for your thoughts, because collusion is another word for conspiracy.


But, I mean, this is about what the evidence shows of their investigation. How about, let's see the evidence? I mean, they're talking about evidence that actually exists in the world. There are transcripts. There are factual -- there are e-mails that they found. Let's see it.

I mean, isn't that the whole purpose of this investigation, to, like, find out what happened? I mean, both these senators are intelligent men. They obviously have their political motivations. But the only way to settle this is to show the public the evidence.

And it doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon, but it should happen at some point, and then everybody can make up their mind.

BLITZER: Ron, go ahead.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I was going to say, I really -- I don't think anybody's expecting either congressional committee at this point to settle this, right?

I mean, ultimately, if this is going to be settled at any point, it is going to be in the Mueller investigation and the Mueller report. And that's why it is so important that that ultimately be shared with the public.

We saw in polling again this week overwhelming majorities of the public on all sides want that to be -- want that to be made public when it is concluded. But I don't think anybody is going to feel that these issues are resolved one way or the other until we see them the Mueller report, and maybe not even then.

But that's certainly our best chance of getting to a sense of resolution.

TOOBIN: But even if we don't -- but even -- the Mueller report obviously is very important.

But why aren't these -- why isn't the result of the Senate Intelligence Committee public? Is the whole purpose so a senator can hold a press conference in the hallway of the Capitol? All that work for that?

I mean, why don't they do a report and let people evaluate it?

BLITZER: I know Kaitlan wants to weigh in.

You're our White House correspondent.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's interesting, like Manu laid out earlier, to see such a split, because, so far, even though surely they have disagreed behind the scenes, we have not seen them split in this way.

I think one reason for that is the president touting what Richard Burr has said, as he did at his rally in El Paso last night, where I was. The president made a big point of saying that they had found no collusion yet, despite the 200 interviews. The president cited that number specifically that they have done.

So I think that's why we saw Warner respond.

BLITZER: You went to Harvard Law School. What is the definition of collusion? LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: As you said, it's just a

colloquial term for conspiracy. Right?

And so that's why I think everyone has harped on it. They have obviously used it, the conspiracy charge, the conspiracy against the United States. We have seen it against the Russians. We have seen against other defendants here. So conspiracy has been something that's charged.

But have they made the direct link from Russia to a Trump campaign official? No, they haven't done that. And -- but on the other hand, Richard Burr came out, I think a few weeks ago, and pointed out when we got that evidence from one of the Manafort charging papers about the polling data that Manafort gave to Kilimnik, that Russian intelligence agent -- he did point out that that was interesting to him, and it was troubling.

And so the investigation isn't done yet, obviously, on the Mueller front and on the congressional front . They need to interview Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. They need to interview Manafort. They need to interview Gates and, of course, Michael Cohen.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of Michael Cohen, Jeffrey Toobin, Senator Burr, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, had some harsh words for Michael Cohen, who was supposed to appear today behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but didn't show up.

Listen to this.


BURR: I can assure you that any goodwill that might have existed in the committee with Michael Cohen is now gone. He's had a letter for six months asking for his return.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), N.C.: He has already stiffed us on being in Washington today because of an illness. Yet on twitter, a reporter reported he was having a wild night, Saturday night, eating out in New York with five buddies. He didn't seem to have any physical limitations. And he was out with his wife last night.

I have never gotten into who we have subpoenaed and who we haven't. I think he clearly rises to one of the people that I would go to every length I could to make sure that we got his testimony.

I would prefer to get him before he goes to prison. But, you know, the way he is positioning himself, not coming to the committee, we may help him go to prison.


BLITZER: Jeffrey, have you heard Senator Burr, the Chairman, that animated before on a sensitive issue like this? TOOBIN: No. It is unusual to hear Senator Burr talk that way. Look, as I understand it, Michael Cohen has had shoulder surgery, he is still in pain. I don't know the fact that he was at a restaurant eating dinner proves that he was out partying. I mean, I don't know his precise medical condition.

It does seem to me that he is very likely to testify soon. He is scheduled to testify in the House Intelligence Committee February 28th. I assume that will go forward. I don't blame senator burr for being irritated. But it sounds like Cohen will testify at some point. And just because he is going to jail doesn't mean he can't testify. They will just bring him from jail to testify.

BLITZER: It will be in Upstate New York, not too far away. How do you see it, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, look, I mean, we don't know what's going on inside his head. We know we have seen in public. We have seen the Tweet from the President which seemed to threaten his family. And we don't know how much that is weighing on him. We don't know how much the - again, you know, all of this - I think all of the congressional activity is subsidiary to the Mueller investigation.

And we don't know what kind of concerns there are about - from the Mueller side about what he might testify to in Congress. As Jeffrey said, I mean, he is likely to tell at least some of his story before he goes to jail. But I think that the - again, the expectation that we're going to really feel that we have gotten to bottom of this through the congressional investigation has Pretty much vanished by this point.

BLITZER: You know, David, it was interesting, because John Dowd, the President's former lawyer, also said he would be shocked. He used the word shocked if any part of the Mueller report concerning the President becomes public.

SWERDLICK: And I would be shocked then if democrats didn't react to that by calling hearings, possibly calling Special Counsel Mueller to testify before the House Intelligence Committee or possibly other committees. Democrats have control of one House of Congress right now.

And I think they are hesitant right now on something like impeachment. They are not hesitant about getting people before them and asking questions.

BLITZER: You know, Kaitlan, listen to John Dowd in this ABC podcast speak about why he never wanted the President to answer questions orally. He did it in writing with the Special Counsel.

JOHN DOWD, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: in my questioning him or talking to him, in question - you know, first question, easy. Second question, easy. Third question, he wasn't sure. And he doesn't like being unsure. So he will guess. There's your trap right there. It's not whether he lies or not. Everybody wants to get into this, you know, this integrity business. It's not a matter of integrity. It is overload. What I was worried about is that he really couldn't do it. He couldn't do it. There's no way he could - I mean, we have to script it. A matter of fact, I told Bob, I said, why don't you just let us script it?

BLITZER: What do you think?

COLLINS: Script it is an interesting choice. Well, in the end, the President did end up submitting written questions to them. So I guess that could be what he was alluding to there. But he is saying that that's a trap, because when the President is asked something, if he is not sure about the answer, that he will guess and say something. That's not a trap on the Special Counsel's part that the President would make up an answer if he wasn't sure what exactly the answer would be. But it does show the fears going back in the President's legal team that show why the President never sat down with Mueller in person.

And it's interesting to hear John Dowd talk about the Special Counsel the way he did, referring them as a fraud, essentially saying they have got nothing that they are chasing. But when he left the team, he called them terrific, he said he had never had a better relationship than the one with Robert Mueller. So his thinking has clearly changed.

JARRETT: But that's extraordinary. You never hear a former lawyer talking about their client that way, basically saying, he doesn't have the mental fortitude to withstand a third round of questioning on something. I mean, you owe your clients a duty of loyalty, a duty of confidentiality. I'm not suggesting he broke privilege or anything in this way. But certainly, there's a relationship there and he totally blew past it, saying he is unsure on his feet. I mean, that's an amazing statement from his former lawyer.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Jeffrey, I know you want to weigh in.


TOOBIN: I just think it's completely bizarre. I mean, ask the guy a question and he answered it. I mean, that's how the legal world works. And he is saying Donald Trump is incapable of doing that? Well, I mean, what does that even mean?

BLITZER: All right, hold your thoughts. Everybody hold your thoughts. There's a lot more we need to assess on all the breaking news right after this.


[18:37:59] BLITZER: There's more breaking news. We're following a White House official tells CNN that President Trump is likely to sign the compromise spending bill that would avert another government shutdown this Friday, even though the President publically said he is not happy with the compromise measure. What are you hearing, Kaitlan, because you've got some new information?

COLLINS: Well, you notice that White House official doesn't go on the record to say that the President is going to sign this because no one knows for sure that the President will. They are still looking it over. Last night when it came out, he was on stage in El Paso.

But right now, what seems to be one of the biggest options is that the President could sign this, avoid the government shutdown happening on Friday when the government runs out of money. But then the White House has been planning behind this since for weeks for the president to either declare a national emergency or use some type of executive action to get other federal funds to fund this barrier structure that he wants on the border.

So that seems to be an option that they are still looking at if the President is not pleased with the number that's in this bill because it's way far less than the $5.7 billion he demanded when he first shut the government down in December.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, the deal is a lot less than what the President turned down in December, before the 35-day shutdown, the longest in U.S. history. I'll put some numbers up on the screen. The deal that the President turned down in December had $1.6 billion for 65 miles of a barrier. What the President wanted originally was $5.7 billion for 234 miles. Now, the negotiators in this new compromise, they have come up with $1.375 billion for 55 miles.

TOOBIN: No. That certainly looks like he shut down the government for no reason. But just as I understand the law, I actually do think the President could use his emergency powers to spend more than allocated. Now, that may be a political problem in the unlikely event that republicans fight back. But as a legal matter, I think the President will be able to spend more money on the wall.

BROWNSTEIN: But, Wolf, as a political matter, I mean, understanding this back down here from December, it's worth remembering that --


BLITZER: Go ahead.

BROWNSTEIN: It's worth remembering that a year ago, a year ago this month, he had $25 billion for the wall in a deal that virtually every Senate democrat voted for. And he abandoned that deal and sank it in the Senate because it did not include a 40% reduction, the biggest since the 1920s, in legal immigration. So when he got up in the State of the Union and said that he wants to see the biggest levels of legal immigration ever as a way of kind of offsetting, you know, basically trying to portray himself as not anti-immigrant, just anti-illegal activity, it completely denied the actual record that he was so determined to cut legal immigration that he abandoned $25 billion for the wall. Now, he is looking at what, like 1/20 of that.

And he is in a situation again where he is using means that are opposed by a majority of the country, which is either a government shutdown or an emergency declaration, for an end that is also opposed by a majority of the country, which is the wall, which has never been able to get above 45% approval, and which more lately have been around 40%. BLITZER: He spoke for about an hour and 15 minutes in El Paso last night. And at one point during the rally, there was one of the supporters who entered into the media area and assaulted, for all practical purposes, a BBC photojournalist. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- level of the history of our country.


TRUMP: Everything okay? Please. Okay. Thank you. Thanks.


BLITZER: It's pretty very, very disturbing.

SWERDLICK: Yes. And the President has a lot of nerve saying, everybody okay, even though for two years up to and including last night, he rails against the media to the point where there are those individuals who are going to get whipped up into a frenzy thinking the media is their enemy. Our job is to report. It's the public's job to decide what they think about our reporting.

Wolf, can I just make one point? Easy for me to say, someone who sits in a newsroom and moves semicolons around. But reporters are out there, like Laura and Kaitlan, trying to get stories, trying to get news. And it is a difficult job. And people are just doing their job. There has to be that arm's length between what the crowd wants and what reporters want.

BLITZER: You were there. You were on the media platform.

COLLINS: Yes, we were actually not that far away. It was a pretty small platform. And we were kind of surrounded in this arena. So the supporters were pretty close to the press guys. They're typically there at the back of the room depending on the setup. But you did hear the crowd chanting, let him go.

Now, it's unclear if they saw what exactly transpired. There had been several protesters protesting the President who had been kicked out of the rallies, whether they are banners or flags or whatever last night. But it certainly was one of the most charged rallies we have seen. But then you did see the President say, is everyone okay, looking over toward where the action had just occurred.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around, there's more breaking news. We're following millions of Americans under winter storm warnings and watches as a major system plows across a vast swath of the country.


[18:47:50] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight. Millions of Americans are being warned about a major winter storm that's bringing treacherous conditions to the Midwest and Northeast. It's also forced the cancellation of more than 2,000 flights so far today.

Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray is joining us with the latest forecasts.

Jennifer, states of emergencies have been declared already in some areas.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I believe it. It's been a rough day. And not only for the skies but road travel as well, with icy conditions.

And it's only going to get worse during the overnight hours into tomorrow morning when this freezes. So, we are going to see the freezing rain, the sleet across places like New York City, finally starting to change over to rain.

Still snowing in Boston. Cleveland, a downpour for you. We are seeing snow back through Chicago.

So, there's a wintery side and there's also a rainy side to this, Wolf. Zoom again in on New York City, you can see all of the frozen precipitation there finally moving on to rain. Temperatures should continue to warm. So, that's the good news there.

But a lot of these areas are going to continue to see icy conditions throughout the overnight hours. We see power outages because of this as well with the freezing rain holding on to those power lines and bringing them down. You mentioned flight cancellations, 2,400 cancellations, 4,500 delays. A lot of these for the big airports across the Northeast, where we had more than three-hour delays in some of the cities. And it just created a domino affect across the rest of the country.

And so, this is going to continue to push out as we get into early tomorrow morning. By the morning commute, New York City should be cleared out. Boston will still be a mess by the morning. Then by tomorrow afternoon, things should clear out very, very quickly.

And so, things should be getting back to normal by the time we get into tomorrow evening, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope. Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray with the latest forecast -- thank you.

Also tonight on CNN, the former Starbucks CEO and possible independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz takes part in a special CNN town hall in Houston.

Our political director David Chalian is on the scene for us.

So, David, Schultz is already facing lots of backlash from Democrats who are deeply worried that if he runs an as independent, that will simply help the president get re-elected.

[18:50:07] He seems to have a very uphill battle. DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it is an uphill battle.

I don't think we've seen since George Washington, someone get elected without being really part of a party structure in our country, Wolf.

But I think it's important to note exactly what you're saying. This is pretty much all that's known about Howard Schultz right now, since he began this public consideration, this notion that Democrats are very worried it would throw the election to Donald Trump. That's going to be his challenge tonight at this town hall, to address voters' questions and concerns about the issues that would animate an independent bid.

What would be the thing that would be the driving force and allow Americans to rally around a Schultz candidacy? That's his challenge, to sort of get beyond that Democratic outreach tonight and really start showing America who he is, how he would apply his skills as CEO to the presidency, and what are the issues that will drive this candidacy for him?

BLITZER: Democrats are really fearful he would split that anti-Trump vote. There's also, as you know, David, a long list of candidates, already running in the 2020 primaries and elections, the caucuses. More are still considering a presidential run and they're trying to establish a name for themselves early.

Talk about that.

CHALIAN: Yes, there's no doubt about that. This is a very crowded race on the Democratic side. It's got a lot of noise right now, as lots of folks are getting in. I think it's one of the things Howard Schultz is seeking to do by running as an independent, is separating himself from that process. It's a bit of a differentiator.

And when you're dealing with so many candidates running, people are going to try to find a way to differentiate themselves, but you are right also that they're going to do events like this at CNN and elsewhere to try to just get known. So much of the public is not yet familiar with a lot of these people seeking to replace Donald Trump in the Oval Office. And that is mission critical as they all sort of get lined up at the starting gate.

BLITZER: David Chalian reporting from Houston for us, thank you.

And join us later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, for that special CNN town hall, with the former Starbucks CEO and potential independent presidential candidate, Howard Schultz.

Also, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360", Anderson speaks with the latest Democrat to jump into the presidential race, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Just ahead, a very sobering warning about North Korea's nuclear weapons from a top U.S. general.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:57:10] BLITZER: The Pentagon's Korea commander, General Robert Abrams, says despite all the talk of denuclearization, there's been, in his words, little to no verifiable change in North Korea's military capabilities.

CNN's Will Ripley is joining us now with more.

Will, a very sobering assessment from the top U.S. military commander of U.S. forces in Korea. What's the latest?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has to be frustrating for General Abrams to sit there in South Korea and observe North Korean soldiers, their military conducting these winter training drills at the exact same level that they have done over the past several years. Even when tensions were at their highest, as U.S. military drills have been significantly scaled back or suspended.

Obviously, the concern amongst many analysts is that as new soldiers rotate out of South Korea, you know, as new soldiers come in, that they won't have that training with their South Korean counterparts that is essential for U.S. force to maintain a state of readiness. But listen to what the general said about the North Korean military.


GEN. ROBERT ABRAMS, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES KOREA: I remain clear-eyed about the fact that despite a reduction in tensions along the DMZ and a cessation of strategic provocations, coupled with public statements of intent to denuclearize, little-to-no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea's military capabilities.


RIPLEY: There's also a new study out of Stanford University saying that they believe that North Korea, during the time that they've been talking about denuclearization with the U.S., they've produced enough nuclear bomb fuel for up to seven new weapons, Wolf. But they're also, that same study saying that they believe the North Korean nuclear threat has actually diminished because they have not tested a missile or nuclear device in more than 15 months.

BLITZER: Will, as you know, CNN has learned that U.S. negotiators have demanded that North Korea provide specific information about their nuclear and missile program. What are they asking for?

RIPLEY: Yes, Kylie Atwood has learned from her sources that U.S. negotiators are looking for a list of nuclear scientists working on the nuclear missile program. U.S. spy satellites actually have a surprising amount of information about North Korea's -- you know, their missile bases, how many warheads they're believed to possess, estimate, you know, upwards of 50, perhaps, and even more, you know, as they continue to produce new weapons.

And yet what the U.S. doesn't know is, who are the brains behind this? Who are the scientists who are driving this program? Now, it's probably unlikely that North Korea is going to give that kind of information up easily. You know, certainly, they are going to expect significant economic concessions from the United States, but that's going to be one of the things that we are told the U.S. will be asking for in that summit in Hanoi in just about two weeks' time.

Again, though, Kim Jong-un doesn't have a whole lot of incentive to come to the table and bring this along very quickly, because his relationship with his ally, China, is arguably better than it's ever been. He might be trying to wait out the clock, Wolf.

BLITZER: Will Ripley, reporting for us from Hong Kong. Thanks very much.

And you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.