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tv   Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer  CNN  January 26, 2018 2:00pm-3:00pm PST

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resonated for a couple of weeks. he's on a two-day cycle. it's very hard to keep up with him. it's exhausting. >> conan o'brien, thank you so much. "conan without borders: haiti" will premiere this saturday. tune in after "state of the union" sunday at 9 a.m. that's it for now. see you on sunday. i turn it over to wolf blitzer in the sit room. >> firestorm. members of congress are issuing warnings and making a new push for legislation to protect robert mueller. >> growing evidence. experts say the attempt to fire mueller following the fire of fbi chief james comey is growing evidence for case of obstruction of justice. what's mueller's next move?
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>> dead on arrival? the new white house immigration framework with offer a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million immigrants but it comes with a $25 billion price tag to build a border wall in mexico. is it dead on arrival? >> and melania skipped out on her husband's trip to davos and flew to florida instead. her jet is on the tarmac in west palm beach as her office pushes back on what it calls salacious reporting. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." >> announcer: this is cnn breaking news. >> breaking news. tonight furious lawmakers are warning of red lines and seeking to protect the special counsel robert mueller as a source confirms that president trump tried to have him fired last june. the move stalled when a top white house official objected. this comes after the president
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said he was prepared to face mueller under oath and it may fuel mueller's focus on obstruction of justice. i'll speak with congressman hakeem jefferies. sarah murray, what's the latest? >> reporter: we've long known the president is irritated by the russia probes and particularly the appointment of a special counsel. now we're getting a better sense of the lengths the president reportedly went to have robert mueller removed. president trump today using one of his favorite phrases to deny the bombshell report from the "new york times," that he called for special counsel robert mueller's firing last june. >> mr. president, did you seek to fire robert mueller? >> fake news, folks, typical "new york times" fake stories. >> reporter: but a source confirms to cnn that trump did call for mueller's firing and
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don mcgahn refused because he disagreed with his reasoning. two people told the "times" the president expressed concern over what he saw as three possible conflicts of interest with mueller serving as special counsel. one involving a dispute mueller had at trump national golf club causing hum to resign his membership. another that mueller's law had previously represented his son-in-law, jared kushner and, finally, that trump had just interviewed mueller as comey's replacement for fbi director. back in june trump was also openly airing his frustrations overs russia probe on twitter saying "you are witnessing the single greatest witch hunt in american political history led by some very bad and conflicted people." two months after the reported attempt to fire mueller, he was asked if he'd ever considered
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it? >> i haven't given it any thought. i've been reading about it from you people. you say i'm going to dismiss him. i'm not dismissing anybody. >> reporter: trump told reporters on wednesday he was looking forward to a potential interview with mueller' offics . >> i would love to do it. i have to say subject to my lawyers and all of that but i would love of that. >> reporter: some legal experts say if the president did attempt to fire mueller last june, it's part of a pattern. >> there is this theory in obstruction of justice, which essentially is a mosaic. can you take a lot of little pieces which in and of themselves don't amount to obstruction and build an obstruction case by that? i think the theory is a valid one. >> reporter: former fbi director co comey testified that trump asked him for loyalty. and later asked him to drop the fbi investigation into his national security adviser michael flynn before firing
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comey in may. the presidents was also fuming when attorney general jeff sessions recused himself from the russia investigation. he later public live pressuly p sessions. he asked his intelligence chiefs to say there was no evidence of cooperation between his campaign and russia. but on wednesday trump said that's not obstruction. he's just fighting back. >> there's no collusion. now they're saying, oh, well, did he fight back? john, you fight back. oh, it's obstruction. >> reporter: now the president may have dismissed this development today as fake news, but a source tells cnn that don mcgahn isn't expected as of right now to come out publicly and deny this report. another source points out that could create some awkward dynamics in the white house. >> thank you very much. angry democrats are trying to revive bipartisan bills that would protect the special counsel, robert mueller, and a top republican senator said he's
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actually open to the idea. let's go live to our senior congressional correspondent, ma manu, what are you learning? >> there are two competing bills that grassley said he wants to see reconciled to get differences out of the way so there's actually one bill for his committee to consider and he wants to make sure it doesn't raise any constitutional concerns before taking any steps. cory booker, a democrat from new jersey, was pushing that bill and i spoke to him about how he's handling this now. he said he's on the phone, calling members and he warned of authoritarian tactics in this white house. >> well, i think that there was
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a very pragmatic reason to put forward legislation to try to check the president's power, potentially authoritarian tendencies to order the removal of the special counsel. but what went from a pragmatic important idea i believe now is a moral imperative. we have a president that time and time again is showing his inclination towards authoritarian tendencies. >> do you think it's too early to be talking about impeachment, the democrats? >> talking about impeachment is one thing, but finding the facts that support impeachment is something that is happening right now. a search for facts and evidence by the special prosecutor. if you look at what is going on in terms of just the objective fact pattern, the firing of mueller, the people in and around his senior circle who have met with russian agents who have been indicted for ravariou behaviors, clearly there is smoke around the substance that would support impeachment.
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>> now, wolf, chuck grassley did talk to me about this report from cnn and also confirming that the "new york times" report about the attempted firing of bob mueller. he said that mueller should, quote, work its course, the investigation work its course, the president should not take steps to fire robert mueller. i said is there any way you would support the firing of robert mueller? he said, quote, heavens no. he's the republican of a key committee. expect that from the president's own party if the president did take that extraordinary step of trying to get rid of robert mueller, he could get undoubtedly a lot of puckback fr -- pushback from members of his own party. >> joining us now, democratic congressman hakeem jefferies of new york. thanks for joining us. >> thanks for having us.
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>> so robert mueller knew about the attempt to fire him last june. how strong is the case do you believe for obstruction of justice? >> i believe it's getting stronger by the moment. donald trump has consistently fired individuals who he feels has gotten too close to his administration and the possibility of uncovering wrongdoing. in january of 2017, it was sally yates, the acting attorney general, who went to the white house and expressed her concern that michael flynn could be a mole who was subject to blackmail from russia. next thing you know, sally yates was fired and preet bharara, the u.s. attorney for the southern district of new york, it was publicly exposed he was investigating close allies of the trump campaign. next thing you know, donald trump fires preet bharara and then of course he fires james
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comey, the fbi director who was leading the criminal investigation into the trump campaign. it should come as know surprise that he had apparently given the order to fire the special prosecutor. >> are you concerned about how many people around president trump actually lied about this attempt, this attempt we've now confirmed back in june, but how many of his aides publicly lied about it or maybe they didn't know but they were insisting there was never any discussion of firing the special counsel? >> needless to say, this administration has been less than truthful in the manner in which it's communicated with the american people. we've seen instance after instance of selective amnesia from many people who are close to donald trump, who apparently couldn't remember instances in which they communicated with people who were close to vladimir putin at the same time that russia was interfering with our election and then facts were revealed where they had to correct the record, correct the testimony and explain themselves. and then we've seen other instances where they claimed that things have not happened or
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were not happening and then subsequently as is the case with the effort to fire bob mueller, it's publicly revealed that things that the administration said were not occurring actually were occurring and it's very troubling and, again, it strengthens the case that something unlawful may have occurred under the roof of 1600 pennsylvania avenue. >> what do you make of the response or maybe lack of response to it latest news. it is a bombshell from your republican colleagues? >> well, it's been deeply troubling i think from the moment that donald trump was sworn in that several of my colleagues, particularly on the house side, haven't recognized their responsibility as members of a separate and co-equal branch of government. we don't work for donald trump. we work for the people of the united states of america, and it's our responsibility to serve as a constitutional check and balance. and yet what we've seen from so many of my colleagues in the
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house is nothing but crickets. every time there's disturbing evidence that emerges in the public sphere about things that either donald trump or his administration have done totally inconsistent with democratic values and yet no response from my colleagues on the other side. it's time for speak aer ryan an the republican conference in the house to step up. >> does this increase the need for legislation to protect the special counsel? you heard manu raju's report. does it have a chance of passing? >> it would have to start in the senate where we have seen some positive indications from chairman grassley of a willingness to move legislation forward, lindsey graham has also expressed his interest of being supportive of legislation to protect the special counsel. if they can get it do and in the
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senate, it will place the pressure on the house of representatives to either stand in the way of accountability and our constitutional role as a separate and co-equal branch of government or to be responsible and just make sure that this investigation can proceed in a comprehensive, fair way. there's a cloud of illegitimacy hanging over the white house right now. the only way to clear it up is if bob mueller is able to conduct a full, fair and just criminal investigation. >> that legislation hadn't even yet been introduced, let alone passed in both houses, signed into law by the president. it seems like a long shot. so here's the question. is mueller safe in his role? >> well, it's not clear yet but i've got to believe that the people around the president understand that there would be a constitutional crisis triggered by any effort to move on bob mueller at this point in time. i mean, let's realize, wolf,
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when bob mueller was first appointed, someone who i believe has been a lifelong republican, he was uniformly embraced by people on the right, the left, conservatives and progressive democrats and republicans for being a top notch law enforcement professional. he should be allowed simply to do his job. >> 12 years as the fbi director. nominated by republicans and of course the last two years by president obama to continue in his service as the fbi director. the number two at the justice department, the deputy attorney general, rod rosenstein and mueller reports to him since sessions, the attorney general, has recused himself. is rosenstein safe in his role? >> that's a good question. he has been a target of this president since he made the appointment of the special prosecutor, as has jeff sessions, who the president has
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called the beleaguered attorney general. this is an extraordinary thing. this is donald trump's justice department. it's not the obama justice department, yet he regularly goes after these high-ranking individuals and goes after the fbi. i thought that the republicans cared about the rule of law. if they care about the rule of law, you can't run around attacking the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, the special counsel, the fbi simply because you've got a big problem with the criminal investigation that was brought about apparently by the conduct of people like michael flynn or papadopoulos or manafort or gates, who were part of the trum trump campaign or trump orbit. >> don mcgahn threatened to resign if trump with through with the plan to fire robert
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mueller. is don mcgahn fit to continue serving in this important role? >> i certainly know it's a tough role. it's not clear if he's doing a good job or not. there are many things happening from this trump white house i disagree with. i think the best grade is "i" for incomplete. i think it's critical for those around donald trump to make it clear to the president that we don't live in a dictatorship, we live in a constitutional form of democracy and there are certain norms that are consistent with the founding fathers as to how our republic proceeds. he doesn't get to go around and dictate how things are going to unfold in terms of policy and certainly with a criminal investigation. and hopefully the white house counsel will make that clear to him as we move forward so the investigation can move forward without any interference from
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the president. >> thanks so much for joining us. >> thank you, wolf. >> up next, the president returns back to the white house amid word he tried to fire special counsel robert mueller. quickbooks. backing you. returns back to the white house . he gets the best deal on the perfect hotel by using returns back to the white house you start your trip on the s right foot... by comparing prices from over 200 booking sites to find the right hotel for you at the lowest price. saving you up to 30%!
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our breaking news, angry lawmakers are warning of red lines after a source confirmed that president trump confirmed last june the firing of special counsel robert mueller, a move thwarted by the white house counsel don mcgahn. the president is now heading back to washington from the world economic forum in davos, switzerland. let's turn to our chief white house correspondent jim acosta. he's? davos for us. it's shocking to hear the president moved to fire mueller, even more so after months of very public white house denials.
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>> reporter: that's right, wolf. earlier today the president here in davos referred to these stories as fake news. one thing we've learned from the president, just because he says something is fake news does not mean he's saying it is wrong. we have reached out to white house and legal sources with the president's team all day long, no flat-out denials from the white house, no flat-out denials from the president's legal teams. contrast that from what we've heard over the last year, official after official inside the white house from the president on down doo anywwn de he ever tried to fire robert mueller. >> while the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so. >> bottom line, kellyanne, does the president commit to not firing robert mueller? >> the president has not even discussed that. >> are you considering firing robert mueller? >> no, not at all. >> is there any chance at all that the president will try to fire robert mueller? >> no. you know, i saw a couple people talking about that this morning, and the answer to that is no.
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>> no, i'm not. >> we have no intentions of firing bob mueller. we're continuing to work closely and cooperate with him. >> is the president going to continue to cooperate or is he setting the stage for firing bob muler? >> -- mueller? >> no, there's no conversation about that whatsoever in the white house. >> that highlight reel goes to why the president's legal team and why people inside the white house are so skittish about the idea of the president sitting down and saying what he knows under oath to the special counsel's office. it's one thing for the president to come out in front of the cameras here in davos and call the story fake news. it's quite another to do that if he special counsel's office. he could open himself up to charges of perjury if he gives false statements to the special counsel's office. that's perhaps one of the biggest reasons why his legal
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team is so worried about him going through with his words he expressed the other day and saying he would sit down with the special counsel's office, wolf. >> jim acosta, thank you very much. coming up, much more on the reaction on the blockbuster news that the president tried to fire robert mueller. and could a pair of figure skaters ratchet down the tension between kim jong un and the rest of the world?
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break beiing news, a source confirms president trump ordered mueller's firing last june but was talked out of doing so when white house general counsel don mcgahn refused to follow through because he disagreed with the president's reasoning. let's bring in our specialist. jeffrey toobin, walk us through how strong a case this could be. you just wrote an article. >> it is clear that the president had the right to fire james comey but the obstruction of justice statute says you can't interfere corruptly with the administration of justice or try to do so. so the question is was there
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some sort of corrupt intent on the part of trump. and what makes this story about don mcgahn so important is that the white house counsel, the president's own lawyer, thought that the president's reasons for wanting to fire robert mueller were such a pretext, were so false, were so outrageously wrong that he threatened to resign over them. and so the fact that the president came up with what his own lawyer thought was a fake explanation for why he was wanting to fire the special counsel, that is yet another piece of evidence that the president had improper motives in what he was doing in connection with the russia investigation. it's not conclusive but it is another piece of evidence. >> do we know mcgahn was
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concerned about the legal fallout or political fallout? >> it almost doesn't matter because it shows that he thought the president was putting out a story that was not accurate. you know, that in and of itself is not a crime, but it is further evidence that the president's behavior was not what it appeared to be, that he was acting in a way that was corrupt, with a bad intent. again, in and of itself, but when you combine it with all the other evidence, firing comey, it starts to present a pretty damning picture. >> gloria, we heard many of the president's advisers, spokespeople, actually lie about this over these many months. there's never been any discussion, not even under consideration, forget about it. could that pull them into this investigation as well? >> well, it depends on how
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informed they were or uninformed they were. what we have reported and we reported last june and we're reporting again today is that there was constant conversation during that month about what to do about bob mueller. there were questions not on raised by donald trump by by some of thinks attorneys about whether there were potential conflicts for mueller, and in the end they decided, you know, mueller's a pretty good guy, we want to keep him and they calmed the president down. you know, the president who did want to fire mueller and there were people close to the president who say he never gave that order to don mcgahn, that is obviously not our reporting, and he, you know, they made a decision at a certain point that they were going to sit on the president and you saw that the president as of about july stopped tweeting about bob mueller and they said, okay, we are going to cooperate.
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so ty cobb comes in, john dowd comes in and there was a whole enough tact with bob mueller, which is he is our friend, he is not our enemy. so that changed. >> the fact that shawn turner is with us as well, former director of communications for u.s. national intelligence, the fact that mueller knew about this attempt last june to actually -- by the president to fire him, he didn't go through with it because of a threatened resignation by his counsel, it gives me the sense and i suppose it gives you the sense, there's so much going on that's really come out now that we really don't know the thrust of mueller's investigation. >> i think the one thing for sure is the only person who knows how far this investigation will extend is bob mueller. i talked to people in the fbi who have suggested that we're kind of moving on to this question of obstruction of justice but mule are aeller andm aren't down with other areas
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such as business dealings, paul manafort and one of the things we stopped talking about that the president keeps saying never happened is this issue of collusion. i talked to an fbi official who said one of the challenges that mueller's team has is if there were individuals who were part of the trump campaign who were aware that the russians were going to take certain actions at certain time that might benefit the trump campaign but did nothing to influence or impact those actions, there's this question of whether or not simply having the knowledge rises to the level of clollusio. and if it doesn't, then the question will be how do you equate knowledge to -- >> in other words, if there were individuals in the campaign who were aware of what the russians were up to, didn't try to stop it but never reported it let's say to the fbi, that could be a crime? >> i defer to jeffrey on that but there is a question on whether or not that rises to the
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level of conclusion. >> what do you think, jeffrey? >> i don't think that's a crime. knowing about collusion is not a crime. collusion itself is not a crime. that's at a point the president's defenders have made over and over again and they're right, that the act of coordinating with the russians, if it even took place, that in and of itself is not a crime. now, it could be a crime to aid and abet hacking. that could be a crime but simply knowing that the russians were helping the campaign or encouraging them to help the campaign, that's not a crime and that's a big advantage that trump has in this investigation. >> what are you hearing, sarah? that since last june when this effort by the president to fire mueller didn't go forward because don mcgahn threatened to resign, is it over as far as getting rid of mueller right now? what's the latest thinking you're hearing? >> i certainly don't think the president has suddenly gotten
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over this. we know he remains extremely upset that there is a special counsel and the russian investigation continues and he wants swift conclusion. he saw the fallout when he fired to fire james comey, he saw the pushback from his own team when he was making an effort to fire robert mueller and that's the kind of thing he keeps in mind but this is an unpredictable president. i think there are those around him that if he gets frustrated, it could come to the top of his mind again or make a move again. >> okay, we'll take a quick break and be right back. we do whatever it takes to fight cancer.
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augh! (family giggling) oh my. birds eye voila! so veggie good. all right, we're following the breaking news, i want to get back to our specialist right now. shawn turner, listen carefully to what the attorney general, jeff sessions, said today. >> we expect -- no, we demand the highest level of integrity, ethics and professionalism from every person in the department of justice. if anyone falls short of these standards, we will not hesitate to take appropriate action, and we will do so in accordance with the rules and procedures of the department of justice. and while we are open to fair criticism and we of course will defend investigators and prosecutors from unfair criticism. >> shawn, how do you interpret those words? >> i think the last part what he
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said is what's critically important. i interpret that as a rare shot across the bow of the president and his administration about the art call that suggested the president wanted to fire mueller. i think sessions has been emboldened by some of the comments the president has made about him and it sends a message that if the president and his team are looking to do something to perhaps harm this investigation, that they're going to step in and they're going to prevent that. >> jeffrey, how do you see it? >> well, i'm not sure i agree. i think -- you know, sessions is appealing to the fox news crowd that has been on this lunatic crusade against peter strzok, the former fbi agent, they think there's a secret society at the fbi, what happened to the missing e-mails, all of these ridiculous stories have been, you know, have been discredited
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and the fbi has not been proven to have done anything improper. and i thought, yes, at the end he said he will defend the fbi but mostly that that clip was about how, you know, they are going to hold themselves to high standards, which is i think appealing to the president's defenders more than anyone else. >> there have been a lot of attacks, unfounded attacks, gloria, against law enforcement, including of course the fbi. >> right. coming from this administration. i mean, just take a step back and think of where we are. you have an administration attacking its own law enforcement. and challenging it. not only challenging the fbi and this has been the problem for the new fbi director chris wray, but you have a president, you know, wanting to fire a special counsel, attacking the justice department. and the attorney general
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himself. so, you know, this is a situation where if you're working in that part of government and you're scratching your head and saying why are we eating our own here? why are we trying to do that? >> it's not just law enforcement either. as you well know, the intelligence community, when the president disagrees with an assessment from the intelligence community, the russians interfering with the elections and the motives for doing that, he goes after that. >> when he chose people to lead these various arms of government, he all of a sudden had confidence in it. choosing chris wray to lead the fbi hasn't stopped the president from being critical about the way the justice department is being run. when he has his own people in
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place, he still isn't pacified. >> you spent 21 years in the marine corps. when you and your friends hear these words, what's the reaction? >> you know, i think for a long time we've been wondering what is it that the russians have on this president that keeps him in check? when we see the way the president attacks the intelligence community, the way he attacks law enforcement, the way that he wants this investigation to go away, it kind of leaves us all scratching our head and wondering why the president is turning on the people who are there to help him do his job. >> everybody stick around. don't go too far away. there's more breaking news we're following. lawmakers rushing to protect the special counsel, robert mueller, after a source confirms the president tried to fire him last june. >> and a pair of north korean figure skaters, could their performance ease the political tensions with kim jong un's regime? vo: gopi has built her business with her own two hands.
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oberstdorf test. today, the united states and south korea confirmed the joint military exercise will resume immediately after next month's olympic games. the annual games have been put off to decrease tensions with kim jong-un's regime during these winter games held in south korea. in a diplomatic breakthrough, north korea is sending athletes to compete including two skaters sure to be in the spotlight. brian, this is about more than their ability or likely performance.
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>> wolf, this north korean figure skating pair is not as accomplished as teams from china and russia. its odds are slim. still, there is huge anticipation building for their performance. it's going to be highly charged, mobile and is going to play out against a backdrop of all the military tension on the korean peninsula. ♪ their coach says neither have a driver's license or credit card. when ryom and kim take the ice at the winter olympic, all they'll be count eed on to do i skate their hearts out and help diffuse tensions on the korean peninsula. >> i promise you, i will be covering all of figure stating. that's not a time when you want to go get popcorn. >> after they march out under one flag, ryom and kim, a pairs figure skating team, will likely have intense scrutiny.
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>> for every athlete that's there, i will suspect there will be two handlers with every ath alito protecting the athlete, making sure they don't say anything they shouldn't say to the press and also you know keeping them from defecting in case any of them have that idea. >> ryom and kim finished in 15th place at the world skating championships last year and their coach tells us even he doesn't expect them to win a medal at the olympics, but all the tension leading up to the games with this teenager and her 25-year-old partner make them a must watch. >> they skate with passion. they skate with you know, with their heart and that's why usually when people watch them and compete, they become instantly crowd favorites. ♪ >> in past competitions, they have skated to music from the beatles and the nutcracker.
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♪ north korea has a surprisingly good olympic record. they've won dozens of medals at the summer and winter games since 1964 including seven at the rio games in 2016. their best performances have been in weight lifting, wrestling, gymnastic, boxing and judo. how have those athletes along with ryom and kim been able to train in a secret regime? zwl it's very much a state supported regiment. they're trained by the state. fed by the state. unlike many of the other north korean s where there's a lot of famine and hunger, they're fed well. they're taken care of. >> their coach says their support team will do it best to eliminate distractions in pyeongcha pyeongchang. >> they are not one of the best teams in the world and yet they are going to be watched as if they are. as if they're one of the greatest pairs teams to ever skate just because of the
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magnitude of the moment and the sense that by being there, they make those games safer. >> they are not the only north korean athletes competing in pyeongchang t. international olympic committee has just announced that more than 20 north korean athletes will compete including short track speedskaters, cross ko-country alpine skiers and there's a plan to integrate the south korean women's hockey team with a few players from north korea. according to reuters, the south korean players and their coach aren't too happy about that. concerned it might disrupt team chemist chemistry. >> good report. thank you. coming up, breaking news, members of congress are furious over word that president trump tried to fire the russia probe special counsel. they're issuing warnings and making a new push for legislation to protect robert mueller.
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it's a new kind of network designed to save you money. call, visit, or go to xfnitymobile.com. happening now. breaking news. red line. lawmakers say president trump crossed into ominous territory as sources reveal he tried to fire robert mueller. tonight, new efforts to protect mueller and new threats to punish mr. trump if he tries to fire him again. case for obstruction? as the president flies home from switzerland, he's dismissing reports about his move against mueller, but investigators may see it as important evidence as they explore possible attempts to end the russia probe. with the fate of over a million young immigrants on the line, the president's new framework for immigration reform is getting hammered from the left and right. is the proposal that includes a
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pathway to citizenship, dead on arrival? and scheduling conflicts. more questions are being raise ed about melania trump's travels after she skipped a trip with her husband and flew to florida. we'll tell you what her office is saying tonight as mrs. trump's plane is on the move right now. we want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." this has cnn breaking news. breaking tonight. stern new warnings for president trump about the danger of the firing of robert mueller. we're learning that's what he tried to do last june. demanding that he let the russia probe play out or face grave consequences. i'll talk with a democratic

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